I just finished reading this inspiring article about how author and public speaker Hugo Schwyzer overcame his 3 Cluster B disorders (NPD, BPD and ASPD) using 12-step program techniques from his AA program to help himself change his everyday behaviors and become more mindful. The need to obtain narcissistic supply is much like any other addiction because “supply” is a narcissist’s drug of choice and they believe they can’t live without it.
Eventually, Hugo was able to learn new behaviors, attitudes, and he developed true empathy and the ability to care about and love others.
Several months after writing this article, his wife gave birth to a daughter. Hugo sums things up this way:
I first wrote this post a month before the birth of my daughter. More than three years later, I can say that becoming a Dad has been more exhausting and challenging — and more exciting and rewarding — than I ever could have imagined. I’ve talked to many adult children of narcissistic parents, and their stories of bewilderment and betrayal are sobering. One day at a time, I do everything I can to be as connected to Heloise as I can be, to be present with her. Blessedly, I don’t spend much time at all worrying how she feels about her papa; what matters is the certainty and love and reassurance I can bring to her.
And yet, I’m vigilant. If narcissism never really goes away, and is rather something from which I get a “daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of my spiritual condition”, I can’t afford not to be. Especially with a daughter.
Empathy Can Be Learned: Overcoming Narcissism, One Day at a Time.
By Hugo Schwyzer
A couple of years ago, I put up this post about overcoming my own mental illness. In particular, I wrote in response to this post by the Happy Feminist about her relationship with her narcissistic father.
In my years in and around the mental health system, I was consistently diagnosed not with depression but with a personality disorder. More precisely, I was regularly described (by several psychiatrists) as having “cluster b” personality disorders: Narcissistic, Antisocial, and everyone’s favorite, Borderline. Based on the traditional criteria, I hit each and every one of the criteria for the last of these, and many of the crucial ones for the first two. From late adolescence until the cusp of thirty, as I cycled in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals, these diagnoses were offered again and again. And in my 2006 post, I talked in general terms about my recovery, conversion, and transformation. But I didn’t get much into specifics.
I’ve corresponded a bit with Jan at Planetjan, who has written quite a bit about dealing with folks with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (See her first, second, and third excellent pieces.) She wrote something that stirred me up a bit, for understandable reasons:
How is a personality disorder different from mental illness? I had a hard time initially wrapping my head around this one. A mental illness (schizophrenia being the most widely known) can be treated, with varying degrees of success, with medications or cognitive therapy. Most mental illnesses are caused by brain cell synaptic disruptions, most of which are believed to be genetic in origin. I have friends who are bipolar and as long as they take their meds, any symptoms subside and they feel and act relatively “normal.” Mental illnesses typically present themselves in late adolescence or early adulthood. The onset of the mental illness is often sudden and profound. A mental illness descends over a person’s personality like a heavy wool blanket feels on an already warm summer night.
A personality disorder, on the other hand, is all pervasive. The DSM-IV describes a personality disorder as “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectation of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.”
With mental illness, a person’s personality is blanketed, or suffocated, by the onset of the mental illness. But the personality of someone with a personality disorder is virtually interwoven into every fiber of that blanket. Unravel the blanket and you unravel their personality.
So someone doesn’t have a personality disorder; they ARE the personality disorder. These personality traits are so deeply ingrained that they defy change.
Read the rest of Hugo’s article on his website.
For more about how 12-step programs could be used to treat NPD, see my article, Why Isn’t There a 12-Step Program for Narcissists?
For a lighter look at 12 step programs and NPD, see The 12 Steps of Narcissists Anonymous. (Come on now, we can laugh at ourselves, can’t we?) 😀