Neuroscience, Narcissism, & Humanism

neuroscience heather edwardsHave you ever had an experience that was so attuned to your core essence that you felt completely content, aligned, and inspired? Well, the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium did just that.

This year, neuroscience and attachment theory for healing were the stars of the show – along with other hot topics in psychotherapy like story telling, yoga, & power posing.

It fed my intellectual appetite and at times, felt like being a kid in a candy shop – I was joyfully shoving colorful treats into my mouth, riding the sugar buzz, and continuously craving more! It was Willy Wonka minus the little blue men and scary boat scene. Just the good stuff – lots of candy & neuroscience!

Sex, intimacy, and the Tango were keynote subjects. Susan Johnson, EdD, the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy shared her methods and data which prove sex is more than just a physical act. What better? Sex, intimacy, AND professional training – um, yes, please.

Neuroscience brain scan data backed up her claims of efficacy.  James Coan, PhD shared how certain calming regions of the brain are activated and blood glucose levels are lowered by specific types of supportive interactions between people. It was fascinating.

I was blown away when Dr. Johnson revealed that her clinical framework is Humanistic Psychology, Carl Rogers’ theory of Person Centered Therapy – and exactly the same as mine.  This therapy assumes that change can only happen when non-judgement and unconditional positive regard exist in the therapeutic relationship. Every clinical concept and intervention she proposed rang with perfect resonance in my ears. [Ohhhhhhm. Insert birds chirping and angels singing.]

“But what if your client is a narcissist?”, an audience participant asked. It seemed to imply that nothing could help them.

Dr. Johnson’s answer filled me with joy. She referred back to her clinical roots and stated that as a Humanist, labels are very limiting. Humanists move beyond naming, classifying, and judging people.

The Humanist believes each client is a human being functioning the very best they can within the context of their reality. What they’re doing makes perfect sense to them in their world. It serves a definite purpose, albeit not always the most effective one. 

The Humanist meets the client where they are, and supports them in finding a better place according to them at their pace and in their way. Each person is met with openness, acceptance, and non-judgement. She stopped herself short when she said, “…and if you can’t handle that!”. I quietly smiled and felt at home again.

Labels, therapeutic tools, and therapist interventions are worthless without first developing a therapeutic relationship based on positive regard and unconditional acceptance. Once the client is heard and validated, real lasting change can happen. There’s finally hard neuroscience that proves it.

The narcissist can be extremely difficult – even abusive and/or exploitive – that’s the nature of their personality. But one must ask, what purpose does their behavior serve for them? What circumstances had to exist for the narcissist to develop this type of personality?

What fundamental safety, survival, and/or bonding need was absent or threatened as they were developing as a young child?  And what can be done to shift those factors so that the narcissistic person can live a happier, fuller, more authentic, and intimate life? …and thus, those around them.

The point at which curiosity ends, judgement begins. I’m not suggesting that anyone wait around for a narcissist to change their ways, or tolerate abuse or mistreatment. You could be waiting a very, very long time and living in a toxic relationship that is unhealthy for you.

But anybody who wants to change, can change. We are constantly evolving and adapting on a neural and molecular level. Be curious. Be open. Be cautiously optimistic. Know your boundaries and limitations. Believe that anyone can change if they want to. It begins with unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and a lot of determination, desire, and time. The data proves it.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers



photos courtesy of by atibodyphoto

Psychology Today – Getting Unstuck: The Toxic Relationship

132321-131940This article is published in Psychology Today by Mark Banschick and Heather Edwards.

We’ve all heard the term “toxic relationship”.  What does it really mean?

Let’s break it down.  Something that is toxic is poisonous, causes death or debilitation, and drains energy and life.  Snake venom is toxic.  Asbestos is toxic.  Some bacteria are toxic.  A relationship is the state of being connected, associated, or related to one another.  It can take the form of afriendship, a family member, a spouse, or a romantic partner. A difficult relationship may trap you because these tendencies may have started as early as childhood, according to Psychology Todaybloggers, Rosemary K.M. Sword and Philip Zimbardo.

Regardless of the degree of toxicity in your relationship – if it’s unhealthy it’s time to fix it, or get out of it!   So how do you know if your relationship is toxic?  Consider the following tips and questions whole heartedly to understand and prepare yourself.  Follow the steps below to free yourself, if you already know the answer.

Emotions are Information:  

How do you feel when you are with your significant other?  Notice whether you are feeling happy and loved, or criticized and controlled.  A healthy relationship is filled with openness, mutual support, respect, positive regard, and exploration.  A toxic relationship is stifled, judgmental, critical, and filled with mockery. Are you being put down, or lifted up?   Constructive criticism comes from a place of love and is intended to help.  Belittling is meant to take away one’s power and inner strength.

Be Your Authentic Self:  

In a healthy relationship it’s safe and easy to be your true self.  Each person’s thoughts, opinions, and aspirations are important, valued, and supported by the other.  Communication is honest and open.  Conversations are free and based on ideas, dreams, and shared responsibilities. In a toxic relationship, one person feels stifled. Their dreams and life goals are squashed, irrelevant, unimportant, and often get sacrificed for the sake of the other. Their true self is denied and feels atrophied.

Trust Your Intuition:  

Most of us get a gut feeling about people and situations.  Sometimes werationalize this away with our intellect and reason; often when our gut instinct is not what we hoped for, or if there’s no immediate evidence to support it.  If you’ve been questioning yourself and doubting your decisions despite believing you’re right, this could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Toxic partners are controlling and demeaning.  They gain their power from taking away yours. Healthy partners are trusting and supportive.

Sever the Ties:  

If the above sounds familiar, it may be time for change. You’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and hope in this relationship but it is not serving you well.  Recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship can empower you to get out of it. Be honest with yourself. If both parties are not fully committed to actively working on changes such as mutual respect, open communication, and positive regard, then start walking and don’t look back.

Clinging to the hope of change without full investment from both people will only belabor the fear, dread, and potential depression that results from a toxic relationship.  Remember how wonderful you are and always have been. Value yourself.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha.

Get Support:  

Ending a relationship is heartbreaking, even if you’re the one doing the breaking up. It’s a loss. Give yourself time to heal. Seek out friends, family, or a professional to talk about your experience and learn from it.  Mindfully acknowledge the emotional experience of being in a toxic relationship and breaking free of it. Breathe, journal your feelings, andmeditate. Reestablish your self esteem and worth as a unique person. Appreciate your strengths, and develop your interests.  You deserve to feel good again.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller.

Embrace Change:  

Change is your opportunity to create the life you want.  What part of yourself has been neglected?  Perhaps there is a trip you want to take, a subject you want to study, or a sport, hobby, language, or instrument you want to learn.  Now is the time to love and honor yourself.  Stay true to your interests and talents.  Acknowledge and appreciate what makes you a valuable and unique person.  Use that information to rebuild your sense of worth.

“Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home…

it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it.” – Chuck Palahniuk.