Narcissists don’t get much sympathy and why should they? Most of them are assholes right? I mean according to the dictionary a narcissist is defined as “a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.” The definition alone reveals the stigma associated with this disorder—nobody likes a person like this.
I think that narcissists are deeply emotionally wounded people, but you don’t usually hear about any of them recovering. Most of them go on to hurt others, which perpetuates the sense that they are beyond recovery and primarily the offender.
If you’ve ever noticed a person keeps bringing the conversation back to themselves and not in a natural way, but literally every time you talk to them they have to turn it around to themselves, try looking beyond the action and see whats behind it. Their need to do this has to do with their excessive need for approval. Internally they feel unsettled, detached, unloved, and not cared for. They have convinced themselves that everyone is just pretending, that nobody can be trusted, and that they have look out for themselves in order to avoid pain. Their focus on themselves is their attempt to nurse their wounds that never seem to heal.
It is very hard to get through to a narcissist, because they actually hate themselves already, and they trust no one’s intentions. They know something is off, and any attempt to correct them wounds their self-esteem. For most, the cost is too much for them to bear. The brief sense of care they feel when they victimize (often unknowingly) others is enough for them to continue to hide behind the facade.
The pain never leaves though, the more they try to secure themselves, the more controlling they get. They are not able to accept that they are not great, because they have built up their persona to avoid the pain of their helplessness. By being just another average human being they can be forgotten and left behind. A lot of them are actually very successful in their careers, and hold management positions. Their motivation is to keep the attention on themselves, and to have a “position of power” to prove that they are better than others. Their narrative in their head is that they are rejected and so while holding this “position of power” they feel justified in lording their power over their subjects. After all they were the ones who rejected them. This all happens in the head, and is expressed in word and action. This same scenario plays out in their personal relationships as well.
In addition to evidence based treatment, a therapist must be assertive and discerning while also giving unconditional acceptance. This may be enough during cognitive behavioral therapy to breakthrough a narcissist’s defenses. You absolutely have to be more clever than a narcissist who will try everything they can to avoid dealing with their true issues. They are experts at deceiving others. During therapy they may try to distract the practitioner with their surface weaknesses and small talk that will ultimately serve to avoid their real issues. They know they are there, but they also know that most therapists will not have the guts to bring them to the surface. As soon as the narcissist begins to squirm the therapist will often back off and try to make the person feel better. This is not what they need and the narcissist knows this. They need to see that someone else knows that they are like this, and that they won’t get away with it.
Once they see that you are not the average therapist they will often try to get you on their side through masquerading as the victim without recognizing the pain they have caused others. They can even communicate their surface pain very eloquently. They are used to playing this role too, so it comes very naturally. These are all tactics used to avoid their deeper issues. They can often see the therapists weaknesses as well and will attempt to neutralize the tension inside by making the therapist feel like they have made progress. This is why it takes a lot of discernment to break through these barriers.
These tactics are a testament to the depth of disorder these people are experiencing. They may have only sought out therapy, because they were told to by their spouse. They may simply be jumping through the hoops, and depending on the perceived effort they made to allow them to carry on their internal narrative in the way they want to. Or they may actually believe that the source of their pain are the surface issues, but it takes a skillful therapist to pinpoint the source. They often times just want to be left alone internally, and need the therapist to see through this.
If a true break through occurs, it is imperative for them to understand that there are no magical solutions. Many layers must be peeled away. They must understand that they have embarked on a journey to recovery and not a quick fix. The perceived “quick fix” would only serve to allow the person to go back into emotional hiding. The person should understand that they need to be emotionally exposed within their mind, and learn to understand where their perceived threats are coming from. As they learn to let these fears go through acceptance and understanding, they will find that these changes in thinking patterns begins to soothe their deep emotional wounds.