Episode 92: Narcissistic Abuse, Pt 1 with Rebecca Christianson, LCSW
Episode 92: Narcissistic Abuse, Pt 1 with Rebecca Christianson, LCSW
What is narcissism and how do we know if someone is a narcissist? Alyssa teams up with returning podcast guest, Rebecca Christianson, LCSW as they tackle this very important topic.
Learn more about Rebecca Christianson, LCSW
Check out the Light After Trauma website for transcripts, other episodes, Alyssa’s guest appearances, and more at: www.lightaftertrauma.com
Want to get more great content and interact with the show? Check us out on Instagram: @lightaftertrauma
We need your help! We want to continue to make great content that can help countless trauma warriors on their journey to recovery. So, please help us in supporting the podcast by becoming a recurring patron of the show via Patreon:
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hello, beautiful people. Welcome back to another episode of The Light After Trauma podcast. I’m your host, Alyssa Scolari. This is a two part, well, really a two part series. This is going to be two episodes today, and it is a guest episode. It has been a while since we’ve had a guest episode. I know that we he had talked about me sort of reeling back on guest episodes and being much more particular with who’s coming on the show, just because I know that you all are really interested and have really, really liked the solo episodes that I’ve done.
Alyssa Scolari [00:57]:
But you all also love today’s guest, who is a friend of the family, friend of the podcast, it’s Rebecca Christianson. Duh, would it be anyone else? We love Rebecca. She has been on this podcast to talk about grief. She’s been on the podcast to talk about guilt and shame, and she’s incredible.
Alyssa Scolari [01:19]:
Today she’s on the podcast to talk about narcissism. And I know this one’s going to be a really big hit for you all because narcissism is honestly a very hot term right now. It is a really hot topic. It is all over TikTok, all over social media. But before we dive right into narcissism, I just want to take a minute to let you know who Rebecca is.
Alyssa Scolari [01:41]:
If you are a new listener, Rebecca really started out as a mentor for me and became, honestly, one of my closest friends. She’s absolutely a soulmate of mine. We were absolutely meant to know each other in this life and every other life after that. And she really is the reason why I am the therapist that I am today.
Alyssa Scolari [02:05]:
So Rebecca is the founder of a group practice called Rebellious Wellness Counseling in the state of New Jersey in the United States. And I will, of course, link her group practice. She works with a bunch of wonderful people. She does amazing work. She is, especially you do a lot of grief, right? Like that’s like you special when I think of you, I think like you do grief, but you also do couples, right?
Rebecca Christianson [02:33]:
Alyssa Scolari [02:34]:
Rebecca Christianson [02:34]:
Alyssa Scolari [02:35]:
Rebecca does two of the hardest things that I think any therapist can do. So I will absolutely link her group practice in the show notes for today. So let’s just hand it over to Rebecca. Welcome.
Rebecca Christianson [02:51]:
Thank you. Thanks for having me. You always say the nicest things. You are the therapist that you are because you are extremely talented and work really hard, but thank you for giving me credit for that.
Alyssa Scolari [03:04]:
All shucks. Thank you.
Rebecca Christianson [03:05]:
Yeah. So I am always honored to be on the podcast. I love, obviously, I love talking to you. I love tackling some of these topics that I think are complex topics that everybody has to handle, but don’t always understand exactly how to handle it or how it affects their lives. So I’m happy to be on it.
Alyssa Scolari [03:27]:
Yeah, exactly, exactly. And we make a really good team, which is why I feel like tackling narcissism today is like, you and I are really, really well suited to do this together because it’s a really heavy topic, right?
Rebecca Christianson [03:42]:
Yep. Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Alyssa Scolari [03:43]:
And it’s something that I think gets talked about a lot, but also often very misused and overused. And so I think here’s an interesting fact for y’all, right? So the word narcissism in itself is at actually derived from the Greek mythological figure, Narcissus. And basically the story of Narcissus is that he fell in love with his own reflection. And what narcissism is at its core is really just self-absorption but pathological self absorption.
Alyssa Scolari [04:21]:
So that’s where the name comes from. And I think when it comes to narcissism, there’s one way that therapists diagnose it. But then there’s an entirely different way that I think you guys can understand it and recognize it in others. And that’s kind of a little bit more important.
Alyssa Scolari [04:48]:
So the way that therapists diagnose it is, obviously, you all have heard of the DSM. I’ve talked about it on this podcast before. It’s like the holy grail for mental health diagnoses. It’s what therapists turn to in order to diagnose somebody. And there is a personality disorder in there called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And this is how therapists would really diagnose somebody. And really what it is it’s this pattern of grandiosity.
Alyssa Scolari [05:23]:
They just, people, who think that they just have this huge amount of self importance. They often exaggerate their achievements and their talents. They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, or ideal love. They believe that they are super special and unique and that they are very high status and everyone else is below them. They require excessive admiration. They constantly need other people to be doting on them and thinking that they are just the bees knees.
Alyssa Scolari [06:01]:
They have an extreme sense of self entitlement, very unreasonable expectations, and they always think that they should be favored above everyone else. They exploit people, especially those who are closest to them. In other words, they try to take advantage of the people around them to meet their own needs. And they lack empathy. They cannot identify with feelings or needs of others and they often can seem very arrogant, right?
Alyssa Scolari [06:33]:
So that’s a very brief run through of what those symptoms look like in the book that therapists use to diagnose. But it’s a little bit different when we’re just in our day to day life. So Rebecca, can you actually talk about, I don’t know. I feel like what I just said was a very hoity-toity way of describing narcissism. Can you break this down? What does that actually look like day to day?
Rebecca Christianson [07:02]:
Yes, absolutely. I think that one of the things that’s important to remember about narcissist is that underneath it all, it’s a very, very fragile ego and that extremely, extremely fragile ego, came from somewhere, right? Oftentimes it comes from childhood trauma. Oftentimes it comes from neglect or abuse where a child doesn’t get their needs met. So they have to manipulate to get their own needs met and they build this wall or protection around that very fragile ego. And no one can see the fragile ego at any cost. So they will always externally get their needs met instead of getting their needs met from within.
Rebecca Christianson [07:55]:
That would be… The only thing that was really healing for them is to go in and process through the things that made that ego so fragile. But they, at a very young age, protect that fragile ego at all costs. At all costs. At the cost to anyone else their needs will always come first and that the hallmark of a narcissist.
Rebecca Christianson [08:14]:
So I’m going to quote Shahida Arabi who wrote, Becoming the Narcissist Nightmare, because this is my favorite quote about narcissist. It says, “The first thing you must know about a narcissist is that you will never truly know anything about the narcissist.”
Alyssa Scolari [08:30]:
Ugh. Yes, yes. That’s it, case closed. End of episode.
Rebecca Christianson [08:37]:
Closed, there you go. You’ll never really know. And I really believe that because they don’t know. They’ve created such a false self that they don’t even remember why they became a narcissist. One of the questions I get all the time is like, “Can a narcissist heal? Can they get better?” And the answer to that’s, yes. Rarely do they do the work that’s required to get better, but they can. But that would be going back to the childhood trauma, whatever happened that made them realize that they felt they needed to manipulate their environment to get their needs met, that they were not lovable enough to get their needs met just by being who they were.
Rebecca Christianson [09:29]:
And that’s so painful. Usually by the time they show up in our office, that’s so painful that they rarely do that. But the times that I’ve seen narcissists actually do that work is either they have a terminal illness, and because they have never truly been able to connect authentically with anyone, they don’t have very many people who are going to take care of them. Or they’ve had such a traumatic loss in their life that it’s shocked them to their core. And they don’t want to continue to live that way.
Rebecca Christianson [10:03]:
So, those are the times. But I think how it would show up, you said a lot of the things, I think that when you notice somebody has the inability to empathize with you or with other people at all, like if you have a friend that’s a narcissist and you tell them they have the inability to empathize, but they understand people, so they can fake empathy. They can…
Alyssa Scolari [10:30]:
Yes. They’re typically very, very charming.
Rebecca Christianson [10:34]:
Alyssa Scolari [10:34]:
But when it comes to empathy, it could look like you confide in a friend about something and or you tell a friend something, right? And if that friend goes, “Oh, well they deserved it. They deserved it. They had that coming.” Right? Or it could be, this person responds in a way that’s like completely ignores what you’re talking about and shifts the focus onto them. “Oh, well, when I was that age, it was even harder for me. Babababa.”
Rebecca Christianson [11:07]:
Alyssa Scolari [11:07]:
Rebecca Christianson [11:07]:
Yep. Or they will fake empathy if they think that’s going to get them something. So they’ll be like, “Oh, that was a hard day at work.” And like this, whatever it is, because they think that they’re going to get something out of that. So sometimes they’ll fake empathy to get their own need met at the end of the day. And then if that doesn’t happen, they get angry. So the inability to authentically apologize, see hallmark up. You notice that somebody cannot take accountability. They will skirt accountability for something that they have done that has hurt the other person or isn’t right or whatever. They cannot authentically apologize.
Rebecca Christianson [11:47]:
You said this before, but it will always be somebody else’s fault. There will always be a reason why they cannot take accountability and authentically apologize. Also hallmark of when you notice that with someone that you’re around or involved with, that’s definitely a hallmark sign. And then if you confront them, they become extremely angry.
Rebecca Christianson [12:11]:
In fact, there’s a term called Narcissistic Rage. And that’s if they perceive their ego as being challenged, some people have narcissistic rage. And then you did a podcast earlier that I listened to about gaslighting. This is where gaslighting comes in. They’re unable to take accountability. So they will gaslight at all costs. And it becomes, because they’re usually extremely bright and charming, it can become almost impossible to pick up on the gaslighting.
Rebecca Christianson [12:47]:
Some people are so good at that, that your head is spinning and you don’t even understand what just happened. It’s not until you tell somebody outside of that interaction or relationship that they might be able to see, “I think they were gaslighting you.” Because it’s real, some people become really good, they become professionals at not taking accountability.
Rebecca Christianson [13:14]:
And the thing about, again, they’re very intuitive, very perceptive, very charming, and very bright. So they will learn things about you, your Achilles heel, your soft spots, and that’s where they’re going to hit. So when they gaslight you, it’s not going to be always about the actual thing they’re not taking accountability for. They’re going to gaslight you and hit where they know it hurts so that you will be blindsided, taken off guard, all these other things. So ultimately they don’t have to take accountability.
Rebecca Christianson [13:47]:
I think those, and then you mentioned self-absorbed, always bringing the conversation back to themselves. I feel like if you’re in a relationship or a friendship or a work relationship with somebody who has more than one of those characteristics, they are probably a narcissist.
Alyssa Scolari [14:05]:
Red flags, red flags, red flags, red flags. Yeah. And I think gaslighting is the narcissists best friend. Best friend, that is their biggest tool. And as you’re kind of saying all this, I feel like now’s a really good time to read the Narcissist’s Prayer. So this perfectly, for the listeners out there, reflects everything that Rebecca is saying and then some. It’s like, The narcissist’s prayer is, and by the way I did not write this. And I actually don’t know who wrote this. I tried to look it up and there’s a couple different versions of it, but I don’t know. It says the author is unknown when it comes to this specific version of it.
Alyssa Scolari [14:50]:
But the Narcissist’s Prayer is, “That didn’t happen. And if it did, it is not a big deal. And if it was a big deal, then it was not my fault. And if it was my fault, well, then I didn’t mean it. And if I did mean it, then you deserved it. Now this conversation is over. I am done talking about it.”
Rebecca Christianson [15:12]:
I think that says it perfectly. And so many people, here’s the thing about narcissists, right? So many people, as you were saying, all of the kind of DSM-IV criteria, I think two things. I think one on a bad day, we all feel selfish, right? It’s normal to have moments of time where we feel selfish, that’s normal. But we feel remorse and regret when that selfishness might have been at the expense of someone else. But there’s remorse, there’s guilt or shame.
Rebecca Christianson [15:48]:
Narcissists do not feel guilt or shame for that. They are self-absorbed to a pathological point, and you said that in the beginning and I wanted to reiterate that, they’re not just having a selfish day. They’re not just self-absorbed about the promotion they want at work. It’s a way of living for them. It’s to a pathological point.
Rebecca Christianson [16:11]:
And I think we all have narcissist in our lives and it’s hard. It’s hard because when you get close to, and I know Part Two is going to be more about the relationship with the narcissist, but when you get close to putting up a boundary with a narcissist, they love bomb. And when they love bomb, it feels as if they’ve heard you and they understand the error of their ways.
Rebecca Christianson [16:36]:
They don’t say that because they can’t take accountability. It just feels that way. And then you’re hooked again. Then you’re hooked again. And these characteristics will show up again. So if you think you’re in a relationship or have a friend or a work relationship where you’re in, or you think they’re a narcissist, and you start to point that out or you start to set different boundaries because that doesn’t feel good, and they make you feel like they understand the error of their ways they want to change. But these show back up again, run, run because they’re a narcissist.
Alyssa Scolari [17:13]:
Rebecca Christianson [17:14]:
And they just love bombed you. And now you’re going to be right back in the same cycle. And gaslighting is, I think, the number one way that narcissists manipulate, but they also use silent treatment.
Alyssa Scolari [17:25]:
Rebecca Christianson [17:26]:
Silence actually sets off the same pain receptors as physical pain.
Alyssa Scolari [17:33]:
Oh, I did not know that. It makes sense.
Rebecca Christianson [17:36]:
It does. Giving someone the silent treatment sets off the same pain receptors as actual physical pain in our brain. It’s so painful to be ignored, rejected, abandoned to feel those feelings to suddenly have silence. So it’s also a huge manipulation tactic for narcissists.
Rebecca Christianson [17:54]:
Stonewalling, the end of the prayer that you read, “And I am done with this relationship,” refusing to talk about things is also a huge manipulation tactic. And then comparison. So they need the attention from everyone, right? So they will often compare what you’re giving to what other people, past girl friends, other people that they are in their lives can give them, can feed them. So another huge manipulation tactic is to compare what you’re offering to other people, whether that’s imagined or real, to get you to up your ante, to get you to do more.
Alyssa Scolari [18:38]:
Yeah. And I also think that another too, well, you mentioned the love bombing, right? And for folks out there who may not have heard of this phrase before or may have heard of it, and don’t quite know what it is love bombing is, again, the narcissist isn’t taking accountability for his or her or their actions, but they are showering you with gifts, showering you with affection, spending money, maybe money that they don’t even have, on you.
Alyssa Scolari [19:06]:
Suddenly you have that Prada bag that you have always wanted. Suddenly they are paying for you to go on a trip. Suddenly, you’ve been asking for three years to go and visit, I don’t know, the state of Vermont in the fall because it’s beautiful and guess what? All of a sudden you’re going there. And they might be showering with you with words of affection as well, “I love you. You’re so important to me.” They tell you everything, like Rebecca said, that you want to hear, that makes you think that they have taken accountability and seen the error of their ways. But without them actually having to say that, right? So that’s love bombing.
Alyssa Scolari [19:41]:
But then the other thing that I always see with narcissists is their attempt at isolation, right? So yes, also the comparison, but they will also do this thing where they will make you feel like you’re alone in the world. And they might say very subtle things like, “Oh, did you see the weird way your friend was looking at you there?”
Rebecca Christianson [20:06]:
Alyssa Scolari [20:06]:
Right? “Did you see the way she rolled her eyes when you guys were talking? Do you really think she’s a good friend?” When I was in a relationship with a narcissist, he would tell me time and time again, that my family hated me, that they hated me. And after a while, and he wouldn’t sit me down and say, “Alyssa, your family hates you.” But it was very subtle. It would be, “Huh? Are you sure you’re okay with the way your mom said this?” And, “Are you sure you don’t feel some kind of way about the way your dad said that.” And, “Oh, well, I heard that your friend, so and so, said this about you.” These very seemingly small things that suddenly, before you know it, have you feeling like you can’t trust anyone else, but the narcissist.
Rebecca Christianson [20:53]:
Alyssa Scolari [20:54]:
Do you agree with that? Did I explain that correctly?
Rebecca Christianson [20:55]:
I totally agree. Yes, I absolutely agree. They will… Until they’re the only one that you trust, but they never, ever go, it’s never going to actually be about you, it’s always going to be about them. And the reason they do that is so that they don’t have competition so that when you don’t have anyone to say, “You know, he said or she said this to me.” And for them to say, “That’s gaslighting. They’re gaslighting you.” Or like, “That’s not okay. They’re breaking you down. You’re not yourself.”
Rebecca Christianson [21:37]:
Isolate you from everyone that can give you perspective, so that they are your only perspective, because they’ll isolate you from anyone who can challenge them. Especially anyone whose smart enough to see what they’re doing.
Alyssa Scolari [21:54]:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Rebecca Christianson [21:56]:
Yep. I think that whenever… Another kind of hallmark I feel like I see a lot in people who come in and they’re in a relationship with a narcissist is, they want to change. If you feel like you want to change or teach the person you’re in a relationship with something, like about being a decent human, if you feel like they just don’t understand how to treat people properly or be nice or kind, right? Sometimes people will say, “I just don’t think that they understand.” It always is a red flag to me. My ears always perk up and I start to listen because you shouldn’t have to teach a normal person how to be decent and respect people. If you’re in an adult relationship, you shouldn’t have to, that’s something that you teach toddlers. That’s not something that you should teach an adult.
Rebecca Christianson [22:54]:
They should know that. That should be… So if you feel that way, be careful, because narcissists can’t learn that.
Alyssa Scolari [23:04]:
Rebecca Christianson [23:04]:
They do not get something from being inherently kind. If they’re kind it’s to feed their ego. It’s to get something fed. It’s not just about, it’s never about the other person. So that’s something else. It’s like a hallmark in relationships when you feel like, “Oh, I just don’t think they… They just don’t understand how they come across.” They know exactly how they come across and they’re being an asshole to your friends because they don’t want you to be in those friendships because those people are picking up on the fact that they’re a narcissist. So it’s all manipulation.
Alyssa Scolari [23:41]:
Absolutely. 1000%. 1000%. I think you make a really good point there. And I think before we wrap up with this Part One today, and we’re going to get into more on the next episode about some differences between covert and an overt narcissists and what does narcissistic abuse look like in the victim? What are some of the longterm effects of that? What does treatment look like? We’re going to talk about that in the next episode, but I also, before we close out, I really wanted to say that it’s important for you guys to remember out there that this narcissism is defined by a pattern. Because you could take any one of these things in an isolated incident, and it might not necessarily mean somebody is a narcissist, right?
Alyssa Scolari [24:27]:
Like Rebecca said, we all have selfish tendencies. Being selfish isn’t a bad thing at times, right? We all can be self-absorbed. So in an isolated incident, I don’t want you to see this and then think immediately of this podcast and go, “Oh my gosh, this must be a narcissist.” Because that’s not necessarily the case. It is a pattern, a consistent pattern, so please keep that in mind.
Alyssa Scolari [24:54]:
And with that being said, I think, unless there’s anything else you wanted to add today, Rebecca, I feel like this might be a good place to wrap up with this episode. And then…
Rebecca Christianson [25:09]:
I think that’s great. I think that in our next episode, I want to touch a little bit on, this is something you and I talked about, the covert versus overt narcissist. I do think a lot of times, there are like closet narcissist and sometimes that gets missed and people are in unhealthy relationships. But we can definitely start with that, pick that up, next time.
Rebecca Christianson [25:32]:
And then start to talk about, there is some interesting characteristics that narcissists look for in people. I think sometimes victims of narcissists feel like there must be something wrong with them, but actually narcissists choose really intelligent victims. And they choose people who have really good qualities that are usually very intelligent. That’ll also be a great topic to pick up with next time.
Alyssa Scolari [25:58]:
Perfect. So at that, I think we are going to wrap up and we will be back with the second part of this series next week. And if you are enjoying what you’re hearing and you’re enjoying the podcast, please do not forget to leave us a review. Reviews are incredibly important. They help us to continue to grow and that is the goal. We can get people to be aware that they have access to free mental health support and education through the podcast. And we do that by continuing to grow.
Alyssa Scolari [26:33]:
And if you are a patron on Patreon, don’t forget that you can also message me directly through Patreon and you can make episode requests if there’s a specific topic that you would like to hear, please feel free to do that. And if you are not a Patreon member yet, please feel free, if you are able to do so to sign up, to become a member. And anything that you are able to give towards the podcast would go a really long way in terms of helping the podcast to pay for itself and helping us to pay for all the different types of things that we do to be able to make this podcast what it is.
Alyssa Scolari [27:13]:
So thank you all so much. I am holding you in the light and I will see you next week.
Alyssa Scolari [27:19]:
Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com. Or you can also follow us on social media, on Instagram we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter, it is @lightafterpod.
Alyssa Scolari [27:36]:
Lastly, please head over to patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over. Again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you. And we appreciate your support.