IIC 123: Relating Well with Narcissistic Family Members with Dr. Gerry Crete
In this episode, I invited licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Gerry Crete and a live audience to discuss the best ways to relate with family members with narcissistic traits while still preserving one’s own limits and dignity. Dr. Gerry addressed the following: 1) Why is it important to prepare yourself for relating with someone with dominant narcissistic parts? 2) How can we recognize our own limitations and the fact that we cannot change another person by our own efforts? 3) How can we understand the positive intentions of others’ narcissistic parts? 4) What should you do if you are flooded and agitated by a family member with narcissistic tendencies? 5) How should you communicate your limits and boundaries with such family members? 6) How can you distinguish between standing up and advocating for yourself an just being “oversensitive” or prideful? 7) Are idealizing and devaluing the primary signs of narcissism or is there a deeper key feature? 8) How does narcissism often play out in a family when an aged parent dies? 9) When is it necessary to temporarily disconnect or separate from the family because of narcissism in other members? 10) How do we maintain “radical acceptance” of others and still hold boundaries and protect ourselves? 11) What kind of IFS groups are available online? 12) How does a lack of empathy present differently in narcissism vs. autism?
[00:00:11] Dr. Peter: Welcome everyone. I’m Dr. Peter Malinoski, clinical psychologist, trauma therapist, podcaster, blogger, co-founder and president of Souls and Hearts. And I’m your host and guide in this Interior Integration for Catholics podcast. It’s both an honor and a pleasure to be with you, my live audience for this episode.
I really want each of you to be able to taste the height and depth and breadth and warmth and the light of the love of God, especially God the Father and Mary our Mother, our spiritual parents, our primary parents. I’m here to help you embrace your identity as a beloved little son or daughter of God and of Mary. That is what this podcast is all about.What we do in Souls and Hearts is we shore up the natural foundation of human formation for the spiritual life. We know from Saint Thomas Aquinas that grace perfects nature, and we are all about offering you the best resources on human formation, grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person. We live out that mission–new ways of understanding yourself, fresh conceptualizations informed by the best of human formation resources, the best of psychology.[00:01:27] And I am so glad that you’re here with me on this mission to really more deeply understand ourselves and to more deeply understand each other. This is episode 123 of Interior Integration for Catholics. It’s titled “Relating Well with Narcissistic Family Members.” We are recording live with our audience on October 11th, 2023, and this episode will be released on October 16th, 2023.And I am so pleased to have Dr. Gerry Crete, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and owner of Transfiguration Counseling, which is now operating in three states and has seven therapists and a life coach. He’s the former president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association. He’s been adjunct faculty at different universities over the last several years. He is the co-founder of Souls and Hearts with me. We co-founded Souls and Hearts in 2019. We did the Be with the Word podcast together for a year. He’s also the author of Litanies of the Heart :Relieving Post-Traumatic Stress and Calming Anxiety Through Healing Our Hearts that is being published by Sophia Press. It will come out on January 16th, 2024. Super excited about that. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that.[00:02:53] So Gerry, he’s a dear colleague. He’s a dear partner in Souls and Hearts and he’s an even dear friend. So excited to have you with us today, Gerry. And this is the sixth and final episode in our sub-series on narcissism. We’ve been covering narcissism in the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, and this is an opportunity to bring it all together to get down to where the rubber meets the road, where we really talk about how to apply what we’ve been learning, how do we live out what we’ve been learning, in good relationships with our family members, with our friends, maybe coworkers, people around us, our neighbors who might have parts with strong narcissistic tendencies. So that is what this is all about. And so, without any further ado, I want to introduce you to Dr. Gerry.Dr. Gerry: Hey, Peter, thank you for that really nice introduction. And I’m thrilled to be here too. And I will say this, your series on narcissism, I just think was excellent. And it’s taken me a little while to catch up because so much material there, but I really love it. And I can dive right in, if that’s all right.Dr. Peter: By all means. Just a heads up, Dr. Gerry and I are going to do about 15 minutes of just conversation where Dr. Gerry, I think you wanted to give us some of the highlights, the most important things that you would like us to know. And then we’re going to open this up for more than an hour of Q&A. So we’re going to have more than an hour to kind of go back and forth questions that you all have from our audience. So yeah, take it away, Gerry. I’m so excited that this is the capstone of the whole sub-series. I’m just so–I’m like giddy. I parts that are just giddy to have you with me. So thank you for being here.[00:04:50] Dr. Gerry: Yeah. Awesome. I must admit, I loved your Toblerone example when you talked about the subsystems with the multiple parts subsystems. It really made my marriage and family therapist systems thinking parts thrilled because–I don’t know how much people know here or would know–but as a marriage and family therapist, we tend to operate differently than most psychologists and counselors are only mostly focused on the intrapsychic dynamics, and marriage and family therapists and often clinical social workers have an emphasis on looking at the environment and the system that the person lives in, and the multiple systems that they live in. So you were really describing multiple systems within the interior of a person, and so I love that. So I just want to start by saying how thrilling that was. And you did a great job of showing those different dynamics going, the different parts that were operating together and interacting together. So I was excited, first of all, by that.Dr. Peter: Beautiful!Dr. Gerry: Yeah, I think that what I’m hoping to get into today is just where the rubber meets the road a little bit in terms of interactions, because we can understand the dynamic in a family member, like let’s say, a spouse. But what do we do? Because you can’t just (unless the person is doing informed therapy with you) point out those things in the other person without some kind of probably terrible backlash. Right? So I’m really interested in getting at that.[00:06:43] And from a systems perspective, you would be thinking about what interventions you would have to do within a family system. And so you would be thinking like, in other words, any change you make to the system, the family system is going to have an effect to everybody. So any change that you make within your internal system is going to affect everybody, every part, one way, in some way or another. And just like if it was a factory, like if it was the Hershey’s chocolate factory, and you do one thing to the process of making the chocolate bar, it’s going to affect that the output. So but I would also posit that perhaps if you are in a relationship, so you’re in a system with somebody else, even if it’s just a couple, that any change that you make to your internal system is going to have an effect on their internal system, whether they’re fully conscious of it or not. So I’m going to throw that out there. Do you have any thoughts or reactions to that?Dr. Peter: Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, you know, I think it’s really worth noting that Richard Schwartz was a marriage and family therapist, right? The originator of Internal Family Systems. And he saw that people took these systems, these family of origin systems, and they brought them inside. That’s why it’s called Internal Family Systems. And so not only do we have, you know, our external systems, but there are different ways in which we bring these parts of other people inside of us, including our spouses, including our children, including our parents. And so I’m super excited about, you know, how we begin to understand more clearly how we can relate with others that begin to activate us, right? Because there’s a lot of activation that happens, you know, in these difficult dynamics when narcissism is is coming up.[00:08:42] Dr. Gerry: Yeah. And so there’s a few things, though, I want to put as a caveat or raise as an issue to be aware of or to reflect on before engaging in any, as I called it, intervention. And one of those things–of course, I know you’ve you’ve already reinforced probably before, but you can’t actually set out to change the other person. And as tempting as that is, that would be having an agenda. So as soon as you know you’re doing that, you know, it’s a part that’s kind of blended, possibly, and activated there, but you can’t really go in expecting change. And I know that’s so hard.I’m not saying change won’t happen. I’m just saying you’re going to have to be checking your motivation in order to do that. And one of the things that is really difficult is how do you respond and take care of yourself when you’re with a person who is in some way abusive, toxic, and so on. And how do you take care of yourself, because you really can’t become their therapist in an effort to change them. You really can’t expect change, and you can go in being self-led as best as you can, you can go in interacting with them in a positive way. But a lot of care and attention, I think, beforehand, has to be taken to how you’re going to take care of your parts before you interact with somebody who may have narcissistic tendencies or whatnot during any interaction and after the interaction.[00:10:26] And I think that you would you would have to be a little prepared. And this is how I’m going to I’m going to relate it–I’m going to make an analogy that may be more extreme than needed, but just to make the point. I’m a trauma therapist as well; I do EMDR and all sorts of trauma related work, and often I will work with somebody who’s had an abuse history, maybe a sexual abuse history or physical abuse or whatnot, and maybe from, let’s say a parent, is the abuser. And now they’re an adult and they want to resolve it in some way. And maybe they get to a point in their work that they actually want to confront the abuser. And so I do a lot of work before ever that happens. I do a lot of work with that person, working through what it is they need to say, a lot of work related to not to expect anything from that other person, and to be expecting possible negativity. We want a positive, but we don’t know. There’s no control over that person. There’s no way of necessarily knowing.And so we want to be prepared for whatever may come. And then in the moment and then afterward, there’s a lot of support. And I know that’s kind of an extreme example to use to compare it, but if the person is is especially negative, like you listed in the gaslighting episode–a lot of them use very toxic and emotionally abusive language. So if you’re in a relationship with somebody that is doing that, and for whatever reason you can’t just leave the relationship and you’re wanting to work on it (there are lots of reasons why people do, and I’ve been giving up hope, perhaps), but there needs to be care given to protecting the various parts of that person’s system–setting boundaries for that, and preparing them for how to respond to continued emotionally abusive behavior. So I have that big concern of mine around this whole project.[00:12:40] Dr. Peter: Right. Yeah, so what I hear you saying is there’s not ten quick tips to resolving narcissism in the family, or with a spouse, or with an aging parent, or something like that. And I really echo that the importance of taking care of your own system, taking care of your own parts and really being recollected, having a sense of peace and recognizing kind of what the limits of what you can reasonably bear are in interacting with the other person–really paying attention to that. It just seems so critical to me because as long as one person can remain recollected, the likelihood of something spinning out of control goes way down. You know, as long as one person can win, when both people in an interaction are blended and taken over by their parts; Saint Thomas Aquinas would say “dominated by their passions,” then you’re likely to get a really negative interaction going.Dr. Gerry: Right. Okay. And so one thing that was occurring to me–I love to hear your thoughts on this, Peter. So if a person is working with their own parts, right, a manager part or a protector part or a firefighter part, let’s just say whatever that part is, it’s behaving in a negative way. And you get into that recollection, you spend some time and you, you know, maybe with a therapist or whatnot, but you are working to understand the true intention and the true need of that part. And you recognize it, maybe you ally to some extent, befriend that part and then once you’re in that space case, right, then you can address like why that behavior? Why are they holding on to that behavior? What are they afraid of if they don’t respond in this really toxic or negative way, right? And so there’s that sort of process. And so I wondered, if you’re interacting with somebody with these narcissistic tendencies, you are definitely interacting with some sort of protector part in that person.[00:14:59] Dr. Peter: Yeah.Dr. Gerry: And all my previous caveats would apply, but if you’re able to do for that person what you do for your own protectors, so be self-led enough that you can put aside whatever darts, whatever things that may have been thrown at you, you know, metaphorically or verbally and actually try to ask questions with curiosity in a way to understand what is the real intention.Let’s say it’s a spouse. What’s the real intention of this part of my spouse right now? I know they’re saying things I don’t like. I know it’s hurtful language, maybe, or gaslighting type language. What is the real intention? Am I able to ask a question from that curious place? Right?Dr. Peter: Yeah.[00:15:56] Dr. Gerry: And again, there’s no guarantees it’ll work, but I think it has a greater possibility of actually being productive.Dr. Peter: Yeah.Dr. Gerry: And maybe with that person, if they realize, “oh, you care about what I care about here, we both have the same intention actually.” Right? And so their intention, like you were explaining in your previous podcast in this series, their intention is often to take care of some deep insecurity, right? It’s almost always some deep attachment wound. And so if that’s the case and you’re applying it now, you’re not replacing their inmost self helping their parts; you can’t do that, but you can at least set the stage for doing that. I wonder if in the process of doing that, that some natural unblending would start to happen in the other person.[00:16:53] Dr. Peter: Absolutely. Because, you know, Richard Schwartz talks about how self pulls for self, right? So if a person is recollected, it invites recollection in the other person. Because parts that are within you are less likely to blend, take over and polarize with parts of the other person. That gets us into these dances, into these cycles that are often really predictable, you know, because the way that parts blend then take over and begin to interact. And our protecting often follows a very similar trajectory. You can recognize these cycles in relationships.Dr. Gerry: Mhm. And so I would see that as almost inserting some sort of intervention. Now when I think about systems theory, marriage and family therapy approaches, a lot of the greats are very creative in their approaches. And when they work, when they have a family and the entire family is present in a family therapy session with these greats in this tradition, they do incredible creative things. Now they have all the parts of the family that are agreeing at least to be present. They may have different levels of commitment and desire to be there, but they’re there.[00:18:30] But you can play with it, and so when I was listening to you talk about the different parts of the subsystems within the system, within a person, what would it be like to creatively play with those parts, like inviting a part to take on a role they’ve never had before, right? And just let’s experiment. Let’s experiment. What would happen if that aggressive protector, the feisty one or what have you, what if he or she took on the role of empathizer? Let’s just try that out. What would it be like? And let’s try empathizing with one of your partner’s parts. And just like, let’s just experiment and have the freedom to be playful with our parts. Now you have to have a cooperating person to do this with.[00:19:27] Dr. Peter: Right, there’s already probably been some work done, right?Dr. Gerry: Yeah. Right. But it just got me thinking about how wonderful that could be and how exciting that could be.Dr. Peter: Absolutely.Dr. Gerry: And because I know a lot of the marriage and family therapy tradition comes out of Jacob Moreno and the psychotherapy psychodrama stuff. And I know that’s influenced by ego state therapy probably, too, in the sense that play is so important as an aspect of getting people out of their rigid roles and experimenting and interacting in new ways and feeling what that feels like and how new that is and how exciting that can be. And I feel like for someone who has the narcissistic tendencies you described, that would be liberating, right? And maybe that could only happen in therapy–I don’t know–maybe that can’t happen easily with a couple. Sorry, that was just what was bubbling up for me.[00:20:32] Dr. Peter: Well, at this point, I would really like to just open it up to our audience to raise a hand if you’re on the screen, or to raise an electronic hand, and let us know that you have a question that you would like to be able to give voice to in this episode. Or if there’s something that you might feel is a little more private, you might feel a little more comfortable sharing it in the chat function in the zoom; we can certainly address it there as well; if you’d like to just send it to me anonymously, I can certainly pick it up. And we can we can go from there.So I’m just inviting you to to be thinking about those questions and bringing them here, because such a wealth of experience with Dr. Gerry. One of the interesting things I will tell you–a little factoid is that Dr. Gerry–is that he is in a depth psychology group with me. It’s been around for a lot of years, and it consists of six psychologists. And Gerry, who’s a licensed marriage and family therapist, has helped us out so much in just being able to think about ourselves as a system, to be able to interact and to be able to help us connect and deepen our relationships, our friendships. And so it’s been amazing to have that alternative kind of perspective coming in from your marriage and family therapy background. So I’m really grateful for you bringing that to us and helping us to connect more deeply.Dr. Gerry: Thank you for that.Dr. Peter: Yeah.Just a reminder that we don’t do clinical consultations when we’re doing this. We can’t provide clinical services, but it is an opportunity for you to be able to talk about the themes, to ask questions, to be able to relate some of your personal experiences if you choose.[00:22:16] And you know what? I really just want to encourage folks, even if the question is maybe hard to put in words, to just allow it to be what it is. You don’t have to say things perfectly. You don’t have to have things polished. If it’s not clear in in your mind, we can sort through some of that with you as well.Dr. Gerry: We have a hand up.Dr. Peter: We have a hand up! Yes, absolutely.
“Okay, so I’m someone who, when everybody was calling everyone toxic and a narcissist, I was just astounded. And I thought I would never do that. Like, human beings are, you know, sacred creatures because we’re images of God and we’re called to be an image of God. We’re sons and daughters of God. But I finally got to the point where it’s like, oh, I think I need some help. So what happens when even the thought of giving the other person more space and more consideration when it’s always been about them just doesn’t seem possible. I don’t know, just the thought of giving the person more consideration…I think you use the term flooded. Like I just, you know, I feel very agitated, flooded. I don’t know. It sends me. It’s like I’m crawling out of my skin kind of thing–like just the thought of that. So what do you do when you’re at that point? But my mind understands what you’re saying–I feel like that’s what I’ve always done. And I’ve always been curious and always open about playing, you know–knowing the other person. But what if like…just even that is…yeah…I think I’m being repetitive. I don’t even know if I’m making sense.”
[00:24:37] Dr. Gerry: You made very good sense to me. I definitely hear you. And you’re raising something that was in my mind when I was making those caveats before, as well. I would say what I hear is a part of you speaking even now, has been deeply wounded and hurt. And so I would put a priority on taking care of that part before engaging or giving more space, as you put it, to somebody that has been in any way abusive–emotionally or whatever, abusive in some way. I really think that’s a priority. If you’re in a relationship where you’re wanting to repair it and it’s all safe to even try to repair it, then I think it would be very important to work with those hurt parts and give them the attention they need.And it’s not going to come from that person. I would suggest your own therapy or your own work that you’re doing with that, and get to a place when you’re ready to do that. And it’s okay to feel like you’re not ready. It’s okay to not want to give them space. I think sometimes, and I know I’ve been guilty of this is sometimes. It’s a Catholic standard bearer–I don’t really call it that, but like my Christian good boy part of me is maybe sometimes too quick to forgive or too quick to overlook things before I’ve done my own processing, or before I’ve had to set proper boundaries. And then I live a little bit to regret it, right? Because then I feel like, oh, they just took advantage of my Christianity or my niceness, and that’s not okay. Right?[00:26:33] So anyway, what you said really, really speaks to me. I get that. I’m fortunate that I’m in a very good marriage, but I did grow up in a family where I experienced that all the time. And I watched that happen in my family all the time. So I’m very sensitive to somebody feeling the way that you just described.And I would just add, when I say “toxic,” for example, or even “narcissist” to describe a person, I really don’t mean toxic as in the person is inherently toxic. I would say the dynamic is toxic. I would say the behavior is narcissistic. I should have probably worded it that way before. So that is actually a really good point. I always hold to the fact that that person is redeemable, that the person inherently is created in the image of God, just like all of us. And there’s always hope, but it isn’t always the responsibility of the person who’s been hurt to repair the person who’s doing the hurting. So I do want to make that really clear.
“Okay. Yeah. Thank you. I do…yeah. I agree with everything you said. Yeah. Okay. It’s like I think I noticed that…it’s like I woke up through spiritual direction and all that. I woke up and realized one day, like, oh, I’ve kind of been living a delusion. So it’s kind of hard all of a sudden to see things that I just didn’t want to see before. But so now and all of a sudden it’s all just flooding in really fast and hard. But I have to remain hopeful. Thank you for your response.”
[00:28:25] Dr. Gerry: Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate it. And I think we have another hand up. Shannon?
“My question is, when dealing with the narcissistic family members, how much do you communicate the boundaries that you are setting for them? Does that make sense?”
Dr. Gerry: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah.
“Sometimes I think we could just have like a rational conversation about this, but that seems to not work very well with particular relationships. So yeah. Just wondering if there’s any principles in communicating those boundaries.”
Dr. Gerry: Yeah, I’m a big fan of boundaries–I get people to write out boundaries; I get them to sometimes read a book on boundaries. There’s a few good ones. And if I’m helping somebody design that, it depends if I’m…you know, in my case, I might be working with just one person–based on circumstance–I prefer to work with them together, if it’s a couple. And then as a therapist, I’m working to help them do that work of establishing boundaries.[00:29:35] But if you’re not in therapy or they’re not in therapy or whoever, then I really do encourage talking about boundaries. Now, I would say if you haven’t had any discussion about boundaries at all, and then somebody violates what you consider to be a boundary, then that moment is probably not a time you’re going to be able to really address it. I would say to go to reflect on the boundary that you want to set and reflect on the consequences that will happen if the boundary is not respected, and talk to the person about that during a time when there’s no conflict and nothing is going on, assuming there’s willingness on their part to listen and engage in some way, and then talk about it. Because one thing about boundaries is they’re not meant to control another person–they’re meant to protect you.So a boundary might sometimes sound like an ultimatum, perhaps, but it’s really not meant to be an ultimatum to the other person. It’s meant to say: listen, when you do this or when you said this to me, it really hurt me, or I felt hurt, or afraid, or whatever it is, and that’s not okay from now on. If that happens, this is what I’m prepared to do. And I want to let you know that whatever it is–it might be something small, but it might be something big; it depends a lot on the circumstance, but–that’s important. And then it’s really important that you follow through when that happens again. And a lot of time, the boundary is I’m going to walk away from this situation, right? Even just for an hour or something, whatever. But I’m not going to continue this. And that gets reinforced over and over again as the boundary gets maintained.[00:31:31] Now in family systems, we know that when you set a boundary that another person doesn’t appreciate, they have a tendency to have a reaction. It could be a distancing reaction and they pull. And sometimes when they pull, they will pull other people in the system along with them, possibly. And so you get this dynamic that’s maybe four people or five people that are in some kind of circle gets pushed–maybe some people go over here and some people and so that’s what happens with that pull. Whatever they’re doing is because of a desire on some level–I want the system back where it was, even to the person who’s setting the boundary. And so there’s a tendency to let that go right back to the old pattern, because the person can’t tolerate that movement possibly.But it’s so important to maintain the boundary because if you maintain the boundary and maintain the boundary, then the system will change into a new formation. It has the potential–there’s no guarantees, but it has a greater potential of creating a new formation, a new dynamic. Once the person realizes, “Oh, I need to respect that boundary or I’m going to lose this relationship,” they’re not going to go back to the old way. And then that gets reinforced, and then you get a whole new dynamic that’s healthier for everybody in the system.[00:32:59] Dr. Peter: Yeah. You’re bringing up a really important point in systems that was really kind of new to me when I started thinking in terms of systems. And that is: systems have their own kind of pseudo homeostasis. If one person begins to change, others in that system try to get things back to the way they were. So there can be an escalation in the attempt to try to get back to the old familiar dance, right? And it takes a while to break out of that, to get enough momentum, to break out of that old orbit into something different, a new homeostasis.
“I love this conversation. There’s just so many points of wisdom, so I really appreciate that. And when I hear you talk about boundaries, Dr. Gerry, what I get is it’s living from a place of freedom no matter what. And that is such a powerful place to live from. And and that does include play potentially, no matter if nobody else around you wants to play. So to have that sense of self.”I’ve walked this journey for a while, and I know when I met Dr. Peter, it’s really to know that there’s so much hope no matter what happens. So I really appreciate the hope of all this.”And then the other thing that comes to mind is Saint John of the Cross. His statement of ‘where there is no love, put love, there you will find love.’ And so that can be whatever–where there is no joy, put joy, there you will know joy. And so that’s just coming up now as I hear you talk about how to navigate these difficult situations. So it’s just really good to have you here.”
[00:34:47] Dr. Gerry: Thank you, thank you. You know, when you said that, it made me think of the…I think Dr. Peter put it in the newsletter, but I just wrote an article for the National Catholic Register. And I had like two days–they gave me two days. Like last week they said: “Can you write an article on Saint Dymphna for World Mental Health Day?” And so I did, in two days. But I sat there with Saint Dymphna’s story and really struggled because this poor woman was, you know, chased by her father and murdered by her father because he wanted to marry her. And that was tough. And that’s where I thought, well, Saint Maria Goretti is not exactly the same, but it’s pretty close in some ways. She was murdered by somebody that was trying to, you know, sexually take advantage of her. And we don’t know all the details of Saint Dymphna story–I bet there’s more that happened that we just don’t have recorded, right?But in Saint Maria’s I was really struck by, you know, her forgiving Alessandro first of all, and then her mother forgiving Alessandro later as well. And as I wrote, I literally thought to myself, if someone did that to my daughter, I don’t think I could forgive them. But that’s me. That’s me. My human self would not be able to forgive such a person. But when I thought about it some more, my inmost self, the deepest part of my heart both reflects the grace, the image of God, the space in my deepest spiritual center where grace comes and where the Holy Spirit dwells.[00:36:28] In Saint Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, it’s that bridal chamber at the core where Jesus is. God can work through me. So even though I might not be able to tolerate something, he might be able to do it through me. And God…and I can only depend on that because I don’t know that I could in that. In those examples, I resist setting anybody up to be a martyr. We don’t want to be martyrs–not in a spiritual sense of a martyr, but in a, you know, like the human sense of being a martyr–being a mat that people step over and just being taken advantage of. And all this, I don’t want any of that.But I do wonder, I think, as a married person, there are times when spiritual, supernatural grace seems to be needed to like get over myself sometimes and be loving and choose to be sacrificial at times. Not in a self-deprecating way at all, but in a way that is truly desiring their good. If somebody’s been treating you terribly, that’s very hard to do. But I do think, at least in certain contexts like marriage, we are called to at least try. We can’t control whether the other person will respond.[00:38: 00] Dr. Peter: So, Dr. Gerry, we’ve got some questions coming in. Let’s take one here, and then we’ll go back to some folks that might want to ask out loud. And so I have one here that says:
“My question is, I find it hard to find or differentiate if I’m standing up for myself, or if I’m just being too sensitive to correction out of pride when dealing with some family members. So how do you make how do you make the distinction there? What are your thoughts on this? What’s the difference between standing up for yourself, setting those appropriate boundaries, setting those limits, and being oversensitive, being too resistant to being corrected or to having things pointed out.”
Dr. Gerry: Yeah, what a great question. Because I think really what you’re talking about might be two different parts. So, you know, I think that it’s okay to have an advocate part that wants to stand up, that will stand up, right? And it’s okay to say, no, that’s not okay. Or that was painful, that was hurtful, and that’s not okay. I think that’s really important. I also think we have parts that are oversensitive sometimes, but usually the oversensitivity comes from a place of woundedness, right? Any kind of behavior, like even the narcissistic kind of self-centeredness, is a part trying to kind of overcompensate to protect something.[00:39:37] So maybe it’s okay that you might have a part that can be oversensitive and a part that advocates. And either way, because you could have an advocating part that is burdened in some way and is not self-led, so to speak, that is way over the top, right? We’ve all encountered people who are so over reactive, maybe because they’ve been hurt or they’ve seen other people hurt and it’s a justice thing. Like, you know, “I really can’t let that happen.”But also people that are oversensitive, that react to everything like it’s an injury, again, that’s an attempt to protect. So either way it’s the same process I think. Right, Dr. Peter? As we do with any of our parts, we want to spend some time with them. We want to affirm what it is they’re trying to protect and the good intention that’s under that. And we need to guide that part to discover possible new ways–like I can appreciate that you’re an advocate and you want to have justice and that you’re sensitive to this issue, wow, that’s amazing. But, you know, let’s explore what it is that makes you bulldoze over people in your attempt to get that justice or be so sensitive.[00:41:04] But I am thinking to myself a little bit…I’m talking theoretically. And what would be nice to do in a session or in your holy hour or something like that, to self-reflect. But in the moment when somebody says something that seems critical to you, in that moment, what do you do? And that takes a lot of practice, I think, to slow down and recognize, oh, various parts are being activated. And pause long enough to recollect long enough and maybe from a place of self to be able to do a little fact checking, right? Because I think a curiosity response right would be, “Oh, do I always do that? Am I always saying that?” I’m imagining you’re being criticized for something, and to be able to go like to honestly ask the person that seems to be critical of you, “Is that hurting you? Is that something I do often? I didn’t realize I did that.” Right? A curiosity response around it, so that you’re no longer defending yourself, and you’re not advocating, you’re not having to stand up for yourself. But you’re not also being oversensitive in that moment. So as I’m saying all this, I’m thinking curiosity is the key. Does that resonate for you, too, Dr. Peter?Dr. Peter: It does, it does. I would add one thing in–that a lot of times, if there’s a part that’s coming up that feels really raw, you know, it feels really exposed. The word that we’ve been using I guess, is sensitive. That could be an exile too, often. That’s not really a protector part in my experience. That’s a part that has come up and has maybe blended–is revealing the need for protection and may really feel unprotected in that time. And the protectors may not be in a place to be able to protect very well. And so there’s a lot of exposure and a lot of vulnerability in those kind of moments as well. So it can be these windows in which parts can really get re-injured pretty readily. So it goes back to that whole idea that you had brought up at the beginning of really protecting, really taking care of your own parts, you know, and recognizing that before we engage with somebody who can be really activating or polarizing for our parts.[00:43:35] Sometimes in those interactions, they’ll be parts of others that are trying to protect themselves by attacking parts of you and that can be really hard to appreciate. But there may be ways in that dance, in that dynamic, that there’s parts that are pulling for an exile to re-wound in order to create the distance so that you’ll go away, you know, or something like that, to kind of create the space. And so to recognize not only what my parts are doing, but what the others parts are doing and how those parts are interacting.And we did a little bit of that with Thomas and Juanita in the podcast episodes, and then also in the weekly reflections that came out around there. But how those parts interacted can really shed a lot of light on what the dynamic is that’s driving this, and also recognize that it’s not all of the other person. It’s not all of me. It’s these parts that happen to be really prominent in the moment.Dr. Gerry: I see Madeleine had a question. Yeah.
“Thank you. So I found this whole narcissistic subsystem, you know, fascinating. But it took me quite a while to kind of figure out what you were really…I couldn’t get a handle on it until Dr. Peter, you said something. You emphasized the valuing and de-valuing dynamic and that I kind of grabbed onto because that made me think of my mother. And I started thinking, oh my gosh, I think that fits. I think my mother had this strong, like, devaluing kind of thing. And so that that was very helpful. And now I have lost my question.”
[00:45:29] That’s okay. It’s okay.
“I mean, so my work now I think certainly is dealing with that. And I remember something that Vanderkolk said in his book that to heal from trauma, we have to know what we know and feel what we feel. And so my mother obviously is, you know, is dead. And I could never have worked anything out with her. I’m very, very aware of her own woundedness. And I wasn’t as a child, of course, and I would get angry when she hurt me. And, you know, we had a really very difficult relationship, for sure. But I always loved her. I think what I’m dealing with now, sorry, is just I cannot find…I can’t feel what I feel and know what I know yet. You know, because I didn’t know what I was dealing with and didn’t know how it affected me, how I affected my children, how some of my children are affecting their children, this intergenerational thing.”So, I think maybe what my question was, is it accurate? Like is that valuing and de-valuing thing kind of the kernel of what defines narcissism? Like because I see that in my mum. Does that mean that she had strong narcissistic tendencies? Am I right in attaching that label? I think that was my question. And to myself, and when I see it in one of my children particularly.”
[00:47:30] Dr. Gerry: You know what’s interesting to me when I was reviewing all the things Dr. Peter’s been going over on narcissism was…it was occurring to me that on some level, we’re all narcissists (maybe not clinical, I guess, whatever.) But the people that stand out, right, especially the overt ones, their parts are taking an extreme role, or a harsh position, or very biting in their language, or very, you know…cuts you to the core, or just feels like it’s a devaluing right of the other person. Again, maybe we all have parts that sometimes do that, maybe not in that extreme way when it really stands out–when somebody is, you know extremely hurt. But we all kind of have those dynamics now. And we all have the possibility of it. And so maybe there’s just different ways, right? It’s unfortunate.In my book, I have a whole chapter on it…I call it original trauma. And it’s that intergenerational aspect of the fall. It’s not just sin. Yes, it’s sin, of course it’s sin–original sin. But we’re passing on trauma generationally, and that’s unfortunately a factor of being in a fallen world. And that is painful. And I think it’s painful when we’re, you know, in the middle and we see how our parents have hurt us. And then we see maybe in ways which we’ve hurt our own kids, and that could send us into a place of sadness, despair or whatnot.[00:49:15] But it could also soften, right? It could also soften it. There’s some level of acceptance of our humanity. And it can be a thing of motivating toward love. Like I’m thinking in that being, if you’re in the middle space, you know you have…maybe you have an elderly–I’m not necessarily talking about you, Madeline–but like having an elderly parent, maybe, and having also having children…like that middle space when you end up caretaking a parent that may have hurt you in various ways, and at the same time, you’re taking care of your kids, who sometimes are really dysfunctional in various ways. And so you’re in that space. And you could get bitter about it, of course, but you could also soften and realize, wow, we’re all broken. This is part of being human. And what do I want to do? And that could soften a person. I think it has a potential to soften us toward loving, extraordinarily loving. In that case, and even if the parent is passed away. You know, and through prayer is there can be a softening and saying, mom, I see your brokenness now clearly. I see your beauty. I see your strength, I see your qualities. But I see how your trauma has really, really damaged you and others. But I forgive you and I love you. And that softening can be very powerful. And it can then spill over to your children or their children, possibly. Or outside the family too. I think there’s a deep wisdom in that.
“Well thank you. I think that sort of my tendency…like in listening through this and sort of thinking of this valuing and devaluing dynamic…that kind of gave me a focus to understand what I had never understood. And it never really–I knew my mom hurt me, but I never understood what was going on. And I’ve never understood those tendencies in myself until, you know, understanding that valuing and devaluing thing. But thank you. So does that define narcissism? Like if you’re just going to take one thing–“
[00:51:42] Dr. Peter: No, no, let me nuance that, because I remember that being your original question, Madeleine. And I would say no.Idealizing and devaluing–that’s a little further down the chain. It’s a reaction to what’s going on inside. If I have to sum up what is the central dynamic around a narcissistic presentation, it has to do with this deep sense of inner emptiness, of inner meaninglessness, of perhaps shame. And so what people who are struggling with narcissistic tendencies are struggling with are integrity needs more than attachment needs. They’re really focused on integrity needs, including the question of: “Do I exist if I feel empty or hollow inside?” If an exile is carrying a burden of being a nothing, then there’s this pull to start idealizing or devaluing. Idealizing the people who will infuse you with external affirmation, who will tell you that you’re important. So they idealize people that will idealize them in return, and then to devalue people who have somehow wounded or threatened their very fragile sense of self-worth.[00:53:06] That’s the central dynamic, because other personality styles will idealize and devalue, too. You’ll see that with what’s called the hysterical style or histrionic style. You’ll see that in what are sometimes called borderline presentations. So idealizing and devaluing isn’t unique to narcissistic styles, but it’s used differently. Somebody from a hysterical or histrionic style will idealize and devalue in order to get attachment needs met, not integrity needs.
“Well that’s very helpful, thank you.”
Dr. Peter: So yeah, we want to see that a little bit more as like a symptom or a little further down the causal chain than what the core central issue is.
“Thanks, Dr. Peter. And thank you, Dr. Gerry.”
Dr. Peter: Yeah.Dr. Gerry: I love how you put that. No, that’s really enlightening, even for me. Like to think about it as terms of…I don’t know why I didn’t quite think about it quite that way, but it makes a lot of sense.Dr. Peter: Well, that’s one of the differences in our in our training, right? I mean, I was trained psychoanalytically as well. And so, yeah, we did very much try to get at what’s the core struggle, what’s the core tension from which other things flow in these different personality styles? So.[00:54:22]Dr. Gerry: And now I think Julianne had a question.
“Hi. So I’m brand new. I’ve maybe been listening for about two months and I feel like I’m just drinking from a deep well. It’s just so fulfilling in my journey of where the Lord’s taken me thus far and I find myself…this seemed like a good segway because you brought up elderly parents, and that’s what I’m dealing with.”My mother died June a year ago. There were four siblings; I’m the oldest. My mother was so convinced that my father would die before her because of his Parkinson’s and various other neurological things he has going on that she didn’t put him in the will as the next in line for executor. So I ended up becoming executor, and this has just brought a whole host of cascading things that I never expected. You know, it’s as though my siblings and myself too, entered deep into early childhood wounds. All of us have.”And I heard one of you say, you know, hold the boundaries. You know, I’m the only one that’s been working at this stuff. So I’m the ostracized one for many reasons. And I’m trying to make sense of all of this, but it’s this has been one of the most painful journeys in my life, culminating now with my mother’s death.”It caused me to ask the question, ‘gee, was my mom the glue to the family that kept us civil with one another?’ Like the discord level that is taking place right now is so high. And it’s all centered around now that my father’s nearly bedridden and these end of life issues…I mean, but he’s not actively dying.[00:56:31] “But, you know, we’re all practicing Catholics. My dad is a daily communicant because my mother’s brother is a priest who lives there with him, and he says Mass every day. So we have six people that are practicing Catholics, and we’re in discord with one another about these end of life issues.”I was stripped–I’ll say it that way–of being medical power of attorney. I see the Lord’s hand in it. I was my father’s medical power of attorney, now my sister is. And that’s a burden that’s released for me. But she brought in hospice and they were almost on a one year anniversary.”And I guess if I’m trying to get to a question, I’m sorry. There’s a little bit of dumping here.”Things got so bad that my own spiritual director said ‘unplug.’ So for the summer I wasn’t talking to any of them, just unless it was necessary, through my husband. And that gave me the space to like, you know, do some of what y’all are saying, the woundedness. So everybody’s got their issues and I don’t have to blame anybody anymore.”So I was so thrilled to hear you on this narcissistic thing, because I’d go back and forth like, am I a narcissist? Are they narcissists? And it was like, oh, we can have narcissistic parts like that makes sense. And I can embrace that. I can embrace that.”There’s such a black and white thinking out in the world right now, and so I like the nuance here. So trying to reenter and reestablish relationship, I think I wounded them by going on sabbatical, even though it was announced I’m taking a sabbatical–‘I won’t be talking to y’all because my spiritual director told me to do that.’ I think I wounded them in that, you know, it’s like they felt abandoned all over again, perhaps.”And I might be projecting. I mean, there’s so many things I’m trying to figure out.”
[00:58:36] Dr. Gerry: Let me throw out something here. Just a thought. Because when you think about systems and so on, a lot of family systems don’t resolve a lot of issues. They’re just not good at it. A lot of times there’s rules in the family, like we don’t talk about problems, or we just get over things, or mom just handles it. And some way behind the scenes or something, there’s all these like rules. And then they’re not usually written; they’re usually just understood rules. And so there’s a lot of unresolved issues with mom, unresolved issues with dad, unresolved issues with both of them with each other within a lot of families. But they all kind of go underground most of the time, because most families aren’t going into family therapy, right?So nothing throws that like Dorothy flying out of Kansas, like somebody who actually dies–like a parent. And now that I’m informed, nothing throws a person’s parts all over the place and activates multiple parts, narcissistic ones and other parts, like a parent who is in the process of dying or who actually dies. And you see the worst kind of family ruptures, the worst kind of family fights and arguments when a parent dies, when a parent is sick and people have to make decisions around health and life issues.[01:00:10] So I’m only saying that to say to give all your whole family maybe some grace. That that’s what happens. And I don’t know that I have a solution for you, except that if your family is all Catholic, and there’s a love there–which I expect there is, maybe there’s a way to sit together and actually not accuse. And just have a space where we’re not going to accuse each other but maybe we all can share maybe from our hearts what’s been hard and we all just–
“Right. And I’d like to extend that invitation. I wrote a letter saying, ‘I don’t think you all know me.’ And I kind of said, ‘Here’s been my life.’ You know, I said, ‘Let’s change that.’ You know, here’s–“
Dr. Gerry: Sometimes you need a family therapist to facilitate. That is would be my advice. Like sometimes you can do that on your own, and maybe you can. But sometimes if somebody that’s objective, they can just hear everybody. It might really help.
“I agree. And we tried….I’ve tried to pull in whether it’s–I know a priest isn’t quite the psychologist or the facilitator, you know, they’re a facilitator in a different way.”
[01:01:20] Dr. Gerry: Depends on the priest.
“Yeah. Depends on the priest. Right. And they don’t seem to respond to that either. And that was back in April. It’s like, you know, ‘We’re dissolving away. Let’s bring in a facilitator.’ And you know one person is like, ‘Well I’m not paying for that.’ And I’m like, ‘I didn’t say it would cost anything.'”You know, it’s like there’s just this resistance. And finally I became so wounded that I find myself–and these words that I’m about to say sound so depressing, and I’m not depressed about it–but I came to the conclusion that I don’t think we ever really loved one another. Like in the authentic way that God desires us to know one another and love one another authentically. I don’t think I’ve ever loved them or they have loved me. They haven’t known me. I haven’t known them to end up where we are now.”It’s just like…so some other person mentioned delusion. I’m saying it’s like the illusion, vision of, wow, we didn’t really have a family, you know? I mean, I’m at the point of just…I love them because God created them and he is present in them. That’s all I can give right now. That’s all I can give. And now that feels sad as I say it.
[01:02:49] Dr. Gerry: Yeah.
“I feel the sadness of that. I would like it to be different, but I can’t believe I’m feeling something right now about this. This is a good thing. There’s a lot of grief for me, at least in this. And I have–“
Dr. Gerry: It sounds like your spiritual director had some wisdom, and it really sounds like your needing time to heal the wounds that you have, before you could consider engaging them in a way that you want to. It might just be really important to take care of your parts that are hurt before you can just walk in and somehow magically get everybody loving each other again or whatever it is.
“Right? Because that feels like fantasy.”
Dr. Peter: Yeah. And when there’s a death in the family, you have a lightning rod for any other unresolved grief from any other parts to start coming up. You know, grief about a whole host of things because there’s something very clear that’s socially acceptable to be grieving about. So there’s a lot of grief and loss that comes up and then a lot of defending against the intensity of that grief and loss and a lot of misattributing where that may be going because it might not be clear. So it’s a really tumultuous time. And if the family has had difficulty before in being able to connect to this kind of level, it’s going to be even more difficult when there’s all that intensity.[01:04:20] So, you know, I think, Dr. Gerry, your idea of really caring for your own parts. Maybe bringing in some outside help, allowing some time to pass and playing the long game, you know, really playing for the long haul instead of trying to resolve things really quickly. Even if there are details to be worked out about the house and the estate and the finances and all of that to kind of keep that long haul perspective in mind as well.
“Yes. I applied for your upcoming Saint Francis Xavier group, and I hope I get accepted. That can’t start soon enough for me because this parts thing is so…the language is like everything I’ve said that I’ve been speaking to, but I didn’t know what I was speaking about. You know, it’s like I said, y’all are the refreshing well of which I know I’m going to be able to drink and drink and drink become that integrated human being that I’ve been so desirous of. That word ‘integration’ for 13 years has been on my heart. So, yeah.”
Dr. Gerry: Thank you. Thank you so much.I think we have a question from Barbara.
“Oh, hello. Can you hear me okay?
Dr. Gerry: Yeah.
[01:05:35] “Okay. So…just kind of get a little bit personal, I guess. I’ve been married for 28 years. My husband was diagnosed with what I thought for many years–like, a major depression. Very tumultuous–like things that I thought should be handled here were like, all of a sudden at the moon level with conversations. Like, how in the world did we get to the moon? We’re just trying to talk here.”So for years and years and years, and he did have some quite intensive therapy through that, but it wasn’t until things started getting worse and worse and worse, and to the point where I think my cousin said, ‘Well, you know, he’s trying to manipulate you to control you.” And like, well, what the heck is that? Like totally blew my mind that what I was experiencing was like…and I don’t even like the word someone initially said, I don’t like to put labels, but it really was like an emotionally abusive thing. Now all three years into it now, it escalated to the point where it was very, very bad.”So he actually moved out and that was part of our breaking point. Met with the priest, and the priest actually recommended divorce, which was like, wow, never. I mean, this was a our very faithful local priest. And we had been through a string of counselors and, you know, back to that. Even what I’ve read in all this, like I ran into Lundy Bancroft, you know, the legendary–don’t know if you’ve heard of him or not.”But I read lots and lots and lots about the why and the what of emotional abuse, but not the how do you solve it. When I met with like the diocese, she said, ‘This is such a huge problem that if you ever figure out how to combine the psychology that you’re reading about with the spiritual, you’d have to open up the doors to our civic center.'[01:07:13] “There’s just so much…and what has been most healing for me has just been like connecting with other people and them bringing…just not feeling so alone. Gosh, I wasn’t going to get emotional because I thought I was really worked through it… Anyway one of the people that I ran across–and mostly it’s been self-help, and I’ve gotten a lot of therapy and I’m still trying to work things out with my husband. We actually only got better because I found out that he had been kind of going online and and that was almost like holding up a mirror to him. Like, this is not all me, and I’m willing to accept my part, but you have issues too. And I think that’s what finally helped a little bit to some extent.”And in my heart, I knew the day that I discovered it, it was going to be a game changer for us. And it’s been bearing out, although it’s still been tumultuous, to try to find that still. But, you know, doing a lot of self-help, doing a lot of therapy…. But one of the people I ran across was Dr. Ramani (don’t know if you’ve heard of her or not,) but she talks about this radical acceptance, and I think that’s possibly eastern based. But when I started just–and that was before I ran into your work and your stuff–but that reminded me when you were first talking about taking care of yourself. You can’t change them and just trying to really stay focused on myself. But also didn’t know number one was that; it brought me some kind of weird peace.”But I also know that there has to be boundaries. It can’t just be this radical acceptance and you accept everything carte blanche. But I guess my specific questions were: Do you know if there’s any support group models that exist for the IFS? I know there’s like one of the resources that I ran across was like a 12 step program for dysfunctional families or something like that. I can’t remember the name of it, but I got that recommendation from someone. I’m just trying to still look for a model. And I know I’m very heavily in the cognitive. I was raised that way. But looking for, I like maybe speak to your own support group that you guys have come up or whatever you guys call it. But specifically about the radical acceptance, one of my particular questions and the support group outside of…that’s my questions.
[01:09:39] Dr. Peter: Yeah, well, there have been some that have been around for a long time that are more secular in nature. Jay Earley has some online groups. Bonnie Weiss has some online groups.The Resilient Catholics Community is really about human formation. It’s not primarily a support group. I don’t know that any of those would be thought of primarily as a support group, but sort of more than that, actually. You know, because there is this radical acceptance of our own parts as they are, in the moment with the struggles that they have, with the burdens that they carry, with the extreme roles that they may be taking on.And you know when we can really accept our own parts, when we can really accept where our parts are, what their burdens are, what their roles are, and we can be okay with that–not that we endorse it all, or that we say it’s okay, or minimize any of the dysfunction or problems with any of that, but we can just accept the reality of that, it makes it easier to accept those same kinds of things in other people.[01:10:57] Anything that we reject within ourselves as unacceptable, anything that we reject in ourselves as not tolerable, we’re also going to reject similar parts with similar issues, similar roles, or burdens in other people. And so if we can have this, as you put it, “radical acceptance” of our own system and everything that’s in there–and it takes some real humility, it takes some real vulnerability to do that–then we’re in a much better position to be able to accept that in another person. But we want to be doing that in a thoughtful, wise way so that we’re not opening ourselves up to further harm or abuse.
“You’re talking about the upcoming group that’s going to be forming?
Dr. Peter: Yeah. The Resilient Catholics Community. I’ll talk a little bit more about that at the end, too.
[01:11:50] Dr. Peter: But yeah, the Resilient Catholics Community is about the human formation–shoring up that natural foundation for the spiritual life. And it does involve a lot of getting to know ourselves.There’s three overarching goals in the Resilient Catholics Community. The first one is to tolerate being loved across all your parts. And that means you have to tolerate them being known and understood. So tolerating being loved.The second is to embrace your identity as a beloved little child of God, the Father and Mary, our Mother; a beloved little daughter, or a beloved little son. And again, that’s across all your parts, that no part is left out of that.And then the third thing is to reflect that love back, to reflect that love that we can take in from God, to reflect that love back to ourselves, to our parts in need, to God, and to our neighbor, and our neighbor in all their parts.And so those are the three overarching goals. And what we focus on is what’s going on in the natural realm that gets in the way of that? What’s happening that we’re not accepting within ourselves? What’s happening that’s unresolved or disordered within ourselves? And how can we, from a systems perspective, understanding parts, how can we bring in that order, and what Saint Thomas Aquinas would call that self governance, so that we can have this ordered self love? Because we cannot, according to Saint Thomas, love our neighbor more than we love ourselves.[01:13:28] And so we want to really do this not because it’s some sort of narcissistic navel gazing, you know, psychological day spa where you know, I’m okay, you’re okay, and we’re just pampering ourselves. No, we actually need to learn to love ourselves in order to be able to love our neighbor and to love God in an ordered way as well.
“Thank you very, very much. My counselor, my very good Catholic psychiatrist counselor, said the goal of all of our lives should be to know ourselves more and more each day. So thank you very much.”
Dr. Peter: Yeah, you’re welcome, Barbara.Did you have something you wanted to add to that, Dr. Gerry?Dr. Gerry: Um, no. I have some (very limited) familiarity with the radical acceptance. Now I’m forgetting the name of the author–it wasn’t the name you gave, it was Kornfield or somebody–that definitely has a Buddhist background. And there’s another author that’s a big name in that whole genre of approach. And what I have found is that if you’re raised in an environment where emotions are not allowed, and all of your feelings are always discounted, and sometimes even in certain religious upbringings where it’s always about outward appearance and always about rigidly following these rules.Or in some cases, like I’ve worked with some–I’m thinking at the moment. I mean, certainly there’s Catholic examples, but I’ve worked with a few people that come from really rigid, fundamentalist Christian backgrounds where it’s all about the mission and all about evangelizing others, but never about loving or caring for each other; you’re not even allowed to have emotions. It was just something that I discovered.[01:15:14] And when people who have had that experience read some of those books (and I would say, you know, I would of course have some issues with some aspects of Buddhism, of course), but I think it’s almost like so desperately needed. Like they don’t have any sense of just what it is to be accepted for who you are and that all your emotions are okay.The closest Catholic counterpart, I think, would be Dr. Conrad Baars’ work, because he talks about emotional deprivation, and I feel like that’s getting at that same thing. So if you’re raised in an environment that is emotionally deprived, he really speaks to that and the effects of that. And in his books, I’m not remembering…I’m terrible with remembering names off the top of my head sometimes, but you know, some of his books really speak to how to open that up and discover that, yeah, you can start feeling your feelings and it’s okay. And I can accept those.Dr. Peter: Dr. Gerry, we had a question here. The question is this:
“Do narcissists or others with a lack of affective empathy have a harder time making sense of IFS? My husband has been seeing an IFS therapist and says it doesn’t make sense to him. He has an immense degree of cognitive empathy from voraciously watching movies, reading literature, etc.”
[01:16:41] Dr. Gerry: Hmm. Yeah, I think that narcissists perhaps are so well defended against really looking deeply at their interior lives that they don’t allow themselves or anybody else to get close to it. So it’s like a foreign concept. And I’ve experienced that in doing parts work with some people–like so most of the clients that I work with tend to take to parts work like a fish in the ocean, it just flows so nicely. Maybe it’s because I have a lot of clients who are Catholic. They do a lot of prayer and maybe practice some contemplative prayer and this kind of thing, and so they just get it.But once in a while I come across a client, and it’s just like you might as well be talking to a brick wall. Like they have no idea what you’re saying, and it’s like a wall. And if I was to characterize those clients (generalizing here, of course), it is because they’re so well defended and they don’t want to look inside. They just don’t. And so that actually breaks my heart a little bit to think about that; that that was their adaptive measure was to put up such a wall against emotion and understanding the self, because those same people might have learned behaviors that help them function with other people, but they’re actually not good at really and truly understanding other people’s feelings well. So it really–Dr. Peter: Yeah, there’s a difference between sensitivity and empathy. And again, the person here asking the question was making the difference between cognitive empathy and affective empathy. And that’s a distinction that sometimes gets made. But I’m not even sure that when there’s parts that have strong narcissistic tendencies that it’s really even cognitive empathy. Sometimes it’s just sensitivity. Sometimes it’s just being able to sort of sense it in another person. But that’s not necessarily empathy at all–cognitive or affective.[01:18:52] Dr. Gerry: So I don’t know if you’re going to do a series on sociopaths or psychopaths or anything–Dr. Peter: Yeah, we’re going to get into psychopaths. Absolutely.Dr. Gerry: I was sort of amazed. Like I do think that sociopaths, as I understand it with your training, but they’re kind of operating by what they figured out the rules of society to be, and they’re following those rules and they get by and they fool everybody because they’re good at behavior. You know, they figure out behaviors that work. And that’s really different than actually being attuned with other people and have empathy or even sensitivity, like to have any kind of like real sense of connection with people. It’s really, to me, it feels like the opposite of that.Dr. Peter: I think I mentioned this in the gaslighting episode, but yeah, Charles Manson would read How to Win Friends and Influence People. You know, he was studying how to gaslight or how to manipulate. And they operate off of scripts and things like that. So yeah.Do we have time for one more question, Dr. Gerry? Are you willing to stick on for one more before we wrap it up?Dr. Gerry: Sure.[01:20:09] Dr. Peter: Okay. And this is not something that I know as much about–it flows from what we were asking before. “Does a lack of empathy present itself differently in a person who is narcissistic vs. an autistic person? When I described to my spouse to a therapist, they said my spouse could be autistic. I’m especially considering this because I have opened up pain with great depth to my spouse, and he/she doesn’t seem to be able to integrate it.”Dr. Gerry: Well, autism is on a spectrum, so I would think there’s quite a difference between a high functioning and a low functioning autistic person–there’s a range. But in general, that is a neurological issue that is characterized by not actually understanding social dynamics very well.So, you know, there’s so much as humans that we don’t teach each other directly, but we all kind of figure out, and there’s unspoken rules of social dynamics that we all kind of figure out. But people with autism aren’t typically able to do that, or it’s very difficult for them to figure that out. Again, it’s a continuum. So it’s not like everybody is. It’s not a zero factor.And so I think with empathy, that’s part of it. Because empathy, my definition would be the ability to feel someone else’s feelings along with them. But if you can’t even figure out the social dynamics at play. You can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their perspective. That’s pretty characteristic of autism. You have to do a lot of work with autistic kids, for example, to help walk them through scenarios, to help them see, okay, how would this person feel in this situation? How would that person feel? And you’re teaching them as best as you can how to navigate those social situations. So it’s not a lack of caring–so unlike maybe a like, you know, a dangerous sociopath, like they actually have malice or something. Perhaps it’s not malice, it’s just simply a lack of ability to process cognitively the social dynamics of play, let alone actually understanding someone else’s feelings at a deep personal level.[01:22:43] But I’ve seen autistic people who feel very deeply, though. So it’s not to say they have no feelings because they may feel very deeply about things, but they might not know how to handle the intensity of those emotions, right? Because it’s an overload and oversensitivity sometimes. So that’s a great question–a very complex one.Dr. Peter: Well. I am so grateful to all of you for having been here in our live audience today. I’m grateful for those also that are listening in and have invested and have gotten through this whole series on narcissism. You are the whole reason why we do this.And I’m I’m very grateful to to you, Dr. Gerry Crete, for being here with us tonight. It’s been such a pleasure, such an honor to be able to hear your wisdom, your experience, your perspectives on this. Dr. Gerry has this book coming out on January 16th. I can’t wait. January 16th, 2024. It’s called Litanies of the Heart: Relieving Post-traumatic Stress and Calming Anxiety Through Healing Our Parts. It’s actually available for preorder on Amazon right now. And I read the book, and I was honored to to write the foreword to the book as well. And this is like my little endorsement. I just thought I would read it to you. I say: “No other book is better suited to help Catholics understand and embrace the good in Internal Family Systems and other parts and systems-based approaches. Through clinical vignettes, psychological and biblical studies, reflection questions, experiential exercises, and and meditations, Dr. Gerry makes parts work come alive for Catholics who seek interior integration as a prerequisite for loving God, neighbor, and themselves deeply and in a more ordered way. I’m really, really excited about this book coming out, so I’m encouraging you to check that out as well.[01:24:46] Again, the Resilient Catholics Community; you can check that out at soulsandhearts.com/rcc. We are reopening the Resilient Catholics community in December. It opens every December and January for a new cohort. We’re going to be onboarding our sixth cohort, the Saint Francis Xavier cohort. We have over 200 people in the Resilient Catholics Community right now, and there’s lots of information about that at soulsandhearts.com/rcc. The beautiful thing about it is that you don’t have to do this alone–that we do it together in community, with companions, in companies, within our cohorts. There’s all kinds of ways that we can connect on that journey. We have 44 weekly lessons that we go through over the course of a year. It’s very structured and it’s very geared to helping people in this step-by-step progression to really shore up the natural foundations for their their spiritual life.I’m just going to invite people to know that I have my conversation hours every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST. You can reach me on my cell phone 317-567-9594. And also remember that there are Weekly Reflections that have been coming out. We’ve just wrapped up a series on daydreams and how you can connect with your parts through your daydreams. And you can check out the back issues of those weekly reflections at soulsandhearts.com/blog.[01:26:30] Also, check out Dr. Gerry’s new article that just came out. This is the National Catholic Register, it’s on Saint Dymphna, and I’m trying to remember the title of it. It’s Saint Dymphna and then Saint Maria Goretti…and I’m trying to remember the rest of the title–Dr. Gerry: And the Litanies of the HeartDr. Peter: And the Litanies of the Heart! Right. And speaking of the Litanies of the Heart, we have the Litanies of the Heart. Doctor Gerry wrote the Litany of the Closed Heart, the Litany of the Wounded Heart, and the Litany of the Fearful Heart. Those are on our website, soulsandhearts.com/lit. We’ve got those in downloadable PDFs. We’ve also got those in audio version. We’ve got them in printed versions that we can mail to you. So I really invite those because those prayers are so beautiful, because they are attachment based. They’re really take into consideration the attachment needs and the integrity needs that drive so much of our hearts’ impulses. And so we really want to make those available to folks.So again, I’m so gratified that that we can be here together, Dr Gerry. I want to give you another opportunity to just say any final thoughts before we before we close for tonight.Dr. Gerry: Oh, wow. No, I just…thank you all for being here and listening and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed all your questions, and I’m so excited at the energy around bringing a parts work approach and integrating that with our faith and a whole understanding of the human person. And so I have been especially encouraged by all of you. I’m encouraged by a lot of the energy that I’ve had in talking with coaches and priests and spiritual directors who are also learning about this model. And so I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with blessings, and I think that’s a good thing. But I’m a bit of a hobbit sometimes, so sometimes I want to crawl into my hole and I feel like I’m being pushed right out into the adventure. So thank you to Dr. Peter, for everything you’re doing in this as well.[01:28:50] Dr. Peter: Well, thank you again, Dr. Gerry.And at this point, I’m going to invite you all to unmute, if you would be willing to unmute yourselves. And we will invoke our patroness and our patron, our patroness and our patron who helped prepare the way for the Lord; Our Lady, who is who is under her title of Undoer of Knots. She prepared the way for the Lord by offering her body, her womb, her whole body for him. And then Saint John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord by proclaiming his coming. And so all together, as we invoke our patroness and our patron.Our Lady, Our Mother, Untier of Knots, pray for us. Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.