Ask Dr. Forgiveness

How can one reconcile with a NPD spouse, who has been emotionally and physically abusive and forced to leave?

Reconciliation involves trust and trust needs to be established slowly, especially when your spouse, who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), was forced to leave. Is your spouse interested in reconciling? If so, I strongly recommend that you see if your spouse is beginning to develop what I call “the 3 R’s” of remorse or inner sorrow, repentance or sincerely apologizing to you for the multiple offenses, and recompense or making up for the damage done within reason.
Further, those with narcissism need to be convinced that they have a problem and one possible opening for this is to see if your spouse is truly willing to understand and to practice humility, which is the direct opposite of a narcissistic pattern. You can read more on humility here:

Humility: What Can It Do for You? (This link will take you to my personal guidance column at Psychology Today.)

With perseverance from both of you, your spouse may slowly become convicted of the need for more humility and the practice of the 3 R’s. I wish you the best in this courageous journey.
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I have low self-esteem from being treated unfairly by someone in my family. What do you recommend I do to reverse this?

1)  Stand with courage in the truth: “I was wronged.” If none of this is your fault, say that to yourself: “This is not my doing. I did not bring this on myself.”

2)  Stand further in the truth: “Even though this person may have a bad view of me, I refuse to share that view of myself with this person.” Resist the lie.

3)  As you stand in the truth, be aware of your strength in doing so: “I am enduring what I did not deserve. I am stronger than I thought.”

4)  Commit to doing no harm to the one who harmed you. As you do that, reflect on who you are: “I am someone who can endure pain and not return pain to the other.”

5)  Finally, conclude in the truth: “I will not be defined by the injustices against me. I am more than this. I am someone who endures pain and is a conduit for good to others.”

NOTE: This answer is reproduced from my Psychology Today blog: Why You Might Have Low Self-Esteem and How to Cure That.

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Can healthy anger eventually develop into unhealthy anger?

Yes, this is possible. When treated unfairly by others, it is natural to have some anger because this is showing the other and you that you are a person of worth who should not be treated this way. If you continue to think about what happened, and if the anger starts to grow more deeply and pervasively, then you need an outlet for this development. Forgiving can be such a response. If, however, you do not have any outlet at all and continue with the rumination on what happened, then that anger can become so deep that over a period of time (perhaps many months) it develops into the unhealthy kind, leading to possible anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and even hatred toward the other. Forgiveness is an important antidote to all of this.

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In forgiving, how can we balance self-care and dealing with continued verbal abuse from the person who just will not shut off that kind of abuse?

When you forgive, you do not have to stay in the situation and take continual abuse that is wearing you down. You may need to take some time out from the interaction. Please try to remember that to forgive is not the same as to reconcile. If the person continues the abuse, despite your best efforts to have it stopped, and if the abuse is wearing you down, then taking some time away from the interactions with the other is a good idea for self-care. When you forgive, you also should ask for fairness from those who are hurting you. Some will refuse, and this is why we need to distinguish forgiving and reconciling.

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I was asked to forgive. I still was fuming with anger. I did say, “I forgive you,” but with the promise to myself that I would work on forgiving the person. Now I feel as if I am a hypocrite because I used the words of forgiveness with deep anger in my heart. So, am I a hypocrite for doing this?

When you used the words of forgiveness, you most certainly had the best of intentions because you made a promise to yourself to continue the forgiveness process within your own heart (and probably in how you interact with the person). To be a hypocrite is to act in contradiction to your own beliefs or even your own intentions. Your intentions have been honorable regarding forgiveness. While you were not feeling very forgiving yet, you were making a heroic commitment to it. This shows consistency between what you said and what you intend to do. Therefore, you were not acting in a hypocritical way.

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