The Narcissus Letters
Patients express themselves in many ways. As therapists we have an obligation to listen and an opportunity to learn from each expression. However, it is often difficult to know what it is our patients are tying to say to us. They often present confusing and contradictory information and act in ways that pull for unwanted results. Our task is to infer what they are asking our help for and intuit how to convey our understanding of their concerns.
Recently I and others on the Control Mastery forum had a unique opportunity to “hear” what a patient is tying to tell us through their actions in therapy. A colleague has created a unique forum for teaching us how to listen to our patients. There are six letters to be posted on the Control Mastery discussion forum from a fictitious patient called Narcissus. These are not real letters from a real patient; so there is no intention here of seeking your advice and counsel for the troubled Narcissus herself or himself.
The true author is a psychologist who prefers to remain anonymous. Narcissism was chosen by the anonymous author of these letters as the psychological condition to focus on because narcissistic injury is often an important component of many conditions and because it is a condition that may be understood by CMT in ways that may differ from how it is understood by other theories.
I an including a short excerpt from some of the letters but the entire text can be found on the Control Mastery forum.
Narcissus wrote in Letter I:
“Anytime I feel unable to apologize or to express the magnitude of my appreciation to others or my need for them, I know I am feeling ashamed of how much I have to depend on others. Not being able to say (1) “thank you,” (2) “I’m sorry,” or (3) “I need you” is the most direct and simple way to understand my problem.
“The very smallness of things that make me feel bad is a screaming loud alarm signal showing how much I really DO need others and how much MORE I need others compared with the need for others of less narcissistic persons. But what I don’t understand is that compared to less narcissistic persons, I have not had the good fortune to have been well understood and thereby was not helped to feel that it is OK to need others’ care.
“So if ever I speak with only mild irritation or with what looks like indifference about how I felt in a situation in which I was slighted, please amplify my complaint–that helps me know how much I was offended, and tells me you would have felt offended too. Help me know it’s OK to feel bad when my ruptured connections with others hurt a little and that I’m not a pest for wanting to be comforted. Help me understand it’s OK to be hurt and angry when I am treated disrespectfully.”
Narcissus wrote from Letter II:
“But if despite this severe testing–in which I try to get you to feel like telling me I am too obnoxious and have excessive needs, extravagant expectations, and also feel TOO entitled–you nevertheless try to help me feel understood and help me find what is entirely good and realistic and wholesome about my demands, you will have passed a hard test that will impress me. At least this time. But you should know that I’ll then have to put you through more severe tests later. That’s the way it works.”
In Letter III Narcissus wrote:
“If I could speak to you, you would also hear me say, ‘The tests are like this: I will make it so hard for you to feel like caring for me that only a person who is really convinced that I am hurting and who really knows what I need would be able to talk to me about this problem. I’m going to make you want to believe it is impossible to help me or to talk to me about this so that I’m sure you really mean what you say when you hold fast to your position despite all my difficult tests.’
‘And be sure to get this, too: I’m even going to get you to experience first-hand what I experienced when younger that was actually the same KIND of experience that made me come to believe that help or understanding is impossible and humiliating to try for. Control-Mastery folks call this passive-to-active testing. They’re going to be some of the hardest tests for you to pass because you’re going to feel as I did when I learned to be Narcissus.’”
Reading these letters offer a unique view into our patient’s minds. I found myself fascinated with how real Narcissus struggles felt. I invite you to take a look and to join us in discussion in the Control Mastery discussion forum.