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Narcissists in therapy?

(26 Posts)
Walkacrossthesand Thu 06-Dec-12 08:12:26

I'm posting here, although this isn't about a specific relationship, because there seem to be a lot of wise and knowledgeable people here!
A therapist only has their client's account/'side of the story' to go on. A person with narcissistic traits will always see things as 'not their fault', to the extent of mis-remembering things as they happened if they don't fit with the world view. So I imagine therapy is not a way for a person to recognise narcissism in themselves, because it would be difficult for the therapist to see it, too - wouldn't it?

Walkacrossthesand Thu 06-Dec-12 08:13:17

Sorry - their world view.

Aussiebean Thu 06-Dec-12 08:36:38

I can't really answer about how a narc realised they are a narc. I don't think they are capable.

My narc mother read A LOT of help books and encouraged therapy. But more so she could have a professional back her up when she went a head and blamed everyone for every thing. She never actually looked at or tried to actually change any of her behaviour.

She encouraged me to go to therapy so I could fix all my faults. Was most upset when the therapist said I was fine.

Leverette Thu 06-Dec-12 09:06:37

I think an astute therapist can certainly identify the presence of a highly egocentric personality, by the stories told and utter self centredness revealed. I guess over time the therapist can see if it is the narcissism of immaturity, which would be amenable to growth and development, or whether it's a rigid trait...would be very interesting to hear from therapists on this.

Letsmakecookies Thu 06-Dec-12 11:09:15

I think if you consider narcissism as a spectrum, where everyone has some narcissistic trait, but a little bit is 'normal' and after that it becomes a problem - that a therapist would see it in extreme cases, but not necessarily others.

My x behaved similarly to Aussiebeans mother inside and outside of therapy (books, blame etc), I think he enjoyed going to therapy and getting all that one on one attention focused all on him and making him feel good, and he probably sounded genuine. I imagine he knew exactly how to say things to manipulate the sessions.

But there was no change in his behaviour, in fact he came out of sessions with strong justifications for things he said and did 'from the therapist' (including heavy drinking, nearly kicking his son, never coming home was all ok because he was 'depressed'), and they spent many a happy hour chatting about how disturbed a person I was (or at least that is what he told me). He was very keen for me to get 'help' for my 'issues' and my therapist said other than being in an abusive relationship, I was absolutely normal and fine.

Lundy's book 'why does he do that' talks about emotionally abusive me, and how and why they do very badly in therapy other than perfect the language for their own purposes (ie to walk around diagnosing other people with mental health disorders), so if you extend thinking that to narcissists you can almost imagine they actually do work very hard to 'fool' their therapists - who after all are just human and aren't really there in order to see through this level of manipulation. They are not psychiatrists with experience of diagnosing.

From what I understand of narcissism anyway, it is notoriously difficult for the person to accept or to treat. So in answer to your question, difficult for therapist to see and difficult for narcissist to accept.

Letsmakecookies Thu 06-Dec-12 11:11:25

Men not me... blush (4th paragraph).

niceupthedance Thu 06-Dec-12 11:17:58

My mother is a narcissist and also a therapist. Loving being the 'fixer of everyone else' while nothing ever her fault.

Letsmakecookies Thu 06-Dec-12 11:28:07

Nice - love the irony of that.

Abitwobblynow Thu 06-Dec-12 11:47:53

Hi OP, after my H's affair and we both went into separate therapy, the therapists liaised and HIS therapist diagnosed him as a narc.

2 years later, my therapist lost patience with my endless bleating and futile wishing he would 'get it' and told me that he (my IC) and H's IC had diagnosed narcissism. Not malignant, frightened lost little boy with ghastly mother, but huge defenses nontheless.

Exactly one month later my H demonstrated to me that my thoughts feelings and needs entered into his calculations not for a single second and from that moment I was in no doubt.

So I suppose my point is that experienced therapists pick on on the all consuming self-absorbtion, the lack of empathy, the HUGE defenses pretty quickly - if they didn't get their 'counselling certificate' out of a lucky packet (snorts at Relate) - and if they didnt' they shouldn't be practising, so do not hesitate to change counsellors.
Lundy Bancroft: the rules of healthy relationships are NOT the same as destructive ones, and therapists need to be aware of the difference (to support the victim).

CogitOCrapNotMoreSprouts Thu 06-Dec-12 12:12:48

Therapy is most effective for those trying to identify and resolve something that is specifically problematic for them personally rather than something that largely affects others. Even on this board we say 'you can only change yourself'.... we have no influence over the behaviour of others. To that end it doesn't actually matter what the condition is.... gambling addiction, alcoholism, depression, narcissistic personality disorder.... if it is not making life sufficiently difficult for the person directly, there is no motivation to change.

Abitwobblynow Thu 06-Dec-12 13:38:49

Well said, Cog. There is only one person you can change, and that is yourself.

RobotLover68 Thu 06-Dec-12 14:07:42

Good point well made Cogito

My narc father is currently seeing a bereavement counsellor (my narc mother died) he's now sending us all his poetry about his "memories" of their fantastic life (as you can imagine, it's all fantasy) he said counsellor told him it would be a good idea to write it. My very grounded sister says he's attention seeking and to just give him meaningless platitudes. I have no doubt he has the wool pulled over the therapists eyes about what bloody marvellous parents they were hmm

JaceyBee Thu 06-Dec-12 14:44:05

"I think an astute therapist can certainly identify the presence of a highly egocentric personality, by the stories told and utter self centredness revealed. I guess over time the therapist can see if it is the narcissism of immaturity, which would be amenable to growth and development, or whether it's a rigid trait...would be very interesting to hear from therapists on this."

Yes Leverette, this is fairly spot on. I am a therapist, and while I dislike labels for the most part can certainly spot narcissistic tendencies and an inability to take responsibility for ones actions/responses. Usually when presented with inconsistencies I would gently challenge the client, or ask how a particular incident may have seemed to their mum/ex/boss/sister etc. Sometimes this gets us somewhere and sometimes it doesn't. It does depend largely on the clients' motivation for being in therapy in the first place and the context of this.

abitwobblynow - I cannot believe your counsellor told you that he and a colleague had diagnosed NPD in your H! That is incredibly unethical. And, I've wanted to ask you this before, what exactly is an Infidelity Counsellor? Are they BACP/UKCP recognised? It sounds a bit churchy, is it? No counsellor should be diagnosing anything, especially not anything as complex and controversial as a PD. I certainly can spot PD traits a mile away but would never dream of doling out an official dx as I am not a psychiatrist and not qualified to do so.

Lottapianos Thu 06-Dec-12 14:52:38

Both my parents are narcs. They have a truly horrible marriage and have done for many years. My mum insisted that they go to a relationship counsellor many years ago - my dad had to be dragged screaming but did go eventually. They only went to about 2 sessions - they were each expecting the counsellor to vindicate them completely and blame the other person 100% for everything that was wrong with the relationship. When that obviously didn't happen, they threw in the towel on counselling but unfortunately not on the marriage confused

Neither of them can accept the slightest challenge or criticism and cannot take responsibility for anything at all. I see a therapist myself due to their emotional abuse - I know how gruelling and challenging therapy can be but I stick with it because I desperately want to be happy and I know that I can only do that by accepting things how they are, and facing up to my feelings. I can't ever imagine that either of my parents would be able to stick with it for a moment, or would even consider going. My mum (who is an expert on everything of course) has said that therapy makes a person 'totally selfish' hmm

Abitwobblynow Thu 06-Dec-12 18:17:53

sorry, hijack to Jacey: what is an infidelity counsellor???? I don't know. I am probably quoting Linda J MacDonald if I said that - she gives the swiftest and most direct kick to the nuts of people who betray their spouses so I like what she has to say:

infidelity is TRAUMA and one of the worst human experiences
do not underestimate the damage you have caused
life is no longer about you
if you want to heal your marriage, you are going to have to put your spouse first until they are soothed and comforted enough for you and THEN you can deal with any marital issues that caused vulnerability
It takes two years from the last lie to heal - so get absolutely honest and transparent or you will lose your M

nice and straightforward I think

My IC IS unethical smile - gay, flamboyant and a touch narcissistic himself! grin

I am fine with it because we have developed a rapport over the last 3 years - I said to him, 'do you normally speak to your clients like this? He said 'no: but you can take it'. My last therapist told me I was incredibly honest and brave, so I sort of got it. I really did need to be hit over the head with that 4 x 2 to be honest.
(Just to prove human stupidity is boundless, I saw her as a young person to deal with my narc parents, she WARNED me not to marry H, 20+ years later I am now seeing this IC because of the damage of narc H. Imprinting or what?)

Walkacrossthesand, a very good book about narcissism is 'Enough about you, let's talk about me' - Les Carter ('requiring a narcissist to become non-narcissistic [see your point of view] is an exercise in futility'). Also, Eleanor Payson 'The Wizard of Oz and other Narcissists'. They both talk about, instead of trying to get the narcissist to change, to keep on to your sense of self, detach from the power struggle and give them firm boundaries.

Good luck.

Walkacrossthesand Fri 07-Dec-12 01:27:38

Very helpful, thanks all. The tip about asking the 'narcissistic traits' person how they think the situation looked from the other person's point of view, struck a chord & I'll try it.

Walkacrossthesand Fri 07-Dec-12 01:29:38

PS my 'narc-ish' daughter said 'sorry' for something today - it was a touching moment!

I'm training to be a psychotherapist and we spent a fair while looking at narcissistic personalities and how they manifest. So far in practice I've met a couple of people who I would say display narcissistic traits and to me they stood out a mile. However, as has been said upthread, what they wanted me to do was help them explain to the world why they were right and everyone else was wrong. I think if they go to therapy long term, with a good therapist, then it is possible for change to happen, but they have to want that change.

HollyBerryBush Fri 07-Dec-12 06:15:10

Interesting. But simply, when anyone posts a story here, you only ever get one side. I presume the same would apply on a therapists couch.

Always 3 sides to every story, yours, theirs and the truth.

thezoobmeister Fri 07-Dec-12 06:31:56

interesting thread ...

any therapist worth their salt will look behind the words. its not just about believing or not believing a story, its also about - for example - why does the client want to keep telling that particular story? plus emotions are very telling, and hard to disguise.

but remember that the therapist is there for his or her client - its not their job to make their client a nicer person for the benefit of their family. Therapists nowadays don't label their clients with diagnoses and then proceed to cure them. they listen and encourage the client to develop their own understanding of themself.

as a PP says, the person has to want to change. And even then, they may not change in a way that is acceptable to their family!

Bunbaker Fri 07-Dec-12 06:54:24

I'm glad I found this thread. I think DD's bully displays narcissistic traits.

She is never wrong. Everything is always someone else's fault, she is very manipulative and devious. She throws a strop if she isn't the centre of attention. If there is a competition or game she sulks if she doesn't win, she bullies DD by bitching about her, telling lies about her and sabotaging her friendships. If she gets a detention or is threatened with a detention at school she fabricates a migraine so she doesn't have to do it.

Is this narcissistic?

CogitOCrapNotMoreSprouts Fri 07-Dec-12 08:31:37

Ego-centric, narcissistic, selfish, aggressive, vindictive, malicious, self-absorbed, aggressive, jealous, irrational, attention-seeking, immature, deceitful..... I don't think it particularly matters what you call this type of behaviour. As the thread suggests, all you can ever do is decide how you are going to respond. Whether they have a disorder or whether they are just 'difficult people' is debatable. However, someone who displays no concern for others and for whom the world starts and finishes with themselves is never going to seek help for what they will regard as 'someone else's problem'.

If your DD has a bully the way to tackle her is not on the psychiatrist's couch, it's through the authorities...

imaginethat Fri 07-Dec-12 09:32:33

Funnily enough I have been thinking about exactly this.

A lot of stuff you read about narcissists will include a line about them not being willing or able to change. But I am quite narcissistic yet i try really hard not to be.

My mother is extremely narcissistic and while I loathe many of her ways, i would have to confess I have at least some of them.

I constantly check and re-check my behaviour/reactions etc to try to ensure I am being considerate but I know I slip up especially when stressed.

So from this v short and unscientific study I hereby conclude that some of us do know we are narcissistic and do want and try to change

Letsmakecookies Fri 07-Dec-12 10:04:28

Imagine but if it is not a case of fully narcissist or not i.e 100% or 0%, then everyone in theory has some narcissistic traits, but it depends where along that spectrum a person lies. So unless you are full on at one end with a personality disorder, it makes sense that you would be able to recognise and try and stop traits in yourself. But the further along you are perhaps the harder that would be.

But cognito is absolutely right, at the end of the day all anyone can do about someone else's self-absorbed behaviour is decide how to respond to it, so taking control of their own lives and setting boundaries down.

Abitwobblynow Sun 09-Dec-12 18:03:44

'But I am quite narcissistic yet i try really hard not to be.
My mother is extremely narcissistic and while I loathe many of her ways, i would have to confess I have at least some of them.'

Tells me that whilst you might have narcissistic tendencies (as do everyone, this is what Genesis 3 is about, the Original Sin) you are NOT a narcissist!

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