It’s Narcissist Friday!
As you can tell by my responses to the comments, I believe that counseling can help those who have been abused by narcissists. I encourage people to find counselors and stick with counseling as long as it is helpful. However, there are some cautions I would like to share. I hope you will forgive how short and blunt this will be.
First, I know your pastor doesn’t charge, but that doesn’t mean he is the best counselor for you. I have counseled people for 35 years as a pastor. I think I have helped people. But I have been very aware of my limitations and the complications of pastoral counseling. Most pastors are poorly trained as counselors. They care and they can pray with you and they can listen, but counseling today is more than a pat on the back and a word of encouragement. I learned quickly to set a limit of a few sessions, depending on the situation, and keep a list of good professionals handy for recommendation.
I constantly hear what I consider horror stories about pastoral counseling. Some pastors refuse to involve law enforcement in child abuse cases. Some believe that every problem is a sin problem. Some will compromise their advice for the sake of the big givers or church leaders. Some actually believe the woman is always at fault. I wish it were otherwise and these were just “straw men,” but I know better. I even know pastors who have crossed moral lines with women they have counseled.
The pastoral position is a position of prayer and spiritual guidance. Go for that and ask for a reference to a professional who has the time and training you need.
And how do you find a good counselor? The truth is that counselors are like other professionals. Some excel in one area and some in others. I would be upfront in talking about narcissism just to see what the reaction is. If the counselor understands narcissism and is willing to believe you, then give it a try. Many psychologists and mental health therapists will put you off if you mention narcissism simply because they will assume you are unqualified to make such a diagnosis. Personally, I would do a little homework before I went and wouldn’t stay with a counselor who treated me like I was stupid. If the counselor asks why you would make such a statement about your person, be ready to make your case. That isn’t a bad thing. But, at the end of the session, the counselor should believe your account of what the narcissist has done and is doing, even if he/she doesn’t agree with the narcissism diagnosis.
Don’t be afraid to find a different counselor. If you want the help, find the person who can help. You are in charge. Get a clear picture from the counselor about what his or her goal will be. And, listen, if you ever feel that a counselor crosses a boundary, get out. Counselors sometimes take advantage of weakened clients. Not often, because there are serious professional repercussions, but it still happens. Be willing to move somewhere else, but don’t give up on counseling.
What should you want to be working on? How to set boundaries and enforce them. Why you are open to such manipulation. Why you can’t say no. These are straightforward things that will help a great deal. It may be that you need something more immediate, some type of PTSD counseling. Just make sure that you get to the other things. And don’t expect your counselor to tell you whether or not to leave the relationship. You have to decide that. If the counselor tells you what to do, get a different counselor. The most a professional counselor should do is help you find the way to the answer you need.
Now, you have noticed that I have not made a distinction between types of narcissistic abuse. You can work through parental narcissism, narcissistic marriage and intimate relationships, even friendships or job connections. If you feel burdened, confused, manipulated, out of control, or that you are going crazy—find some help.
Finally, should you bring your narcissist along? No! Narcissists center the sessions on themselves and are extremely persuasive. Many counselors are deceived by the narcissist. And, even when yours is not, the value of the session goes away because the whole thing will become about the narcissist. The narcissist has a problem and the problem will be you. I know that marriage counseling may require some joint sessions, but not instead of your private ones. And, again, if you feel that the counselor has become distracted or has stopped believing you, you should probably change counselors.
Counseling is something you do for yourself. You find the counselor and you make sure you are getting what you need. Don’t hesitate to ask the counselor why you are doing something. You wouldn’t take your car to the shop and just tell the mechanic to fix anything he wants. (Actually I knew someone who did this and was surprised at the things that were on the bill. Big mistake.) No, you go to the counselor with a specific need: to deal with the ongoing narcissistic relationship or with the aftermath of the relationship. You are in charge.
This would be a great opportunity for some of you to share your thoughts and concerns about counseling! I welcome your comments and questions.