In my last post, I described the narcissistic habits commonly found within one of the partners in couples therapy. In this post, I will describe recommended ways to intervene, according to Susan Heitler, PhD.
A sign of emotional health is the ability to listen bilaterally. This means being able to hear your partner as well as yourself. As I described in my last post, narcissists are generally unable to listen to other people. Instead, they only listen to themselves. Compounding the problem, in order to adapt their partners do the opposite: they tend to listen to the narcissist and not themselves.
If you think about couples therapy, you will be able to see how this can create problems. Since we treat couples systemically, we need to be able to change both partners in the system. If the narcissist can’t hear their partner, it is going to be difficult if not impossible to get them to change. This is the goal for narcissistic clients. Likewise, the non-narcissistic partner is reinforcing the pattern by enabling the narcissist.
A sure sign of someone with a dismissive listening habit is the use of the word “but.” Narcissists do this all of the time. Rather than respond to their partner’s thought or concern, they will dismiss it by changing the focus of the conversation. An example:
Non-narcissistic partner: “I feel unloved by you when you don’t listen to me”
Narcissistic partner: “But you know I love you! Think of all the presents I buy for you.”
Did you hear the dismissal? Well, so did the non-narcissitic partner. They routinely feel dismissed.
Non-narcissistic partner: “It’s a beautiful day.”
Narcissistic partner: Instead of: “But I like it when it’s cloudy”, tell them to say: “Yes, it’s beautiful outside, and I like it when it’s cloudy.”
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,
Dr. Barbara LoFrisco
* Good Therapy teleconference, September 19, 2014 with Susan Heitler, PhD