I’m going to be starting a new book project and I’d like your help. The working title is: What Every Woman Needs to Know….and teach her daughter. So this week’s question is: What are the kinds of things you wished your mother would have taught you? What did she teach you either by example or through her words that have made the greatest impact on you as an adult woman?
For example, some of the chapters I’m planning are along these lines: Every woman needs to know how to manage her emotions. Every woman needs to know that failure isn’t fatal. Every woman needs to know how to discern real people from fake, the sheep from the wolves. Every woman needs to know how to stick up for herself and when it’s necessary to do so. Every woman needs to know how to say “no” without feeling guilty. Every woman needs to know how to make a good decision for herself instead of depending on others to tell her what to do. Every woman needs to know how to have healthy relationships. Every woman needs to know how to love herself well and that that self-hatred isn’t just unhealthy, it’s sinful . And more…
If you have some thoughts or experiences/stories that you’d like to share, please e-mail me privately at email@example.com or share them in this blog.
Today’s Question: I’ve e-mailed you privately before but since I last wrote, the situation has escalated and I am now separated. My oldest daughter confided in one of her teachers regarding some things that had been going on in our home. This resulted in a DFACS investigation and their involvement is ongoing.
The agency required some mental assessments for my husband, my daughter, and me. The results were that my husband was diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and my daughter and I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 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 it’s “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 does work to build his trust but it doesn’t always 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. When you try to talk about your pain, it may get a nanosecond of acknowledgment but it quickly 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 very minimal. You are 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. Because you are human, you will always fail in some way and so everything always becomes about him.
2. Taking a more direct, confrontational approach with a narcissistic doesn’t work either. They will feel judged, misunderstood, unheard and will stop going to therapy. They are blind to their sin and no matter how much you say it, they don’t hear it. Remember Jesus with the Pharisees? Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” yet they did not repent or acknowledge he was right. They just got defensive, angry, and more aggressive.
3. I think it is very tricky to try to work with a narcissistic person on their narcissism and on their pain while also trying to do marital therapy and treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 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, 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 PSTD 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 need also emotional separation. Your pastor may be able to help you work through an agreeable work arrangement so that negative contact is minimized.
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”. You’re right, he doesn’t understand. I’m sure you’ve told your husband “why” again and again and again but he never “get’s it” and everything still is your fault. That is the nature of the narcissistic personality and you must learn not to engage or take in his poisonous barbs when he directs them toward you. You are not a perfect person, nor is he. The difference however 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 empathize with you and your children for the pain he’s caused and allow each of you to have your own separate feelings, needs and choices as well as cope with his own hurt and/or disappointment when you don’t do what he wants you to do, 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 problem. If your husband can get to a place where he sees that he is part of the problem, there is hope for your family. If not, then the goal of therapy is to help him see. How long that takes no one can predict.