Doug Bartholomew M.S., Logo
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Surviving Relationships With Self Absorbed People

Looking back on the last 41 years of providing treatment I realized that regardless of what the presenting problem is, about one third of my caseload have been partners, former partners, or adult children of self absorbed people, and another third have been those very same self absorbed people.  An increasing amount of attention has been focused on this population and their problems, and I am increasingl focusing directly on the problems of people trying to recover from the emotional and psychological damage that being with those people can cause.

Diagnositically, self absorbed people can be described as people with Narcissistic, Borderline, or antisocial Personality Disorders or their traits, Sociopatic people or people with traits of that disorder, or any related group of traits.  However, I prefer to not get involved in diagnosing someone I am not treating.  Besides, the issue is the effect their self absorption has on you, not the cause

The adult children, partners, or former partners of self absorbed people are people of both sexes who come in for depression treatment, loss of sense of self, self-doubt, anxiety, indecisiveness, feeling overwhelmed, and stress-related disorders. It has frequently come to light that their symptoms are their way of dealing with being in a relationship with someone who is self-absorbed, demanding, belittling, unpredictable, and who is incapable of empathy or compassion. These relationships are inevitably a "relationship of one," in which my client is expected to simply be there as part of the drama of their partner and the reality of their lives, their needs and feelings, has been marginalized.

The treatment for each individual is designed to meet their own needs in light of the abuse and psychological negation they have experienced at the hands of a self absorbed person.  But thbee goal is to reclaim their lives, feelings and identities from the prison of life with a self absorbed person.

There is a lot of good research and guidance available, such as:

Stop Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger
Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder by Marcia Linehan
Co-Narcissism: How We Accommodate Narcissistic Parents by Alan Rappoport


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Regaining Your Sense of Self

Probably the most important focus that I have in this area is on the damage it can do to your sense of self—your identity and personhood—to be in a relationship with a person with this disorder. I find that the longer someone is in such a relationship, the more they lose touch with who they are, what they think, and what they want. These are problems that can build up over a long time. It feels amazing to get them off your chest. Patients use therapy to regain their sense of self, their awareness of who they are, and their own value.

At this point, I am seeing clients on an individual basis but plan in the future to offer therapeutic support groups for these individuals. The target referral is a person who is in a relationship with someone with the traits of a narcissistic, borderline, or sociopathic personality disorder, even if they don't have the full diagnosis, have been with such a person in the past, or are the adult child of such a person.