It just never works to be in contact with my father,” said my patient as she started our session, wiping away tears. “I don’t want to cut him out of my life completely, but I can’t keep going back to be sniped at again and again.”
This patient and I had already strategized ways to talk to her father assertively, which is the usual way that therapists approach this issue. She addressed the hurtful comments with him and asked for change in an appropriate, non-defensive way.
It didn’t work. <!–more–>
Her father flatly refused to admit fault or change his behavior, leading us to speculate that narcissism was at work here. In that case, it is unsafe to bring the suspected narcissist into session with her.
Our next step was to set strong boundaries of self- protection in specific ways-Protected Contact, Low Contact, or No Contact. The contact decision can ONLY be made by the patient and is an extremely important and personal one. No one choice is right for every victim of narcissism at every stage of their life.
Protected contact is my creation that I use with my patients when they just aren’t ready to cut the parent off completely. In a nutshell, it means that you are never alone with the suspected narcissist. This is only effective if the narcissist has the typical tendency of wanting to appear charming in public, and won’t be abusive to my patient in front of witnesses. They save the abuse for private-phone conversations, rides in the car, any time they can get you alone. So you do 3 way calls with another safe person on the line instead, or go to lunch with the narcissist while bringing someone else along at all times. This works with some narcissists, but not others.
Low Contact means reserving contact for emergencies and holidays, knowing there will likely be abuse offered. This is like returning to the stove again and again, knowing you will get burned, but deciding the circumstances warrant it. I advise combining this with Protected Contact when possible.
No Contact means exactly what it says. It’s a decision requiring much thought, exploring with a licensed and qualified mental health professional, and a lot of courage. Our society can be judgmental about this decision and the patient must be prepared for these responses, as well as the feelings of grief that may follow.
Here are six questions to help you decide what level of contact YOU prefer. The soul searching, honest answers that arise will give you insight to discuss with your therapist.
1) Do I want to limit or eliminate phone calls? How many per week, month
2) Do I want to limit what time of day I answer the phone, if I choose to take calls?
3) Do I want to limit the amount of time we talk, and if they leave a message, shall I have a safe person screen that message first before I subject myself to it?
4) Do I want to limit or eliminate face to face time? What’s that going to look like?
5) Do I want to remove myself when the abuse starts, or if they are inebriated?
6) Do I want to acknowledge birthdays or holidays? (This can be sending a card or gift, a call, or a decision not to do anything).
Remember: you matter too. It’s ok to take care of yourself, regardless of the opinions or desires of ANYONE else!