I want to make a few comments about the purpose of this blog. I wrote this in response to some other comments within the blog but I wanted to share it with you all.
First, I am not providing personal counseling within this blog for the individuals posing these questions. I am providing, as best I can do, a godly perspective for the person asking the question. I have not talked to the person asking. Most of the time I have never met her nor have I talked to her husband. The question is asked via e-mail.
Therefore a full picture of everyone involved and extra details are not provided nor would they be appropriate for a blog post. I respond to the question asked, I don’t challenge the validity of the question, although I may pose provocative questions of my own for the person to consider.
In addition, I welcome all to participate in responding to the question as well as my response. My blog is not just a victim’s forum, although women and men who have suffered emotional abuse can find great comfort, support and wisdom here.
But as I’ve said many times, I think victims of abuse, especially women, need to learn to think more fully for themselves. We are often told what to think and have not developed our own discernment meter very well. It’s important that we question and evaluate what people say to us and not believe everything we read.
It’s also important to learn not react to people who might be provocative or challenging and this blog provides you practice in these areas. In addition, I think it’s helpful for you to see that not everyone thinks like you do. And, just because a person thinks differently doesn’t necessarily make the other person wrong.
Therefore, I want and welcome all people to interact in this forum as long as they try to be constructive and on topic. When there is harshness or name-calling, I try to catch it and ask them to stop or delete their post.
Friends, you will encounter a whole host of contrary perspectives and opinions in the world and in the church on these issues. It’s a great idea for you to learn how to handle them in a God-honoring way right here in this blog.
Today’s Question: My husband was diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and my daughter and I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our therapist professes to be a believer and understands our biblical views and is working with our pastor to bring about healing to our family. However, she is still coming from the clinical side of things, and sometimes I am very confused by her approach (validating his pain, hurt, etc. to build his trust and then patiently working with him to the point that she can hopefully open his eyes to the truth of his pain, etc). My pastor on the other hand, is skeptical of this approach and is concerned that she is just “feeding his frenzy” and that the deeper issues of sin are not being addressed, therefore, making the healing process very slow.
My question to you is this – given your training, biblical background, and experience – what thoughts do you have that a person with NPD will likely be able to truly see and deal with their sin issues? Would you be inclined to use a more direct approach? Also, if you can, what counsel would you give me in dealing with a person like this?
I realize there are many details that have not been provided to you. I am not looking for a detailed answer – just some general thoughts about NPD and its “victims” (if that’s possible).
Answer: I want to answer your question because I think many people in counseling struggle to understand why their therapist is taking a certain approach yet feel afraid to just ask him/her. As a therapist myself, if someone is unhappy with my approach or is confused by why I am doing something, I would welcome their question and I think most therapists would also. As a part of your own healing, as well as for the sake of your marriage and family, I’d encourage you to speak up and talk with your counselor about your concerns.
I am very uncomfortable making comments or giving an evaluation on the approach of your therapist with your husband because I do not know all the facts of the situation but let me give you some of my thoughts.
1. Working with a person diagnosed with NPD is a long slow process and there is not a high success rate. From the literature that I’ve read and my own personal experience, validating his pain may work to build his trust for the therapeutic relationship but it doesn’t transfer into his ability to validate the pain he’s caused other people.
For a narcissist it is about his pain and his pain only and that can be a bottomless well. If you try to talk about your pain, it may get a nanosecond of acknowledgment but it quickly and always reverts back to his pain.
Empathy for another person is lacking in NPD and an ability to view you or your daughter as separate people is minimal at best. In his mind your purpose is to be there to help him, serve him, meet his needs, and make him happy. His pain when you fail will always be a justification for his hurtful actions towards you. And because you are human, you will always fail in some way. Therefore, everything always becomes about him again and again. If your therapist isn’t on top of this, every session becomes all about him and his pain and how you have failed him and how you need to try harder to make sure you don’t ever cause him pain. Exhausting indeed.
2. Taking a more direct, confrontational approach with a narcissistic doesn’t often work either. They feel judged, misunderstood, unheard and will usually stop going to therapy unless there is a structure in place that helps him see why he needs to continue (negative consequences such as jail, church discipline, or loss of job, etc). A narcissist has selective attention and no matter how much you say it, he won’t hear it. Remember Jesus with the Pharisees? Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” (pretty direct and confrontational) yet they did not repent or acknowledge he was right. They just got defensive, angry, and more aggressive.
3. I don’t think it’s possible to effectively work with a narcissistic person when you are focused on only their pain. I think it’s crucial that the therapist also talks about their behaviors and actions that are hurtful towards others. Your pastor is wise to recognize that his “sin” or sinful behaviors and attitudes have to play a much more central role in his therapy for him to truly get better.
4. I also don’t think your therapist can address his pain while also trying to do marital therapy and treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with you and the other family members. If the therapist validates your pain, the narcissistic person feels threatened, neglected and/or wounded. On the other hand, when she validates his pain, you get confused. It’s hard for you to understand why she validates his pain instead of helping him take responsibility and show concern and remorse about the pain he has caused you and your daughter.
My recommendations are this: If your goal is healing for the family right now, you will need to lower your expectations for the change process. It is slow going whatever approach you take. Talk with your therapist and see if perhaps you and your daughter need separate help dealing with the PTSD and learning how to set appropriate boundaries so that you can minimize the traumatic effect his behaviors have on you.
If your husband doesn’t stop his rages and/or physical abuse, continued separation is best. You indicated that you still have daily contact because of a family business but you also need emotional separation. Your pastor may be able to help you work through an agreeable work arrangement so that negative contact is minimized. He also needs a firm but respectful person (perhaps your pastor) who can continue to hold him accountable for his self-centered actions and attitudes, reminding him that if he wants his family to be restored, these attitudes and actions are incompatible with loving family life.
You concluded in your e-mail that the “sad part is he doesn’t really understand why – he just thinks I’m acting out of anger and bitterness.”
I’m not so sure he doesn’t understand. I bet you’ve told your husband “why” again and again and again but he chooses to not get it because if he got it he would actually have to take responsibility and change. It works for him to act like he doesn’t get it and to make it your entire fault. Don’t let him. You must also learn not to engage or take in his poisonous barbs when he directs them toward you.
You both need some help, however, the difference is that you are aware of your failures and are willing to take responsibility for them and change and grow, he is not. Until he can look at himself and acknowledge the behaviors that have been hurtful, nothing will change. Until he can learn to empathize with you and your children for the pain he’s caused, nothing will change. And until he can allow each of you to have your own separate feelings, need’s and choices as well as cope with his own hurt and/or disappointment when you don’t do what he wants you to do, nothing will change and there is not much hope for true healing in your family.
There is a lot of work to be done but the first step is acknowledging the real nature of his and your problem. If your husband can get to a place where he sees that he is part of the problem and not just a person in pain, and is willing to work on himself, then there may be hope for your family. If not, then don’t build up a false hope.
Are there people in his life (outside of you) who will speak the truth to him? If not, then what? (Hebrews 3:13).