Tag Archives: idealize

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.

How to Make Yourself Fall Out of Love

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. DBT Opposite Action Love.png

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.

DBT Peer Connections Ep 4c – Emotion Regulation Opposite Action

Hobbies are Grade-A supply

Throughout my life, I have gone through periods where I get obsessively excited about something and it takes center stage in my life, usually hobbies or learning new skills.

I will throw myself into learning every possible thing about it. This usually follows a period of dysphoria and extreme boredom. I’ve had love affairs with pottery, refinishing furniture, cake decorating, politics, party planning, and the list goes on.

I once learned to make my own beauty products. I enjoyed it so much I started an Etsy shop to sell them. It took a while for it to get off the ground. Not only did I have to make the products, but I had to design the packaging, network with other shop owners, advertise on social media, research new and interesting trends in the market.

It became a full time job (figuratively). But I loved it and it was paying off. I was finally growing my customer base and starting to establish a real following and reputation. I had repeat customers that really liked my products and bought them over and over again.

And that’s when the inevitable happened: I got bored. It no longer provided the excitement it once did. It just became another responsibility. A chore. I closed the store one day without much notice and never reopened it, leaving my customers in the lurch.

I treated my love affair with my hobbies like so many cluster B’s treat relationships – idealize, devalue, discard. Once I master a new skill or a hobby, it’s no longer exciting to me. I’ve conquered it. It no longer captivates my interest. The feedback (supply) I get isn’t as valuable.

And then I’d be back on the prowl for a new hobby. Something I could throw myself into again.

During these off periods between hobbies, I’d feel boredom and long for something new to capture my interest, trying thing after thing. But I could never tell what it would be until the very moment I’d stumble upon something that would ignite that spark in me again.

I think the initial enthusiasm I feel for my hobbies is similar to the love-bombing we do in relationships: You’re genuinely over-the-moon excited about this new person you’ve found this rare spark with, you want to learn everything about them and be with them all the time. They captivate you. Until they don’t. And you’re genuinely sad because you had such high hopes that this one would work out long term.

Before starting recovery, I never realized that these hobbies were a source of supply. Mastering something new so quickly and effectively told me I was smart, capable, creative and superior to others who couldn’t pick things up as quickly and easily as I could. It made me feel special and unique. Sharing my hobbies with people and having them like it told me I was valuable and worthwhile and offered gratification when they gave me approval. Adding yet another skill to my list made me a more interesting person – it gave me something to impress others with at parties.

And there’s a genuine upside to it. I am good at a lot of random, interesting skills and hobbies. And that really does make me a more well-rounded, interesting person, which is pretty cool. I never know when I’ll get to use these old skills again in surprising ways.

And when this idealizing happens to align with my career – as it did for me during college and immediately after – I wildly excelled professionally. This enthusiasm translates into an intense drive to succeed, which can be a great thing. After all, some level of narcissism is healthy and required for those who become the very best at what they do.

The problem is that I would become completely self-absorbed during these times. My love affairs with hobbies left no room for anything else – namely my family which would be put on the back burner or shut out completely.

The best way I can describe my state of mind during these periods is that it is akin to anxiety. I became anxious and obsessive. My mind felt cloudy – the only thing I could see clearly was my new interest, while everything else fell into the periphery. I had trouble focusing and controlling my thoughts.

It also left me jumping from thing to thing without any stability. I felt erratic. While I’d learn a lot about a bunch of different things, I’d never really attain that “expert” status – I didn’t stick around long enough. I always wished I could find something I loved that could continuously make me happy long-term.

As I continue in my recovery I often come across something that makes me feel in an old and familiar way. When I’m feeling like the “old me” I try to stop myself and think about what I’m doing, how I’m feeling and what I think the root cause of this feeling or behavior is.

The more I learn about my disorder and my own personal motivations behind my repeat behaviors, these things become easier to recognize and deal with.

Just recently I realized I have been doing it with this very blog. Being able to recognize that early on, identify a pattern and pinpoint my motivations makes me feel like I’m making real progress. I had never put all this together until now.

And that’s a major step I don’t want to downplay. But to continue to grow, I have to learn how to actually balance my interests with the rest of my life – and enjoy something without making it the focus of my entire world or a source of supply.

The cat conundrum

Being self-aware, I sometimes seriously wonder how I have any friends left at all and want to call each one and thank them for sticking it out with me. I actually did that not too long ago with my best friend.

I asked her why she remained friends with me when so many others didn’t. She had to think about it for a really long time. She didn’t have an answer for me for a few weeks.

She said deep down she knew I was genuinely a good person. I think it also helped that her mom is NPD too – but not high enough up on the spectrum so that my friend became disordered herself or has a really bad relationship with her. So, she kind of gets it.

She is kind of low empathy too though. I think that helped us bond. She can say stuff to me that she can’t say to anyone else, like how she secretly wishes her cat would die already. I can relate. I’ve had my own cat for nearly 10 years and it’s getting tedious.

Ten years ago, a cat was a great idea for me! And I “loved” that cat! Until I had kids. Then the cat became another chore – one that woke up the baby I worked so hard to put down. So now, not so much. Also, I felt like I only had so much room in my heart for love and now that I had a child, the cat didn’t cut it anymore. This was a big fear of mine when my second child was born too. How would I divide what little love I had between the two of them? I can see now how some narcs unwittingly scapegoat one child and overvalue the other.

But alas, I’m stuck. The kids would wonder what happened if the cat disappeared one day or we gave her away. That can’t be a good lesson to teach them: when those we “love” get boring or require too much back from us, we just dump them. I’m supposed to love my cat.

As I’m writing this, I literally just realized I idealized and devalued the cat, now I’m ready for the discard. Didn’t really think I did that. Wow, guess I do.

No, I pretty much have to keep faking it until she naturally dies. Damn it.

Not only that, but I really do need to be nicer to her. The kids have picked up on my disdain and I really want them to develop true feelings of love for animals. I really don’t want my kids to end up like me.

The good thing is that the more I try to be empathetic toward the cat the easier it gets. I’m not joking! I think, how does it make her feel that no one ever pets her? That every time she tries to get close to us we push her away and tell her she’s annoying? I put myself in the cat’s proverbial shoes. Then I feel more compelled to give her some affection. Baby steps.

I asked my therapist about this too. Sometimes I have to do that – get a reality check from someone else: exactly how abnormal is this thought?

She said her cat annoys her too and they kind of also just tolerate it (relief), but she doesn’t necessarily want it to die (oops). I guess I took that one a step too far.

My deeper concern is, why don’t I love my cat? It scares me. I sometimes wonder if I actually love anyone or anything at all. This is what low empathy feels like.

That’s why I sometimes visit r/sociopath. That group attracts lots of low empathy types, not just those with ASPD, but people with autism, etc. I never knew this was a problem for them too.

Sociopaths also really understand what makes people tick. People generally really like them because they know how to make others feel good (when they want to). And being as clueless as I have been about that, I learn a lot from them about human nature and how to fit in better socially.

Anyway, these folks recognize they have no or low empathy, whereas most narcissists don’t. It can be kind of refreshing just to talk to other people who understand that feeling.

At least until my empathy grows to a point where I don’t feel this way anymore. And it is growing. It’s just taking time.