podcasts

The Problem of Me: Tackling Narcissistic Abuse – Podcast

By Jason Clayden on January 10, 2024

In today’s episode, LifeStance provider Amanda Plumb joins us for a discussion on healing from narcissistic abuse. Amanda unravels the complex characteristics of narcissistic individuals, shedding light on their lack of empathy, self-importance, entitlement, and grandiosity. Join us as we navigate the treacherous waters of identifying red flags in relationships, from the initial intense ‘love bombing’ to the daunting challenges of extricating oneself from such dynamics.

Amanda’s expertise touches on crucial elements like trauma bonding and intermittent reinforcement, providing invaluable insights into this often-misunderstood realm of narcissistic abuse.

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Nicholette Leanza:

Welcome to Convos from the Couch by LifeStance Health, where each episode covers the many facets of mental health and wellbeing.

Hello and welcome to Convos from the Couch by LifeStance Health. I’m Nicholette Leanza and I’m joined today by Amanda Plumb, a clinician from one of our LifeStance Virginia Beach offices, and we’ll be talking about narcissistic abuse. So welcome, Amanda. Great to have you on.

Amanda Plumb:

Welcome. Thanks.

Nicholette Leanza:

Narcissistic abuse is a real concern in some relationships. I’m so excited to have you on today, Amanda, as we talk about what narcissistic abuse is and how to navigate these types of relationships. So let’s get started. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Amanda Plumb:

Thank you for having me. My name’s Amanda Plumb. I’m a licensed psychotherapist and I specialize in trauma and also helping others heal from narcissistic abuse. I’m passionate about this topic because it’s something that’s so prevalent in our society right now, and of course it’s really trending. So thank you so much for having me.

Nicholette Leanza:

You’re welcome. And I agree with you. It’s definitely trending for sure. So what are some of the characteristics of a narcissistic person?

Amanda Plumb:

So some key elements of a narcissistic person is lacking empathy. The second one would be self-importance. So really believing that they’re unique and special, that they’re superior than others. A third would be entitlement, feeling like they are deserving of special treatment. The rules don’t apply to them. Also, grandiosity. So feeling like they’re destined for greatness, really preoccupied with success and fortune and fame, fantasies of making it big or being rich and famous. Also, opportunistic. So this is where someone will prey on others, or be opportunistic, looking for opportunities for their own gain and benefit at others’ detriment.

The next one would be attention seeking. It’s a me mentality all about them. The focus is about them. They have to be the star and their always surrounding themselves with others to feed their ego and their attention. The next one is envy. So this kind of person is really prone to sensitivity, rejection, perceived rejection, constructive criticism, and may have oftentimes temper tantrums, it looks like. These narcissistic, what we call rages, when they don’t get their own way, or things aren’t a good look for them. And then lastly, superficiality. So we think of superficiality, there’s a little bit of shallowness, a lack of depth. And this is where they’re really about their reputation, the optics in the community, things serving a purpose that benefits them, and they surround themselves with affiliation of others and with a focus on how do I look and how do I present things.

Nicholette Leanza:

Definitely a superficiality there for sure, and the shallowness. What are some common signs or red flags that someone may be in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser?

Amanda Plumb:

So some common signs are, when we think about the narcissistic relationship, there’s a cycle. The first cycle is idolization or love bombing. The next one is devaluation and the finalist discard. So going back to that love bombing phase, the idolization, that person is going to move things really fast moving. So it’s going to pick up speed and it’s going to be calling every day wanting to see you often. Something that’s really common is what we call text bombardment. Good morning text. Good evening text. Wanting to know what you need, where you are. The danger in that is a person doesn’t always realize that this attention and this caring is really closer of control. It’s really them trying to gain access to your world and study you. Now, another element, another key characteristic, is this person is going to know everything about you. They’re going to want to meet your mom and your friends, and they’re going to want to know everything about you. They’re going to be studying you for vulnerabilities.

In the love bombing stage, and this is where we think about in society, we’re brought with the fairytale, the rom-com, where everything is your soulmate, and it’s intense, and there’s this saying that’s out there and it’s people really are looking for fireworks and not a fireplace.

Nicholette Leanza:

Ooh. Right. Gosh, great quote there. Yeah.

Amanda Plumb:

So love bombing is essentially the fireworks. You’re getting caught up in this fantasy, and this person might be, it might be fun trips and adventures and romantic meals out. It could be talking for hours and hours on the phone, but again, really fast moving.

Nicholette Leanza:

So that’s one of the key things to look for is just how quickly it’s moving. How intense. Yeah. Good word for it. For sure. So what are some of the challenges of leaving this type of relationship?

Amanda Plumb:

Some of the challenges that are really difficult when leaving a relationship like this, because the relationship is so fast moving, and that love bombing takes typically about six to 12 weeks to discontinue, so in love bombing this relationship that’s fast moving. The love bombing stage typically lasts 6 to 12 weeks, and then you move into devaluation. And so what you’re looking for in that stage, and some of these red flags are, trauma bonding. So we think about things that are hot and cold. It’s a rollercoaster relationship.

Nicholette Leanza:

I got you.

Amanda Plumb:

That’s something we think about. We also think about something called intermittent reinforcement, which is through that rollercoaster relationship. I use the example, if you’ve ever been to Vegas and you’ve ever played the slot machines, it’s based on this premise of we are making these deposits in hopes of getting some type of payoff. And in this relationship, when things start to lull, it’s not that fast-paced, intense relationship that it was anymore. Things are starting to settle in. You feel oftentimes this withdrawal of affection and attention, so bringing it back to that slot machine, this is where you’re hooked. You’re getting these [inaudible 00:06:22] main hits of your brain, these reinforcement, chasing the good times. Wanting to hit it big as you’re putting in more deposits, and sometimes you’re losing and sometimes you’re winning and you’re hooked in because you’re chasing the beginning. That love bombing phase, just like when we’re playing the slots machine, and that internet reinforcement keeps us hooked into playing longer and wanting to have that fantasy of winning big.

Nicholette Leanza:

I liked how you put that. You’re chasing the beginning of how it was with all the love bombing, so your head’s probably spinning. You’re like, what happened with that? My gosh.

Amanda Plumb:

Absolutely.

Nicholette Leanza:

How can therapy help survivors of narcissistic abuse?

Amanda Plumb:

Therapy is really key with providing someone a safe place of being able to process this and apply words to the scenarios. Narcissistic abuse is so confusing. Like you mentioned, we’re trying to rationalize and explain it away. People oftentimes will gaslight themselves, and others will gaslight them, because they’ll say things like, what do you mean? All relationships have problems. Isn’t this what you wanted? You might be scared of commitment. So things like that can happen. So therapy helps someone through education and empowerment start the journey of healing and understanding. It’s not what was wrong with them, it’s what’s happening to them.

Nicholette Leanza:

What a key point right there. Not as what’s wrong with them, it’s what is happening to them. Such a key point right there. So what advice do you have for friends or family members who want to support a loved one who’s a survivor of this type of abuse?

Amanda Plumb:

It’s really important to not expect things to change overnight. A lot of people make the very common mistake when they’re trying to help someone is they want to take a tough love approach. They want to label that person a narcissist. They want to, in a helpful way, hold their friend, or their loved one, accountable saying things like, what are you doing? And you deserve better than this, but it’s in a berating tone. Now this person’s experiencing cognitive dissonance, gaslighting, and validation. So they’re very fragile, and what that’s going to cause that person to do is withdraw, retreat, and protect the person that is abusive. Instead, what we want to do is we want to label the behaviors. We want to label if that’s something that’s not okay, if that’s something that seems abusive. So we want to label the behaviors and the actions.

We also want to, in that same breath, really build up the person. Let them know that this isn’t okay. We want to check in with them and remind them, you’re amazing. That wasn’t okay what that person just did. Are you okay? Do you want to have a place to talk about this? Being empathetic and listening, that’s something that can be really helpful. Also, when you’re talking to someone, we have this tendency to listen to respond. We’re not trained like therapists to hold space. And so in holding space, we can check in with that person and ask them, what would you like? What would do you need? And in that case, do you need someone to listen? Do you need me just to listen? Do you want someone to hear you out? Do you need some help? Do you need some advice? Do you need some takeaways? And then also hug, affection. Sometimes we just need someone to hold that space for us and listen and comfort us physically.

Nicholette Leanza:

Gosh, those are all great tips. Any other takeaways you’d like to share?

Amanda Plumb:

Some takeaways are when we’re dating to look for some of these common red flags. Education is empowerment. And once you realize and recognize that this is a pattern, that’s where you can really arm yourself and approach it, when you’re out there dating, from a place of boundaries. It’s important to realize that people who are really healthy are not going to have a problem with taking things slow. If you happen to say no, they’re not going to punish you, they’re not going to give you the silent treatment, that it’s important for someone to earn their way into your life and also access to information. So it’s okay, and it’s normal and healthy to wait till they meet mom or your friends, to not talk to them every day on the phone. And again, time is the ultimate truth teller. So taking your time and investing in this relationship and allowing that person to get to know you slowly.

Nicholette Leanza:

Wow. Thank you, Amanda, for sharing your insights on narcissistic abuse. I know our listeners gained a deeper understanding of this complex issue, so thank you again.

Amanda Plumb:

Thank you so much for having me.

Nicholette Leanza:

I’d like to thank the team behind the podcast, Jason Clayden, Chris Kelman, and Juliana Whidden, with a special thank you to Jason Clayden, who edits our episodes. Thank you for listening to Convos from the Couch. Take care, everyone.