Over the past year, I have had several people as clients who have recognized the problem of narcissism in themselves, which has led to challenges in their close relationships. With the permission of my clients, I will discuss here the features that I have found common in these cases and how the central problems of my clients have been treated in EMDR therapy.
In all the five cases discussed here, it has been the case that the person has sought treatment because a large part of their narcissism has been a strong inner vulnerability, the center of which has been a lack of ability to regulate the self, which in the person's past has often led to pomposity, but always also to vulnerability. All of these individuals have had very high expectations of themselves, harsh self-criticism and a tendency to feel strong negative emotions.
What was striking in the treatment was that each of my clients had experienced a strong internal conflict in their childhood as a result of mirroring the environment. Three of them had the experience of receiving both positive and negative feedback from their friends at school. One day they felt like they belonged and were accepted and the next day they felt bullied and rejected. For each of them, these experiences had produced a state of intense confusion and an inner conflict "am I good or bad?" Repeated experiences of acceptance and rejection caused them to be unable to put themselves in other people's shoes and understand why they were perceived the way they were. However, they internalized the negative feedback they received from others as a part of themselves, which led to the fall of the self-confidence that had been developing and to the fact that they no longer believed in their own worthiness. All of them closed down and stopped trusting other people as a result of these experiences. Being closed off led to not having to deal with the experience. It could compartmentalize, as if freezing its heart and isolating itself from all human interaction. In the case of two of my clients, it was the fact that this strong inner conflict had been caused by an adult, in one case the parents and in the other a teacher. The effect was the same: a strong internal conflict that caused problems of self-regulation and led to withdrawal, introversion, and a strong distrust of others and self-loathing.
Narcissism is about the psychology of experiencing the self and the problem of self-esteem regulation. Morbid narcissism has been described as a pathological dependence on a positive self-image. All of my clients here have desperately sought to feel positive about themselves and have felt very badly when they have failed to do so. Vulnerable narcissism includes disturbances in the regulation of the self and especially one's own emotional life, which manifest as a negative self-image, self-criticism, negative emotional experiences, sensitivity to interpersonal interactions, and social withdrawal. Vulnerable narcissists have been described as self-absorbed introverts with low self-esteem. It is natural for them to ruminate on negative emotions and withdraw from social relationships when they feel their self-image is threatened. All of my clients had threatened to abandon or had abandoned their partner numerous times as a result of this threat. Rejection was often associated with invalidating and undervaluing a partner or relationship in order to maintain and support one's self-image. The vulnerable side of narcissism has been a very heavy burden for all my clients and their loved ones.
In all my clients, narcissism was strongly associated with a desire to resort to numerous covert and unconcealed self-regulation strategies. Some used close relationships as a some kind of tool, which can be used to achieve self-esteem-enhancing experiences, for example through sex. All of my clients had or had had some addiction. Three had sex addiction, one had drug addiction and one had food addiction. Everyone said that the aftermath of addiction was always hellish self-loathing. Everyone said that it was easier to analyze the addiction than to face their own weakness on an emotional level. Addiction was easier to deal with.
Everyone's treatment progressed gradually in such a way that their own vulnerability and weakness were calmly and safely treated with the help of EMDR. It took time for a person to be able to endure and deal with the crushing and excruciating state of mind and body that was associated with this. One of my clients described well how hopeless the situation was: “You're the only one I trust because I pay you. I know that I will get security for a fee. I can't get it from anyone else for sure." In each case, feelings of shame, inferiority and guilt were at the center of the work. Almost always, the negative cognition of the target memory worked on in EMDR therapy was "I'm bad", "I'm unworthy" or "I'm worthless". For all my clients, the neutralization of target memories containing strong negative emotions and the related self-image correction led to a more realistic self-image, an increase in healthy and stable self-confidence, an increase in the sense of security, and a significant decrease in narcissistic behavior.