Tag Archives: mindfulness

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.

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?

Learning to listen when others talk

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:

  1. I have trouble keeping my mind from wandering. I’m either rehearsing my response in my head or thinking about my own things.
  2. 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?

Hello, My Name is Yara, and I’m a Crack Addict for Approval

What happens when you become self-aware? For one, you start questioning your own sanity.

I look back and I cringe at things I’ve done in the past. At the time, my behavior made perfect sense to me. I was totally justified.

But as a healthier person seeing it through another lens, it’s embarrassing. I can’t believe I walked around acting the way I did – I overshared to the point of embarrassment, I showed no empathy for others, I (unknowingly) used people, I had no control over my temper, I was condescending and rude. Finally, I was easily manipulated because all it took was a little flattery, ego stroking, or approval and I was putty in a manipulator’s hands.

The anger is what I remember the most. I was always angry – or always looking for a reason to be. I wore all my insecurities on my sleeve. I was a caricature of a person.

Knowing that, today if I feel offended or manipulated – even if the manipulation is resulting in a good feeling—I find myself wondering, what part of this is real and what part is my disorder?

I wonder, is this person doing this on purpose? Do they mean to hurt or offend me? Are they pretending to like me to get something from me? Are they manipulating me? My rational mind tells me, probably not. This is your disorder talking, it is probably not even about you. Stop making everything about you!

But there’s always the possibility that I am actually being manipulated or mistreated. What then?

Because I now recognize I’ve been so completely detached from reality for so long, I have trouble separating fact from the fiction I have a habit of creating in my head.  Not being able to tell real from fake is disorienting. My inner compass is broken. I can’t trust myself.

Recently, I’ve been trying to break the cycle. Yesterday, after dealing with a highly manipulative person, I found myself questioning the interaction. I went over the conversation in my head again and again, picking apart what they said, what they were trying to get from me, how they were trying to make me feel, how it did make me feel.

That last one is the key: How did it make me feel?  In the end, it doesn’t matter if the other person is trying to manipulate me, because with strong boundaries I can protect myself. What matters is why I feel manipulated and what the root cause of that insecurity is.

The answer was what it almost always is for me—approval. This person was offering me approval and I soaked it right up. Despite my self-awareness. Despite working so hard on changing my behaviors and addressing my triggers. Despite that they have shown me little respect in the past.

Did they do it on purpose? Maybe. Does it matter? It shouldn’t. I’m working on not letting it.

Step one: Mindfulness. Stop letting my mind wander back to the interaction (obsessing). Every time it does, gently bring my focus back to the present.

Step two: Awareness of my feelings. Acknowledging, valuing and respecting my own feelings. Whether the person is actively trying to manipulate me or not, I know I don’t like how I feel. Being aware also helps me to be more vigilant in monitoring my own responses and protecting my boundaries.

Step three: Self-compassion. Not beating myself up for failing to have the perfect response, for soaking up the supply like a crack addict. I’m not a total failure. All hope is not lost. I’ve come a long way and I’m still working on it. Look at the positives: At least I realized what I was doing, albeit a little late. After all, before I wouldn’t have realized it at all. Next time I will do even better.

Step four: Self introspection. What are the root causes of my need for approval? How can I get those needs met in a healthy way?

Step five: Planning. How will I respond to situations like this in the future? Do I need to adjust my boundaries? How can I better recognize this stuff before acting next time?

What upsets me most about my need for supply is how vulnerable it makes me feel. Not to people like my husband, who loves me, but to others who haven’t earned that vulnerability from me. Brene Brown says, “You share with people who’ve earned the right to hear your story…It’s an honor to hold space for me when I’m in shame.”

But my need for approval, which stems from my childhood shame, is written all over me from my body language to my reactions. It’s as though I’m broadcasting my shame for the world to see. Until I can get it under control, I feel raw and exposed, out of control.

They say narcissists have addictive tendencies. My need for approval is my biggest addiction and I sometimes feel like a slave to it. Will I always have this addiction? Will I always be a narcissist, the way people in AA are always alcoholics even if they haven’t had a drink in 20 years? Will I have to fight against this for the rest of my life?

What a sad and terrifying thought.

I want to kick my habits now. But I know it takes time. And practice.

I want to be normal.