Good Resources for Dealing With Narcissism
Hyper-focus on beautiful appearances can signal narcissistic tendencies.
Posted September 19, 2014
Earlier today I recorded a live webinar for therapists on Narcissistic Habits: Couples Therapy Treatment. Over 80% of troubled marriages (at least judging from the stats in my clinical practice) have been weakened by narcissistic habits of one or both of the spouses.
Narcissism has multiple giveaways, one of which tends to be hyper-concern with external attributes such as beauty, clothes, money, status and material possessions. Another, and for me the hallmark of narcissism, is listening only to oneself and dismissing as unimportant or wrong what others say.
A main point in the webinar however was that individual therapy has a low success rate for bringing about changes in narcissistic behavior patterns. While one-on-one sessions with a therapist can help narcissistic individuals feel less depressed, anxious or angry, to break out of the self-defeating and relationship-destroying habits of narcissism itself, couples therapy can be a far more potent treatment modality.
At the same time, what about self-help?
Reading about narcissism enhances awareness. Awareness can bring relief. "Oh, so that's why I did x, even though afterwards I regretted it!" Awareness also motivates change, and can even lead to building new habits.
These benefits hold true both for narcissistic individuals themselves and for "co-dependents" who struggle to cope with a lover, parent, friend or work colleague who interacts in narcissistic ways.
I very much enjoyed, as part of preparing for the webinar, looking over some of the relatively recently published books on narcissism. Here's several that I found particularly insightful, well-written and likely to be helpful to narcissists and those who live or work with them.
This book by Jonice Webb details in engagingly written language what happens in adulthood to children raised by narcissisitc parents. They couldn't see or hear you--they just wanted you to be what they wanted you to be. They also probably were excessively critical, so you developed a false self to hide from them, and from yourself as well, your actual feelings, thoughts and preferences.
Folks with this kind of upbringing are at risk by adulthood for developing either narcissistic "all about me" like their parent(s) modeled, or enabling "all about you" patterns, such as they developed to cope with the narcissistic parent.
One reason, besides its excellent insights, that this book makes it to my top choices list is because the author, Eleanor Payson, agrees with me about therapy for people with narcissistic habits:
"You will want to find a relationship therapist who has skills in teaching more effective communication and at the same time has training and talent in the important process of insight development. In other words, the therapist needs to be experienced in working with both partners together (not separately) .... (p. 125).
Payson also emphasizes the importance of "elevating your ability to handle conflict together" ..."using some form of structured dialogue that inserts ground rules into the process" ..research indicates that the number one predictor for the long-term success of any relationship is how well the couple is able to handle conflict ...this is usuallly the first order of business for relationship work... (p. 126)."
The authors of this book, Cynthia Zayn and Kevin Dibble, focus on the more severely narcissistic, more set-in-their-ways and more unwilling-to-change individuals with narcissistic patterns, the ones who meet the criteria for a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). That's why their emphasis is on leaving rather than fixing the relationship.
At the same time, the book is full of insights, both regarding the narcissistic individual and his/her partner. For the partner, for instance, "if you find yourself jumping through hoops to please your partner on a daily baiss, chances are something is not right...(p. 112)"
Got it. What next? How do you build new and healthier habits?
While there's lots of good relationship skill-building books out there, I can't help but favor my own Power of Two book, workbook, CD/free podcast, video and interactive online course (see below). I've also written a batch of PT posts on narcissism, as well as on its first cousin, borderline personality disorder. They're listed here.
The main point though that I want to make here is that seeing what's wrong builds awareness of the narcissistic habits that are causing needless distress. Awareness is a huge first step toward change. The problem won't be fixed though until you also build new, more emotional healthy, ways of interacting.
The following may be platitudes, and at the same time they are true and good news. Where there is a will there is a way. If you want to, you can change. Others in your lifespace, if they want to let go of just blaming and instead to build their own self-awareness, can change as well.
Everyone, you included, has potential, if you decide you want to learn and grow, to emerge as a happy and emotionally healthy individual who enjoys wholly collaborative, side-by-side and fully gratifying relationships. A sense of personal well-being, goodwill in relationships--these are life's ultimate blessings.
Go for it!
Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a graduate of Harvard and NYU, is author of Power of Two, a book, a workbook, and a website that teach the communication skills that sustain positive relationships.
Click here for a free Power of Two relationship skills quiz.