written by Amber Fuller, LMFT, owner/clinic director of Fuller Living
I recently wrote about the narcissist and the empath. I’ve since been thinking a lot about the topic and met with a friend who was talking to me about his journey with identifying as a narcissist and going to counseling. I’ve discovered some incredibly important points that I want to share with the world.
- It is so important that a therapist know what they are doing when treating this population. The friend informed me that they would get such a “high” from sitting with a therapist that would allow for them to sit in their “victim hood” and not challenge them on anything. They would literally get all of their “narcissistic dreams” met by sitting there with the therapist. The friend of mine told me that he never experienced change because he wasn’t being challenged. He identified these therapists as toxic for him. He told me that after meeting with these therapists (he told me he had several), he would go home and stomp around his house like he was the most important person in the house and he felt justified in doing so because the therapists fed into all of his disordered thinking. So, to reiterate this point, if you are a therapist, and you say you specialize in treating clients with narcissism, then please actually specialize in this and don’t just say you do. Please make sure you know what you are doing or you could make a really big mess. I was talking to MY own therapist about this and her and I both agreed that tons of training is necessary when treating this life struggle and that there isn’t enough training for it in our opinion.
- Challenge away. The friend told me that he now has a therapist that kind of “shocks him” every time he talks about problems. If the therapist at any point hears my friend making himself out to be a victim, he will immediately challenge him by saying something like, “(insert sarcastic tone here) OH BOO HOO HOO, you poor thing, (insert serious tone here) Look what you did! Now how are you going to clean up your mess!?”. When my friend told me that his therapist responds this way I was a bit shocked. I asked my friend, “are you sure this is right for you? That’s a little harsh.”. He responded by telling me, “haha, that’s because you’re an empath. Trust me, I need this challenge. I needed somebody who finally didn’t feed into my bull crap”. I thought, “well, okay” :/. To be honest, I think my friend is right. I also think the therapist’s techniques are working. My friend told me that because he’s being challenged on HIS behavior, he’s noticing tangible differences in his relationships with others, his wife, and his kids. He told me that he hasn’t gotten into an argument for a month with his wife(they have disagreements, but instead of him meeting them with defensiveness or sarcasm, he meets his wife with connection and love), his kids have told him that they feel more loved, and his friendships are deeper. “I’m happy, Amber. I’m finally happy. I feel deeply connected to those around me and myself. I’m finding that the techniques that my therapist is teaching me are ACTUALLY WORKING. It’s hard, but it works”. I had never seen my friend cry before, and at this point I had watched tears flow down his eyes as he said this. He deeply appreciates being challenged.
- Sitting in Shame is a “thing”. “I was sitting on the couch with my wife last night and started bawling like a baby”. “Why”, I asked. He responded by telling me that his therapist told him that he needs to “sit in his shame”. For so long he would do things, knowing that those things were wrong for him to do, and he’d carry on with life and feel completely fine(stealing from others, cheating on his wife, yelling at his kids, manipulating his family and friends…). He told me that he was disconnected from his feelings so that he wouldn’t actually have to address his behavior. He started bawling because he was sitting there with his wife, and it “hit him”…all of the things he had done to his family and to his wife that hurt them. Sitting in the shame is helpful for him to not act the same way over and over and over again. Sitting in the shame, for him, has resulted in behavior change. My therapist brain said to me, “I’ve read so many Brene Brown books to think that shame could be a good thing doesn’t seem right”, but it can be if tamed. A person who struggles narcissist traits is terrified of the feeling of shame and they avoid it at all costs, resulting in, usually, negligence and destruction of others. I asked my friend what it looks like for him to sit in his shame. “It looks like me not fighting off the feelings that a normal person would have after they’ve done something that they deem to be wrong. It looks like feeling those feelings. Embracing them”. “Well do you stay in those feelings forever?”, I asked. “No. Of course not. I feel it, figure out how I can deal with the situation in a healthy way, and then I deal with it and move on”. WHO KNEW!?
It’s been interesting seeing the changes that my friend is making and the effect that it’s having on his marriage. He seems happy. Like really truly happy. His wife has a new glow to her. I chatted with her a few days ago and she told me that she feels connected to him in a way that she never has before. “He’s finally real. Authentic. Genuine. I feel like his soul, his heart, and his brain are back in his body”.
I write about all of this to stress the importance of seeking therapy from somebody who ACTUALLY specializes in treating people who struggle with narcissistic tendencies. It’s important. It literally can make or break a relationship. My friend’s therapist also approaches things from a faith based perspective which, I think, helps him feel more grounded.
Lastly, if you’re an “empath” and really struggling with your relationship and believe that you are in a relationship with somebody who struggles with narcissistic traits, we have several providers at Fuller Living that would LOVE to meet with you individually or you and your significant other. We enjoy journeying with people who are going through this struggle. You don’t have to go at it alone. We’re here waiting for you.