Tag Archives: dissociating

A Narcissist Does Group Therapy

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.

Introducing Teresa

computer hackerThen, 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…

group therapyEvery 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

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

best friends.jpg

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.

Realizing You’re the Abuser

Shit has been really getting dire around here. Supply has been low and I’m hitting a wall. For months now I’ve been dealing with strong emotions and painful childhood memories, and trying hard to fight off emotional numbness and dissociations.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to restrict my access to unhealthy or attention-seeking forms of “supply” as I try to force myself to learn to rely on myself to regulate my own self-worth. Not. Easy.

Prolonged numbness + dissociation = rage

I’ve tried just about everything I can think of to pull myself out of this emotional wasteland I’m in. But nothing has had a strong enough impact to pull me out of it completely, or to permanently make it stop. Everything seems like a short term, temporary fix, before it’s back to the boredom and numbness.

I know it can’t last forever, but at this point I’m getting desperate. And angry.

What does that mean? I’m so desperate to feel again I’ll do anything. Positive supply isn’t coming quick enough and in abundance – so I’ve resorted to fucking shit up.  In other words: let’s stir the pot and see what bubbles to the surface.

What’s been pissing me off recently that I can bring up now and start a fight about? Who’s on my shit list that can I text something snide to, just to see how they respond? Let’s go online and troll someone obnoxious. At this point, all bets are off. Anger feels better than boredom. It’s that dire.

For the record, I am not proud of this. I’m actually quite ashamed.

I absolutely hate that I am doing this and really want to stop. These feelings are a reminder to me that self-awareness alone is not enough. Not by a long shot. But it is helpful. I thought about it last night and realized I’m essentially throwing a temper tantrum to get attention. The same thing I did as a child when nothing else worked. (Insight)

Discovering my multiple personalities

multiple-personalities-dissociationI’ve heard NPD compared to a dissociative  disorder. Sometimes I can’t seem to control which personality comes out, or turn it off. This is a prime example.

This week “Cluster B Girl” is out and she’s a royal narc. She don’t give a fuck. When Cluster B Girl is up, I see myself raging and doing other self-destructive behaviors that I know I’ll later regret.

Internally I am thinking, stop it! Why are you doing this—this behavior is not going to get you want you want, in fact just the opposite! Shut up before you make things worse. Face palm. But the words are flying out of my mouth like someone else is speaking them.

I have a front row seat, but I’m not really participating. Except the rage—I feel that full force.

Realizing I’m the abuser

The other night my husband, Aidan, did something stupid to piss me off. Add that to the pile of other stuff I’m dealing with and I exploded. I had a glass of red wine in my hand and I couldn’t help myself—I just chucked it at him.

I regretted it the second I flicked my wrist. Red wine all over the walls and the ceiling. Lesson learned: red wine stains wall paint on impact and it doesn’t come out. Now I’m going to have to repaint. As if I needed this.

I’m taking responsibility and I’m going to paint it myself, without asking for any help. In the past, I would have found a way to make this Aiden’s fault and somehow force him to do it.

That thought did cross my mind, but this time it disturbed me. It felt cruel. And degrading. This may have been the first time I ever realized how my behavior actually is “abusive” or how controlling and mean I can be.

Furthermore, why did I care about the wall more than Aiden’s feelings? Probably because the wall would affect me (having to look at it, fix it, embarrassment if people came over, etc.), whereas his feelings I could just ignore. Another eye opening and disturbing thought.

Weed really helps me when I’m raging like this. If I smoke, I can calm myself down enough to consider his perspective. We had a long conversation about everything and I made it a point to listen and empathize with him. And apologize.

Forgetting I’m unlovable

broken-heart-unloveableI got pretty down on myself and started thinking about everything that’s wrong with me, all the ways I fail as a wife and a mother, all the problems I have from my shitty childhood that I can’t get over, and started feeling like all hope is lost. Maybe my mom was right. I’m just an inherently flawed, unlovable, bad person. Why would anyone love me? Look how I act and treat people. I’m stuck in this never ending pit of nothingness. Now I’ve ruined all hope, by raging and hurting anyone who has tried to help me.

But, Aiden made some great points that immediately helped me turn around my thinking. He pointed out several positive long-lasting changes I’ve made, even through this period of dysphoria. The arc of my emotional growth is long, but it bends toward change.

Hearing him say he’s proud of me, despite my setbacks, gave me an enormous sense of pride and encouraged me to want to keep going. I want to try harder to live up to it, and keep making him proud. He didn’t give up on me, even though I may have deserved it.

We were able to connect and today I feel much calmer and a lot less angry. I really needed that with him.

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but when I’m raging, one thing he can do to actually help calm me down is to show me empathy. He also has been doing a great job of encouraging me to have self-compassion too, which is also incredibly helpful.

Introspection = new insights

woman personality puzzle.jpgOK, so here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Holidays and days of celebration are fucking brutal for me—apparently even silly little holidays like Valentine’s Day. I haven’t figured out exactly how yet, but I need to prepare better.
  2. I do seek negative supply, when I’m desperate. It’s definitely not my first choice, but apparently, if I’m that hard up for attention, I’ll take it over nothing.
  3. Holy shit, I am controlling. Like…. Really controlling. Things will go my way, or I will reign down terror on you, until you not only capitulate, but fucking thank me for making you do it — then apologize for ever having not listened to me in the first place. Only, after I’ve demanded all this, I look at you as weak and lose respect for you. Wow. Of all my new insights into my personality so far, this is the ugliest I’ve had to face. This says, yes Yara, you are abusive. Now that I realize this, there is no getting around it. I have to keep working toward change. This is not OK.
  4. I have to keep consciously practicing the DBT more and making it a point to stop myself when I’m acting out, no matter how hard it is. I’ve been doing things here and there, incorporating stuff where I can. But I need to start making this a part of my every day and staying on track.

Self realization is necessary for growth

I’m not always like this. My control issues seem to flare up badly when I feel I’ve lost control of my life on a larger scale. In this case I’ve lost control of my mood. If I can keep my moods more stable, I am sure I can reduce this. I just need to keep working at it. I haven’t been this way in a while, where it was more commonplace before. Aiden pointed that out too. That’s positive.

As much as all of this sucks, it has to happen. Prior to waking up, I didn’t see any of this. I believed I was the victim. I had no insight into my own behaviors and motivations—or other people’s perceptions.

Now, experiencing the full range of all of my moods and cycles, it’s like all things are being revealed. I may need to go through a few to figure things out, but Aiden helped me feel hopeful. Change is slow, but it is happening.

Learning to empathize

couple listening with empathy.jpg

When we talked, Aiden also shared with me how things have impacted him recently. Essentially he’s finding it difficult to keep up with the amount of supply I need recently. He said I’ve been more irritable and needy than usual and he’s finding it hard to maintain his calm (which then causes me to react in kind).

I really don’t know what to do about this. I was able to empathize with him—I understand how hard it is to give me what I’m asking for. And he has needs too. But I just don’t know how else to handle it all without seeking outside supply. At least right now until I’m back to “normal.”

Treatment for NPD = doubt, frustration

This is why NPDs need our own treatment. Preferably something that combines DBT and another method like schema at once. I’m doing DBT (originally designed for Borderlines), which is great for identifying patterns and helping change behaviors. But until I get rid of these deeper-seated issues with something like schema therapy, I may always be cycling back and forth between these extreme highs and lows. I need to learn how to regulate my own self-esteem, so I don’t need supply. But I also need to learn to care about other people and change my behavior.

So I am waiting until I’ve learned all my DBT, then finding a new therapist and starting something else from scratch. Not only that, but no one knows for sure that any of this will even work.

Sometimes I feel like we are making it up as we go along. Throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. There are no concrete answers for NPD yet.

It’s frustrating and it’s a long process to stick with for people who already have trouble sticking with things long term. I’m used to learning something almost immediately, rocking the shit out of it, getting bored and moving on. But this takes serious long term commitment, which I’ve never done before.

You have to want this change more than anything you’ve ever wanted. It is not easy. No wonder why so many of us just give up.

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More Help on Dissociating

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.

 

Dysphoria, Dissociation, Anhedonia, Oh My

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.

feelings-wheel
Feelings wheel

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.
    terranium
    My little forest in a jar.

    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?