The Transformative Power of Narcissistic Abuse Therapy
As a Central London-based psychotherapist I often encounter clients dealing with narcissistic abuse. This can be from early relationships, past romantic attachments, emotionally immature parents, or current partners and friends.
Anyone grappling with narcissistic abuse faces a unique set of challenges, and will benefit from a particular form of narcissistic counselling. Critical to resolving these challenges is understanding the narcissist’s psychology, and developing strategies to protect yourself while you’re undergoing narcissistic abuse therapy.
Why should you have to change?
It might seem unfair to you that you should have to go to therapy and learn to make changes, when it’s someone else that has the narcissistic traits. This is of course entirely understandable. But the more you learn about the mindset of the narcissist, and narcissistic behaviour, the more you’ll recognise the necessity and benefits of learning how to deal with them.
Despite what they say, narcissists, especially within a parental relationship, are unlikely to change. This is because they are unwilling to recognise, or take responsibility for their harmful behaviour. That’s why it’s important to adopt self-protective strategies to maintain your personal well-being.
Learning to deal with a narcissist is also a great opportunity for personal self development – you’ll have the potential to learn important life lessons around creating boundaries, developing self-respect, and emotional resilience.
Are you in a Narcissistic Relationship?
Recognising that you’re in a narcissistic relationship can be challenging, due to the manipulative nature of your narcissistic partner.
Narcissistic behaviour can take many forms. It can include verbal abuse such as name-calling and belittling, and financial abuse, such as economic domination and accruing debt in your name. But there are also more subtle forms of manipulation, including emotional blackmail, guilt-tripping, silent treatment, or spreading malicious gossip.
A narcissistic partner has an inflated sense of self-importance, which can sometimes manifest quite subtly . There’s often a cycle of constant ups and downs, where your partner will fluctuate between idealising you (often called love bombing) before devaluing and discarding you.
One telltale sign of narcissistic abuse is a feeling that you’re constantly walking on egg shells around your partner due to fear of triggering a negative response. This kind of perpetual anxiety points towards an unhealthy and potentially abusive situation.
Codependence and narcissism
If you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse as a child, you might be exihibitng codependent traits, where your own self-worth and wellbeing are heavily tied to your partner’s mood and approval. You might find yourself constantly self-reflecting and taking full responsibility for your partner’s negative actions and emotions. This is a string indication of being in a toxic relationship.
Physical abuse and domestic violence are severe and dangerous forms of narcissistic abuse which can result in trauma and eventually PTSD and Complex PTSD. If you experience any kind of physical harm, it’s important to get help as soon as you can. Though not all narcissistic relationships involve physical abuse, they can be just as harmful mentally and emotionally.
Should you confront the narcissist?
You may feel like making the narcissist aware of the damage they’re causing, hoping this confrontation will lead to them changing their behaviour. Unfortunately, as you may have already discovered, these attempts often end with you feeling invalidated and blamed. This is because the narcissist’s fragile self-esteem prevents them from being able to self reflect, or acknowledging any of their flaws.
They may react with anger, threats, gas lighting, or whatever they feel they can get away with in the moment. This stubborn attitude can be frustrating, but when explored within narcissistic abuse therapy, you can learn to establish strong boundaries, and develop healthy reactions and responses.
Strategies to protect you from narcissistic abuse
An important aspect of narcissistic abuse therapy is in developing strategies to protect you within your present situation. Some of these will be internal responses, others external actions, working as psychological and sometimes physical buffers between yourself and potential threats.
The internal strategies are based on developing a refined sensitivity to your state of mind, your bodily sensations, and your reactions. By developing this internal awareness, you’ll have the power to deflect the projections from the narcissistic. External strategies include developing boundaries – in time, in physical space, finances and responsibilities.
These protective strategies aren’t meant to be universally applied to every situation, but should be seen as a selection of self-defence mechanisms against narcissistic abuse. As well as utilising these strategies, it’s crucial to understand the mechanisms that narcissistic individuals use to protect their fragile ‘sense of self’.
The internal world of the narcissist
Narcissists are individuals who have been psychologically wounded during childhood, which has created a form of mental illness. Their sense of shame and inadequacy is so overwhelming that they cannot bear to face it. Instead they subconsciously construct a false self, whose validity they have to protect at all costs. This is their outward persona, which is presented to the world and themselves.
At the heart of narcissistic behaviour lies two concepts: projection and projective identification. These are both unconscious psychological constructs that we all use to a certain extent, but can be taken to the extreme by narcissists in order to maintain a defence from having to face their own fragility. But projection begins with something else, called splitting.
Splitting is the psychological process of dividing an unacceptable part of oneself and either repressing it or projecting it onto others. For instance, someone who thinks of themselves as a ‘good person’, might find it difficult to accept their hatred or jealousy towards someone. So instead of allowing themselves to feel the emotion, they might unconsciously repress it, pushing it into their unconscious. They will have no idea that they’re doing this, and will insist that they don’t harbour any hatred or jealousy.
Sometimes, instead of repressing the difficult emotion, the individual will unconsciously split it from themselves, and project it onto someone else. The person projecting will then see the other person as having the traits, and interact with them accordingly, seeing the other as angry, jealous, or whatever emotion they can’t own for themselves.
Projective identification is an unconscious process where you resonate with a trait or role which is being projected onto you. For instance, if the narcissist is devious or dishonest, and projects those traits onto you, you can find yourself feeling like a devious, dishonest person. They won’t be your real emotions, but it can be very confusing, because they feel very real in the moment.
Over years, its possible to incorporate a narcissist’s projections into your own self-identity. It’s a mechanism that happens without your conscious knowledge and can take a major role in how you operate in the world.
Projective identification can be a confusing and bewildering experience, leaving the receiver feeling intense emotions they cannot understand. Narcissistic abuse therapy aims to make these unconscious processes more conscious, helping you recognise and navigate these complex dynamics.
Lack of empathy
The ability to understand and share another person’s feelings, plays a crucial role in making close bonds with others. The narcissist struggles with empathy, and may believe that everyone experiences the world just as they do – putting themselves first.
“Since narcissists deep down feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault.”
M. Scott Peck
Transforming your negative self-perceptions
Survivors of narcissistic abuse often struggle with unproductive thoughts about themselves. These can stem from the relentless criticism and belittling of an abusive narcissistic parent or partner. Over time, it becomes internalised as part of one’s self-image. Transforming these self-perceptions and attitudes is a crucial step towards regaining self-worth and healing.
What are your negative self concepts?
Try identifying some of the negative self-concepts that may have taken root within you. Are you constantly doubting your capabilities? Do you feel like you’re not good enough? Or maybe you believe that you deserve the maltreatment that you endured?
Some of these thoughts become so engrained, that it can be difficult to see yourself any other way. But once identified, you can begin challenging your thoughts. You’ll start to recognise beliefs that were instilled in you by the narcissistic, and have no bearing on your true self or real potential.
A qualified therapist can provide you with the tools to help reframe harmful thoughts, but it’s also possible to start this work on your own. Begin by writing down all the negative thoughts you hold about yourself, and then challenge each one by writing down evidence to the contrary.
For instance, if you constantly doubt your intelligence due to belittling remarks made by your narcissistic parent or partner, make a list of all your achievements, no matter how small they may seem. Do the same with your potential, including everything you could achieve in the future. This exercise can help you shift your perspective and help you begin to believe in yourself again.
How to deflect the narcissist’s projections
An important aspect of combating the effects of narcissistic abuse is learning how to deflect emotions projected onto you. The narcissist will often attempt to manipulate you by projecting their own emotions and insecurities onto you.
This can leave you feeling overwhelmed by emotions that aren’t really yours. If you can learn to recognise projection as it happens, and deflect those projected emotions, you can greatly reduce their impact on your mental wellbeing.
Know your own emotions
Firstly, you need to learn to distinguish your own emotions from those of the narcissist. A good way to do this is by observing your emotional state before and after interacting with the narcissist. If you notice a significant negative shift in your mood following an interaction, it’s likely you’ve been affected by their projected emotions.
Setting your own emotional boundaries is helpful – learning to recognise and assert your emotional needs and limits. Establishing boundaries can certainly help prevent the narcissist from emotionally manipulating you, but they may try other techniques, or become angry when they sense they’re loosing control. A qualified therapist can provide guidance on how to set and maintain effective emotional boundaries, and help you stay protected during the process.
Using mindfulness to stay centred
Practicing mindfulness can also help you remain grounded in your own emotions and experiences. Mindfulness exercises, such as mindful breathing or becoming aware of sensations in the body, can help you to stay present and centred. You might notice yourself gripping your feet or hands in the narcissists presence, or holding your breath. Once you discover these reactions, you can begin letting them go, one by one. This makes it much harder for the narcissist’s projections to infiltrate your emotional state.
Keeping balanced during a narcissistic attack
It can be easy to be thrown off balance during an encounter with a narcissist, especially if it’s confrontational in nature. The narcissist can be good at rapidly escalating emotions, and it’s easy to get swept away with them if you’re caught off guard.
One useful technique for intervening in escalating emotions is emotional regulation, which involves recognizing your emotional state and consciously deciding how you want to respond. It takes practice to master this, but it is invaluable for preventing the intensity of the situation from carrying you away, and leaving you in control over your own emotions.
Practicing self-soothing techniques, such as awareness of breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or imagery, can also help to calm intense emotional reactions. These techniques can provide a valuable break from the intensity of the moment, giving you a chance to regain composure and perspective.
Prioritising your self-care
Survivors of narcissistic abuse often find it difficult to prioritise their own needs due to the demands and expectations of their narcissistic parent or partner. Narcissistic abuse therapy can help individuals understand the importance of self-care and learn how to put their needs first.
Self-care isn’t just about physical well-being – it also encompasses mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Regular therapy sessions can provide a framework, and the necessary guidance to start taking care of your own needs, reducing stress, improving your mood, and enhancing your overall mental health.
Maintaining emotional stability
Emotional stability and resilience is the ability to withstand stressful situations or crises, staying centred, and easily bouncing back from difficult experiences. With the continuous manipulation, gaslighting, and invalidation from a narcissistic parent or partner, your emotional resilience has probably taken some damage. Narcissistic abuse therapy can help you rebuild healthy emotional resilience, so you can be more confident and centred, whatever the situation.
Therapy can help you develop more self-awareness of your emotions, you can begin managing them more effectively. By understanding your emotions and their triggers, you can begin to build solid emotional resilience and self-control. This will significantly reduce the impact of any narcissist’s behaviours on your mental and emotional well-being.
Therapy for victims of Narcissistic Abuse
Understanding the psychology of the narcissist, and developing strategies for safety and balance are both essential parts of dealing with narcissistic parents or partners. But the addition of therapy can offer powerful support for anyone having to navigate their relationship with a narcissist.
Narcissistic abuse therapy is a specific form of therapy aimed at helping victims of narcissistic abuse delve into their experiences and feelings in a safe environment. By exploring traumas that may have been inflicted, becoming aware of the way you react, and of your self beliefs, you can begin to gain valuable insight for change.
Therapy is an opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with someone who will validate your experiences, feelings, and sense of reality. This can be a revelation after years of being in a relationship with a narcissist, or having grown up with a narcissistic parent.
Narcissistic abuse therapy can help to detangle the complex web of emotions that victims of narcissistic abuse experience. There can be feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and worthlessness that have been internalised, and can now be processed and reframed. Therapy can help rebuild the self-esteem and self-worth which may have been eroded over time by a narcissistic parent or partner.
Taking the Next Step
Dealing with the toxic fallout of a relationship with a narcissist, and healing from the psychological scars is not an easy journey. But with the right tools – the strategies outlined in this article, and professional narcissistic abuse therapy, you can successfully take the path to recovery.
Therapy is not a quick fix, and it requires a commitment to work through painful feelings and memories. It can be daunting to reach out for help, and there can be feelings of worthlessness, fear of failure, or even reprisal, installed in you by the narcissist.
Remember that it’s not just okay to seek help, it’s vital if you want to start prioritising your mental health and well-being, and start leading a happy life, with healthy relationships. Take the first step towards breaking the cycle of narcissistic abuse, by reaching out today.