Can Narcissism Be Treated With EMDR Therapy?
What is Narcissism?
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
- Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should only associate with other special people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations).
- Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
- Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes
Two things are important to note here.
- Personality disorders must be pervasive and observed over a long period of time in a multitude of instances. They are considered to be permanent once diagnosed, a lifelong condition that cannot be treated fully.
- There are many subsets within this diagnosis. Not every narcissist presents as grandiose. Many actually present as chronic victims (malignant narcissism), do-gooders (communal narcissism) or even lacking self-esteem (covert narcissism). The common thread in all of the subsets is the lack of empathy for others, the entitlement, the exploitation of others to get their needs met, and the struggle with personal accountability.
Are these people doomed?
As a licensed therapist who has made a career of working with personality disorders, I strongly challenge the pervasiveness of personality disorders. Before placing a lifelong stamp on someone’s forehead, I would much prefer to explore their attachment wounds, traumas, and unaddressed pain and see if there is progress to be made. I have witnessed many, many people address their unhealthy coping skills and go on to be good, productive people in this world. After all, personality disorders are simply extreme personality features that have been built up for a long time in response to REAL hurt and trauma. Personality disorders also exist on a spectrum, with less severe to more severe cases. The characteristics that we observe in personality disorders (particularly narcissists) are unlikeable and hard to find empathy for, but if you can get past the facade and get them to be authentic with you, real healing can and does occur.
A note for the clinician
One point I will make about the clinician treating a narcissistic client is that they must be steadfast and grounded in their own self-esteem and awareness. The client is absolutely going to try to gain control of the room by questioning age, gender, religion, personal life, credentials, education, competence, etc. They will present as a victim of problems that they have created and will elicit you to co-sign this. They will also feel entitled to test boundaries and see if you will maintain them.
They are also not likely to seek out help on their own. To them, the problem is everyone else, and not them. They typically come into therapy due to some sort of crisis or life event. If you are able to build rapport through that and establish yourself as an expert in their defense mechanisms rather than letting them run the show, you’re well on your way.
It is also important for the clinician to thoroughly assess the extent of the narcissism. On the high end of the spectrum, narcissists genuinely lack all insight and empathy and are broaching sociopathy, which severely limits treatment outcomes. However, in my experience, most narcissistic personalities have at least some degree of cognitive empathy. Meaning, they may deflect, gaslight, blame shift, and triangulate, but they can at least intellectually understand why the other person is hurt and can articulate how they may be feeling.
So what causes Narcissism?
Specific to Narcissistic Personality Disorders, let’s examine what may be the root of some of these terrible behaviors. There are many ways to arrive here, but here are some common ways:
- They have a parent who is narcissistic and they were never taught empathy or compassion and had grandiosity and entitlement modeled for them from a very early developmental stage.
- They had a very unloving parent who shamed them when they made a mistake so they learned to never admit fault no matter the cost.
- They received love from a primary caretaker ONLY when they were achieving in sports, academics, or any other area that made their parent look good. The parent was otherwise uninterested in the child’s emotional development.
They were repeatedly told they were the best, the smartest, and the most beautiful, without also being held accountable when they did something wrong by their primary caregivers.
When we look more deeply at childhood experiences, you know what’s at the root of all of that? TRAUMA! In each and every one of these scenarios, the individual was not given a healthy, nurturing, and appropriate environment in which to grow up.
So can EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) work to heal these narcissistic behaviors? YES! So long as the client is willing to work collaboratively with the clinician to identify early disturbing memories and reprocess them using bilateral stimulation, those defense mechanisms will start to become unnecessary.
When you apply EMDR therapy to any of those original scars that produce Narcissism, it removes all of the circular talking they normally do and forces them to get in touch with deeper feelings that reside within their brain and their bodies. It is certainly not going to be a quick process, but it is absolutely possible and I’ve seen it myself many, many times.
Begin Working With An EMDR Therapist in Palm Beach County, FL
You can receive support in navigating the effects of narcissism and past trauma by contacting a caring therapist. Our team would be happy to offer support with overcoming past trauma from our Delray Beach, FL-based practice. You can start your therapy journey with Mangrove Therapy by following these simple steps:
- Contact Mangrove Therapy Group
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start receiving support for yourself and your loved ones
Other Services Offered with Mangrove Therapy
EMDR therapy isn’t the only service Mangrove Therapy offers. Our team knows that you may experience other mental health concerns which is why we are happy to offer therapy for trauma and PTSD/C-PTSD, substance use disorders, eating disorders, body image issues, anger management, anxiety, low self-esteem, and much more. Please feel free to learn more about how we can support you in the Delray Beach area and across the state. We also offer support with addictions such as process addictions, grief, and loss, “Failure to Launch” syndrome, CBT, and DBT. Feel free to learn more by visiting our blog or FAQ page to learn more today!