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Working with the Narcissistic Personality

A few blogs ago, I began to write about working with the Narcissistic Personality. Here’s some more information about how this shows up for coaches and how to approach it.

EXAMPLE:  Once upon a time, I worked with an executive coach who was deciding how to work with a client whose globe-trotting lifestyle was beginning to catch up with them.  The client had developed quite a severe alcohol problem and health issues were surfacing. The client wanted only to keep going and to continue their  success.  The coach wanted my support to ensure that this client could keep up the pace and ignore the symptoms.  ‘Ignoring the symptoms’ was the unconscious collusion between coach and client – the coach was unwittingly drawn into the client’s system.  The client had little awareness of how near the edge they were.

It’s not such an unusual scenario – highly successful people who have a touch of narcissism, give little thought to their own – or others’ – well-being.  Here are a few pointers in working safely and elegantly with those clients:


1.  Be informed about Narcissism – look for clusters of indicating behaviours.

2.  Recognise and identify the possibility of narcissistic behaviour.

3.  Help the coach to have the courage to clarify with coachee, the true motivations behind say, an insistent desire for success/achievement, in spite of the presence of considerable imbalance/dysfunction etc.

4.  Enable the coachee to acknowledge dissatisfaction in feelings, relationships etc.

5. Give the coachee some ‘cognitive holding’ – he needs to understand the simple psychological underpinnings of his behaviour.

6.  Give absolute support to realistic assessment of coachee’s abilities, resources, limits, vulnerabilities – be a true mirror, have a true coaching conversation.

7.  Support discovery and growth of the real person behind the title – eg through expression of innate gifts:  the CEO might allow herself to learn to sing, play the guitar, bath children and experience a very different kind of achievement.

8.  Access real feelings – eg those of fear, humiliation etc.  This may be the first time that a coachee can share in a true way, what is really going on inside. Being heard in a simple way, with compassion, can gradually bring the coachee into contact with real self and other.

9.  Encourage coachee to refuse to sacrifice feelings of well being in pursuit of compensatory activities.

10. Support the ability to ‘feel’, in whatever contexts this occurs. For instance, the boss might now begin to understand how his decisions hurt staff or are affecting members of the team – he begins to have systemic awareness – it’s not only cognitive; it requires the imaginative insight which is available only if we can access true feelings.

11. Support the coach to encourage the ‘real human being’ who needs genuine connection and endorsement.

12.  Encourage the coach to own up to his or her own imperfections with coachee– modelling.  The Coach Supervisor too, needs to model a truth in the relationship with their supervisee.

13.  Encourage the coachee to experience life bodily – get in a boat, dance again, climb a mountain, play with the kids/dog, go hang gliding, get magnificent massages.  The experience of body energy and pleasure counters much of the inner stiffness of the narcissist and helps to bring them into life.

14.  Teach and encourage the coachee to ‘self soothe’ – what activities brings peace, stability, quiet pleasure, deep satisfaction, healthy distraction from pressure? What enables the coachee to accept her lack of perfection and not continue the dynamic of unduly criticising herself`?

A full article on Narcissism will appear on the CSA website shortly.

BOOKING NOW: ICF APPROVED DIPLOMA IN COACHING SUPERVISION  – UK and France.  Dates for Australia and US to follow shortly.

Edna Murdoch

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