During covid she graduated from grad school and started her own practice. It’s been a season of “Grief and Gratitude.” When people ask “How are you doing?” For the first time in my life I stop and say, “I don’t know.” It’s complex and we’re all carry so much. There aren’t straight forward answers.
She works mostly with women in domestic violence relationships and her specialization is with people of narcissistic abuse. Yvette is a survivor herself of narcissistic abuse.
Yvette is passionate about bringing narcissistic abuse into the forefront of domestic violence. Most people associate domestic violence with battery—broken bones and hospitalizations—and it is absolutely a category of dv, but psychological and narcissistic abuse also falls under that umbrella and Yvette says it is equally damaging and so much more prevalent than people realize.
Maggie asks Yvette to give a formal definition to the term narcissist. Many people use the term casually for someone who is selfish but there is really more to it.
Yvette acknowledges that the term has been thrown around a lot more lately. The statics say Narcissists make up 1 in 30 of the US population of those over 60 years old. However that number jumps to 1 in 10 of 20-somethings experience the clinical symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She says this is because of the prevalence of violence, materialism and social media (the sense of look at me! look at me! look at me!”) in our culture.
She says there is a way narcissistic people will feel to you and then there is the clinical definition. A narcissist is identifiable by their:
The traits of a narcissist according to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders):
Vulnerable or Deflated Narcissists tend to be a product of neglectful parenting, where as the grandiose narcissists tend to be a product of being spoiled and told how special or entitled they are.
Danielle relates this back to her own experience growing up in the church with some leaders— “You’re talking to them but it’s like they aren’t there.” How shameful that felt. She said having a president [Trump] who exhibits some of these traits strongly, it has forced her to look inward to ask herself “What’s my narcissism Where have I exhibited narcissistic tendencies? Where have I been effected by this?” Growing up she had this sense of being gaslit - where if you call out someone who has a strong lack of empathy, she’s told no, that’s not it.
Yvette said that is the first thing people do when they hear the definition of a narcissist—they self reflect. They start to think “Oh God, I’m the Narcissist.” Every survivor/victim has to go war with that in their relationships. Everybody has narcissism in them. In fact, Yvette says you need a little bit of narcissism to achieve big things in life. You have to have someone who believes you can, but people that didn’t have good parenting did not get informed of their limitations nor were they celebrated for the way they were made thus preventing them from growing up in a healthy way.
There are some healthy levels of narcissism that causes us to take necessary risks in life and there is also a narcissist style of relating that can be difficult but still worked with and seen in yourself. This differs from a pathological narcissism that goes back to early developmental issues.
Maggie said gaslighting is one of the hallmark impacts of being in a relationship with a narcissist and asked Yvette what are some of the others.
Yvette says what you’ll experience in a relationship with a narcissist is:
Danielle asks, what is the process of naming and untangling from narcissistic abuse?
Yvette says a key component of healing from N.A. is dropping in your body, identifying and naming what you’re feeling. In abuse we get stuck in our heads trying to make meaning of things, we lose sight of how we feel. The first goal is to establish safety. What does it mean to have safety so you can feel. Then start to name what you feel and honor what your body is telling you.
Danielle acknowledges that even getting to safety while in an abusive relationships is not easy. So much of our safety is not just safety from physical harm but also from the psychological tentacles that can have affect on a person even when they are apart from their abuser.
Yvette says safety also means having space that doesn’t have a lot of background noise so you can silence the psychological abusive. Sometimes physical separation is needed. Boundaries become really important—establishing them and maintaining them. It takes an average 7 to 9 times before someone can actually leave a DV relationship. Victims/Survivors need safety with others and safety with themselves—being able to know their own tendencies to self-sabotage and identify the false narratives.
Maggie adds that part of being in a relationship with a narcissist also makes you not want to trust yourself. Part of the gaslighting is not being sure about what is real and what is not real. Maggie wonders how can someone heal while still in a relationship with a narcissist, knowing there are likely people, relationships and situations where you are not able to fully separate or cut off from that person.
Healing would be really hard, Yvette says, while still connected to a toxic person. If you can’t fully separate, you need to still be able to have safety with good and healthy people to support you. It is through that health, love and goodness from your supportive people that will help you get a sense of grounding.
It possible but rare for narcissist to change/heal/get healthy. Victims will see goodness in the person and have a strong sense of empathy from the narcissist childhood wounds that makes the stay longer in the abuse. Often times there needs to be a separation—the focus needs to be on yourself and on healing. As you gain your own sense of self, agency and autonomy, that other person will either see that desire to get healthy and come along side of you, or you will naturally fall a part. Down the road you will be a different person.
Danielle wants to clarify - Narcissistic Abuse is Domestic Violence. When she looks back at how she was raised in a strict church environment, she sees the characteristics of NA abuse and realizes that the church didn’t have a category to name NA as domestic abuse. Danielle even feels herself resisting that designation.
Survivors all have resistance to labeling NA as domestic abuse, Yvette says. It’s disturbing for them. They don’t like that label; they reject it, deny it and have resistance to accepting it for themselves. It is helpful for survivors to categorize and because it helps move forward.
It’s a complex conversation to talk about the church and narcissism. Yvette mentions the book “When Narcissism Comes to Church” by Chuck DeGroat that says there are high numbers of narcissists in church pastors, missionaries and church planters because in some sense you need that for starting a church — the grandiosity that you can do these impossible things. She says that it has become a part of the Christian culture in this era.
Maggie asks the question what is the hope of change for the survivor — Yvettes says the hope is that the survivor gets their own sense of agency and to have their own voice be heard. They get to drop in their bodies. She says “You were created to know goodness!” Survivors need to know this and they need good support. And then how do we allow women to be angry in America? Yvette asks, what’s your relationship like with angry? Have you been allowed to express it? “We need anger because anger helps us create boundaries and organize behind it.”
After a survivor has established a sense of safety, the next thing Yvette likes to explore with survivors is their relationship with fear and guilt. What does fear feel like in your body and how do they operate? How old do you feel? They need to do some inner child work.
Danielle asks the larger question, What’s the churches relationship to fear and guilt?
Why do Christians have a hard time calling out abuse? Yvette says people are reluctant to call out abuse, or to name certain people as abusers because they are told they are being “judgmental.” There is a negative stigma around being judgmental but Yvette says judgement isn’t the problem—we need good judgement to make good decisions; it’s actually our responsibility to know how to move forward in life. Judgement becomes a problem when it inflates our own sense of superiority.
Another issue with the church is “sin leveling.” Yvette says she finds that clients with a strong religious upbringing have a much hard time naming abuse than clients who don’t because of this idea of sin leveling. You’re rotten at the core, everyone is 100% sinful and therefore we’re all responsible. This is simply not the case with abuse, and to do so is to add more abuse to the survivor.
Danielle said we need to begin picking a side— we need to believe the person who is reporting the abuse, individually and nationally, when we have an entire group of people calling it out.
Yvette is reading It didn’t start with You - Mark Woylnn (advisory notice - this is a good book, but needs to be handled carefully and not ideal for abuse survivors)
Yvette is listening to Dominque Fils-Aime
Yvette is inspired by her clients and their bold moves.
Connect with Yvette through www.whisperingtreetherapy.com
Why Does he Do that? Aside the minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
Healing from Hidden Abuse by Shannon Thomas
Power by Shihida Arabi
When Narcissism Comes to Church
Trauma and recovery by Judith Herman
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