Recognizing the need for help is always challenging. It is especially difficult when dysfunctional narcissism is present. The nature of the disorder leads sufferers to believe their problems result from circumstances outside themselves and not from their poor choices or bad behavior. This occurs for two main reasons.
First, narcissists rarely accept responsibility for their situation. Being responsible means accepting blame. Since feeling at fault is intolerable, they project blame on to other people or the environment around them. For example, if narcissists aren’t punctual to an important business meeting, it isn’t because they left home too late, it is because of the slow drivers who delayed them as they traveled to work.
The second reason narcissists don’t see themselves as the cause of their problems is because they tend to believe they are better than others. The rules that apply to others, don’t apply to them. This isn’t real confidence or healthy self-esteem, rather it is an inflated, insecure, and fragile self-perspective.
Both maneuvers (deflected blame and exaggerated sense of self) are psychological defensive efforts to protect narcissists from their chronic sense of shame. They fear appearing weak, and since seeking help is a vulnerable act, they tend to resist the need for treatment. Seeking help says that there are situations too big to handle on their own. To narcissists, this is extremely risky to their fragile sense of self.
So, do individuals with narcissistic traits ever initiate counseling? Sometimes, but they are rarely motivated to seek help on their own. Therapy is usually pursued when they have encountered severe interpersonal or occupational difficulties. Outside influences often push narcissistic people into psychological treatment. For instance, they might be threatened with divorce or have had too many run-ins with their boss. In my experience, these individuals rarely stay long in counseling. Since their motivation to address their contribution to their problems is very low, they usually leave treatment as soon as the situation improves.
Narcissists also seek treatment when they have a strong psychological reaction, such as the development of depressive or anxiety symptoms, to an external difficulty. The emotional pain often propels them to seek help. It is especially helpful when their support system also encourages the use of counseling. These individuals often are more motivated to address their personal issues and have a better treatment response.
Since narcissists tend to avoid taking personal responsibility for their difficulties, they do not respond quickly to therapy. Counseling takes a long time with regularly scheduled sessions to see small improvements. Successful treatment also requires a strong bond of trust between the client and therapist before suffering narcissists feel safe enough to look at their own interpersonal fears and weaknesses.
The next article will address the effects of narcissistic parenting.