Why Confronting the Narcissist is Exactly What They Want!

Tony reads a message from a listener who asks, “why won’t their therapist confront their narcissistic spouse?”. He explains more of the origin story of narcissism and how the path of the narcissist leads them to a place where they can’t possibly be the problem and why, if you confront the narcissist, it can make matters worse.

If you are interested in being coached in Tony’s upcoming “Magnetic Marriage Podcast,” please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs. 

Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony’s “Magnetize Your Marriage” virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you’ll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony’s pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the “uh’s” and “um’s” that, in his words, “must be created by wizards and magic!” because it’s that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ

WUTN 50 Transcript

Today, I want to start with an email. 

It says, “Dear Tony, I have a personal counselor who recommended me to your waking up to narcissism podcast. She said all she could do was think of me as she’s been listening to your podcast. I’ve been in my marriage for over 20 years, we have children and I’ve been dealing with this throughout my marriage. Obviously not everything in the podcast applies to us, but too much of it does. It’s taken a toll on my mental and physical health and has killed my self esteem. I’ve been listening to your podcast nonstop because I had no idea what was happening to me had a name. And it has been so validating for me to know somebody understands my life. You put into words, my exact experiences, the thoughts, questioning myself and torments that floods my mind. You also accurately described how the treatment has made me react over the years and why I feel crazy. I have a family that I love, and I really want this man to love me. I want to be treated well, and I want my family to remain intact. However, no counselor that we have has ever addressed the issue. I’ve never felt that much gets resolved at all. And we haven’t been able to receive the help that we need and that I need.”

 So she said that she’s really writing in one last attempt to salvage the marriage because she feels like if those things could be addressed once and for all, then maybe she could find hope. And I receive a lot of emails with questions similar to this, and it is normal because as you start to wake up and understand that there are answers and see the similarities and patterns, it only makes sense. 

Why don’t we tell my spouse because then they too will have this aha moment or this epiphany. And how frustrating that can be to finally feel like after all of these years that there’s something that we can do. That we can put a name on this and here’s a podcast and books and tools. So I need to let them know, right? 

And if you’ve also heard a lot of the episodes, one of the first things that I talk about is one thing that we don’t do is go confront the narcissist or the incredibly emotionally immature person. 

The thing that you don’t do is say, hey I think I know what we’re dealing with. I think you may be a narcissist. And even though that feels like the exact thing that I want to do so that we can hurry up and get through this and have a better relationship, that’s actually not the right thing to do. As a matter of fact, it can be counterintuitive. It can be the wrong thing to do. 

So, coming up on today’s episode of waking up to narcissism, we’re going to dig deep into why confronting the narcissist or the emotionally immature person may feel, again, like the answer. It may feel like it’s perfectly normal, but how it actually feeds the problem and can make things worse. We’ll talk about that and so much more coming up on today’s episode of Waking Up to Narcissism.

Hey everybody, welcome to episode 50 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and also host of the Virtual Couch podcast, and a few more podcasts that are coming down the pipeline, which is exactly the reason that I would love to just simply encourage you. 

Go to my website, tonyoverbay.com, just sign up for the newsletter. That’ll get you in the know of everything that you need to know. The newsletter is going to start to contain many big and wonderful things, including the first of which is you will find out about the launch of the Magnetic Marriage podcast. It is a subscription-based podcast, but it is full of real life couples, anonymous couples that have come forward and wanted help in their marriages. 

And the episodes are real and raw and full of emotion. And I lay out how to put the tools in a practice that people didn’t even know that they didn’t know and that they needed. And we talk about communication. We talk about infidelity, faith deconstructions, power struggles, parenting, all these things that couples are dealing with. 

And often if you’ve been one who has tried to get your spouse into counseling and it hasn’t worked, or if you have been to counseling and you feel like that has been a dead end or hasn’t worked, or might even have made things worse, then I really feel like this might be a nice way to see what counseling could actually look like and how it can help if it is possible to see that change in the relationship. And so it might be easier to put this podcast in front of a person who is, let’s say counseling averse, than just to say, I think you need to go to counseling while you’re not going to counseling. So that’s coming very soon as matter of fact, there’s probably going to be an announcement in the next week or so of the exact launch date and maybe a sale coming up soon. 

But just know that the price of this is going to be far less than one session with me, and it’s going to be a subscription for an entire year of access to the podcast. So go to tonyoverbay.com, sign up to find more about that. You’ll hear that through the newsletter. And I’m also revamping a parenting course that I have. 

So I think that’ll be fun. And also I’m going to continue to leave out at tonyoverbay.com/workshop, a $19 couples communication workshop that will give you some more of the things to talk about in your relationship and hopefully will eventually lead to more communication, but I give some solid tools. They are real tools and tips. Again, $19 money back guarantee. 

And I would also love to encourage you to go follow me on Instagram or Facebook. I have some amazing people that are working behind the scenes now with social media and creating content. And just specific to this podcast, Waking Up to Narcissism, I started recording some clips that there are things that the narcissist would never say, and the clips are less than a minute. 

And I think there are three or four, maybe five of those out there now. And I think it’s one of those things that I like using my true core value of humor. So these are not heavy tomes. I think we need humor to deal with some of the relationship issues that we have. We have something that we need to cope with and humor is often a wonderful way to cope. Let me just give you a small example. I think one of the first ones I did have, here we go. 

Things that a narcissist won’t say. I’ve never thought of that. Or that’s a great idea, or I don’t know if I can do that or last but not least. You’re right. So there’s just some of the things you can find and very, last, very quickly, if you listen to episode 49 and your experience was that it was a repeat of episode 48, which was a wonderful interview with McKayla Renee Johnson, then please go back to episode 49, refresh your podcast player, whatever that looks like, I accidentally uploaded the very same file from 48 into 49. And within the first 24 hours is when there are a few thousand downloads and it was that repeat. So I got a lot of messages that said, did you mean to do that? 

And no, I did not. And I quickly posted to Facebook and my social media, my Instagram account that I owned up to that mistake and said, please go and relisten to 49 because 49, I really do feel I’m gonna stand in that healthy ego and say, I think it can really help. I dig deeper into Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication in particular when talking or trying to communicate with a narcissist, an extremely emotionally immature person, and I titled that one “waving the white flag against violent communication” because I do think it’s a little bit of a preview or a precursor to even more about what we’ll talk about today, because it just shows that the more that you’re making this observation, and then with an observation, we have these judgements that go right along. 

That maybe again, the pathologically kind person, that judgment, when you observe that the emotionally immature or narcissistic person in your life is doing a certain thing, maybe he just doesn’t understand, or maybe she just doesn’t really understand what I’m saying. So I’m going to keep trying to explain myself, but then unfortunately in this world of nonviolent communication, that person is not taking in the data. 

And the more you try to explain the more you try to show them your point of view, you’re actually feeding them data that then they can use when they have a tirade or a tantrum, or they become incredibly emotionally immature or dysregulated, that sort of thing. If you have a chance, I would encourage you to go listen to episode 49. If you tried to listen to that and it wasn’t, it was a repeat of 48. 

So let’s start today. This is one of those things that I get so often is that question of, I know you said not to tell the narcissist that they are a narcissist, but I felt like I could. And this is where, when I talk about these five rules of interacting with someone with narcissistic traits or emotional immaturity, that number one, we want to raise that emotional baseline. We want you to do some self care and it doesn’t mean you just have to go run a marathon, but it’s even starting to dream and to hope and to think, and just to even think about what it would start to look like now that I’m recognizing that I’ve lost my sense of self, what do I really want to do? What do I feel like I’ve possibly missed out on. 

And not from a place of beating yourself up because, oh, what, I could’ve done all these things different, because again, you did not know what you did not know. And now you’re starting to know. So what have you always wanted to do that you maybe haven’t felt supported in, or maybe haven’t even felt you could express. 

And even that is starting to shift this interior landscape of your mind or what it feels like to be you. So raising that baseline is absolutely necessary to put you in a place to be able to interact more and whatever that looks like. But that interaction needs to come from as good of a version of you as we can get. And I want to say this very best version of you and you’re going to get there because so many people are in this predicament or in these relationships really don’t even recognize how much of their self that they’ve lost because they spent so much time, so much energy, so many emotional calories and effort on trying to manage a family, manage a situation, buffer for the kids, try to figure out why this didn’t work, why he didn’t say this or why she responded the way that she did. 

And maybe if I say it a little differently, maybe it will go differently. In an emotionally mature, healthy relationship, all of that time is just spent doing and being the best version of yourself, or learning more about the things that you care about and then being able to go to a partner and have a shared experience and not be made to feel crazy or put in this one down position. 

Mature conversations are about curiosity, but anyway, raise that emotional baseline and then get that PhD in gaslighting, understand that when you are very confident that you did express yourself or that he, or she said something, and you had heard that earlier and now you’re being told that you did not, they did not absolutely say that. 

That’s okay. If you recognize that, I feel like that’s not the truth. But then not necessarily jumping back in and saying, but you did say that because that third part then is getting out of unproductive conversations because that’s when the gaslighting occurs. And when it’s really coming from a very emotionally immature place with your partner. Now all of a sudden you’re in it. 

Someone the other day said that when they started falling into the feeling of gas lit and trying to explain their way out of things or trying to stand up for themselves in those situations that they felt like all of a sudden, now they’re wrestling with a pig and that is not going to get anywhere. 

Which then leads to the fourth rule, which is learning to set healthy boundaries, but also understanding that when you set a boundary, that does not mean that the emotionally mature narcissistic person says, oh, a boundary. Okay. I will respect that. It’s a boundary, it’s not a kryptonite. It’s actually a challenge. 

So when you set that boundary, unfortunately, while that is a good thing for you to do, you’ll know that you’re doing the right thing and setting that boundary if the boundary starts being pushed. And the way that boundary will be pushed is your buttons will be pushed and maybe even worse things will be said about you and I am so sorry, because that’s not the way a relationship should go, but as you set the boundary, the boundary will get pushed. And then that leads to the fifth thing which is going to be such a big part of what we’re talking about today. There’s nothing that you will say or do that will cause them to have that aha moment, or the epiphany. That epiphany needs to come from them. That aha moment needs to come from them. And that comes from their work. Not you trying to convince them that they need to do the work. It has to happen internally to them. And I thought a lot about this as I was preparing for this episode, that the same thing that has happened to you and your own waking up to the narcissistic relationship or emotional immaturity, and the relationship that you find yourself in, that has been a process. 

Some might call it a slog. One of my friends read a book and it talked about being in the messy middle, and that might be where you’re at right now, but you’ve had to come to that on your own. And I go back to the fact that I was very intentional in naming the podcast, waking up to narcissism, again. 

Waking up to the narcissism in the relationship that I have with my, fill in the blank, spouse, adult child, employer, religious institution, parent, whatever that is. It’s waking up to that narcissism because it helps me understand that I’m not crazy. That it’s okay to have my own thoughts and feelings and emotions. That I’ve lost myself, and I need to do something. So you have woken up to that. You have come to that conclusion through hard work. You’ve gathered a lot of data. And you’ve been on a journey and you found it and now you’re here and you didn’t know what you didn’t know. But now, it’s really hard to implement the tools and that’s a tough place to be, but it’s the right place to be. That’s going to lead now to going from, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. To now I know, but it’s hard to implement the tools. To now, I know what I need to do, and I’m getting better at implementing the tools. 

I start to get to this place where I implement the tools more than I don’t. On one of these group calls that I do every other week with my women in narcissistic relations from my private Facebook group, we were talking about this just last night. And there was someone that jumped on there and they said, hey, I’m in that third stage of enlightenment, the one that we’re talking about, where she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Now she knows, and she doesn’t do a lot, and that was hard, but she said, I moved over into that, I know when I do more than I don’t. And so it started to become easier to set the boundary. She started to be able to find herself and that is starting to feel more empowering. And then that last phase of the journey is just, this is what I do. I implement tools. I have a sense of self. I hold boundaries. I raised my baseline. I understand gaslighting. I naturally get out of unproductive conversations because they’re a waste of emotional calories and time. 

And I am not responsible for making that other person understand or have that aha moment. So let’s talk about that a little bit more. When I talk about that fifth rule, it’s not just that you will never say anything that will cause them to have that aha moment or epiphany, but in reality, when someone is saying to their therapist or to a friend or to that parent, hey, maybe you can get through to them. That is now just saying that I now want this other person, so me as the therapist, I want you to cause him or her to have that aha moment or that epiphany. So I just wanted to start by framing it there. It makes perfect sense that if you would like to try to talk some sense into this person because of your journey and what you’ve learned, of course you want your partner, your spouse to have that same waking up moment because we can fix this. But look at that journey that you’ve been on, and there is a way to set the journey up as best as it can be to hopefully put that other person in the best position for them to hopefully self-reflect or self confront. But it isn’t done by saying, look, somebody has to lay down the law. You tell them, or I will, somebody has to, because I’m tired of beating around the bush and all those things. And I’ve heard it many, many times. 

I’ve had one of my clients I adore the most, in the not too distant past, text me and say, look, are you going to tell this person that they’re the narcissist?  Because if you don’t, I am going to, or I will find somebody that will. And it was interesting. This person said you’ve been validating me, but when are you going to let my spouse know that this is not going to work? That they are the narcissist, because I will, I will find someone to do it because it has to be done. And I didn’t, it broke my heart. I didn’t even know where to start with that because it goes against every single thing that I lay out in podcasts, the things I say in sessions, my experience of working in this field for 17, 18 years. But then I know that it’s in your relationship. It’s difficult. And I hear you. 

And I understand just how desperate one can be for change. Especially when you get a little glimpse of this. There’s a name for this. Here’s people talking about this, here’s even people that are saying here’s a way to maybe start to change. So we need to take a little bit of a step back. So I lay out those five things. 

But what we’re going to do, we’re going to dive back into the truth about narcissistic personality disorder from one of my favorite articles from Psychology Today by Eleanor Greenberg. So Eleanor lays out that, “Narcissistic personality disorder is the name of a series of coping strategies that began as an adaptation to a childhood family situation that left a person with unstable self-esteem.” And let’s remember that word, unstable the inability to regulate their self esteem without external validation. So, if they are already operating from a place of unstable self-esteem. And that self-esteem is regulated by external validation now for the narcissist. And I am just going to lay out, I’m going to use the word narcissist for probably the rest of this episode, but please know that when I say narcissist, I am talking about the narcissist and the spectrum of the emotionally immature person all the way up to someone that is becoming more emotionally mature, because it’s going to save a lot of words and it’s going to save some time. So to the narcissist, then that unstable self-esteem and then the inability to regulate that self-esteem without external validation that does not mean that they are looking for the external validation of, hey, am I okay? Because that’s not what they learned. What they learned was I need to be okay. I have to be right, because I cannot, I cannot even risk invalidation. Because invalidation could cause me to get booted out of my family. Again, we’re talking about the little kid brain here that if I get in trouble and I have not seen my parents model, take ownership or accountability. If I have not had a secure attachment with my parents, when I have sought one as a kid. That when I have sought external validation, soothing, comforting as a child, those moments that typically my parent has not been in a position to provide that. If anything I’ve been told, hey, don’t worry about it. Don’t cry about it. It’s not a big deal. You need to take care of that yourself.  Calm down, come back in here when you’re in a better mindset. So my need for soothing and external validation as a child then has not been met, but when the parent needs me to say, hey come give your mom a hug and tell me I’m a good mom or come here, son, let me just, I feel like I need to just pass along some words of wisdom here and here’s all the things that I went through as a kid. And so I think you need to do the same thing. 

Then all of a sudden, I feel like, you’re looking at me and that’s what I have to do. You know what an anxiously attached person without a secure attachment to a parental figure. All of a sudden now the kid exits into this world of relationships with unstable self-esteem and the inability to regulate that self-esteem without external validation and not the cool kind, the kind where I, now I must admit I can never be wrong because if I was wrong as a kid, I heard about it. The only time that I got validated then as a kid was when I was amazing or when I was right or when I didn’t say anything. 

And somebody else had to be wrong because why?  Because if my parents were also emotionally immature or had narcissistic traits or tendencies, then, if I did something wrong, they’re not saying, hey, come over here, champ, tell me about it. They’re saying really, you failed that class, you failed that test. I can’t believe you did that. But then if I am the star athlete or if I get the good grades or if I can learn how to juggle or do a little song and dance routine, now that’s my boy. Because that is a chip off the old block, then that’s what I taught them. I didn’t teach them all that stuff about not being good at school. 

Yeah, that’s and again, in their eyes, that parent is going to say well that’s because they’re lazy or because they’re not trying hard enough or because the teacher isn’t teaching them well. Again, in Marshall Rosenberg’s concept of nonviolent communication, there is an observation. They didn’t do their homework. And then the judgment, this is again from that emotionally immature narcissistic parent, because they’re lazy. It cannot be because I did not spend enough time with my kid. It cannot be because they didn’t help them understand math. Because I didn’t understand math after fifth grade and I couldn’t help my child because I didn’t want to put in the time. 

It cannot be any of those things. I had to be because they’re lazy. So look at that. I hope that I’m starting to lay this out in a way that makes sense. So that emotionally immature, narcissistic person, unstable self-esteem, they can’t regulate that self-esteem without external validation. And that leads to lower empathy. 

So there’s no empathy there. Probably not a lot of empathy modeled, not a lot of accountability modeled. Validation was given when you were doing amazing or awesome things or praising the parent. And if you hadn’t trouble, it could not be your parents’ fault. So now you, as the kid, are a bad person. 

And that is what leads to so many of us that have a core default setting of shame. That if my parents did not meet my needs, that I must have been bad. Not a, hey, I noticed that you did a bad thing. But that is what guilt is. Guilt is yeah, I feel bad about something. And then shame is no, you are bad at your core. You’re bad. 

So that is this person that is now sitting there now, but they are in an adult human body and they have a very loud voice and they may be large and they may be strong and they may have money and they have some power and then the people around them say that they’re awesome. Because so often to the narcissist or the emotionally immature person, they are not getting the validation that they need from home because the people at home that are closest to them see the hypocrisy and they call them out on things, but the people out in the community, the people in their church community, the people at work, they may just get to see all of the wonderful, amazing things this person does. And so they get that validation at work or in other situations. And then when they come home, now it’s even worse because everybody else thinks I’m awesome. And my own family doesn’t, and that means that my family must be wrong. And so now the family is not telling them all the time as they need this validation that they are amazing. Because the narcissist comes home, sometimes they want to be serious. And sometimes you guys aren’t appreciating me. And other times I want you to tell me I’m awesome and amazing. And sometimes I want you to give me space and sometimes I can’t believe you didn’t say dad’s home when I walk in the door. And when those things are going well for the narcissist, everybody in their life is incredible and wonderful because that’s indicative of who they are. They surround themselves with these wonderful people. It’s just that up and down. Rollercoaster of emotions. 

It is where they’re trying to regulate their self-esteem with external validation. But again, not that good kind. So with that setup, Eleanor moves into these concepts of whole object relations and object constancy, “Things that a narcissist lacks, whole object relations is the capacity to see oneself. So the narcissist and others in a stable and integrated way that acknowledges both the person’s good and bad qualities.” And that is so important. Because that emotional immaturity in general is one that sees in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. They lack whole object relations. So I’m probably going to start alluding to a lot of the things where let’s just say now that therapeutic intervention where now I am supposed to lay down the law and finally tell this person that you sir, or madam, are a narcissist. Okay. Enter whole object relations. They lack it. So now if you’re telling me that I am a narcissist, then I now will process that as I am all bad and you think that you are all good.

There is no capacity to see both good and bad qualities within the same situation or person. And they lack object constancy. That is the ability to maintain a positive, emotional connection to somebody that you like while you’re angry, hurt, frustrated, disappointed by his or her behavior. So when you confront the narcissist and they lack whole object relations and object constancy, then they have this unstable self-esteem, the inability to regulate it without external validation and low empathy. So I hope that we’re starting to paint a picture. 

So I’m going to give you some solutions because don’t worry. Hang in there. We’re going to get there. But without those whole object relations and object constancy, Eleanor Greenberg says people with narcissistic personality disorder only see themselves in others in one of two ways, either they are special, they are unique, omnipotent, perfect and entitled. So she calls that “high status.”

So when everyone’s praising me, then everybody’s good. Everybody’s cool. My family is amazing. My spouse is incredible. My kids are the best. My job is awesome. My car is amazing. The clothes I wear are sweet. My shoes are the best. Everything’s amazing. Everything is awesome. I think that’s a song from a Lego movie. 

But if that is not the case, then they are defective and worthless and garbage and low status. And that means that the person is struggling with these narcissistic issues can not hold on to his or her good opinion and good feelings about someone once they notice that the other person has a flaw. And let’s talk about a flaw. I mean the other person goes from being special and put on a pedestal. Eleanor says, “to being devalued as nothing special”. So again, I want you to think of these things and think of them in terms of during this confrontation or this intervention with the narcissist, so this person now has gone from high status, they are amazing to now you are saying that they are now low status and they are all bad. 

And that means that if they are, if you are telling them that they are all bad, then that means that you then think you are all good. So now they have to regain that power, that status. They have to regain that one-up position. So now I am going to do anything to let you understand how bad you are, because that will make me feel better. 

So she says that narcissists often seesaw back and forth between the two. So when they are feeling good about you or more accurately, you make them feel good about themselves, you are special. Now you do something that they do not like and that can be as simple as saying no, or even, hey, why did you do that? 

And then all the sudden it happens in an instant. Now you are all bad and worthless. So at that point, that is now where the emotionally immature narcissistic person will start to use all of those buttons that you’ve handed them in a moment of weakness and a moment of vulnerability in a moment of wanting to share in a moment of trying to give them that aha moment or that epiphany to want them to change. Because now when they think really that’s how you think, that’s what you think about me. You think that now I am all bad. Well, I’ll tell you what. You’re a horrible mom or your horrible dad, or you’re a crummy provider. Or I was talking to other people and they all told me that they don’t like you. 

You’re horrible and all these different areas, you do everything wrong, everything. So there’s no way to keep things in the gray. It’s all or nothing, black or white, good or bad, but then 10 minutes later, all of a sudden, now they come out of the room. You’re still upset because you’ve just been called horrific things and they say, hey, where do you want to go to dinner? And I do call that one the, hey, do you wanna go ride bikes? Because that’s what the emotionally immature kids do. I remember I got in a kick fight with Jimmy Faulkner. I don’t even know if he’s still around, in sixth grade, and by the end of the school day, we were good. 

And we went and rode bikes. So Jimmy, if you’re out there that was probably an emotionally immature response of mine and my bad. So then Eleanor goes on to something where I’ve talked about this in other episodes: normal, healthy ego versus narcissistic, pathological defensiveness. And this is where I take great liberty in the words that she is using. And I want to take ownership of that. 

But I change healthy narcissism to healthy ego. And that is where you are getting to. Again, because you’re doing the work. We’re getting you to a place of healthy ego. It’s a realistic sense of positive self regard that’s based on the person’s actual accomplishments. It’s based on the work that you’re doing now, the hours that you’re putting in and digesting the data on this podcast and other podcasts and YouTube channels and reading books and interacting forums and raising your baseline and understanding, whoa, I can actually have my own, my own opinion. I can have my own thoughts around everything, parenting and knowledge. And so then I want to start doing more of that. And I want to start being, and doing and finding the things that matter and not necessarily going into needing my spouse’s approval or validation. So as you develop a healthy ego, a healthy sense of self, it is relatively stable because that person has assimilated that into their self image. The successes that came as a result of their actual hard work to overcome real life obstacles. So you are putting in the hard work, my friend, if you are listening to this. So to overcome real life obstacles because that is based on real achievements. Eleanor Greenberg says that is normal, healthy, what she calls narcissism and I’m going to say ego, “it’s relatively impervious to the minor slights and setbacks that we all experienced as we go through life, normal [ego] causes us to care about ourselves, do things that are in our genuine, real self-interest. And as associated with self-respect, one can think of it,” she says, “as something that is inside of us.” 

I like to share that I think that people that have changed the world had a healthy ego because it was based on real life experience. Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther king, people like that have healthy ego. So, what I am hoping is that by listening to this, when you are listening to these things that you’re starting to develop this healthy ego based off of the hard work that you’re doing. 

And what I worry about is that now, when we just want to lay it out there and tell the narcissist, and we want them to understand, and we want to self-confront and somebody needs to tell them that we’re still, even in essence, looking for them to validate the work that we’re doing. But they’re coming at it from this lack of object constancy, whole object relations, emotional immaturity, black and white all or nothing thinking. 

And so at that point, you are throwing a lot of shade at them and their world. And they’re saying, hey, now all of a sudden, and again, this is what they are hearing. It is not even what you were saying. You’re saying I am right. You are wrong. I’m right. Therapist thinks they are right. You are wrong. So now the narcissist says I disagree. 

So what are the things I know that will get to you to now make me right and you wrong? And then I will take that one up position because pathological defensive narcissism, as Eleanor Greenberg lays out, is a defense against feelings of inferiority. And we’ll get back to that. The childhood defense mechanisms, gaslighting as a childhood defense mechanism. 

So pathologically, defensive narcissism. This is a defense against feelings of inferiority. So that person, the narcissist dons a mask of arrogant superiority in an attempt to convince the world that they are special, even in that moment, especially during confrontation. So now you’re going to hear even more of how crazy this is that you don’t even understand what you’re talking about? 

So this is that attempt to convince the world, the therapist, you, anyone. That, no, they are special. But inside that person feels so insecure about their actual self that they will just lash out and they’ll do anything to defend their fragile ego. They’ll hurt anybody. They’ll say anything. Because at their core, they’re afraid, they’re scared, they’re insecure. 

But that is so deep. It is buried so deep, that unfortunately, that is not your job to dig out. And as you start to find your own sense of self and they push more buttons. Yeah. That is the best case scenario of someone being able, potentially, possibly to self confront, but that’s no longer, it’s not your job. And that can feel like the wrong thing to do. But the right thing to do is to get yourself in the best position you can be in because it’s not your responsibility to fix that other person. 

She goes on to say that that is their deep childhood abandonment wounds and fears. So she says, “This facade of superiority for the pathological defensive narcissist is so thin that it’s like a helium balloon and one small pinprick will deflate it. And this makes that person hypersensitive to minor slights that somebody with a healthy [ego] wouldn’t even notice.” 

So if somebody with a healthy, and in this place of differentiation, is told, hey, I feel like you exhibit some narcissistic traits or tendencies. Then that person, and I would love for them to say, okay, if I’m coming from a place of a healthy ego and I’m relatively impervious to these slights that are these jabs that I feel are thrown at me, but not from a, I think I’m better than everybody else, but to think that I’m willing to self confront and I’m willing to take a look inward because I’m aware of these things. I know the things that I know. And what comes along with that, obviously there are things that I don’t know. So does that sound like a narcissist? No. They’re putting up this image of arrogant superiority because they need you to know that they have everything figured out. 

I got another email recently from a person who had said that their spouse desperately needs to go to the doctor, but she says over and over again, well, you know that I know more than doctors do, right?

A little tangent here, but I think it’s somewhat applicable. I’ll give you an example of where my own emotional immaturity can come out and then where that need to self confront or take on these new tools that I learned comes into play. My wife and I are walking around a neighborhood over the weekend. It’s a new one. It’s a new neighborhood that’s behind our neighborhood. 

And whoever developed, it made a little bit of a man-made lake. I don’t really know if it’s much of a lake, but it’s an area that will hold a lot of water when there is a lot of rain. There have even been ducks on this thing, and there’s a path, a paved path that goes around. But it’s not around. It goes left and right. And there’s a lot of foliage around that hasn’t been knocked down. So my wife and I are walking our dogs and we’re talking, and then I, if we go back to that concept of a violent non-violent communication, I violently communicated against the people that created that lake. Even though they have no idea because I just said, man, this is kind of dumb. Why didn’t they do this differently? Why didn’t they make the trail or why didn’t they make the lake more shaped like a lake? And so there was my observation that it was a different shape that I felt, I felt like the shape was odd. So then I throw that judgment in there. That because it wasn’t round, I made the judgment that this is dumb. They must be dumb. They don’t know what they’re doing. Says the person, me, that has never done any city planning, neighborhood planning, geological studies, environmental impact studies, paving, grading. I’ve never created an artificial lake. But I know what they did right there. Kind of dumb. So how emotionally immature is that? So I had to step back and I even had to say, okay, this is fascinating. I don’t know a thing about what I’m talking about. 

And I got very much in that present moment and I was very grateful to be there. But we’re simply just walking along the path of a man-made lake and then taking him what a wonderful opportunity this is. That is being present and that is, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. About this concept of things like nonviolent communication or self confrontation. 

And so then having to apply those tools, but that wasn’t something that my wife had to make a comment about because if she would have I worry that in the past, especially then I would have taken that as criticism and then had to lash out and defend my fragile ego. It’s interesting when, let’s say that as the emotionally immature person, if I’m putting out there that I think that this lake is dumb and those guys are dumb. It’s funny because what do I really want my wife to say at that moment? That’s my guy. That’s my hero. That’s this guy. I know he knows more about creating man made lakes than civil engineers. 

So truly how emotionally immature. So then here we go back to that pathological defensive narcissism. Then they, “that facade of superiority that is so thin, like a helium balloon that then one small pinprick will deflate it. So then this makes that person hypersensitive to the minor slights that somebody with a healthy ego wouldn’t even notice. 

Instead somebody with this type of defensive narcissism is easily wounded, frequently takes any form of disagreement as serious criticism. And is likely to lash out and devalue anybody who they think disagrees with them.”

So I feel like that concept of pathological defensive, narcissism, emotional immaturity, fragile ego, I can’t be wrong, let me tell you what you don’t understand. Not saying hey, tell me more. Tell me more about the situation, I see that you guys are all trying to confront me. I can understand, this is something that seems very serious to you. Let me understand more. That is not what is going to happen, which is again why confrontation doesn’t work. So let’s really start to work into what then your role could be. And what can happen. I want to pull up an article that I’ve been working on as well. And this is talking about the narcissist or emotionally immature concept of confabulation. And this is from Sam Vaknin who has an article called Disassociation and Confabulation and Narcissistic Disorders”. And it was first published in March of 2020 in the Herald Scholarly Open Access Journal of Addiction and Addictive Disorders. So I took that and what I’ve done is I’ve adapted a lot of that language to fit in the concept of emotional immaturity. So where Sam uses the words, narcissists and psychopaths, then I’ve taken the liberty to add the narcissist or emotionally immature people. So the narcissist or emotionally immature people often disassociate or erase memories and our amnesia because of their contact with this? Again, we’re still talking about the concept of what if the narcissist confronted? What if there’s this intervention? Why doesn’t the therapist just let them know? Why doesn’t he just tell him? Why can’t you just wake up to your own narcissism? 

Why does it not work when they just go in attack? Why don’t we just go attack the narcissist to try to help them understand? Let’s just talk. So more about confabulation. The narcissist and emotionally mature immature people do not experience reality directly. They experienced it through a distorted lens. So the narcissistic lens initially developed in childhood. 

As we talked about earlier, narcissism or emotional immaturity initially develops as a series of coping strategies that began as an adaptation to a childhood family situation that left the person with unstable self-esteem and the inability to regulate that self-esteem without external validation or they have lower empathy. 

So this lens, this narcissistic lens that requires them to get rid of any information. Again, get rid of any information that challenges their grandiose self perception. And getting rid of any information that goes against this narrative that they have constructed about themselves. 

And it’s because that narrative is so necessary for them to be able to explicate, excuse, legitimize their what Vaknin then says they’re antisocial, self-centered and exploited behaviors, choices, and idiosyncrasies. So if you are confronting that narcissist, and this is the thing that I think is so hard to understand to the non narcissist is that the confabulation engine in their brain is working at a phenomenal master level, instant pace. 

And I’ve talked about once, if you’re aware of confabulation, I do believe that we can all confabulate to a point. Sometimes I notice I’ll find myself shading a little bit of my own experience or memory of making things a little bit better, a little bit more grandiose, and it might be either to make myself feel better. 

Or sometimes it might be to make someone else feel better. When I first did an episode on confabulation, I just, I talked about an experience where my wife had been out of town for a few months, helping my daughter who had been in a near fatal car accident. And so my wife would feel like she wasn’t doing everything she could do here at home. 

And that she wasn’t showing up as much for our son who was a senior in high school. Who was a senior in high school who was living his very best life, who was playing basketball and golf and has an adorable girlfriend. And he has a. He was doing what seniors who have an amazing senior year can do. 

And that is not wanting to hang out with mom and dad. We would try as much as we could, but so she would feel bad. And so on a particular weekend where she was coming back and we were going to go spend some time with one of my other daughters. I know that my wife felt guilty. She felt bad. So she had just said, hey, did you tell Jake that we’re going to be away for the weekend? And I know that she feels bad. So then I said, yeah, I told him. And he said, that’s awesome. And I realized in that moment, what confabulation can look like. Just from simply a place of what I said to Jake was, hey we’re going to be gone this weekend. And he said, okay. 

And so my confabulation was as a matter of fact, I think I even told her, yeah we talked about it. We had a really good talk and he said, that sounds great. And so that made my wife feel better. And then I’m sure in my own mind, well, it feels pretty good to say that we had a really good talk. When in reality, I said, hey bro, we’re going to be gone. And he probably said, can you leave cash? 

So I think that was the extent of it. But I confabulated that story. So to make her feel better and probably to make me feel like a better dad and so you can even see these little dustings of confabulation that happened because, and after I learned about confabulation, I did a couple of episodes on the mechanisms of memory, because memory in general is flawed. And we, when we recall memory, we recall basically a scenario, a situation, an image, and then we fill in all the blanks. It’s a very effective use of the neuro landscape. And we don’t even recognize that we’re doing it. So to the narcissist or the emotionally immature person, what they do is they recall a memory. And then instead of just filling in gaps of just minutia of, oh, I thought it was day or I thought it was night or that sort of thing. It was like, and remember I was right and you were wrong. And now the more that they bring that memory back up, then they add more of that shading to it. So the narcissist, if you talked to him one time and came back and talked to him about something a month later, I just had this experience with someone, myself personally. That story, that the narcissist became even more of a grandiose hero and everybody else around them was a complete buffoon. A month later, the story had confabulated and changed so much in just one month. I thought it was just amazing. 

And I only mentioned that because I am confident that the pathologically kind people listening will say, I think I could be the narcissist because I confabulate as well, but we all do to a point. But let’s get back to this article that the narcissistic or emotionally immature version of confabulation back into that frame, that’s an attempt to compensate for these yawning gaps in memory. So then the narcissist or emotionally immature people confabulate meaning that back then it says that they’re creating these plausible plugins and scenarios of how things might, could, or should have plausibly occurred. But it’s not the kind to make everybody else feel better. 

To outsiders, these fictional stop gaps appear as lies, but to the narcissist or emotionally mature person individually, then they fervently believe in their reality, they may not actually remember the details of what had happened, but it could not have happened in any other way than the way that they are creating that it needed to happen. 

In order for it to fit the narrative that they’ve created. So then it goes back to that if you are expressing a time where you feel like they were very angry on a vacation, that did not happen. As a matter of fact, that confabulated memory is now they’re going to remember that as a matter of fact, you were actually the one that got angry on the vacation. I was the one that came to the rescue and you don’t even remember. 

And the kids came up to me later and they told me what’s up with mom. But none of it, that’s their confabulated memory that they have to believe that, they had to think and believe that because it could not be the fact that they weren’t a very nice person on a family vacation. I remember reading one of the most fascinating examples of this, and I’ve thought about this so often, was a therapist that I know and I respect and so I very much believe, wrote me after I did this episode of confabulation. 

And they said they had a situation where they met with this young couple early in their practice. And the young couple didn’t have kids and that the husband had fathered a child out of wedlock many years before. And he said that just came up in the assessment, but it didn’t seem to play much of a role in what they were coming in for at that point, they were coming in there because I think the, I forget what the case was, because you’ll see why that I thought this was so fascinating here in a second. So he said that he just remembered that. And then he said fast forward about, I don’t know, 10 years later. And he said that they came in again and there were some accusations of infidelity. So he pulled the couple together and he could tell that there was tension in the relationship. And he wondered now, I think he said they literally had four or five kids that had happened in a 10-year period. 

And so he’s really trying to do the assessment. And he always wondered what happened to that child that the husband and father had out of wedlock. And so when he then met with the wife individually, he brought that up. And he just said, hey, what’s the status with that child? And he said, he knew that it didn’t quite fit into what they were bringing into the session. But honestly, sometimes as therapists, we’re just curious. We want to know more. 

And the wife broke down. He said that she started crying and she said, thank you. He honestly doesn’t even acknowledge that ever happened, that he had a child out of wedlock. 

And my friend, the therapist said that he was so confused that when he met individually with the husband, he brought it up and he said he just did it very confidently because he knew that was something that they had talked about this decade or more earlier. And he said the husband got irate immediately and said, what, what has she been telling you? She’s got this idea in her head that I fathered a child out of wedlock. And the therapist said at that point, he decided not to go in and dig deeper, but he just did not know what to do with that. And then he even said that later during the counseling that she forwarded an email I think it was from the from her husband’s uncle, somebody that he had been close with, and the uncle even said, yeah, we tried talking to him about a too and we just have given up on talking about it because he doesn’t believe it happened. 

So everybody around this person knows that this event happened, that he had fathered a child out of wedlock, but then everybody, but the person who fathered the child out of wedlock. So this therapist was writing to me to say that once he heard me talk about confabulation, he said that he wondered now then if once this guy started having kids and interacting with kids and recognizing that kids are a lot of work and recognizing the importance of him showing up in his child’s relationship in this child’s life, that his brain could not deal with the fact that he had so dismissed this child, that he had fathered out of wedlock so long ago. And so he not only, he’d, confabulated the memory to this point where it did not exist. So when everybody around him is saying, don’t you remember? 

Or shouldn’t you reach out to, or have you heard from this person? That he thinks they are insane. And the reason I mentioned that when I talk about confabulation is it just had me thinking of what that must feel like to this person. And I thought, man, imagine if somebody came up to me and said hey, how’s how’s the kid? Do you have much interaction with the kid that you had with your high school girlfriend, Betty, I’m making that name up because I did not have a high school girlfriend named Betty. But whatever happened, whatever happened to that kid. And if I just said, I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know Betty and I certainly didn’t have a child with her. 

And, imagine. What if you have confabulated that completely out of your memory? And then let’s say that then somebody even shows you a picture of you and Betty, and there you are, and you’re 18 and you actually still have hair and you look young and you’re holding the kid, or maybe you’re even like in the delivery room and it’s an old Polaroid. 

That if you have literally confabulated this out of your memory, now you can, I feel like you can understand why gaslighting can be so powerful to the emotional immature narcissist, because it could not have happened that way. And so that does not exist. And so now they can make you feel insane, I have no idea how you photoshopped that picture. Or that did not happen. You guys are all insane to the point where you do start to say. Okay, wait, do I not remember that? Right? This is literally a picture, but he does not seem to have any memory or recollection of this. It’s, if that brain has confabulated to the point that there is zero chance that something didn’t happen, it cannot have happened. 

This is why I go so big on this example, I spent so much time on this because I go back to that concept of confronting the narcissist and I hope I’ve laid out so many things that are already an issue with the person then showing up in the room. But now most likely they have confabulated memory after memory after memory, because it can not be their fault. 

So now the fact that you’re dealing with all of these other precursors we’ve talked about, and then we confront the narcissist and that actually isn’t what happened, then they probably can’t even fathom what you’re talking about, and now you brought a therapist in to confront me or you’re having someone else do that. 

And that just lets them even, they feel even more empowered that you are crazy. That you are just that they can’t even believe that you are doing what you’re doing. Because we go back to that they cannot be narcissist. They cannot be the person that’s emotionally abusing their spouse or their family. 

They cannot be the person who doesn’t take ownership or accountability, that thing you’re telling them that they need to take ownership or accountability of. That can’t be them. And it harkens all the way back to that gaslighting as a childhood defense mechanism. 

And why did they need a defense mechanism? Because they had unstable self-esteem they needed external validation. And the only validation they got as a kid was when they were the star student, the wonderful athlete, the person who could do amazing things. They did not have a secure attachment and they were not provided a place to be able to process intense emotion. 

And let’s face it, most of us don’t want to sit with discomfort, but for the emotionally immature or narcissistic person, it’s not even a possibility at this point for them to sit with discomfort, it has to be your fault. That’s it, has to be. And, I deal with so many people that turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like pornography or sexual compulsions, and there’s a high comorbidity or there’s an association with the extreme narcissistic personality or traits emotional immaturity. And then impulsive behaviors, and impulsive behaviors happen because we turned to coping mechanisms and we don’t want to feel negative emotion. And then if you confront the person about their unhealthy coping mechanism, be it turning to porn or gambling or food or their phones, well, yeah, it’s because of you, you’re the one that makes them do that. And again, that is the extreme emotional immaturity. And somebody not taking ownership of that. No, they are doing that. So it cannot be them. They can’t sit with discomfort. It is your fault. And that is what their implicit memory is built on or what it feels like to be them. So put all these pieces together. 

Vaknin then says, “These tenuous concocted fillers are the subject of frequent revision. That as the narcissist or emotionally immature individual, as their inner world and external circumstances are constantly evolving. So unlike somebody with self-awareness, they are constantly working from a place of such deep insecurity that it absolutely cannot be their fault because that would disrupt their intense internal narrative.” 

If they are wrong, you will never love them, all or nothing. Black or white. And they must control that narrative in order to control the relationship. So they will either coerce someone into loving them or control somebody into loving them. But they cannot risk having somebody else have any control in that relationship. 

Because if they lack control, then they feel like they will be taken advantage of, they feel like they will be destroyed. They feel like they will be abandoned and that they’ll be seen through. So even though the right thing in that situation is to be open and to be emotionally vulnerable and it is not as scary as it feels, but it is to that narcissist. It is all or nothing. It is life or death. They can’t even risk it. They can’t risk it for a second. 

Because of this different version of reality they’re going to feel like it is all their fault and they cannot even come close to dealing with that. They have not been doing that work in that growth that you have been, because now you’re saying, hey, I’m open to it. I understand. I’m trying to do the self confrontation. Here’s the things I didn’t know, here’s these labels and terms and podcasts, and I’m even learning that I’m emotionally immature. We all are. And even when we want to say that, you just want to share these things because you’re a kind individual, you’re a good human being. And that’s part of the reason why I made the big shift to talk about emotional immaturity from narcissism early on, because it’s on the spectrum. But it also doesn’t mean that when somebody is told that you are emotionally immature, that they don’t still revert to that all or nothing behavior. Unfortunately again, tell that to the narcissist, because all they are hearing is you think they are bad. What do you do? I feel like one of the best things that you can do is continue to rely on raising your baseline, getting your PhD in gaslighting, get out of those unproductive conversations, set healthy boundaries, and continue to go back to the fact that you cannot provide them with the aha moment or the epiphany. Whether it’s from you, by way of a therapist, by way of a good friend, or somebody that’s close to them, they are not doing that work. And the crazy part is, as you pull away, as you pull back from the relationship, you’re going to feel like you’re doing the wrong thing. But this is where it happens to be the right thing. And that doesn’t mean. And even our own minds go to all or nothing or black or white. 

That when we feel like, well, if I have to pull away, then I have to be a jerk. No, you don’t. You can still be your kind compassionate self, but you’re not going to put up with the emotional maturity or the lack of accountability, or the gaslighting, and you’re going to cause you’re doing that work and when you step out of that role, that you have played as buffer or that role you have played as peacekeeper and you see other buttons be pushed, I hope that you can start to say, I am doing the right. I’m doing it right. Because the thing I’ve been doing, I’ve been doing over and over and over again, and it has not worked. 

It can be scary now to trust some process that feels completely foreign. But that’s because you didn’t know what you didn’t know. Then you know it, and you don’t do it very often, and it feels scary. And eventually you do it more often than not, and you start to see some growth and change, and then eventually it just becomes who you are as a person. 

And then by you stepping out of that role, that is going to change the dynamic of the relationship. And most likely the dynamic in your family, your family system, and that is the opportunity for others to step up or to self confront. And those around you, let’s say your kids are those that are close to you, if they see you taking ownership and standing up for yourself and doing the work and not taking the bait and going back into these unhealthy unproductive conversations, a kid gets their sense of self through external validation. And so external validation. Meanwhile, they’re watching, they’re buffering, they’re modeling. They’re trying to read the room. They’re trying to figure out are mom and dad okay? Why are they sad? I’m going to comfort one of them. I’m going to put my own emotions and feelings aside. But if they start to see you, mom or dad, start to do the things that you need to do to be the best version of yourself, then that also gives them the opportunity and it gives them the ability. It gives them permission to also start to do those same things. And that is how you change a dynamic in a family, in a family system, in a narcissistic family system. That’s how you help that person, your kid, start to become the transformational figure that goes against the grain of the things that so many of us do, or we just follow the patterns that are taught to us as a kid. And then hopefully we do our own work as an adult. You’re doing the work, you are, you’re here, especially if you’re still listening at this point. So I hope that gives a little more clarity of why we don’t have that confrontation with the narcissist. . 

If you have experiences, examples that you would like to share, please, by all means email me. I would love to have those. I’ll read some of those as a follow-up and if you have questions, send them. There’s a really cool opportunity that might be coming up soon. A big cool partnership where it might be all about just taking an opportunity once a week to do a separate podcast and just answer a bunch of questions. So send them, send those questions, share this episode. If you think that it will help somebody else. 

I’ve been fascinated and just just, I love to hear that people have forwarded people episodes, and that’s when the person has said, man, that is me. That is my situation. And I try not to be a big, hey, go review my stuff. But if you can rate and review and you happen to think that you have a positive review or rating of the podcast. 

It really does get it in the algorithm so that other people will find it. And if you have been helped by finding out more information and data, there are people out there, and maybe you are one of them that are just, it takes them a while, but then they just type in the word narcissist into their podcast player and they’re going to find the things that are suggested in the algorithm. So I would be honored if you would take the time to review and rate it wherever you listen to podcasts. And that’s going to help other people get to the podcast so thanks so much for joining me today and I will see you next time on Waking Up to Narcissism.

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