The intense aftershocks of narcissistic abuse can leave us feeling unsure, overwhelmed, and paralyzed. Many of us want someone who can guide us through the aftermath toward recovery, but the challenges of surviving each day leave us little energy for sorting through an overwhelming sea of options.
These eight practical tips will help you save time and energy in your search for someone who can help you heal from narcissistic abuse.
Look for someone who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery.
Make sure the professional you choose lists narcissistic abuse as one of their specialties. Watch out for professionals who have a long list of specialties. While they may be familiar with Narcissistic Abuse, they might not have an in-depth understanding of the recovery process. While well-intentioned, some professionals don’t realize the unique needs survivors of narcissistic abuse have, so they group them in with all other abuse victims in their approach.
Tip: If a professional lists that they treat Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that doesn’t necessarily mean they specialize in working with narcissistic abuse victims.
Choose someone who is a survivor and has done the work to heal.
If you’re planning to hike Mt. Everest for the first time, you won’t hire a guide who hasn’t experienced the challenges and landscape of the mountain. If a guide told you they only studied hiking or had only climbed in the Rockies, wisely, you wouldn’t choose them to lead you. You would hire a guide who has experienced and overcome altitude sickness, navigated past dangerous points, and successfully reached the top.
Everything surrounding narcissism is upside down, and it’s an alien landscape to those who haven’t been there. Until someone has experienced narcissistic abuse, training is purely technical and not experiential. It’s essential to have a guide who not only is intimately familiar with narcissism and narcissistic abuse but has also successfully walked the road to recovery.
Tip: Directly ask the professional if they’ve experienced narcissistic abuse. Most who have will be willing to acknowledge it. If not, don’t hesitate to keep looking for someone who meets that criterion.
Choose someone who is trauma-sensitive, understands the aftershock of narcissistic abuse, and has a full tool bag of resources to help you navigate the challenges of the healing process.
Do a little bit of Google research on trauma-sensitive care. Use what you learn to ask questions to make sure the professional you choose approaches you and your recovery through the lens of trauma. Here are a few questions to get you started.
How will you prepare me so that doing the healing work isn’t re-traumatizing?
What is the most important concern you have about working with me?
How do you know when someone is triggered?
If I get triggered, how will you respond?
How will you make sure that I’m not leaving our time together feeling “out of it” or extremely upset?
Tip: When you first meet with a counselor, being pressured to share what you aren’t comfortable sharing is a sure sign that the person isn’t trauma-sensitive.
Choose someone who can provide the level of support you need.
We are all on a journey called “life.” Sometimes we know where we want to go, but other times we get distracted, stuck in a rut, confused about which direction to go, lose our motivation, or are unsure how to navigate around an obstacle. Non-medical professionals such as coaches, counselors, and mentors can be a good fit for these situations.
However, sometimes we become disabled or unable to function to the point where we need someone else to be responsible for our well-being. In this situation, we need to see a medical mental health provider, such as a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, to diagnose and treat mental illness.
Some people move between medical-mental health providers and other recovery professionals. Those whose mental illness is in remission or under control can choose to utilize non-medical recovery resources. Because your safety and stability are critically important, you must never rely on a non-medical provider who isn’t licensed to diagnose and treat mental illness for any of your medical (including mental health) needs.
Tip: If you are trying to choose between working with a medical vs. non-medical provider, ask yourself about your current distress level. Do you have concerns about your ability to function? Do you need someone else to be responsible for your stability and progress? A medical provider is a right choice for this level of care. Are you able to be in the driver’s seat of your life and take responsibility for your functioning? A non-medical provider such as a coach may be a good fit in this situation.
Choose someone who is regularly available and accessible.
It’s vital to the recovery process to have someone who can regularly meet with you. How much we get out of the healing process is directly impacted by how much time and effort we invest. It’s very frustrating to invest time, energy, and money into recovery, only to find the professional we hired isn’t as invested as we are.
Especially at the beginning of your recovery, time-sensitive situations occur where you may need access to extra support. Find a professional who keeps some availability in their schedule for additional appointments and offers a means for reasonable between-session contact.
Tip: Ask the professional how often they can meet, if you can schedule emergency appointments, what type of between-session contact they allow, and how many weeks on average during the year will they be unable to meet.
Find someone who will allow you to talk with them before you make a significant commitment.
Some professionals are interested only in talking one-on-one with you to answer your questions and explore their services if you are paying for their time. Others offer a free consultation. Either way, avoid making a sizable financial commitment without the ability to speak with them first.
Tip: If the professional doesn’t allow you to meet with them before spending a lot of money, this could indicate they care more about making money from you than they care about helping you heal.
Find someone who can answer questions about narcissistic abuse and the recovery process.
Asking specific questions will help weed out those who aren’t knowledgeable about narcissistic abuse recovery. Here are some examples. If you don’t know the answer, do some research for yourself, so you’ll be prepared to evaluate responses. When researching, you might come up with some great questions of your own.
- Do you recommend working with the narcissist to repair our relationship?
- What are some unique challenges faced by survivors of narcissistic abuse?
- What is the best way to respond to flying monkeys?
- Are you able to help me recover, even if my abuser has never received a diagnosis of NPD?
- What are some tips for surviving a smear campaign?
- How can I end the mind games in a conversation with the narcissist?
- How do I stop getting into relationships with narcissists?
- How do I know which of the things the narcissist says is wrong with me has some truth to it?
- What should I do if the narcissist tries to hoover me?
Tip: Survivors have their own non-clinical language to talk about narcissistic abuse. Check if the professional is familiar with the everyday “narc” talk such as hoover, flying monkey, the narcissistic harem, etc. This will help differentiate between those who have an in-depth understanding of narcissism and those who have only studied narcissism in an educational setting.
Find someone who resonates mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically with you.
Narcissistic abuse can cause us not to trust our intuitions and discount our internal reactions to others, especially negative ones. We struggle to know what we like and what we don’t because we have stopped listening inside. Searching for a recovery professional is an excellent opportunity to start listening again.
Does what they say help you feel like someone finally gets it?
Does it feel like they respect you as a person?
Do they help you feel as comfortable as possible to talk about challenging things?
Tip: Notice how your body responds to them. While this may sound strange, our bodies often whisper (or scream) to us sensations that tell us who is good for us and who isn’t.
It’s essential to be patient with yourself and the process. You might have to talk with several people before you find the right fit. However, finding a resource who validates your experience, cares about you, and knows how to guide you toward your recovery goals will make all the difference in your healing.