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It is exceptionally challenging to make changes in a relationship with a self-centered narcissist. It’s all about them and never about you. You will find you are always to blame and it is rare that they will be accountable for their actions due to the fact that one of the main characteristics of narcissism is an unwillingness to see symptoms as flaw; experiencing them—believe it or not—as virtues. This is in large part due to an amazing sense of denial that the narcissistic individual possesses in order to maintain their fragile self-esteem. This sense of denial makes it very difficult for them to benefit from treatment or to take criticisms constructively from a significant other.
Sometimes the best efforts fail. Getting an individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder into psychotherapy is in itself a small miracle. Even well-trained therapists can be challenged when dealing with the narcissist.
But there is one more option that has recently emerged onto the psychotherapy scene. It is one of the newer cutting-edge technologies being advocated by experts for helping individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is referred to as “the Intervention.” Doing an Intervention with your narcissistic other can be a difficult yet valuable strategy in dealing with highly resistant narcissistic people.
An intervention is a technique that was originally developed to break through the denial and resistance in a substance abuser who refuses to acknowledge her problem. Several key people in the substance abuser’s life—family members, friends, and the like—confront her with her problem, the pain she has caused them, and their concern for her well-being. They are usually aided by a professional trained in interventions. In some instances, a bed in a rehab center has previously been reserved, so the patient’s bags are already packed.
More recently, interventions have been used to break through the denial of people with eating disorders. The fact that it is a technique specifically designed to prevail over denial makes it a good choice for narcissists because denial is one of their key symptoms.
Interventions can be risky business. Interventions can take a good deal of time, preparation, and resources, and you risk terminating the relationship as the narcissist might be incredibly offended and become quite upset thereby strengthening his denial defense. The narcissist might never speak to you again.
Here are the steps in implementing an intervention.
1. Enlist the aid of a professional. Interventions can be very stormy and emotional experiences. While it is possible to have an intervention without a professional, your chances are better with the help of an experienced practitioner.
2. Recruit your participants. These should be people who have some influence over the narcissist or people whom the narcissist has hurt in some way. Stick to about four or five people if you can.
3. Plan your intervention. The key participants should meet at least one time to plan the meeting without the narcissist’s knowledge. In this meeting, you need to set goals, like getting the narcissist to commit to psychotherapy. Develop talking points; everyone should have only one or two key things to say. Try to stick to those points without hitting the narcissist with everything under the sun. Remember to communicate compassion throughout the session and resist the temptation to withhold it for revenge. Plan strategies for what to do if and when the narcissist resists. Be prepared to apply a consequence if the narcissist insists on carrying on the same old, same old. Ending the relationship, litigating, or not participating in certain activities with the narcissist are some possibilities. This type of leverage can be your ace in the hole.
4. During the intervention, stay calm, for things can get really rough. Remember, this is a loving gesture done out of concern. Make it clear that ignoring the problem would have only hurt the narcissist. You may be surprised that this show of support actually make it through to the narcissist. Avoid labels and general sweeping statements. Use I-messages. “’I get upset and want to distance myself from you when you go into a tirade and I want to feel close to you’”, for example.
Stay upbeat and helpful.
Experts on intervention with substance abuse vary in their reports on intervention effectiveness from 50 to 90 percent (with professional help). Statistics on intervention done with narcissists are not yet available.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Personality and Psychopathology in Port Jervis, NY is a good starting place to set up a personal intervention or to get further information.
Taken from Lavender, N. and Cavaiola, A. (2011) The One-Way Relationship Workbook: Step-by-Step Help for Coping With Narcissists, Egotistical Lovers, Toxic Coworkers, and Others Who Are Incredibly Self- absorbed. (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook).