Episode 125: Leaving the Narcissist

In this episode of Thanks for Sharing Jackie Pack talks with guest, Em Capito, who specializes in working with women leaving narcissistic relationships.

In this discussion, Em outlines the stages of discovery women go through while in relationship with men who struggle to empathize and take responsibility for their actions, often diagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or having Antisocial Personality features. They also discuss the effect to these women, who often have remarkable abilities to empathize and be successful in relationships with those outside of the disorders.

About Em

As a clinical therapist with more than 10-years of experience, Em has observed a broken approach to mental, emotional, and physical health. She completed her master’s degree in social work from the University of Utah in 2007. Early in her career she independently studied mind-body medicine, emphasizing whole wellness and self-determination, which focused a lot on addiction treatment. She has since become an expert in helping women struggling with the effects of ending a relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and characteristics of Antisocial Personality Disorder.

TRANSCRIPT

JACKIE

Hey Everyone. A couple of things before we get started on the episode today. If you’ve enjoyed the Thanks for Sharing podcast, and if you’ve found the episodes helpful, please go to whatever platform that you listen to your podcast on, and rate and review the Thanks for Sharing podcast.

Second, I wanted to update you on what’s going on at One Layer Deeper. I’ve talked about One Layer Deeper before. And, we’ve got some exciting things, myself, and Amy from Worth Recovery going on over at One Layer Deeper. So, consider this maybe like a pre-preview of what’s coming up.

We are going to be offering a subscription box. You’ve heard about subscription boxes out there. Maybe you subscribe to one or several. There’s a lot of different subscription boxes for various things. However, what we’ve found is there’s not one out there about there for what we want to do, which is pushing recovery one layer deeper.

So, we decided this first go around on the subscription box, the topic is going to be all focused around boundaries. And you can sign up to subscribe for a year’s worth of boxes all about boundaries. Some things that Amy and I will share with you, some downloaded exercise you will have, a novelty item you will get every month—We’re having a lot of fun coming up with novelty items that go around boundaries that the subscriber can have some fun with.

So, stay tuned for that. I’ll keep giving you information and update you when those subscriptions can start.

Introduction

JACKIE

This is the Thanks for Sharing podcast, the podcast where we explore all things, recovery, healing, and relationships. Remember to subscribe and download episodes on the iTunes store, Google Play, and the Podbean App. And while you’re there, I’d love a review.

JACKIE

Hi Everyone. Welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host Jackie Pack. And today on our show we have a guest with us. Her name is Em Capito. And let me just tell you a little bit about Em. She is a licensed clinical social worker with twelve years of experience. Within her private practice she has specialized over the past few years in working with women experiencing difficult life transitions, in particular, navigating high conflict separations, and custody situations, which often involves narcissistic or Antisocial features in one or both parties—And maybe even the attorneys.

She additionally worked heavily in the addiction field, where personality disorders can complicate recovery in many ways. As a therapist, she focuses on holistic mind/body resilience, blending in mindfulness, experiential work, and yoga therapy. She’s a LifePower Yoga Teacher and a Dharana Method Meditation Teacher. So, I’m excited to have you here. Welcome, Em.

EM

Thanks so much, Jackie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

JACKIE

Well, I’m excited to have this discussion. Where do you want to start?

EM

Good question. I think giving a little context to where my perspective comes from because we all have different goggles. With working with different women in that transition period, and they are seeking therapy, I feel like I see things from the perspective of the other partner more often than I do from the individual who has NPD (or I should say Narcissistic Personality Disorder) or Antisocial features.

Primarily because I work solely with women in that focus, and those who initiated the divorce, which is usually not the person who has the narcissistic or Antisocial features.

And I work with people who self-describe their situation as high drama or high conflict. Whereas research and clinical observation suggest, narcissistic and Antisocial features are more common among men rather than women.

So, I tend to see that discrepancy. And individuals with those features tend to not self-seek therapy. They often seek legal remedies instead. So, they don’t show up in practice in the way I market. They tend to underestimate, in my experience, the level of conflict. They kind of see it as a more normal feature that could be solved. So, they’re just less likely to self-identify in the way I offer services.

So, I feel like my perspective from ferreting out the signs and symptoms of these features playing out in relationships from the person that’s trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

JACKIE

Yeah, because I often think, for partners, they’re doing what I call pro-relational things. And so, it can take a while for them to figure out that it’s not going to work. And these skills which are pro-relational, and often very healthy, in a situation where they’re in a relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder—those traits are NOT useful.

EM

Right, yeah it kind of sucks you in. I think it’s really sad in a way because a lot of clients who go through that relationship experience from start to end pull back their empathy because it was used against them. They tend to be more open-hearted, and trusting want to forgive and move on, and it feeds right into that toxic cycle. And gets you stuck longer, and so it actually becomes weaponized.

JACKIE

So, what’s your experience in terms of like, about how long this process takes with the women you work with?

EM

It’s really interesting to see just how universal and cookie cutter it can be, a lot of the time. (It’s always case by case) But one of the most fascinating things to me, and what got me so interested in this, is that these women will show up with the exact same story almost, right, the same timeline, the same events, the same tactics, the same words that came out of their partner’s mouth. And it’s amazing.

And I think that’s also where there’s also a lot of fulfillment in this work is there’s so much relief when you realize that you’re not alone, and that you’re not crazy, and that this has been happening to other people, and they can understand you.

Whereas if someone has never really been in an intimate relationship with someone with those features, they really can’t understand you. You share your experience, and they give you typical pro-relational advice. Maybe you guys should try this. Or try this. And you’re like, “I’ve tried all of that.”

Timeline of Relationships with Narcissistic Antisocial Personality Features

EM

So as far as timeline, I feel like there are some distinct stages that people move through when you are not the one, where you’re the partner who doesn’t have these features, but you are with someone who does. And it varies a little bit between Narcissism and Antisocial features, but I think this particular timeline fits more towards Narcissism, but it’s really hard to distinguish between the two. Honestly, there’s so much overlap.

Phase 1: Knight in Shining Armor

EM

Typically, the first stage is Knight in Shining Armor. They’re my soulmate. They fit me perfectly. They do really sweet and generous, seemingly empathic things, and I feel like from years of doing this now, looking at all those stories, there’s this tendency to mirror the partner that you want to be with when you have that deep insecurity and lack of self-worth.

And so, that early honeymoon stage can be really exciting and feel really good. Especially for women who are open-hearted and empathic and passionate. Because suddenly they’ve met someone who is just so excited, who reinforces them and supports them.

They appreciate having this partner who shines, especially with the narcissistic features, because they want someone who makes them look good. And so, they really reinforce all of these pieces and mirror back to you that they like all the same things [as you].

There can be this interesting whiplash after they finally separate, and the narcissistic partner moves on and becomes a totally different person with their next partner because they need to mirror somebody else.

But that first stage, it’s wonderful and yummy, and it often moves really quickly. It seems like there’s this very fast—we met, and now we’re together, and now we’re going to make this ultimate commitment of marriage and have children. And that phase moves faster; it feels like when you’re with someone with those features.

JACKIE

Let me ask you a question. If you as a person, maybe you had a narcissistic parent, or you’re prone to getting into narcissistic relationships, right, that’s been your history. In that first stage, you talked about how the honeymoon phase, which is in a lot of relationships, right, they have that honeymoon phase, how would you maybe test the waters to make sure that’s the typical honeymoon stage, where everything feels good, versus this is more of a red flag with a narcissistic partner?

EM

Great question. And I think one of the common features among all my clients, is that looking back, there were so many red flags, even during the honeymoon stage.

And I think that testing of the waters is when conflict arises in the relationship. And in a lot of cases, the gaslighting starts to present early on in conflict.

You have this really crazy experience of someone projecting onto you exactly what they did.  A lot of times they’re very calm and well-spoken and curated. They’re not messy in the conflict, especially on the narcissistic side, and they push buttons like a master. Because they’re protecting their very fragile inner state, and their lack of self-worth; they’re protecting all that on such high alert.

I think they learn over the course of a lifetime in order to survive; they need to know people’s weaknesses, their buttons, and how to manipulate people. And so that becomes very easy once you’ve been in an intimate relationship, to know what will hurt them the most, especially picking at someone’s sense of identity, and self-worth. And so, they’ll push all the right buttons, with a calm demeanor, until you explode or react poorly.

And then your natural inclination, if you’re an empathic and responsible individual, is: “Oh I reacted way worse than he did (or she did). And so, I’m more of the problem then they are.”

And so, it removes all attention off of the original conflict or the picking at the buttons and moves the attention to your own poor reaction, and so all is forgiven, and you move forward.

Phase 2: Light Switch

JACKIE

Ok. Perfect. Thanks. And then you were talking about going into phase 2.

EM

Yeah. So many people describe phase 2 in the literature, and in my own clinical experience, this whiplash of the light switch being flipped all of a sudden. Typically, right after the wedding or right after having your first child together, there’s this point where it goes from just during conflict things go poorly, to outright shocking behavior that you never thought you’d expect from this person you thought you knew.

Everyone looking back, hindsight is 20/20. The warning signs do kind of give way to it. But if you’re looking at the world from a point of view, a set of goggles where you’ve never dealt with this before, you assume people are all trying doing their best, that they’re trying to get better, that you can always work on things, and so those initial warning signs seem pretty minor, like—

“We’ll just get through this. Everybody fights. It will get better with time.”

And then when the light switch flips, it’s really extreme, it can be very shocking, but most women in this situation are so far in at that point, they’re married or pregnant or have had a baby, and they feel like, “We have to work on this. I’m committed. I still going to see this through.”

It’s not that this isn’t ever successful, but often it’s a naïve approach that relies on the other person having empathy, and having a sense of personal responsibility, and some skin in the game of improving themselves. They must have the ability to see themselves as part of the problem, and those pieces tend to be missing with somebody who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

JACKIE

Ok, in phase 2, where there’s this whiplash, is there (maybe) a belief?—“We can get back to what we had; we can get back to phase 1 because we had it.”—Obviously, right?

And like you said, if you’re wearing goggles and seeing things that are completely foreign to you, you’re going to be bringing your skills, which are kind of that—”I’ll take responsibility for my part. I’ll include myself. I’ll do what I can. And then we’ll get back to that really connected stage that we had.” Which may be an illusion of him in phase 1, but it felt real.

EM

Absolutely, and these partners tend to be really good at reinforcing that. So, as soon as you take responsibility for the conflict, they switch, and they reinforce you for being the best person in the world, their soulmate, they are so glad you’re with them, they reinforce a lot of different pieces about you. They can be the best partner 80 or 90% of the time, just a dream spouse or significant other. Sometimes they make dinner; they clean up; they help you with your work, they help with the kids. They’re doing a lot of actions which can be very confusing.—”It’s so good, how can I complain about these few pieces that seem so insane.”

JACKIE

That would seem confusing, then, if 80-90% is a good partner. And then there are these situations which you can’t quite make sense of, or wrap you’re head around, that would seem confusing to the partner, maybe.

EM

And that’s where gaslighting takes us, just knocking you off your base to the point where, and the tendency of a rational person coming into this relationship is to look at yourselves like you had pointed out—“What can I do differently?”

I’ve worked with quite a few social workers, because I also specialize in working with helping professional as a therapist, and the crossover has been interesting because people who go into the helping professionals tend to have that desirable trait set, which attracts narcissistic individuals. We look within.

We say: “I know we can change the whole system if we can change myself. I can do the work.”

We’re a bleeding heart.

We say: “It’s okay. I’m not going to take it personally and do what I need to change the dynamics.”

Jackie

Okay, so then after that, does phase 2 just last forever? Is there a phase 3?’

Em

I see six phases. To give us a broader perspective. After that whiplash it kind of repeats itself.

More coming soon.

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