It has been said that a narcissist is the worst type of person to have in couples’ therapy. Narcissists are supposedly beyond hope, at least in a couple’s setting. But is that true? Can a narcissist successfully participate in couples’ therapy, or are they doomed to failure?
First thing’s first. No narcissist is beyond help. It is entirely possible, though very difficult, for a narcissist to succeed in couples’ counseling. Success in any therapeutic setting requires a willingness to be honest. It requires a willingness to change. This is the one area that seems most difficult for narcissists.
Clinical Narcissism Explained
To go any further on this topic, it is necessary to define clinical narcissism. All of us display narcissistic attitudes from time to time. Doing so is part of being human. Yet someone who is diagnosed as clinically narcissist takes it to the extreme. For an explanation, we turn to Relationships & More, a Westchester County, NY therapy clinic.
Clinical narcissism is known formally these days as narcissistic personality disorder. Relationships & More says it is defined by the following characteristics:
- An inflated sense of self
- A noticeable attitude of self-importance
- An insatiable need for admiration and acceptance
- A lack of empathy for others.
Narcissists frequently find themselves in broken relationships. That’s because healthy relationships are a two-way street. Yet narcissists operate on a one-way street. It is all about them. If it cannot be, they have no interest in participating.
Narcissists in Couple’s Therapy
The danger presented when narcissists join their partners in couple’s therapy is the assumption that they are always right. It is pretty common for couples to feel justified in their own positions when they first begin therapy, but narcissists go way beyond self-justification. They honestly believe they can do no wrong. They often will not give an inch, blaming everything that is wrong with their relationships on their partners.
An exceptionally arrogant narcissist (if that is even possible) poses an additional threat if they are a capable manipulator. Any ability to manipulate the therapist can doom couple’s therapy to ultimate failure. This is why therapists need to be so careful when dealing with narcissists. Manipulation is always a possibility.
When Therapy Fails
When therapy fails due to narcissistic behavior – and it often does – where does that leave the other person? It could leave that person feeling defeated and unable to see any hope of personal success. A good therapist would offer hope by way of individual counseling. Even if couple’s counseling is impossible, individual counseling is not.
Individual counseling can help a person learn how to live with a narcissist. If the person has no desire to do that, individual counseling can help them pick up the pieces and get on with life. It really depends on what the person wants and how the therapist helps them achieve it.
As for the narcissist, failure does not mean much. Just by the nature of the disorder, the narcissist is able to point a finger at the other person and assign them all blame for the failed therapy. Doing so only reinforces narcissistic thinking. It only fuels an ongoing cycle that is exceedingly difficult to break.
This is not to say that narcissists are beyond hope. It is not to say that they cannot be helped. They can be. It is just that couple’s therapy might not be the right environment for it. Narcissists require a unique kind of therapy that is best offered one-on-one. Combining that therapy with couple’s therapy could represent the best chance of success.