What is the best way to support somebody beginning to “wake up” to the narcissism or the emotional immaturity in their relationship but still willing to wait for a miracle to occur? And what if that “somebody” is a parent in a relationship with a step-parent that you’ve never really liked? And what that miracle would entail isn’t entirely clear either. Is it to change their narcissistic spouse or part the seas and provide them a safe passage to emotionally dry (safe) land? Tony reads a listener's question about ways to support a parent in an emotionally abusive relationship who has opened up to their adult children. Safety needs to be addressed, but what follows can go a long way toward creating an environment where the parent will feel like they have options if and when they get out of the relationship. Tony tackles the topics of sitting with discomfort and managing our own emotions, as well as the way to approach someone in an emotionally manipulative relationship in a way that will allow them their best opportunity to not only leave but recognize their worth in the process.
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WUTN 62 Transcript
Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 62 of Waking up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist. Host of the Virtual Couch podcast and many podcasts to come. And I'm trying to make this really easy now. If you go to the show notes, wherever you listen to this podcast, there should be a link, a link tree that when you click on that, it will have all the information you need from the latest episodes of any of the podcasts that I am involved with as well as a way to sign up for my newsletter. And also a way to sign up for my marriage workshop. And then when my updated marriage course is out, that will all be there too. So please just sign up for the newsletter. That's probably the easiest thing to do. And I still want to hear all of your questions and your examples and your stories. And if you are a woman who is waking up to the narcissism or emotional immaturity in your relationships, whatever that may be, or if you're the man who is waking up to the narcissism in your relationships, I want to hear from you.
We already have a thriving women's Facebook group and are putting together a men's group as well. And if you happen to be the person that's saying that, I think I am emotionally immature. That takes a lot of guts. And I want to hear from you too. And I want to help and put together a group that can address that population as well. So with that said, let's jump into today's, well, actually one more, one more thing. The release of the Waking up to Narcissism Question and Answer premium podcast, which is on apple podcasts, is going to happen this week. So just look for that. If you haven't already found it, you can find the Waking up to Narcissism Question and Answer premium edition trailer or zero episode, which is free. And then the paid subscription based episode will be out this week. And I've taken a couple of questions and answered those, and that will be a weekly subscription-based podcast where the proceeds will go to help people that need help that are in these emotionally immature narcissistic relationships. So let's get to today. It is a bit of a question actually, and then, but there's a lot of different things that we're going to add into this question.
I was forwarded a question by somebody that I really admire, I trust. And so I was really grateful for their vulnerability. And they said that someone close to them had reached out to them and said, “Any advice for a son who is finally waking up to his mother's marriage to a narcissistic man who happens to be his stepdad?” So, this is not her first marriage. And this person, he says, has isolated and abused her for over 30 years, he says his mom finally opened up to her kids, but she is staying and admittedly waiting for, and this is in quotations, a “miracle”. So all the kids are adults and they have marriages of their own. And it has absolutely been breaking their hearts to watch her walk back into the lion's den over and over again. But it sounds like this is one of the first times that she's admitted that this is not a healthy relationship. But she has admitted that. And then willingly walked back into this lion's den. So the question was how do they support as she has asked when they want their mom back after all these years? They said they've watched her mask her life away. And now that they saw the mask come off, now they can't unsee it. And so let me first say, I drafted an outline of what I wanted to share. What I think could help this person. And then right before recording, I went back to the beginning. The outline. Ate half a sleeve of thin mint girl scout cookies. That's a random confession, but I'm just being honest. And then I jotted down a few additional notes about safety. So, let me start with a really quick, but I think it's a relevant story.
A few years ago, I had a real brief window of opportunity to possibly look at hosting a call-in radio show, which yeah, I think those are still around and it would have been for mental health and I entertained the idea and eventually I honestly can't remember if the opportunity simply fizzled or if they never even got back to me. And what I think is kind of interesting, and I do want to bring this up, I think in my more emotionally immature days, when I was asked about this, I probably would have told you that, you know, I thought long and hard about it and I eventually turned it down and they came back begging and I still told them no. When in reality, I really think it just fizzled away. But the reason I mentioned this is that I spent a few months thinking through answers in my head if I had two to three minutes to answer a question that I really knew that I needed more information about. One of the funny things is when you first become a therapist and everybody knows that you are a therapist and they ask you for advice and questions and you, I want to say rather immaturely, provide that advice. And it comes in these little sound bites of two to three minutes. When in those situations, all people really want is validation. They want to know that what they're doing is the right thing to do. And so you often want to tell them what you think that they need to do based on what the latest thing you heard in classes or in your training. But then I feel like over time, you start to recognize, oh, that person just wants validation. They just want to be told that what they're doing is right. And if you even do say here's actually what my experience says, then you'll often hear, well yeah, but this is, you don't understand. So really people want validation. And that was one of the reasons why I felt like that would have been a challenge, even take this opportunity.
But then I did start looking at even the situations that were coming into my office on a daily basis. And I would think, man, how would you handle this in two to three minutes? If you were trying to give somebody advice. And so this is where I feel like, you just need more information. And this is a perfect example of one where, when I first received this question, one where I would honestly, I would need to responsibly start by saying that you first need to tell your mom, if I'm talking to the guy, the seriousness of this situation or this relationship and tell them that they ideally, you would love it if they would contact the therapist as soon as possible. Somebody that specializes in personality disorders or high conflict couples communication. And then to make sure that they set up a safety plan because you and your mind, you're going to feel like you've watched enough datelines to know what can happen. And while I agree that that really would be the best angle and incredibly good angle to go, here's where I just started thinking to myself, but I also know that not everybody is a mental health professional. And most people are surprised when somebody finally does open up to them. And that is when there's typically a couple of responses. Unfortunately, so many people go immediately to Switzerland because they feel uncomfortable and they say, man, I hear you. But I'm sure you know what, he's probably going through a lot himself. So have you talked to him about it? Have you really just let him know that this is something that's frustrating to you? And so if that is something that the person finally opens up to somebody, and that's the response they get, then that's where a lot of times they'll feel like, oh yeah, no, I need to go talk to them about it because that took a lot of guts for her to open up to somebody. And so when met with the Switzerland friend, you can see now how difficult that is. But then the other side of that coin is that if you are opening up to somebody, if somebody opens up to you and all of a sudden you think, okay, finally, they finally said it. Okay. you gotta get out of that, then that can also feel overwhelming to this person.
And so that's where I think when you look at it, the person receiving the information that they are going to feel a lot of emotions, they're going to feel anxiety, they're going to feel discomfort. And so if that is you hearing this confession from somebody that they are finally opening up to the fact that they are not happy in their relationship, or they feel like it might be in an emotionally abusive relationship. It's going to cause you a great deal of anxiety. And so make sure and check in with yourself. Okay, I got to sit with a little bit of this uncomfortable emotion and hear this person and listen to this person. So ideally you'd be prepared for this admission and you would express empathy, extreme empathy, and curiosity and compassion. Tell me more. What's that like, I am so proud of you. You're doing a really difficult thing, which gently, you know, while gently bringing awareness about the need for additional help and resources. So in that scenario, it's again, I'm so grateful and I am so proud of you and that takes a lot of guts. And man, let me just take you on my train of thought. It's hard because I really want to say, oh my gosh, go get your bags. Let's go. But I hear you and I'm just, hey, I want to be here for you. And I worry about your safety. I can't lie. I'm a human. And I care about you. And so, it's hard for me to hear this, but again, I know this is your journey, so I am so honored that you have opened up to me.
And so then just because for the sake of what I think happens to most is evidence even by this very question. Because had the people whose mom finally opened up to them taken this route, they may have been writing, you know, later with a success story of, hey, I just thought your listeners might want to know kind of a message. So please keep in mind that professional resources and safety plans are real. They are helpful. And they are absolutely necessary, but I also want to recognize that I know that a lot of the times people get this information. And they have not heard a podcast like this, so they are a bit blindsided. So with that said, let's dig into what probably happens more often than not. So one of the things I see the most are the people that cut the mom off in this situation as a way to almost make a stand. I worked with an older woman who was involved in a romance scam. And that was bad enough in a story for another day, because honestly I can see a lot of similarities and what happened to her in her romance scam versus what happens to people in narcissistic relationships, from the extreme trauma bond of good. Oh, I just see the real him. And that's what I keep holding out for too. When he wants something he gets mean and nasty and he makes no sense. To which the woman in the scam or in the relationship says that they just need to calm him down so that she can see the version of him that she loves. And how does she calm him down when the romance scam, its money. It's literally buying gift cards, which is so crazy. And in the relationship with the narcissist it's compliance. Or it's the mom and the situation making herself small weathering the emotional storm to try to get back to peaceful waters. And then keep the peace as long as she can hoping that it will be the last time. The last outburst the last time where he'll be that hurt or mean or dismissive? But regarding this romance scam, what truly broke my heart was that her family essentially stopped talking to her until she stopped talking to the romance scammer. But that isolation, that shame that the lady felt from her family's treatment drove her even further into the virtual arms of the romance scammer. And I find that this is a similar situation that occurs in situations where a narcissist isolates or sequesters the mother in this situation. And then the entire reason that the narcissist slowly but surely cuts the wife's family out of the equation in this situation is twofold. One that is the air he breathes control. The narcissist is extremely emotionally immature. So the thought that his wife has her own opinions makes him uncomfortable, not curious. And the fact that she talks openly with family or friends makes him uncomfortable. What are they talking about? Hey, tell me.
Or better yet, let me be there in the room, but don't tell him, let me be on the phone and let me be in the room and you put it on speaker phone and I'll be over here, mind my own business, but don't tell him, I mean, I'm just curious, I'm just curious what they're saying. Or let me see the texts that you send or even better yet, you know, I actually don't even like when you talk to them because you seem different, which translated means I begin to lose control over you. So if your adult children start talking about a vacation that they went on, then to the narcissist, he thinks, oh, okay. So now my wife thinks that I'm a bad husband because I don't take her to those places so that he may say out loud, I'm sure they can't even afford it. As a matter of fact, I know they can't afford it. Yeah, your son's in real estate, right? I mean, if you read about the horrible market's horrible. So if they are, honestly, if they're taking vacations with the market, like this. I guarantee you that they are leveraging everything for this. And as a matter of fact, he's probably going to ask you for money and I know how much you want to bail your kids out with money. The money that I worked so hard to make. And that drives me crazy. Like seriously. I'll bet if you had it your way, you would just give them my money. Here you go. Apparently my husband is just a bank. So, let me give away all this money. The wife in this situation would then find herself either apologizing or agreeing with him in order to calm down his anxiety. Now they did not share that dialogue in this question, but if you are someone in a narcissistic relationship, I would imagine that scenario just played out what seemed very real to you.
And if you are fortunate enough to not have ever encountered a relationship like that, please know that I could pull these examples out for the next few hours right off the top of my head. Simply just thinking about the real example shared in my private women's Facebook group, or honestly, in sessions over the past few weeks. Or the letters that come in on a very regular basis. So back to the scenario. So I think we should step back too and take things from the angle of the mother. So let's take a second and talk about sitting with discomfort. The family members who are waking up to their mother's marriage are now mad. They're sad. They're frustrated. All types of feelings. I'm sure a lot of the feelings and some I'm sure that I could share if I wanted to check the explicit box before posting this episode. But I do believe that often we want to fix a situation immediately to ease our own feelings of discomfort and anxiety and anger and you name it. But helping somebody recognize and then change their relationship with a narcissist is, here comes a cliche, but it's a good one. It's not a sprint. It is not even a marathon. We are talking about an ultra marathon and as somebody who has completed a few dozen ultra marathons, including a handful of races over a hundred miles, let me tell you the long game is fascinating and it can wear you down. And you're going to feel like you hit a wall in your relationship, even with this person who is with the narcissist over and over, but you'll also find yourself getting your second and third and fourth wind. Because if you don't beat yourself up, and if you note that, okay, that happened, whatever the problem in the relationship is that happened, and you tried a certain way, maybe you tried to go big, maybe you tried to isolate your mom and get her to talk to you without him knowing. And then that didn't work well, but just know that that doesn't mean the race is over. So if you continue to show up whenever you can, even if it's just sending, hey, just thinking about you texts or intentionally just staying in contact as the narcissist will begin to isolate or sequester their spouse is a way to control the flow of information.
So just know that you do not have to make every interaction, one to say, this way to the exit of the relationship, although you really will want to. An example that I like to share in this kind of situation is one of parenting a teenager. So in this scenario, your adult mother becomes a teenager. And I remember at one point, my wife and I came to a realization and thankfully being able to communicate with one of our teens in particular, what was that communication like with us? Because we felt like when we would say, hey champ. How was your day? That we would get back, we wouldn't really get back to the information. The answers are really short. So, let me kind of skip to the end of this example, we'll work backwards. We eventually learned that shortly after, how was your day champ? We would then pepper in a nice round of, did you do and fill in the blank? You know, did you finish your homework? Did you clean your room? Did you thank your grandma for the gift? Were you still gonna turn in those late assignments? So we learned again, thank goodness that the teenager has feelings and emotions as well. And that their own experience of us began to look like one where our initial curiosity, how was your day? It was just a warm up to what we really cared about. Did you do these things? So that was a way for us to ease our own anxiety by wanting our teen. To do things so that we felt better. So I believe that the mother in this situation is maybe experiencing a similar thing. If every time we talk to this, the mom, if we are trying to pepper in our own thoughts and feelings of what we want her to do to make us feel better. So I, you know, I believe that the mother in this situation is aware of the unhealthy nature of her relationship with this second husband or third husband. Just as she may be aware of your disapproval of the husband. Just as she is also aware that when you express frustration to her, that you would love for her to leave or when you pull away from her saying that you just can't support her relationship with him, because that only causes her to feel like she is a value if she does what you need her to do just as she is living in a marriage where she feels like she has to do what he wants her to do as well, that that's the only place that she has value as well. So this clearly won't be the case in every situation, but I have been fortunate enough to meet with the women or the men who are the mom and this story on occasion. And they so often want a safe place to talk. Or to laugh or to not feel controlled. And not have to manage other people's emotions.
So when I say that it's a long game, I feel like so often, step one, after somebody even slightly mentions the distress in their relationship. Sure. You're a human being. You first want to rescue them. And thank them for finally reaching out admitting that, you know, we've all known this for years and thank you. And I assume you have a backpack, then you're ready to go now. Right? But oh no, then they feel like perhaps they shouldn't have said anything because that causes them a tremendous amount of anxiety for you wanting them to do more right now. No, it took a tremendous amount of courage for them to finally get to the point where they could even say that something might be bad in their marriage. So I would encourage you to maybe take a step back, look at it that way. You know, as a therapist, let's say I've been working with this woman and it has taken a long time for me to get to the point where I can, I can bend. I was gonna say convince or better, I guess, better stated, encourage this woman to finally identify safe people that she could open up to. And then what would that situation look like and what would she even say? How would she open up to this person? And then when they finally opened up, then she's already overthinking the response. That's going to happen to her adult children. So it takes a lot of work to encourage this woman to open up. And then even again, if it's ever so slightly to somebody in the family and they may be so anxious to do so.
That they simply just need you to say thank you so much again, I can only imagine how hard that was and I'm proud of you. And I want you to know that I am a safe place for you. And while I want to go say, grab a bag and leave right now. And here's where I love a little humor, maybe asking her, I mean, if that is what you're saying, then we can do that. But I'm just grateful that you opened up and you shared that with me. You know, is there anything I can do to support you right now? How would you like for me to show up for you? I really believe that to be heard is to be healed. And when someone offers you this gift of vulnerability, know that it is perfectly normal for you to be hit with such a strong bout of the feelings that you will most likely want to rescue them immediately. But this is still their life, which they may not have felt in control of. So give them the gift of their own self-discovery, let them be the captains of their own ship, but be the very best, what are they called? It's not a first meet, is it assistant captain? That doesn't sound right. That you can be, and we're not talking about, I grew up with Gilligan from Gilligan's island, a horrible first assistant captain. No we're talking about I guess I should have thought that went through because I can't really pull a great first madder out of my back pocket. But now you have this amazing opportunity to stand beside them on this journey, help them interpret what they are seeing. What they want to do next, and then you get to be the one to help them. Work through the yeah, buts. Well, yeah, but I don't know where I could even go. Mom, we have an extra room. Yeah, but we'll take all of the money. Mom, we can go get a free consultation with an attorney. I'll go with you and they can put your mind at ease and we can come up with a safety plan so we can address as many of the variables as possible that could be addressed.
It's interesting because I feel like if you see where we're going next, I remember when I was in grad school as a therapist and having one of my favorite professors, Darlene Davis, my sensei. I had her on my Virtual Couch podcast so long ago, she has an amazing story. Around dealing with chronic pain and making this incredible decision to in essence, just say, okay, this is my identity. Versus using that as a catalyst or a catapult to then do bigger things and better things for her. But Darlene did this exercise once where she basically rearranged the room with a lot of desks and chairs, all messed up in the middle. And then she stood at one end of the room and she had one of the budding young therapists on the other side and she said, okay go take a left and go over there and walk around that desk. And now step up over that desk and basically walk the person over to the other side of the room. And we didn't really know what was going on. She was amazing with these experiential exercises and she said, all right, how was it? What do you think? And remember the person just looked at her and said I was fine, I guess. And then she had another person get over on the other side of the room again. And she went over and stood beside them and said, where are we going? And the person said, I don't know. I guess the other side of the room, she said, okay, let's do it. And then he said, which way should I go? And then she said which way are you thinking, what do you think? And he said, I, well, I guess I could go this way. Okay. Well, what's that like for you? Well, I know I don't want to have to climb over this desk. What else do you want to do? And while I guess I could crawl under it. Okay. Well, you know what, what's that like for you? And it may sound. I don't know. I don't know how it may sound for you to hear that, but I felt like that exercise was pretty amazing because even when you start to become a therapist, I think you often feel like you are the person on the other side of the room.
And you're saying, okay, go over there and do this and do that. And what happens is that person may make it across the room, but then they're there and you say, okay, you did it. Great job. And in essence, you feel validated that you are really good at guiding people across rooms, but that person now is across the room and they're thinking, I don't even know what to do now. And I don't even know how to get back across the room. So one of the most powerful things you can do is to be there by the side of that person that's opening up to you. And then saying, where do you want to go? And how can I support you? How can I show up for you? What can I do for you? So if somebody is saying that they are opening up to you for the first time, I think so often we want to say, okay, then here's what you do. You walk in the room, you reach up in the closet and you grab your suitcase and you put it down and you unzip it and you open it and you pack it. And if the person is even doing that, all of a sudden they're saying, okay, now what now? Okay. Oh, wait. No, he's going to freak out. I can't do this and now I feel bad. I even said anything to you. Because he's going to find out and I shouldn't have told you. And now I need to, I need to go back in and I need to isolate, and I need to make sure that he doesn't find out because if he does, then he's gonna get really mad.
And so I think you can see that it really can be more beneficial to look at this as what an incredible opportunity to stand right beside somebody as they are going through this period in their life. And what an honor for you to be the person that they are opening up to. And so as you build that trust and as you express that empathy and you build that connection, then that person is going to feel safe enough where you can start to maybe offer your advice, or they're going to feel safe enough to start to say, what do you think I should do?
And even then be careful because if you say, well, I think you should leave. Then sit back and get ready for the yeah, buts. Yeah, but I don't even know where to go. And just know that you as the person that is, that this person is coming to that if we can get to the habits, we're getting somewhere. We really are. But then if you can still stay in that, well tell me what you think. In that example of having somebody even talk to an attorney, is one that I think takes so long for somebody to go just talk to an attorney. And I'm talking about just going to do the free consultation and guess what? You can go to a lot of free consultations. It's not like they have a little database and everybody gets together in your area and says that this person already got the free consultation. No, I would recommend that you write down the questions and you get a free consultation. And then maybe after the first one you realized I had no idea what I was even asking or looking for. And then write down some questions and then go to another consultation. Because one of the narcissist or the emotionally immature person's greatest opportunities to control is controlling that flow of information. And I find it so fascinating when I have a couple in my office and things are starting to go the route of emotional immaturity. And we're looking at this might not be a viable marriage. That is the more we'll just go with the pathologically kind person, starts to find their voice and express it and have opinions, which again is the goal. That is what we are here to do in life is to discover who we are and what makes us tick. And if we are in relationships where that's encouraged, it's incredible because that person is also finding themselves.
And we are two people that are now attacking the world. And we are just supporting each other and asking each other what your experience is like. And I'm sharing what my experience is like. And we're processing emotion in concert with another human being. But when that isn't happening, then what is happening is the control of this other person and so back to the scenario, if we're in my office and somebody is starting to say, okay, I don't know if this relationship is viable, then that's where I often hear them more emotionally immature person, whether it's the husband or the wife. I started to say, okay, well, good luck working on your own. Or I've always been the one that has the money. And nobody's going to want to marry somebody that has four kids or hey, you never finished school. So what's that going to look like? And so they will often express these sentiments, statements, put out these vibes are these emotions that are going to make this doom and gloom vibe just come right over into the office. And so knowledge, I think it's Schoolhouse Rock taught us this back in the eighties. Knowledge is power. And so there are opportunities to get answers for things. Whether it is the internet, whether it is a consultation with somebody, whether it is a support group. A therapist or whatever that looks like.
I highly encourage you that if you are being told all of the answers by the person that you now are recognizing may not be the safest person, then that is one of those situations where the person is saying, oh no, no I know you can't trust me on a lot of other things. But you can trust me when I'm telling you about how scary things are going to be and what it's going to look like for you. If you leave. Oh, no, those don't go together. So finding out information is just an incredibly powerful thing for, I mean, information is there, it's available and you need to be the keeper of your own information. Not continually wanting someone else to tell you what you're supposed to think, feel or do.
I guess in conclusion, wrapping this up today. How do you support that person? You be there. And you express how grateful you are that this person feels like they could even trust you with even a little bit of that story. That must be hard for them. If they got to this place where they felt like they could open up to you. And this is where if you do get an opportunity to ask the person or to be more curious with them, then I think one of the best things you can do is to start to explore, well, tell me what that miracle looks like. And then if you can just start having conversations around that, then I think that will be incredible. The therapy model. I love acceptance and commitment therapy. One of my favorite books by author, Russ Harris is called The Confidence Gap. And that sentiment alone is just so powerful. What The Confidence Gap book is saying is that we often feel like, well, when I am confident, then I will do the thing. So in this scenario, it's waiting for the miracle or it's, you know, when I finally have my confidence up, then I'll go. But ironically with The Confidence Gap, the acceptance and commitment therapy really teaches us that in order to get the confidence, we often have to do the thing. But then when we say I'm going to do the thing. So in this scenario, I'm going to start speaking my own voice. That might give us a little dopamine bump of that feels right. But then sit back and listen to the yeah buts you have. I don't even know what to say. Or you have, but what if he gets mad or, yeah, but yeah, but. And I think what is important to note here is that our brain desperately, especially in a time where we may feel like we are unsafe in our relationship. Our brain's going to feel like we have to have all those yeah, buts worked out. We have to have the answers and the solutions, and we need certainty because that is scary.
And if we go back to the way the brain wants certainty is so adorable yet frustrating. Because we have this concept in our mind where we know what two plus two equals four feels like, ah, that feels, that feels certain. And now we want, we desperately want that same ah, feeling. With all the decisions that we make. So especially these complicated ones. And so those yeah, buts are there. And then our brain is saying, yeah, but I do, I need to have all these things addressed before I jump out into the great abyss. And that sounds really scary. And so it does become almost this balance between recognizing that I will yeah, but my brain. That don't get killed device in my brain. Until I want to say the proverbial cows come home, not even knowing what that really means, but I could yeah but all this uncertainty forever, but at some point, then I need to know that I have these people, these safe people that are there for me, that aren't going to continually tell me, this is what you need to do. And they're going to be there to hear my habits. And they're going to be some of those habits that they may be able to address the yeah, but financially, oh, we can work through that. And that's going to lead to a yeah, but what if that doesn't last? Or what if that isn't enough? So I just want to acknowledge the fact that that's going to be part of this process and the more that that person feels safe and being able to know that they were able to express that this relationship seems hard to somebody. And that person didn't then judge them, wanting them to immediately leave that very second while they may want them to, but they know that that isn't what that person has to do in order to still be cared about. That then that person, and I'm going back to the mom in the scenario that now what it feels like to be her. She has been on a journey, no doubt, a journey of awareness, a journey of starting to want more and starting to not acknowledge that she doesn't feel safe. So then she did open up very briefly and let her children know that this is really difficult but I'm gonna, I'm gonna hang in here and wait for the miracle. And if we can recognize that that's a miracle in itself that she was able to self confront, acknowledge, be vulnerable enough and turn to you even if you then have that feeling that you want to just send a SWAT team in there and rescue her right now. And if you had it all your way, you would in fact do that because you feel very confident that that would ultimately be what was best for her, but understanding that you don't know what it is like to be her. And there's a lot going on there of what that feels like to be her. So just revel in the fact that she opened up to you, and this is your opportunity to maintain that relationship. And it doesn't always have to be about here’s what you need to do. And here's a podcast that says you are really in danger. And here's an article.
Now, those are not going to be out of the question. I still want you to be, however you want to really feel like you show up authentically, but just know that being able to provide that safety for that person over time. It is going to allow them to then if, and when they are ready to say, I am done they are going to go to you and they know that you're not going to say. I told you so, or it's about time. That they know that you are going to say, what can I do to help? Tell me what this is like for you. How can I show up for you? Because that's how you've been showing up ever since they really opened up to you. So again, I'm just, I'm grateful for these questions and I feel like there's so many different principles that we can talk about when we just break down a question. I guess in essence, this would be then a plug for the Waking up to Narcissism Premium Question and Answer episode because on the free episodes, these, the ones that you're listening to now, we're going to, we're going to go in a lot of different directions and talk about a lot of the traits and characteristics of narcissism. And we're going to break down the definitions of, and we're going to do a lot of the stories of what people have been through. And over there, we're going to just specifically focus on the questions. Because I have more questions than I can answer in the next two or three years. So we'll get to those, but if you have questions and if you don't know where to turn and you don't feel like you can reach out to anybody and you are not in a position where you feel like you can embrace counseling or afford counseling, try to just find somebody safe that you can just start to talk to communicate with or shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know your questions and just know that again, you are on a journey and you're there. If you are listening to this, that means you've taken a lot of big steps along that path of self discovery or awakening. And the path is going to be bumpy at times. There's going to be some juts in the road, maybe some big boulders or rocks, but eventually it is going to lead to a place where you are going to feel like you get to be yourself. Because it is absolutely okay to have your own thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions, and to not have them continually questioned or put down or not questioning your own reality because it turns out that the person who is designed to know the most about you, is you. So if you're in a relationship where somebody else is continually thinking that they know you better than you know yourself, then I worry that it's because they have created a version of you that they need to feel this control over.
So then therefore they know that version of you that they've created better than you do, because that's not you. That's you showing up trying to manage somebody else's emotions and anxiety. Or buffer for other people and, and that is not you living your best, most authentic self. So let's get heading toward that direction and then we'll deal with all those habits around the way. So thanks for taking the time today and we will see you next week on Waking up to Narcissism.
Tony reads a message from a listener who asks, "why won't their therapist confront their narcissistic spouse?". He explains more of the origin story of narcissism and how the path of the narcissist leads them to a place where they can't possibly be the problem and why, if you confront the narcissist, it can make matters worse.
If you are interested in being coached in Tony's upcoming "Magnetic Marriage Podcast," please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs.
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
WUTN 50 Transcript
Today, I want to start with an email.
It says, “Dear Tony, I have a personal counselor who recommended me to your waking up to narcissism podcast. She said all she could do was think of me as she's been listening to your podcast. I've been in my marriage for over 20 years, we have children and I've been dealing with this throughout my marriage. Obviously not everything in the podcast applies to us, but too much of it does. It's taken a toll on my mental and physical health and has killed my self esteem. I've been listening to your podcast nonstop because I had no idea what was happening to me had a name. And it has been so validating for me to know somebody understands my life. You put into words, my exact experiences, the thoughts, questioning myself and torments that floods my mind. You also accurately described how the treatment has made me react over the years and why I feel crazy. I have a family that I love, and I really want this man to love me. I want to be treated well, and I want my family to remain intact. However, no counselor that we have has ever addressed the issue. I've never felt that much gets resolved at all. And we haven't been able to receive the help that we need and that I need.”
So she said that she's really writing in one last attempt to salvage the marriage because she feels like if those things could be addressed once and for all, then maybe she could find hope. And I receive a lot of emails with questions similar to this, and it is normal because as you start to wake up and understand that there are answers and see the similarities and patterns, it only makes sense.
Why don't we tell my spouse because then they too will have this aha moment or this epiphany. And how frustrating that can be to finally feel like after all of these years that there's something that we can do. That we can put a name on this and here's a podcast and books and tools. So I need to let them know, right?
And if you've also heard a lot of the episodes, one of the first things that I talk about is one thing that we don't do is go confront the narcissist or the incredibly emotionally immature person.
The thing that you don't do is say, hey I think I know what we're dealing with. I think you may be a narcissist. And even though that feels like the exact thing that I want to do so that we can hurry up and get through this and have a better relationship, that's actually not the right thing to do. As a matter of fact, it can be counterintuitive. It can be the wrong thing to do.
So, coming up on today's episode of waking up to narcissism, we're going to dig deep into why confronting the narcissist or the emotionally immature person may feel, again, like the answer. It may feel like it's perfectly normal, but how it actually feeds the problem and can make things worse. We'll talk about that and so much more coming up on today's episode of Waking Up to Narcissism.
Hey everybody, welcome to episode 50 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, and also host of the Virtual Couch podcast, and a few more podcasts that are coming down the pipeline, which is exactly the reason that I would love to just simply encourage you.
Go to my website, tonyoverbay.com, just sign up for the newsletter. That'll get you in the know of everything that you need to know. The newsletter is going to start to contain many big and wonderful things, including the first of which is you will find out about the launch of the Magnetic Marriage podcast. It is a subscription-based podcast, but it is full of real life couples, anonymous couples that have come forward and wanted help in their marriages.
And the episodes are real and raw and full of emotion. And I lay out how to put the tools in a practice that people didn't even know that they didn't know and that they needed. And we talk about communication. We talk about infidelity, faith deconstructions, power struggles, parenting, all these things that couples are dealing with.
And often if you've been one who has tried to get your spouse into counseling and it hasn't worked, or if you have been to counseling and you feel like that has been a dead end or hasn't worked, or might even have made things worse, then I really feel like this might be a nice way to see what counseling could actually look like and how it can help if it is possible to see that change in the relationship. And so it might be easier to put this podcast in front of a person who is, let's say counseling averse, than just to say, I think you need to go to counseling while you're not going to counseling. So that's coming very soon as matter of fact, there's probably going to be an announcement in the next week or so of the exact launch date and maybe a sale coming up soon.
But just know that the price of this is going to be far less than one session with me, and it's going to be a subscription for an entire year of access to the podcast. So go to tonyoverbay.com, sign up to find more about that. You'll hear that through the newsletter. And I'm also revamping a parenting course that I have.
So I think that'll be fun. And also I'm going to continue to leave out at tonyoverbay.com/workshop, a $19 couples communication workshop that will give you some more of the things to talk about in your relationship and hopefully will eventually lead to more communication, but I give some solid tools. They are real tools and tips. Again, $19 money back guarantee.
And I would also love to encourage you to go follow me on Instagram or Facebook. I have some amazing people that are working behind the scenes now with social media and creating content. And just specific to this podcast, Waking Up to Narcissism, I started recording some clips that there are things that the narcissist would never say, and the clips are less than a minute.
And I think there are three or four, maybe five of those out there now. And I think it's one of those things that I like using my true core value of humor. So these are not heavy tomes. I think we need humor to deal with some of the relationship issues that we have. We have something that we need to cope with and humor is often a wonderful way to cope. Let me just give you a small example. I think one of the first ones I did have, here we go.
Things that a narcissist won't say. I've never thought of that. Or that's a great idea, or I don't know if I can do that or last but not least. You're right. So there's just some of the things you can find and very, last, very quickly, if you listen to episode 49 and your experience was that it was a repeat of episode 48, which was a wonderful interview with McKayla Renee Johnson, then please go back to episode 49, refresh your podcast player, whatever that looks like, I accidentally uploaded the very same file from 48 into 49. And within the first 24 hours is when there are a few thousand downloads and it was that repeat. So I got a lot of messages that said, did you mean to do that?
And no, I did not. And I quickly posted to Facebook and my social media, my Instagram account that I owned up to that mistake and said, please go and relisten to 49 because 49, I really do feel I'm gonna stand in that healthy ego and say, I think it can really help. I dig deeper into Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication in particular when talking or trying to communicate with a narcissist, an extremely emotionally immature person, and I titled that one “waving the white flag against violent communication” because I do think it's a little bit of a preview or a precursor to even more about what we'll talk about today, because it just shows that the more that you're making this observation, and then with an observation, we have these judgements that go right along.
That maybe again, the pathologically kind person, that judgment, when you observe that the emotionally immature or narcissistic person in your life is doing a certain thing, maybe he just doesn't understand, or maybe she just doesn't really understand what I'm saying. So I'm going to keep trying to explain myself, but then unfortunately in this world of nonviolent communication, that person is not taking in the data.
And the more you try to explain the more you try to show them your point of view, you're actually feeding them data that then they can use when they have a tirade or a tantrum, or they become incredibly emotionally immature or dysregulated, that sort of thing. If you have a chance, I would encourage you to go listen to episode 49. If you tried to listen to that and it wasn't, it was a repeat of 48.
So let's start today. This is one of those things that I get so often is that question of, I know you said not to tell the narcissist that they are a narcissist, but I felt like I could. And this is where, when I talk about these five rules of interacting with someone with narcissistic traits or emotional immaturity, that number one, we want to raise that emotional baseline. We want you to do some self care and it doesn't mean you just have to go run a marathon, but it's even starting to dream and to hope and to think, and just to even think about what it would start to look like now that I'm recognizing that I've lost my sense of self, what do I really want to do? What do I feel like I've possibly missed out on.
And not from a place of beating yourself up because, oh, what, I could've done all these things different, because again, you did not know what you did not know. And now you're starting to know. So what have you always wanted to do that you maybe haven't felt supported in, or maybe haven't even felt you could express.
And even that is starting to shift this interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be you. So raising that baseline is absolutely necessary to put you in a place to be able to interact more and whatever that looks like. But that interaction needs to come from as good of a version of you as we can get. And I want to say this very best version of you and you're going to get there because so many people are in this predicament or in these relationships really don't even recognize how much of their self that they've lost because they spent so much time, so much energy, so many emotional calories and effort on trying to manage a family, manage a situation, buffer for the kids, try to figure out why this didn't work, why he didn't say this or why she responded the way that she did.
And maybe if I say it a little differently, maybe it will go differently. In an emotionally mature, healthy relationship, all of that time is just spent doing and being the best version of yourself, or learning more about the things that you care about and then being able to go to a partner and have a shared experience and not be made to feel crazy or put in this one down position.
Mature conversations are about curiosity, but anyway, raise that emotional baseline and then get that PhD in gaslighting, understand that when you are very confident that you did express yourself or that he, or she said something, and you had heard that earlier and now you're being told that you did not, they did not absolutely say that.
That's okay. If you recognize that, I feel like that's not the truth. But then not necessarily jumping back in and saying, but you did say that because that third part then is getting out of unproductive conversations because that's when the gaslighting occurs. And when it's really coming from a very emotionally immature place with your partner. Now all of a sudden you're in it.
Someone the other day said that when they started falling into the feeling of gas lit and trying to explain their way out of things or trying to stand up for themselves in those situations that they felt like all of a sudden, now they're wrestling with a pig and that is not going to get anywhere.
Which then leads to the fourth rule, which is learning to set healthy boundaries, but also understanding that when you set a boundary, that does not mean that the emotionally mature narcissistic person says, oh, a boundary. Okay. I will respect that. It's a boundary, it's not a kryptonite. It's actually a challenge.
So when you set that boundary, unfortunately, while that is a good thing for you to do, you'll know that you're doing the right thing and setting that boundary if the boundary starts being pushed. And the way that boundary will be pushed is your buttons will be pushed and maybe even worse things will be said about you and I am so sorry, because that's not the way a relationship should go, but as you set the boundary, the boundary will get pushed. And then that leads to the fifth thing which is going to be such a big part of what we're talking about today. There's nothing that you will say or do that will cause them to have that aha moment, or the epiphany. That epiphany needs to come from them. That aha moment needs to come from them. And that comes from their work. Not you trying to convince them that they need to do the work. It has to happen internally to them. And I thought a lot about this as I was preparing for this episode, that the same thing that has happened to you and your own waking up to the narcissistic relationship or emotional immaturity, and the relationship that you find yourself in, that has been a process.
Some might call it a slog. One of my friends read a book and it talked about being in the messy middle, and that might be where you're at right now, but you've had to come to that on your own. And I go back to the fact that I was very intentional in naming the podcast, waking up to narcissism, again.
Waking up to the narcissism in the relationship that I have with my, fill in the blank, spouse, adult child, employer, religious institution, parent, whatever that is. It's waking up to that narcissism because it helps me understand that I'm not crazy. That it's okay to have my own thoughts and feelings and emotions. That I've lost myself, and I need to do something. So you have woken up to that. You have come to that conclusion through hard work. You've gathered a lot of data. And you've been on a journey and you found it and now you're here and you didn't know what you didn't know. But now, it's really hard to implement the tools and that's a tough place to be, but it's the right place to be. That's going to lead now to going from, I didn't know what I didn't know. To now I know, but it's hard to implement the tools. To now, I know what I need to do, and I'm getting better at implementing the tools.
I start to get to this place where I implement the tools more than I don't. On one of these group calls that I do every other week with my women in narcissistic relations from my private Facebook group, we were talking about this just last night. And there was someone that jumped on there and they said, hey, I'm in that third stage of enlightenment, the one that we're talking about, where she didn't know what she didn't know. Now she knows, and she doesn't do a lot, and that was hard, but she said, I moved over into that, I know when I do more than I don't. And so it started to become easier to set the boundary. She started to be able to find herself and that is starting to feel more empowering. And then that last phase of the journey is just, this is what I do. I implement tools. I have a sense of self. I hold boundaries. I raised my baseline. I understand gaslighting. I naturally get out of unproductive conversations because they're a waste of emotional calories and time.
And I am not responsible for making that other person understand or have that aha moment. So let's talk about that a little bit more. When I talk about that fifth rule, it's not just that you will never say anything that will cause them to have that aha moment or epiphany, but in reality, when someone is saying to their therapist or to a friend or to that parent, hey, maybe you can get through to them. That is now just saying that I now want this other person, so me as the therapist, I want you to cause him or her to have that aha moment or that epiphany. So I just wanted to start by framing it there. It makes perfect sense that if you would like to try to talk some sense into this person because of your journey and what you've learned, of course you want your partner, your spouse to have that same waking up moment because we can fix this. But look at that journey that you've been on, and there is a way to set the journey up as best as it can be to hopefully put that other person in the best position for them to hopefully self-reflect or self confront. But it isn't done by saying, look, somebody has to lay down the law. You tell them, or I will, somebody has to, because I'm tired of beating around the bush and all those things. And I've heard it many, many times.
I've had one of my clients I adore the most, in the not too distant past, text me and say, look, are you going to tell this person that they're the narcissist? Because if you don't, I am going to, or I will find somebody that will. And it was interesting. This person said you've been validating me, but when are you going to let my spouse know that this is not going to work? That they are the narcissist, because I will, I will find someone to do it because it has to be done. And I didn't, it broke my heart. I didn't even know where to start with that because it goes against every single thing that I lay out in podcasts, the things I say in sessions, my experience of working in this field for 17, 18 years. But then I know that it's in your relationship. It's difficult. And I hear you.
And I understand just how desperate one can be for change. Especially when you get a little glimpse of this. There's a name for this. Here’s people talking about this, here's even people that are saying here's a way to maybe start to change. So we need to take a little bit of a step back. So I lay out those five things.
But what we're going to do, we're going to dive back into the truth about narcissistic personality disorder from one of my favorite articles from Psychology Today by Eleanor Greenberg. So Eleanor lays out that, “Narcissistic personality disorder is the name of a series of coping strategies that began as an adaptation to a childhood family situation that left a person with unstable self-esteem.” And let's remember that word, unstable the inability to regulate their self esteem without external validation. So, if they are already operating from a place of unstable self-esteem. And that self-esteem is regulated by external validation now for the narcissist. And I am just going to lay out, I'm going to use the word narcissist for probably the rest of this episode, but please know that when I say narcissist, I am talking about the narcissist and the spectrum of the emotionally immature person all the way up to someone that is becoming more emotionally mature, because it's going to save a lot of words and it's going to save some time. So to the narcissist, then that unstable self-esteem and then the inability to regulate that self-esteem without external validation that does not mean that they are looking for the external validation of, hey, am I okay? Because that's not what they learned. What they learned was I need to be okay. I have to be right, because I cannot, I cannot even risk invalidation. Because invalidation could cause me to get booted out of my family. Again, we're talking about the little kid brain here that if I get in trouble and I have not seen my parents model, take ownership or accountability. If I have not had a secure attachment with my parents, when I have sought one as a kid. That when I have sought external validation, soothing, comforting as a child, those moments that typically my parent has not been in a position to provide that. If anything I've been told, hey, don't worry about it. Don't cry about it. It's not a big deal. You need to take care of that yourself. Calm down, come back in here when you're in a better mindset. So my need for soothing and external validation as a child then has not been met, but when the parent needs me to say, hey come give your mom a hug and tell me I'm a good mom or come here, son, let me just, I feel like I need to just pass along some words of wisdom here and here's all the things that I went through as a kid. And so I think you need to do the same thing.
Then all of a sudden, I feel like, you're looking at me and that's what I have to do. You know what an anxiously attached person without a secure attachment to a parental figure. All of a sudden now the kid exits into this world of relationships with unstable self-esteem and the inability to regulate that self-esteem without external validation and not the cool kind, the kind where I, now I must admit I can never be wrong because if I was wrong as a kid, I heard about it. The only time that I got validated then as a kid was when I was amazing or when I was right or when I didn't say anything.
And somebody else had to be wrong because why? Because if my parents were also emotionally immature or had narcissistic traits or tendencies, then, if I did something wrong, they're not saying, hey, come over here, champ, tell me about it. They're saying really, you failed that class, you failed that test. I can't believe you did that. But then if I am the star athlete or if I get the good grades or if I can learn how to juggle or do a little song and dance routine, now that's my boy. Because that is a chip off the old block, then that's what I taught them. I didn't teach them all that stuff about not being good at school.
Yeah, that's and again, in their eyes, that parent is going to say well that’s because they're lazy or because they're not trying hard enough or because the teacher isn't teaching them well. Again, in Marshall Rosenberg's concept of nonviolent communication, there is an observation. They didn't do their homework. And then the judgment, this is again from that emotionally immature narcissistic parent, because they're lazy. It cannot be because I did not spend enough time with my kid. It cannot be because they didn't help them understand math. Because I didn't understand math after fifth grade and I couldn't help my child because I didn't want to put in the time.
It cannot be any of those things. I had to be because they're lazy. So look at that. I hope that I'm starting to lay this out in a way that makes sense. So that emotionally immature, narcissistic person, unstable self-esteem, they can't regulate that self-esteem without external validation. And that leads to lower empathy.
So there's no empathy there. Probably not a lot of empathy modeled, not a lot of accountability modeled. Validation was given when you were doing amazing or awesome things or praising the parent. And if you hadn't trouble, it could not be your parents' fault. So now you, as the kid, are a bad person.
And that is what leads to so many of us that have a core default setting of shame. That if my parents did not meet my needs, that I must have been bad. Not a, hey, I noticed that you did a bad thing. But that is what guilt is. Guilt is yeah, I feel bad about something. And then shame is no, you are bad at your core. You're bad.
So that is this person that is now sitting there now, but they are in an adult human body and they have a very loud voice and they may be large and they may be strong and they may have money and they have some power and then the people around them say that they're awesome. Because so often to the narcissist or the emotionally immature person, they are not getting the validation that they need from home because the people at home that are closest to them see the hypocrisy and they call them out on things, but the people out in the community, the people in their church community, the people at work, they may just get to see all of the wonderful, amazing things this person does. And so they get that validation at work or in other situations. And then when they come home, now it's even worse because everybody else thinks I'm awesome. And my own family doesn't, and that means that my family must be wrong. And so now the family is not telling them all the time as they need this validation that they are amazing. Because the narcissist comes home, sometimes they want to be serious. And sometimes you guys aren't appreciating me. And other times I want you to tell me I'm awesome and amazing. And sometimes I want you to give me space and sometimes I can't believe you didn't say dad's home when I walk in the door. And when those things are going well for the narcissist, everybody in their life is incredible and wonderful because that's indicative of who they are. They surround themselves with these wonderful people. It's just that up and down. Rollercoaster of emotions.
It is where they're trying to regulate their self-esteem with external validation. But again, not that good kind. So with that setup, Eleanor moves into these concepts of whole object relations and object constancy, “Things that a narcissist lacks, whole object relations is the capacity to see oneself. So the narcissist and others in a stable and integrated way that acknowledges both the person's good and bad qualities.” And that is so important. Because that emotional immaturity in general is one that sees in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. They lack whole object relations. So I'm probably going to start alluding to a lot of the things where let's just say now that therapeutic intervention where now I am supposed to lay down the law and finally tell this person that you sir, or madam, are a narcissist. Okay. Enter whole object relations. They lack it. So now if you're telling me that I am a narcissist, then I now will process that as I am all bad and you think that you are all good.
There is no capacity to see both good and bad qualities within the same situation or person. And they lack object constancy. That is the ability to maintain a positive, emotional connection to somebody that you like while you're angry, hurt, frustrated, disappointed by his or her behavior. So when you confront the narcissist and they lack whole object relations and object constancy, then they have this unstable self-esteem, the inability to regulate it without external validation and low empathy. So I hope that we're starting to paint a picture.
So I'm going to give you some solutions because don't worry. Hang in there. We're going to get there. But without those whole object relations and object constancy, Eleanor Greenberg says people with narcissistic personality disorder only see themselves in others in one of two ways, either they are special, they are unique, omnipotent, perfect and entitled. So she calls that “high status.”
So when everyone's praising me, then everybody's good. Everybody's cool. My family is amazing. My spouse is incredible. My kids are the best. My job is awesome. My car is amazing. The clothes I wear are sweet. My shoes are the best. Everything's amazing. Everything is awesome. I think that's a song from a Lego movie.
But if that is not the case, then they are defective and worthless and garbage and low status. And that means that the person is struggling with these narcissistic issues can not hold on to his or her good opinion and good feelings about someone once they notice that the other person has a flaw. And let's talk about a flaw. I mean the other person goes from being special and put on a pedestal. Eleanor says, “to being devalued as nothing special”. So again, I want you to think of these things and think of them in terms of during this confrontation or this intervention with the narcissist, so this person now has gone from high status, they are amazing to now you are saying that they are now low status and they are all bad.
And that means that if they are, if you are telling them that they are all bad, then that means that you then think you are all good. So now they have to regain that power, that status. They have to regain that one-up position. So now I am going to do anything to let you understand how bad you are, because that will make me feel better.
So she says that narcissists often seesaw back and forth between the two. So when they are feeling good about you or more accurately, you make them feel good about themselves, you are special. Now you do something that they do not like and that can be as simple as saying no, or even, hey, why did you do that?
And then all the sudden it happens in an instant. Now you are all bad and worthless. So at that point, that is now where the emotionally immature narcissistic person will start to use all of those buttons that you've handed them in a moment of weakness and a moment of vulnerability in a moment of wanting to share in a moment of trying to give them that aha moment or that epiphany to want them to change. Because now when they think really that's how you think, that's what you think about me. You think that now I am all bad. Well, I'll tell you what. You're a horrible mom or your horrible dad, or you're a crummy provider. Or I was talking to other people and they all told me that they don't like you.
You're horrible and all these different areas, you do everything wrong, everything. So there's no way to keep things in the gray. It's all or nothing, black or white, good or bad, but then 10 minutes later, all of a sudden, now they come out of the room. You're still upset because you've just been called horrific things and they say, hey, where do you want to go to dinner? And I do call that one the, hey, do you wanna go ride bikes? Because that's what the emotionally immature kids do. I remember I got in a kick fight with Jimmy Faulkner. I don't even know if he's still around, in sixth grade, and by the end of the school day, we were good.
And we went and rode bikes. So Jimmy, if you're out there that was probably an emotionally immature response of mine and my bad. So then Eleanor goes on to something where I've talked about this in other episodes: normal, healthy ego versus narcissistic, pathological defensiveness. And this is where I take great liberty in the words that she is using. And I want to take ownership of that.
But I change healthy narcissism to healthy ego. And that is where you are getting to. Again, because you're doing the work. We're getting you to a place of healthy ego. It's a realistic sense of positive self regard that’s based on the person's actual accomplishments. It's based on the work that you're doing now, the hours that you're putting in and digesting the data on this podcast and other podcasts and YouTube channels and reading books and interacting forums and raising your baseline and understanding, whoa, I can actually have my own, my own opinion. I can have my own thoughts around everything, parenting and knowledge. And so then I want to start doing more of that. And I want to start being, and doing and finding the things that matter and not necessarily going into needing my spouse's approval or validation. So as you develop a healthy ego, a healthy sense of self, it is relatively stable because that person has assimilated that into their self image. The successes that came as a result of their actual hard work to overcome real life obstacles. So you are putting in the hard work, my friend, if you are listening to this. So to overcome real life obstacles because that is based on real achievements. Eleanor Greenberg says that is normal, healthy, what she calls narcissism and I'm going to say ego, “it's relatively impervious to the minor slights and setbacks that we all experienced as we go through life, normal [ego] causes us to care about ourselves, do things that are in our genuine, real self-interest. And as associated with self-respect, one can think of it,” she says, “as something that is inside of us.”
I like to share that I think that people that have changed the world had a healthy ego because it was based on real life experience. Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther king, people like that have healthy ego. So, what I am hoping is that by listening to this, when you are listening to these things that you're starting to develop this healthy ego based off of the hard work that you're doing.
And what I worry about is that now, when we just want to lay it out there and tell the narcissist, and we want them to understand, and we want to self-confront and somebody needs to tell them that we're still, even in essence, looking for them to validate the work that we're doing. But they're coming at it from this lack of object constancy, whole object relations, emotional immaturity, black and white all or nothing thinking.
And so at that point, you are throwing a lot of shade at them and their world. And they're saying, hey, now all of a sudden, and again, this is what they are hearing. It is not even what you were saying. You're saying I am right. You are wrong. I'm right. Therapist thinks they are right. You are wrong. So now the narcissist says I disagree.
So what are the things I know that will get to you to now make me right and you wrong? And then I will take that one up position because pathological defensive narcissism, as Eleanor Greenberg lays out, is a defense against feelings of inferiority. And we'll get back to that. The childhood defense mechanisms, gaslighting as a childhood defense mechanism.
So pathologically, defensive narcissism. This is a defense against feelings of inferiority. So that person, the narcissist dons a mask of arrogant superiority in an attempt to convince the world that they are special, even in that moment, especially during confrontation. So now you're going to hear even more of how crazy this is that you don't even understand what you're talking about?
So this is that attempt to convince the world, the therapist, you, anyone. That, no, they are special. But inside that person feels so insecure about their actual self that they will just lash out and they'll do anything to defend their fragile ego. They’ll hurt anybody. They'll say anything. Because at their core, they're afraid, they're scared, they're insecure.
But that is so deep. It is buried so deep, that unfortunately, that is not your job to dig out. And as you start to find your own sense of self and they push more buttons. Yeah. That is the best case scenario of someone being able, potentially, possibly to self confront, but that's no longer, it's not your job. And that can feel like the wrong thing to do. But the right thing to do is to get yourself in the best position you can be in because it's not your responsibility to fix that other person.
She goes on to say that that is their deep childhood abandonment wounds and fears. So she says, “This facade of superiority for the pathological defensive narcissist is so thin that it's like a helium balloon and one small pinprick will deflate it. And this makes that person hypersensitive to minor slights that somebody with a healthy [ego] wouldn't even notice.”
So if somebody with a healthy, and in this place of differentiation, is told, hey, I feel like you exhibit some narcissistic traits or tendencies. Then that person, and I would love for them to say, okay, if I'm coming from a place of a healthy ego and I'm relatively impervious to these slights that are these jabs that I feel are thrown at me, but not from a, I think I'm better than everybody else, but to think that I'm willing to self confront and I'm willing to take a look inward because I'm aware of these things. I know the things that I know. And what comes along with that, obviously there are things that I don't know. So does that sound like a narcissist? No. They're putting up this image of arrogant superiority because they need you to know that they have everything figured out.
I got another email recently from a person who had said that their spouse desperately needs to go to the doctor, but she says over and over again, well, you know that I know more than doctors do, right?
A little tangent here, but I think it's somewhat applicable. I'll give you an example of where my own emotional immaturity can come out and then where that need to self confront or take on these new tools that I learned comes into play. My wife and I are walking around a neighborhood over the weekend. It's a new one. It's a new neighborhood that's behind our neighborhood.
And whoever developed, it made a little bit of a man-made lake. I don't really know if it's much of a lake, but it's an area that will hold a lot of water when there is a lot of rain. There have even been ducks on this thing, and there's a path, a paved path that goes around. But it's not around. It goes left and right. And there's a lot of foliage around that hasn't been knocked down. So my wife and I are walking our dogs and we're talking, and then I, if we go back to that concept of a violent non-violent communication, I violently communicated against the people that created that lake. Even though they have no idea because I just said, man, this is kind of dumb. Why didn't they do this differently? Why didn't they make the trail or why didn't they make the lake more shaped like a lake? And so there was my observation that it was a different shape that I felt, I felt like the shape was odd. So then I throw that judgment in there. That because it wasn't round, I made the judgment that this is dumb. They must be dumb. They don't know what they're doing. Says the person, me, that has never done any city planning, neighborhood planning, geological studies, environmental impact studies, paving, grading. I've never created an artificial lake. But I know what they did right there. Kind of dumb. So how emotionally immature is that? So I had to step back and I even had to say, okay, this is fascinating. I don't know a thing about what I'm talking about.
And I got very much in that present moment and I was very grateful to be there. But we're simply just walking along the path of a man-made lake and then taking him what a wonderful opportunity this is. That is being present and that is, I didn't know what I didn't know. About this concept of things like nonviolent communication or self confrontation.
And so then having to apply those tools, but that wasn't something that my wife had to make a comment about because if she would have I worry that in the past, especially then I would have taken that as criticism and then had to lash out and defend my fragile ego. It's interesting when, let's say that as the emotionally immature person, if I'm putting out there that I think that this lake is dumb and those guys are dumb. It's funny because what do I really want my wife to say at that moment? That's my guy. That's my hero. That's this guy. I know he knows more about creating man made lakes than civil engineers.
So truly how emotionally immature. So then here we go back to that pathological defensive narcissism. Then they, “that facade of superiority that is so thin, like a helium balloon that then one small pinprick will deflate it. So then this makes that person hypersensitive to the minor slights that somebody with a healthy ego wouldn't even notice.
Instead somebody with this type of defensive narcissism is easily wounded, frequently takes any form of disagreement as serious criticism. And is likely to lash out and devalue anybody who they think disagrees with them.”
So I feel like that concept of pathological defensive, narcissism, emotional immaturity, fragile ego, I can't be wrong, let me tell you what you don't understand. Not saying hey, tell me more. Tell me more about the situation, I see that you guys are all trying to confront me. I can understand, this is something that seems very serious to you. Let me understand more. That is not what is going to happen, which is again why confrontation doesn't work. So let's really start to work into what then your role could be. And what can happen. I want to pull up an article that I've been working on as well. And this is talking about the narcissist or emotionally immature concept of confabulation. And this is from Sam Vaknin who has an article called Disassociation and Confabulation and Narcissistic Disorders”. And it was first published in March of 2020 in the Herald Scholarly Open Access Journal of Addiction and Addictive Disorders. So I took that and what I've done is I've adapted a lot of that language to fit in the concept of emotional immaturity. So where Sam uses the words, narcissists and psychopaths, then I've taken the liberty to add the narcissist or emotionally immature people. So the narcissist or emotionally immature people often disassociate or erase memories and our amnesia because of their contact with this? Again, we're still talking about the concept of what if the narcissist confronted? What if there's this intervention? Why doesn't the therapist just let them know? Why doesn't he just tell him? Why can't you just wake up to your own narcissism?
Why does it not work when they just go in attack? Why don't we just go attack the narcissist to try to help them understand? Let's just talk. So more about confabulation. The narcissist and emotionally mature immature people do not experience reality directly. They experienced it through a distorted lens. So the narcissistic lens initially developed in childhood.
As we talked about earlier, narcissism or emotional immaturity initially develops as a series of coping strategies that began as an adaptation to a childhood family situation that left the person with unstable self-esteem and the inability to regulate that self-esteem without external validation or they have lower empathy.
So this lens, this narcissistic lens that requires them to get rid of any information. Again, get rid of any information that challenges their grandiose self perception. And getting rid of any information that goes against this narrative that they have constructed about themselves.
And it's because that narrative is so necessary for them to be able to explicate, excuse, legitimize their what Vaknin then says they're antisocial, self-centered and exploited behaviors, choices, and idiosyncrasies. So if you are confronting that narcissist, and this is the thing that I think is so hard to understand to the non narcissist is that the confabulation engine in their brain is working at a phenomenal master level, instant pace.
And I've talked about once, if you're aware of confabulation, I do believe that we can all confabulate to a point. Sometimes I notice I'll find myself shading a little bit of my own experience or memory of making things a little bit better, a little bit more grandiose, and it might be either to make myself feel better.
Or sometimes it might be to make someone else feel better. When I first did an episode on confabulation, I just, I talked about an experience where my wife had been out of town for a few months, helping my daughter who had been in a near fatal car accident. And so my wife would feel like she wasn't doing everything she could do here at home.
And that she wasn't showing up as much for our son who was a senior in high school. Who was a senior in high school who was living his very best life, who was playing basketball and golf and has an adorable girlfriend. And he has a. He was doing what seniors who have an amazing senior year can do.
And that is not wanting to hang out with mom and dad. We would try as much as we could, but so she would feel bad. And so on a particular weekend where she was coming back and we were going to go spend some time with one of my other daughters. I know that my wife felt guilty. She felt bad. So she had just said, hey, did you tell Jake that we're going to be away for the weekend? And I know that she feels bad. So then I said, yeah, I told him. And he said, that's awesome. And I realized in that moment, what confabulation can look like. Just from simply a place of what I said to Jake was, hey we're going to be gone this weekend. And he said, okay.
And so my confabulation was as a matter of fact, I think I even told her, yeah we talked about it. We had a really good talk and he said, that sounds great. And so that made my wife feel better. And then I'm sure in my own mind, well, it feels pretty good to say that we had a really good talk. When in reality, I said, hey bro, we're going to be gone. And he probably said, can you leave cash?
So I think that was the extent of it. But I confabulated that story. So to make her feel better and probably to make me feel like a better dad and so you can even see these little dustings of confabulation that happened because, and after I learned about confabulation, I did a couple of episodes on the mechanisms of memory, because memory in general is flawed. And we, when we recall memory, we recall basically a scenario, a situation, an image, and then we fill in all the blanks. It's a very effective use of the neuro landscape. And we don't even recognize that we're doing it. So to the narcissist or the emotionally immature person, what they do is they recall a memory. And then instead of just filling in gaps of just minutia of, oh, I thought it was day or I thought it was night or that sort of thing. It was like, and remember I was right and you were wrong. And now the more that they bring that memory back up, then they add more of that shading to it. So the narcissist, if you talked to him one time and came back and talked to him about something a month later, I just had this experience with someone, myself personally. That story, that the narcissist became even more of a grandiose hero and everybody else around them was a complete buffoon. A month later, the story had confabulated and changed so much in just one month. I thought it was just amazing.
And I only mentioned that because I am confident that the pathologically kind people listening will say, I think I could be the narcissist because I confabulate as well, but we all do to a point. But let's get back to this article that the narcissistic or emotionally immature version of confabulation back into that frame, that's an attempt to compensate for these yawning gaps in memory. So then the narcissist or emotionally immature people confabulate meaning that back then it says that they're creating these plausible plugins and scenarios of how things might, could, or should have plausibly occurred. But it's not the kind to make everybody else feel better.
To outsiders, these fictional stop gaps appear as lies, but to the narcissist or emotionally mature person individually, then they fervently believe in their reality, they may not actually remember the details of what had happened, but it could not have happened in any other way than the way that they are creating that it needed to happen.
In order for it to fit the narrative that they've created. So then it goes back to that if you are expressing a time where you feel like they were very angry on a vacation, that did not happen. As a matter of fact, that confabulated memory is now they're going to remember that as a matter of fact, you were actually the one that got angry on the vacation. I was the one that came to the rescue and you don't even remember.
And the kids came up to me later and they told me what's up with mom. But none of it, that's their confabulated memory that they have to believe that, they had to think and believe that because it could not be the fact that they weren't a very nice person on a family vacation. I remember reading one of the most fascinating examples of this, and I've thought about this so often, was a therapist that I know and I respect and so I very much believe, wrote me after I did this episode of confabulation.
And they said they had a situation where they met with this young couple early in their practice. And the young couple didn't have kids and that the husband had fathered a child out of wedlock many years before. And he said that just came up in the assessment, but it didn't seem to play much of a role in what they were coming in for at that point, they were coming in there because I think the, I forget what the case was, because you'll see why that I thought this was so fascinating here in a second. So he said that he just remembered that. And then he said fast forward about, I don't know, 10 years later. And he said that they came in again and there were some accusations of infidelity. So he pulled the couple together and he could tell that there was tension in the relationship. And he wondered now, I think he said they literally had four or five kids that had happened in a 10-year period.
And so he's really trying to do the assessment. And he always wondered what happened to that child that the husband and father had out of wedlock. And so when he then met with the wife individually, he brought that up. And he just said, hey, what's the status with that child? And he said, he knew that it didn't quite fit into what they were bringing into the session. But honestly, sometimes as therapists, we're just curious. We want to know more.
And the wife broke down. He said that she started crying and she said, thank you. He honestly doesn't even acknowledge that ever happened, that he had a child out of wedlock.
And my friend, the therapist said that he was so confused that when he met individually with the husband, he brought it up and he said he just did it very confidently because he knew that was something that they had talked about this decade or more earlier. And he said the husband got irate immediately and said, what, what has she been telling you? She's got this idea in her head that I fathered a child out of wedlock. And the therapist said at that point, he decided not to go in and dig deeper, but he just did not know what to do with that. And then he even said that later during the counseling that she forwarded an email I think it was from the from her husband's uncle, somebody that he had been close with, and the uncle even said, yeah, we tried talking to him about a too and we just have given up on talking about it because he doesn't believe it happened.
So everybody around this person knows that this event happened, that he had fathered a child out of wedlock, but then everybody, but the person who fathered the child out of wedlock. So this therapist was writing to me to say that once he heard me talk about confabulation, he said that he wondered now then if once this guy started having kids and interacting with kids and recognizing that kids are a lot of work and recognizing the importance of him showing up in his child's relationship in this child's life, that his brain could not deal with the fact that he had so dismissed this child, that he had fathered out of wedlock so long ago. And so he not only, he'd, confabulated the memory to this point where it did not exist. So when everybody around him is saying, don't you remember?
Or shouldn't you reach out to, or have you heard from this person? That he thinks they are insane. And the reason I mentioned that when I talk about confabulation is it just had me thinking of what that must feel like to this person. And I thought, man, imagine if somebody came up to me and said hey, how's how's the kid? Do you have much interaction with the kid that you had with your high school girlfriend, Betty, I'm making that name up because I did not have a high school girlfriend named Betty. But whatever happened, whatever happened to that kid. And if I just said, I honestly don't know what you're talking about. I don't even know Betty and I certainly didn't have a child with her.
And, imagine. What if you have confabulated that completely out of your memory? And then let's say that then somebody even shows you a picture of you and Betty, and there you are, and you're 18 and you actually still have hair and you look young and you're holding the kid, or maybe you're even like in the delivery room and it's an old Polaroid.
That if you have literally confabulated this out of your memory, now you can, I feel like you can understand why gaslighting can be so powerful to the emotional immature narcissist, because it could not have happened that way. And so that does not exist. And so now they can make you feel insane, I have no idea how you photoshopped that picture. Or that did not happen. You guys are all insane to the point where you do start to say. Okay, wait, do I not remember that? Right? This is literally a picture, but he does not seem to have any memory or recollection of this. It's, if that brain has confabulated to the point that there is zero chance that something didn't happen, it cannot have happened.
This is why I go so big on this example, I spent so much time on this because I go back to that concept of confronting the narcissist and I hope I've laid out so many things that are already an issue with the person then showing up in the room. But now most likely they have confabulated memory after memory after memory, because it can not be their fault.
So now the fact that you're dealing with all of these other precursors we've talked about, and then we confront the narcissist and that actually isn't what happened, then they probably can't even fathom what you're talking about, and now you brought a therapist in to confront me or you're having someone else do that.
And that just lets them even, they feel even more empowered that you are crazy. That you are just that they can't even believe that you are doing what you're doing. Because we go back to that they cannot be narcissist. They cannot be the person that's emotionally abusing their spouse or their family.
They cannot be the person who doesn't take ownership or accountability, that thing you're telling them that they need to take ownership or accountability of. That can't be them. And it harkens all the way back to that gaslighting as a childhood defense mechanism.
And why did they need a defense mechanism? Because they had unstable self-esteem they needed external validation. And the only validation they got as a kid was when they were the star student, the wonderful athlete, the person who could do amazing things. They did not have a secure attachment and they were not provided a place to be able to process intense emotion.
And let's face it, most of us don't want to sit with discomfort, but for the emotionally immature or narcissistic person, it's not even a possibility at this point for them to sit with discomfort, it has to be your fault. That's it, has to be. And, I deal with so many people that turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like pornography or sexual compulsions, and there's a high comorbidity or there's an association with the extreme narcissistic personality or traits emotional immaturity. And then impulsive behaviors, and impulsive behaviors happen because we turned to coping mechanisms and we don't want to feel negative emotion. And then if you confront the person about their unhealthy coping mechanism, be it turning to porn or gambling or food or their phones, well, yeah, it's because of you, you're the one that makes them do that. And again, that is the extreme emotional immaturity. And somebody not taking ownership of that. No, they are doing that. So it cannot be them. They can't sit with discomfort. It is your fault. And that is what their implicit memory is built on or what it feels like to be them. So put all these pieces together.
Vaknin then says, “These tenuous concocted fillers are the subject of frequent revision. That as the narcissist or emotionally immature individual, as their inner world and external circumstances are constantly evolving. So unlike somebody with self-awareness, they are constantly working from a place of such deep insecurity that it absolutely cannot be their fault because that would disrupt their intense internal narrative.”
If they are wrong, you will never love them, all or nothing. Black or white. And they must control that narrative in order to control the relationship. So they will either coerce someone into loving them or control somebody into loving them. But they cannot risk having somebody else have any control in that relationship.
Because if they lack control, then they feel like they will be taken advantage of, they feel like they will be destroyed. They feel like they will be abandoned and that they'll be seen through. So even though the right thing in that situation is to be open and to be emotionally vulnerable and it is not as scary as it feels, but it is to that narcissist. It is all or nothing. It is life or death. They can't even risk it. They can't risk it for a second.
Because of this different version of reality they're going to feel like it is all their fault and they cannot even come close to dealing with that. They have not been doing that work in that growth that you have been, because now you're saying, hey, I'm open to it. I understand. I'm trying to do the self confrontation. Here's the things I didn't know, here's these labels and terms and podcasts, and I'm even learning that I'm emotionally immature. We all are. And even when we want to say that, you just want to share these things because you're a kind individual, you're a good human being. And that's part of the reason why I made the big shift to talk about emotional immaturity from narcissism early on, because it's on the spectrum. But it also doesn't mean that when somebody is told that you are emotionally immature, that they don't still revert to that all or nothing behavior. Unfortunately again, tell that to the narcissist, because all they are hearing is you think they are bad. What do you do? I feel like one of the best things that you can do is continue to rely on raising your baseline, getting your PhD in gaslighting, get out of those unproductive conversations, set healthy boundaries, and continue to go back to the fact that you cannot provide them with the aha moment or the epiphany. Whether it's from you, by way of a therapist, by way of a good friend, or somebody that's close to them, they are not doing that work. And the crazy part is, as you pull away, as you pull back from the relationship, you're going to feel like you're doing the wrong thing. But this is where it happens to be the right thing. And that doesn't mean. And even our own minds go to all or nothing or black or white.
That when we feel like, well, if I have to pull away, then I have to be a jerk. No, you don't. You can still be your kind compassionate self, but you're not going to put up with the emotional maturity or the lack of accountability, or the gaslighting, and you're going to cause you're doing that work and when you step out of that role, that you have played as buffer or that role you have played as peacekeeper and you see other buttons be pushed, I hope that you can start to say, I am doing the right. I'm doing it right. Because the thing I've been doing, I've been doing over and over and over again, and it has not worked.
It can be scary now to trust some process that feels completely foreign. But that's because you didn't know what you didn't know. Then you know it, and you don't do it very often, and it feels scary. And eventually you do it more often than not, and you start to see some growth and change, and then eventually it just becomes who you are as a person.
And then by you stepping out of that role, that is going to change the dynamic of the relationship. And most likely the dynamic in your family, your family system, and that is the opportunity for others to step up or to self confront. And those around you, let's say your kids are those that are close to you, if they see you taking ownership and standing up for yourself and doing the work and not taking the bait and going back into these unhealthy unproductive conversations, a kid gets their sense of self through external validation. And so external validation. Meanwhile, they're watching, they're buffering, they're modeling. They're trying to read the room. They're trying to figure out are mom and dad okay? Why are they sad? I'm going to comfort one of them. I'm going to put my own emotions and feelings aside. But if they start to see you, mom or dad, start to do the things that you need to do to be the best version of yourself, then that also gives them the opportunity and it gives them the ability. It gives them permission to also start to do those same things. And that is how you change a dynamic in a family, in a family system, in a narcissistic family system. That's how you help that person, your kid, start to become the transformational figure that goes against the grain of the things that so many of us do, or we just follow the patterns that are taught to us as a kid. And then hopefully we do our own work as an adult. You're doing the work, you are, you're here, especially if you're still listening at this point. So I hope that gives a little more clarity of why we don't have that confrontation with the narcissist. .
If you have experiences, examples that you would like to share, please, by all means email me. I would love to have those. I'll read some of those as a follow-up and if you have questions, send them. There's a really cool opportunity that might be coming up soon. A big cool partnership where it might be all about just taking an opportunity once a week to do a separate podcast and just answer a bunch of questions. So send them, send those questions, share this episode. If you think that it will help somebody else.
I've been fascinated and just just, I love to hear that people have forwarded people episodes, and that's when the person has said, man, that is me. That is my situation. And I try not to be a big, hey, go review my stuff. But if you can rate and review and you happen to think that you have a positive review or rating of the podcast.
It really does get it in the algorithm so that other people will find it. And if you have been helped by finding out more information and data, there are people out there, and maybe you are one of them that are just, it takes them a while, but then they just type in the word narcissist into their podcast player and they're going to find the things that are suggested in the algorithm. So I would be honored if you would take the time to review and rate it wherever you listen to podcasts. And that's going to help other people get to the podcast so thanks so much for joining me today and I will see you next time on Waking Up to Narcissism.