Challenging The Narcissist

How to Find Pathways to Empathy

July/August 2013

Given their arrogance, condescension, and lack of empathy, narcissists are notoriously difficult clients. The key to working with them is being direct and transparent about the roiling emotions they trigger in us.

As the morning sun warms your kitchen, you put on coffee, feed the dog, and glance at your calendar for the day’s schedule. There he is: your 3 p.m. appointment. Your heart sinks, and you begin longing for a power outage in your office building today—anything to force you to cancel on this client, Mr. I’m-Right-and-Everyone-Else-Is-Wrong.

Although you consider yourself well trained and capable of handling the challenges of working with even your most depressed, anxious, and angry clients, this one reinforces your worst fear: maybe you aren’t cut out to do therapy after all. But what exactly makes this pompous, narcissistic puff-dragon so tough? Who gave him the power to trigger you like that?

One reason narcissistic clients are so hard to treat is that they’re adept at taking charge of a session and steering the conversation off course again and again, until you feel sorely tempted to give up and let them take the wheel. Richard, one of my clients, fit the classic profile. He often shifted into self-aggrandizing monologues on his latest brilliant investment, his newly purchased, one-of-a-kind this or that, his powerful business connections, his to-die-for wine collection. Whenever I hazarded an insight into his…

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Saturday, July 13, 2013 9:35:39 PM | posted by Ofer Peled
Great article. In a direct sturdy yet empathic way the author navigates us to the heart of the sensitive part of these people which is so hard to reach. When I read this article I could actually see the different sides of Richard and how to overcome the obstacles.

Sunday, July 14, 2013 12:10:31 AM | posted by Carolee Kallmann, MA, LPC, LCADC
Another helpful article by Wendy Behary, the master of treating narcissists! In addition to helping understand the underpinnings of the narcissist, Wendy offers very practical suggestions to therapists. like myself, who struggle regularly with narcissists.
Carolee Kallmann, MA, LPC, LCADC

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 10:59:49 PM | posted by Kathleen Kobberger
Excellent article. Helpfully insight into the underworld of this difficult pt.
And ways of effectively approaching these challenging behaviors.

Monday, July 22, 2013 12:21:16 PM | posted by William M. Zangwill, Ph.D.
Though I'm a relatively experienced therapist and have done significant work with narcissists, I found the comment on Richard's being "at risk for the postsession shame of having dropped his guard and exposed his vulnerability in the treatment room," and the need to address that risk, extremely helpful. Superb article.

Monday, May 4, 2015 12:45:30 PM | posted by Valerie
I loved this article. I'm married to a narc attempting therapy and I know exactly how he will be trying to manipulate the therapist also. Thank god people like you stick in there for them and their families.

Sunday, June 21, 2015 7:31:57 PM | posted by christopher mattox
Oh man. I wish I could find a therapist like Wendy. What do I do if I'm the Richard in this article? I have a six-year-old son that I love dearly and I don't want to be the narcissist that I am any longer. Not for a day longer. He's been away for two weeks and neither he nor his mother has called me once to tell me about all the things that they've been doing, the new little cousin that they've been visiting. Please let me know if there is anyone in the DC area like Wendy. Happy to do sessions by telephone as well. Thank you so much!

Monday, June 22, 2015 12:44:35 AM | posted by christopher mattox
Reading this article the second time: just curious: why is it: "There he is: your 3 p.m. appointment." the word "he" in italics. are all narcissists men?