Therapy With a Narcissist
Dear Annie: While reading the letter from the "Parent Who Does Not Want to Get Divorced," the way she was describing her husband sounded very much like he might have narcissistic tendencies.
My husband is a narcissist, and the worst thing you can do is go to marriage counseling. I know that sounds crazy, but very few counselors know how to handle narcissism, and because of this, counseling will often only make things worse.
Therapists always approach counseling with the belief that they're dealing with two people who both want to work together and find resolution. However, with a narcissist, their only concern is their image and being right, not in finding common ground to grow from, which makes progress next to impossible.
And honestly, in my experience, they will usually twist everything during the counseling sessions to make the other spouse the bad guy, which only makes you feel more crazy. I've found far greater success keeping myself in individual counseling so I can be the healthiest version of me, which then changes how I respond and react to my husband. That is the only way I have ever seen true and sustainable changes in our marriage, and it's the only thing that's helped me keep my sanity. -- Went at It Alone
Dear At it Alone: Congratulations on taking the first step toward a healthy relationship and seeking counseling for yourself. But don't give up on marriage counseling. A well-trained therapist will be able to see your husband's narcissism and help him, and you, soften it. Your husband might end up in counseling by himself as well.
Remember, the goal is not to stay in therapy forever; the goal is for you to understand what you need (you are doing that with your individual therapist), for him to understand what he needs (hopefully he will see someone himself) and for the two of you as a couple to talk through what your relationship needs to flourish. Your willingness to look at yourself is great. From that place, you can help your husband get into counseling.
Dear Annie: I'm a retired mental health counselor. There is a ritual that I used to offer to clients who had been abused, and I would like to share it with your readers.
It has to do with a misunderstanding of what forgiveness means. People often think that if you forgive someone who hurt you, it's supposed to wipe the slate clean. Not so.
What it does mean is that you decide to stop carrying the results of the behavior of the other. There's a "forgiveness ritual" that has worked for many. First, you choose a time and place where you are alone and safe. Then you sit down and write a letter to the abuser. Pour your heart into it. Tell the other how their actions hurt you and messed up your life. Then you end by asserting that you are now returning that behavior to them; that you are no longer willing to carry it. Then you burn the letter.
Clients have reported that they could feel a great weight lifted from their shoulders. This, of course, doesn't mean that no other counseling is needed, but it allows a considerable release from the habit of beating oneself up for having been abused. -- Retired but Still Caring
Dear Retired but Still Caring: Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. Thank you for sharing this forgiveness ritual. I hope it helps others let go of resentments, guilty feelings or burdens, so they are able to live life a little lighter.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book -- featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.