210: Narcissism in Couples Therapy with Wendy Behary

Welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch! This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

In this episode, we’re talking narcissism in couples therapy with Wendy Behary. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots, and watch it on YouTube – follow and leave a 5-star review.

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The Couples Therapist Couch 210: Narcissism in Couples Therapy with Wendy Behary

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Learn more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new

In this episode, Shane talks with Wendy Behary about narcissism in couples therapy. Wendy is the Bestselling Author of “Disarming the Narcissist” and the Founder and Director of The Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey and The Schema Therapy Institutes of NJ-NYC and DC. Hear how she became interested in the study of narcissism, how to approach narcissism as a therapist, how to use Schema Therapy, whether it’s okay to interrupt your clients, and how to avoid getting triggered.

This episode covers everything from narcissism to Schema Therapy. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • Is it usually the person with narcissism who seeks help?
  • How did Wendy develop boundaries as a therapist?
  • What characteristics do narcissists typically have?
  • Is narcissism a form of protection?
  • What's an example of narcissism?
  • How important is leverage when it comes to narcissism?
  • What is Schema Therapy?
  • How often do people acknowledge they're a narcissist?

To learn more about Wendy and check out her book, visit:


Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below: 



 Show Notes


What is The Couples Therapist Couch?

This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Many of the episodes are interviews with leaders in the field of Relationships. The show is meant to help Therapists and Coaches learn how to help people to deepen their connection, but in the process it explores what is most needed for each of us to love, heal, and grow. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Find out more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Wendy Behary 0:00
As soon as you start to notice patterns, whether it's patterns of blame, or they're interrupting you constantly while you're speaking, or they're correcting you as the therapist on every little detail that isn't quite the way they said it or the way it sounded, he pointed out

Intro VO 0:20
Welcome to The Couples Therapist Couch, the podcast for couples therapists, marriage counselors, and relationship coaches to explore the practice of couples therapy, and now your host, Shane Birkel.

Shane Birkel 0:38
Everyone welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is Shane Birkel, and this is the podcast that's all about the practice of couples therapy. I'm really excited to share with you the episode that we have for today. It's another one that I took from the archives from a few years ago. And it's on a topic that is really popular right now, I would say about working with narcissism. And I was able to interview Wendy Behary, who specializes in narcissism and high conflict, couples therapy, and she wrote a book called disarming the narcissist. So definitely check that out. Also, just a quick word that I'm opening up 10 spots in the Couples Therapist Inner Circle, and you can find out more information about that by clicking the link below. Many of you have contacted me asking questions about that. I closed down the ability to join for a while and now I'm able to take on 10 new people. I'd really love to have you or discuss that with you. So definitely click the link in the show notes if you want to find out more about that. But without further introduction here is the interview with Wendy Behary. Hey, everyone. Welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is Shane Birkel. And today I'm speaking with Wendy Behary, author of the book, Disarming the Narcissist. Hi, Wendy, welcome to the show.

Wendy Behary 2:04
Hey, Shane. Thanks for having me.

Shane Birkel 2:06
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to talking to you about working with narcissists and their partners. But I'm first wondering, you tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Wendy Behary 2:15
I am the founder and director of the Cognitive Therapy Center and the Schema Therapy Institutes of New Jersey and New York City, and Washington DC now we've added a third, I am primarily a trainer, supervisor, and a psychotherapist and consultant in dealing with issues of narcissism. I've worked a lot with narcissistic men in particular, and I work with couples who are dealing with this issue in their relationships. I travel the world and teach therapists about how to work with narcissism, using schema therapy, which is a model founded by Dr. Jeffrey Young, who is my dear friend and my original mentor in this model, and co director of the institute. When I wrote this book, it was really inspired by the many people I was treating at the time who were really struggling with, you know, stay leave how to make sense out of this complex issue. And you know, what to do you know, in the midst of it had a sturdy oneself when dealing with the complexities of narcissism?

Shane Birkel 3:27
Is it usually the person with narcissism? Who is seeking help? Or is it usually someone else in their life,

Wendy Behary 3:35
it's rarely the person with narcissism who seeks help. I mean, it's not never they do occasionally walk into therapy, if they've been diagnosed with an illness, if they're anxious or panicked, or severely depressed, where they've lost their edge, and they can't quite function that might motivate them to come in. But even then, they're typically looking for a very quick fix. They come into therapy, because and this is the most usual scenario, the typical scenario is a partner has said, I've had it and get help or get out, get help, or we're done. And if that relationship still matters to the narcissist, then they'll come in, then the question becomes, you know, are you a sturdy enough therapist with a good, you know, reliable, effective model behind you to deal with someone like this to keep the leverage high enough meaning, you know, the consequences of leaving therapy prematurely, to deal with all of their antics and their difficult challenging button pushing behaviors? And is your approach really sound at working with this type of personality?

Shane Birkel 4:50
So were you finding more and more of these people who are coming into your practice or seeing similar issues with people you're working with? Or how did you begin to Make this a focus of yours. That's

Wendy Behary 5:02
a great question. And a lot of people think, is she a masochist, who would choose to specialize in working with narcissists, you know, the ones that can make us feel so small, so quickly make us feel so incompetent, it really wasn't a decision to specialize in narcissism, it really came out of, and I write a lot about this in my book, it came out of just facing them and finding myself suddenly very activated in a very triggered inside, like someone was pushing my hottest buttons. And I was reacting in ways that were only familiar to me from maybe when I was a little girl, but not familiar to me in my adult life, meaning, I felt myself shrinking and giving into unrealistic demands that were being made or apologizing when I hadn't done anything wrong, or letting them off the hook, you know, avoiding confrontation with with critical illness. Of course, that's not helpful. You know, that's, that's not going to help someone who has these issues to heal. But I was really curious about myself and my own reactions. And I was, you know, somewhat found it somewhat challenging. And so I was working at the time with Dr. Young, we were working on the development of an approach for dealing with personality disorders and schema therapy. And we started looking at narcissism. And could we modify and adapt our approach to be fitting for this very challenging population. And so it became incredibly exciting and rewarding, both from a personal point of view to sort of understanding myself and what was happening inside of me, and how to become more effective and, and really have a stronger core. And also how to deal with them and how to be effective and when you can, and when you can't, because, you know, they're they're tough, they're tough to work with.

Shane Birkel 6:56
Yeah, and I love that way. You're describing that I don't know the words you used exactly. But that strength within yourself as the therapist that's necessary. I imagine part of that would be good boundaries, as well. But what what would you say is really has been really helpful for you in developing that part of yourself as a therapist,

Wendy Behary 7:17
a couple of things. I mean, first of all, the more you can understand about narcissism, which is very dimensional and complicated, but interesting, too, and the more you can get it, like the etiology of it, how does it happen? How does it originate? How do narcissists develop these constructs are these ways of coping living in the world that become so terribly self sabotaging to them, in some cases, especially in their personal relationships, and in other places, you know, they become immensely successful, many of them are, that doesn't mean they don't fail and you know, end up squandering their money or throwing things away, because they do that too. But many of them are highly successful and well achieved, but really unsuccessful in their personal lives. So understanding narcissism, as I say, to other therapists, and even to the general public and to the donors that I'm working with, that the more you can get it, the more you liberate yourself from taking it personally. So that's part one. Part two is really understanding yourself well enough to know where am I at risk when I'm dealing with someone who can be so incredibly cynical, critical, avoidant, defiantly, detached from their emotional world, blaming, demanding, entitled, show offish, super charming, you know, where am I at right now, it's a big list, where am I at risk for getting triggered under this condition, because you may be amazing, an amazing therapist and every other walk of your life, and a pretty strong, steady person in your personal life. And then, you know, faced with a narcissist, you find yourself suddenly as if you're drifting through time, you know, and you're in a time warp space where you can feel maybe the older wounds we call those this, you know, the schemas getting activated these old emotional truths about self that were formed in our once upon a time, you know, we all have them, one has a perfect past or a perfect biological makeup. So, you know, we have to respect that our biology, our life, experience, the nature nurture issue, that it infringes upon our development, and we all have schemas, and if we're lucky, you know, they get modified over time, they get healed, but you come face to face with a narcissist and they can be reactivated in a moment's notice. And you'll find yourself slipping into you know, coping modes that aren't always so helpful. So, you know, when I'm working with them, therapists I'm often talking about, you've got to get your little self out of the room. If little Wendy's in the room trying to work with this, you know, very difficult, angry to be their volatile narcissist, she can only feel overwhelmed. And she's going to do it learn how to do and her once upon a time under stress, which is she'll probably self sacrifice, she'll probably subjugate herself, she'll just get in, what's she going to do? So we learn a lot about how to protect and secure our own vulnerable side of our personality, that little person inside of us and our narrative, and get that part, kind of out of the room out of the treatment room, so that we can show up with our wisdom and our healthy adaptive adult selves, you know, still feeling a little bit of the pinch of our vulnerability, because that's what informs us of what it's like for the partner who is living in relationship with this person, or the adult children or family members or co workers who have to put up with this person every day. So we're informed by our own experience, but we're not overwhelmed by it when we can be in our adult mode.

Shane Birkel 11:12
I love that. And would you say that you're looking at this other, this person you're working with, as a little, you know, that part of them if they're being defensive or protective or grandiose, that it's their little six year old, who's present in that room, and part of what you're helping them do is grow in maturity or in their mature adult cells to be more present in their mature adult cells? Yeah,

Wendy Behary 11:38
I mean, that's a really nice summary sheet, it's, it's how do we fortify and enhance the healthy adult within the client. So the narcissist, you know, when compared with other personality disorders, or personality types, let's say because they're not all full blown personality disorders. Many of these things happen along the spectrum or range. But the narcissist usually has a fair amount of healthy adult functioning, you know, they're more so than other types like those with borderline personality disorder. So what we but what they are lacking, so sorely is their capacity to be interpersonally, intimately effective, and, and connected in ways that are meaningful. So we're trying to get that healthy adult part of them to begin to embrace their own vulnerability, which is so chock full of shame, and insecurity, and in many cases, feeling flawed and defective for a number of reasons that we can get into. But there's a reason you know, there's a, it's not this is not to let them off the hook and just feel sorry for them. As a therapist, you know, I have great compassion for the suffering parts of my clients, including my big, burly narcissist, I have compassion for the parts of them that suffer, but I have to be able to confront the parts of them that are hurtful, that are an empathic or and remorseful for betrayals, or for lies, or for, you know, just being mean, critical, abusive. So those parts have to be held accountable. Those are typically the adult parts, the parts that have grown and evolved and, you know, these constructed modes, if you will, for coping, have become more dangerous or damaging. But I'm compassionate, as you pointed out to the six year old, who I know is alive and well behind the scenes of all of this presentation, which is why the mood is there to begin with. Something that was constructed a long time ago as a survival mechanism. And so I know there's a little person underneath who's feeling embarrassed or ashamed or hurt or left out, misunderstood, taken advantage of manipulated, and I want to get to that part, I need to get to that part, that's the heart and soul of schema therapy, which is to try to connect with the vulnerable side. And to begin to work to try to meet those unmet needs from long ago from early experience. So that they the the modes, these maladaptive coping modes that we see in narcissism begin to weaken and begin to evacuate.

Shane Birkel 14:20
Would you say that for the for this person to be very blaming and judging of others and even attacking or mean is sort of a protection because if they let go of that and turn inwards, then it's just that so full of that shame and criticism on themselves?

Wendy Behary 14:42
Yes, yeah. It's it's a it's a very early learned lesson for most narcissists, that, I mean, the ones that have this fragile underbelly, which is a good number of them, I believe. I mean, I think a lot of what we see when they're in their blustery mode, you No showing off or putting it down or acting like you know, the master the universe, or the mistress, because let's face it, there's divas out there as well. There's plenty of women who have these narcissistic traits and issues and personality disorders as well. But you know, when they're in that mode, it's like a mask, it's a hiding place, they don't even know it because they become so accustomed to shifting into those modes when they are triggered. And so the trigger is very fast and fleeting, and they're quickly moving into either slam the door or walk away, detach, seek out some kind of soothing stimulation to disconnect from their emotions, or they're in your face. You know, they're trying to distract you manipulate you, gaslight, you put you down, or charm you, and trick you, woo, you, it's all part of protection. It's not, you know, like psychopaths or sociopaths, where, you know, they get a lot of great pleasure out of just designing schemes that hurt people, narcissists will hurt you, for sure. But mostly, it's in the spirit of trying to protect themselves from this underlying insecurity, they were taught early on that they had to be extraordinary human beings, no matter what they're doing, that doesn't mean, you know, just attending maybe the best college or getting the best job, whatever they're doing. Even in the blue collar world, they were taught that they had to be, they were given unrealistic burdens as children. So they may have been taught that they had to be the surrogate for a parent who was, you know, alone when the other parent was traveling, that they had to really work to be that kind of trophy to meet a need for their parents. So they learned how to forfeit a lot of their own emotional needs. And so there's a lot of shame about being needy, there's shame about being picked up or being bullied if, if they were in many of them were shame about just having natural longings. And so, you know, instead of they don't give in easily because they have to be right, you know, if they're not, right, it's not, like say, you or if we make a mistake, or we say something that's not correct, and say, oh, you know, I said that incorrectly or No, I was wrong about that. The narcissist can't be wrong, because that means they're basically defective. It's like being dirt. You know, they're, they live in a very dichotomous world of either being great and superior or being nothing at all, you know, being at the level of dirt. Whereas, you know, non narcissistic people, you know, the normal neurotics out there, can you we can make mistakes, we can feel sorry for our something we may have done that's caused some pain to someone we care about, we can be empathic, we can be remorseful, very hard for narcissists to be accountable, to be able to give in to be able to admit a wrongfulness. I mean, they'll do it, but they'll often do it in the spirit of, you know, kind of humor, you know, okay, so I'm such an idiot, what do you want to do, like, put me in jail, they become cynical, and they become silly. And they get fed up very quickly with, you know, having to prove themselves worthy of trust, when they violate it, hard for them to walk in the shoes of someone who has been impacted by their behavior, because they don't even really walk in their own shoes. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 18:26
it sounds like so much of it is about that self protection. This is really helpful. But let's take a step back. Because I imagine it takes a while to get to this point of the work with them. But let's maybe mention a specific example, if you can think of something.

Wendy Behary 18:45
For me, what often happens is I might start by hearing from a partner, and partner will contact me either by phone or they'll come in and meet with me. And talk to me to get a sense of, you know, I obviously can't make a diagnosis until I meet the alleged narcissistic partner, but I can listen in form impressions and give them some feedback about what it sounds like they're up against. And then I invite them to try to bring the partner in or send the partner into me for a consultation. And this is where we have to assess whether or not there is any leverage. Because again, if you're listening to this, and you're a therapist who's working with someone with narcissism issues, or a couple, where one of them has issues of narcissism, and you don't have any leverage, you're not going to have any treatment. So not only is it critical for us to be sturdy in our skin, but it is incredibly critical that you have some leverage because they don't want to come to therapy. I mean, they may sit in therapy just to tick the box because then they can say they went to therapy, get off my back to their partner, but most of them will not really engage the therapy. consistent enough for the long haul, if you don't have any leverage, so I work with partners to figure out, Is there any leverage? In other words, are you at a point where you could if you're not ready to leave, they're ready to leave. If they say to me, Look, I'm willing to give this a try. But I, my foot is practically out the door. And I say, Okay, so let's work on a way that you can present that that doesn't sound a so threatening that it just turns into another ugly conflict, one of 5000 You've had already. Or B, if you're not there yet, with your feet out the door, and you're really wanting this to work. Let's again craft the language. And either way, it may sound something like you know, with truth built in, and we want to be able to help partners tell the truth. So finding language like I'm so sad, because I see this, you know, I see us not really able to meet each other's needs. And there's a lot of wheat in here, which sometimes partners resent. But again, the universal use of the week can be very effective at at least bringing the narcissist into the treatment room. Again, they don't get defensive, mitigates a lot of the issues of shame and blame, and that whole conflict that can ensue. So saying, you know, we're not meeting each other's needs, we've been in a lot of conflict. And you can say I, I am very sad, because I wanted to grow old with you, I thought we'd be together forever. And now I'm not seeing that as I look down the path. So if you're not ready to say, you know, I'm really done, you got to get help, I can't do this anymore, I'm not willing to, which is one version. But if you're not there yet, you can say as I look down the path, I'm sad, because I do see us ultimately, if we stay at this pace, we're going to be going our separate ways. And that's just really a shame in terms of our family and our life together and all that we've invested. So, you know, it's testing the leverage to see if there's enough of a meaningful consequence, that's what led the leverage is right, that they might be willing to at least come in for a consultation. So I might be meeting with them with the partner, or I might just be meeting with them alone, or the initial meeting. And it's really in Schema Therapy, because our posture, as a therapist, and schema therapy is very much about being a real person, it's taking off your therapist cap, because we have all of our wisdom inside. So we don't have to play the therapist, we can just be ourselves, and especially with narcissists, who are so mistrustful and expect to be manipulated, and expect us to say things that quote unquote, sound like a therapist, we need to be real. It's one of the ways you immediately start to break the barriers, forge a bond, and he'll a trust issue. And you can do that within the first five to 10 minutes that you're sitting down. Because if you're noticing, and you will notice that either they are super complimentary in a way that feels uncomfortable, or they are cynical, and you know, I don't know what I'm doing here. You know, my wife is she's so hormonal. And you know, she's so crazy. And you should, you should let me give you the laundry list of things that she doesn't do or who does she thinks she is or her life is so good. And she's just not appreciative of anything that I do. And I do everything. Let me tell you see if get that or you'll they're talking about the the morons, they work with at work. And as soon as you start to notice patterns, whether it's patterns of blame, or they're interrupting you constantly while you're speaking, or they're correcting you as the therapist on every little detail that isn't quite the way they said it or the way it sounded. He pointed out, so I'm pointing out right away, that you know, it's interesting, as I'm trying to get to know you, Joe, it's kind of my go to name. So I'll just use Joe. You know, as I'm trying to get to know you, it's interesting that it's been at least two or three times now even in this first 10 minutes, where as I'm speaking, you have this tendency to just kind of cut me off mid sentence. So I'm not being critical of you. I'm just curious, is it Are you feeling anxious or is this a pattern or is it hard for you to listen without cutting in? I'm just trying to understand if that's a pattern or if it's just something that's happening right here between us. So you begin right away to explore and look for patterns that might be linked with their sense of entitlement or their their feelings of fear and upset and threat when it comes to exploring their emotional altar, having that spotlight placed upon them in a therapeutic setting.

Shane Birkel 25:03
I love that and you're using your relationship and interaction with them in the moment to help explore that

Wendy Behary 25:11
with them. Yeah, exactly the therapy relationship. In schema therapy, as in some other therapies, the therapy relationship is really essential, it's an essential, it's a strategy unto itself. So your relationship with the narcissist in the treatment room is very much. And if you're working with a couple to, as I often say to them, this is like a microcosm, this is my laboratory, this is a smaller version of the world outside this relationship between you and me, and how you interact with each other in front of me how you interact with me in the context of this work, it tells me something about your interactions in the world, outside with each other and with others. And so I'm going to be very real, very blunt, very open with you, when I start to feel and experience something that might be reflective of what's getting generated in the outside world. And when I'm working one to one with a narcissist who's, you know, come in because their relationship is falling apart. And I do a lot of intermittent couples work when I'm working with the narcissist, let's say, they are my primary client, but I bring partners in intermittently, just to gather some truths to observe to watch the interactions, to see what the partner might be contributing to the conflict, which might just be that they're keeping their guard up so high that none of the, the changes or transformations that are happening, are able to break through, you know, that barrier. So I'm assessing for that along the way. You know, when I'm working face to face with a narcissist, you need, you really need to reinforce your policies right from the top. So right from the beginning, as with most clients, but especially with these types, you know, you reinforce your lateness policy, your payments, follow, say your your missed session policy, you're the idea of respect and reciprocity and your office is a safe place. And I have a rule that I tell them, it's completely unfair that I get interrupted, they don't. They can interrupt if they feel unsafe. But other than that, only I get to interrupt. And part of that is because you're paying me to facilitate a session that's going to ultimately bring about change. And if I allow you to just keep going on and on doing what you do at your kitchen table, alone or with each other, you know, or, you know, if they're if they're alone with me, I'm referring to what they're doing at home, they're with me together and referring to what they do together. So I certainly want to get a flavor of what it's like to be in an interaction with each other. But I also want you to allow me to help you. So I know it sounds unfair. But again, the perils of therapy are such that if I just sit back while you go on and on blaming your partner, the two of you go on and on, in the conflict of ways you have, you're going to look at me very soon and say therapy doesn't work. And I'm going to say, well, you know, we haven't had therapy yet. But if you don't come to therapy, you know, the Narcissus to avoid and they cancel, and they always have something more important or something that happened. And I'll say, you know, you have to come to sessions, the consistency, the continuity, the connection between us is really critical to seeing if we can do some work. So you know, four months from now, if you've missed many sessions, you're going to say therapy doesn't work. And I'm going to say you haven't been in therapy. So let's, you know, let's have a contract, let's have an agreement and understanding whatever you want to call it, that there will be continuity, consistency, respect, reciprocity, you know, you you reinforce your guidelines, and then you do your best to try to stay on that high road when they violate them, because you've got to reinforce them. Yeah.

Shane Birkel 29:09
Yeah, that's really interesting, and makes so much sense about, you know, just talking about the office policies and the payments and the plan, having really good boundaries around that. Because I imagine what happens for these people is that their partner or the people closest to them in their life and up tiptoeing around them, afraid that they're either going to shut down, or that they're going to blow up and, you know, and so we as the therapists, if we're not as well trained, or as well prepared, as you're talking about, could fall right into exactly how everyone else treats. Exactly.

Wendy Behary 29:50
And that's exactly my point. That and to go just one step further. It's not a punishment, right? It's really helping the nurse This is to learn about frustration, tolerance, being uncomfortable, it's a need, right, we all have that need, it's through growing and developing, we need our caregivers, to teach us to help us to learn how to live in the world to prepare us for the world as we grow. So part of that preparation includes learning how to deal with frustration, how to be uncomfortable, how to understand limits, and boundaries, how to know when enough is enough. And no, you can't say that to someone because it hurts their feelings, you know, they're so lacking in that kind of preparation. So we call it one of the unmet needs, you know, the needs for limits and respect and reciprocity. And so even more so than perhaps with other clients, I'm going to be a little bit more firm, a little less flexible on that boundary, because it's part of a need, it's actually part of healing. So and I say that, I mean, we're very transparent about that, I will say, Joe, look, you know, I wish I could offer you some extra time, I actually can't offer you the extra time tonight, you were late. It's your responsibility to be here on time, the fact that you couldn't be, I'm not blaming you, I'm just saying it's your responsibility to make that happen. If you can't, you can't, but it doesn't mean you automatically get extra time or you get a fee reduction, because then it's not respecting my rights. And I have rights too. And my other clients who are, you know, lined up to come in behind you. So, you know, and I know you're used to, you know, you're used to being able to ask for things and get them or make demands and have people give in, you were taught this when you were very young. So again, this is not your fault. But this is part of your healing. And it doesn't feel good, I know it. But it is the thing that's going to help you to get better in your relationships with the people that matter to you. I

Shane Birkel 32:01
can see how important the leverage would be in these kinds of situations. I keep thinking about that, in my mind. As soon as as soon as they start sliding into some sort of challenging communication pattern. Is that Is that what you would go back to like, I'm trying to help you figure out how to make this work with your wife, because you told me that was really important to you. And if you want to learn these new skills, I have a lot to offer you something I don't know something?

Wendy Behary 32:28
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, again, it confidence. So part of being a sturdy therapist is being confident in what you have to offer narcissists will do their homework, they're gonna read about you, they're gonna read about your therapeutic approach. They're gonna come in, you know, sometimes not all of them, some of them are more covert, but the ones that are more overt, they'll come in with guns blazing, and they're going to have a lot of information already. So you're good, you can help me you can help me? And my answer is, yeah, I can help you. And if not, I can help you if you put the work in, you know, dispense with some of that typical language that it's not necessary. You don't want to set it up for conflict. Just tell the truth. Yes, I can help you. Yes. I mean, I'm good at what I do. Yeah, I am, you know, so what's your success rate? Well, depends on what you call success. But I, I define success, as you know, you're going to have less triggers that force you to go into these coping modes that are harmful to your marriage, to your relationship with your children, you're going to be less intense when you get triggered, and you're going to recuperate more quickly. So, you know, in schema therapy, we say, you know, we have a memory, you're not going to forget what you learned when you were little, you're not going to forget it, but we can weaken the hole that it has under certain conditions, like relationships. And so therefore, even though we'll, we're all susceptible to being triggered, it doesn't have to be as frequent doesn't have to be as intense and our recuperation can be quicker and I tell this to couples, always as part of a goal you know, this is a goal this is a measurable goal. Are you getting triggered as frequently are the triggers as intense emotionally sensationally? You know, your thoughts, your beliefs, your body, are you able to recuperate more quickly when it happens? Are you able to recognize when you bypassed a situation where the two of you might get into it, where she we seem to be able to rise above it. So we're looking for ways to weaken these modes that are so modes meaning, the ways in which we cope, nurses go into these bullying modes, partners will sometimes go into these self sacrificing modes where they just give in or they just detach, or sometimes they fight back. But they do it in ways that become counter attacking and defensive as opposed to You know, setting limits and boundaries in a firm way. And so we're looking at, you know, modes, how do we weaken them? Will we weaken them by meeting the needs that haven't been met by shifting the belief patterns that have formed in ways that are so biased? Based on the emotional experience? And how and how do we do that? Well, we have to go deeper, we have to go deeper, we have to look back at, you know, the land of once upon a time, something that, you know, narcissists don't want to do. But we have to persist it getting them to see the value and their partners at seeing the value of looking back and recognizing that so much of their response patterns in today's world are based on that which they designed without realizing it when they were very young and trying to survive.

Shane Birkel 35:51
And would you look at the triggers you were just talking about as being sort of the entry points into where there's something about a deeper childhood thing that could be explored at that time? Yes,

Wendy Behary 36:04
yeah. When you know, especially, and it's not that difficult to find great little moments to launch these strategies to go deeper. I mean, there's so much to say about how the model works, which we don't have time for, but just kind of a quick, abbreviated fashion, you know, if Joe is suddenly getting going from, you know, what seems like a kind of neutral, maybe even a little dipping into sadness, as he's telling me a story. And then suddenly, he sits up, right, and he starts to become, you know, critical. And he starts to complain about the sound of the ceiling fan or something that distracts him. It's not uncommon for me to say what just happened? You were you were sharing something with me. And actually, I was feeling it resonate, because you were, your guard wasn't up, you know, that part of you that shows up sometimes and walls off your emotions. And I liked that part of you, but it shut down again. And what just happened? Can you feel it? Can you sense it? And he says, Well, you know, I mean, I don't see the point. And it's just, this is just a bunch of nonsense. And you know, who needs to feel these things? I mean, I don't need to be weakened when I need to be strong, you know, in order to generate an income and be the person I need to be at work. And they go on a tangent about that. And I cut them off. And I'll say, no, no, no, no, no, no, this isn't about work. This isn't about your role as a, as a manager. This is about your relationships about relating to another human. And in this case, it's me, but in the world outside, it's it's your partner who you tell me you love and you don't want to lose. So there, I'm reminding them of the leverage, right? But I'm also saying, can you just go back and that moment where it shifted, you know, where it felt like, you were sharing something with me that was poignant. And I'll remind them, maybe, you know, there are nothing I could do to please my dad, it was never good enough for him. No matter how hard I worked, I'll remind him and say, go back to that statement for a moment and see if you can just drop into that feeling again, with me, I promise you, I promise you, there's a point to this, I promise you, that we will figure out together and make sense out of why you need that guard. You know why you have to put that wall up why you have to command that soldier, whatever language you want to use, we try to use, you know, language that sounds more customized and personal to the individual. And this is an entry point, as you were saying, Shane, for dropping into maybe some imagery work where we imagine that little child who feels stranded and alone. And we begin what we call in schema therapy, this adaptive limited re parenting work where I'm actually acting in conjunction with his healthy adult to reparent. Know, to recast the messages and the scripts that were given. So that although we can't change history, we can't change what happened. We can change the way it's been organized in the memory in because part of the problem is, you know, when Joe says, well, but my dad did say, I would never amount to anything. I said, Yeah, he did. And that's really painful. But that doesn't mean he was right. The problem is bad enough that he said it. But the real problem in your world today isn't that he said it but that you believed it. And you were little you had no choice. So we have to unlearn that. We have to get to a point we have to be able to imagine use the power of the imagination, to help you to experience that part of yourself as being able to see this as just not true. So we have to come to the rescue of this child and really give him comfort and true messages, despite the ones that he heard from his dad. So that's just a little window into some of the experiential work that we do. Because the more the need gets met, the less they need to be bullying people, the less they need to be defending, the less they need to be attacking. It's not easy to get them there, but it is necessary.

Shane Birkel 40:29
Yeah, and like you said, we could probably have a whole nother episode talking about that. But it's so empowering to think about it in that way, that in the mindset of some of the people we work with there, it's like if my wife would just do this, and I'd be happy if my boss would just treat me this way, then I'd be fine. If on and on. And on everyone else, blame judgment, whatever? Well, you're talking about is taking responsibility for yourself that you don't need anybody to do anything you need to take care of those hurt the good parts for yourself. And you can, yes, you're talking about?

Wendy Behary 41:11
Yes, exactly. And the same work is done. For those listening who are working with couples, you know, the same would be done with the partner, you know, the same work to sort of dive back and look for that more, that vulnerable part, you know, who may have gotten a message about, you know, sacrificing oneself in two extremes, you know, not in kind of the normal ways that we sacrifice more flexible, but two extremes, you know, to the detriment of getting his or her needs met to being deprived. Fear of abandonment, I mean, we look to see there's 18, early, maladaptive schemas. So we're trying to see how these schemas, this is always the fascinating part and conceptualizing couples cases, how these schemas actually clash, you know, where they might have been interesting and complementary and courtship, and how they begin to clash over time. And particularly with narcissists, because they can be so good in the courtship phase. And, you know, so capable, I mean, they're good at getting what they want. So they do know how to court Well, in some cases, or in many cases. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 42:21
I'm glad you mentioned that the because the partner is often needs just as much help or support along the way, as well. Absolutely. Whether it's as a couple or whether it's for each of them individually. How often are people sort of acknowledging that they're a narcissist, when they come to see you and saying, This is my problem? Or how often is it like, just something that you realize that you know, it's not terminology that they used at the beginning? And then, like, do you tell them that, like, how to how delicately Do you tread there?

Wendy Behary 42:56
Yeah, I'm laughing because it's a, it's a great question. And it's one that lots of people will ask me, you know, again, remember, they do their homework. So if they're coming to see me, there, they're gonna find, you know, endless pages on Google with the word narcissism next to my specialist. Yeah. And the bad news about that is that they will come in, you know, really with a chip on their shelf, they're ready with the boxing gloves, you know, so you must think I'm an I'm, somebody thinks I'm a narcissist if they sent me to you. So that's always kind of interesting. And I, my answer is usually well, let's see, you know, let's, let's see, let's get to know each other. Let's see. But if very few walk in saying, I'm a narcissist, or I have a narcissistic personality disorder. Very few. I mean, they're usually ready to defend their honor. And, you know, I'm not that interested. The label is so pejorative, you know, there's nothing nice about being called narcissistic. So I move pretty quickly into describing the schema therapy approach and saying to them, you may meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder, or you may have narcissistic traits on the spectrum of narcissism. But what's more important is really understanding how you developed these different parts of yourself, what they represent where you learned this, and how you might unlearn this. Because, you know, again, it's not the thing that makes you the super surgeon, or the amazing accountant or the amazing plumber. You've got the skills, you've learned them. Well, yes, you were probably hyper focused on your performance growing up because that's what was expected of you. So it may have helped you in getting an edge. But you've got it you know, you're not struggling there. Where you struggle is in your human relationships, your personal intimate contacts, especially with your partner, that's what's suffering. And that's why you're sitting here with me. So I'm move right to a room Mind of the leverage a reminder because they're so afraid that you know, all this kind of voodoo fluffy psychology is just going to dampen their, you know, wonderful achievement capacities. And again, using a little bit of drawing a little bit from the science of the brain and memory and how it works can help your narcissistic client to relax a little bit into the treatment, you don't have to become an expert. I mean, I did a lot of work, training and being supervised by Dan Siegel, trying to understand more about the brain and memories, hoping this would mitigate some of the shame that comes up with narcissists. And it helps, you know, just little things like you know, you had experiences, they get archived in memory and under certain conditions, smell sense, taste, touch sounds words, they get activated again. And there we are playing out the same scenario that we did in our early life, except this time, it's really not necessary. It's not relevant, and it can be harmful to your relationship.

Shane Birkel 46:02
Yeah, and I think getting really specific, is helpful. And hopefully, with things that are important to them, and saying, you know, these are some strengths that you have. These are some things that you might want to be different in order to feel better in your life. And yes, you know, anybody can buy into that, hopefully. Yeah.

Wendy Behary 46:25
And just one last one last caveat that I forgot to add. This is always important. Not all narcissists are violent and abusive, not all narcissists. Right. Some are, some are at the more severe end of the spectrum. And so you know, people when people listen to many people combine narcissism with violence and abuse and volatility, they they're all hurtful in some way, they can be hurtful, but if you're dealing with violence, volatility, narcissists are not a narcissist, safety's number one. So there's no hedging when it comes to safety as a priority. I work with narcissistic men who are who are abusive. And I will urge partners to safety. If in fact, that is the case. Now, I'm still going to try if they want to do the work and treatment to see if they can bring about some meaningful change some kind of transformation in their personality, I will try to help them but safety is always number one. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 47:27
that's great. But it occurs to me that we all have some of these tendencies. Every single person? Sure, maybe I think you said, you know, everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum. You weren't talking about everyone, everyone. But these things can be helpful for anyone we work with as therapists. Yeah. Anyway, so any any other final thoughts before we wrap it up for today?

Wendy Behary 47:52
I'll just reiterate what at where I started, which is, you know, since your listeners are therapists, that not everyone has to be good at everything that we don't have to be good at every population we work with, you don't have to decide to be good at working with narcissists. But there's certainly out there and they show up in relationships frequently when you're working with couples. So the more you can, if you want to take them on, if you want to take on the challenge, and you do want to work with your couples that are dealing with this, the more you can understand about their makeup, really understand the origins, understand your own at risk, buttons, you know, the schemas inside that can get activated, the more effective you're going to be, you know, the more you will keep your wise mind and all your training and experience intact and you won't, you know, you won't waffle you won't bend so easily. It can be rewarding, in fact,

Shane Birkel 48:50
yeah, it's a process that we should be a continual one for all of us as therapists to be more aware of ourselves and our own triggers. And yeah, doing that work. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much for, for taking the time to be here. This has been a really, really helpful conversation. I really appreciate it.

Wendy Behary 49:09
Oh, it's my pleasure, Shane. Thanks again for having me. Yeah, hopefully

Shane Birkel 49:12
we can connect again at some point in the future. I'd like to All right. Take care of Wendy.

Wendy Behary 49:19
Thank you. You too.

Shane Birkel 49:20
All right. Thank you so much, Wendy. And thank you to all you listeners out there I'm so grateful for you definitely go to TheCouplesTherapistCouch.com. You can also join the Facebook group Couples Therapist Couch. It's a free Facebook group with thousands of couples therapists having discussions about the episodes and I'm also really excited to let you know that I'm taking on 10 new people right now into the Couples Therapist Inner Circle. You can go over click on the link you can sign up there. I'll give you a lot more information. You can also email me if you want if you have questions if you want to find more information, but there's a tons of details if you just click on the link and you can find out what it's all about. So, hope all of you have a great week. This is Shane Birkel, and this is The Couples Therapist Couch!

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