Narcissism Narrative Therapy ( Fix Your Narrative, Heal Yourself)

Uploaded 1/7/2023, approx. 17 minute read

I received complaints from some Shoshanim that they had been discarded and replaced with baby seals and baby silhouettes.

Worry not, my Shoshanim, you're always in my heart. You're the first and foremost.

So, here goes.

OK, Shoshanim.

Today we're going to deal with narrative.

Narrative is our core identity and what happens when narratives fail and how to fix them.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. I'm also a professor of psychology in CIAPS, Centre for International Advanced Professional Studies, the Outreach Program of the CIAPS Consortium of Universities. That was long, wasn't it?


Disorders of the Self, Narcissism, Borderline can be easily construed as failures of narratives, failures of self-stories.

Now, you know my view? I don't believe there is such a thing as a unitary, stable, immutable self across the lifespan. I believe that people have an assemblage of self-states which respond to and resonate with environmental stimuli and changes.

But whichever the case may be, self-states, self, they have to be organized in a way which would make sense to the individual. They have to be put together somehow according to some script, some story.

And this story about yourself, who are you, where are you headed to, what's the meaning of your life, what are your greatest aspirations, what are your hopes, what are your fears, all these put together in a coherent, cohesive framework is what is known as self-narrative.

In narcissism, the narrative breaks down. There's a failure of narrative because the narcissist adopts a story about himself or herself which has little to do with reality. The story is unrealistic, it's counterfactual, it's fantastic, very often, grandiosely fantastic, but not only, for example, the shared fantasy, is a narrative failure.

The narrative, the self-narrative, has to be self efficacious. It is intended to help us to survive. It is an evolutionary positive adaptation.

Narratives that divorce us from reality, for example, a psychotic narrative or a narcissistic narrative, these narratives are narrative failures.

It's the same in borderline. In borderline, we have identity disturbance. There is no fixed core. There's no identity. It's like a cloud, ephemeral, ever-changing, shape-shifting. You can't pinpoint or pin down the borderline. There's nobody there in the sense that everybody is there.

The borderline changes sometimes within hours. Everything about her, including her values and beliefs and hopes and wishes and dreams, everything changes and the borderline switches between self-states, rapidly cycles to the point that she is not.

In both narcissism and borderline, we have a situation of absence. These are disorders of absence. In both of them, there's an empty schizoid core, a kind of black hole, which does not contain any continuous, contiguous, jointed information. Everything is as if some improvised explosive device detonated amidst what should have been a core, a kernel of identity.

These are narrative failures.

Now, there is something called narrative psychology and there is something called narrative therapy, where we try to fix narratives. It's a form of psychotherapy. We help patients to identify values and skills which are associated with them. We provide the patient with some kind of knowledge or ability to experience these values and to exercise these skills in order to confront problems.

The way we do this is we encourage self-authorship. We encourage the patient to co-author with a therapist a new narrative about themselves.

The patient does this by investigating the history of his or her values, the continuity of his or her skills. Narrative therapy is closely associated with other therapies, for example, collaborative therapy and person-centered therapy.

There are several techniques in narrative therapy.

We start with re-offering identity. The narrative therapist focuses on assisting the patient to create a story about himself. I'm going to use the male gender pronoun, but of course it applies to women as well.

So, the patient is encouraged to write a story about himself, about his identity, but the story has to be helpful in some way. It has to cope with some issue or problem or repetition compulsion.

The work of this re-offering one's identity helps the patients to identify values, skills, knowledge to exercise in order to leave these values and so on and so forth. The therapist just listens and questions and directs this process of authorship.

Having identified or having pinned down or realized the personal history and the values attached to this personal history, now the patient is able to write a new narrative or to co-author a new narrative.

The problem usually starts when there is a discrepancy between the narrative that a person tells himself and the stories that other people tell about the person, when there is a clash or a conflict or dissonance between what people say and think about you and what you say and think about yourself.

This is very common in narcissism and that's why narcissists have a grandiosity defense.

Grandiosity is a cognitive distortion intended to uphold a fantasy, intended to prevent a dissonance between self- narrative and narratives about you from other people.

And so the story of someone's identity determines not only who you are at any given moment but also your potential for self-actualization.

What do you believe is possible for yourself?

In other words, your self-narrative defines your horizon.

A narrative process allows you to identify values that are important to you, use your skills and integrate your knowledge but it is always focused on unique outcomes.

It's a phrase coined by Irving Goffman. Unique outcomes, expectations or exceptions to the problem that wouldn't be predicted by the problem's narrative or story.

Whenever we are faced with a problem and I recommend that you watch my previous videos, video about solving dilemmas, whenever you're faced with a problem, the problem itself is a narrative and usually embedded in the problem there's some form of catastrophizing.

The problem actually communicates to you, I cannot be solved or you're not good enough to solve me.

And so rewriting or re-authoring your story creates unique outcomes in the sense that you find a way to solve the problem. You find an exception to the problem's overriding message, I am unresolvable.

Another technique is called externalizing conversation.

Narrative therapy is about constructing self-narratives but of course self-narrative is a very important part, a very important component of core identity.

So the approach in narrative therapy is not to conflate identities with self-narratives and not to mistake problems with identities. That is very reminiscent of the way cognitive behavioral therapy treats automatic negative thoughts.

Automatic negative thoughts are narratives in effect or mini narratives but the message of automatic negative thoughts is you cannot cope with your problems, they're never going to go away because your problems are who you are. Your problems are not just mistakes you have made but they reflect on who you are.

And so in narrative therapy we teach the patient to separate narrative about who they are, self-story, from problems and issues in life which have to do more with actions, choices and decisions, not with who you are.

The approach seeks to avoid actually the notion that the self is kind of biologically determined, that there is something like a true nature, liquidity and essence that you cannot escape. It's a bit deterministic, it's a bit fatalistic and narrative therapy is the opposite of deterministic and fatalistic.

It tells you you can rewrite yourself, you can reinvent yourself, you can become someone different just by sheer willpower, imagination and creativity.

We separate in narrative therapy identities, self-narratives from problems and we do this by externalizing conversations.

The process of externalizing allows people to consider their relationships with their problems.

And so externalizing focuses on your strengths, on your positive attributes and allows you to construct and perform a new preferred identity which is essentially a kind of positive psychology, if you wish.

And externalizing emphasis is about naming a problem, getting a handle on it so that a person can assess the problem's effects in his or her life, can analyze how the problem operates or works in his or her life and can end the relationship with the problem.

They can simply choose to disengage from the problem, ignore it in a way or engage with it in a totally new way from a point of strength emphasizing assets rather than liabilities.

And this leads usually to something which a prominent narrative therapist, Michael White had developed, it's called the statement of position map.

The therapist is collaborating with the patient, it's a therapeutic posture, he doesn't impose ideas on the patient, he doesn't give the patient advice, he just together with the patient explores the patient's life and history, personal history, autobiography. Together they uncover and examine a life unexamined, they remember things passed to borrow from another Jew, Marcel Proust.

Michael White developed a conversation map, which by the way is somewhat reminiscent to the map of happiness in cold therapy.

So he developed a conversation map called a statement of position map. It is designed to elicit the client's own evaluation of the problems and the developments in their life.

The therapist and the client are perceived as having some kind of valuable information relevant to the process and they create together, they co-create, they're co-creators, they co-create the content of the therapeutic conversation by imbuing it and suffusing it with this valuable information.

The therapist has valuable information about healing, the patient has valuable information about the patient.

So there's a position of curiosity, the therapist is curious about the patient, the patient is curious about what the therapist may have to say and they collaborate and there's an implicit message, you already have everything you need to transform your life. You have all the skills, you have all the values, you have all the knowledge to solve the problems that you're facing. Even if you have identity disturbance, you can leverage, you can leverage your kaleidoscopic nature, you can leverage this instability, this constant shape-shifting. These are not necessarily liabilities, these could be construed and used as assetsin a new self-narrative or self-story which is not deprecatory, not self-critical and does not necessarily adhere or conform to social mores and so on.

When people develop solutions to their own problems based on their own values, on their traits, on their decisions, choices and behavior, on their personal history, they own the process. They become much more committed to implementing these solutions.

A common practice in narrative therapy is remembering.

The therapy identifies identities that are somehow sublimated, identities that are socially conformant or reflect somehow or denote social accomplishments and achievements and the practice of remembering kind of puts together these identities which are socially condoned. It tries to coalesce them to support a person's preferred story about themselves. It disengages the identities that do not support the person.

Again very reminiscent of how cognitive behavior therapy deals with automatic negative thoughts and similarly in Gestalt.

Michael White was actually, he is actually a proponent of Jacques Derrida and he draws on his work. White was curious about the values that were implicit in people's pain, sense of failure and actions which are self-destructive and self-defeating.

What kind of values can motivate these? Why would anyone have a value or set of values which causes self-destruction? Why would anyone seek pain in a way by adopting certain values?

Where does the sense of failure come from?

If you do follow your values you should feel great, you should feel egosyntonic, you should feel accomplished because you have been following your values.

So why don't you? Why don't you? Why do you feel so bad?

Ultimatelypeople feel pain or failure in relation to their values or how they would prefer their relationships or life to be.

These are kind of stalled initiatives that people take in life and they are also guided by implicit values.

By rendering the hidden text overt, the implicit text explicit, by doing this we actually bring to awareness conflicts, dissonances and internal problems.

Another map in narrative therapy, narrative therapy is very big on maps, so another map is called the outsider witnesses map.

It's a, again everything in narrative therapy is a conversation between the therapist and the patient. This is a narrative practice, it's a practice of telling stories to each other.

Sometimes outsider witnesses are invited as listeners in the consultation, it could be a lot of parents, good friends, enemies, spouses, spouses are enemies, okay, you know what I mean, people from the outside.

So they are brought into the room, into the counseling process and then they are asked to contribute, they are asked to contribute to the weaving of this yarn, of this quilt, to the weaving of this emerging story and it is beautiful, beautiful to behold.

The narrative process as it gives rise to a totally new identity and self-story which are much more helpful and beneficial to the client.

When outsiders are invited to the counseling or consultation room, and by the way some outsiders could be for example other clients of the therapist who have gone through the process and they have knowledge and experience of the problem at hand, there's no limit or limitation on who is allowed into the room during the consultation.

And so these people participate and it becomes a community effort, very similar to group therapy in a way.

And during the first interview between the therapist and the patient, even during the first interview, sometimes there's an outsider, the outsider listens without commenting, it's in order to be seen, the outsider's gaze helps the patient see himself or herself through an outsider's gaze.

Maybe for the first time the patient is really seen.

The usual protocol for the involvement of outsiders in narrative therapy is to instruct them not to criticize the patient, not to evaluate the patient, not to rank the patient or give him over marks, and not to make opinionated proclamations about what they've just heard or what they've just seen. Outsiders are simply asked to say what phrase or image stood out for them in the narrative or the newly emerging narrative.

They are asked to follow resonances between their own life struggles and the problems and issues they have just witnessed. Outsiders are asked in what ways they may feel a shift in how they experience themselves from when they first entered the room.

It is intended to demonstrate to the patient that every human interaction creates a shift. Every human interaction is an effect. Every human interaction hurts or elates. Nothing and no one is isolated. We're all relational and so any narrative and self-story we may come up with has to take into account other people.

The therapist turns to the consulting, to the patient. The patient has been listening all the while to the outsider and then the therapist turns to him and interviews him about what images or phrases stood out in the conversation just heard and what resonances have struck a chord with a patient.

So there isn't a kind of intermediation. The therapist becomes a facilitator or a moderator between the inputs of the outsider and the inputs of the patient and the resonances and interactions between these two inputs.

At the endan outsider witness conversation is very rewarding. It's very rewarding not only for the patient but for the outsider as well.

The outcomes are often remarkable where the patient is concerned. They learn that they're not the only one with this problem for example. They acquire new images and knowledge about the problem and they can choose an alternative direction in life.

The main aim of narrative therapy is to engage people with their problems by providing them with alternative better or best solutions which are essentially new self-stories, new identities, new self-narratives and everything is document. Everything is written down exactly as an author would do.

Only this is a process of self-authorship with a guide or a facilitator.

So the person and the counselor they co-author certificates. There is for example a graduation from the blues certificate about overcoming depression. Sometimes case notes are created collaboratively with clients to provide documentation as well as markers of progress.

I do the same in cold therapy. Rewriting who you are is a first step not a last one.

When you are faced with situations in life which are intractable, when you feel hopeless, when you feel there's nowhere to go, when you feel that it is your essence that is compromising your life, when you feel that who you are is the problem then of course you need to change who you are.

And here's the good news you have the power to do so because you are nothing but a dream. You are nothing but a storyline. You're nothing but a movie or a script or a theater play. You can rewrite yourself. You're the author of yourself and you're the exclusive author of your own life.

And people are out there and they can provide you with sufficient input to guide you, calibrate you. Even evil people, people with ill intentions, they provide you with valuable input. They part and parcel of the learning curve and experience. It's a teaching moment every moment.

So trust your ability to become someone else and trust the world to provide you with inputs and feedback which will keep you on track, which will allow you to gauge whether you are doing the right thing, to not discard anything information or data that comes from the world.

All these stimuli, all these inputs are critical for your self-betterment, healing or at the very least enhanced self-efficacy in solving problems.

Gradually you will discover that you do have stable values, even as a borderline. Gradually you will find out that reconstructing your narrative has amazing effects not only on who you are but on what's happening to you.

And this is true even for narcissists. Cold therapy is actually a variant of narrative therapy where we write out grandiosity and replace it with a self-narrative that is realistic and allows for enhanced self-efficacy in interpersonal relationships.

Thank you for listening.

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