It isn’t easy to transform narcissists, mostly because, so often, they have insufficient motivations to change the old self-absorbed patterns with which they’re so familiar. Here, however, Richard valued his marriage enough—or was scared enough at the prospect of losing it—to do the work of beginning to look at himself in a new way, even if that meant giving up his accustomed sense of unquestioned superiority and entitlement.
Narcissists will rarely shed all their defenses, but therapy can enhance their awareness of what it’s like to be on the other side of a relationship with them. There are no shortcuts to helping them develop that awareness, but with persistence, skill, and commitment to holding them accountable for their actions and statements, it’s possible to help them recognize the consequences of their behavior and the validity of others’ feelings. It all begins with offering a moment-to-moment experience of relationship different from any they’ve ever had before. For the many narcissists who benefit from therapy, it can truly be said that their bond with their therapist, no matter how difficult and continuously tested it may have been over the course of treatment, is the most completely two-sided relationship that they’ve had in their lives.
Wendy Behary, L.C.S.W., founder and director of The Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey and of The New Jersey Institute for Schema Therapy, is president of the International Society of Schema Therapy. She’s the author of Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving & Thriving with the Self-Absorbed (2nd edition), available in July 2013. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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