Narcissism gets a bad rap these days. We need a certain amount of narcissism to survive and thrive in life and get our needs met but when that striving gets out of control it can potentially mean we start looking outside of ourselves for any evidence that we are loved, needed or even idealised.
So how does this happen? As you can imagine we have to look back to the way we were treated as infants and workout what the experience may have been like that created the way we relate to others now. Some children may have been given everything they needed straight away, all their parent’s attention on tap, whenever it’s cried out for. Other children may have had nothing at all – completely ignored and left to cry. So which child would you think turns out to be narcissistically wounded?
These are obviously two extreme examples but the research shows that both scenarios can lead to narcissistic disorders. In the first example, the child that never has it’s needs denied may find it harder in adult life to deal with reality, always unconsciously believing the world owes him something, always feeling hard done by rather than being able to self soothe and take the knocks of life and move on. The child becomes an adult, but the child inside is still expecting to be treated like royalty.
The second example of the child who gets no attention can also lead to narcissistic wounding. Children who are ignored have to find a way to survive in the world and so they go about proving they are are worth something. Usually these kind of narcissists rise to the top of their professions and find ways to have power over others, believing (unconsciously) that if they can reach the top then perhaps they will be loved.
It can be helpful to think about narcissism as a place on a spectrum when looking at ourselves and how we relate to others. If we are ready to look at these aspects of ourselves it can lead to a deepening relationship with the the people around us and ultimately help us develop true self-esteem and integrity.
In psychosynthesis psychotherapy we work with aspects of the self we call ‘sub-personalities’ which are masks or defensive parts of the psyche that develop to help us survive as we grow up. The process of therapy can help us meet these internal selves and step into a conscious relationship with them thereby becoming the directors of our own lives. When we meet the narcissistic aspects within us we realise narcissism is not the enemy, narcissism is invitation to love ourselves authentically.
People choose to come for couples counselling for a number of reasons. Sometimes they simply agree that their relationship could do with a ‘tune up’. Sometimes they attend because they are struggling and not getting on. Often differing attitudes to sex, money or raising children can create tension. If communication has been bad for a while, this can lead to one partner having an affair or wanting to give up and leave, believing that the relationship is beyond repair.
Couples counselling focusses on developing clear communication and being able to own one’s own feelings in the relationship. It’s easy to point fingers and blame your partner for the way you feel – ‘if you were like this, I’d be happier’ or ‘I wish you did things differently’ – but this kind of blaming gets us nowhere. When we start owning our feelings in a non-blaming way, the dialogue opens up and we start to see each-other’s point of view. It takes practice, but the results are transformational. Many couples find that having someone bear witness to their relationship in a non-judgemental, impartial way, can have a profound effect on their ability to air difficulties without fear of starting an argument.
Even if things have got to a point where the relationship problems have become intractable, couples’ counselling can be a loving way of ending a relationship. This allows both partners to learn important lessons from this relationship to take into the future, and to part ways with clarity and tenderness.
From a psychological point of view, something I’ve noticed is that we have a tendency to seek out in a partner the aspects and attributes we can’t fully accept in ourselves. For example, if we were told as children that being joyful and singing out loud were unacceptable, then most likely we would adapt our behaviour to suit our parents wishes. However, later on when we met our partner, the thing we were attracted to was their joyfulness and their ability to sing unashamedly out loud – this is because they are expressing a part of ourselves that was shut down and closed off. But once the relationship gets underway, these traits will start to annoy us because we still can’t fully acknowledge that being joyful is acceptable.
Because of this, relationships are an invaluable psychological mirror. The journey of a relationship, I believe, is to uncover the parts of ourselves and our partners that have remained hidden and unconscious. If we can learn to communicate and accept our vulnerabilities with love and humility, then we can grow together in an expansive and supportive way.
If you want to try couples’ counselling please do get in touch for a recommendation.
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