Divorcing a Narcissist

Divorcing a Narcissist

Divorce is always difficult and life-altering. When you’re divorcing a narcissist, there’s a whole other layer of manipulation and controlling behaviors involved. And, as painful as it is, it is less uncommon than you’d hope.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost half of all marriages end in divorce. If you are planning, experiencing, or have recently gone through a divorce with a narcissist, there are things you should know about starting over.

How Divorcing a Narcissist Affects Your Health

Research tells us that while most people are resilient after a divorce, surveys indicate that 10-15% of divorced people find it very difficult to manage to start over. If you’re dealing with a narcissist during divorce, you’re probably in that 10 to 15%, sadly. This means that your divorce was or will be quite traumatic. You may be feeling stuck, confused, lost, and abandoned.

Mental Health and Stress Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist 

You might feel like dealing with narcissistic abuse for as long as you have could leave you without the skills to cope with loss and start over. And you would not be alone in that feeling – as it turns out, we have seen thousands of narcissistic abuse survivors struggle through divorcing a narcissist. You might suffer from increased anxiety, depression, and a variety of symptoms related to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) related to narcissistic abuse in your toxic relationship, both during and after the relationship.

You might also feel excessive stress that can lead to additional mental and physical effects. Due to the rejection you feel during divorce, you might struggle with even deeper mental health and emotional wellness issues. In a study published by Ovid Technologies, researchers found that oxytocin, a pleasure hormone associated with social bonding, may have protective health benefits. A separate study published in the American Journal of Science showed that the brain areas that sense pain are also activated with social rejection.

And, according to one researcher, dealing with your parents’ divorce as a child increases your risk for divorce. This makes sense for narcissistic abuse survivors on a deeper level, as a large percentage of narcissistic abuse survivors are also the adult children of narcissists, according to my own research and experience.

The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which measures the relationship between life events, stress, and illness, tells us that divorce is rated as one of the top stressors – and this is just general divorce – not necessarily divorce involving a narcissist. Divorce is topped only by changing jobs in the list of stressors. Other top stressors include moving to a new place

Physical Health Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist 

Divorcing a narcissist can be all-consuming, but it’s very important that you put yourself and your health first if you’re going to survive this safely. If you’re not careful, divorcing a narcissist can have serious physical health ramifications. Not only could your brain health be affected in surprising ways, but you might even die earlier than you would have otherwise. A study published in the Association for Psychological Science journal shows that people who are separated or divorced have a 23% greater mortality rate than married people.

With that being said, ongoing narcissistic abuse is known to cause mental and physical health issues that might even be more profound – and divorce may be the first step you must take in order to begin to heal yourself from the long-term trauma you’ve been dealing with. In any case, when you’re dealing with divorcing a narcissist, you’ve got to take good care of yourself.

Research tells us that staying physically healthy and mentally positive are the most effective ways to overcome the health risks associated with divorcing a narcissist.

Starting Over After Divorcing a Narcissist 

Staying mentally positive can help you overcome challenges and be resilient when starting over after a divorce. You can do some basic things to help yourself be resilient.

  • Do your research
  • Let yourself feel
  • Get professional help
  • Self-care
  • Practice coping skills
  • Embrace challenges

Research is a really easy way to empower yourself during any stage of a divorce. I always say that knowledge is power, and that is definitely true when it comes to divorce. There are many amazing self-help books you can read that are specifically related to overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships, including some on divorcing a narcissist (see our favorites here), a variety of narcissistic abuse recovery support systems you can engage, and professional legal resources available to help emotionally, mentally, and financially.

Learn What Other Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Have Experienced in Divorcing a Narcissist 

Since divorce with a narcissist might be more common than you’d expect, there are many others who have survived it. Their stories, ideas, and advice can help you start over. See some narcissistic abuse survivor stories here.

But be careful here and don’t allow anyone else’s experience overshadow what you are going through. How you feel may be different from what others have experienced, and my friend, that is completely okay. You are not required to relate or to do anything because of anyone else’s experience. Divorcing a narcissist is difficult and painful and the experience, as well as the healing, is going to be completely individualized for each person who experiences it.

That’s why it’s so important that you give yourself time to process your feelings instead of bottling them up or pushing them aside. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my own recovery from divorcing a narcissist was not allowing myself to take the time I needed to grieve the relationship. I thought that because I was “out,” things would just immediately get better. And in some ways, they did – but I needed to take the time to mourn the relationship.

Things to Avoid When Divorcing a Narcissist 

Going through narcissistic abuse is, on its own, an extended trauma in your life. Pile divorce on top of it, and you’re looking at a whole new level of concern. It is never easy, and we all make mistakes in the process. But if you are at all able to avoid the following, you will be doing yourself a big favor when it comes to your narcissistic abuse recovery process (not to mention the process of moving on after your divorce).

  • Avoid doing anything, especially making life-changing decisions, out of desperation. Always take time to THINK before you act, even if that means you refuse to make any decision related to the divorce on the spot. Get away from the narcissist and take some time to think in a stress-free zone.
  • Don’t allow the narcissist to treat your children as negotiation or manipulation tools. Do your best to keep any kids you have out of discussions that do not involve custody or the business of raising them. Stay calm and only focus on FACTS when you must communicate about the children. Try to keep your emotional energy to yourself during the divorce – at least when it comes to the narcissist and their flying monkeys.
  • Don’t share everything on social media. Be careful with how much you share about your divorce and/or your soon-to-be-ex on social media. Rather than posting on your persona page, consider joining a private online narcissistic abuse recovery and/or divorcing a narcissist support group.
  • Be careful to avoid developing or resuming bad habits or addictions. This one is harder, but while occasional indulgences might not hurt, long-term bad habits can be hard to break. Focus instead on what you can do to make yourself and/or your life better in this process. So, rather than eating ice cream every day to feel less stressed, or having a glass of wine (or three), maybe you could add in a stress-relieving walk or a daily meditation session. (Or if you’re like me, your walk can BECOME your daily meditation!)
  • Avoid becoming a hermit. Divorce can lead to social isolation. Don’t get back together with your ex or date anyone available out of desperation or loneliness. Try socializing with friends or using your time for medication and self-care instead of engaging in risky behaviors. I suggest you wait a minimum of one year beyond the finalization of your divorce to allow yourself to have plenty of time to heal.

Divorcing a Narcissist When You Have Kids

If your divorce will involve children, you might be interested in getting this free toolkit designed to help you smoothly transition into being a single parent.

Get the Help You Need When Divorcing a Narcissist 

You should not be going this whole “divorcing a narcissist” thing alone. There are plenty of resources available to you, whether you’re looking for one-on-one coaching narcissistic abuse recovery coaching, one-on-one divorce coaching, a support group, or even a therapist. In any case, it definitely helps to talk to someone, be they a coach, counselor, or another mental health professional during a divorce. In some cases, you might even be lucky enough to have a friend or family member who is willing to listen and who may understand.

Since divorce is one of the top life stressors, don’t take this lightly – your health is essential, and NOT getting the help you need can put you at unnecessary risk. Even just talking out your problems with a friend can make a difference and allow you to develop resilience.

Remember too that self-care should have a space on your priority list. While there may be practical issues to manage, like living arrangements and dividing property, do not forget to make time to allow yourself to heal. You will need to practice your coping skills to start over and seeing a professional can help you build the resilience you need. Embrace the challenges of starting over with the knowledge that you are creating a new, different, and better life for yourself.

Divorce is almost never easy, and narcissists make it miserable. At times, it may feel like your whole world has changed, and that’s because it has – but my friend, that can be a very good thing if you allow it to be. Point your eyes toward your future and start intentionally choosing what comes next. You can take charge by starting over with an intentional mindset with focused and specific goals as you move forward. You might even want to consider strategizing your own personal “comeback” with one of our coaches.

Resources for Divorcing a Narcissist

 

Scapegoat: The Black Sheep in the Toxic Family

Scapegoat: The Black Sheep in the Toxic Family

Watch My Scapegoat/Scapegoating Video – When I was about 12 or 13, I went shopping with my mother, a friend of hers, and my younger brother. As we entered the store, my mother and her friend splintered off and went to do their shopping while my brother and I went in the other direction to look at toys and games.

At one point, I noticed my brother shoving a hand-held video game in his pocket. I asked what he was doing and he informed me that he was taking the game and had done similar things before. He said he never got caught. Well, as misguided as this was, he convinced me that it was safe. And I’m ashamed to admit that I took a couple of cassette tape singles and shoved them into my purse.

Before long, we noticed a man following us through the store. It creeped us out, but in our cluelessness, we didn’t connect the fact that we had just put merchandise out of sight with the intention to avoid paying for it. The guy wasn’t wearing a uniform, after all.

Eventually, we met up with my mother and her friend and went through the checkout lane. My brother and I looked at each other as we passed through, feeling a weird kind of vindication when the checkout lady didn’t seem to notice us.

As we walked out the doors of the store, we both felt kind of excited to think we’d gotten away with it. We were almost to the car when the man who had been following us through the store came up and grabbed us by the shoulders. My mother freaked out and rushed over to us and was horrified to find out that he was taking us in for stealing.

After several hours of hell and a signed promise to never return to this store, they released us to my mother and we rode home in silence. As we arrived home, my mother asked us for the story. Why had we done this?

I tried to explain that my brother had suggested it and I’m pretty sure he even agreed to the truth – but my mother couldn’t stand the idea that it could’ve been his idea.

He was the youngest one, and the golden child at that. I, the scapegoat, must have been the problem, she decided, and after a brief admonishment to never listen to me or my evil ideas again, she sent my brother to his room. I, on the other hand, was severely physically punished and emotionally battered to the point that still to this day, when I’m walking through a store, I feel the need to keep my hands visible at all times.

The Scapegoat: Why and How the Narcissist Scapegoats You

Today, we’re going to discuss scapegoating and exactly why and how it happens. Plus, what you can do if you’re the scapegoat to start the healing process. So, let’s get started.

What is a “scapegoat?”

Also known as the black sheep, the scapegoat is the person in the toxic family structure who always gets blamed for everything that goes wrong for everyone, a member of a family or group. The black sheep is usually considered the outcast, the “bad kid” or a straight-up disgrace to the family. A scapegoat may have the following traits:

Empathic, strong-willed, internalizing blame easily, emotionally reactive, highly sensitive, protective or overprotective of friends, strangers, etc. They’re often the caregiver of the family and they’re likely to question everything – including authority (which adds to their pain in the family) and of course they seem to be different or to stick out from the rest of the family in some way.

What is the toxic family structure?

Generally, the Toxic Family Structure includes the Narcissist (or the toxic person the family revolves around), Enabler (often the other parent who may willingly or unwillingly support the narcissist), Golden Child (the child who gets all the positive attention and who often lives with extreme pressure from both the parents who want them to succeed or be perfect as well as the siblings who feel jealous or slighted by this attention that is so opposite of the attention they get), Scapegoat (the problem child/the one everyone blames for everything) and Lost Child (the invisible one who doesn’t get in much trouble or who is largely ignored due to attention to the golden child and the direct abuse of the scapegoat). There are other possibilities of course – the peacemaker, the comedian, and so on. But this is the basic structure we’re going to work with for today.

What is scapegoating?

Scapegoating is when someone chooses a person or a group of people and casts blame on them for any and everything. Then, they treat that person or group unfairly or punish them unfairly for all of these perceived slights. This can be done by individual people or groups of people.

The term scapegoating is mentioned in the bible as well as in other ancient texts in which ancient tribal societies would choose an actual goat to represent the tribe’s collective sins. They’d sacrifice it in one way or another, and then the tribe’s collective sins would be forgiven and they’d essentially have a clean slate.

Interesting, right?

How does the dysfunctional family choose their scapegoat?

There are a couple of things to consider here. In some families, the role of scapegoat seems to sort of rotate between everyone who isn’t the narcissist or toxic, controlling person in the mix.

For example, I know of one toxic mother who has two sons. At any given moment, one of the sons is in her “good graces,” while the other is being scapegoated. The issue is that each son does time in both roles. The family jokes that “she can’t be friends with both of them at the same time,” but in reality, they’re minimizing her toxicity and the level of dysfunction in their midst.

Of course, both of these boys grew up to be men who had a ton of self-doubt and who each married controlling women who could potentially be labeled as narcissists.

But the “rotating scapegoat” role is far less damaging than the role of the permanent scapegoat, in which one single person is the ongoing target for the toxic person in the family. It is this person who is blamed for everything that goes wrong, and it is this person whose accomplishments are ignored and minimized. This person is never good enough (and KNOWS this based on how he or she is treated) and nothing they do is considered “real” or “enough.”

The Scapegoat Gets All the Blame

When the golden child does something wrong, the toxic parent finds a way to blame it on the scapegoat. Why do they do this? Well, on a subconscious level, the “broken” scapegoat allows the rest of the family to feel like they’re well-adjusted and emotionally balanced. The family can tell everyone about this scapegoat and how terrible they are, and people will feel sorry for them – and in some cases, even praise them for putting up with such a problem child.

The toxic parent can tell the world, and herself, how perfect she is in her parental role, and anything that makes her unhappy or makes her feel bad about herself can be blamed on the scapegoated child.

Of course, chances are that the toxic parent doesn’t recognize this consciously. She isn’t actively thinking that she’s trying to use the scapegoat in this way, most of the time – and yet, she still actively bullies and targets the scapegoated child over the course of years and even decades in many cases.

Sadly, this can often lead to the other siblings following suit and victimizing the scapegoated child well into adulthood and even after the toxic parent dies. It becomes their “truth” – and they often unintentionally see the scapegoat as the bad kid or the one who just refused to be happy.

This means that the toxic parent keeps her proverbial nose clean because anything that goes wrong or is perceived as a failure for her is blamed on the scapegoat.

How is the scapegoat affected psychologically?

It depends on a couple of factors. First, the other parent. If the “enabler” parent does not join in on the blame game and putting down of the scapegoat, they may end up actively supporting or even validating the scapegoat at times. Or, if the scapegoat receives external validation from a grandparent, teacher, or other trusted adult, they may manage to recognize what is happening eventually and work on healing.

In my case, a girl scout leader and a bunch of my teachers validated me and I was able to recognize eventually what was happening. In the long run, this made my healing easier. Of course, the other side of the coin is the child who believes everything the toxic people say about him or her and sort of takes it into themselves and almost becomes exactly what the toxic parent claimed they were.

This often means that they never take credit when they succeed or something good happens (they think – it must be a mistake/luck/a fluke!)

And then when something bad happens, they assume it’s because they’re bad/broken/not good enough – or that they caused it in some way.

I personally can also relate to this side of that coin because even though part of me thought it was wrong, the other part of me believed at least the part about not being good enough or capable of being a “real person.”

And in both cases, most people who are scapegoated as children become really good at building walls and keeping people at a distance. They may also develop what they call a “thick skin,” meaning that they don’t take things personally (or at least they don’t end up being rattled by rude comments or disrespectful treatment in the same way as a healthier person might be).

They almost always feel like they don’t belong or like they’re not an important part of the family – and this often follows them into adulthood. They might be focused on achieving big things in order to prove their critical, toxic parent wrong – or they may just totally give up and fall into the role she cast for them. Alternatively, they might set very low standards for themselves in order to reduce the pressure they felt growing up – they may struggle to set and accomplish goals at all. In all cases, there are serious emotional and psychological issues at play for a scapegoat.

Scapegoated? Here’s the Silver Lining.

There is one possible positive to all of this, and that is that the scapegoated one is the child who is the most likely one to recognize that there’s a problem in the family, and is also more likely to get help to overcome it and possibly to break the cycle of abuse in her his or her own family as an adult. In fact, of all of the roles in the toxic family, the scapegoat is most likely to have a chance to eventually develop and maintain healthier relationships overall.

So, that’s something, I guess. But when this healing isn’t realized early enough, it also opens the scapegoat up for toxic relationships with narcissists as they navigate adulthood, because they sort of just take what they can get, if that makes sense. We can talk more about that in a future video.

If you are a scapegoat or a former scapegoat, the first step to healing is to recognize the issue and to recognize that it wasn’t your fault- that you weren’t the total trainwreck your toxic parent claimed you were, and that you are worthy of love and respect just like everyone else. Once you get this logically, you’ll be able to separate the emotional and psychological garbage you’ve been fed and the facts so you can begin to heal.

Ultimately, I want you to know that you ARE good enough, that you ARE a real person, and that you DO deserve good things in life. Look at me. I mean it. Don’t forget.

The question of the day is did you grow up in a toxic family, and if so, what role did you play? Share your thoughts, your ideas, and your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.

Need help recovering from a toxic relationship with a narcissist?

Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Here are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.

Is Asperger’s Syndrome the Same as Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Is Asperger’s Syndrome the Same as Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

What’s the difference between someone with Asperger’s Syndrome and someone with narcissistic personality disorder? Is there one? And could narcissistic personality disorder possibly fit on the autism spectrum? 

Someone in a recent morning live coffee chat asked me to define the difference between narcissistic personality disorder and autism spectrum disorder, specifically Asperger’s syndrome. I didn’t feel like I knew enough about it to fully discuss it, so I said what I thought and promised I’d do some research and make a video. So here I am, and here’s that video.

Turns out, there’s been a LOT written on this topic, and it looks like that’s because there’s a commonly misunderstood issue at play here. As you’re probably well-aware, narcissists don’t seem to have much (if any) true empathy for people in their lives; that is, they don’t seem to care how their behavior makes others feel, nor do they seem to understand why people feel the way they do about various situations in their lives – they don’t “feel” people, so to speak, in the same way that you might if you’re an empath.

The issue that’s misunderstood is not related to narcissists in this case, though, it’s related to people who have Asperger’s syndrome. There’s a commonly held but totally incorrect belief that people with Asperger’s syndrome also do not have empathy, but according to my research, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to what people who understand the syndrome have told me, and from what my research says, people with Asperger’s DO feel things, and they tend to be incredibly empathic. The disconnect is not directly with their emotions, but with the way they express them.

As I understand it, people with Asperger’s tend to have trouble with verbal expression of their feelings and they also tend to struggle to read faces, which may cause them to appear narcissistic. BUT, the difference here is that they DO feel the emotions and, according to some researchers, maybe more deeply than someone who is more neurotypical.

But they can also become quite overwhelmed by these emotions, and combined with the struggle to communicate effectively, this often causes the person with Asperger’s to simply withdraw from the situation – so if you didn’t know better, you might think they didn’t care.

So what are the differences between the two conditions?

We can’t discuss the differences without also covering the similarities, so let’s start there.

From what I gather, while both narcissists and people with Asperger’s are both goal-focused (often to a fault) and may appear to not care about the way people feel, one key difference is that your average narcissist really doesn’t care if they hurt you or your feelings (and they may even take delight in doing so), while someone with Asperger’s would truly prefer not to hurt you or anyone else.

As you know, my advice to someone who is dealing with someone with a severe case of NPD is to go no-contact if necessary – especially when the person is abusing you, mentally or physically.

But when it comes to someone with Asperger’s, the best course of action isn’t always so clear. See, even though you might take their behavior very personally and find yourself feeling emotional pain as a result of it, if they don’t mean it personally, it’s really not right for you to take it that way.

What I mean is that it’s not reasonable (or fair) to treat someone who is just not able to communicate well enough to express their true feelings in a way that you understand as though they are intentionally trying to hurt you – they aren’t in this case.

 So, rather than reacting harshly and yelling or talking AT them, try being calm and talking with them, letting them know how their specific behavior affected you and what it caused you to feel or do in response, which you’d prefer not to do or feel. Explain on a logical level, and offer a potential alternative for the next time this situation occurs. 

While someone with Asperger’s may be weak in certain areas, they’re strong in others – and they are capable of learning new ways of coping and dealing with people in many cases, and this is especially true if you speak to them in a respectful manner.

That brings me to another big difference between someone with narcissistic personality disorder and someone with Asperger’s. If you DO come to them to express your feelings, you’ll get entirely different results. 

While a narcissist will deny any weakness and play mind games with you, often attempting to gaslight you so that you doubt your own mind and your own experiences, someone with Asperger’s is likely to be surprised that your feelings were hurt and have genuine remorse for what happened – they didn’t really mean to hurt you.

 The person with Asperger’s is only trying to continue moving toward their goals, and they generally aren’t known to ever want to hurt anyone, especially not someone they care about.

All of this is contrary to the belief of one British psychiatrist, though, who claims that narcissistic personality disorder ought to be on the autism spectrum. No, I’m not kidding.

I found this article in Psychology Today that features the opinions of Dr. Khalid Mansour – and I’m just going to share a few points with you.

In an article in the Pan Arab Journal of Psychiatry, the good doctor says exactly that – simply that narcissistic personality disorder could potentially deserve classification as an autistic spectrum disorder.

Dr. Mansour writes, “There is now significant level of agreement that emotional processing problems like: lack of empathy, poor self-awareness, self-centeredness, poor reciprocation of emotion, poor ability to maintain emotional relationships, anxiety and anger outbursts are more or less central features of autism (10, 50,51).”

So, just reading that paragraph, you’d feel like he’s discussing NPD, right? Nope. It’s, according to him, a description of both narcissism and autistic spectrum disorders.

He also quotes from the ICM-10 listing these features of autism:

–Self-centeredness; inappropriate to developmental level and cultural expectations
–Poor self-awareness, poor ability to develop remorse or learn from mistakes
–Poor empathy or appreciation of others feelings
–Poor ability to reciprocate emotions.
–Hostile dependency on safe relations.
–Failure to develop emotional relationships appropriate to developmental level and social norms
–Treating people as objects or preferring objects over them
Again, this list certainly sounds a lot like narcissism.

Dr. Monsour concludes that “… it is noticeable that people with NPD, do not show a major degree of functioning problems in stress free environment or when they are supported (except that they are perceived as “not pleasant characters” to deal with). However under stress and without support they can become quite dysfunctional in a way not far from what we usually see in Asperger’s syndrome. “

So, what does all that mean? Well, if you ask me, the good doctor may be a little off-base, but what do I know? After all, I’m no psychiatrist, but based on what I’ve learned about these two conditions, I must respectfully disagree with this idea.  I believe he is mistaken on the fact that people with Asperger’s lack empathy, as I explained previously, and I think that simple fact alone negates the possibility – not to mention the other differences between the two, which I can cover more extensively in another video, if you’re interested.

This, of course, brings me to the Question of the Day!

So you tell me – what do YOU think? Could this guy be on to something? Or do you agree with those who say that people with Asperger’s are often quite empathic, but lack the ability to communicate their feelings effectively and combined with their trouble reading faces, may simply appear to lack empathy?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below – I’d love to get a meaningful conversation going here.

 

How to Find a Therapist Who Understands Narcissistic Abuse Recovery & NPD: 10 Powerful Questions

How to Find a Therapist Who Understands Narcissistic Abuse Recovery & NPD: 10 Powerful Questions

When you’re going through narcissistic abuse recovery, you might want to find a good narcissistic abuse therapist. If so, you’re obviously going to want one who is familiar with the topic of narcissistic abuse and also has a good understanding of narcissistic personality disorder and the extreme effects being involved with this sort of person can have on your entire life. And how do you go about finding a narcissism-informed therapist anyway?

How to Find a Narcissistic Abuse Therapist

In this video, I’ll explain how you can find a narcissistic abuse therapist and give you a list of questions to ask the therapist about narcissism and narcissistic abuse recovery.

Research proves that the most effective therapy happens when the relationship between the client and the therapist is comfortable and where the client feels understood.

This is especially important for narcissistic abuse survivors because so often, we are starved of any personal validation. We need to know that they “feel” us – feel me?

How to Interview Your Potential Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist

Start With a List of Potential Therapist Candidates

The first step to finding a narcissistic abuse recovery therapist is to find a list of therapists covered by your insurance company who specializes in relationships and emotional abuse, if possible. You might also find therapists who specialize in codependency, adult children of abusive parents, or even family therapy.

Schedule the Interview or a Single Session to Evaluate

Don’t commit to a therapist unless you feel comfortable with them. A lot of people don’t know this, but you can do an interview or an introductory session with therapists, in most cases. So, if possible, you can schedule an in-person, online, or telephone interview in advance. Failing that, you could also just schedule a single session to explain your situation and evaluate the therapist and whether he or she will be a good fit for you.

Ask This Question to Figure Out If the Therapist is a Fit for Your Recovery

Maybe you don’t want the therapist to know that you’re sort of “testing them,” so you’d like to kind of tiptoe around the issue, while still figuring out if they can help with narcissistic abuse recovery effectively. If you can only ask one question or you prefer to avoid the more direct approach, here’s a quick way to find out if your therapist is familiar with narcissistic abuse recovery and narcissistic personality disorder.

Ask the therapist “What is your take on gaslighting?” You can also add, “how would you explain gaslighting to someone who hadn’t heard of it before?”

I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that their therapists aren’t familiar with that term, and if they’re not, it’s a really great sign that they don’t know about it. I also suggest, if possible, that you find someone who has at least a bit of personal experience with emotional abuse – and if they have, they’ll generally admit that to you. Visit Our Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist Page.

10 Questions to Help Determine if They Can Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

If you’ve got time for a full-on interview, here are some questions to consider asking to figure out if the therapist you’re considering working with will be able to help with your narcissistic abuse recovery and any C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms you might be struggling with.

1. What do you know about emotional abuse? 

You may or may not actually want to mention the term “narcissist” or even “narcissistic personality disorder.” In that case, just say “emotional abuse” or “psychological abuse” and leave the actual diagnosis to the therapist. Here are some examples of things you can say.

  • I have been dealing with someone who has emotionally abused me, and this person appears to demonstrate some of (or all of) the traits of narcissistic personality disorder.
  • I’m hoping to work on recovering from an abusive relationship.
  • How would you go about treating that?
2. What is your approach or your therapy style for narcissistic abuse recovery? 

You might also get specific, saying something like, “Regarding your therapy style, do you lean more toward cognitive behavior therapy or digging into the deep core issues or the root of the problem?” Here are some tips to help you figure out what the right answer for you will be in this case.

  • If you want to start feeling better by treating symptoms and learning coping techniques, you want a therapist who is more CBT-focused.
  • If you want to reach the root of the problem, you will want to dig into it with a psychodynamic-based therapy style.
  • Ideally, you might want both – so a program that starts by treating the immediate pain and that leads to digging into the root causes as you go. A combined approach would probably be best for you as a narcissistic abuse survivor. It’s good to understand how you got there so you won’t be there again.
  • Best Practice: If it fits in your budget, get a narcissistic abuse recovery coach along with your therapist. This way, you can focus on learning coping techniques and getting validation from a coach who understands where you are, as well as traditional therapy.
3. Do you usually act as more of a guide or more of a consultant?

Fact: Some therapists use really harsh “in your face” kinds of therapy and this is usually not good for survivors. It’s often used by practitioners of “Gestalt” therapy which puts all personal responsibility for your circumstances on your own shoulders.  Now, don’t get me wrong. Each of us can shoulder our own responsibility in the relationship – mostly, we are responsible on some level for tolerating as long as we did, for allowing ourselves to be disrespected over and over again. But what many traditional therapists don’t take into account (and won’t recognize) is the extreme amount of psychological warfare we experience at the hands of a narcissist.

So, while none of us is completely without fault in having been in the toxic relationship, we are not to blame for the abuse we endured.  After spending years or even decades being told you are the cause of every single problem on the planet, you don’t need any more blame. You need actual help. In other words, you want to know if they’re going to lead the sessions with a tight, planned structure or if they’ll let you lead with whatever you’re dealing with. I like the idea of a flexible session – so if you want to talk about a specific thing, it’s okay to put your planned goals for the scheduled session on hold.

4. Have you ever helped someone like me before?

For the most part, you don’t have the time or energy to be anyone’s guinea pig in narcissistic abuse recovery. So, ask the therapist if they have done this before. Some clarifying questions you can ask include the following.

  • Are you familiar with domestic violence and/or emotional abuse in relationships?
  • Have you ever helped someone through narcissistic abuse recovery?
  • What is your best piece of advice for recovering from this kind of trauma?
5. Do you offer phone check-ins or text support between sessions?
  • You may or may not wish to check in with your narcissistic abuse recovery therapist between sessions. This is a good time to find out their preference.
  • Be careful to find out the times you are able to check-in (if that’s the case) and how quickly (and how often) you can expect a response.
6. Will you give me advice if I ask for it specifically?

Some therapists absolutely will not give advice or direction under any circumstances, depending on their particular style. If you want to ask for advice and get answers, you need to know ahead of time if that will be an option.

7. What can I expect during our work together? 
  • Will you give me assignments and/or coping techniques I can use between sessions for healing and managing during recovery?
  • What will a session be like?
  • How often will we meet?
8. Who is your ideal client?
9. Is our session completely confidential, or will you disclose details to my insurance company (or employer)?
10. Do you think you can help me?

The Most Important Part: Does it FEEL right?

How to take notes during the interview.

Consider the following points in your notes during the interview.

  • How quickly you were able to feel comfortable with the therapist.
  • Whether you felt rushed or if you were allowed to go at a comfortable pace.
  • Whether the therapist seemed to “get” you from the start, or it took several attempts to help them see your point of view or perspective, or to understand what you were trying to explain.
  • Whether you understood the responses clearly and comfortably.
  • Whether you think you’d feel comfortable sharing your deepest secrets with this person.

My best tip? Go with your gut! Use your intuition! Since you might be an empath, pay attention to how the therapist makes you FEEL. You should feel comfortable and not feel the need to hide who you are in any way from this person. You should not feel “judged,” just safe.

Why Traditional Therapy Doesn’t Always Work for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

It seems counterintuitive, but in some cases, a specific therapist may not be the ideal person to help with your narcissistic abuse recovery.

Therapists are often under-educated when it comes to narcissistic abuse recovery and toxic relationships with people with narcissistic personality disorder. It’s not that therapists are useless, it’s just that they don’t always know the depths of emotional abuse and how to recognize someone with narcissistic personality disorder.

In most cases, when you consult psychologists on love, they are fairly accurate. But when it comes to finding a good narcissistic abuse therapist, it’s often easier said than done. And going to couples therapy with a narcissist will almost definitely set you up for victim-blaming.

In this video, Dana Morningstar and I discuss the possibilities and explain how to find the right therapist for you – whether you’re dealing with CPTSD, narcissistic abuse syndrome, or any other complication of toxic relationships. Plus, we’ll explain why therapy for narcissistic abuse isn’t effective and doesn’t always work. And why you should never go to couples therapy with a narcissis

Evidence That Therapists Aren’t Taught About Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Abuse in School

The video below, entitled Therapist Who Survived Narcissistic Parents & Toxic Childhood on How Therapy Failed Her, is an interview with a therapist who is also a survivor on why therapists don’t always understand what you’ve gone through during narcissistic relationships and how YouTube videos gave her the final piece she needed for healing.

If you’re considering counseling for divorce or going no contact with someone with NPD, this video might help you make more careful choices in your healing.

Visit Our Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist Page for Additional Information

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Ways to Get Support

Helpful Related articles

Why do narcissists follow identical relationship patterns?

Why do narcissists follow identical relationship patterns?

Why are narcissists so difficult to deal with? Why are they so mean to the people they claim to love and so nice to everyone else? What causes narcissists to be the way they are? Why are they like that?

We all know that narcissistic abusers follow certain relationship patterns: they first idealize you – put you up on a pedestal and seem like your soulmate (this is also called love bombing).

Next, they put you through the hell of the devalue and then the discard phase – and often these cycles are repeated for years. But how is it that these patterns are used by most narcissists in varying but identifiable iterations?

Is toxic narcissism caused by environmental factors, or is there a genetic component involved – or could there be more than one factor in play?

Narcissistic Relationship Cycle: Caused by Nurture or Nature?

Watch this video to learn more about why narcissists are like that

Why do narcissists follow identical relationship patterns?

YouTuber Mary Cutrone asked:

I’ve learned so much about the narcissist abuse tactics, but still have one question. How do they follow the same pattern? They don’t go to “narcissist school” … but follow the love bombing to the final discard like it’s a formula. What’s up?

Narcissist Relationship Patterns (You MUST Know!) Identifying Narcissism and Codependency in a Toxic Relationship 

Helpful videos for identifying narcissism and codependency in a toxic relationship:

Useful Articles for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse

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