When your therapist rejects you.

No, my therapist hasn’t rejected me, but I think this is something that all of us in therapy sometimes worry about.

Lucky Otters Haven

Abandonmentsign

I just read a post from a blogger who describes how her therapist suddenly terminated her without warning.  She writes,

I spend pockets of time here and there throughout the days just wracking my brain trying to figure out what went so wrong. I replay our conversations in my head and try to decipher what this meant or why she said that. I try to figure out what the fuck I did wrong.

It’s devastating and crazymaking.  Unfortunately, being suddenly rejected by a mental health professional seems to be pretty common.   People who have never been in therapy sometimes have trouble understanding how devastating this can be.  We become extremely attached to our therapists through a process known as transference, especially when the therapy is of the psychodynamic type (as opposed to behavioral/cognitive methods like CBT).  The therapist acts as a surrogate parent and for a therapist…

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Come closer…go away.

goaway_comecloser

I’ve begun to experience some powerful feelings for someone right now.   It’s hard to describe, since I haven’t met this person and most likely never will (which is perfectly okay).   The feeling is a bizarre mix of low-level limerence (but that’s not quite it), empathy, and friendship (affection), but really, none of these really describe it.  The closest way I guess I can describe the feeling is the transference feelings one sometimes develops toward a therapist (and I do have those too).

Idealization of a person is something that comes naturally to me as a borderline.  I know it’s idealization because I don’t know them very well and haven’t seen their flaws.   I’m a person who prefers to live out romantic fantasy in private, because the reality of an actual relationship never lives up to the perfect fantasy I’ve constructed in my mind (even though part of me longs for a real connection with someone in the physical world).   This individual seems to be a kind of a mirror to me right now, similar to the way my therapist also is mirroring me.   But in no way is this individual in a therapist role.   I consider myself friends with this individual, but I have to be very, very careful because I can tell they need a lot of space–and I don’t want them to know how strongly I feel.  It’s a delicate push-pull balance–a kind of dance, almost:  to maintain a balance between my desire to get closer and possibly overstep boundaries (and get hurt), and not giving enough or even pre-emptive rejection of someone I like due to my own deep fear of rejection.

I’ve talked about this with my therapist and he thinks this is good practice for me and is a sign I’m beginning to connect in more meaningful ways and learning to be mindful about it at the same time.  But it sure isn’t second nature yet.   In the past I always either became obsessed and overwhelmed people by trying to get too close too soon, or avoided them (in spite of my strong feelings) to not have to experience possible rejection.  There was never any in between.

The wrong kind of transference.

ebola_or_flu

Last Monday, when I saw my therapist, he told me he had a cold.  It seemed pretty bad too, because he kept coughing and sneezing and blowing his nose.    I didn’t think too much of this, and since I rarely get sick anymore (since I stopped my monthly cycle, my frequent colds also stopped, go figure!)  it didn’t occur to me I might be out of commission for a few days.  But the rare times I do get sick, I get really sick!

Well, lo and behold, come Thursday, I woke up with a  tickle in the back of my throat and felt slightly feverish.   I felt like calling in sick to work, but I didn’t because I can’t afford to.  I stopped at the grocery store and stocked up on some store-brand Day Quil, NyQuil,  and Robitussin for the inevitable cough that would come later.    I slogged through my day, feeling slightly groggy, but otherwise not too bad.   I saw my therapist again that night.

“Guess what.  I got your cold,” I said.   I knew he was the culprit, because no one else I know has a cold.  He spent the next five minutes apologizing.    He offered me the box of tissues that sit on the end table for his crying clients (so I haven’t needed them yet).  He actually looked worried about me!  I swear he’s the sweetest person I ever met  (why couldn’t I have married someone like him?)    I assured him I wasn’t mad at him or upset in any way and it wasn’t that bad anyway.

I spoke too soon because Friday I was worse, and so sleepy from both the virus and the medication I could do practically nothing but sleep after I made it home from  work.  How I managed to get through THAT day I don’t know.   I was too groggy and sick to even want to spend much time blogging.  I felt retarded.  My thoughts oozed slowly like January molasses.     I slept for about 14 hours straight.

Today was much the same only worse.  My cold has become the Martian Death Flu.   I was achy and I felt hot so I took my temperature and it was 103.   My cough was cruel and relentless. I sounded like a barking seal.    My nose felt like it was stuffed with cotton balls.  I’ve  already been through probably an entire box of tissues.   The weather was pretty but I spent all of today curled up in my bed, sleeping and reading a little bit in between fever dreams I can’t remember. I know I won’t die, but I sure don’t feel too alive.

I think this disease peaked earlier today, because now I’m beginning to feel a little better. I actually ate some dinner and now I’m drinking some coffee.  The cough has subsided somewhat and my temperature is down to almost normal.  I feel like tomorrow I might be able to join the living again.

Transference is a great thing, but this was the wrong kind!   Next time he gets sick, he should warn me in advance so I can get one of those space suits like those researchers who work with the Ebola virus.

When your therapist rejects you.

Abandonmentsign

I just read a post from a blogger who describes how her therapist suddenly terminated her without warning.  She writes,

I spend pockets of time here and there throughout the days just wracking my brain trying to figure out what went so wrong. I replay our conversations in my head and try to decipher what this meant or why she said that. I try to figure out what the fuck I did wrong.

It’s devastating and crazymaking.  Unfortunately, being suddenly rejected by a mental health professional seems to be pretty common.   People who have never been in therapy sometimes have trouble understanding how devastating this can be.  We become extremely attached to our therapists through a process known as transference, especially when the therapy is of the psychodynamic type (as opposed to behavioral/cognitive methods like CBT).  The therapist acts as a surrogate parent and for a therapist to terminate a patient without warning is akin to a parent rejecting their child. It’s extremely traumatic and the victim often develops PTSD from the rejection, especially if they already have attachment or trauma-related issues due to rejection or neglect by caregivers when they were children.   The problem is that many people with mental disorders themselves become therapists, often to work out their own emotional issues by proxy.  They may not be aware they are doing this, but it happens all the time.  That’s why therapists are encouraged and even required to be in therapy themselves, in order to address any counter-transference issues that may come up with their patients.

If my therapist ever rejected me like that…ugh, I don’t even want to think about that. I think I would just want to crawl into a hole somewhere and die.  I know he would never suddenly terminate me without good reason and without explaining why, but because I worry about everything, sometimes I worry about that too.

I’ll give you an example of how ridiculous this worry gets.   In my last session, toward the end, I asked my therapist if he had any children.    I don’t think I had any reason to ask other than simple curiosity.   But after I asked I felt liked I’d somehow overstepped his boundaries (he did answer me).   I don’t even know why, really.  He asked me what made me ask him that.  Maybe he thinks this is significant.   I imagined I saw an angry or concerned look on his face after I asked.   But I always imagine negative looks on people’s faces even when their expression is actually neutral.   I feel like I should apologize.    I don’t even know if he was upset by my question but I still feel like it might have been a boundary invasion.    I know he wouldn’t terminate me for this, but I still worry that he might like me less because I *might* have invaded his boundaries.

It’s so dumb that sometimes I feel like I have to be perfect even for my therapist.

Further reading:

50 Warning Signs of Questionable Therapy  (red flags you should know about):

There are over 700 comments under the above post. I was shocked at some of the stories I read about horrible therapists who make their clients even worse.

Infatuation and Transference:  Please be aware that I wrote this post over a year ago and my views about transference, which were mostly negative at that time, have changed.

 

Spirituality and therapy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Holy-Spirit-10

More often lately, I’m feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit while at church. What this feels like is an opening of my heart and a warm surge of emotion. Sometimes I even get a little misty-eyed during the proceedings, especially after taking communion. It’s hard to put the emotion into words, but it’s a sort of reverent feeling and I always come away feeling energized and ready to confront the week ahead, knowing I’m not alone and God walks beside me every step of the way, no matter how tough things might get (and my life is far from easy!)

I’ve been getting similar feelings during my therapy sessions, and I know some of this is due to repressed emotions coming to conscious awareness. A lot of the emotion, though, I have to admit, has to do with transference–which are the strong feelings some clients develop toward their therapists that can easily be mistaken for limerence or romantic attraction (but in my case lacks a sexual aspect, which is good). In actuality, you don’t know your therapist at all (or at least you shouldn’t, beyond his or her qualifications and competence). The idealization many of us experience toward our therapists are our own projections and indicate primitive attachment has been achieved, and this can become a basis of healing as you learn to work through those feelings to connect with your own emotions and eventually develop healthier relationships with other people.

So what does any of this have to do with the Holy Spirit? Why am I talking about therapy and God in the same article? Well, because the emotions I feel in therapy are often similar to the emotions I have in church. The transference I’m currently experiencing is strong, very strong. When I was 22 I developed a strong transference toward a therapist I’d been seeing for about 2 years and I couldn’t handle it; I lacked the maturity to be able to work through the almost overpowering emotions that came up and they became too painful and I eventually left. That’s okay though; I wasn’t ready.

waldo,jpg
I couldn’t resist.

I’m a lot older and more mature now, and have learned how to be mindful and not allow my emotions to overwhelm me to the point of doing stupid things or making bad choices. In fact, I’ve almost become too controlled, since my primary goal in therapy right now is to connect more with my emotions, which due to complex PTSD, BPD and avoidant PD, have become almost inaccessible to me most of the time. Church and therapy are the two places where I feel safe actually allowing them to bubble to the surface a little bit.

But I’m still only human, and if I’m not careful, my transference toward my therapist could become inappropriate and while not likely to hurt him, could be damaging to me. Maintaining healthy boundaries and remaining mindful, while still welcoming and allowing myself to experience transference feelings toward my therapist can be a bit of a challenge.

So I had a sort of epiphany while praying this morning in church. Why not invite the Holy Spirit in during my sessions? Why not say a prayer just before each session, asking God to help me get the most out of therapy and thanking him for what I’ve already accomplished? Why not ask God to help me stay mindful but still able to experience the wonderful kaleidoscope of emotion that lies under all the fear and defenses I’ve built after years of abuse? God brought this particular therapist and I together for a reason. But he’s just a human being and imperfect like everyone else. I know this on a cognitive level, if not an emotional one. If he seems “ideal” it’s only God working through him; and it’s only me projecting my need for a perfect caregiver, a surrogate parent, onto him.

I also think that asking the Holy Spirit in during my sessions will actually enhance my ability to access buried emotions, and that’s my primary goal at the moment. I think that if I do this, I can get even more out of therapy than I have been getting, and will progress at a faster rate. so I’m going to try doing this this week and see what happens.
God and therapy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Loosening boundaries.

cracked_wall

My therapist moved closer to me today, from about 6 feet away to more like 3 feet.
I feel like I won the lottery.

All week I’ve been obsessing over this and reading everything I can about touch/closeness in therapy it–the ethics involved, client/therapist boundaries, therapeutic uses of touch, etc. I posted on a forum about my longing to crawl over to him on the floor and put my head in his lap (not in a sexual way; but as a little girl would put her head on her daddy’s or mommy’s lap). I didn’t dare tell him this was what I needed.

But today he moved closer to me. I was a little freaked out! HOW DID HE KNOW???? I could easily have panicked but I was intrigued by the contrasts of my battling emotions at that moment. I felt so understood and validated, so I thanked him because it’s exactly what I had been longing to do, but didn’t dare. He’s reaching out to me and trying to connect with me. I think the fact he’s so empathetic makes him able to figure out on an emotional level what I ‘m really feeling and what I need even before I’m aware of it.  I’m beginning to trust him and God knows, I’m idealizing him, but this is part of transference and that’s what is happening. And it’s a beautiful, spiritual thing.    This primitive connection is providing the basis for real attachment with others later on, if all goes well.

I found myself averting my eyes after he moved closer though. I felt like he was trying to get me to look at him but I just couldn’t. I always look off to my left side when I feel that pull between wanting to connect and wanting to get the hell away. One thing about being self-aware and having insight is you notice EVERYTHING you do, body language, what you do with your eyes, that sort of thing. I realized I was doing that to replace the wall he had just torn down, and I told him so. At the same time I long to be held close and comforted and taken care of, half of me wants to run.

Storyteller.

storytellers

My therapist told me I’m a good storyteller.
This was one of the most validating things anyone ever told me. He likes my stories. I keep him entertained. I make him laugh and keep him on the edge of his seat.
Yay me!

Maybe I really could write that novel and keep millions entertained and become rich and famous after all. Why not? Its never too late. Hell, Grandma Moses didn’t become a famous painter until her 90s. There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer.

I always thought of myself as a pretty boring person and an even worse storyteller, because I didn’t think I had any stories worth telling. But I’m finding out that’s not the case.
We all have a story to tell. We’re all actors on this stage called life.

But feeling complimented isn’t really the reason I’m over the moon about what he said. It doesn’t matter if I have the capacity to entertain anyone. I don’t really care if I can make people laugh or keep them quaking in suspense or move them to tears. That’s not my reason for being here.

It means a lot because I feel like he cares. I keep him entertained because he cares about me or at least does a pretty good job pretending he does (but I don’t think it’s pretending). He’s very good at what he does, but more importantly, after four sessions, I feel like we have established trust and a good working relationship. He’s one of the few people who ever showed me any real empathy. I feel like I could tell him almost anything.
Except one thing.

I realized this week I’ve developed strong transference feelings. That’s supposed to happen in psychodynamic therapy. It’s like limerence but without the sexual aspect. I just want to be cared for and protected by him, as if he’s the nurturing and caring surrogate parent I should have had. These feelings can be intense. They replicate ancient attachments from early childhood. You’re supposed to work through them. Right now I just feel incredibly excited to be seeing him again tomorrow.

I know this euphoria won’t last. It might even become painful. I’m prepared for that. I’m idealizing someone I don’t even know. All he is is a mirror, in which I can see whatever I want–or see aspects of myself I can’t own yet. I went through this when I was 22 and wound up walking out on my therapist because I couldn’t handle the intensity of my feelings anymore. But I’m older and more mature now, and know a lot more about how this stuff works than I did back then. Therapy isn’t easy. It’s work, hard work, and I’m prepared to roll up my sleeves and get busy instead of slacking off and expecting to just suddenly not have any problems anymore.

He doesn’t know yet. I don’t know if I’m ready to tell him. He may figure it out even if I don’t say anything. Maybe I can tell it like a story.

What my fear of rejection makes me do

borderline_pd

Time for a true confession.

I’ve been focusing a bit less on narcissism because the topic itself is somewhat of a trigger for me right now.

But I’ve recently decided to write openly about my BPD, which (along with Aspergers) is often misdiagnosed as narcissism.

Besides the envy and pride I’ve previously mentioned as my worst narcissistic traits, there is one other thing that has sometimes made me wonder if I might really be a narcissist.

Whenever any male in a position of authority has tried to tell me the truth about myself (like a therapist or teacher), I want to attack them. When I was much younger (teens and 20s) this manifested as rage attacks (as it did with my therapist during my 20’s). Today it’s more likely to be expressed as sarcasm, snarkiness, or just…silence. All of this is very narcissistic of me and makes me want to cringe in the corner when I think about it. Because knowingly hurting someone goes against the bigger, better part of me, a person who is kind and compassionate and hates to see anyone suffering or hurt.

I used to torment my therapist back in the 1980s. He didn’t know the intense feelings I had for him. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. If you’ve ever watched the ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon “Hey Arnold,” you will remember how cruel Helga always was to Arnold, but secretly she mooned over him.

helga_arnold

My therapist must have hated me. I LIKED tormenting him. He sat there week after week taking it like a trouper. If he was angry or upset, he never showed it. Most likely my strong feelings and verbal attacks were a form of transference. Maybe I experience a form of transference toward any male in an authority position who mirrors me.

I finally told that therapist I was quitting. Why? Because of my fear he was so tired of my mindfucking him that he’d tell me he couldn’t be my therapist anymore. I knew I wasn’t cured, but I left anyway. Sure, I was having trouble handling my infatuation, but now I know it was really all about hurting him before he could hurt me. How stupid of me, since he was probably more than happy to see the back of me.

hateyou_leaveme

I’ve really been thinking a lot lately about my BPD and the unpleasant ways it sometimes manifests itself. The behaviors are narcissistic, and they don’t happen all the time, or with most people (thank God for that!) But the reason they exist at all is because as a Borderline, I live in mortal terror of being rejected or abandoned, and certain men in authority who tell me truths about myself may represent my father, who I was afraid would reject me (even though he wasn’t really the problem at all).

Sometimes I do wonder if I may be a narcissist.

But I know I’m not because it makes no sense. Real narcissists don’t have a conscience or empathy. They can’t be happy for you or sad for you and I can be. If I do something wrong–even if I derive some kind of sick pleasure during the time I’m engaged in it–afterwards I feel terrible. I just want to run and hide.

I’m working on these behaviors, using an old workbook I got in 1996, because lately I’ve been thinking about possibly dating again. I’m getting over my fear of finding myself with another narc, because I feel like I know enough to read them now, to see the red flags and know when to run if I must–but I also don’t want to drive a nice guy away due to my “I hate you….don’t leave me” Borderline tendencies.

There’s so much apologizing I would like to do to so many people. I know that’s not possible but I wish it were.

I know I’m changing for the better, but a lot of bad and painful emotions are coming to the surface in the process of discovering who I am, because I’m feeling again. I think my PTSD is almost healed, and that’s a great thing, but mixed in with all the nice, loving, tender emotions are some not so nice ones too. Like a maggot crawling on the petals of a rose.

I never said I was perfect.

Why you should never jump into a new relationship after narcissistic abuse

The Wheel of Abuse

cycle_of_violence
Not all abusive relationships involve physical abuse. Emotional and mental abuse can be every bit as damaging, and sometimes more so. (Click image to make larger).

A new friend of mine (a survivor of several abusive relationships with narcs) and I were talking on Facebook. Rather than try to paraphrase, I’ll quote her directly–and then give my own opinions.

Friend:

“I realized he [her malignant narcissist ex-boyfriend who she’s still in minimal contact with but who is still trying to gaslight her and get her attention by stalking her on Facebook] did everything on that wheel except for the Economic abuse. He started to subtle test the boundaries…and realized I wasn’t game. Although I believe he probably still believes I’ll contact him again. It’s amazing, [Lauren.]

The more time your away, they stronger you feel. Your self-esteem comes back slowly. I get those frightened moments when I think my new boyfriend will just Abandoned me out of nowhere. I understand why the Psychopathic free support group did not recommend a relationship right away. They know you suffer from PTSD from the aftermath of this abuse. It’s difficult. I find myself having dark flashbacks. I also believe you have to be careful and choosy about your women friends and surround yourself with only kind people. We are fragile and vulnerable after this abuse.

My reply (My original reply was short–I embellished it when I wrote this post. I hope my friend sees it).

These are all great points. It makes sense to stay out of relationships if you’ve just escaped from an abusive one because of the PTSD you probably have or even worse problems such as major depression–you need time to find yourself and work on yourself. You need time to be selfish and not have to answer to anyone because you’ve been giving, giving and giving some more with nothing to show for it in return.

We’re mentally and emotionally exhausted and need time to recover, just as if we’re recovering from any illness. We need to not have to be responsible for someone else’s welfare or self esteem or happiness for a while before taking the plunge into a new relationship. We need to take care of ourselves and find out who we are–whether that means going to therapy, writing a journal, turning that journal into a public spectacle like a blog or video diary, taking up martial arts, yoga, or finding God. We need time to heal.

Jumping into any new relationship–even with a non-narc–when you’re this vulnerable is almost guaranteed to fail and retard you in your self growth, and if you’ve been attracted to another narcissistic abuser (which is common in codependent, PTSD and Borderline women), you may wind up much worse when all is said and done.

We’re like addicts. Narcs need their narcissistic supply; we codependents need our narcs. Let’s face it: Narcissistic suitors (male or female)–at first–make us feel alive, vital and fulfill our wildest romantic and sexual fantasies (when they are trying to trap you as their prey). In a weakened state like PTSD or depression, your judgment is not going to be great and you re going to be VERY suggestible. Most likely, you’ll also become unconsciously attracted to a romantic partner who reminds you of the narc you just left (or who left you). He made sure you can’t forget him easily, even if he was terribly cruel at the end.

anime
Anime drawing (artist unknown).

Also, we tend to be attracted to the same type of person anyway. So if you’re usually or always attracted to narcissists, then most likely your taste is not going to change.

Getting involved too early after the end of a relationship with a narcissist is dangerous. Even with a non-narcissist, old patterns will still come up and you will be hypervigilant and suspicious of your new partner, causing them confusion and eventual discord. If you’re falling for a non-narc, that’s a good sign, but if you just left an abusive relationship, please wait. Envision a giant red STOP sign. Be friends instead. Now’s not the time to get involved beyond that level. If you met someone who truly cares for you, they won’t mind waiting a while and being friends with you.

If you’re already falling hard for someone, I know it’s going to be really hard to resist the pull of a new romance. It’s a powerful force, built into normally-wired people’s genes.

But remember, even though it feels like the most exciting, heady, intoxicating rush you ever felt, that feeling won’t last: what you feel is infatuation, a crush–actually caused by changes in the brain that act like a euphoric drug. That’s really what it boils down to.

infatuation-vs-love1

Infatuation so soon after an abusive relationship is really just a form of transference onto a phantom “therapist” [the person you are infatuated with] when you are at your most vulnerable. You’re looking for someone to rescue you. There is no Prince Charming. A love relationship cannot rescue you from yourself, your memories, or your PTSD. By its nature, it can’t. You are the only one who can make you well, with the help of therapists, counselors or another other trusted person who is not involved sexually or romantically with you.

So be patient, wait until you heal yourself and feel more confident. Then if you fall in love, dive in and enjoy it–and with any luck it might turn into the real thing.

Thank you to Mary Pranzatelli for this idea.

Healing Narcissism: “Stephen’s” story.

who_am_I

Disclaimer:
I am not a licensed mental health professional and as such, have done no studies or surveys to find out if the healing regime I am going to propose here would actually work on people with NPD. I have no guarantee such a therapy regime would work, but I feel like I’ve done enough reading about the disorder (NPD in particular), both from Internet material written by a number of people, and books by professionals who specialize in this disorder, to outline a possible therapy regime I feel might give sufferers of NPD (as well as BPD and other disorders of the self, and even PTSD) who want to get better some hope of doing so. This is not a therapy I “made up,” since I am not qualified to do so, much less diagnose anyone with any disorder. Instead, it’s an almagamation of several different therapies–drawn from both from traditional insight psychotherapy and alternative therapies proposed by both people who suffer from this disorder or are involved in alternative medicine and spiritual therapy.

For several months I have been reading everything I can about healing Narcissistic Personality Disorder, because as a victim of narcissistic abuse who has cared for and loved people who are narcissists, I have a vested interest in the possibility there may be hope for some of them. I also think our world would be a much nicer and safer place for the rest of us to live in if narcissists could be cured of their disorder!

In my readings, both on the Internet and from books about healing NPD (I just received a copy of James Masterson’s book “The Emerging Self,” recommended to me by fellow blogger BPDTransformation. Although I have not had time to read the book, I have skimmed through it and can already see that its premise of the narcissist getting in touch with their true self and confronting and releasing long buried true emotions of sadness and fear is not much different than therapies others have proposed for NPD).

Overview of Some NPD Healing and Treatment Techniques.
Following are some brief descriptions of some therapies that have already been proposed to heal or treat the symptoms of people with NPD. A few come from traditional psychotherapy disciplines; others are more alternative/experimental.

Cognitive-Behavioral Training/Therapy (CBT)

CBT

Currently, the only psychiatrically sanctioned and accepted “therapy” for NPD is Cognitive-Behavioral Training (CBT). CBT is useful and may help some narcissists who are not psychopathic or sociopathic learn to control and monitor some of their more antisocial and hurtful behaviors. It has been used with some success on prison inmates who want to change their behaviors, children with ODD and CD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder) such as 6 year old Beth Thomas, who might have become a psychopath had she not had early intervention that intercepted her early antisocial behaviors and murderous impulses toward her brother and parents; as well as other people with NPD or BPD who are insightful and willing enough to want to change the way they act and stop hurting others.

The problem with CBT is it does not really cure the narcissist (unless done at a very early age, like Beth Thomas). CBT doesn’t address traumatic childhood issues or make the narcissist shed their protective masks or get in touch with the painful emotions that caused them to choose narcissism in the first place. It’s really just a band-aid and probably helps those who must deal with the narcissist more than it helps the patient. The narcissist remains a narcissist, and must constantly monitor their behaviors or be reminded by others to do so. The more positive behaviors never become internalized because the narcissist has not really changed from the inside.

That being said, I believe CBT is a valuable component in the type of therapy I am going to describe, but must be undertaken once the NPD patient has gone through a complete emotional catharsis resulting in the release of painful emotions stemming from childhood (or whenever they “chose” to become a narcissist to protect themselves). I’ll describe how this can be used later in this article.

Narcissists adopted their False Self to survive.
I hold to the probably rather unpopular belief that people with NPD started life as Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) or possibly even empaths. Sam Vaknin’s journal entries, especially his descriptions of himself as a sensitive and generous child who cried when his malignant narcissist mother was upset (I cannot find the link for that right now but will look for it), as well as writings and journals by other NPD sufferers on message boards and forums have made this evident.

It came as a surprise to realize this, because Narcissists (as opposed to those suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), who really are hopeless and can never get better) seem like the most insensitive and cruel people on the planet. But their obnoxious and cruel behaviors stem from the False Self, not their true one, which hasn’t died, but is atrophied and in hiding. The False Self was constructed as an elaborate defense mechanism to protect the child from further hurt and abuse. Most people with NPD were abused or neglected as children, and being more sensitive than other children, the only way they could survive further hurt and abuse was to construct a False Self which makes them appear big and bad when deep inside, they still feel utterly worthless, despised and vulnerable.

crying_is_okay

One thing I noticed in all these therapies (not including CBT, of course), is the key to healing is emotional catharsis. Crying–not the usual narcissistic manipulative crying–but deep and honest crying resulting from releasing past pain, grief and fear–is an absolute necessity if any healing is to occur. Of course crying is key in any psychodynamic therapy for any disorder that can be healed by such means, not just NPD. As the False Self breaks down and the True Self begins to emerge, painful emotions from the past will start to be released. This is necessary and healthy. In fact, healing from NPD (or many other mental disorders) isn’t possible without it.

The following are some techniques used for actually healing NPD rather than treating its symptoms. It’s probably prudent to keep in mind their efficacy is iffy at best. If a narcissist is neither insightful nor willing, none of these therapies will work. Insight and willingness to change are necessary and must come from the narcissist him or herself. As I’ve described before, the willingness to heal is a cost-benefit analysis. If the narcissist has benefited from their narcissism, they may not think going through all the emotional work required to heal from NPD is worth it.

1. Attitudinal Healing.

attitudinal_healing

Tony Brown was a self-professed narcissist who decided he no longer wanted to be one. He believed narcissism stemmed from fear. (He’s probably right). He healed himself using a 12-point (not the same as a 12-step program) technique of replacing thoughts of fear with thoughts of love. He called this therapy Attitudinal Healing. Eventually, he says, these thoughts of love and empathy become internalized and the patient begins to remember past hurtful incidents that turned them into narcissists. During this process, the patient finds themselves crying a lot as they remember things long forgotten and the many ways they have hurt their loved ones. AH is kind of a New Age technique, but his followers swear it has worked for them. Tony Brown died in 2008 of natural causes, just after he was cured. His forum, HealNPD, is no longer active, but you can read his material about AH there and posts by others who were undergoing AH to heal themselves of narcissism.

Criticisms of AH: There’s some skepticism because there have been no studies or empirical evidence for AH’s efficacy, and some believe thought-replacing isn’t deep psychology and therefore can’t access the true self.

2. Reparenting.

remothering

“Reparenting” is a term used by Sam Vaknin for his theories of healing NPD, but the techniques involved are not his alone and partly derive from New Age therapy practices and traditional psychodynamic therapy and Freudian psychoanalysis. Reparenting requires an initial accidental or intentional removal of all the narcissist’s sources of narcissistic supply, which sets into motion a “narcissistic crisis” (a time during which the narcissist’s defenses and masks break down). This is the only time a narcissist may present themselves for treatment. At that point, the therapist offers only “cold empathy,” which means giving the narcissist acknowledgment and the “mirroring” they missed out n as children, without offering approval, criticism, sympathy for the narcissist’s plight, or any other means of narcissistic supply. The narcissist’s frustration and anger with the therapist (transference) for only mirroring them but not giving them the supply they want (validation or approval) results first in rage, then dissolves into emotional catharsis and release of negative and painful emotions associated with childhood abuse and neglect.

Criticisms of Reparenting: Intensive therapy like this could not practically work unless the narcissist was in a closely supervised setting, such a a rehab center or hospital, because of the strong possibility that even a willing narcissist, when undergoing such painful cathartic emotions, would suddenly leave therapy and go back to their old ways. I personally don’t believe such a therapy would work permanently unless combined or followed up with behavioral training such as CBT to retrain the conscience and internalize it into the psyche.

3. M. Scott Peck: “Remothering” and physical touch.

woman-holding-newborn

Dr. M. Scott Peck proposed a technique similar to reparenting called “remothering” in his book “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.” Peck doesn’t go into great detail about re-mothering a patient in his book (and in fact doesn’t discuss treatment much at all outside of exorcism), but in his description of his malignantly narcissistic patient Charlene, he expresses his regret that he had not offered her unconditional love and support (not the same as narcissistic supply) and actually physically holding her as a mother would a baby, instead of allowing her to manipulate and torment him and making him continue to pander to her need for narcissistic supply.

Criticisms of “remothering”/physical holding: Peck’s briefly expressed ideas of holding (in a nonsexual way) and nurturing such a patient as a loving mother would are similar to reparenting, but would require the narcissist to be willing to allow themselves to become vulnerable enough to undergo such a treatment, which is unlikely unless they were undergoing a severe narcissistic crisis and utterly desperate. There’s also the problem that physically touching/holding a patient could lead to accusations of sexual abuse, or sexual feelings between the patient and therapist (which is a common but questionable outcome of transference/countertransference).

The problems of possible legal allegations of sexual abuse/harassment are addressed here, and there is a consent form in some states a patient can fill out to give permission for limited touching in therapy sessions to occur.

4. M. Scott Peck: Exorcism.

exorcism

Peck, a born-again Christian, believes that many cases of narcissism are a result of a malignant entity entering the body of the patient, at the time they made the choice to become a narcissist, whether in childhood or later in life.

In some cases, where the possession by an evil entity is not complete (that is, a patient with narcissistic tendencies who is not psychopathic or malignant), a patient can be healed through the centuries old religious rite of exorcism, formerly only sanctioned by the Catholic Church, and even then, was only approved in extreme cases that were approved by the Pope. Peck believes any highly trained psychotherapist with a strong faith in God (not necessarily Christian) and with strong unconditional love for their patient can successfully perform an exorcism on a patient who is willing and properly prepared ahead of time. Peck writes about exorcism in both “People of the Lie” and goes into more detail about the two exorcisms he successfully performed in his later 2005 book, “Glimpses of the Devil.”

Criticisms of Exorcism: Besides its obvious medieval and superstitious connotations, exorcism can be physically, mentally and spiritually dangerous for both the therapist and patient. Death is a possible result. There should be others in the room during the exorcism if additional hands are needed to control the patient undergoing the rite. But because I believe NPD is as much a spiritual disorder as it is a mental one, I don’t think exorcism should be dismissed as a possible healing technique in extreme cases where other therapies have not worked.

5. Dr. James F. Masterson: Psychodynamic Treatment of Narcissistic Disorders of the Self.

closet_narcissism

I have not yet read his book “The Emerging Self” (I just received it in the mail) but from what I have seen, the therapy is psychodynamic (as opposed to merely behavioral) and requires the patient to confront and purge past hurts and undergo catharsis. Narcissism and “closet narcissism” are not the only disorders addressed in his book; he also addresses similar disorders such as BPD which can be healed using the same or similar techniques.

From Wikipedia:

Masterson’s subtypes (exhibitionist and closet)
In 1993, James F. Masterson proposed two categories for pathological narcissism, exhibitionist and closet.[40] Both fail to adequately develop an age- and phase- appropriate self because of defects in the quality of psychological nurturing provided, usually by the mother. The exhibitionist narcissist is the one described in DSM-IV and differs from the closet narcissist in several important ways.

The closet narcissist is more likely to be described as having a deflated, inadequate self-perception and greater awareness of emptiness within. The exhibitionist narcissist would be described as having an inflated, grandiose self-perception with little or no conscious awareness of the emptiness within. Such a person would assume that this condition was normal and that others were just like them. [Masterson’s definition of the closet narcissist sounds more similar to the “covert” narcissist or “inverted” narcissist Sam Vaknin discusses on his website].

The closet narcissist seeks constant approval from others and appears similar to the borderline in the need to please others. The exhibitionist narcissist seeks perfect admiration all the time from others.

Criticism of Masterson’s techniques of treating NPD: I cannot offer any criticisms as I have not read his book yet.

6. Rebirthing.

rebirthing_session
Rebirthing session.

Rebirthing is a controversial New Age healing technique that involves deep and circular breathing. It has been proposed as an alternative healing therapy for people suffering from NPD and many other mental disorders, as well as for healthy individuals who just want to get more in touch with their spiritual nature. It’s supposed to improved the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of anyone who decides to undergo this process. During the rebirthing process, the patient will begin to remember painful emotional incidents long forgotten and crying is common, but is usually followed up by laughter and a feeling of spiritual lightness.

Criticisms of Rebirthing: The type of deep breathing rebirthing requires can lead to hyperventilation and a feeling of being high (from intaking too much oxygen) or having left the physical body. In some cases it can freak out the patient or even cause a psychotic break, much like hallucinogenic drugs can. Because it’s an experimental, alternative therapy given by practitioners not schooled in traditional psychotherapy, there is no proof of its efficacy or empirical studies showing it actually works.

Skepticism among mental health professionals.
pIt must be said, that most professionals are highly skeptical about the possibility of healing (rather than just treating) NPD and feel that because they suffer less than their victims (or at least seem to), that it’s best to treat the victims for the PTSD, anxiety, depression and other disorders their narcissist has caused in them.

I won’t argue with this, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think narcissists, at least those with both the insight and willingness to change (which probably means the non-malignant, non-psychopathic types) are as hopeless as most mental health experts claim.

So I’m going to propose a healing regime here using a hypothetical man named Stephen that comprises elements of ALL of the above techniques (except rebirthing and exorcism due to their highly controversial nature), as well as CBT for helping to retrain the conscience.

There are a few prerequisites necessary for successful healing of NPD:

1. The narcissist must have insight into their disorder and know they have NPD and see how it damages their minds and souls. But insight alone isn’t enough.

2. The narcissist must have willingness to change from the inside–and that means a willingness to undergo intense emotional pain as their True Self begins to emerge and their masks break down. You can have insight without willingness, but not willingness without insight. Both must be present for change to occur.

3. The narcissist undergoing such treatment would be best treated in a highly supervised, even residential setting such as a hospital or rehab center, where their natural tendency to revert back to their old ways of behaving could be intercepted by trained professionals. This is especially necessary during the crisis period where their painful emotions may cause them to want to quit therapy or leave. They could sign a waiver prior to treatment that such attempts to escape would be intercepted or not allowed, and the patient brought back to treatment.

4. The narcissist is probably already undergoing a narcissistic crisis where they have lost all sources of narcissistic supply or a major one, such as a divorce, loss of a fortune or career, death of someone who was a source of supply, serious illness or incarceration. Having lost their sources of supply, the narcissist is already in a vulnerable state and if they are going to present themselves for help, this will be the time.

I am going to describe a hypothetical successful therapy used on a fictional man named Stephen who is afflicted with mid-spectrum (non-malignant) NPD, using a combination of the above techniques I think could be successful for some narcissists in a highly supervised and intensive setting.

STEPHEN’S STORY

'It's all about YOU, isn't it? YOUR hopes! YOUR wants! YOUR needs!'

1. The Master of the Universe has a Narcissistic Crisis
Stephen was a 45 year old successful owner of a video game company. He was married to a meek and quiet but intelligent woman named Lisa who elected to stay at home with their only child Cayden, who was two years old. They lived in a large home they built themselves, and owned two late model SUVs. Stephen could afford to take his wife and son on several vacations a year. To outsiders, they seemed like the picture perfect family.

But all was not well behind closed doors. Lisa was threatening to leave Stephen and take Cayden with her because of Stephen’s constant gaslighting, projecting, blaming her for their child’s excessive crying and misbehavior, and most recently, isolating Lisa from her former college friends and even her family. Lisa was so depressed that often she had no energy to take care of her son and Cayden was left to his own devices, at first crying and demanding attention from Lisa, but finally withdrawing into a quiet, withdrawn, almost autistic world of his own.

Lisa wanted to take Cayden to a psychiatrist, but when she proposed this to Stephen, he flew into a rage and accused her of calling him a bad father. He told her that if she was a better wife and mother, Cayden wouldn’t be having these problems. He also told her that taking Cayden to a therapist was something only a weak person would do. Cayden would just need to learn to “man up,” in Stephen’s words.

Lisa became increasingly depressed and one day she attempted suicide. Her suicide attempt landed her in the psychiatric ward, and Cayden’s care fell on Stephen’s shoulders. He resented his fatherly duties to Cayden, and grew increasingly impatient with him, and Cayden’s behavior grew worse. He resented having to leave work early or not come in to attend to one of Cayden’s many needs when his nanny would call saying there was a problem with his son.

sad-mother-child

One day Stephen was called into his boss’s office and confronted with his poor attendance and sloppy work. Cayden’s needs were not a concern to management. Stephen was told he needed to find some other arrangements or he would be let go. Stephen panicked. His high flying job and the money he made were the only things in his life he cared about. He hated to admit it, but Cayden was nothing but a burden. He had never really wanted a child at all due to all the responsibility.

Stephen’s problems continued. He had no choice but to keep leaving work when his son was sick or when the daycare center called saying he was throwing another one of his uncontrollable tantrums. Stephens’s boss summoned him once more and let him know he was being let go.

Stephen was devastated and began to feel hate toward his son for making him lose his job. He sat at home dejectedly staring at the TV or computer screen but felt so deflated he didn’t bother looking for another job. Cayden screamed and threw tantrums and Stephen, overwhelmed and filled with resentment for Cayden, began to physically abuse him.

A week later, Lisa was released from the hospital and announced she no longer loved Stephen and was taking Cayden with her to live with her parents. Stephen flew into a narcissistic rage and tied to stop Lisa from leaving, but there was no stopping her. She grabbed Cayden, tossed some of their things hastily in some bags, and took off for her mother’s. It was then she noticed the bruises on Cayden’s body and decided to press child abuse charges against Stephen.

Stephen was eventually arrested for child abuse. Now he had a police record and was probably unemployable, except perhaps in some sort of consulting role. He had lost his wife, his job, his child, and now his freedom.

2. Self-awareness and willingness.

Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison

In prison, Stephen broke down and cried almost nonstop. He made no friends because of his emotional instability. So he spent time by himself, reading books in the prison’s library about mental disorders and realized he suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. At first he tried to deny this to himself, but in his heart he knew it was true. He also realized this disorder was the cause of all his problems. He didn’t feel remorse, exactly, but knew he needed to do something about it. Some of the prison staff took pity on Stephen and referred him to a psychologist who specialized in character disorders, NPD in particular. Stephen was desperate to change his ways and willingly entered an experimental but intensive therapy for people suffering from NPD and other character disorders like BPD. Although the therapist was a licensed Ph.D, he was open to incorporating alternative techniques in his regime.

3. Cold empathy.

narc_rage
Narcissistic rage.

Stephen started therapy (which he was taken to from the prison) with a litany of complaints about his failures and how no one understood him. He talked about his dickhead of a boss, his emotionally disturbed and annoying son, and his bitch of a wife who betrayed him. Stephen took no responsibility for his own contributions to his downfall. He demanded sympathy and often resorted to rages and tears during his sessions. Rather than sympathize or offer emotional support, Stephen’s therapist listened quietly to his litany of woes, only nodding here and there or asking questions when he needed to know something pertinent.

Stephen became enraged by his therapist’s supposed lack of caring and sympathy, and began to attack his therapist, calling him a charlatan, incompetent, and an idiot. He threatened to leave, but knew the prison wouldn’t allow him to quit, so his abuse escalated. Projecting his own feelings of rage and other emotions onto the therapist is a process called transference in the psychiatric community (the opposite, the therapist’s projections of their own emotions onto the patient is called countertransference and is nearly as common).

One day he became so enraged he physically attacked his therapist. An officer was called in to intervene, and together, they got Stephen to calm down. Stephen, defeated, slumped in his chair and dissolved into convulsive sobs. The guard stood nearby, and the therapist quietly waited for Stephen to finish crying.

4. Stephen’s True Self begins to Emerge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After several more intense sessions like these, Stephen reluctantly began to talk about his mother, who had abused him as a child. He tearfully discussed the time she held his hands on the hot stove to teach him a lesson, and the time she locked him in a closet for two days for refusal to eat the vegetables on his plate. After releasing him, she made him eat the half-rotted vegetables from a plate on the floor along with the family dogs. Stephen recalled being a good kid until he was about 5 or 6, and always very sensitive to his mother’s moods. He wanted to please her, but never could seem to accomplish that. No matter what he tried–bringing her flowers he picked from the garden (which he’d be punished for), or hugging her (where he’d be pushed away), she always rejected him or punished him. At first he talked about these incidents in a matter of fact, almost flippant way, but after about three more sessions, he began to choke up and tears began to run down his face.

But these tears were different than the ones he used to shed to get his way or manipulate his sources of supply. These tears felt different and came from a deeper, more honest place. He was embarrassed about the uncontrollable crying he could not seem to stop. He tried to hide these tears but his therapist told him they were healing him, melting away his False Self, and to let them come. So reluctantly at first, Stephen did. He told his therapist his “heart hurt” and then he broke into wracking sobs and buried his face in his hands. This was the breakthrough needed to move to the the Reparenting/remothering level.

In some difficult cases where he patient is having trouble bringing emotions to the surface or recalling past events, hypnotherapy could be useful in helping the patient recall painful childhood experiences.

5. Reparenting Stephen’s Lost Self.

inner_child

When Stephen broke down into convulsive sobbing of honest grief for the mother love he never received, and his intense fear of her as a child, his therapist knew he was no longer being manipulated and these were honest emotions from Stephen’s lost self. So the therapist came over and sat down next to him, and encouraged Stephen to cry on his shoulder. If the therapist is an empath, I think that’s an enormous advantage, for I feel that for this type of therapy to have the most success, the therapist must be able to share and feel the patient’s emotions–even if that means crying or grieving along with them. This may also make the patient feel less alone and more comfortable if they are not feeling their emotions alone.

Stephen, in his infantile, vulnerable state, didn’t hesitate to let his tears flow and allow himself to be held, and they stayed like this for a long time. The therapist was careful to stay quiet during this event, and limited himself to stroking Stephen’s head and back and holding him gently as a mother would hold a child. He did not offer judgment, congratulations or explanations. He simply let Stephen release all that pent-up emotion that had been hiding inside him for decades. And felt along with the child that still lived inside Stephen and longed to be able to live a normal, happy life in the world instead of forever hidden away behind Stephen’s disintegrating False Self.

Stephen felt comforted and nurtured. He told his therapist he wished his own parents had held him like that. His father never had either, because he had died in an accident when Stephen was only a baby.

Several more sessions passed like this. In each session Stephen remembered other things that had happened to him as a child. He remembered how sensitive he had been and how he felt hurt by everything. He remembered how much his mother hated it whenever he cried. He remembered being bullied by other kids in school and always running away in terror.

And then he remembered when he had to make a choice. That choice changed the trajectory of his entire life and transformed him from a highly sensitive little boy into a heartless and cold narcissist.

6. The Choice.

monsters-nietzsche

Stephen recalled a dare when he was 8 years old. A group of boys who had bullied him dared him to set a paper bag of dried dog poop on another boy’s rickety wooden front porch and set it on fire. The boys promised him that if he did this, they would no longer bully him and they would be his friend and protect him against any further bullying. Stephen knew that doing this could set the other boy’s house on fire and at first he protested, explaining what could happen. At this point he still had a conscience. But the boys threatened him and told him if he didn’t do it, their bullying would become worse and they would kill his pet rabbit. Stephen believed them, so against his will, he complied.

They set out after dark for the targeted house. The boys watched from the darkened yard as Stephen lit the paper bag on fire and hesitantly walked up the front stairs of the boy’s porch and set it next to a dead potted plant. The deed done, all the boys ran away before anyone saw them. Stephen looked back in time to see the flames ignite the plant, and quickly start to spread over the railings of the rickety old wooden porch. He felt awful and considered going to the police, but he didn’t dare. He went to bed that night and had terrible nightmares.

bullied_child

The targeted boy’s house burned down and he, his baby sister, and his mother had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Soon after, the family moved away, never to be seen again. No charges were pressed because no one knew who the culprit was.

7. Becoming a Narcissist.

narcissism_childhood

To protect himself from his unbearable feelings of guilt and shame, Stephen shut off his painful emotions of guilt and conscience. From then on, the group of bullies accepted him as one of them, and they continued to engage in tormenting other children and even petty crimes.

Almost immediately after the incident, Stephen’s personality changed. Due to his choice to disobey his own conscience, he was becoming evil. He became a narcissist to protect himself from any further painful feelings. It was all just too unbearable.

Stephen confessed not only this, but also the way he used and manipulated others for his own gain, how he obtained his high level job dishonestly by faking qualifications on his resume, the way he emotionally abused his codependent wife who was so easily manipulated, and the abusive way he treated his own son Cayden. He cried and cried some more, and in return, his therapist held him without speaking, only projecting unconditional love and acceptance.

8. Return to Humanity.

freedom_man

Within a few more weeks, Stephen felt like a different person. He had become a model prisoner, and also found God during his incarceration. He was asked by the chaplain to speak to prisoners after the Sunday services, and Stephen used his own story to help and motivate other prisoners. He proved to be a good public speaker, and took courses in psychology and motivational speaking. He started to write a book about his experiences.

Stephen’s therapy was followed up with an intensive outpatient CBT program, to help him internalize the lessons he had learned about right versus wrong, and further help him develop his fledgling conscience.

When finally released from prison after two years, Stephen found employment as a counselor for prisoners and became a professional motivational speaker. He published his book, which became a best seller. He was asked to appear on TV shows and interviews to promote his new book and offered hope to thousands. Soon he met and married a psychology professor and today they have three children, who he loves very much. He would never dream of abusing them. He’s a very involved father and admits he’s happier than he’s ever been.

Recently he met up with his prison therapist, and the therapist noticed Stephen’s eyes and whole face looked different. He looked younger and happier, but more tellingly, in place of the cold, dead eyes of the narcissist he used to be, Stephen’s eyes sparkled with love and joy. His smile, instead of a sneer, was genuine and happy.