Talking Couples Therapy, IFIO, IFS and Narcissism

Talking Couples Therapy, IFIO, IFS and Narcissism

This week features a conversation I had with Louis Meyer, an attorney who transitioned to integrated financial planning and who was a student of mine at Golden Gate University.

Louis shared his realization that, when he and his wife were in conflict about money they would respond to each other in ways that were not their typical selves. As he learned about IFS, he realized this interaction was between parts of themselves taking on protector roles in reaction to abuse by their respective narcissistic parents around money. Each one had money scripts meant to protect a vulnerable part that had been wounded by the abuse.

I think IFS would not label a narcissist as such but would say that the narcissist is super defended. I have worked with clients who have been raised by narcissists, and the wounding is deep. A number of narcissists use money to control, and they also groom others, such as their children, to be dependent on them. Children raised this way learn to believe that they could never make it on their own, and that they have to be dependent.

For the narcissist parent, a child may be the greatest person in the world who can do no wrong—as long as the child is pleasing or worshipping the parent. But the child’s greatness is dependent on the parent.

If the child tries to be independent, or challenges the parent or exposes difficult truths, they can become the scapegoat. It’s the dynamic of, if you see the problem or tell the truth, you are the problem. The narcissist’s response can be to destabilize the support structure of the person who is now the threat. To manipulate others in the family to believe that person is crazy, is unreliable, is a liar. All things that are actually true of the narcissist, who places the responsibility for the disruption on the scapegoat, who can be absolutely destroyed or tossed away.

When you’re a kid and you want and need to fit in with your family, you will take on that responsibility. Then you live with those beliefs that you’re never good enough, you are terrible, and all the beliefs that were groomed into you.

Making one person the scapegoat also keeps other family members enabling the narcissist. Because they see the high price for speaking the truth. They know what’s going to happen if they defend the scapegoat—they’re next. So the scapegoat is thrown to wolves. No wonder that vulnerable, wounded child grows up to take deep problematic money scripts into their adult relationships.

For couples, the process of IFS therapy can allow partners to see each other’s vulnerability, even when they have been in conflict. When partners understand each other’s back story, what they’re doing today, no matter how crazy it looks, makes perfect sense. They can see that the anger or fear comes from really young, wounded parts rather than being who their partner is. There is a huge shift from “I am so angry at you” to “There’s a part of me that’s so upset with what just happened or what was just said.” The partners can respond with compassion for each other.

Once you can get to that point where they can start having a conversation, couples often realize they actually both have similar goals or want the same thing; they have just been coming from opposite directions.

Louis summed this up eloquently: “I really can’t think of a more bonding experience than to be with someone who, throughout their lives and throughout your life, you’ve both carried the remnants of your traumatic experiences. And you have somebody who is there with you and helping you untangle those knots that you have lived with, and you get to do the same for them. That’s an incredible, incredible gift, and an opportunity to really bond.”

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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