The client’s reason for entering therapy did impact the level of personality change, though. Those who sought therapy for anxiety or personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder) changed the most, while those with substance abuse and eating disorders changed the least. It’s not clear why that is, especially since personality disorders are considered as difficult to treat as substance abuse. But it does suggest that not everyone is able to change to the same degree and that more research is needed to uncover why.
I have a six year old son, Andrew. I first started noticing a shift in his behavior in Kindergarten. He started acting out at school, but it didn’t become a huge problem until he started first grade this year.
For the first few months of the school year, I was getting daily calls from the teacher telling me that Andrew was a problem. He lashed out at other kids. He was hyper-sensitive to any perceived slight – if someone stepped on his toe, for example, it wasn’t an accident in his eyes. They clearly meant to hurt him. And he had to react and get back at them. He had to defend himself.
It was at the point I was worried he would get kicked out of school.
At home, he would throw temper tantrums and a couple times, he physically lashed out at me.
His friendships were dwindling. His best friend moved away, and he had trouble making and maintaining friendships. When he was invited to something, he was crippled by anxiety and reverted to acting out, or acting like a clown—trying to make others laugh, because he didn’t know how to connect with them any other way.
I see so much of myself as a child in him. I too had rage. I too acted out. I too felt alone and unloved.
I look back and realize these were all cries for help. Instead, my parents blamed me for my poor behavior, told me what a terrible child I was, heaped positive attention on my more docile sister, and offered no other help.
One of my biggest fears is raising a child that has the same emotional problems I have. I know how hurt I was by my parents and I don’t want my son to feel hurt by me in that way.
I know what it’s like to live with the low self-esteem, to have no control over my emotions, to have fleeting volatile relationships. Never able to believe anyone gives a shit about me at all. It’s lonely. I’ve lived a life full of rage.
I looked at Andrew, and realized he was becoming me. Most of what I’ve read says narcissism is established in children before age five. Fuck.
Well, I can’t go back in time and change my earlier mistakes, but I can change what I’m doing now and going forward. Furthermore, if I can change pathological behaviors in myself at 36, he has a much better shot at age 6. Focus on the positive.
My goal became to turn things around before his behaviors become so engrained in his personality that it takes root as a full-fledged personality disorder. Early intervention.
So far, it seems to be working. This week his report card came home and for behavior, he got a B. Huge improvement.
Also, he was invited over to a neighbor’s house to play and I think it went well. Evidence he’s starting to be more socially accepted and learning to get along better with others.
Maybe he won’t be stuck with these issues for the rest of his life after all. Fingers crossed.
Here’s some of what we’ve been trying:
I enrolled Andrew in behavioral therapy. I had mixed feelings about it, because I was afraid the emotional issues would be ignored for behaviors. But we had to get his behaviors under control ASAP or he was going to get kicked out of school.
For our three sessions, we walked away with one real piece of advice: offer labeled praise when he does something good, ignore bad behavior.
The labeled praise should be given liberally while he’s doing the positive thing. For example, “I like how quietly you’re playing.”
Seems too simple, but it started to immediately turn his behavior around at home and at school. That was the crucial first step.
Being mindful when I’m with him
I would often be checked out when I was with my son. Time spent with him was necessary to get the job done (bathing him, getting his homework done, feeding him, etc.). I could be dissociating or thinking about my own issues or checking my phone. Most of the time, my mind was elsewhere and I was running an internal countdown clock to his bedtime when I could finally get some uninterrupted “me time.”
I wasn’t there with him, didn’t enjoy spending time with him, and he knew it. One day, he asked me if I love him. Like, really asked. My heart sank.
Now I make a concerted effort to be in the moment when I’m with him. Sometimes I will leave my phone in another room. We have phone-free family time now too.
The more I practice being one-mindful with him the more naturally it comes.
I didn’t know how to talk to my own son. I didn’t know how to relate to him. When I first started engaging him more in conversation, it was incredibly awkward. He would say something or ask me a question and I had no idea how to respond.
I couldn’t be myself with him and he couldn’t be himself with me. It’s like I was babysitting someone else’s child. At six, he already wasn’t sharing major details of his life with me. He already felt he had to handle everything on his own.
I had to build trust with him, by talking to him a lot and really listening to what he has to say – and then showing him that I was willing and eager to help with his problems – and prove that I’m his advocate.
Empathizing with him and teaching him empathy for others
I have to teach him empathy, while I’m still learning it myself. Essentially, we are learning together.
I make a regular effort to put myself in his shoes. I ask myself often, how might this make Andrew feel? I try to remember how it felt to be a child.
I talk it through with him. I explain how I think he feels and ask if I have it right. I tell him I understand why he would feel that way. I relate to him by talking about how I may feel in a similar situation or how I felt in similar situations in the past.
I encourage him to think about how others may feel in a given situation, or how he would feel if it was him.
When he feels slighted by someone and wants to defend himself, we talk through what actually happened (the facts). We talk about how the other person may feel. Discuss other possibilities for their actions, rather than assuming they are out to intentionally hurt him.
I praise and encourage him when he shows empathy for others, for animals, for his baby brother.
Last week, he took it upon himself to get the cat water and I praised him for thinking about her needs and being kind to her.
Being kind to him. Being understanding when he makes a mistake. Being forgiving. Encouraging him to be kind to himself and not to engage in negative self-talk. Encouraging and praising him for being kind to others.
Focusing on the positive
I remember to praise him for the good things he does. When we talk about the negative, I try to frame it in a way that emphasizes healthier reactions. I make sure to let him know bad behavior doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, it means we have some stuff to work on.
I’m teaching my six year old DBT
My husband and I are both working on learning DBT ourselves, and we don’t hide it from our son — we invite him to participate.
So far, we’ve showed him opposite action, distraction, mindfulness, radical acceptance, fact checking and a few other skills.
The other day he was upset about not getting home until late, because he wouldn’t get to watch Pokémon XYZ, which had just come out on Netflix. It was a great opportunity to learn radical acceptance.
I validated his feelings, acknowledging how upset he was and explained that I could totally understand why he felt the way he did.
Then we talked about how this particular situation was something we couldn’t change, and that continuing to be upset about it would only make him more upset. Instead, I helped him distract himself from the negative emotions by playing a game with him in the car.
Encourage him to explore his feelings
Anger is a secondary emotion that other harder to face emotions hide behind. When he’s angry, I encourage him to take some time to think about exactly why he felt so angry. I try to talk through it with him to help him explore the root feelings.
Showing fairness between him and his brother
Growing up I was the scapegoat, my sister was the golden child. When my sister was born, I was essentially ignored and told I was the bad one, she was the good one. We were pitted against each other and because of that, I was almost in my 30s before we had a relationship. I don’t want that for my kids.
I honestly see how this could have happened.
Last year, I gave birth to my second son, Ethan. With all my attention going to the baby, I would get easily frustrated with Andrew, who was feeling ignored and seeking attention by acting out.
He also is loud and wakes up the baby. He is much bigger and doesn’t realize the baby is more fragile, so he can be too rough sometimes, etc. etc. etc. Normal kid stuff, but it was already beginning to turn into me focusing on all the annoying things Andrew did, while heaping all my kindness and attention on innocent little Ethan. That had to stop.
I now praise him for any kindness he shows to the baby and tell him often what a great big brother he is. I ask for his help with small tasks and praise him for being so thoughtful and showing empathy toward Ethan.
I make every effort to point out when the baby shows affection to his big brother by smiling, wanting to play with him, etc. I tell him how much his baby brother loves him and looks up to him.
I try not to compare them. We do sometimes talk about differences in their personalities, but non-judgmentally. I try to point out each of them have their own unique personalities, and highlight the good in each of them.
I also make time for just Andrew. Last weekend we went to the movies, shopping, out to dinner, just the two of us and I was able to stay in the moment for most of it.
Highlighting my own flaws and discussing them with him
I let Andrew know now that we (me and his father) are not perfect either and that we need help managing our emotions too.
I’m still learning and sometimes I mess up. Sometimes I blow up, mentally check out or am just plain negative. I’m a work in progress.
But I’m trying to do better and take responsibility when I mess up. I apologize when appropriate or necessary. I do my best to explain that it’s not his fault. I talk about what I could have done better — then really try to do better next time. Ask him how he feels. Try to show him I’m trying and that things are consistently improving.
I also try to use these situations as teachable moments. I relate to Andrew and the trouble he’s had with his behavior, explaining that I have the same problems and I’m also working on it, just like he is.
I ask for his empathy, by reminding him how he feels when he loses control of his emotions and ask if he can understand how I may have been feeling in a similar way.
We talk about better ways to handle those situations. I make every effort to handle it that way going forward. I encourage him to point out to me if he feels I’m acting a certain way and I take a pause if he tells me I am.
I do my best to talk through my own efforts at emotional regulation so that he can see and learn what’s healthy and what works (and what doesn’t). It’s important to me he knows how hard I’m working on it. My emotions are mine to control and not his fault. Sometimes I will tell him, mommy is feeling angry – you didn’t do anything wrong and I’m not mad at you– but I need a few minutes alone to cool off. He gets it and will sometimes tell me the same. If he does, I back off and come back in a half hour to see if he might like to talk about it now.
I also ask him every so often: what can I do to be a better mom to you?
Bonding with my son
Last week, Andrew got in trouble at school. This is much less frequent these days, but still happens sometimes. I wanted to talk to him about it.
He had noticed the field in back of our house was filled with small flowers and had been wanting to show it to me for a few days — he kept bringing it up, but it was never a good time. He asked if we could talk about school in the field. It was one of the first nice spring days. We sat in the shade of a tree, just me and him in the field of flowers.
He told me what happened. He was honest, I was kind. It was a good talk.
After we’d talked it through, he told me: I want to focus on positive thoughts now. That made me smile.
We played hide and seek and I stayed in the moment with him.
For the last few months, I’ve been doing DBT kind of on my own. I bought the green book, The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, which I’ve been working from. Also, my therapist and I dedicate the last 10 minutes of every session to DBT, mostly practicing “wise mind.”
But I wanted to accelerate my learning, so I asked my therapist to suggest a DBT group for me. She came back with a group led by a woman who focuses on DBT through “art therapy.” Last night was the first meeting and I was so excited that I even arrived on time.
It’s a small, all-women group of four, plus Marsha, the therapist. As we sat there waiting for the group to start, we began introducing ourselves and saying what we do for a living. I quickly got up to speed on who everyone is and why they were there.
First up was Suzanne, who lives with extreme anxiety. Her whole body seemed to shiver with nervousness every time she talked. Even her voice quivered. When she held up a piece of paper, it shook uncontrollably.
Next was Sam. Sam initially seemed to be OK, speaking amongst just us participants, but when the group started and Marsha asked her to introduce herself, she completely shut down. Her eyes looked down in avoidance and she gave clipped one-word answers. She looked like a child being scolded after getting caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The sudden shift was jarring and awkward.
Then, there’s Teresa. My guess is Teresa is Borderline. I may have even considered her for a covert narc, but I already got the scoop from Marsha that I’m the only NPD in the group. (I’d expect nothing less.)
I immediately sized Teresa up as the most likely person in the group for me to be friends with. First of all, when I mentioned what I do, she was familiar with my work, she had seen it before and even cited some back to me. Brownie points for Teresa!
She seemed about my age, attractive, well spoken, and smart. Socially we seemed to hit it off pretty quickly during small talk. So Teresa already had my attention. Finally, it was Teresa’s turn to share what she does for a living. Turns out Teresa is… a forensic hacker! [Record screeches to a stop]
Holy shit, a hacker? Teresa’s stock with me just skyrocketed. How badass! I feel myself immediately warming to Teresa. I resize-up her outfit, her hair, the way she talks, and I’m thinking… yeah, me and Teresa could totally be friends!
Let the (art) healing begin
Marsha starts us off with some mindfulness, then she asks us to begin painting. While we are painting, she tells us to be mindful of the thoughts in our heads.
I smile, but internally I’m rolling my eyes. Quite honestly I feel a little silly doing this – a bunch of grown women with emotional problems sitting around a table doing art like we’re five – but I’m trying to go with the flow. Do something new and out of the box for me. I follow Marsha’s advice and acknowledge my feelings without judgement, gently bringing my attention back to the experience of painting.
It takes me a minute to get started. I need to rock this painting – really establish myself as the leader of the pack here. Everything I do should really be a masterpiece. But I don’t have any idea of what I want to draw. I let my eyes glance over…Sam and Suzanne are no competition. Seriously, are you guys even trying?
I look over at Teresa’s. Her painting is…good! Probably still not going to be as good as mine, but she’s hanging tough. Respect, Teresa. Your cool points with me keep accumulating.
Guess I’ll take the lead…
Every time Marsha asks a question and looks around the room, no one wants to answer. So, it appears to be up to me, the narcissist, to get the ball rolling. Of course.
Once or twice is cool, but I really hope this isn’t my “role” now. The emerging pattern is that I go first, Teresa chimes in after – usually with something totally relatable to me – followed by Suzanne. Sam must be coaxed by Marsha to contribute.
Marsha asks us to talk about what emotions we felt while painting. What thoughts did we acknowledge? True to form, the table is quiet. Ok… guess I’ll go first. Again.
“I really wanted my painting to be the best. I had trouble just being in the moment because I was too focused on the final product, not the act of creating the art.” Marsha is happy with my contribution. Teresa laughs in a friendly, we totally relate, kind of way. Sam looks at me awkwardly and tells me she likes my hair. Ummm, thanks!
The elephant in the room
We begin reviewing the list of things we will touch upon in the class. One reads, “Addressing the elephant in the room.” Oh shit…there’s going to be some elephant in the room situations? This could get interesting! I have one: why can’t Sam talk when called upon, but when we are supposed to mindfully be doing art, she can’t be quiet?
Does anyone have trouble with that, Marsha asks. The others nod an enthusiastic yes. I chime in, “Oh, I have no problem addressing the elephant in the room. My problem is how I address it.” More kudos from Marsha for my stellar contributions. So far, I’m winning at group therapy.
The thought crosses my mind: what’s the elephant in the room when it comes to me? But I really don’t like that thought, so I quickly dismiss it and mindfully get back to my work. Funny how I ruminate over everything else though, isn’t it?
Take-aways from my first group session
I’ll tell you one thing I immediately took from the group – however socially awkward I felt before, I really need to stop being so down on myself about it. Seeing Suzanne and Sam in action let me know I really am not that socially awkward. At all. In fact, I’m basically a rock star.
Although this thought initially feels very narc-y it’s actually a DBT principle – comparing yourself to others who are less fortunate. So, I remind myself not to feel bad about it. It certainly helped me put some things into perspective.
In fact, in other good news: Outgoing Yara is back! I haven’t seen her in damn near a year, and boy did I miss her. Outgoing Yara is one of my “selves.” Instead of looking at them now as “false selves,” I have decided to look at them as different facets of my core personality. None of them necessarily “false,” all of them part of the real Yara.
But while some personalities – like Cluster B Girl – I really hope to get rid of or drastically diminish, Outgoing Yara is one of my faves. She’s pretty, smart, well-put together, confident, friendly, competent. The whole package. I definitely want to keep her around.
I did have to remind myself to have empathy with Suzanne and Sam, while listening to them talk and watching them interact. It was a conscious effort, but one I’m glad I put in. I give props to all the women there, for stepping outside their comfort zone and trying to improve.
Although I am concerned about the art, I will say I started to get into it. It may be good for me to learn to create for fun, instead of competing constantly with others. The exercises really drew to my attention how competitive I am at all times, even when not appropriate or helpful.
Also, the fact that I feel silly doing the art makes me think I should keep going, because I need to focus less on how silly I think I “look” or how others may perceive what I’m doing.
Finally, the point of doing the art is to remain mindful during, which I really need lots of practice in, as the mindfulness is key to addressing my almost constant dissociating. So, maybe it’s not so dumb after all.
Soulmates in another lifetime
Finally, Teresa’s OK in my book. We related on basically everything, like twin flames. Marsha told us at the start we can’t be friends though—at least not until the group ends. She said it can interfere with group dynamics, which makes total sense.
I can tell you though, just two years ago had I been in this situation, me and Teresa would have been immediate best friends. Inseparable within weeks. This is it folks: the beginning stages of idealization.
In the past, I’d be unwittingly love-bombing her as my new BFF. Highlighting everything I like about her, while ignoring anything that didn’t fit with the image I created for her in my head.
It’s probably a good thing that Marsha laid down the law. Disappointing though, because it’s not very often at all that I find someone I can relate to so well – and Teresa was hitting on all cylinders.
But for now I’ll just mindfully acknowledge that feeling and bring my attention back to focus on the therapy. I’ll get to know Teresa better, and if, by the end of the group we are still cool, maybe then we can become friends.
Ever been in love with someone you knew was bad for you, but couldn’t help yourself?
Cluster B’s have a tendency to idealize and devalue others. When I have idealized someone they can virtually do no wrong.
Even, and sometimes especially, if they are treating me poorly, it can be hard for me to let go. I see only the good in them, and have a tendency to internalize their bad or hurtful behavior as some fault of my own. I am defective. Unlovable. That’s why they are treating me so poorly.
At times like these my old friend, Devalue, would be really handy to have around. But I can’t control the devaluation process. Devaluing for me, is like falling out of love — it just happens.
Worse, I have a tendency to devalue those who treat me well, and exalt those who mistreat me. I think, if they love me, there must be something wrong with them.
Or, they are trying to manipulate me.
A couple of weeks ago, someone in one of my Cluster B groups mentioned the DBT Peer Connections series on YouTube. I finally got around to checking it out and found it helpful.
The series consists of 23 episodes, ranging in length from 3 minutes to 2 hours. So, it’s a time investment. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s worth it.
In this video (below), she talks about using the DBT skill, “Opposite Action” for emotional regulation, and goes through a series of emotions including jealousy, anger, shame, guilt and even love.
This was the first time I had seen love covered as an unhealthy emotion that requires regulation. But for a lot of us, it is.
When love doesn’t fit the facts, when the person doesn’t deserve our love or admiration, there are things we can do to change our feelings — we don’t have to be slaves to unhealthy emotions.
She gets to love at 18:00, but the entire video is worth a watch. I identified with needing help on all of the emotions, especially anger.
Here’s another helpful article I ran across on how to effectively work with a narcissist in couple’s or family therapy.
The article offers some gems for both the therapist and the family member. 3 Basics of Working (Mindfully) with a Narcissist in Therapy: a Balancing Act:
It may be surprising to know that it’s definitely not about a sole focus on how to “set the npd straight” or “correct” their attitudes and treatment of others; in effect, that’s their job. Your job is about letting go of what’s not yours … to avoid that trap, so you can remain aware and authentically connected to your inner sources of strength, thus, in an optimal state of mind and body to be a healing presence for yourself … allowing you to do “your part” to create a context or “holding place” in which healing, authentic connection and transformational change is possible.
An npd’s behaviors are destabilizing at least in part because: balance is both their greatest need, yet also what they most actively and desperately fight against, nevermind the outer calm they may present.
These three starting points provide a mindful understanding of npd, first and foremost, as a set of learned problem behaviors driven by a certain mindset (belief system, thoughts, etc.) from which the therapist may invite the npd client and their loved one(s) to work as a team, inspiring them to create new possibilities. This starting place:
- Shifts away from judging or condemning the npd client to identifying the “problem behaviors” that, in effect, predictably always produce the same effects, and include negative ones for the npd as well, for example: they push those they love away from them; and isolation, knowingly or unknowingly, is the cruelest of punishments to human beings. For the narcissist, abandonment can be their greatest fear. If this seems puzzling, consider this: their current mind set associates “avoiding vulnerability” with “status” and illusions of “power,” etc., which explains why they desperately need to shift to a mindset that would better their higher needs to relate authentically as human beings. The new mindset, for example, would recognize the ability to be vulnerable as a relationship-building strength! (Warning to codependent partners: This is not your job; it’s theirs alone.)
- Allows the focus of what needs to change to remain on the “problem” mindsets and behaviors, and the cultural and familial contexts in which they flourish. Additionally, this focuses on “judging” behaviors, not persons (and disarms the npd of one of their primary weapons — blame). Instead all are invited to not only take blame off the table, but also to (humorously) team-up to “blame” blame itself for much unnecessary suffering.
- Places primary responsibility on therapist, and increasingly on those interacting with an npd client for their part of the interaction, and that is, to remain present, observant and thoughtfully responsive rather than judging, reactive, anxious to fix or to please, etc., because reactivity “feed” the npd problem-behaviors.
- Last but not least, this shift to a new mindset emphasizes the reality, that: all human beings are hardwired to yearn to matter and feel they contribute value and meaning to life around them. The destination mindset is a way of thinking that makes therapy (and relationships) a place where each is primarily responsible for relating to self and other in ways that promote authentic, wholehearted ways of loving self and other. Most npds are more capable of empathy than they’d care to admit. Thus, for those interacting with an npd client, it’s important to keep reminding themselves that npds are human thus fully equipped with human capacities (just more or less misguided or addicted to a false sense of power they gain from their current mindset, reinforced by major cultural institutions, media, entertainment, etc.)
As a therapist (or loved one), there are no quick fixes. The best hope of being a healing presence that has a balancing effect on your relationship with others starts inside you — your mindset, and relationship with your self.
I’m really lucky to have a husband who is fully supporting me as I try to overcome my personality disorder. But he doesn’t always know how, and that’s incredibly frustrating for both of us.
A huge downside to having such a stigmatized PD is that it’s nearly impossible to find any helpful advice among the mountains of hate, shaming, misinformation, outright lies and general vitriol for people unlucky enough to be stuck with my disorder.
One of my husband’s chief complaints is that whenever he searches for anything having to do with NPD all he gets are narcissist hate sites. He can’t find anything on how to help me manage my disorder, how to more effectively talk to me, or how to support me in my recovery. He has searched and searched and the only advice he says he can find is, “get away from them.” Nice.
“I’m not giving up on you. I’m not leaving you,” he tells me. “I love you unconditionally.” For me that’s pretty hard to hear or accept, in part because vulnerability is still so fucking hard for me. I am still struggling to believe anyone can really love me at all, let alone unconditionally. But he’s trying to show me and I’m trying to learn to believe him. So, how can we help each other out?
Where’s the practical advice for those who aren’t ready to give up on their spouse or loved one with NPD, who is trying to change? I don’t have all the answers, but when I find something useful, I will pass it along — because it’s quite literally like finding a needle in haystack.
I came across this article the other day, and I think it had some decent, practical advice for people like my husband, on how to more effectively communicate with a narcissist:
How can you effectively communicate with someone who is generally only able to process what’s going on in their own lives and minds?
- Let them think you are focusing on them, but really divert their attention to the emotions and thoughts of others. Giving them outside perspective. When they try to bring their feelings or thoughts back to center, acknowledge, then divert again.
- Remind them of their responsibility in the causes and consequences of their actions. Not everything is someone else’s fault. Although they will try to make it seem that way. And they cannot complain about the choices they made freely and willingly.
- Remind them of their responsibility to care for their own ego, and boost their own self-esteem. While encouraging them to support others’ emotional needs, as well. Not necessarily by making someone feel good, or feel anything for that matter, but by providing an open, welcoming, gentle atmosphere for others to dwell.
- Remind them of the difference between caring for others and trying to control them. What they think isn’t always best. Support and show affection to others. Don’t just peddle advice.
- Ask them to really listen, not just talk. Think how what is being said affects them as they’re listening. Focus on how the topic of conversation affects others.
- Be sure to note direct comparisons of their lives, attitudes and actions to those they deem inferior or incorrect in others’ lives. They easily notice flaws in others but rarely notice, acknowledge or take responsibility for their own flaws. If they are doing these things, they probably will put forth a lackluster effort to change them, if any at all.
I got some more helpful advice on how to deal with dissociating that I wanted to pass along.
This DBT IMPROVE the MOMENT worksheet is great. This was suggested in one of my DBT Facebook groups for dissociating. It offers help for ruminating about the past or future, help with getting back to the present moment, and panic lists for feelings of melancholy, obsessing, and other difficult emotions.
From YouTuber, Ryan Liberty: Try to understand why the dissociating is happening in the first place and what your triggers are, such as times of celebration. This way you can prepare in advance if you know a triggering event is coming up. He suggests giving yourself positive messages such as “you can do this, it’s only a few days”, watch your breathing and plan self-care time. “It helped me to repeat to myself mentally ‘I am safe’ and to feel internally the bottom of my feet.”
Ryan also mentions advice from Kati Morton, who says sucking peppermint candies can help with dissociation.
Finally, Lucky Otter’s Haven has a piece about dissociating in NPDs and BPDs that gives some great insight and outlines the difference between derealization and depersonalization.
She writes, “A common symptom of both NPD and BPD is dissociation: a splitting or fragmenting of the personality not very different from what occurs in the Dissociative disorders such as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and Psychogenic Fugue. It usually happens in response to a severe loss of supply or major narcissistic injury, or a sudden awareness of oneself as not oneself (realizing your false self is not who you really are–which happens when a narcissist becomes self aware). These disorders themselves, especially NPD, are dissociative in nature because a split in the personality has occurred. In the narcissist, it’s a substitution of the original personality for a false one. ”
You can read the whole post here.
I’ve had a tough week. I dissociated for most of the week and am just now (thankfully, hopefully?) coming back to reality.
When I get like this, my weekends blend into my week days. My days into my nights. I have to look at the calendar several times a day to remember what day it is. Still I have trouble. Today I looked up and it was Thursday. I’ve done nothing with my week and it’s nearly over.
Each day, the hours go by and before I know it, the kids are home and I’m struggling to get through dinner and bedtime. Struggling to pull it together enough to be at least somewhat present for them. I smile and play with the baby. I try to make conversation with my oldest, showing interest in his day. But I’m on “autopilot” – how I describe my dissociations. It’s like I’m seeing the conversations happening, but I don’t feel like I’m part of them. I feel disconnected from reality, like I’m floating inside my own head watching the world take place around me, but not participating. The next day I remember it as if it was a dream.
All day yesterday I walked by several piles of laundry I meant to take care of and didn’t realize they were there until the evening. I simply didn’t see them. I’m completely checked out.
Next week I’ll get some stuff done, I tell myself every week. I’m going on two months of this now and starting to really get concerned. It’s affecting every aspect of my life, including my work. I’m falling behind and it’s only a matter of time before someone notices I’ve produced virtually nothing in weeks.
I’ve always had periods of “depression.” Cyclical ups and downs throughout the years. This is the first bought I’ve had since becoming aware of my NPD, so this time it looks different to me. I’m aware of aspects I wasn’t aware of before. In the past, this would be the time I’d be searching for new “supply.” A new hobby, interest, friend, something exciting, anything to take my mind off the boredom. But I’m trying to learn not to rely on that anymore, and instead rely on myself.
Really, more than a depression, it’s an emotional numbness. I don’t feel necessarily “sad”, just numb. And incredibly bored. Nothing interests me. TV, music, talking to friends, the usual stuff that can put me in a better mood or capture my interest, does nothing for me. I feel like I’m constantly just going through the motions.
I’ve been thinking about what I can do to pull out of this. Right now I’m focused on stopping the dissociating. Figure I can’t do anything else until I can get back into my own body. I’m just starting DBT and mindfulness. At this point I’m throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far:
- Downloaded a mindfulness app to my phone. Trying to incorporate short meditations into my daily activities, so I’ll actually do them.
- Bought a DBT workbook and started it. My therapist’s pace is a little too slow and I need these skills now. Of the skills I thought may be immediately helpful, today I’ve been trying Opposite Action. I feel numb, bored, unmotivated. So, this morning I tried forcing myself to get up and do something. I started a load of laundry, I did a task for work, I am writing this blog post.
- Get some exercise, sunlight and fresh air — maybe go for a walk or work out.
- Giving myself credit for what I do. Yesterday I made my bed. That’s an improvement over the day before. Look at that as an accomplishment, rather than focusing on all the stuff I didn’t get done.
- Self-compassion. As my husband says, “be nice to yourself.”
- I went for an aromatherapy massage and did my best to stay in the moment, feeling the touch, smelling the smells.
- I think I need to do a better job of keeping occupied, especially since I work from home. I am going to make myself a list of things I want to get done each day, or maybe a schedule to try to stay focused on keeping busy.
- I read you should focus on experiencing each of your senses to bring you back from a dissociation.
Whenever I picture a peaceful place, it’s always the woods. Something is so comforting to me about the sounds, the smell, the natural stillness. Yesterday I stumbled upon a small “fairy terrarium” in the grocery store. I bought it to keep at my desk. I thought maybe when I’m feeling disconnected that looking at it, opening it up and smelling the earthy smell, may help me be more mindful and present. Like a little forest in a jar.
- In the movie “Inception”, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb, carries a “totem” with him to help him stay grounded and differentiate between reality and dreams. I thought about finding myself a totem for similar reasons. Something I can carry, preferably something very interesting to look at that I can hold in my hand and visually focus on, to help bring me back to the present moment.
- I read that stating facts out loud, can be helpful for dissociation. “My name is Yara and I’m 36 years old.”
- Trying to figure out what’s causing the numbness. My therapist gave me a handout last week with primary and secondary emotions. Anger, hatred, numbness are listed as “secondary emotions” that are protective and keep you from experiencing the primary emotion they are masking. What is my primary emotion? I found this feelings wheel (above).
- My friend, LuckyOtter, suggested I try visualizing my feelings. Try to observe the empty feeling as if it’s an object. Figure out where it’s centered in the body, try to name the feelings it contains, see if a memory is being triggered, and examine it without judgement.
I’d love to hear any other ideas for getting over periods of dissociating and dysphoria. What works for you?
The best way to prevent yourself from being manipulated is by fixing your insecurities, which will require exploring your inner motivations, confronting painful experiences and working hard to change your thought patterns. But that takes time.
Thankfully, there are some more immediate things you can do to prevent yourself from being manipulated while you work on the larger issues – hopefully with the help of a therapist. For us narcissists, most of these rules can be summed up into one larger idea: talk less, listen more.
Talk Less, Listen More
A couple of weeks ago I was at the playground with my son. I was practicing using empathy and vowed to talk (listen) to the other moms – without steering the conversation back to myself.
I struck up a conversation with the mother of a boy my son was playing with. She was reading a book and I asked her what she was reading. She gave me a quick rundown of the book, which was written by an MMA fighter that she liked. Based on her description it sounded really funny and I could tell she was enjoying it.
Her ringing endorsement actually made me interested in reading it myself. But before I could even get the words out of my mouth to say that, she followed up with, “It’s so stupid I know. I wish I was reading something smarter – maybe a classic like Jane Eyre or something like that.”
She was apologizing for who she was and what she liked – but more than that, she was giving me a key insight into her psyche. One that could be used to manipulate her by the right person: she was insecure about her intelligence, she feared her interests made her common, uninteresting, unfeminine, and dull.
I do this all the time. Most people do. But we narcissists have a nasty habit of talking about ourselves in an effort to impress and in doing so we give “tells” that manipulators and con-artists can use against us.
What can you do? Stop talking about yourself so much.
- As a rule, try a ratio of 60/40 listening vs. talking — maybe even 70/30 in the beginning until you start to become more comfortable with it.
- Learn to accept uncomfortable silences and don’t rush to fill them – that’s when you find yourself saying something you wish you could take back. Instead, wait for the other person to respond.
- Think before you speak, then say it with confidence. Don’t tell your insecurities with phrases like, “this may be a dumb suggestion” or “I know this sounds silly.”
- Speak deliberately and at your own pace. Speaking too quickly sends the message that you’re insecure and believe others don’t care what you have to say.
- Make eye contact – lack of eye contact is a key indicator that you have low self-esteem.
What else can you do?
Develop Strong Boundaries
Develop strong boundaries. Decide what you want the world to know about you and do not share any more. Adjust your boundaries based on where you are and who you are dealing with. For example, what you share at work is different than what you may share with your book club.
According to PsychCentral, boundaries are “like an imaginary line or force field that separates you and others. Healthy boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming or accepting blame. They protect you from feeling guilty for someone else’s negative feelings or problems and taking others’ comments personally. High reactivity suggests weak emotional boundaries. Healthy emotional boundaries require clear internal boundaries – knowing your feelings and your responsibilities to yourself and others.” Learn more here.
Beware of flattery
How does flattery differ from a genuine compliment? Merriam Webster defines flattery as false or excessive praise, and complimenting as offering respect or admiration for the other person. Flattery is insincere, where as a compliment is genuine. Pay attention to the compliments you receive and assess them.
Watch out for mirroring or behavioral mimicry
From Wikipedia, “Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Mirroring often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family. The concept often affects other individual’s notions about the individual that is exhibiting mirroring behaviors, which can lead to the individual building rapport with others.”
Some amount of mirroring is normal and healthy in interpersonal situations and indicates a genuine rapport. However, it can be used to manipulate you by creating a false sense of connection. This can be physical mirroring, but also verbal. How do you know if you’re being mirrored? A good tell is that the person in question seems to have everything in common with you.
If you think you are being mirrored, conduct a test: when the person asks you something about yourself, answer with a question. Example, “What’s your favorite movie?” “Good question! Let me think for a second. What’s yours?” Let them answer first a few times and see if you seem to be falling out of sync.
Let people earn your trust before sharing
Go slowly with what you share and see if it is reciprocal. Share something small then give it some time and see how it feels. Were you treated with empathy? Did they share something back? Was what you shared kept in confidence?
Be wary of anyone who shares too much too soon. Someone who is purposely manipulating you may share something incredibly personal with you very early in the relationship. This serves two purposes: First, it creates an immediate (false) sense of intimacy. Second, you feel compelled to share something personal back, which can then be used for further manipulation.
Here, Brene Brown shares 6 Types of People Who Do Not Deserve to Hear Your Shame Story.
Learn not to react
If you think you are being manipulated into anger, shame, embarrassment, or some other feeling, don’t give a reaction. That’s what the manipulator wants.
Practice your blank face in the mirror and be ready to use it when someone presses your buttons. Remember to breathe when you feel anxious. Also practice saying phrases like, “OK”, “Good to know”, “Oh really?” “Understood” and “Sorry you feel that way” in the mirror, without showing any emotion.
Have you been manipulated in the past? How do you stop yourself from being manipulated?
I have a nasty habit of not listening when others talk. It’s a huge problem that affects not only my personal relationships, but my work performance. There’s nothing worse than being called on in a meeting and not being able to answer intelligently because you’re completely lost.
For me it’s a two pronged problem:
- I have trouble keeping my mind from wandering. I’m either rehearsing my response in my head or thinking about my own things.
- I don’t care what the other person is talking about and am just putting in my time, waiting until we get back to talking about me.
I have been dealing with #1 by using the mindfulness strategy of gently bringing my mind back to the present when I feel it wandering, without self-judgement. This does help.
For #2, I read somewhere that to increase your empathy you should have at least one conversation a week with someone you don’t know that goes beyond small talk.
I try to allot at least 10 minutes for this, and make a conscious point not to talk about myself in these conversations. If I have something we can relate on I will share, but my rule for these conversations is 70/30 talking about them vs. me.
Simple practice helps a lot. It’s a habit like anything else. I find that when I actually am hearing what the other person is saying, I tend to naturally become more interested and engaged.
I actually enjoy listening to others now, a lot more than I did before. I still have to consciously remind myself a lot though and keep up with the practice, or I slip back into old patterns.
Do you have this problem? What do you do to help with it?