Cruel, Confusing and Corrosive
It’s common for me to get a call from a potential new client that goes something like this:
Caller: “Can you help me? My relationship is on the rocks. My partner told me that I need to get help because I’m crazy and that I’m destroying the relationship.”
Me: “Is your partner going to join you in therapy?”
Caller: “My partner says they don’t need help. I’m the one who needs to learn how to communicate.”
This is when I usually chime in with a quote I’ve borrowed from that Geico commercial we all love: “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.” I usually follow with, “Why don’t you go ahead and see if they will come along. If they are hesitant, please tell them I would really like to hear from them, in person, about what is wrong with YOU.” This usually works… once.
That first session with the two parties tells me a lot. Many times, the person who made the original call is reduced to tears, defeated, hugging a pillow, crouching on one end of the sofa while the complaining partner lists off their endless criticisms that cut deep, “Lazy… Stupid… No common sense… Crazy… Over-emotional… Out of control….Dishonest… Seems to be losing memory,” and more. They take no responsibility for their part in any relationship strife. None. Any attempts to point out flaws in their arguments are met with a change of subject or cunning redirection.
After that first session, they never return.
The partner who made the original call, however, does return. I ask them a series of questions. Are you:
· Constantly second-guessing yourself?
· Accused of not remembering things correctly?
· Accused of not hearing what your partner said correctly?
· Feeling like you need a reality check?
· Thinking no one else would believe what’s going on at home because your partner is so charming to everyone else?
· Feeling a loss of your self, a loss of joy, self-esteem?
· Always apologizing… even for things that may not be your fault?
· Finding it impossible to confront your partner with even the smallest complaint?
· Being accused of making stuff up?
· Hearing, “It’s all in your head,” or “I never said that,” a lot?
· Feeling like you get so confused and angry that you become someone you don’t like or recognize… and wondering if you possibly ARE crazy?
If these red flags resonate with the client, they usually have tears of relief to have their experiences validated…finally!
These are all signs of NARCISSISTIC ABUSE. It is toxic and DESTRUCTIVE and dangerous to your health – mental and physical. This type of abuse can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD and many other odd or unexplained symptoms.
You’ve probably heard the word “narcissist” thrown around in the media, particularly in the realm of politics. Narcissism presents itself on a scale. And there IS such a thing as a “healthy level of narcissism.” But then there is full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder – NPD. The Mayo Clinic’s website says: “Narcissistic Personality Disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others.”
Not all people with NPD are abusive. But, many are… and they can pull out all of the stops: Lack of empathy, manipulation, deceitfulness, smear campaigns, and gaslighting. The National Domestic Violence Hotline website describes gaslighting as “…an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power (and we know that abuse is about power and control). Once an abusive partner has broken down the victim’s ability to trust their own perceptions, the victim is more likely to stay in the abusive relationship.”
YES! This sounds familiar! What should I do?
FIRST: Know you are not alone. This article itself should begin your process of realizing that it’s NOT YOU. And you’re NOT CRAZY.
NEXT: Learn more. I will list some great books at the end of this article. There are many out there.
THEN: Get support. Find a good therapist or support group. Sadly, your friends and family members may not understand. It’s so difficult to explain and leaves you so tongue-tied that many victims feel defeated when their typically supportive friends and family don’t “get it.” Find support people who list “narcissistic abuse” or “personality disorders” as a specialty. (www.psychologytoday.com lets you conduct a search using those criteria.)
DON’T: Show this article to your partner and expect them to have an “aha moment” and suddenly decide to get help or change their ways. Abusers with Narcissistic Personality Disorder rarely change because they rarely agree to get any type of real help. Basically, they don’t believe they need help.
They believe it’s you who needs help…
BASSON, DR LINDA (2013-07-26). SURVIVING NARCISSISTIC ABUSE (e - Self help series) (Kindle Locations 3-6). LIANNE TULLOCH.
Bancroft, Lundy; Patrissi, JAC (2011-11-01). Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can--and Should--be Saved (Kindle Locations 1270-1271). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Tudor, H G (2015-10-14). Escape: How to Beat the Narcissist (Kindle Locations 39-43). Insight Books. Kindle Edition.
Janet Ferguson, LMFT, LLC, is a therapist with private practice offices at People House in both Denver and Aurora, Colorado. Her specialties include couples and family counseling, as well as individual work with abuse and trauma survivors. For more information about Janet and how to contact her, please see http://www.jfergusoncounseling.com.
NOTE: Author has purposely chosen to use the terms “they/them” throughout this article for gender neutrality purposes.