Post Traumatic Growth: Global Healing-Not Shaming & Calling Narcissism Out!
Thanks to Bree Bonchay, LCSW for calling June 1st the date of World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day. It was important for our host, Kristin Walker, to interview the friends that brought this awareness to Mental Health News Radio: Andrea Schneider and Christine Louis de Canonville (also Michele Mallon who could not join us for this interview). We’ve shared this walk for many years before we knew each other and then together the past 4 years. A whole lot of healing has gone on for each of us and for listeners of our shows.
Please visit Christine’s website here for more information about her and her work.
Please visit Andrea’s website here for more information about her and her work.
Join us as we talk about what this day means for us, our friendship, and the thousands of people that have reached out for help upon finding our writing, hearing a podcast, being a part of a training session, or bumping into us on the street!
Christine & Andrea: World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day
Download the Transcript: Jennifer Larson – Christine&Andrea WNAAD 6.1.17
Intro Music and Voice over
KRISTIN: Welcome to Mental Health News Radio, part of Mental Health News Radio Network, your source for information about mental health providers and the work they do in the world, the organizations that support their work, volunteers, and mental health consumers. This show is brought to you by ZenCharts.com, the intelligent EHR for addiction treatment providers; MyGenetx.com, a primary resource for transitioning and implementing precision-guided medicine.; and EverythingEHR, devoted to helping organizations find the best electronic health records software in behavioral health. Thank you for joining us.
KRISTIN: Hey everyone! This is Kristin Sunanta-Walker. I am so excited to be broadcasting this particular show on June 1 of 2017, which is now being called World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day. I’m here with two of my closest friends, Christine Louis de Canonville and Andrea Schneider. This is a big day for the three of us. We wanted to make sure that we recorded a show and put it out on this day. Just in case you live under a rock and you don’t know who these two women are, I’m going to let them introduce themselves. Christine, if you would go first that would be wonderful.
CHRISTINE: Well hello from Dublin, everybody; lovely to join you. My name is Christine Louis de Canonville. I have been writing articles and various things, and working with victims of narcissistic abuse for quite some time. I live in Dublin, Ireland. Our therapists are no wiser here than you are in America. Narcissistic abuse wasn’t part of our training; actually, it wasn’t introduced to me at any time in my training. But all of that is changing.
KRISTIN: Absolutely! What is the name of your book, Christine, so that our listeners know?
CHRISTINE: The name of my book is called The Three Faces of Evil. In that book I actually talk about the narcissist, the malignant narcissist, and the psychopath. I try to explain the similarities and the differences to give people an idea what they might be dealing with in their own relationship.
KRISTIN: Fantastic! And Andrea Schneider?
ANDREA: Hello! Thank you for having me; I’m honored to be here with you two wonderful ladies today. I’m an LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, in San Dimas, CA. I have a private practice, and I work with a lot of survivors of narcissistic abuse, whether in work, love or family relationships. I also have been writing some articles on my own blog, but also for GoodTherapy.org and The Minds Journal. I’ve also written an e-book called Soul Vampires: Reclaiming Your Lifeblood After Narcissistic Abuse,
KRISTIN: And it’s been interesting, the three of us with our journey, because everyone comes to this awareness, well not everyone does, but many people come to this awareness at different times. Christine, we were saying before we hit record that, of the three of us, you’ve been involved in knowing what this is for a lot longer than Andrea and I. Andrea then comes in second. I actually found out about this on a trip in Italy where I was in horrible pain, didn’t understand what was going on, and happened to Google something that made me hit on an article by Andrea Schneider. I thought, “Yes! This is what’s been happening!” Andrea is the one who introduced me to you, Christine; and we have had probably the longest email threads in the history of email threads between the three of us over the last few years. But they’ve certainly helped me get through this process, which has in turn (since I made my trauma public by going through every stage of this on the air) helped so many other people going through this as well. I want to say thanks to both of you for being out there, because without you I would not have survived what I went through.
ANDREA: Well it’s an honor to be connected with you both.
CHRISTINE: I think we’ve all been instrumental in each other’s recovery, because we all three of us have experienced narcissistic abuse at some level or other. So we’ve all had our moments together, and part of our healing has been in the conversations we’ve held together I believe.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. Just to have the two of you take something that I put out in an email and reframe it as, “Well how would you feel if we spoke to you that way?” Or if we did this or that and that shift in my brain of, “Right! This is how healthy, well-boundaried, caring people behave.” It gave me a reflection of what is not healthy behavior so that I could put a label on it and say, “Yes, that’s wrong and I need to move away from that behavior – my own and someone else’s.
ANDREA: What an honor and a privilege to be connected to you both. Christine, being one of the main pioneers in the field, has been so prolific in her writing, and I was drawn to her online website narcissisticbehavior.net and all of her wonderful articles there. It is serendipitous that we all connected. Now, Kristin, with your podcast, and putting the word out about narcissistic abuse recovery, it’s really fabulous that this is becoming a more and more common part of the vernacular of everyday people, to really learn more about this and to get help.
CHRISTINE: That’s true.
KRISTIN: So, CHRISTINE:, since you’ve been in this longer and you dealt with this, as you talk about in your book, with your brother, how long was it before you actually, or at what age were you at, when you realized there was a name to what you had experienced?
CHRISTINE: Ten years ago; I’m now seventy.
CHRISTINE: It was only ten years ago; and I have a degree in psychology. I have been a psychotherapist for twenty-five years. I worked in a psychiatric hospital for almost five years in a trauma unit; and yet, I did not know that term. I don’t think that it’s any stupidity on my part; it just wasn’t a term that was used. But I was working in the psychiatric hospital with people who were actually hugely traumatized. Many had gone through what I had gone through with a psychopathic brother – and worse, of course, they had gone through worse. But again, even amongst us as clinicians, we didn’t use that term, ever.
KRISTIN: Why do you think that is? Why do you think that there has been such a shroud of secrecy or stigma around using those terms? I still even get blasted with that, which we will get into that in a bit, but I’m wondering what your opinion is on that, Christine.
CHRISTINE: I don’t think it was actually a stigma. I don’t think it was actually just awareness. I think that narcissism was something that psychiatrists dealt with, for working with the narcissist themselves. I don’t think anybody really gave a great deal of thought to looking at the damage that was done by those narcissists to their victims. Of course, every narcissist has a trail of victims. It won’t be just one. It will be their whole family. It will be in the workplace. It will be in their friendships. It’s wherever they moved; they will be bringing this abuse with them. I think it didn’t cross anybody’s mind to sit down and actually talk about the victim. The nearest I think we got to it was with domestic violence, when we started looking at the victims within domestic violence. I think that research work has been absolutely brilliant; however, I still think it’s very limited. I don’t think it’s actually an appropriate title anymore because it suggests that this only happens within the home. This happens everywhere! It can happen to any of us – male or female, young and old. There are no boundaries as to where narcissistic abuse will find its way into. So I think the domestic abuse label needs to be expanded. I think we need to be talking about the levels of domestic abuse. Is it pathological narcissism we’re dealing with? Is it psychopathy we’re dealing with? I think we’re really just on the starting edge of opening that debate up.
KRISTIN: I agree. Andrea, for you, when did you come to the awareness about what this was?
ANDREA: Well first of all, I completely echo what Christine was saying in terms of how this has been more hidden in our larger culture, at least in the United States, simply because it’s such a covert, hidden form of abuse – emotional abuse or psychological abuse. When we talk about domestic violence, which came to the forefront more so with Judith Herman’s book on trauma and recovery in the 1990s, domestic violence was sort of a buzz word. It was a more visible form of abuse versus narcissistic abuse which is a more hidden abuse, so I think people are becoming more aware now of what it is. Certainly with the recent political events, I think the terminology has come to the forefront. As it relates to my own experience, I actually encountered some very narcissistic circumstances in a work setting, which I won’t elaborate on here; but that was the domain that I experienced it personally. I’m very thankful to have healthy love and family relationships, but in the work setting is where I experienced it personally. Also in terms of my clients, the focus of my practice is largely women’s reproductive mental health, which still continues to be one of the specialties I practice. However, I also found, upon further digging with many of my clients, that many were also not only experiencing depression and anxiety about reproductive life events, but were also trauma survivors – specifically of narcissistic abuse. I’m not saying that depression or anxiety is the direct result of narcissistic abuse for all people, but it can be part of the trauma experience that survivors of depression and anxiety have experienced. I did see a correlation and have seen a correlation with many of my clients. For me, in terms of the specialty of narcissistic abuse recovery, that really has only become more of my primary specialty in the last five to seven years.
KRISTIN: What I think people don’t understand is that it does need its own type of therapy – specific methodologies to get through it – because the symptoms are the same for every single person that comes through. That’s what I think the mainstream public doesn’t understand – we all go through the same exact stages. There are so many examples of this all over the world that it is undeniable that this is a specific form of abuse.
ANDREA: Yes, for sure. There is trauma by exposure to emotional abuse by a narcissist. There is no question. That is part of the survivor’s experience.
KRISTIN: I know I’ve found, being in the industry of behavioral health – especially in the addiction treatment area of behavioral health, a lot of resistance about this particular word; even talking about it can bring guilt and shame directed at anyone who does speak out about it. I’ve done a lot of study about how someone ends up going in the direction of narcissism if they’ve had an abusive childhood. There’s a lot of compassion and understanding about how someone ends up in that element of their behavior or that pathology. That being said, it doesn’t mean that I am going to not talk about exactly what happens to every single victim of this abuse. But to me, it feels like there is this shame on the victims to stop talking about it because you need to feel sorry for this person who is also wounded, and that is why they are wounding others. I know that’s been my experience. How have you felt that from where you’re at, Christine?
CHRISTINE: I think shame is a huge part of narcissistic abuse. I think it probably is the driving force behind a lot of the behaviors that we see in the therapy room. I’m hoping that things are going to change in the sense that now we have therapists who are starting to understand about narcissistic abuse; because very often the victim comes into the therapy room, for example, and they don’t know what it is they are dealing with. They are trying to explain what has happened to them, and yet they don’t really know what it is that has happened to them. Now, if you have a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse, little red flags will keep popping up all over the place. So a therapist will be able to then start the inquiry around, literally, “Have you heard the term narcissistic abuse?” which most people wouldn’t have. But then they’re able to go away and are able to research. At the moment, we actually have a situation where clients are going into therapy because they aren’t functioning as well, they know something isn’t right, and they are traumatized. Sometimes they aren’t treated right. Sometimes they are even diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder or something like that, and they are not actually being understood. I decided that before I do much more, I’ve got to start with teaching the therapists. There’s no point teaching all of the victims, and then they’ve nowhere to take it.
CHRISTINE: What I spent last year focusing on within Ireland was actually going out and giving workshops teaching this to qualified mental health professionals. I have to say, they have been just so hungry for it! It was amazing, because I think we can all identify that quite a few therapists would be empaths, and as I progressed through the workshops, it became more and more obvious that quite a number of the therapists had actually experienced narcissistic abuse, but this was the dawning. They had never known that; they had never had a title or a name for it.
KRISTIN: Yeah, I love it when someone first figures it out because we all go through the same stages. You read something and it hits you, and then you research like crazy! You can’t get enough because you finally have information that validates this horrific experience that you’ve been through. For some people, they went through this one time with this one person; and for others like me, I was raised in this. I didn’t know until my 40s that is what this is, and I kept allowing these kinds of people into my life because that was normal for me to be around people that wound and enjoy wounding others. So everyone has a different journey about where they come to with this. When I say allow, I am not victim shaming myself.
CHRISTINE: Absolutely not.
KRISTIN: Andrea, what are your thoughts around – I guess the place I’m trying to get to is, I wonder why I hear from people still trying to tell me to stop talking about this, and that I am not being compassionate enough to the poor people that are wounding other people with this kind of abuse.
ANDREA: That’s a really good question. I think you’re putting a voice to something that is so stigmatized that, when people first hear about narcissistic abuse, it may have for them some sort of unconscious or subconscious shame issue, whether they have been recipients of narcissistic abuse or had some form of exposure to it. I think it’s more common than we know. It certainly exists in so many different spectrums – whether it’s romantic relationships, work relationships, or family. I think a lot of people are very disconnected with their own emotional language. So when we first put a name to what it is, people can sometimes be very fearful of learning the information. Also, as we’ve talked about in other podcasts, in narcissistic abuse there’s this spectrum where an individual who is a narcissistic individual could have traits, they could be full blown NPD – narcissistic personality disordered individuals, or they could be further on that spectrum of malignant narcissism or even on into psychopathy. I think we speak a lot about the malignant narcissists that are very conscious about premeditatedly causing hurt and harm to their targeted victim; and those individuals know what they’re doing. They know that they’re sadistic; and they attempt to extract narcissistic supply, and in fact they generate their narcissistic supply – or ego fuel – from the pain and suffering of their victims. So I think we’re calling those individuals out in saying this is not okay. I applaud you, Kristin, for bringing light to this, for shining a flashlight on the darkness of this, because it’s absolutely not okay for someone to very consciously, premeditatedly perpetrate abuse on another person. We’re not talking about your garden variety arrogant jerk that just happens to be self-absorbed. We’re talking about somebody who is almost straddling the line with being a psychopath. So I think we need to have these dialogues; and we need to talk about why this is not okay and why we really need to support survivors in healing from this horrific trauma.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. Christine, what are your thoughts about all of that?
CHRISTINE: Well, I agree with everything that you are saying, Andrea. I would like to actually say that I think it’s an absolutely wonderful thing that we are having a Worldwide Narcissistic Awareness Day. I think we have to thank somebody by the name of Bree Bonchay, who’s a psychotherapist in America, who has actually established that last year in 2016. The figures that are being bandied around at the moment, they are talking about somewhere in the region of 3.5 billion victims of narcissistic abuse in the world. It’s a pandemic!
KRISTIN: It is a pandemic and what’s so interesting, I’m so glad you threw out numbers, 3 billion people worldwide! That’s astronomical! It needs to be taken seriously and even when I posted the logo that she created on my Facebook page, I had someone respond to it very angrily saying, “We need to stop talking about this. They’re victims too. I was a victim of this. I just want to focus on positivity and not get into the negativity of what happened.” That’s from a “victim” of this kind of abuse. So there are so many different ways that morph out of how we deal with it that require study and understanding so that we can actually help people. My response to that post was, “Thank you for sharing. I will never tell a victim of any type of abuse how they should respond to the abuse they’ve suffered. But thank you for sharing.”
CHRISTINE: You know there’s a point to be made too from the point of view of the narcissist himself. Of course they are victims. They have been victimized as children; and they for whatever reason chose to identify with their abuser and then wield it and act it out in their adulthood. So, yes, this is not without compassion for the narcissist either, but we have to get this information out. Awareness is needed because if people are allowed to abuse their young children, and maybe they have been the result of very bad parenting themselves, this behavior carries on through the generations. It doesn’t heal within families. We need to know about it. We need to make sure that if there is somebody, like in my family a brother who was definitely psychopathic (but he had a brain injury – I’m not making an excuse for him,) but thank God I had very loving parents. In fact, I was able to get a lot of validation and a lot of balance. A question I am often asked, if people are dealing with a narcissist in the family, is, “What can we do? Is there anything we can do?” I say, “Yeah, there is.” Because if you are a grandmother, grandfather, uncle or aunt and you see someone in your family being narcissistic with their children, you can start to bring balance to those children. You can make them feel okay about themselves when they are in your company. You can help them. But we need to be aware of narcissistic abuse and we need to see actually how far and wide it has spread so that we can start to tackle it and educate mental health providers – so they are ready and able to pick up people and help them through this journey. We also need to provide better education and resources. Of course, more than anything, I had mentioned that last year I was teaching the therapists. I reached over one thousand therapists in Ireland. I think we’re somewhere in the region of five thousand therapists in Ireland.
KRISTIN: That’s amazing, Christine.
ANDREA: That’s incredible.
CHRISTINE: But it’s all around the country, so there are people all around the country that know or at least are aware of this kind of abuse. Now, I don’t know if I’ll be lucky, but I want to now focus in that same educational way in the law societies – get it across to the solicitors, to the courts, and to the judges; because very often they abuse the victim again and again.
KRISTIN: Yes, absolutely.
ANDREA: Yes, that’s such a need. There needs to be some education on it. There needs to be education on so many levels, whether it’s with the therapists, with attorneys, with the legal system. I think in the schools too, interfacing with the communities and teaching empathy and just basic social skills stuff that unfortunately we’ve grown away from in the pandemic of narcissism. We see it in children’s behavior on the playground. We see it all over the place. Certainly in Los Angeles, the hotbed of narcissism, with all of the superficiality of Hollywood, it’s just everywhere. There is so much work to do. I applaud you, Christine, for making such an impact and educating other therapists and communities about it, because we are not taught this stuff in graduate school. We absolutely should be as therapists. As human beings, we should learn in the schools and in our communities what is a healthy relationship and what is a toxic relationship, and talk about what that entails as it relates to empathy, reciprocity, authenticity, accountability, compromise. We can educate children at a very young age what is a healthy relationship. If they are not getting that in their families of origin, then we need to somehow, I believe through the schools, help be another layer of support for those children to learn, in my opinion.
KRISTIN: I agree.
CHRISTINE: Yes, but don’t forget that there are also narcissistic teachers.
ANDREA: That’s true.
CHRISTINE: Most of the damage done to my brother, it didn’t come from the home; it came from the school he was in. Then that was brought home and acted out on me, that frustration and that anger. So we need to be able to identify it, not that we punish it, it’s not about punishing people, but that we can even reach out. If there is a narcissistic teacher in a school, other teachers have enough information that they are able to recognize that and maybe insist that the teacher has to go and have some therapy, or has to be (unintelligible) or whatever. So there are many ways we can help. We can help the narcissist as well as the victim.
KRISTIN: Yes, that’s been the interesting piece too. There’s that stage that you go through where you are angry. You figure out what this is and you have been treated so badly and so horrifically, and by someone who has enjoyed toying with you, enjoyed your pain, taking pleasure out of your pain. You do get to a place, I know I did, where I was so enraged; and every single victim of this gets to that stage. I definitely have laid it all out there on this show, how enraged I got. It’s a pendulum swing – yeah, I went way over to the side of being angry, as I had every right to – as every victim has every right to. Then I went to the other side to, “Okay, let’s try and understand what this is because, yes, these are people that are obviously hurting as well.” Now I feel like I’ve come to this midpoint and that is why there needs to be education. Narcissists, or people with pathological narcissism, can be treated – however, most of them choose not to because they don’t believe that they have a problem. So where does that leave everyone else that has to deal with these people? It leaves us needing to be educated so that we know how to deal with them and so that our interactions with them cause as little damage to us as possible.
CHRISTINE: You’re mentioning something that’s really important because more often than not when you have been a victim of narcissistic abuse there’s actually a history that you’ve re-experienced it and been re-victimized several times in your lifetime. Part of the reason is because you are conditioned; you don’t know it’s even abuse. Your tolerance is built up to such a high point that you “put up with” more than most – than any healthy person would put up with. They’d see there was something wrong and they would move away from that person. But when you have been conditioned from childhood, when you’ve lived in a home where you could not escape it – you’ve built up defense mechanisms that helped you to tolerate it, but then you bring that experience out into the world and you are attractive to other narcissists. In a funny way, and you might not understand this, but in a funny way the victims are also attracted to narcissists as well because it’s what they know. The power that the narcissist exudes, the victim likes powerful people. It’s all part of the conditioning; it’s not a crazy masochistic thing at all. A lot of people think it is masochistic that victims go in search of that. No, the empathic kind of person (the person conditioned to abuse) and the narcissist are attracted to each other as if a magnet is pulling them to each other.
KRISTIN: Yes, never have I been more attracted to another person in a love relationship than someone who is highly narcissistic. It’s like you said – magnets, sexual chemistry, physical chemistry, sometimes intellectual chemistry. I had to unlearn what I had learned because my birthfather was a world class malignant narcissist. I’d say any parent that sexually abuses their child is a narcissist – hands down.
CHRISTINE: I would agree.
KRISTIN: I was seduced over years by my father. How sickening is that?! That led me to looking for men who do that as well. So without this education, I would still be attracted to these kinds of men. Now I’m not. The moment a red flag hit me I listen to it, where before I ran through eight hundred stoplights because I didn’t even know they were there. Now, the first one that comes up, I stop. But it takes education to get there.
ANDREA: Sure. It sounds like the blueprint was laid with your family of origin; and yet, having gone through your own process of healing (what we talk about as post traumatic growth,) you’ve been able to make this horrible traumatic situation from your family of origin and relationships with other narcissists, and really transform your experience into something with deep meaning and to help others. You’ve been able to transform your experience into something very meaningful, and therapists call that post traumatic growth: you have an increased sense of your own strength as a result of going through this horrific adversity, to your own experiences of healing and working through the trauma you’ve been able to differentiate what is healthy and what isn’t, you’ve been able to have a new appreciation for life and you’ve become part of the grassroots effort to put out the education about what narcissistic abuse is. I completely agree with what you were saying before that perpetrators of sexual abuse are definitely narcissists if not psychopaths. They are definitely on that spectrum of malignant narcissism. When I think about the number of women and men who’ve been sexually abused, and Christine help me with this ratio, isn’t it somewhere in the range of 1 to 4 or 1 to 6 children who have experienced sexual abuse.
ANDREA: And think about how many perpetrators there are unfortunately, and underneath that is narcissism if not psychopathy. It’s really disturbing actually; but it’s because of that, because it is so common, it becomes that much more important to educate people. So I absolutely agree with what you are both saying.
CHRISTINE: I think that a lot of people do absolutely survive; but they don’t all thrive. I don’t think it’s understood – the difference between the two – the difference between surviving and thriving.
KRISTIN: That’s so true. I want to point out too that there’s a reason why these shows that I’ve done, that Andrea’s done, that Christine has done, the talks that we’ve all done – there’s always the clinical perspective and there’s the patient perspective. That’s what I try to bring to the table, so when Andrea or Christine are saying thank you to me or talking about me, they’re really talking about all of you that are listening that are survivors and hopefully on your way to being thrivers in this. It can also be therapists treating this; we all are victims of this. There’s been a strategic reason why I have shared personal stories about what I’ve been through because of the sheer volume of emails I get from victims telling me, “Kristin, I have listened to some of your shows again, and again, and again; locked in my closet; crying; afraid of my spouse; and the only thing that kept me sane was hearing somebody else saying they’ve been through it too. If everybody knew the volume of emails that all of us get about this, there’s no way that I can be obtuse about how important this is to share from the victim’s perspective, to share from a survivor’s perspective, and then also to come at this from a very empowered person which is what I am now – that perspective as well. Because you can get to this place where you are empowered, where you know when someone is coming at you that is a dangerous toxic person, and either not engage or engage very healthfully for you. Does that make sense?
ANDREA: Yes, totally. You’re the quintessential (unintelligible) test, Kristin. You are just an amazing example of someone who has bloomed in the face of adversity and is fierce in her quest as a warrior survivor to really enter that place of thriving after being in a place of survival. It’s a horrible place to be stuck, in the survival mode, but you’ve worked so hard to merge into a place of thriving. That’s an ongoing process for all survivors, but how beautiful that you are able to share your story with other survivors so that they know that there is hope, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I think hope is so important for survivors to know they’re not going to be forever stuck in that place of cognitive dissonance that results from the gas lighting, the silent treatment, the emotional abuse, the blame shifting and projection. So you’re an amazing example of someone who is entering thriving, has lived to tell the tale, and is connecting all the dots, not only from your experience narrating your journey to shed light on the situation, but also weaving in all of the clinical aspects of what’s involved in terms of recovery. So, Kristin, you’re awesome for being able to put a name to this!
KRISTIN: Now, I’m going to start feeling like I’m narcissistic.
ANDREA: No, you are not!
KRISTIN: But thank you!
CHRISTINE: It’s not an easy thing to stand up there, especially on air, as we have done…
KRISTIN: Yes, all of us.
CHRISTINE: …and spoken about it as professionals, and we’ve spoken about, “Yes, I have been there. I have known that.” And yes, for a while I did everything to get over it; and I did survive. We have all taken on that journey where we actually had to go through as a result of that adversity. We have actually risen to higher levels of functioning because of it. You know, thriving is not about just getting through this, and it’s not about returning to the same place in life that you were previous to the abuse. It’s not about that at all. It’s about going beyond that. It’s about taking all that has happened to you and turning it around and making change. In doing that, when you do work with that – when you don’t work with it, and the reason victims are re-victimized time and time again, is because in a way they are actually are kind of stuck. They are easily triggered, and they are easily manipulated. It’s by going through your pain. It isn’t an easy thing to do – nobody is saying that. When you go through the pain of your experience, it actually brings you to a place of complete and utter change. It transforms your suffering completely to a place of power. I’m thinking about the work that I do. If I hadn’t had the experience I had as a child, even though I didn’t know until ten years ago what it actually was, I would never have become a therapist. I certainly would never have been working with victims as I do today, and I wouldn’t be writing about the whole thing. It’s not just research. I’m able to draw from within myself things that were not written – that were never written. But that took – I had to be vulnerable to do that, and to stand up there as a professional, and put my hands up there and say, “Yeah, I’ve been that mess. I have been that mess at some point.” But I have also learned the root out of it, and now I can navigate other people through that healing process. They do the change. They do the work. But I can help to navigate and support their healing and their pain that they’ll go through, especially when they have to grieve the ungrieved grief. Actually, I didn’t hit the anger that you spoke about, Kristin. I didn’t hit that ever. What I had was grief – enormous grief that the relationship I had with my brother was an illusion. That, to me, was an incredible, painful thing. I never hated him – I’ve always loved him; and I still love him to this day even though he’s no longer alive. But in a way, I know that he actually put me on this mission that I’m on today – what we’re talking about here together as women. So I think your journey can also be very much a spiritual awakening as well.
KRISTIN: Oh, absolutely. Never have I been so cracked open to spirituality like I have through this whole process. That’s been the biggest piece for me, that’s been wonderful and has helped me get to a place of forgiveness for my father and a place of gratitude, not for what he did, but that it was part of putting me on the path of who I am today, which is someone that I admire after years of not thinking that I really was worth much.
ANDREA: And I think you both speak to that wonderful post traumatic growth. You both are incredibly evolved human beings who have allowed yourselves to be vulnerable and authentic, and that makes you so accessible – Christine as a therapist and a writer, Kristin as a person doing all these incredible podcasts and your own writing. I think that makes people feel understood. Also, with the post traumatic growth, not only is there this spiritual growth that happens, I think there is an increased appreciation also for life, the preciousness of life, the healthy relationships that are in one’s tribe, and the necessity of pulling the weeds out of the garden of that circle if there’s some weeds growing there to make room for new growth. So if anything, through the adversity there are some real enhancements of one’s life – for many people who have survived narcissistic abuse and are entering a place of thriving. I think it’s been an important message to survivors to know that there is hope, to reach a place of not just surviving but thriving. You both are examples of that and I think it’s wonderful there is such incredible bravery and authenticity that you share. It really helps the survivors.
KRISTIN: You’re so funny, Andrea. Andrea cracks me up because I know the two of you personally. You are the best cheerleader of anybody I know, because you know when you are saying that about Christine and me that you’re talking about yourself too.
ANDREA: I’m blushing. Oh my goodness. Well, thank you.
KRISTIN: It’s an interesting thing, and I think you’ll both agree with this. The word vulnerable has been used, and it’s true, I am in awe of any clinician and any counselor that will talk about the fact that they have also been narcissistically abused. That takes guts; it takes vulnerability. It takes vulnerability for anyone, no matter where they come from, to talk about it because what is it that narcissists are so absolutely skilled at sussing out and abusing – our vulnerabilities.
ANDREA: Yeah, that’s so true. They don’t want to be exposed, do they?
KRISTIN: No. So they are laser focused on what your weaknesses are in order to use those to emotionally wound you at your core later. I think we all – I still, when it does happen because they exist and I still will have people come in to my life and they can figure me out in certain ways in a hot minute because I am open and vulnerable and comfortable in my vulnerability; and then when they wound, the difference now is that I don’t go to a place of shame and self-blame, I immediately think, “Oh. You’re someone I need to be wary of, because that was not okay.”
CHRISTINE: And that’s of course where education is absolutely vital. It is in your education that you have learned how to identify when you’re in the presence of someone whose behavior is a bit off. You’re able to identify it. I think everybody needs to be learning this. The majority of people are not going to become therapists. You don’t have to diagnose anybody; but to actually be safe yourself, it is highly recommended, by me anyway, that you all learn about how to recognize narcissistic behavior when you’re in the presence of it. When you can come through, for those who are listening today who are survivors, I would encourage you to go on your journey of moving through your post traumatic growth and moving towards thriving. When you do that, I know that in me, I definitely have changed since I did my journey. I think you have to have the great suffering and loss to actually make this leap. It is by going through those great sufferings and losses that you make positive changes. The changes that I’ve noticed in myself, and I see it with all of my clients as well, there’s a change in their own perception of their own self. So as far as I am concerned, I now realize that my brother, in a way, has brought me to this place of understanding where I’m able to give it back, and it’s become my mission. But there is also my experience and relationship with other people. That has changed, because now I am able to understand that suffering. I can sit in the depths of despair with people without being sucked into it, and I can hold them while they go through their process because I know that journey – I’ve done it now. I won’t say I’m completely recovered; it’s always a process I think, but certainly a great deal of my shame was transformed, and that allows me to be more intimate now with other people.
KRISTIN: Yes, oh that is so true.
ANDREA: I commend you.
CHRISTINE: As for my philosophy, my philosophy has completely changed – completely changed!
KRISTIN: I think what I want to close on, and the two of you talk about this, when we’re talking about having a World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day, this is not about shaming narcissists. This is not about throwing around loosely the term of Narcissistic Personality Disorder on anyone that might act like an a##hole. That is not what this is about. That is so small minded. That is so limited. All that this is about is acknowledging that this is real; that people are hurting; that it deserves to be put into the light; and that this is about healing, awareness and education. There’s no shame in anything about what I just said there. I don’t want to call out – boy have I wanted to, and have I yes – that was a stage for me, but that’s not where I’m at any more and that’s not where people get to when they get to this post traumatic growth stage. You do come to a place of forgiveness, but you also realize education is the place where we all can get to where you live in a place of healing around this. Not in a place to shame people that behave badly. Maybe I’m not saying that correctly, but I’d love for the two of you to help me close that up on that key piece of why this day is important and what it is about. Andrea, I’ll start with you.
ANDREA: Absolutely – you are so spot on. Part of the healing journey, there is a phrase, “Sometimes things fall apart before they can be reassembled in a newer and better version,” I think that’s the process of healing for so many survivors. Part of that reassembly is exactly what you’re discussing. It’s about education. It’s about awareness. It’s about a pathway of healing mind, body and spirit in the aftermath of narcissistic abuse. The reality is that the vast majority of people on this planet have encountered somebody who is an emotional abuser if not a narcissistically abusive individual whether in love, work or family. If they didn’t know it before, they may know it now with education and awareness. I think it begins with education and awareness and we absolutely need to change the curriculum in graduate school for therapists – like what Christine is doing. She is educating therapists in Ireland and all over the world with her workshop. We need to have that as part of the graduate school curriculum. We need to have education in school districts – for staff and for students – about what is healthy communication. Fortunately we live in this modern age of technology where there is so much information online now. I think, also, survivors need to have access to truthful, supportive, non-shaming information online, and Kristin is a great conduit for access to good communication that is truthful and supportive – as is Christine on her website. I think the three of us have an understanding of what good resources there are out there that are healthy, non-shaming and supportive and on point with education. So it’s great that this dialogue is happening. I think the more people that are aware of what is going on the better. It’s absolutely important to know what the problem is. Like you said, Kristin, it’s not that we are shaming narcissists; we’re just calling it out for what it is. That involves discussion of difficult things like we’ve just had, and part of the healing process for the survivor is releasing that shame that has been imposed upon them and projected upon them and absorbed by the survivor from the abuser. That’s the whole pathway of healing that all survivors, if they have the fortune of working on that, can embark upon. I appreciate this conversation. I’m glad that you’re getting the word out there, and I’m really honored to be able to share this time with both of you, Christine and Kristin. Thank you.
KRISTIN: You’re welcome. Christine, your thoughts on that piece?
CHRISTINE: I think I might come from a slightly different angle, because I agree with everything that Andrea has just said. I would like to remind everybody that we are all narcissistic to some degree. Unfortunately, when it becomes pathological, it would appear to me it is because that individual has actually been abused. So they are actually a victim first, and then they go on to become what we are calling a narcissistic abuser. The victim, they take on a very different route. They actually lose themselves. They become pleasers. They become caretakers to the world more or less, and they lose sight of their own needs. And that’s off balance – that’s not right either; so neither is in the right place of wholeness. I have worked with narcissists as well as the victims. Then we are all victims when we’re in that therapy room talking about the abuse we’ve received, especially as children. Most of the time, it is the adult victims that come into the therapy room. Because the pathological narcissist (their lives aren’t bad because most of the time they get their needs met anyway – they find a way to do that by manipulation, seduction, control and other ways) is not unhappy with their lives, they come into the therapy room much less; unless, of course, they’ve lost their equilibrium – maybe their boss has said they have to go into therapy, or their partner has said I’m going to leave you. But we’re talking about global healing. We’re talking about understanding this whole behavior so that we can actually understand the narcissist and not tolerate their behavior. Maybe, in some ways, that might correct them too somewhere along the way. I think education is the key for now.
KRISTIN: Agreed. Thank you both for doing this. Of course, this deserves further discussion, but this is an important day, June 1. I’m thankful to Bree Bonchay for making this a day, and hopefully our listeners can resonate with the different voices, which is why it’s so important for me to have many people on the show, and of course to have your two voices here also talking about this because you’re the ones who have played the biggest role in helping me get through this. Again, thank you both for coming on the show.
ANDREA: It’s an honor and a privilege. Thank you for having us.
CHRISTINE: And thank you both, girls. It’s fantastic for us to be able to chat like this – not as professionals but as just three women who are concerned.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. And thank you again to our listeners for another edition of Mental Health News Radio.
anxiety, behavioral health, empathy, mental health, narcissism, narcissist, narcissistic abuse, narcissistic abuse recovery, narcissistic personality disorder, Psycopathic, PTSD, Recovery from Narcissistic Abuse, Shame, sociopathy, Toxic