RebeccaHaymans Appearance on Henry’s Show 3/17
1) Tell me about yourself.
A: First of all, Henry, I’d like to thank you for having me on your show today. I am a clinical psychotherapist who has been specializing in couple and family therapy in private practice for 19 years. In September, of 2014, I self-published, “Alphabet Advice For Adults”, which is a self-help book. I also have been a contributing writer to the Michigan Family Journal. I have published articles and blogs regarding Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and many other topics.
Today. I am in private practice providing skills for people dealing with personal problems including anxiety, depression, and many of the unfair events of life such as divorce. One of my passions and specialties is assisting clients to cope with narcissistic abuse, and effectively cope with partners who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (otherwise known as: NPD).
2) How did you develop an interest in helping clients deal with NPD?
A: Over my years of clinical experience, I have witnessed an overwhelming number of clients describe their partners as narcissistic, and have reported being psychologically abused in their relationships. The typical scenario is the husband establishing a power hierarchy and maintaining his superiority with his spouse. As long as the wife is silenced, then the relationship can continue. The moment the wife mentions one thing that is something controversial, the husband bullies his way back into being in a position of control and power. This dynamic is very toxic in a relationship, and is often the culprit of the relationship falling apart. When the wife decides she’s had enough, the typical outcome is the husband sabotages the marriage so the wife ends up being the rejected one. One the biggest fears of the narcissistic is abandonment, so the narcissist does the rejection first to ward off what is called “Narcissistic Injury”. What has really happened is that the narcissist husband has been making life miserable for his wife. She may be the one to file for divorce, however, in the mind of the narcissistic husband, he is thinking that he prompted the demise of the marriage, and then he remains in a position of control the entire time.
After seeing so many cases just like this example, I decided to do a tremendous amount of research and training in the field of personality disorders to help clients be educated about how to maneuver themselves in and out of difficult situations. The therapy helps these individuals allocate strategies to protect themselves.
3) What are some signs or characteristics of NPD?
A: The American Psychiatric Association defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy beginning in early adulthood. Specific symptoms are: grandiose sense of self-importance; preoccupation with fantasies and unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love; believes s/he is “special” and unique and can only be understood by other special people; requires excessive admiration; strong sense of entitlement; takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends; lacks empathy; is often envious or believes others are envious of him/her; arrogant affect.
Research indicates that the incidence of NPD is slightly less than 1% of the population, although this number is probably higher than this. Both men and women can have this mental disorder. However, men have twice the likelihood than women to have NPD, according to most studies. Someone with NPD can have more than one disorder such as Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder or Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Also, there are different levels of narcissism, ranging from having traits but not the disorder, to a malignant narcissist with anti-social personality disorder.
Men are diagnosed with NPD 50-75% more than women, stated by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. This manual also known as the DSM-5 does not make an explanation for this difference. In another article, found online (echo.me.uk), it stated that men may be diagnosed more often due to possible gender bias of the treating therapist. Moreover, the way boys and girls are socialized is very different cross culturally. Boys and girls respond differently with taking criticism. Boys tend to cast out their emotional response to criticism, and girls tend to internalize their feelings. Girls are socialized to be the nurturers. So even if a woman has narcissistic traits, she may give it up for the needs of her male partner.
4) How does NPD affect and destroy marriages?
A: Narcissists know how to get what they want initially through charm, charisma, and putting up a false front. Once the narcissist knows he’s won his conquest in his ideal mate, he will become complacent, and begin to express arrogance, exert need for power, and admiration. Any spousal response (i.e. not following orders) deviating from the narcissist’s wishes leads to some form of punishment to the partner. This could be demonstrated with bullying, name calling with words such as, “you’re a nag; you’re crazy or you’re stupid”. Narcissists hate being questioned, or disobeyed.
The end result is that the relationship becomes skewed with one person having all the power and the other having none. The only way a relationship like this could last is if the victimized partner doesn’t think she’s being abused, and continues to deny her partner’s mistreatment. Partners like these are few and far between. Eventually, the abused partner will realize her narcissist is an abuser, and is not ever going to change. She will eventually leave her narcissist. Then, the narcissist will create a revolving door of unsuspecting partners who will put up with his eventual treatment, but stick around for the time being.
5) What is it like to divorce a narcissist?
A: Spouses where one or both partners have NPD are likely to have what is called in the legal world, “A High Conflict Divorce”. If the narcissist was abusive to his spouse and kids during the marriage, he will be even more abusive during the course of a divorce. He enraged because by his wife leaving him, he now has to give up money, marital and societal status and parenting time that he feels entirely entitled to. He is vengeful towards his soon to be ex for messing up what he thought was a good situation serving HIS needs. Because abandonment is the narcissist’s greatest fear, his wife divorcing him causes him to get what is called as a “narcissistic injury”. Now he is exposed, and vulnerable which is what he hides and avoids with all of his might. In order to escape scrutiny from the courts, he will turn the blame outward and play the victim to get pity from whoever will give it to him. Even when the narcissist is getting negative attention such as suspicious or even sympathy, this is still attention. That is exactly what the narcissist is ultimately seeking. This is what is called “narcissistic supply” which is like a drug that the narcissist is addicted to. Without it, the narcissist withers and self-destructs. There are many factors to consider before divorcing a narcissist.
Remember that narcissists are habitually abusive, and their relationships are unhealthy and based on whatever their own wishes are. Narcissists can be abusive to the children is a post-divorce situation, and this issue should require a lot of forethought. Narcissists will lie to the courts, and create a “Smear Campaign” against the victimized spouse to make the courts have pity on the narcissist, and turn the table of blame. The narcissist is relentless about seeking revenge on the spouse who is trying to escape the abuse. Examples of revenge can be but are not limited to: psychological game playing, brainwashing the children, silent treatment, stalking, and smearing. A strong attorney and trained therapist can help someone in this situation know what to expect, and be prepared for different scenarios.
6) Can counseling help someone who has NPD? Is NPD curable?
A: Personality Disorders such as NPD are one of the most difficult mental conditions to treat. Medications do not generally help since personality traits are not responsive to psychiatric intervention. Of all the psychotherapy modalities, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is the treatment option of choice. Several years of ongoing therapy is the recommended treatment for NPD. Most narcissists refuse to genuinely commit to any kind of treatment. Character disordered individuals rarely seek help on their own, and usually are pressured by others to seek help.
NPD is highly resistant to change; and most narcissists flatly refuse to make an honest effort at self-improvement the way most people will. If a partner of a narcissist thinks she can change her partner, she will be sadly disappointed. Without empathy, there is no insight into how the narcissist’s hurtful actions have damaged others. Failure to acknowledge personal accountability yields no change.
7) How does narcissistic abuse take a psychological toll on the victimized ex-spouse post-divorce?
A: Some common signs to watch out for those who have experienced abuse by narcissists are: low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, fear of abuse or power, depression/anxiety, increased vulnerability to abuse, self-doubt, sense of low self-worth, toxic guilt and shame and self-invalidation.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is also common result of narcissistic abuse. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that affects one’s mental health. People with disorder have often: Surviving this type of abuse is extremely traumatizing, and can have long lasting damaging effects. This traumatization makes the person with PTSD have weak and disorganized “Fight or Flight Response”. Reliving memories of the abuse even after the abuse is over triggers intense anxiety. This severe form of anxiety can greatly diminish one’s ability for healthy sleep and eating patterns. PTSD is also very disruptive in one’s ability to focus. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is recommended to address these abnormal patterns of behavior. The survivor of the emotional abuse may lose trust in her ability to ever love again, as well as her ability to ever trust again. There is also a complicated grief process that follows divorcing a narcissist. Not only is she grieving the loss of the marriage, her husband, but also the loss of the image that her husband once gave her that he was someone that he really wasn’t. It’s a good idea to seek assistance from a trained therapist who is familiar with NPD to help a survivor of narcissistic abuse to properly heal from this emotional trauma.
8) Tell me how narcissism comes up in your practice.
A: In terms of what I have seen a pattern of in my professional experience working with clients with narcissistic behavior is that: a client describes her narcissistic partner’s behavior so fittingly with the diagnostic criterion. It is difficult and complex to explain exactly why this behavior is expressed, but it is easier to identify the behavior with the criterion. When clients get this knowledge, it gives them an advantage to have predictability of her partner’s behavior.
Of course, in order to get an official diagnosis, the person would need to get properly evaluated by a trained psychologist, and receive a battery of personality tests. The label of NPD is not important as client’s the keen understanding of how to identify the narcissistic behavior and deal with it more effectively.
9) What should victims of narcissistic abuse know about narcissistic behavior, and what tips do you suggest to help these people to overcome this challenging predicament?
A: The narcissist will never let his partner have the last word, or lose an argument. The best strategy to deal with a narcissist is to avoid the narcissist at all costs. Contact with a narcissist usually involves some type of mistreatment. Confronting a narcissist leads to rage and exertion of power maintenance. He will make his partner pay dearly for questioning his authority. He will respond with acts of retaliation such as verbal abuse, or even gossiping negatively about his partner to trusted allies.
Emotional abuse is much harder to prove to the courts than physical and sexual abuse to the courts. The courts don’t always take psychological abuse as seriously as physical violence. Take good notes, journal, talk to a therapist who is trained in personality disorders so you can have a record of what has occurred. A bruise from being hit is a stark reminder of physical violence. In addition, to cope with daily psychological/verbal abuse, the victim often times “represses” the acts of abuse. Therapy can help victims of emotional abuse learn how to recognize signs of emotional abuse. Clients learn how to get stronger to deal with the abuse. They can acquire the tools to assess whether or not to stay in the relationship.
“No Contact” is recommended for victims of narcissistic abuse. During the course of a divorce for example, the attorney can be the go between the spouses. The victimized spouse should have limited contact. Phone calls, in person conversations are not advisable. Texting and emailing are the best ways to communicate. Messaging should be limited to matters regarding important issues such as the needs of the children.
*Be unpredictable in how and when you communicate. By consciously becoming unpredictable, you loosen up your ex-spouse’s grip on you. Demand from your ex-spouse that you will not available to communicate at his whim.
*Be mindful of your individuation, your personal growth and healing from the devastation of divorce. Also, be protective of yourself and your children. Keep as many allies near you as buffers between you and your ex-spouse such as letting your attorney represent your thoughts, wishes and expectations.
*Take good notes on past grievances against your ex-spouse, including any nasty emails or texts that reveal his character disorder, lies, abuse, manipulation and instability. Although this information may not be of great significance in court, these records prove to yourself that you were not imagining your mistreatment, and that you are aware of what has occurred.
*Do your homework. Speak with a financial advisor regarding your assets, finances, and investments, and insurance plans. Education of what you have and will have post-divorce is instrumental in deciding whether or when to divorce.
*Pick a family law attorney that is familiar with people with NPD. Make a list of questions for your attorney, and take notes of the information you gather.
*Find a trained therapist who is experienced with dealing with NPD to help you and your children cope with the life transition you are going through.
*Stay Healthy. Drink lots of water, eat fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, get adequate rest, avoid alcohol and drugs, align yourself with a trusted support network, go out with friends and family. It is a very important time to stay well and strong to prepare for your future, and also to be a model of resilience for your children.
*Don’t bad mouth your ex to your children as much as you might be tempted. Your words will come back to bite you. If you hear false allegations about your character, respond wisely by being calm, non- reactive, vague and private. You know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
*If you don’t have a profession, go back to school to learn a trade that will allow you financial freedom from your ex-spouse, and give you confidence that you are being productive, busy and independent.
10) What are some classic examples of narcissistic abuse for spouses to watch out for?
A: First of all, it is important to mention that it may seem that The narcissist can’t help himself when he behaves this way. Make no mistake that these people are conscious and deliberate in their intentions. They lack remorse, guilt, shame, insight, and their thinking revolves around strictly what is in their best interest only.
Here are a few of countless examples of what to expect from a narcissistic spouse or partner:
*lying to the children about the other parent in order to gain sympathy/allegiance and hate the other parent; this is a form of manipulation and control that occurs during the marriage, divorce and definitely post-divorce when parenting time becomes an issue-
*making the least amount of effort, but expecting all the credit and accolades for his “accomplishments”. It’s a lot of “look and see what I have done. The narcissist thinks he’s a lot smarter and accomplished than he really is, yet expects admiration for his meager contributions.
* ”table turning”—blaming others for what has gone wrong, and failure to take any responsibility whatsoever to make things better
*projection- the narcissist will put down, badger, name call and ridicule his partner, and his partners trusted allies, but really he’s outing that way he feels about his own insecure self, and wants others to suffer the way he is so he’s not the only one suffering. The narcissist doesn’t want to change, and doesn’t have the insight to do so. He’s stuck with himself, and he’s deep down inside anger, and feels life is unfair. He spends the rest of his life taking out his anger on anyone who crosses his path.
* ”gaslighting”: a form of brainwashing to make the victimized spouse is led to believe that the truth is a lie, and a lie is the truth. When the victimized spouse experiences gaslighting repetitively over time, she is likely to believe these untruths. Gaslighting is another form of keeping the victimized spouse in a position of weakness and dependence.
11) What are some educational resources available to women and men who are contemplating divorcing a narcissist?
A: Some recommended books are: Winning Your High-Conflict Divorce: Strategies for Moms and Dads by: R. Shelly Loomus, JD, MSW and Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield by: Tina Swithin and Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited By: Sam Vaknin
There are also some experts on NPD who have numerous helpful videos that are available on Youtube: Sam Vaknin, Richard Grannon and Ross Rosenberg
12) What final thoughts can you share with us?
Anxiety symptoms as well as depression symptoms often times go hand in hand with each other. For example, if a person has a problem that seems insurmountable and overwhelming, that could person could respond with anxiety. Then the person feels out of control, and has difficulty concentrating from the anxiety. When the anxiety is not addressed, and resolved, the person feels discouraged and low self-esteem. The result of this emotional state is depression.
I try to teach my clients this type of example to help my clients better understand themselves. These clients can self-empower by obtaining as much viable knowledge as possible to effectively resolve their dilemmas.
Knowledge is power.
Knowledge creates inner confidence,
and strong direction on how to travel through life.