Romance Redux

Using science to understand and improve relationships.

Think You’re With a Narcissist? Try These 7 Strategies

You may have read that narcissists are incapable of change. But growing evidence suggests otherwise. Be prepared with these research-backed methods for figuring out when there’s hope—and when there isn’t. Read More

Narcissists

I have some major issues with this piece. I write as the daughter of a man who was almost certainly a narcissist. (Once I found websites about it, a lot of things about his behaviour and about my miserable childhood and awful adolescence fell into place.)

My dad would have gone into therapy or counselling kicking and screaming. He didn't think he needed therapy or counselling; he thought that all the problems in our family were our fault, even when we were small children. They were our fault and they were our mother's fault but they were never, ever anything to do with him: he was (in his own eyes) a saint. On various occasions prior to meeting my mother, he had experienced mental breakdown and had been OFFERED professional help, which he rejected. When our life at home was miserable due to his behaviour, my mother tried on two or three occasions (not nearly forcefully enough) to get him to go into therapy with her: he refused, angrily.

He finally went into therapy when all his children were adult. Only when his laboriously-constructed image at work ("Look at what a supportive colleague I am!") began to crumble. I had gone abroad to teach by then.Would you believe that the therapist he went to have therapy with was the very same woman who had worked with me when I had a serious breakdown due to his abusive behaviour? She should not have taken him on, but she did. (If I knew then what I know now, I would have reported her straightaway to her professional body for a very serious breach of ethics.) So he manipulated her just as he manipulated so many other people during his life. And the therapy itself became, in his hands, a weapon. He would say stuff to my mother like "Jean (the therapist) agrees with me that you should do such-and-such" or "Jean is quite clear in our sessions that YOU have been undermining our marriage from day one." There is no way those remarks could be validated or disproved. Basically, a narcissist only goes into therapy in order to manipulate. By definition, a narcissist is all about projecting an image; the very last thing a narcissist wants is honesty or integrity, things that any proper therapy demands.

And I can't accept that there are narcissists who do not abuse. To be a narcissist is to be abusive, surely? it is bound up with the whole behaviour. People in the narcissist's world exist in order to be used: that IS abuse.

More is being written about narcissism, and that's a good thing. But I get frustrated with the number of articles by therapists that seem to misunderstand what it is. It ruins lives; not the lives of the narcissists but the lives of spouses and children. I really don't think a narcissist IS capable of real change. As such, my advice to anyone living with such a person would be: if you possibly can, get out. It's not going to get better and this person will reduce you to a wreck and will, in all probability, still come up smelling of roses. People will believe his/her lies while they disbelieve yours, that's the nature of the beast.

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Craig Malkin, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who taught and trained at Harvard Medical School.

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