Early next year I will co-host — along with Jean Campbell, LCSW, SEP, CPC, CET3, TEP of Action Institute of California — the first-ever Moving Forward Retreat for Women Healing from a Relationship with a Narcissist. The three-day retreat, scheduled for Feb. 7-9, 2020 in beautiful Newport Beach, Calif., has been in the planning stages for nearly a year.

Moving Forward Retreat Graphic

And ever since last August, when I announced the retreat was a “go,” many people have asked me to outline what a “Moving Forward” retreat entails. When approached, almost as if on cue, I deliver my elevator pitch:

The Moving Forward retreat is a recovery getaway for women recovering from relationships with narcissists — those people who think everything is about them, who believe others are inferior to them, and who lack empathy. Our retreat supports these women come to a clear understanding of what it is they’ve experienced, and then delivers the tools that empower them to let go. And by “let go,” we mean to move beyond bitterness and resentment, to rebuild their lives, and to become an even stronger and more resilient version of themselves.

This answer usually piques their interest — especially when I am conversing with someone who is in or has been in a relationship with a narcissist. Unfortunately, it is a common and widely shared experience.

Just talking with someone who has been “through it” lifts a heavy burden from a troubled mind and heart and knowing that support is available provides hope. When I sense the person is interested in learning more, I share what I have learned over the years, starting with statistics and  my perspective from the work I do as an executive coach. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), up to 1 percent of adults in the United States may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Based on what I have encountered in my coaching business, I am certain that the prevalence is far higher in the C-suite — in particular, among CEOs — and it seems to affect far more men than women (by some estimates 30–50 percent women vs. 50–70 percent men).

Part of the reason we see a higher prevalence of narcissism in the C-suite is that narcissists are often the movers and the shakers of the world. Many titans of industry are significant contributors to society, and some have created entire industries. The downside to this success is that many of them are narcissists. We tend to normalize their behavior by rationalizing that we must take the good with the bad. Society not only accepts the anti-social behaviors of narcissists but often applauds them. (See my previous post, “It’s Time We Stop Normalizing Narcissism in the C-Suite.”)

So, is narcissism really that bad? The answer is “yes.” Narcissistic personality disorder ruins relationships and destroys families. Most victims do not know what it is they are dealing with. They don’t know if they should stay in these relationships and learn to cope, try to “fix” the relationship, or leave it altogether. All choices are difficult and come with a multitude of positive and negative consequences. During the February 2020 retreat, we discuss these options and help participants move forward in from a relationship with a narcissist.

Most therapists with whom I work — and countless experts I have researched and come to respect — unanimously agree that there is no cure for NPD. The majority of narcissists do not know they have this disorder and, if told so, deny it. Instead, they see themselves as flawless. It is the rest of the world that is uninformed or at fault. If they have self-awareness (insight into their condition) or admit to having the disorder and want to change, certain forms of therapy with a mental health professional may help them to some degree. But this result is but a tiny subset of those affected, with most falling back into unhealthy patterns of behavior despite therapy.

So, where does that leave the affected spouse, significant other, or other loved ones? As I researched NPD, I found that most victims do not know what they’re dealing with, and as a result, were receiving no support from either a mental health professional or a support group. The majority didn’t recognize themselves as victims of abuse. A renowned psychiatrist I know well said the following and I have never forgotten it:

“Narcissistic abuse is every bit as horrible [sic: as other forms of abuse], but it is the one that no one sees.”

I agree.

I’ve spoken with countless women and a few men who’ve shared their stories, and I continue my research into the disorder. In fact, I plan to dedicate a significant portion of my doctoral dissertation on the disorder within the context of Organizational Leadership and Behavioral Change. Even with the extensive research I have conducted on the topic, I have not come across anyone or any organization offering a concentrated experience for facilitating healing for those whose lives have been negatively impacted by NPD.

That’s when I felt compelled to respond to this unmet need by designing a unique experience — the Moving Forward retreat — that not only promotes healing, but also leads to personal development and strength, all within a supportive community of individuals confronting a common challenge

Healing within a community of others impacted by the experience of living with a narcissist has proved to be one of the most efficient and exponentially beneficial ways to move forward in the process of overcoming trauma. Participants quickly realize they are not alone, which immediately leaves them feeling grateful to the others for their understanding and support.

Each of our Moving Forward retreats will be limited to eight to 10 participants of the same gender. We will host separate retreats for men and women in order to maintain an environment where participants feel safer in sharing their vulnerabilities. Prior to the retreat, each participant is interviewed for “fit” and intention (desired outcome). Participants come from all across the United States and are dedicated to working on themselves.

The motto of my executive coaching and consulting practice is “Awareness + Action = Change.” Moving Forward is built on this framework. Ample time is allocated over the course of the three days for sharing experiences and stories for the purpose of increasing self-awareness. What we don’t do is dwell on past abuses or demonize the abuser. The retreats visit the past but focus more on the present and moving forward to a better future, a stronger and happier self, and a greater degree of self-fulfillment.

The two-and-a-half-day agenda is designed as a weekend retreat. It begins on the first evening with an opening dinner, which serves as a casual meet and greet of others you will grow to know well. We engage in a few fun activities to “break the ice” and get a glimpse of the individual personalities gathered for this journey. That introduction includes myself and Jean Campbell, my retreat facilitation partner and the leading global expert and trainer in both Psychodrama and Sociometry (areas explained later in this post).

During Day Two and Day Three of the retreat, participants engage in a series of didactic training sessions, which include both formal teaching/training and interactive exercises. These sessions cover many topics, including the following (visit our Moving Forward Retreat website for the detailed agenda):

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder in a Nutshell focuses on understanding what NPD is, where it originates in the narcissist, the different types of narcissism, and the options for the abused. The specific stages of the disorder will be defined, and the patterns of behavior that typically repeat will be discussed. Options for dealing with the disorder will be highlighted as well.
  • Sociometry and Psychodrama are experiential learning methods designed to help participants develop healthier responses to people and situations in their lives, reduce conflict, and improve communication. They are based on the fact that if we are “stuck” in a past trauma in our lives, we will be unable to fully move forward and experience both healing and full release to live integrated, holistic lives of fulfillment. Note that these are not group therapy sessions:
    • Sociometry is an action exploration of the underlying structure of a family or group. These sessions are aimed at both “relaxing” the group (letting go of current competing thoughts and bringing each person into the present experience), synergizing and bonding the group, and ultimately identifying who feels ready to work through a psychodrama.
    • Psychodrama helps participants gain insight through action by exploring old patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are no longer working for them and experiment with new, more effective responses to people and situations in their lives, which often leads to a greater sense of both inner and outer peace.
  • Grief and Loss addresses the sense of loss we often feel upon ending a close relationship or realizing that the relationship is not what had been envisioned or hoped for. Participants engage in the process of exploring how they grew up learning to respond to grief and considering other approaches that may be healthier.
  • What’s Next? guides each participant to identify and decide on their own course of action as a response to the insights and challenges gained from the retreat. Specific, measurable development plans will be drafted as a collaborative effort among the participant and retreat facilitators. In addition, an online support group (a follow-up community) will be formally established for interested participants to allow for post retreat connection and accountability. I will facilitate the first two on-line sessions to “get the ball rolling.”

Although the Moving Forward retreat framework is the same for every retreat, each retreat, each participant, and each group is unique. As a result, your experience, your plan for moving forward, and the insights and tools you take back with you from the retreat will be tailored specifically to you. Jean and I are 100 percent confident that each participant will take home a “tool kit” of resources, experiences, and a support network that serve collectively as the beginning of a profoundly impactful healing process.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a serious disorder that can be devastating to the person who has it and to loved ones and others drawn into their circle. Sadly, few people are talking about it. Jean and I will ensure that no one leaves a Moving Forward retreat without growth, connection, and a solid game plan.

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About the Author: Jan Moorad, a former Deloitte management consultant and Major League Baseball and NASCAR team partner, is a Newport Beach, Calif.-based executive coach who helps C-Suite executives and their spouses pursue and achieve personal and professional fulfillment.