Overcoming narcissism, one day at a time.

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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.

one-day-at-a-time

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?) 😀

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9 thoughts on “Overcoming narcissism, one day at a time.

  1. But good on you for actually WRITING about your issue and how you work day to day- IMHO when folk don t like you and will look to throw stones- that takes serious guts. Cliché, but I truly believe that if you can feel remorse and be aware within the moment and within EACH moment to the best of your ability that is recovered for personality disorders.

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  2. I thank God because I believe through BEng a Christian God knew I was ready now to face the real truth and although I know the journey will take one day at a time there is going to be some tuff choices and new boundaries in my life and marriage
    I came to understand that especially as a Christian it became all to easy in works for the lord that there was something wrong I got to a stage where
    I was aware of this constant anger brewing in me and although some things had come from the hurt of others I suddenly stated to realise that my perfectionism or lack of had caused a anger not only to others but much inward anger to myself when I couldn’t meet everyones expectations and when they couldn’t meet mine
    I thank God because I know he had bought me to this place because I so want to get well the first part is receiving his forgiveness for past mistakes and learning to love me when I need to say no
    My father was an alcoholic and my mother was also a co dependent
    She talked of how she had taken on the roll of mother to her brothers and a defender for her father and how she hurt when they didn’t need her
    Suddenly my question to God was amazing I had been asking god why he
    Had suddenly stopped me helping others so much and why was these people saying no to me when I was offering them a nice way out of their pain my father was narcissistic and
    Now I had learned these coping skills of how to appease how to manipulate how to deny my needs and how I had allowed my self to be abused
    The pain of taking away some of these props had been confusing and painful and scary
    At this moment I love my husband but realised he has a drink problem and that we both have issues to overcome
    It came to the point where I had to say i can’t carry on with this it makes me frighten and it’s destroying our lives
    I had not even understood that without knowing it I had done exactly as my mother a need to be needed and self gratification in someone needing me
    It’s very very hard for my husband to stop drinking but his really trying and I have prayers that God will give us both
    Strength patience and courage to go on it is a case of one day at a time
    But for me balancing the empathy and encouragement he will need to go through without enabling him and
    And encouraging self pity is very very hard for me
    I am going to seek more counsel on this for myself but glad to say as uncomfortable as it is I have started to set healthier boundaries with my family
    My mother died of cancer 6 months later I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer my father was disguised
    With Alzimeres and I continued to take care of him and my husband who is diabetic and suffers with depression
    I know it’s only gods grace that has bought me this far
    I went through hell from my sisters when I said I can’t cope please help
    The pain was almost unbearable and I believed I was meant to take my fathers attitude every day demanding so much
    Through my own treatment of chemotherapy
    And radium I would run around beyond my duty and the amount of people including Christians and family that
    Passed on guilt and judgement was on top of that too my husband desperately
    Asking me to think of my own health but I was locked into that guilt shame syndrome
    I forgive them all through gods grave but I have learnt so much I don’t mean it in a negative way but for someone like me who had learned behaviour of you must not complain Christianity in a distorted way had furled that need
    Oh my if I didn’t have enough good deeds god would not love me after all the good book said think of others before yourself so I had learned to put on a mask I am ok no I can do that
    Never stopping suddenly God put the breaks on and I came close to a break
    Down I am still in that battle and new boundaries are being set every day and I still have to fight every day that devil on the shoulder that says you should not be sitting around get out there and
    Bring people to the lord I thank god that he is my rescuer my savour my
    Strength and I am being restored but in that restoration I am learning to set new boundaries with my self and also learning to be more honest gently
    I am also learning god has boundaries
    And consequences when I sin he forgives and loves me but there are consequences and as much as I don’t have to live in abuse anymore or fear rejection when I say no I also have to learn true empathy when others need it so to get the balance with my husbands recovery is very hard
    To not Condemn but to not enable him is a fine line
    For the first time in my life I am starting to understand what real love is and how to let go of my compulsive ways of coping and hiding my pain without lashing out but to withdraw when those boundaries are being abused and to then come back again when I am refreshed and be vulnerable again
    If Jesus had not wooed me to himself
    I would not be where I am and as painful as it is I am skill grateful to god for all this the holy spirit has lead me to
    This place of understanding
    Townsend and cloud are amazing Christian counselors and have sold millions of books so if any one wants to google their free podcasts it’s really
    Great insight to listen to them
    Thank you so much for your help too and will follow your links to help
    But I know I must go and get more professional help too and going through this we all need a peer group that we can be accountable to and they can be honest with me
    God bless you all on your personal journey
    Yours in Christ Jesus Chrissy

    Liked by 1 person

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