Healing narcissism: Stephen’s story

Originally posted on Lucky Otter’s Haven on February 26, 2015

who_am_I

Disclaimer:
I am not a licensed mental health professional and as such, have done no studies or surveys to find out if the healing regime I am going to propose here would actually work on people with NPD. I have no guarantee such a therapy regime would work, but I feel like I’ve done enough reading about the disorder (NPD in particular), both from Internet material written by a number of people, and books by professionals who specialize in this disorder, to outline a possible therapy regime I feel might give sufferers of NPD (as well as BPD and other disorders of the self, and even PTSD) who want to get better some hope of doing so. This is not a therapy I “made up,” since I am not qualified to do so, much less diagnose anyone with any disorder. Instead, it’s an almagamation of several different therapies–drawn from both from traditional insight psychotherapy and alternative therapies proposed by both people who suffer from this disorder or are involved in alternative medicine and spiritual therapy.

For several months I have been reading everything I can about healing Narcissistic Personality Disorder, because as a victim of narcissistic abuse who has cared for and loved people who are narcissists, I have a vested interest in the possibility there may be hope for some of them. I also think our world would be a much nicer and safer place for the rest of us to live in if narcissists could be cured of their disorder!

In my readings, both on the Internet and from books about healing NPD (I just received a copy of James Masterson’s book “The Emerging Self,” recommended to me by fellow blogger BPDTransformation. Although I have not had time to read the book, I have skimmed through it and can already see that its premise of the narcissist getting in touch with their true self and confronting and releasing long buried true emotions of sadness and fear is not much different than therapies others have proposed for NPD).

Overview of Some NPD Healing and Treatment Techniques.
Following are some brief descriptions of some therapies that have already been proposed to heal or treat the symptoms of people with NPD. A few come from traditional psychotherapy disciplines; others are more alternative/experimental.

Cognitive-Behavioral Training/Therapy (CBT)

CBT

Currently, the only psychiatrically sanctioned and accepted “therapy” for NPD is Cognitive-Behavioral Training (CBT). CBT is useful and may help some narcissists who are not psychopathic or sociopathic learn to control and monitor some of their more antisocial and hurtful behaviors. It has been used with some success on prison inmates who want to change their behaviors, children with ODD and CD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder) such as 6 year old Beth Thomas, who might have become a psychopath had she not had early intervention that intercepted her early antisocial behaviors and murderous impulses toward her brother and parents; as well as other people with NPD or BPD who are insightful and willing enough to want to change the way they act and stop hurting others.

The problem with CBT is it does not really cure the narcissist (unless done at a very early age, like Beth Thomas). CBT doesn’t address traumatic childhood issues or make the narcissist shed their protective masks or get in touch with the painful emotions that caused them to choose narcissism in the first place. It’s really just a band-aid and probably helps those who must deal with the narcissist more than it helps the patient. The narcissist remains a narcissist, and must constantly monitor their behaviors or be reminded by others to do so. The more positive behaviors never become internalized because the narcissist has not really changed from the inside.

That being said, I believe CBT is a valuable component in the type of therapy I am going to describe, but must be undertaken once the NPD patient has gone through a complete emotional catharsis resulting in the release of painful emotions stemming from childhood (or whenever they “chose” to become a narcissist to protect themselves). I’ll describe how this can be used later in this article.

Narcissists adopted their False Self to survive.
I hold to the probably rather unpopular belief that people with NPD started life as Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) or possibly even empaths. Sam Vaknin’s journal entries, especially his descriptions of himself as a sensitive and generous child who cried when his malignant narcissist mother was upset (I cannot find the link for that right now but will look for it), as well as writings and journals by other NPD sufferers on message boards and forums have made this evident.

It came as a surprise to realize this, because Narcissists (as opposed to those suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), who really are hopeless and can never get better) seem like the most insensitive and cruel people on the planet. But their obnoxious and cruel behaviors stem from the False Self, not their true one, which hasn’t died, but is atrophied and in hiding. The False Self was constructed as an elaborate defense mechanism to protect the child from further hurt and abuse. Most people with NPD were abused or neglected as children, and being more sensitive than other children, the only way they could survive further hurt and abuse was to construct a False Self which makes them appear big and bad when deep inside, they still feel utterly worthless, despised and vulnerable.

crying_is_okay

One thing I noticed in all these therapies (not including CBT, of course), is the key to healing is emotional catharsis. Crying–not the usual narcissistic manipulative crying–but deep and honest crying resulting from releasing past pain, grief and fear–is an absolute necessity if any healing is to occur. Of course crying is key in any psychodynamic therapy for any disorder that can be healed by such means, not just NPD. As the False Self breaks down and the True Self begins to emerge, painful emotions from the past will start to be released. This is necessary and healthy. In fact, healing from NPD (or many other mental disorders) isn’t possible without it.

The following are some techniques used for actually healing NPD rather than treating its symptoms. It’s probably prudent to keep in mind their efficacy is iffy at best. If a narcissist is neither insightful nor willing, none of these therapies will work. Insight and willingness to change are necessary and must come from the narcissist him or herself. As I’ve described before, the willingness to heal is a cost-benefit analysis. If the narcissist has benefited from their narcissism, they may not think going through all the emotional work required to heal from NPD is worth it.

1. Attitudinal Healing.

attitudinal_healing

Tony Brown was a self-professed narcissist who decided he no longer wanted to be one. He believed narcissism stemmed from fear. (He’s probably right). He healed himself using a 12-point (not the same as a 12-step program) technique of replacing thoughts of fear with thoughts of love. He called this therapy Attitudinal Healing. Eventually, he says, these thoughts of love and empathy become internalized and the patient begins to remember past hurtful incidents that turned them into narcissists. During this process, the patient finds themselves crying a lot as they remember things long forgotten and the many ways they have hurt their loved ones. AH is kind of a New Age technique, but his followers swear it has worked for them. Tony Brown died in 2008 of natural causes, just after he was cured. His forum, HealNPD, is no longer active, but you can read his material about AH there and posts by others who were undergoing AH to heal themselves of narcissism.

Criticisms of AH: There’s some skepticism because there have been no studies or empirical evidence for AH’s efficacy, and some believe thought-replacing isn’t deep psychology and therefore can’t access the true self.

2. Reparenting.

remothering

“Reparenting” is a term used by Sam Vaknin for his theories of healing NPD, but the techniques involved are not his alone and partly derive from New Age therapy practices and traditional psychodynamic therapy and Freudian psychoanalysis. Reparenting requires an initial accidental or intentional removal of all the narcissist’s sources of narcissistic supply, which sets into motion a “narcissistic crisis” (a time during which the narcissist’s defenses and masks break down). This is the only time a narcissist may present themselves for treatment. At that point, the therapist offers only “cold empathy,” which means giving the narcissist acknowledgment and the “mirroring” they missed out n as children, without offering approval, criticism, sympathy for the narcissist’s plight, or any other means of narcissistic supply. The narcissist’s frustration and anger with the therapist (transference) for only mirroring them but not giving them the supply they want (validation or approval) results first in rage, then dissolves into emotional catharsis and release of negative and painful emotions associated with childhood abuse and neglect.

Criticisms of Reparenting: Intensive therapy like this could not practically work unless the narcissist was in a closely supervised setting, such a a rehab center or hospital, because of the strong possibility that even a willing narcissist, when undergoing such painful cathartic emotions, would suddenly leave therapy and go back to their old ways. I personally don’t believe such a therapy would work permanently unless combined or followed up with behavioral training such as CBT to retrain the conscience and internalize it into the psyche.

3. M. Scott Peck: “Remothering” and physical touch.

woman-holding-newborn

Dr. M. Scott Peck proposed a technique similar to reparenting called “remothering” in his book “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.” Peck doesn’t go into great detail about re-mothering a patient in his book (and in fact doesn’t discuss treatment much at all outside of exorcism), but in his description of his malignantly narcissistic patient Charlene, he expresses his regret that he had not offered her unconditional love and support (not the same as narcissistic supply) and actually physically holding her as a mother would a baby, instead of allowing her to manipulate and torment him and making him continue to pander to her need for narcissistic supply.

Criticisms of “remothering”/physical holding: Peck’s briefly expressed ideas of holding (in a nonsexual way) and nurturing such a patient as a loving mother would are similar to reparenting, but would require the narcissist to be willing to allow themselves to become vulnerable enough to undergo such a treatment, which is unlikely unless they were undergoing a severe narcissistic crisis and utterly desperate. There’s also the problem that physically touching/holding a patient could lead to accusations of sexual abuse, or sexual feelings between the patient and therapist (which is a common but questionable outcome of transference/countertransference).

The problems of possible legal allegations of sexual abuse/harassment are addressed here, and there is a consent form in some states a patient can fill out to give permission for limited touching in therapy sessions to occur.

4. M. Scott Peck: Exorcism.

exorcism

Peck, a born-again Christian, believes that many cases of narcissism are a result of a malignant entity entering the body of the patient, at the time they made the choice to become a narcissist, whether in childhood or later in life.

In some cases, where the possession by an evil entity is not complete (that is, a patient with narcissistic tendencies who is not psychopathic or malignant), a patient can be healed through the centuries old religious rite of exorcism, formerly only sanctioned by the Catholic Church, and even then, was only approved in extreme cases that were approved by the Pope. Peck believes any highly trained psychotherapist with a strong faith in God (not necessarily Christian) and with strong unconditional love for their patient can successfully perform an exorcism on a patient who is willing and properly prepared ahead of time. Peck writes about exorcism in both “People of the Lie” and goes into more detail about the two exorcisms he successfully performed in his later 2005 book, “Glimpses of the Devil.”

Criticisms of Exorcism: Besides its obvious medieval and superstitious connotations, exorcism can be physically, mentally and spiritually dangerous for both the therapist and patient. Death is a possible result. There should be others in the room during the exorcism if additional hands are needed to control the patient undergoing the rite. But because I believe NPD is as much a spiritual disorder as it is a mental one, I don’t think exorcism should be dismissed as a possible healing technique in extreme cases where other therapies have not worked.

5. Dr. James F. Masterson: Psychodynamic Treatment of Narcissistic Disorders of the Self.

closet_narcissism

I have not yet read his book “The Emerging Self” (I just received it in the mail) but from what I have seen, the therapy is psychodynamic (as opposed to merely behavioral) and requires the patient to confront and purge past hurts and undergo catharsis. Narcissism and “closet narcissism” are not the only disorders addressed in his book; he also addresses similar disorders such as BPD which can be healed using the same or similar techniques.

From Wikipedia:

Masterson’s subtypes (exhibitionist and closet)
In 1993, James F. Masterson proposed two categories for pathological narcissism, exhibitionist and closet.[40] Both fail to adequately develop an age- and phase- appropriate self because of defects in the quality of psychological nurturing provided, usually by the mother. The exhibitionist narcissist is the one described in DSM-IV and differs from the closet narcissist in several important ways.

The closet narcissist is more likely to be described as having a deflated, inadequate self-perception and greater awareness of emptiness within. The exhibitionist narcissist would be described as having an inflated, grandiose self-perception with little or no conscious awareness of the emptiness within. Such a person would assume that this condition was normal and that others were just like them. [Masterson’s definition of the closet narcissist sounds more similar to the “covert” narcissist or “inverted” narcissist Sam Vaknin discusses on his website].

The closet narcissist seeks constant approval from others and appears similar to the borderline in the need to please others. The exhibitionist narcissist seeks perfect admiration all the time from others.

Criticism of Masterson’s techniques of treating NPD: I cannot offer any criticisms as I have not read his book yet.

6. Rebirthing.

rebirthing_session
Rebirthing session.

Rebirthing is a controversial New Age healing technique that involves deep and circular breathing. It has been proposed as an alternative healing therapy for people suffering from NPD and many other mental disorders, as well as for healthy individuals who just want to get more in touch with their spiritual nature. It’s supposed to improved the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of anyone who decides to undergo this process. During the rebirthing process, the patient will begin to remember painful emotional incidents long forgotten and crying is common, but is usually followed up by laughter and a feeling of spiritual lightness.

Criticisms of Rebirthing: The type of deep breathing rebirthing requires can lead to hyperventilation and a feeling of being high (from intaking too much oxygen) or having left the physical body. In some cases it can freak out the patient or even cause a psychotic break, much like hallucinogenic drugs can. Because it’s an experimental, alternative therapy given by practitioners not schooled in traditional psychotherapy, there is no proof of its efficacy or empirical studies showing it actually works.

Skepticism among mental health professionals.
pIt must be said, that most professionals are highly skeptical about the possibility of healing (rather than just treating) NPD and feel that because they suffer less than their victims (or at least seem to), that it’s best to treat the victims for the PTSD, anxiety, depression and other disorders their narcissist has caused in them.

I won’t argue with this, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think narcissists, at least those with both the insight and willingness to change (which probably means the non-malignant, non-psychopathic types) are as hopeless as most mental health experts claim.

So I’m going to propose a healing regime here using a hypothetical man named Stephen that comprises elements of ALL of the above techniques (except rebirthing and exorcism due to their highly controversial nature), as well as CBT for helping to retrain the conscience.

There are a few prerequisites necessary for successful healing of NPD:

1. The narcissist must have insight into their disorder and know they have NPD and see how it damages their minds and souls. But insight alone isn’t enough.

2. The narcissist must have willingness to change from the inside–and that means a willingness to undergo intense emotional pain as their True Self begins to emerge and their masks break down. You can have insight without willingness, but not willingness without insight. Both must be present for change to occur.

3. The narcissist undergoing such treatment would be best treated in a highly supervised, even residential setting such as a hospital or rehab center, where their natural tendency to revert back to their old ways of behaving could be intercepted by trained professionals. This is especially necessary during the crisis period where their painful emotions may cause them to want to quit therapy or leave. They could sign a waiver prior to treatment that such attempts to escape would be intercepted or not allowed, and the patient brought back to treatment.

4. The narcissist is probably already undergoing a narcissistic crisis where they have lost all sources of narcissistic supply or a major one, such as a divorce, loss of a fortune or career, death of someone who was a source of supply, serious illness or incarceration. Having lost their sources of supply, the narcissist is already in a vulnerable state and if they are going to present themselves for help, this will be the time.

I am going to describe a hypothetical successful therapy used on a fictional man named Stephen who is afflicted with mid-spectrum (non-malignant) NPD, using a combination of the above techniques I think could be successful for some narcissists in a highly supervised and intensive setting.

STEPHEN’S STORY

'It's all about YOU, isn't it? YOUR hopes! YOUR wants! YOUR needs!'

1. The Master of the Universe has a Narcissistic Crisis
Stephen was a 45 year old successful owner of a video game company. He was married to a meek and quiet but intelligent woman named Lisa who elected to stay at home with their only child Cayden, who was two years old. They lived in a large home they built themselves, and owned two late model SUVs. Stephen could afford to take his wife and son on several vacations a year. To outsiders, they seemed like the picture perfect family.

But all was not well behind closed doors. Lisa was threatening to leave Stephen and take Cayden with her because of Stephen’s constant gaslighting, projecting, blaming her for their child’s excessive crying and misbehavior, and most recently, isolating Lisa from her former college friends and even her family. Lisa was so depressed that often she had no energy to take care of her son and Cayden was left to his own devices, at first crying and demanding attention from Lisa, but finally withdrawing into a quiet, withdrawn, almost autistic world of his own.

Lisa wanted to take Cayden to a psychiatrist, but when she proposed this to Stephen, he flew into a rage and accused her of calling him a bad father. He told her that if she was a better wife and mother, Cayden wouldn’t be having these problems. He also told her that taking Cayden to a therapist was something only a weak person would do. Cayden would just need to learn to “man up,” in Stephen’s words.

Lisa became increasingly depressed and one day she attempted suicide. Her suicide attempt landed her in the psychiatric ward, and Cayden’s care fell on Stephen’s shoulders. He resented his fatherly duties to Cayden, and grew increasingly impatient with him, and Cayden’s behavior grew worse. He resented having to leave work early or not come in to attend to one of Cayden’s many needs when his nanny would call saying there was a problem with his son.

sad-mother-child

One day Stephen was called into his boss’s office and confronted with his poor attendance and sloppy work. Cayden’s needs were not a concern to management. Stephen was told he needed to find some other arrangements or he would be let go. Stephen panicked. His high flying job and the money he made were the only things in his life he cared about. He hated to admit it, but Cayden was nothing but a burden. He had never really wanted a child at all due to all the responsibility.

Stephen’s problems continued. He had no choice but to keep leaving work when his son was sick or when the daycare center called saying he was throwing another one of his uncontrollable tantrums. Stephens’s boss summoned him once more and let him know he was being let go.

Stephen was devastated and began to feel hate toward his son for making him lose his job. He sat at home dejectedly staring at the TV or computer screen but felt so deflated he didn’t bother looking for another job. Cayden screamed and threw tantrums and Stephen, overwhelmed and filled with resentment for Cayden, began to physically abuse him.

A week later, Lisa was released from the hospital and announced she no longer loved Stephen and was taking Cayden with her to live with her parents. Stephen flew into a narcissistic rage and tied to stop Lisa from leaving, but there was no stopping her. She grabbed Cayden, tossed some of their things hastily in some bags, and took off for her mother’s. It was then she noticed the bruises on Cayden’s body and decided to press child abuse charges against Stephen.

Stephen was eventually arrested for child abuse. Now he had a police record and was probably unemployable, except perhaps in some sort of consulting role. He had lost his wife, his job, his child, and now his freedom.

2. Self-awareness and willingness.

Vector illustration of a man lock up in prison

In prison, Stephen broke down and cried almost nonstop. He made no friends because of his emotional instability. So he spent time by himself, reading books in the prison’s library about mental disorders and realized he suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. At first he tried to deny this to himself, but in his heart he knew it was true. He also realized this disorder was the cause of all his problems. He didn’t feel remorse, exactly, but knew he needed to do something about it. Some of the prison staff took pity on Stephen and referred him to a psychologist who specialized in character disorders, NPD in particular. Stephen was desperate to change his ways and willingly entered an experimental but intensive therapy for people suffering from NPD and other character disorders like BPD. Although the therapist was a licensed Ph.D, he was open to incorporating alternative techniques in his regime.

3. Cold empathy.

narc_rage
Narcissistic rage.

Stephen started therapy (which he was taken to from the prison) with a litany of complaints about his failures and how no one understood him. He talked about his dickhead of a boss, his emotionally disturbed and annoying son, and his bitch of a wife who betrayed him. Stephen took no responsibility for his own contributions to his downfall. He demanded sympathy and often resorted to rages and tears during his sessions. Rather than sympathize or offer emotional support, Stephen’s therapist listened quietly to his litany of woes, only nodding here and there or asking questions when he needed to know something pertinent.

Stephen became enraged by his therapist’s supposed lack of caring and sympathy, and began to attack his therapist, calling him a charlatan, incompetent, and an idiot. He threatened to leave, but knew the prison wouldn’t allow him to quit, so his abuse escalated. Projecting his own feelings of rage and other emotions onto the therapist is a process called transference in the psychiatric community (the opposite, the therapist’s projections of their own emotions onto the patient is called countertransference and is nearly as common).

One day he became so enraged he physically attacked his therapist. An officer was called in to intervene, and together, they got Stephen to calm down. Stephen, defeated, slumped in his chair and dissolved into convulsive sobs. The guard stood nearby, and the therapist quietly waited for Stephen to finish crying.

4. Stephen’s True Self begins to Emerge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After several more intense sessions like these, Stephen reluctantly began to talk about his mother, who had abused him as a child. He tearfully discussed the time she held his hands on the hot stove to teach him a lesson, and the time she locked him in a closet for two days for refusal to eat the vegetables on his plate. After releasing him, she made him eat the half-rotted vegetables from a plate on the floor along with the family dogs. Stephen recalled being a good kid until he was about 5 or 6, and always very sensitive to his mother’s moods. He wanted to please her, but never could seem to accomplish that. No matter what he tried–bringing her flowers he picked from the garden (which he’d be punished for), or hugging her (where he’d be pushed away), she always rejected him or punished him. At first he talked about these incidents in a matter of fact, almost flippant way, but after about three more sessions, he began to choke up and tears began to run down his face.

But these tears were different than the ones he used to shed to get his way or manipulate his sources of supply. These tears felt different and came from a deeper, more honest place. He was embarrassed about the uncontrollable crying he could not seem to stop. He tried to hide these tears but his therapist told him they were healing him, melting away his False Self, and to let them come. So reluctantly at first, Stephen did. He told his therapist his “heart hurt” and then he broke into wracking sobs and buried his face in his hands. This was the breakthrough needed to move to the the Reparenting/remothering level.

In some difficult cases where he patient is having trouble bringing emotions to the surface or recalling past events, hypnotherapy could be useful in helping the patient recall painful childhood experiences.

5. Reparenting Stephen’s Lost Self.

inner_child

When Stephen broke down into convulsive sobbing of honest grief for the mother love he never received, and his intense fear of her as a child, his therapist knew he was no longer being manipulated and these were honest emotions from Stephen’s lost self. So the therapist came over and sat down next to him, and encouraged Stephen to cry on his shoulder. If the therapist is an empath, I think that’s an enormous advantage, for I feel that for this type of therapy to have the most success, the therapist must be able to share and feel the patient’s emotions–even if that means crying or grieving along with them. This may also make the patient feel less alone and more comfortable if they are not feeling their emotions alone.

Stephen, in his infantile, vulnerable state, didn’t hesitate to let his tears flow and allow himself to be held, and they stayed like this for a long time. The therapist was careful to stay quiet during this event, and limited himself to stroking Stephen’s head and back and holding him gently as a mother would hold a child. He did not offer judgment, congratulations or explanations. He simply let Stephen release all that pent-up emotion that had been hiding inside him for decades. And felt along with the child that still lived inside Stephen and longed to be able to live a normal, happy life in the world instead of forever hidden away behind Stephen’s disintegrating False Self.

Stephen felt comforted and nurtured. He told his therapist he wished his own parents had held him like that. His father never had either, because he had died in an accident when Stephen was only a baby.

Several more sessions passed like this. In each session Stephen remembered other things that had happened to him as a child. He remembered how sensitive he had been and how he felt hurt by everything. He remembered how much his mother hated it whenever he cried. He remembered being bullied by other kids in school and always running away in terror.

And then he remembered when he had to make a choice. That choice changed the trajectory of his entire life and transformed him from a highly sensitive little boy into a heartless and cold narcissist.

6. The Choice.

monsters-nietzsche

Stephen recalled a dare when he was 8 years old. A group of boys who had bullied him dared him to set a paper bag of dried dog poop on another boy’s rickety wooden front porch and set it on fire. The boys promised him that if he did this, they would no longer bully him and they would be his friend and protect him against any further bullying. Stephen knew that doing this could set the other boy’s house on fire and at first he protested, explaining what could happen. At this point he still had a conscience. But the boys threatened him and told him if he didn’t do it, their bullying would become worse and they would kill his pet rabbit. Stephen believed them, so against his will, he complied.

They set out after dark for the targeted house. The boys watched from the darkened yard as Stephen lit the paper bag on fire and hesitantly walked up the front stairs of the boy’s porch and set it next to a dead potted plant. The deed done, all the boys ran away before anyone saw them. Stephen looked back in time to see the flames ignite the plant, and quickly start to spread over the railings of the rickety old wooden porch. He felt awful and considered going to the police, but he didn’t dare. He went to bed that night and had terrible nightmares.

bullied_child

The targeted boy’s house burned down and he, his baby sister, and his mother had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Soon after, the family moved away, never to be seen again. No charges were pressed because no one knew who the culprit was.

7. Becoming a Narcissist.

narcissism_childhood

To protect himself from his unbearable feelings of guilt and shame, Stephen shut off his painful emotions of guilt and conscience. From then on, the group of bullies accepted him as one of them, and they continued to engage in tormenting other children and even petty crimes.

Almost immediately after the incident, Stephen’s personality changed. Due to his choice to disobey his own conscience, he was becoming evil. He became a narcissist to protect himself from any further painful feelings. It was all just too unbearable.

Stephen confessed not only this, but also the way he used and manipulated others for his own gain, how he obtained his high level job dishonestly by faking qualifications on his resume, the way he emotionally abused his codependent wife who was so easily manipulated, and the abusive way he treated his own son Cayden. He cried and cried some more, and in return, his therapist held him without speaking, only projecting unconditional love and acceptance.

8. Return to Humanity.

freedom_man

Within a few more weeks, Stephen felt like a different person. He had become a model prisoner, and also found God during his incarceration. He was asked by the chaplain to speak to prisoners after the Sunday services, and Stephen used his own story to help and motivate other prisoners. He proved to be a good public speaker, and took courses in psychology and motivational speaking. He started to write a book about his experiences.

Stephen’s therapy was followed up with an intensive outpatient CBT program, to help him internalize the lessons he had learned about right versus wrong, and further help him develop his fledgling conscience.

When finally released from prison after two years, Stephen found employment as a counselor for prisoners and became a professional motivational speaker. He published his book, which became a best seller. He was asked to appear on TV shows and interviews to promote his new book and offered hope to thousands. Soon he met and married a psychology professor and today they have three children, who he loves very much. He would never dream of abusing them. He’s a very involved father and admits he’s happier than he’s ever been.

Recently he met up with his prison therapist, and the therapist noticed Stephen’s eyes and whole face looked different. He looked younger and happier, but more tellingly, in place of the cold, dead eyes of the narcissist he used to be, Stephen’s eyes sparkled with love and joy. His smile, instead of a sneer, was genuine and happy.

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30 thoughts on “Healing narcissism: Stephen’s story

  1. I know it’s a fictional story, still I would really like to know how Cayden managed in his life. What a terrible childhood – being emotionally abandoned by both parents, and abused by his father.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, LWNPD. Your user name is intrigues me. Can you tell me more about your own story? Do you have a NPD diagnosis, and if so, what is it like for you knowing you have NPD? Are you happy with your narcissism or not? Why? What do you think might have started it and are you in therapy of any kind? I’m sorry about all the questions, but I really am curious to know more.

      As for Cayden in my little write up, I wrote that a long time ago, so I need to go back and reread it to give you an answer, lol! I remember it was a very emotional writing exercise for me, as was “Letter From a Narcissist’s True Self,” which is also on this blog.
      Or even better, what do YOU think happened to Cayden? I’d like to hear your thoughts about that. Yes, he did have a terrible childhood. 😦

      Like

  2. Hi LuckyOtter
    First: thank you so much for this blog! I’ve read a lot of your posts last night and it really comforted me to read this stuff. I’m sure your blog gives hope to a lot of people with covert NPD and other cluster B.
    I was diagnosed with NPD a few weeks ago, so I’m still in a shock I guess. I never knew I could be a narcissist and I have always thought of myself as a person with a lot of empathy. Isn’t that just ironic? 🙂 Someone on the Psych forum told me that it’s the crux of npd – not knowing yourself.

    I started therapy because I’ve been very depressed for some time – lost my job, feeling suicidal etc. – and the psychologist diagnosed me with NPD. I’ve been offered a 1-2 years course with both therapy and group therapy.
    Now that I’m becoming more and more aware, the diagnosis gives some sense to me – though I STILL and it explains all the troubles I’ve had with relationships, keeping jobs, finishing educations etc. But it’s a difficult process, especially because I can’t really talk to friends and family about it. I’m starting to realize how badly I have sometimes treated others, mostly when I was younger, I’m 36 now. I feel a lot of shame, but at the same time I feel a lot of anger towards everyone for not telling me what a terrible person I am so I could do something about it – guess that’s typically NPD, just blaming others 🙂 🙂 🙂

    I read about narcissistic injury and guess that’s where I’ve been at for the last year or so. So the N injury now gives me the opportunity to – maybe – change some things.
    I still don’t know why I have NPD. I grew up in a chaotic home, but I would never think that I’ve been abused.
    I’m trying to start a blog about my experince with becoming aware. Hope I have the courage

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should start a blog. There are way too few blogs from people who have NPD who aren’t proud of having it. Though I can think of one. I can give you the link if you like. But you should definitely blog. It helped me so much, it’s therapy in itself. I promise it will help you. At first it will be hard to be courageous enough to post things that are so personal, but I promise you won’t regret it. I’ve gained more courage as I’ve gone along. You will find most people on WordPress to be very supportive. You will also be helping others.

      You don’t sound much like a narcissist. In fact, you sound a lot like me. You could have the covert form of NPD, which isn’t very different than BPD, which I have. PTSD or C-PTSD (which isn’t recognized) is at the root of all these disorders. I don’t really much like labels, since they tend to be stigmatizing. My therapist hates labels and tries to treat the symptoms. I was very lucky to find such an empathic trauma therapist who seems to anticipate exactly what I need and mirror my feelings even before I know I feel them!
      BTW, I also treated people terribly when I was younger too and I think I still have many narcissistic traits. I was really afraid he was going to give me an NPD diagnosis, but he didn’t. Like I said, he hates labels anyway and says he only gives them for insurance purposes (I pay out of pocket).

      Believe it or not, it’s possible to be a narcissist who also has empathy. Of the 9 criteria, you need 5, (though this might have changed in the latest DSM) and “lack of empathy” isn’t a requirement. But it’s usually associated with NPD. I also think because NPD’s are sensitive, they have something called cognitive empathy, which means they can tell how people feel — the problem is that instead of being able to share in the other person’s experience, they tend to use that person’s feelings against them. Do you feel like you have cognitive empathy, or do you have emotional empathy? When a friend is in pain, do you feel their pain too and able to be compassionate? You don’t seem very arrogant or grandiose at all–that’s why I suggested covert narcissism.

      Having an NPD label slapped on you can certainly be shocking! I started this blog because I “discovered” I had NPD, and it was devastating to me–and I hadn’t even been officially diagnosed! I started posting almost immediately at the NPD board at Psychforums (which was very educational for me). There are other NPD’s there who want to get better. You certainly don’t sound malignant. I wonder why your therapist gave you that diagnosis? Did you think to ask? It could even be wrong.

      Growing up in a chaotic home can certainly cause someone to be a narcissist. You may not have been physically abused, but you might have been ignored, neglected or emotionally abused in some way. Even a long absense of a parent during early childhood can cause a situation where the child doesn’t get appropriate mirroring, and that could open the door for NPD to develop. Or spoiling a child can do it too.

      I hope you stick around and definitely, you should start a blog. It’s free and easy here at wordpress –you will learn so much about yourself and there’s a huge need for people with NPD blogging about it! Do let me know when you have it up, please.

      Oh, one other thing. It’s hard to see, but it might be easier to find what your’e looking for here if you click on the “widgets” button at the top right hand corner of the page. You might not have seen it. It will take you to my sidebar, and there you can find a search bar and other information about this blog. Let me know if this works for you.

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      1. Thank you for encouraging – it’s motivating to hear that it has been like therapy for you to blog. I also want to be courageous for once. Thanks, I would really like the link for the one NPD blogger you know about.
        You are right, labels are very stigmatizing (maybe especially the NPD and BPD labels? I’ve read many hateful things about NPD online) and on top of that, labels increase the risk of one getting too identified with one’s disorder. I’m glad to hear you’ve found such a great and skilled therapist who helps you learning to cope. I don’t know too much about BPD, hopefully I’ll get a lot wiser reading your blog.
        I think you’re right about the covert narcissism; I’ll ask my therapist about this the next time. Here in Denmark NPD is not a recognized diagnosis (I don’t know why), they call it something else.
        Many aspects about this are really confusing to me, especially the part about empathy. I’ve always thought I was responsive to others feelings and that I could feel it myself when a friend was sad. But I really don’t know any longer. Maybe it’s just cognitive empathy, but even then, I would never use a friend’s feelings against her. But maybe I’m doing it subconsciously. I do fool myself in many ways; a lot of stuff has been hidden to me, and a lot probably still is.
        Like you, I’m also learning a lot on the NPD board and the people are surprisingly friendly.
        I guess I’m not malignant in the evil sense, but I have been manipulating others. I’ve always felt like I couldn’t take care of myself in this world, been feeling very weak in some periods, so I found (manipulative) ways to make family and friends take care of me. But I didn’t see this myself. And in my ‘strong’ periods, where I felt more on top of the world, I wasn’t very thoughtful or patient with others. I’ve never felt much real love for my partners I think.
        My psychiatrist went on holiday after she diagnosed me, so I have many questions waiting for her. Some days I really question and reject the diagnosis, other days I just mourn that I’m such a terrible, fake person. I guess the first phase of awareness is devastating, just like you experienced.
        Why did you think you had NPD? Well I’m going to read your older posts and I’ll find out. I’m also curios to find out how you felt when your therapist told you it was BPD.

        Thanks, I found the search bar – I just overlooked it 🙂
        And thank you so much for your encouragement and reply. It means a lot to me.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m glad you liked the NPD forum. I have an account there, rarely post anymore, but I was very active for awhile last fall and winter. I found the people–both the Ns and the “nons” as they call them, as friendy and helpful as you did.
          The link I was talking about:
          https://noitsnotyourfault.wordpress.com/
          The blogger is German I think (or Dutch) , has an NPD diagnosis and doesn’t want to be a narcissist anymore. He doesn’t write a lot on his blog but there is some stuff there. Especially read the “about me” page. For a long time he thought he had Aspergers or high functioning autism, he almost got diagnosed with it, then they changed it to “cluster B disorder, unspecified”, then finally NPD.

          I really think you should ask your therapist why she gave you the NPD dx after she comes back from holiday. It’s a very stigmatizing label (probably the most stigmatizing these days of all of them) and should never be given to anyone unless there’s no doubt.

          There’s not much support on the internet for NPDs. Everything you read is about their victims. The good thing about it is that I think the victim boards are making some narcs more aware of being narcs and some realized they were by reading the boards. But the writers of these boards are so angry (understandably I might add) that they dismiss all Ns as demons, evil, etc. Some of them act very narcissistic themselves, with all the judgment and black and white thinking. But they are right too–some narcs are that bad. But not all.

          Don’t beat yourself up and call yourself a terrible, fake person. If the NPD label isn’t bogus (you really should get a second opinion, btw!) then you have NPD because something happened to you in your childhood that made you have it, and it isn’t your fault. Besides, it’s a spectrum disorder, and some narcissists are a lot less “bad” than others–you’re probably low spectrum. I doubt your malignant.

          Read my first few posts on this blog to find out why I was so sure I had NPD. It happened almost a year ago–August 2 to be exact. It was really devastating! For 4 months I self identified as one, and even “came out” on my other blog! (having to retract it later was pretty embarrassing!) And started this one. I posted on those forums constantly. In December I realized I wasn’t.
          I actually have had a BPD dx. since 1996. That’s a long story. My therapist thinks I’m recovered though. I don’t believe him.

          I wish there was a way to make it easier to find my sidebar but I can’t with this theme. I’m glad you found it.

          I clicked on your username to find your blog and something does come up, the title and photo (nice picture!), but then it says nothing else can be found. Is it just that there’s nothing on it yet? I really want to read your blog when it’s ready.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for the link to ‘it’s not your fault’ – he reminds me of someone I know. It’s interesting to read and some of the stuff he describes is very familiar.
        I’ll read your first posts about the NPD – I don’t find it embarassing at all – I guess many people are misdiagnosed; both by themselves and by professionals. But I can imagine it was unpleasant to retract it publicly anyway.
        And when speaking of misdiagnosis: yes I’ll talk more about the diagnosis with my therapist. Two weeks is a long time to wait right now.
        I still didn’t write much on my blog and it’s still ‘private’ (but actually think I granted you acces to read anyway) – I didn’t have the courage to publish yet. And still some corrections missing. But I’m pretty low these days so might have to wait with the blogging till my therapist returns. Right now it’s like going to much into the NPD stuff just makes me feel worse. So yeah, maybe taking a small break with the NPD research also.
        By the way, you are an excellent writer.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I understand being too depressed to write. Sometimes I have to make myself write, but it always helps because for me writing is therapy. But it’s still hard so I understand if you want to wait until your therapist gets back. I’d seriously also look into getting a second opinion. I really, really find it hard to believe you have NPD based on what comes through in your writing. You just sound way too humble. (BTW, I also have Avoidant PD and have many of the same problems you have described).

          But if you really do, don’t be too harsh on yourself. I’m glad you want to heal from it. Being aware and desiring to change, means you’re already halfway there!

          I doubt people on WordPress will judge you should you decide to make your blog public at some point. You might gain more courage after awhile. I’ve gained more courage over time and no longer worry too much about what people think. And who knows, you would be one of the first Ns to have a blog about it (that doesn’t glorify it) and that might help others like yourself “come out of the closet” too and start writing about it.

          BPD has a stigma almost as bad as NPD but it used to be worse. The stigma has diminished some because there’s a movement among Borderlines to reduce stigma and there are tons of blogs by people with BPD. Maybe the same can happen for people with NPD too and you would be one of the first!

          Thank you for the compiment about my writing. 🙂 I have another blog too, it’s my primary blog. Please feel free to check it out. I’ve had it for almost 2 years now.
          https://luckyottershaven.com/

          I write about narcissism there too, but more from the victim’s standpoint since I was raised by them and married a very malignant , sociopathic one. I’ve always been drawn to narcissists (and them to me). Early posts on that blog were more of the “narc bashing” variety than later ones–I was coming out of a relationship with a narcissist and very angry. Over time, I’ve attempted to understand this disorder and have found out things aren’t as black and white as they seem and narcissists aren’t devils. I’ve gotten heat from a few other bloggers for being “too sympathetic to narcs.” Well, too bad. I have empathy for them. I don’t like the things they do and believe in No Contact but I still feel like I am learning to understand them and talking to people like you with a NPD diagnosis has helped a lot.

          Keep reading as much as you can about NPD. You should read books by by Heinz Kohut, Kernberg, or James Masterson (who is less scholarly and more readable than the first two). Don’t just rely on the DSM or the narc-abuse blogs, which are biased for obvious reasons. Sam Vaknin has some good stuff on the Internet too (he has NPD).
          Here’s a comparison of Kohut and Kernberg’s theories about NPD
          http://www.sakkyndig.com/psykologi/artvit/russell1985.pdf
          Take your time with all this, I know it can be overwhelming, with you still trying to process having that diagnosis.

          I read your About page on your blog, and I also like the photo you used, because I think it captures the emptiness that someone with NPD feels inside.

          I know this was a lot to read. Things will get easier. I congratulate you for your honesty and humility and also for grabbing the bull by the horns to try to get to the bottom of it. Way to go!

          Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you for being so helpful and encouraging. Like I said, it means a lot to me.
        I’ll definitely check out the Lucky Otters Heaven as well 🙂
        Well it’s not weird that you’ve always been drawn to narcissists when your parents were N’s. My mother is N as well, at least I think so. It sounds like a tough marriage. I would believe that narc bashing IS good therapy when you have come out of a relationship with a malignant narc. I’ve never been in a relationship with one, but some of the things I read… it’s bad. I don’t think I’ve been evil towards partners, but I’ve been careless. I’m glad someone is sympathetic to narcs, and it kind of shows that you have gotten through the process of healing very well, or else you wouldn’t be so forgiving now.

        I’ll look into the writings by the people you mention. I see Vaknin mentioned a lot of places. He’s kind of hard against N’s, and I’m still easily ‘wounded’ by that, but the things he says makes sense to me.

        Thanks 🙂

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        1. Thank you for being so honest (I can tell you are). You’re right about Vaknin–he demonizes Ns a lot but that’s because he hates himself (he blocked me on Facebook btw, lol — but that’s another story I’ll tell another time)
          Definitely check out the other writers, esp. Masterson. The others are pretty scholarly. Even Masterson is, but less so.

          If you’d like to stay in touch by email (which would be more private), you can email me at otterlover58@gmail.com
          You can call me Lauren. That’s not my real name (I wouldn’t dare use my real name on these blogs), but it’s my blogger name.
          If you really do have NPD, you sound like a good candidate for healing to me. You’re self aware, humble, and willing. That right there makes things look VERY promising. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. sorry… just pressed enter 😀
    Hope I have the courage to be very personal on my blog. If I ever get startet.

    I’m going to read more of your posts. Cannot find the “Letter From a Narcissist’s True Self,” ?

    As for Cayden – he definitely became a narcissist himself.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Read the ‘letter from a narcissist true self’. It’s beautiful and harsh. Harsh to realize that one become cold to protect oneself of abandonement and abuse. It’s sad.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It was hard to write it. People with NPD have read it and told me it’s spot on. I was sure I had NPD myself because of that –how else could I get inside their heads and feel what it feels like? But it was really just my empathy as it turned out….for some reason I have a ton of empathy for NPDs.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. The Stephen story is amazing amazing Lauren.
    Gives hope to all the people who suffer from same condition and this is just wonderful that you have this blog with such content.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s rare on the Internet for any blogs to have this kind of content. It also takes a lot of moxy to post these kinds of articles since most people looking at sites about narcissism are NOT interested in the healing or recovery of a narcissist, only the victims. One of my goals, I guess, is for there to be an understanding that both narcissism and C-PTSD caused by narcissism all stem from the same root of childhood trauma. I’m not sure what makes some people narcissists and others not, maybe temperament or genetics, I really don’t know. It’s important for me to understand how narcs tick and how they can get better because I think it’s kind of a closure for me since I was not able to “fix” my parents and they never became self aware enough to change. I have decided that I want to become a therapist who works with trauma victims, including NPD. So I’m deeply interested in therapy techniques use to do that. I think they need to have a spiritual component to work (not religious–just a recognition that we all have a soul and there is something bigger than ourselves running the show).

      I explain this more in my most recent post on this blog, “What we talked about.” It goes into detail more about why I feel so compelled to help people with NPD.
      Also, you can’t really solve the problem of narcissistic abuse without going to the root of the problem and healing that. It’s similar to the concept that you can’t solve inner city crime without alleviating the root cause, poverty and discrimination.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I will read to the post you mention above and comment on this tomorrow as its late and i have to fight efficiently my jet lag. I have an interesting comment on becoming NPD or not.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wanted to write to you about why Ns become Ns and what makes them tick.
        My mom has 12 siblings and some are Ns.
        As you can imagine to have 12 kids they were one after the other and its like the oldest ones were Ns and the youngest ones not. Better codependants.
        What my mom tells me is that my grandfather was very strict with the older ones but they did not receive physical abuse just very strict. The younger ones did not have this strictness as my grandfather became sick and died rather early. This makes me think that its mainly the education..
        On the other side the Ns can be lovely or ” demonic” to use words I have heard.
        It depends on how you approach them. My uncle the one who rages the most ( im not even sure if he also has BPD) get spectacular around my mom who is extremely submissive and pleasing with him. With other siblings who are not able to do what my mom does, its war…
        So same person, different behavivour.
        Well there my thoughts on it.
        Continue with your wonderful blog 🌷 and projects on becoming therapist.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for sharing this info, Nikita. It certainly does seem that your grandfather’s changing from being an overly strict, authoritarian parent into a less involved one might have been the reason why the older kids in the family became Ns and the younger ones didn’t.

          The Jekyll and Hyde behavior is pretty common. They can change like the wind, leaving you reeling. Remember it’s always about getting fuel (supply). Sometimes being nice gets them that. When they have decided you’ll make good prey they’ll act nice to reel you in. It’s not because they have any feeling of liking toward you. You have to assume that with a narc, what you see is a mask. Sure, they could have moments when the mask falls and you see the real person (usually after a major loss but could happen randomly when they’re sick, tired, depressed, etc.), but you have to assume it isn’t, otherwise you will be ensnared.

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        2. Good morning LO
          TOTALLY true what you say.. Nevertheless I mentioned a siblings relationahip.. Do you think we can also talk about ensnaring?

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I dont seem to see it as the JH profile but instead wanted to point out about not triggering or triggering a NPD person..
          But now that I think about it. Maybe we cant use my uncle as a relevant sample for behaviour. I think he is so lonely that he looks for company rather than fuel. I cant imagine my mother as a fuel provider. She is so afraid of triggering him that she behaves rather robotic with him..
          How do you differ mainly an NPD from a BPD? Empathy? He does have empathy.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. BPDs usually have more empathy, sometimes even a lot of it. They also cannot regulate their emotions so they have mood swings. Ns wear a mask that covers all that, but if the mask was removed they would not be able to regulate their emotions either. In the video I posted, Dr. Yeomans even says that when narcissists begin to get better, they start acting more like borderlines. BPDs also tend to be self destructive and are a lot more impulsive.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I am learning with your blog slowly to differentiate BPD AND NPD. My uncle does not have any mask. He is no charmer. He rages in front of anybody. No matter who. Has no façade.
          He im addition like to control everything and craves admiration.
          Ge does not sound like an N i think. Its ao complex because what I think is that all disorders combine.
          ASPN plus N one of the most difficult I think.
          Thanks again.

          Liked by 1 person

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