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.
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.
My friend, who blogs about living with Borderline Personality Disorder, gives her perspective on loving someone with NPD. She writes about her fiance with a lot of unconditional love and compassion — something most of us NPDers never had growing up.
Since waking up, I’ve learned more about BPD, and have been surprised at the many similarities in our internal thinking. This has become more evident as I’ve started learning DBT, which was originally developed for Borderlines.
It’s also striking how many Borderlines and Narcissists find ourselves in relationships. I’d say there’s a special relationship between the two disorders.
Borderline Mama writes:
His behaviour is not okay, I’m well aware of that. But it is fueled by his need for attention, love and validation. I put up with his behaviour by choice, because I know he is as emotionally damaged as me. I have BPD, and he puts up with my negative borderline characteristics. So why should I give up on him?
Our personality disorders are quite similar in some ways. Both narcissists and borderlines have a distorted sense of self, issues with rage, a deep fear of abandonment, and black and white thinking. Through these similarities, I am able to understand my SO’s behaviour to some degree.
Read the whole article: Loving & Understanding A Narcissist
There’s this idea going around that’s pretty widely accepted in the “narcissistic abuse” community that narcissists are drawn to “empaths.”
Empaths are supposed to be so highly empathetic toward others they can almost read other people’s minds. Apparently narcissists love empaths because we feed off that raw empathy, which we are so lacking in.
Ironically, before realizing I was a narcissist myself, I considered myself to be a highly empathetic person and possibly even one of these empaths. Turns out I have very low empathy. Yet, I’ve heard this same sentiment among other self-aware narcissists too – all believing we were highly empathetic prior to waking up. How is that possible?
My guess is that it’s cognitive empathy at play. There are different types of empathy: cognitive and emotional/affective.
Affective empathy is an automatic drive to respond appropriately to another’s emotions. It allows you to put yourself in another person’s shoes and actually feel their feelings with them. When they are sad, you feel their sadness with them. When they are happy, you share their happiness too.
Cognitive empathy is knowing how another person feels and what they might be thinking. It is also referred to as “perspective-taking”. Cognitive empathy can help in a negotiation or in motivating people.
Narcissists are low on emotional empathy, but actually very skilled at using cognitive empathy. I can “read” a person’s emotional state very quickly and then relate that back to their underlying feelings and motivations. I pick up on subtleties, nuances, voice inflections, physical movements. This can come across as me being very emotionally attuned, almost like a mind reader. And I could always feel sympathy or compassion for that person, which I had confused for affective empathy.
Until recently, I never realized there were two types of empathy. I never grew up with affective empathy – I didn’t experience or witness it at home as a child so I quite literally did not realize I was missing it. My cognitive empathy was off the charts though.
When it comes to narcissists being attracted to highly empathetic people, my experience has been quite the opposite. I tend to be attracted to other low empathy types. In my case, this is usually paths (ASPD) or other NPDers. You can’t get much more low empathy than that. I also had a strong, almost reflexive disdain for emotional weakness.
At the time I never realized this, and wondered why I always found myself the “victim” to these types of personalities. Looking back, I see how comfortable I actually felt with them, in part precisely because we could be low empathy together and not feel judged or out of place. Additionally, because we are generally more skilled in hiding our own emotions, other Cluster Bs were more interesting and even mysterious to me — they presented more of a challenge.
In my experience Cluster B’s are drawn to each other and can act as codependents to one another. In fact, the most common pairing for a narcissist is a borderline personality. The common parings are BPD/NPD and BPD/ASPD. I’d say this has to be followed by NPD/NPD and NPD/ASPD, although I haven’t found the statistics yet to back this up.
This is for all sorts of reasons, but primarily, we feel comfortable with each other. Plus “normal” people can’t stay with any of us Cluster B’s too long before jumping ship. Media tends to get this right sometimes, for example, shows such as House of Cards (NPD/ASPD couple), The Sopranos (BPD/NPD mom/ASPD dad) or even the black comedy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“the gang”: three narcissists and a sociopath).
I’ve also asked around about this in my Cluster B support groups, which are primarily filled with other NPDs, BPDs and ASPDs. The overwhelming consensus was that we are all generally attracted to other Cluster B’s. We tend to view each other as partners in crime — someone else we can take on the world with. Anecdotal evidence backs this up as well.
Quite frankly, people who exude lots of empathy have always made me uncomfortable. First, I have never gotten used to having anyone really support me or care about my feelings. Vulnerability is extremely hard for me. So when someone shows me a high level of empathy, I clam up and become incredibly uncomfortable. Like, I have to get out of here pronto, level discomfort.
I have a friend who is very empathetic. Once we had just come from hanging out and she was dropping me off at my house. We sat in the car talking. I started sharing with her how I had recently had two back-to-back miscarriages and was very depressed about it, worrying if I would ever have a full term pregnancy again. As I spoke, her eyes welled up with tears and by the time I finished she was full on crying. She seemed more upset about it than I was!
Far from being comforted, I felt trapped and panicked. On an intellectual level I appreciated her concern for me but I didn’t know what to say or do. I looked at her like she was some type of alien whose actions were completely foreign to me – because they were. I remember thinking, great, I just wanted to get this off my chest, now she’s crying and I have to deal with this. And I never know how to respond when others cry or show vulnerability around me.
It was so incredibly uncomfortable for me, I had a hard time not registering my shock and confusion. I clammed up and struggled to continue with the conversation. She never said anything to me about it, but I don’t think I pulled it off. I definitely registered a flash of confusion on her face as well. It was weird. I made an excuse to get the hell out of her car.
Based on the evidence, my own experience, and the anecdotal stuff I’ve gathered from other awake Cluster B’s, I can’t imagine any narcissist purposely choosing or seeking to be around highly empathetic people. That’s just not how it works.
For those of you with Cluster B personality disorders, who do you find you’re most attracted to?
Growing up, everyone thought my dad was the BEST. It was the 80’s and all my friends compared him to everyone’s favorite TV dad, Bill Cosby. Even I thought he was very much like that…in public. He was funny, smart, charming, fun, handsome.
In private, my dad was much more like Tony Soprano. In fact, the Sopranos is one of the best overall descriptions of my family life growing up. Not from a mafia perspective, but based on the personalities — or rather the personality disorders — of the characters.
One of the most familiar and recognizable characters to me, is Livia Soprano, Tony’s mother, who is described as having either Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder — or maybe even a mix of the two. This scene below is an apt description of what life with my mother was like. Word for word, down to the, “I gave my life to my children on a silver platter.” In fact, I relate a lot to the scenes of Tony’s childhood growing up with a narcissistic mother and ASPD father.
After watching the Sopranos, it was clear to me somebody in the writer’s room had some personal experience. It was all just too spot on. Turns out I was right. David Chase, who produced and wrote The Sopranos, says Livia’s character is based on his own mother.
“Chase claims his father was an angry man who belittled him constantly as a child and his mother was a ‘passive-aggressive drama queen’ and a ‘nervous woman who dominated any situation she was in by being so needy and always on the verge of hysteria. You walked on eggshells.’ One of his characters on the HBO original series The Sopranos, Livia Soprano, is based on his mother. Chase struggled with panic attacks and severe depression as a teenager, something he still deals with today.”
I haven’t watched the Sopranos in years, but it may be time to watch again, this time with a fresh, better informed perspective. I only wish they went a little more into detail on Tony’s relationship with his kids and how his sociopathy affected them. In many ways, it’s overlooked in the show, although we do see some splitting between his son AJ (who does demonstrate some behavioral problems as a child) and his golden child daughter, Meadow.