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The Neuroscience of Narcissism with Nate Christensen, APCC

Posted by tonyoverbay

Nate Christensen, APCC, joins Tony to discuss the neuroscience of narcissism. Nate references the article "Can neuroscience help to understand narcissism? A systematic review of an emerging field" from Personality Neuroscience https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/personality-neuroscience/article/can-neuroscience-help-to-understand-narcissism-a-systematic-review-of-an-emerging-field/B5CB5310003D08C578E3A8D78136E53B#

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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.

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Tony: Hey everybody, welcome to episode 25 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I'm your host, Tony
Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of the Virtual Couch podcast. And I
am very, very excited about today's topic, because today, I'm bringing on a good friend. If you're a
Virtual Couch listener at all, you have heard him four times on the Virtual Couch. His name is Nate
Christensen. He is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor, formerly known as an intern. So, he
is my associate and the way that it works in the world of therapy. But I am a licensed Marriage and
Family Therapist. If I went back to school and if I got my doctorate in psychology, then I would
become a clinical psychologist. And then there's also a psychiatrist. And a psychiatrist is actually a
medical doctor that goes to medical school and does rounds. And when I've talked with other
psychiatrists, they actually deliver babies, they spend time working with pediatric medicine, or they
go learn how the foot and ankle work, and they learn the gastrointestinal system. But they decide to
focus on mental health. And they can prescribe medications.
And I'm being a little bit light-hearted or joking here, the licensed marriage and family therapist, the
licensed clinical social worker, the licensed professional clinical counselor, Nate is an associate
Professional Clinical Counselor. I would say we're almost the bottom-ish of the food chain as far as
mental health professionals eat. We get our undergraduate degree or a bachelor's degree. We go
on, and we get a master's degree. And in mine was a master's degree in counseling. And then you
enter the field as, in my day, it was an intern; now they call them associates. And you have to get
3000 hours working under a clinical supervisor, somebody they can turn to, and they can help you
with information or maybe process cases that you're working on. And then, after you get the 3000
hours, then you take a couple of licensing exams depending on where your state is. And after taking
the licensing exams, then you are a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed clinical social
worker, a licensed professional clinical Counselor.
So, Nate is working on those 3000 hours. He and I have clinical supervision every week. And I've
had him on my podcast four times because he is just a fun person to talk to and has a wealth of
knowledge. He also helps me run my men's group, my Path Back recovery group, for people trying
to move away from turning to pornography as a coping mechanism. And we have a weekly group
meeting, and it's phenomenal. And my kind of go-to joke is that when I want someone to sound
smart and say really smart things about the brain in particular, then I will ask if Nate has anything.
And he always has something, and I love that.
So, today we are going to do quite a deep dive on the… we're going to talk about the brain and
narcissism. We're going to talk about neurobiology. We're going to talk about the latest research and
data, which I think will maybe help play into nature or nurture and what really does create those
narcissistic traits, tendencies, or full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. So, I think today is just
going to be a really, really fascinating listen for anyone that feels like they are waking up to their own
narcissism or waking up to the narcissism in a spouse or a parent or a child or anyone a co-worker.
Because you're going to hear just a lot of research in today's episode. And I almost feel like my job
today is his sidekick because I'm going to probably be ADD breaking into some of the things that
Nate's talking about and giving some real-life examples of what I see in my office. And then Nate is
going to have data to back that up. So, I can't wait to get to that.
And I do want to just read one email before we get there. The emails, I feel like the last week or 2, I
don't know if the podcast is really finding its place, but the amount of emails is increasing every day.
And they are brilliant and beautiful. And I see you, and I want to hear them. As I've mentioned in the
past, stay tuned, there are some big things coming, and there are. But it's almost as if the podcast's
growth is so wonderful that every time I'm about ready to pull the trigger on something new, we get
more information, or we have another idea. And so, I think that at some point, I just have to pull the
trigger on what this new exciting information will be. Because it's going to be a way to just hear
more. Hear more of the people's voices, hear more actual interviews with people, whether we have
to slightly change the voice a little bit, the names. There are a lot of people that are interested in
coming and telling their story. I'm hearing from more of the therapists that are out there working in
the fields if you’re therapist, and you are interested in talking about your story or talking about the
populations that you work with, or I'm even putting together a nice little group of therapists that we
can even do a little bit of a consultation, or we can help people find therapists in your area that that
know more about these emotional immaturity or narcissistic traits and tendencies.
So, we're creating something big. And I'm so grateful for those of you who are listening, those of you
who are sharing the episodes, and those of you who are sharing your stories. Again, they are being
heard, and they're going to make a difference. That episode last week where I shared a woman's
story, was phenomenal. And the amount of feedback there, every week, I get these emails to just
say that they wouldn't say that the things I would say make it feel like I'm in there, have a camera in
their room, or follow them around. But when we hear your stories, when people hear your stories,
people really feel listened to. And I could tell that last week as I shared the woman's experience
through email.
I got an email, I just grabbed one of the latest ones here, and it just said, “I've just started listening to
your podcast. And I just have to tell you, thank you. I thought for the longest time that I was the one
with the issues. And listening to you tell these stories and the data you've brought has opened my
eyes so much. I'm looking forward to your podcast on parenting with a narcissist boy.” We've got a
lot going there, a lot planning there. She said, “My ex used to and still sometimes tells me that I'm
the one that I'm being a martyr when he's the one that hurt me.” He stepped out of the marriage and
then would always say that it was because of her and her behavior that he had to, quote, ‘keep his
options open.’ Now, eventually, he did leave. But she said after listening, she said that “I've realized
that he still has this hold on me though we're not together,” and then he can use the kids for leverage
or to try to control her. That breaks my heart. And that's what we were going to start talking about
here in the upcoming episodes.
She said, “I'm currently listening to the podcast Death By a 1000 Cuts.” And she said, “I can totally
relate. The little things that have been said and done have hurt the most.” So, thank you, I'm going to
keep listening.” And I love this part, she said, “I'm going to become stronger, and I'm going to help
my kids through this.” And if that isn't just a strength, a voice of power, I don't know what it is.
So, I grabbed that one because I appreciate her saying that listening to the stories and the data has
opened her eyes so much. So, today, we're one big. We're going with stories, and we're going with
data. And all that is coming up. Let me bring on my good friend, Nate. And hope you enjoy this
episode.
Nate Christensen.
Nate: Tony Overbay.
Tony: I want to say, “Welcome to the Virtual Couch,” because you are the fourth time visitor. But
welcome to Waking Up to Narcissism.
Nate: Thank you. Happy to be here. Feels the same, though.
Tony: It does. Admittedly, we're in the same office, and Nate is here. I just gave you… and this is one
of the first times I recorded the intro before you came in. Because usually I'm saying it. I'm sure I
gave you a wonderful introduction, but I know I did.
Nate: Yeah, thank you.
Tony: Yeah. And it is interesting. One might assume that a lot of the… there's crossover. I think
there's a lot of crossover from Virtual Couch audience to Waking Up to Narcissism. But the Waking
Up to Narcissism audience, I can already tell by the demographics and the statistics that it's a whole
different audience. So, many people do not know who you are.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: And I billed you as an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor.
Nate: Yes.
Tony: I went through the concept of that, formerly known as an intern. I even talked about you need
to get 3000 hours, and I am your clinical supervisor. I feel like we can insert some jokes there. And
so, tell people about you, as much of your background as you want to share.
Nate: Okay, okay. So, because I'm an associate, a newer therapist, I got my master's degree in
counseling from Northwestern University in 2020 and graciously agreed to have me come in and
work under your supervision, which has been amazing. And I've learned a ton, and it's been just
super awesome. I guess my background in mental health starts with myself.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: So, when I was younger, I noticed something was a little off. Like, just I didn't feel right. And as
I aged, I did the usual things, but maybe on a slightly different level from other people. I was a lot
more introverted and reserved, and it didn't necessarily connect to people all that well in many
instances. And when I was 21, 22, I really had some problems. So, I saw a psychologist and then a
psychiatrist, and I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
And so, ever since then, I've been kind of managing those things. Then a few years ago, I was
diagnosed with ADHD. I also have a pretty lengthy addiction history, about 20 plus years.
So, those are all my personal experiences. And as I've learned how to deal with those, because I
don't really see them as things that you like cure, per se, but you manage, and it's a lifelong journey.
Through working with amazing therapists and clinicians, and doctors, I just felt like I really wanted to
be in this field. Because I was so grateful for what they did, I wanted to help people in that kind of
way. So, here I am.
Tony: And really, it's not just because you are (it sounds so funny to say) my associate, but you're
really good at what you do. And I feel like if… and I know this is the Waking Up to Narcissism
podcast, but you have your passion. You found things that really matter. Were you in finance or
insurance before?
Nate: Yeah, yeah. So, my undergraduate degree was in finance and risk management, and then it
was fine. And I loved the people I worked with, and I enjoyed what I did. But I think you've
communicated you kind of felt like he just wanted something more.
Tony: Yeah. And I think that's even we’ve got so much to get through today. But even people that
are going through or untangle themselves from a narcissistic trauma bond often say, “Okay, I don't
even know who I am or have lost my sense of self.” So, I do feel like although you and I weren't in
those situations, the narcissistic trauma bonds per se, but that concept of not really understanding
that there is hope out there when you find really your sense of self or value-based goals, and you
start taking action on them, that it can be a pretty amazing thing.
Nate: Yeah, it is interesting how you start to view yourself a little differently. So, for me, I've always
thought I was very introverted. And as I got healthy and my anxiety started to decrease and my
depression started to become much more manageable, I found that I was actually more… I'm not
going to say I'm extroverted, but I was more extroverted than I thought I was.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: These traits that when you're in your normal state… ‘normal’ isn’t… in your highest functioning
state.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: Like, some of these traits start to change within us.
Tony: And I'm just going to say this quick, and then we've got so much good stuff to dive into. But I
did an episode a few weeks ago, where I talked about normal, and the author called it normal,
healthy narcissism.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: And I think I've shared with you that I know that can sound like an oxymoron. So, I like to say
normal, healthy ego, and that is a realistic sense of positive self, regardless based on a person's
actual accomplishments. So, it's relatively stable because the person is assimilated into their
self-image, the successes that came as a result of their actual hard work to overcome real life
obstacles. So, because it's based on real achievements, normal, healthy, and I will insert ego, is
relatively impervious to the minor slights and setbacks we all experience as we go through life.
Normal, healthy ego causes us to care about ourselves, do things that are in our self-interest, and is
associated with genuine self-respect as something inside of us.
And so, I really feel like even as people are coming out of unhealthy relationships, that it is so
important that they know they have been through things and they've had to listen to podcasts,
they've had to listen to books, they've had to go to counseling to then truly know that, “No, I am not
crazy. I recognize gaslighting. I have this real sense of self.” And that is all to set up the pathological
defensive narcissism, which I feel like I absolutely connected with when I wasn't doing something
that was in alignment with my passion or goals. Pathological defensive narcissism, so it's a defense
against feelings of inferiority. So, the person dawns a mask of arrogance, superiority in an attempt to
convince the world that he or she is special. Inside, the person feels very insecure about their actual
self-worth. And the facade of superiority is so thin, it's like a helium balloon, 1 small pinprick will
deflate it. So, this makes the person hypersensitive to minor slights that somebody with a healthy
ego would not even notice. Instead, somebody with this type of defensive narcissism is easily
wounded, frequently takes any form of disagreement as serious criticism, and then will lash out and
devalue anyone they think is disagreeing with them. They're constantly on guard, trying to protect
their status. So, pathological narcissism can be thought of as a protective armor on the outside of
somebody. So, I don't know if that's a nice way to segue into some of the data that we're going to
talk about today.
Nate: Yeah, it is. And I'd like to point out, like, to me, and we've talked about attachment, I don't
know how much you've talked about that in this podcast.
Tony: No, that’s a great point. Please go find Nate's episode that we did talk about attachment on
the Virtual Couch, but we should probably have you back down the road to talk about that here. But
go ahead. Yeah.
Nate: So, to me, when I was doing research, and I was running into things like that, I was like, “Holy
cow, that sounds like such a disorganized attachment style.” Because on the one hand, you're very
avoidant of these emotions, and you're putting up such a facade to keep them at bay. But on the
other hand, you're very anxious. And anxiety is closely associated with aggression.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: So, it's a part of our brain called the amygdala. And our amygdala is like it does a lot of things,
but it seems to regulate fear and anxiety. And it's, again, closely associated with aggression. So, you
can see that disorganized swinging between like this grandiose, “I'm fine. Everything's great.” And
then when that's challenged back into the anxious, “Holy cow, what are you doing? I'm not going to
let you do this. And now I'm angry.” So, that was the first time that I really considered that. Because I
always recognized narcissism as grandiose.
Tony: Right. Yeah.
Nate: And avoidant. And now after reading some of these things, I'm starting to see a lot more
disorganized, where they'll shift, they'll swing between those 2 styles.
Tony: And I feel like I'm so beaming. I'm the proud dad who’s like, “Ladies and gentlemen, that is
why Nick Christensen is here.” Because that does make sense of that part with the amygdala, and
you've got that anxiety and aggression. And so, that it is wild when sometimes, and the people that
most of the people listening to this are in the midst of these waking up to narcissistic relationships,
with whether a spouse or parent or child or employer, and I have people that are starting to write that
are saying they're waking up to their own narcissism, which I so appreciate.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: And so, that's where I feel like being aware of that, trying to, at some point, you can almost
get to that empathy of seeing them as this insecure, anxious person that has unhealthy coping skills,
so they need to lash out because of that fear of taking ownership or accountability of their actions.
Okay. So, Nate, the thing that I've already built you up in the intro is talking about the neurobiology.
Nate: Yes.
Tony: And so, let's start with the brain.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: Bless its pink, squishy heart.
Nate: Yeah, yes. So, for anybody that's interested, I'll do the best I can to give synopsis of like
several journal articles. But if anybody just wants to look at something themselves, I found an
incredible article that I really thought I should share with the audience.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: It's called, ‘Can neuroscience help to understand narcissism? A systematic review of an
emerging field. And it's by (I'm going to probably butcher these names) Jauk and Kanske.
Tony: I'll put it in the show notes.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: Yeah, I'll do that.
Nate: It was published May 2021. They looked at dozens of articles that are studying narcissists.
And there was over 100 pages. It was a very large journal article. It was very in depth. And so, I
wouldn't say the book of this comes from this, but I pulled more from that than any other article. So, if
anybody wants to be able to like, “Okay, well, where did he get that?”
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: I’d checked that one out, because it was really, really well done.
Tony: Okay. No, I appreciate that.
Nate: So, we'll go ahead and give that to you guys. Now we're on to the neuroscience. Okay.
Tony: Okay. And then people that are listening, just hang in here if we get a little nerdy. Nate does
an amazing job of explaining things, and I know that there are times where something start to go
over my head, and then I will resort to my secondary emotion of humor.
Nate: Yes.
Tony: So, be prepared for that. But we've got a lot to cover.
Nate: So, I'm going to talk about 4 brain structures that are all important in this. And I will after that,
probably mostly refer to 2, because I do want to keep this simple. Like, this is not a neurology class,
since most of us don't have training in high-tech neurology.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: So, I don't want to lose people, as I just mentioned. So, the first area that we're going to talk
about that's really important when we look at MRI and fMRI brain scans of people with narcissistic
personality disorder, and those without…
Tony: And fMRI, or when they throw inject the dye and you're watching things real time, right?
Nate: There are these 4 areas that seem to be functioning a little bit differently within narcissists.
And the first is the insula. Now, specifically, it seems like the anterior insular cortex is affected, but I
just put insula generally, because there were other little things that that didn't fall under the anterior
insula.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, just what that does that pertains to what we're talking about, because each of these brain
regions do a lot of things, I'm not going to talk about everything they do, because some of it doesn't
necessarily pertain to what we're talking about. So, this is our disgust center. So, this regulates
disgust. And in human beings, disgust is full physical, and moral/social. So, I'll give you an example.
The insula is interesting, because if you decide you want to become say really neat and clean.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, you're always wearing nice clothes, and you're always done up really well and your car is
clean, and your house is clean. Your insula starts to now label everything as clean as good.
Tony: Ah.
Nate: And you can see now what the opposite of that is.
Tony: Wow.
Nate: Dirty is bad.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: And so, what we see is the insula is part of that like idea of good/bad, which is related to
disgust.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, we're like, “Oh, I feel good about myself. I look great. That person looks filthy, and it's
grossing to me out.”
Tony: So, this is interesting. So, if someone grew up (I'm trying to even think of an example, I don't
know) eating some meal, and to them, that was good, and to someone else…
Nate: That's the physical part of it.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: And the insula is very powerful. So, in one case, I think I was watching a video where a
woman was talking about the insula, a professor, and someone in the class had said… she asked if
anyone had ever had food poisoning, and someone raised their hand and she said, “Do you know
what it was?” and the person that, “I have no idea. But I know where it happened, and I've never
been back since. And that was a decade ago.”
Tony: Wow.
Nate: So, it's a really… it's meant to keep us alive. The physical part of it. If you get food poisoning,
you could die.
Tony: That's funny. I feel like anybody listening right now I'm immediately thinking of the Tony
Roma's in Anaheim across the street from Disneyland. That was a rough night with some ribs, and I
have not had any in 20 years.
Nate: Right. And that's exactly, that's a perfect example of the insula.
Tony: No offense, Tony Roma's.
Nate: I'm sure that the ribs are great 99.9% of the time.
Tony: That's right. It might have been I was [inaudible]
Nate: And it easily could have been something else, right? But that's how our brain works.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: Alright. So, that's our disgust center. It's also believed to be an important part of our ability to
feel empathy. So, empathy is our ability to look at someone else, connect with what emotion they're
feeling, and likewise mimic that emotion within ourselves. And then also, interoception. And I'll define
this word because…
Tony: It sounds like a great movie. I wouldn't see that.
Nate: Yeah, yeah. So, interoception is the ability to perceive sensations inside of our own body.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, like for someone that's feeling a lot of anxiety and they feel it in their gut or in their
shoulders or something, they can feel that sensation and understand what they're feeling. So, that's
interoception. So, the insula is a big part of one of the big problem areas with when you're dealing
with people with narcissistic personality disorder. The next is the cingulate cortex, particularly the
anterior cingulate cortex. Anterior just means like front.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, if someone's talking about the brain, anterior is front, posterior is back, and then it has like
side to side.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: Dorsal and ventral. Sorry, that's probably way more than we need to know. So, the anterior
cingulate cortex is particularly wired to help us with empathy. So, that's already a repeat, because
empathy we saw in insula. Impulse control, which you and I know.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: With ADHD, you see it with little kids. They're not even thinking, they're just like, “Get an urge,
action.”
Tony: I'm trying to bring myself to great awareness to not reach in my fridge while you're talking and
get a piece of candy, for real. This is interesting.
Nate: And then it's also connected with emotion, and also decision making.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: We can already see that there's some overlap there in the empathy area. So, there's also 2
frontal cortical regions. One is called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. And that area is executive
functioning, like working memory and selective attention.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, attention would be, “Okay, where are we going to focus what we're looking at, or what
we're doing, or what we're thinking about?” And then, interestingly enough, this area of the brain is
also highly associated with OCD.
Tony: Oh, wow.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, that brings us to our last area, the ventral medial prefrontal cortex. This area processes
risk and fear. It also is our moral and ethical decision making. So, our ideas of right and wrong are
determined and housed in this area. And then it's also the regulation of emotion. So, I really feel like
the important parts to all of this is attention, emotion, empathy.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, that's where we see like some overlap. And I think those are all really important to
conceptualize what is happening for narcissists in the brain.
Tony: Okay. Attention, emotion, and empathy.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, attention, emotions, and empathy, why does that matter with narcissists? So, the attention,
I'm going to put to the side, because we're going to get to that in a minute.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: But emotions, you probably talked a lot about.
Tony: Yes.
Nate: Like, these people are trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: They're fine with happy, cheerful.
Tony: Yeah. Or so if you say anything that goes against, even to say no, or even to question them,
then yeah, now you've… they go right to shame. And so, then that is not a good emotion. And now
they are going to lash out to protect their fragile egos.
Nate: Right. And ultimately, they don't have the skills. They have not developed the skills to deal with
emotions. So, they just put the wall up. And I don't know how to deal with that. So, now, this is an
interesting thing that I've been thinking about. And maybe you've already discussed it, like how the
integration of shadow could come into play with our inability to look at certain emotions that might be
truths about us that we don't want to accept.
Z
Tony: So, I haven't yet.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: But you just solidified another appearance on Waking Up to Narcissism.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: So, where I've typically gone with that is the that you look at the childhood abandonment, or
attachment. Or so then if someone was never modeled, how to deal with emotion. And that can even
be done, I was talking with someone earlier today even that I thought was interesting. Because we
even want to almost vilify the parents that created the narcissist. But it can be if someone just
dismisses or just jumps right past emotion, or, “Hey, don't even worry about it,” or, “It's okay,” or, “We
shouldn't really think about it that way,” you're dismissing being able to process emotion for your
kids.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: So, it's important to learn how to teach your kids to feel and emote. That's a normal part of
growing up.
Nate: Right. Yeah. Yeah, and I have a theory and we'll see whether or not it bears out, which is that
older people, older generations raise children to be a little bit more avoidant of emotion. And so,
maybe we might see more grandiose narcissist be older, and maybe some younger, narcissistic,
maybe might tend to be a little bit more vulnerable.
Tony: And I totally agree. And I will often call that… I just call that generational narcissism.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: Yeah, I like that. This will bring us to a really cool article that I found that was written. And let's
see, it was July 2020 out of Austria. And so, this journal article was looking at narcissism and
comparing it to cocaine addiction.
Tony: Wow.
Nate: Yeah, which is interesting. Now, our addiction circuits seem to be relatively stable.
Tony: Talk about that, because when you and I were talking about this earlier in the week, I had
never heard narcissism and addiction in the same sentence.
Nate: Okay. So, our addiction circuits do seem to be kind of a circuit, as it's almost like take one
addiction out, insert another one.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: And you see the same types of problems in most of the same brain regions.
Tony: I've often joke that my ultra-running happens to be a socially acceptable addiction. But when I
don't run for a day or 2, I'm shorter, fatter, bolder, a worse husband, father and therapist.
Nate: Right. Now, the interesting distinction with that is when you look at say something like cocaine,
which is going to drop an insane amount of dopamine, running, you're going to get your runner's
high. But the difference between those 2 is massive.
Tony: Yes.
Nate: So, what you're experiencing is a lot more of a healthy addictive experience, versus a
chemical, a very unhealthy chemical experience for people.
Tony: But when we've talked about even you and I run the men's group, which is we love doing. And
so, when you're talking about people that turn to things like pornography as a coping mechanism, so
then we're that dopamine bump fit, above running, but below cocaine in a sense?
Nate: That's a good question. So, the thing with that is that's conceptualizing dopamine as a 1-time
thing.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: And the thing with pornography is the dopamine can actually keep coming. So, that's why
pornography is attractive to people that are looking for a dopamine hit. Dopamine is anticipatory, so
it's like, “Oh, this is what's coming.” And so, it's trying to get you to keep doing this until it gets what it
wants, which is eventual orgasm. So, what you see is you're clicking on something, you’re like, “Oh,
this is really exciting.” But then you can click on something else, and the excitement goes back up.
So, you're getting dopamine hits over and over and over and over in a long period of time.
So, with cocaine, you might snort some cocaine, and then you get that big dopamine hit. It's
massive. And then eventually it comes down. And then you might do some more. But the time period
between those experiences could be much larger, versus sitting at a computer desk and clicking on
something, and then 5 minutes later clicking on something else.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: So, 2021 journal article out of Austria, they're looking at cocaine, cocaine addiction. And they
didn't say later in the article, you could put other things in there besides cocaine addiction, because
the addictive circuits, again, are take one addiction out, put another in.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, it's a similar pathway. But they just went with cocaine, because we have a lot of research
on it. And then when they look at narcissism, they're seeing similar brain regions that are affected.
Tony: Wow.
Nate: So, the insula, the cortex, some of the areas of the prefrontal cortex. Again, the insula and the
cingulate cortex, are kind of areas that I want to focus on today, because I don't want to overwhelm
people with too much information and lose everybody.
So, they're seeing similarities in the brain region that are affected by cocaine users and people that
are narcissists. And I mentioned this earlier, over 40% of people with narcissistic personality disorder
also have a diagnosed substance use disorder.
Tony: Which I had no idea. I had not heard that.
Nate: Yeah, it's pretty high.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: And I be curious about if there were behavior, addictive behaviors that some are engaging in.
It's harder sometimes to hide drug addiction from people. Behavior addiction sometimes can be a
little bit easier to hide. That's always the case.
Tony: But I think from the work that we both do, I think that is where the things like pornography, or
people that are stepping out and have an extramarital affairs, or we see a lot of that, and that can be
hidden.
Nate: Right.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: So, as far as how many people are narcissists that are also addicts, the number could be
much higher than that even.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: So, what the article also focused on besides those brain regions was serotonin. And there's
something interesting here. So, we know that cocaine addicts have reduced serotonin levels. That's
probably related to the fact that the dopamine is spiking massively, and dopamine and serotonin
have kind of an inverse relationship. Dopamine goes up, serotonin seems to go down. That’s what
we tend to see in the body.
So, what does that mean for the narcissist? Well, they don't necessarily have this massive dopamine
spike because they're not putting cocaine in their body. But they do have a cortisol spike,
interestingly enough.
Tony: So, back to that anxiety or that…
Nate: Right.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: Right. Now, cortisol does something interesting to our body. Cortisol actually causes, we have
these reuptake vacuums in between are nerve endings. So, if you were to take an antidepressant,
like say Zoloft, it's a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Basically, what it's doing is these little
vacuums that are sucking up serotonin in between our nerve endings are getting shut off. What
cortisol does, is it turns these little vacuums on high.
Tony: Oh.
Nate: So, it is like turning your vacuum on superpower, and it is pulling all the serotonin out of your
nerve endings. So, if you're low on serotonin, doctor gives you some medication, it's to kind of allow
the serotonin to just kind of hang out in between your nerve endings and that might help facilitate
communication between your nerves, which is believed to be helpful for people that are depressed.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: If you are a narcissist and you have levels of cortisol, your serotonin is being pulled out of your
nerve endings. And it could look like or function like you have low serotonin.
Tony: Which would?
Nate: Which would, serotonin is believed to be the principal neurotransmitter used in our ability to
empathize with others.
Tony: Whoa. Okay. I did not see that coming.
Nate: Yeah, twist.
Tony: Yeah. We’re like, “Dopamine gets all this stage time.”
Nate: Right.
Tony: Okay. So, then you're saying that even… so I was already locked into that when people are
taking an antidepressant. But you're just saying our normal levels of serotonin, which have to do with
empathy. And so, then if… and cortisol, in essence, then robs the brain of that serotonin. And what's
fascinating then, if you go back to the Bessel van der Kolk, the Body Keeps the Score.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: He says the neurons that wire together fire together, and talks about that there's that concept
where if somebody grew up in a home where there was a lot of violence or anger or elevated
speaking, that then their cortisol levels are going to form almost like this baseline high, which then
I'm having an aha moment where then… and again, we're just a couple of guys talking about this.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: We don't have lab coats on. I have no stethoscope. Because I'm feeling like I'm about to solve
all the world's problems with what you said. But then that would make even more sense of that, so if
that baseline cortisol is high from childhood, because whether it was emotional abuse or
abandonment.
Nate: Neglect.
Tony: Yeah, neglect, any of those things, anger, that then the kid is actually incredibly anxious,
because… and that goes even to when we talk about gaslighting as a childhood defense
mechanism. Because then if I am living in this survival state, and if I get something wrong, I'm going
to get beat.
Nate: Right.
Tony: Or I'm not going to get dinner, I'm going to get punished, then I will not be wrong.
Nate: Right.
Tony: I will gaslight like crazy. And so, then that anxiety, the cortisol is going to be, “Man that is wild,
man.”
Nate: Yeah, it is. And it's interesting kind of how have the evolution of the narcissist, there was one
particular study where they looked at like teen boys that are identified as high-end narcissists.
Tony: I would say every teenage boy is a narcissist.
Nate: Right. Yeah.
Tony: Come on, right?
Nate: Yeah. Well, as you can imagine, how much of a narcissist you have to be if you're identified as
being high in narcissism like more so than your peers.
Tony: Yes.
Nate: So, they have this competitive game, and it appears that they're playing with other people, but
the other people are actually just computer simulations.
Tony: Oh.
Nate: And so, what they found was when the boys are playing this game, the computer simulation at
one point starts to exclude them. So, the narcissist is now being excluded. And they know they're
being excluded, and I think it's by other people. So, it simulates a social kind of experiment. And
what they found was, the boys would lash out verbally. They were looking at their brain, and the
anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, and I failed to mention this as a really important part of this,
that is also our pain processing.
Tony: This is why talk about emotional pain and physical pain are right in the same spot, right?
Nate: Right, right. So, their pain processing center lights up. They get frustrated. They lash out at
who they think are other people, probably at a computer screen. And then they test their saliva, the
cortisol is through the roof.
Tony: Wow. Okay.
Nate: So, what we're going you can see in that kind of experience, that's an anxious like response.
And so, somewhere along the line, they stopped becoming anxious, they stopped responding in that
kind of way, and they shut off emotion.
Tony: And now we're in anger. No, not even.
Nate: No, they're not angry. The anxious person is angry.
Tony: Is angry.
Nate: Right.
Tony: So, what happens when all that emotion is shut off?
Nate: Well, that's where the narcissist really starts to develop this mask.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, “I'm not going to emotion. Emotion is pain.”
Tony: Ah.
Nate: “I don't like feeling angry and upset. And my cortisol…” people don't like feeling in fight or
flight. It's this uncomfortable bodily sensation. So, the insula, remember interoception?
Tony: Yes.
Nate: Okay. That interoception piece, they start ignoring it.
Tony: So, where the pain is, where the uncomfortableness is.
Nate: Right.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So now, their insula is not working as well as it could be. Because you're communicating to
your brain. This is what happens with addicts. We get conditioned to lie, to be self-centered, and to
do all these things in order to maintain our addiction.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: And that starts to turn things off in our brain that wants us to be honest and connect with
people. And so, now our brain, again, it's plastic behavior shapes, part of what we see in the brain.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: Neurons…
Tony: Wire together, fire together.
Nate: Right. So, now these neurons are not wired together and not firing together. So, there are
these parts of our brains that are not functioning as you would expect in someone that has actually
progressed and grown.
Tony: Wow. And then longer or the more that someone lives in that state or that is their go-to
behavior, then the good old brain like likes patterns, and it likes repetition, because it thinks it will use
less electrical activity. So, then it starts to say, “Oh, this is what we do.”
Nate: Right.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: And then that's that whole, our brain is a computer and has limited memory. And it just wants
to conserve as much as possible. Because at some point, a lion is going to chase you, and you
better be ready.
Tony: Yeah. Which again, I always say, I mean, it's a false premise. And that's where we think our
brain is so smart, but not so much.
Nate: No.
Tony: It is just simply a ‘don't get killed’ device.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: All of this is coming from a survival mechanism.
Nate: Right.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: Right.
Tony: Wow.
Nate: So, that really is, in essence, a lot to do with that 2021 narcissism study. And I want to get to
what they proposed at the end of the study, which I thought was fascinating.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, what would they say is, “Hey, look, if you look at all of these brain regions that are affected
by narcissism, and you compare it to the brain regions affected by addiction, particularly cocaine
addiction, is it out of bounds, or could we conceptualize narcissism as an addiction to self-esteem?”
Tony: Wow, okay. Talk about that.
Nate: When I read that, I thought that's very interesting. Because now, all of a sudden is someone
that is sober, but been an addict for a long time, that kind of puts you in the same category. They
have a behavior addiction. I had behavioral addictions and some substance addictions, but we're all
in the same boat at that point.
Tony: Oh, absolutely. And this is where I talk about… yeah. And when you frame it as emotional
immaturity as well, and every kid doesn't even know they have a sense of self. So, they need that
external validation to even… that's normal at the beginning. If I don't know who I am, then I'm going
to get my validation from others. So, if my parents are happy, then I'm awesome. If my parents are
sad, then I must be bad. And that's just the way that we show up. Until we realize that we aren't
being ourselves, and we then have to go find what really matters to us.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: I really am wowing and being blown away with this.
Nate: Okay. Well, I got more for you.
Tony: Okay, okay. Keep going.
Nate: Alright. So, I want to talk now about the salience network.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, we got 2 parts.
Tony: So, we got, what are the networks? We got Disney, ABC, NBC. The salient network, I'm a big
fan of their shows.
Nate: Yeah. So, we have the CEN.
Tony: Central executive network.
Nate: Exactly. Yeah. So, we have the central executive network.
Tony: And then the default mode network.
Nate: And the default mode network. Now, why do these matter? So, our salience network is a
switch.
Tony: Okay. When you were telling me this in our warm up conversations earlier in the week, this
switch concept blew my mind.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, the salience network is comprised of many parts of the brain. But can you guess 2 of the
very important parts of the salience network, which we've talked about?
Tony: Oh, the parts. The insula.
Nate: Uh-huh, the insula, and the cingulate cortex.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: Very important to the…
Tony: Salience network.
Nate: Yes, to the salience network. So, what does it do? What does that do? So, our default mode
network is our ability to look at your ourselves.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: And it's supposed to give us the opportunity to evaluate and to reflect and to do all these
things about, “What might I need to do to change or improve?”
Tony: It's in essence, accountability, taking ownership for things.
Nate: That's what it's supposed to be.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: That's what it's supposed to be.
Tony: That's your default mode network.
Nate: Right, right. So, then we have our central executive network.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: That is, basically if we want to pursue something, then that would be connected with that it.
This is probably an oversimplification, but it's basically internal/external.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, there seems to be a problem with the switch. The switch only goes one direction or the
other. You can't have both. That's just the way the brain works. The brain is very interesting, because
it's super complex, but in some ways, it's very, very simple. Our brain is an all or nothing, black or
white, like good or bad.
Tony: We talked about that, yeah, cognitive distortion.
Nate: Right.
Tony: We have a hard time with the gray or the ambiguity.
Nate: Right. The gray requires a lot more brainpower. So, our brain wants to make it simple and just
this or that.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: That's what a brain wants to do.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: So, in this sense, we have 1 network or the other, the interior or the exterior, okay? Problem,
the switch appears to be broken with people that are experiencing narcissism. They're always
switched to internal.
Tony: Okay. So, what does that mean?
Nate: You would expect for someone that is the network's operating the way it's supposed to, that
they would be able to be self-reflective and they'd be able to think about past experiences. And
there's a lot of potential positives. The problem is because of the narcissistic tendencies, where
they've cut off negative emotion, it becomes all positive about themselves. They can't stop thinking
about themselves.
Tony: You just nailed it. And I am now thinking of myself as I interrupt you, but I feel like in my own
waking up to my own narcissism, I have realized so many times where I will just cut into a story,
which I am literally doing now, because yeah, because I got a great point I can make right here.
Nate: Well, I was done, so you can.
Tony: I know. But I do this thing like if I'm talking with friends, all of a sudden, “Oh no, I've got a
better story.” And this is where that one up comes from. And even when I see it in sessions, I've
been talking about this quite a bit lately. The difference in let's say a normal or healthy couples
session, is they don't know what they don't know. And so, they're coming in and they're willing to
listen or hear tools. And to the narcissist, I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet in a couple of stuff, but I
now realize they aren't even listening to my tools. And they're, “Okay, when you're done, old man, let
me just tell you how bad she is. And when you hear this… because I'm special. You may not know
that yet. But so, my situation is so special, that you won't even need these tools.”
Nate: Right.
Tony: It makes so much sense.
Nate: Yeah. It's really an interesting way to conceptualize a brain that's in this defensive mode. It
doesn't need the tools, it has the tools. The tools are I ignore this. This person keeps bringing it to
me and that's not helping. Like, that’s not working.
Tony: In fact, I need to let them know that they don't even understand what they're doing.
Nate: Right.
Tony: I know what they're doing. And I hear that so often. And when the person, “He thinks that this
is what he really thinks. He thinks this is who he is. He thinks is what he believes.”
Nate: So, I gotta ask you, I don't know, if you've run across this, I was pretty fascinated when I found
it. So, interesting study is, if you take somebody's face and you enhance it, both directions, make it
uglier and more beautiful, most people will pick out a more beautiful version of their face and identify
as their actual face.
Tony: Oh, wow. Okay.
Nate: Okay. So, we all have a tendency to think better about ourselves than we actually are. Here's
the irony, okay? If you have other people rate people generally on attractiveness and intelligence,
narcissists by other people's measures score higher. They're more attractive and perceived as more
attractive and more intelligent than other people.
Tony: Why is that?
Nate: The belief is that narcissists put emphasis on the exterior.
Tony: Okay.
Nate: Because if they have to go on the inside and the inside matters, that's going to put them in a
place where they have to do self-evaluation, and they don't want to do that.
Tony: Boy, now and get back to that whole concept of shadow is that, if they let somebody in, then
they are so afraid that someone will find out that they are not… that goes back to that, that they are
not special.
Nate: Right.
Tony: That they're insecure. So, they project this confidence, which is… yeah, and that becomes
part of the love bombing, or whatever that looks like, shameless plug. And I thought you're going a
different direction with that, because the shameless plug is I was on a TV show called The Family
Rules.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: And I recorded it over the summer. And it just came out last weekend. I'm watching that, I look
horrible. I cannot believe that.
Nate: Camera adds 10 pounds or something.
Tony: Oh, it added about 25. So, does that mean that mean, I’m not a narcissist, Nate?
Nate: I mean, if you look at what the normal population does, people pick out like a better-looking
version of their face and say, “That's my face.”
Tony: Yeah. No, they definitely must have altered this because it looked horrible. Yeah. So, what I
think is so interesting, and I hope that people that are listening are having these similar aha
moments, where you… add things to start to resonate or make sense. And so, what…? Well, actually,
I think we have this on the outline. I was going to say, what does one do? Because I feel like I get
these ahas, and I think one of the most difficult things is then I want to now share this with the
narcissists of the world, so that they will then say, “Oh, man, okay, thank you.” But we just spoke to
the fact that they aren't hearing that, because…
Nate: Yeah. So, I have a theory, and I just happened to stumble across it yesterday. And I do know
that there are some people that treat narcissism this way. I actually looked it up, and turns out there
are clinicians that treat narcissism in this way. Is that what you're getting at? I want to make sure I
understand.
Tony: I am.
Nate: Okay.
Tony: And it's interesting, because even as a clinician who works with narcissists, who finally say,
“Fine, maybe I'm a narcissist,” I'm already becoming defensive of, in a loving way, of course, that
trying to treat them is almost them saying, “Okay, I can adapt to this mask of treatment.” And I think
that can be such a difficult thing.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: Versus what I call the unicorn breakthrough, where then you will have people that it does take
a lot of work to get to a place of more of an awareness.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: And even before we go here, because I think I know where we're going, talk about the
narcissist on a spectrum. When you were talking about that on Wednesday, that we often look at the
vulnerable narcissist, and it's almost like, “Well, at least they're not the grandiose narcissists.”
Nate: So, one of the papers that I looked at basically set the idea that a person is one or the other is
probably inaccurate. Probably the best way to conceptualize narcissism is that we're on this
spectrum that's fluid, and we're moving between grandiose and vulnerable. And they did
acknowledge that there did appear to be some people that were they almost always looked
grandiose.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: But they said based on what we know about narcissism, like they're getting these sensations,
these anxious sensations of cortisol is rising. So, their body's telling them, “Hey, there's a problem
here that they're ignoring.” And so, yeah, I guess that's more avoidant grandiose, but they know that
the signals are there. So, there is a vulnerable piece to everyone that's experienced this.
Tony: And why I appreciate that is because I do become fascinated. And sometimes I feel like I over
swing when someone will be in my office and they'll say, “But then…” and I'm just going to use the
guy is the narcissist in this scenario, “But then I really feel like he got that,” whatever that was. Then I
feel like there was a moment where, “No, this one, it was different.” And I used to regularly say,
“Okay, I hear you, but what's the angle?”
Nate: Right.
Tony: “Is that just the mask?” But I feel like what you're saying, or maybe what you've read is that, at
some point, there can be moments where when the stars align and somewhere on the spectrum,
where someone is going to tap into this, “Man, I don't like the way this feels.” And maybe I'm not
going to just lash out immediately, but then where we’re saying then that that may be fleeting?
Nate: Maybe. One of the hallmarks of narcissism, perhaps the hallmark of narcissism is a lack of
empathy. And that doesn't mean that they're incapable of empathy, it just means that you see it in
really small bits and pieces.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: And most of the time, they're in this other state where they're avoid emotion. I do feel like it's
important to point out something, I know we're running short on time, which is the idea of
alexithymia.
Tony: Oh, yes.
Nate: So, alexithymia, by definition, is the inability to recognize or describe one's emotions. People
with narcissism with NPD are very high in alexithymia, which for us, it's probably comparable to a
kid. Like, kids come in, they don't necessarily know how to identify emotions. They don’t necessarily
have the language for it. That's what you see in people that are high in narcissism.
And so, one of the theories is that narcissists can't even identify their own emotions, how are they
supposed to identify other people's emotions? So, the lack of empathy is not necessarily coming
from a place where they don't want to, but they may not even have the ability to.
Tony: And not even know that they don't.
Nate: Right.
Tony: So, it's fascinating you saying this. I'm working on the next round of the Magnetic Marriage
Course with my friend Preston. And we were looking at adding a module that has this concept of
global beliefs, and then personal beliefs, and the ideas that just having somebody go through, it's
almost like the first thing that comes in your mind, “Men are, women are, work is, kids are.” And the
thought is that if you have this global belief, if you if it's, “Men are jerks,” then you're probably going
into situations just looking for their jerkiness.
Nate: Well, that's the filter that all the information comes through, right?
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: You see a man, he does something, “Men are jerks.” I'm going to now apply meaning to what
just happened based on the idea that men are jerks.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: There's a whole spectrum of what this could mean, but it's got to be somewhere on the
negative side because of that filter.
Tony: Yeah, absolutely. And so, after Preston and I talked about this one day, it just hit me that I
really wondered what that looked like with emotional immaturity, or narcissistic traits or tendencies.
And so, I feel tested a little bit. And where it was interesting, where 1 person, let's just say I said,
“Men are…” and he said, “What's the context?” And I said, “Just what is your global belief around
that?” and he said, “But I need to know what are we talking about? Am I at work? Is my wife
around?” And I really felt like that was giving me my answer.
Nate: Interesting.
Tony: Yeah. And so, we tried a couple more and then he just said, “This is dumb.” And I really
thought, “Wow, I think there's something there,” it's, “Now I don't know which mask to put on. Got a
whole backpack full of them here. Help me out.”
Nate: So, I know. Although I have to admit when you said you asked him, “Men are…” and then
asked him to give a word, I was like, “I don't know what I would say.” My initial reaction was men.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: Men are men.
Tony: Okay. And that's what's funny. When Preston did that on me, I hesitated as well. And then
when I was thinking about this later, I thought, “Okay, there's my waking up to my narcissism.” But I
don't know.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: Because literally, on the Virtual Couch a little while ago, I did an episode on context that I
really enjoyed. But then I realized, though, I'm saying that context matters with regard to empathy.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: And I was talking about it from understanding someone else's situation.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: That if I don't understand what they've been through, their context is important.
Nate: Right.
Tony: So, then I realized, okay, that yeah, this one still is interesting.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: So, I think it's fair to have a pause. But then if you maybe, as Preston explained the exercise
to me, then I said, “Oh, okay, I'm in,” and then responded.
Nate: Yeah. And that's really interesting and can tell you a lot about people. But at the same time, I
feel like I've increased in my openness. And so, where I used to have very kind of solid categories
about things and people, I’ve started to shatter those exteriors. And so, now, I have a hard time
answering questions like that, because I feel uncomfortable stating that there are certain parameters
and that's just the truth.
Tony: Well, and I appreciate it, because I feel like here's 2 therapists talking about it too.
Nate: Right, right.
Tony: Because when we're looking at putting this into the course, it's to just see where someone is
coming from to then bring awareness, so that you can now, is that a productive belief or thought.
Nate: Right, right.
Tony: So, were you starting to talk as well about…?
Nate: Yeah, what can we do?
Tony: Yes.
Nate: Alright. So, if there's anybody listening that is, “Gee whiz, I'm a narcissist. I somehow screwed
my brain up,” which is not drank. The brain adapted to different circumstances.
Tony: Yeah, adapt. And I hope people understand that part. it is the brain is a ‘don't get killed’
device.
Nate: Right.
Tony: So, it's at any given moment, bless your brains heart, I thought I was doing the right thing.
Nate: Right. So, if you're sitting there feeling like, “I broke my brain, what can I do?” Yesterday, I just
happened just by chance to click on a video about some people that were doing brain scans on
Tibetan monks. And they were pointing out some things, which I just thought was fascinating. And
so, these neuroscientists said, “When you really dig into these brain scans, what you see is people
that meditate a lot have improved functioning in areas of the brain that are most closely related to
attention and emotion.”
And that's going to take us all the way back to the beginning, where attention in the narcissist is
always on self, almost always on self. Okay? Emotion, they can't handle. They just want it away, just
get away with… unless, if it's good, I'll take it.
Tony: Right.
Nate: Give me all the good you got. Like, negative, no way that doesn't belong anywhere near me.
Like they're like arachnophobia and it's a spider, and they run in the opposite direction. So, it doesn't
necessarily do with the empathy thing. I think the empathy is practiced and learned. But if they can't
even recognize their own emotions, then we can't expect empathy yet. But that's something that
people can learn.
So, if you're like, “Okay, well, this will help someone with their attention. And it will help someone
with their ability to control and monitor their emotions.” That's just answers 2 of the 3 big questions
right there. And you can literally get off of this podcast when we're done, go to YouTube, find a
guided meditation for 15 minutes, and sit down and start it. And here's going to be the key. Don't
think about yourself during that time. And they'll have… that's why it's guided.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: Kind of help you with that. You're not the worst person if you do it. I did it. You probably did it,
right?
Tony: I did. And I talked about that on here too, like the influence of it. And then what you're saying
is, in 1 session, and you will cure your narcissism. Is that what you're saying?
Nate: 15 minutes.
Tony: That is a joke highway.
Nate: I wish. I wish. Start that journey.
Tony: Start the journey. And then it's interesting, because shockingly, I want to make that about me.
Nate: It's about you.
Tony: I know, but…
Nate: The video was about you.
Tony: Oh, yeah.
Nate: Tibetan monk, he was bald, just like you.
Tony: Exactly. Thank you. Say, I just go to Tibet. But when you were sharing that with me before we
started recording, I really did. I almost got touched, because the mindfulness practice I started 7
years ago using the app Headspace has become such a part of me. And we've talked about it on the
Virtual Couch episode, that last one we talked about the Buddha brain, please go listen to that
episode. And it was amazing. But in that one, I realized, “Man, if I had not started that, I worry that I
would not have woken up to my own narcissism. And that would be noticing that would be a shame.”
Nate: I don't know if there's any way, even if… meditation was uncomfortable for me when you were
first started. Was it for you?
Tony: Oh, absolutely. It still is sometimes.
Nate: Okay. I thought, “This is nonsense.” I just don't see how this is going to help me.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: The brain science is I am dead wrong. The brain science is 100% behind meditation.
Tony: Yeah.
Nate: So, it will help it can change your life. It will take time.
Tony: I was about to say that's the thing that I was not… I thought I would have it down in a week.
I've been doing it for so long, and honestly, a few weeks ago, 2 or 3 weeks ago, I had a client
cancellation and I decided I would do a little bit of a meditation practice. And it was I only did a
5-minute one on headspace. But the guy, Andy, happened to say that he's saying, “Okay. now,
whatever the thoughts are, whatever they're telling you, just recognizing that note them.” And what
my thoughts were screaming was, “You know what? Actually, I have a lot of things to do. And I really
don't need to do this.” And it was such a battle in that moment. Because he's saying, “And then just
notice the thought and turn back to your breathing,” and I was saying, “Okay, but I really am good. I
really don't need to be doing this now.” But I hung in there, and it just felt so empowering to get
through that 5 minutes.
Nate: Yeah. It’s amazing. I love that.
Tony: Okay. So, neuroplasticity in the brain is our friend.
Nate: Yes, yes. So, the neuroplasticity is the idea that our brain can change over time, and areas
that maybe we weren't using, we can reconnect and start to use. And your brain is most plastic when
you're a little baby. You're never going to have that again, but you're not stuck where you're at.
Tony: But we are living proof of that, you and I. Nate Christensen, where can people find you, they
can find your Working Change podcast?
Nate: Yeah. My wife and I do a podcast called Working change. And it's small. We do it every other
month. She's a graduate student. She's actually dealt with some trauma dealing with a narcissist for
many years herself. So, this is very interesting to her. She's actually hoping to work with people that
have dealt with…
Tony: Which would be amazing.
Nate: Yeah. So, she's excited about that possibility. She will be doing actually practicum starting in
January.
Tony: Wow.
Nate: Yeah, it’s going fast.
Tony: That is. And then you are… you have room for some clients.
Nate: Yeah. So, I do both counseling for people in California, virtually and in person, as well as
coaching wherever people are from.
Tony: Yeah, yeah.
Nate: So, Nate Christensen counseling is my email address. And sometimes I think there's so many
ways that people can get that spelling wrong. It might be…
Tony: Just go through my… yeah, tonyoverbay.com. And if you want to reach out to Nate, feel free,
and we'll have you back on. So, if this led to a lot of questions, if people had them, please continue
to send those, send your stories. If you are someone that is listening to this, and I am getting more
and more of the emails of the people, men and women both who say, “This is hard to say, but I think
that I may have these narcissistic traits or tendencies,” that's where I just want it… I hope this
episode even resonated. And not from a, “Holy cow, I’m broken,” but from a, “This makes sense.”
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: And that is such a place to start. And I hope that it makes sense for the people that are
waking up to the narcissism in their relationships, even if it's allowing you to have… and I know it's
hard when there's a lot of emotional abuse or physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse. But
just, I'm not saying that this is, “So, there you go. Have more empathy,” but maybe this is a way to
help you disengage. Because I feel like whatever it can do to help you break from that trauma bond,
and maybe some of that is hearing the depth of which this is located in the brain.
Nate: Yeah.
Tony: And not from a, “That piece of garbage,” but that, “Okay, I cannot fix this by continuing to try
and show up in a different way.” And whatever that looks like, you are on the journey if you made it
this far and you're listening. So, Nate, thank you so much for joining me on Waking Up to narcissism.
Nate: Of course.
Tony: And we will have you back on soon.
Nate: Great.
Tony: Alright. Thanks a lot.

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