The majority of people who come to see me say they have been to multiple counselors, both personally and for their marriage, and that most of them have been less than helpful, if not harmful. I think there are two particular elements impacting the effectiveness of their previous counseling: 1) the dynamics of narcissistic and emotional abuse on the victim and the relationship are unrecognized, and 2) the ineffective use of non-directive approaches to address the issues.
The Problem with a Non-Directive Approach
A non-directive approach entails allowing the client to come to their own conclusions about what steps to take next to resolve their issues or become intentional about their life. This approach assumes that, with the right prompting, most people can find their way through to healthy, self-motivated change that is right for them. A counselor or coach will explore what the client is feeling, thinking, and experiencing, without adding a specific course of action or direction. The theory behind this approach is that people who come to their own conclusions will more likely hold to those conclusions and experience lasting change.
But a non-directive approach is problematic within the context of emotional abuse. Emotionally abused clients come with a desperate need for direction that includes helping them find their voice, their purpose, and their path to heal from all of the ways they have been silenced, diminished, and dismantled by their abusive partner. Letting them speak for themselves is part of the equation, yes. And being a source of direction for them until they find their heading again is an invaluable part as well.
The nature of narcissistic and emotional abuse entails one person having an ongoing pattern of power over the other person, in order to arrange their world exactly the way they want it. The result is a silencing of not just the physical voice of the one being powered over, but silencing their inner voice as well. This means the victim questions their own intuition and thinking, which is what makes non-directive approaches so ineffective. These clients are no longer able to put into words what they feel or think, and they apologize for anything they do manage to say. The disorientation they feel cannot be overcome simply by talking it through. They desperately need an advocate to help them speak, show them how to find resilience and healing, and to give them permission to trust themselves. They need someone to believe them and stand in the gap for them until they can get through the brain fog and constant state of emotional trauma.
The Work that We Do (a Directive Approach)
At the Marriage Recovery Center, our directive approach focuses on the opportunity for growth, rather than focusing on the pit of loss and brokenness. We talk in terms of collaboration rather than compromise. What do you have to work with and how do we make it work for you, as a couple, to get connected and stay connected?
A clear, defined path to healing starts with first evaluating where you are and where you want to be. We help you to discover what it will take for your marriage to go from where it is to where you want it to be. We let you tell your story and ask you challenging questions to help you see beyond what has gotten you to this place.
The next step is to evaluate whether you are going to stay in the relationship or leave the relationship. If you decide to leave, healing will entail bringing restoration to your own heart. If you decide to stay, healing entails working on restoration of both your own heart and your marriage.
Another clear step is to identify the non-negotiables. What must be different for you to stay in the marriage? What is it that you are no longer willing to go along with, hide, or tolerate? What change needs to happen and how much? Identifying the non-negotiables provides the foundation for brainstorming collaborative solutions to overcome them. This is where you hammer out what you need for healing and connection.
All of these questions are directive, meant to lead your thinking toward being intentional and proactive in ways that do not depend solely upon your own wisdom at a time when you cannot even give yourself permission to rest. When your relationship is impacted by the trauma of emotional abuse and narcissism, the potential for secondary harm is higher when you are left feeling unprotected and flailing on your own.
This is why, at the Marriage Recovery Center, we offer a directive approach that takes into account the dynamics of narcissism and emotional abuse. If you’re looking for this type of counseling, we’d love to work with you! To get started, call our Client Care Team at (206) 219-0145.