The Results Are In. Narcissists Aren't That Bright.

As I approach the ten-year anniversary of dday and my sudden orientation into the irrational thinking and critically flawed analysis that passed for “sex addiction” treatment, it’s tough to see little or no improvement in those same ten years. How could an entire industry still be so—well—aggressively cognitively limited? Many times in my blogs I have demonstrated those critical deficits and their impact on women, in particular. It’s not hard. As counselor Tania Rochelle once wrote, “it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Then, this week, I read about research that may explain how so much deficient thinking could stand unchallenged by clients and practitioners for so long. Thanks to a Ph.D. student at the University of Waterloo, we now have academic research that shows narcissists avoid critical thinking, don’t do it very well when they do it, and demonstrate a lower intellectual ability overall than the average person. They generally believe they are smarter than they actually are. You can read about it here: 


How many traits, characteristics and behaviors that fit the narcissistic family of symptoms have we encountered in the men called sex addicts? Not just a few. Some men actually have been assessed and had these traits identified that way. In fact, that’s a significant part of the work that Dr. Omar Minwalla offers clients, but nothing close to his assessment is part of industry treatment protocols. So, how many narcissists and men with narcissistic traits and characteristics are still hiding behind the “disease” label of “sex addiction”? And how many of those undiagnosed narcissists and narcissistic men are now practitioners in the industry? Who knows? And let’s remember that most creators of industry treatment models and training programs may call themselves “recovered sex addicts.” 

Apparently, the researcher who studied narcissists’ critical and reflective thinking did so because so many alarms had been sounded about the impaired thinking of a North American leader as well as his apparent narcissistic traits. But the study is not dependent upon its subjects holding political office or being a former reality show star. It’s about narcissists, narcissism, and narcissistic traits and characteristics.

The University of Waterloo research findings may help us understand why the industry doesn’t produce research meeting minimal standards for academic credibility, even after peddling their model for about four decades. It could be that there just aren’t enough leaders in the field with the intellectual capacity or discipline to do it. And even worse, there seem to be too few practitioners already aware that there’s no research underneath the model or its claims who will stand up and demand better for their clients from the training programs and certifying bodies.

It does seem that all this may create a vulnerability in the industry about which they ought to be concerned. As more than one client has said “The inmates are running the asylum.” If that is the case they aren’t necessarily organizing for everyone’s best interests. Does anyone ever talk about the possibility of class action lawsuits, I wonder? Or is fantasy world thinking the prevailing perspective? 

Like most wives after dday I was desperate for help for the overwhelming symptoms of PTSD that were debilitating my life all day and all night. I was desperate for hope that my husband could get better and that there would be competent people to support us both on that journey. I found neither within the industry. In fact, the terror of my situation only increased as I researched, read, listened, and watched material produced by the industry to address our symptoms and needs. My head hurt trying to make any of it make sense or be believable.

While my husband’s therapist labelled me a co-addict without even meeting me, I was up most of every night for months, afraid my husband would kill me. I now knew the truth of who he really was and why he should lose his career. As he more fully engaged the “recovery” program his contempt for me only increased along with his cruelty and arrogance. I was in a living hell. Looking back it is even more terrifying to see three decades of his quiet, patient commitment to seeing me suffer, his secret pleasure in humiliating me while I innocently loved him and supported him. I see his lying about what his children meant to him, cheating them out of his undivided presence and attention day after day and night after night and putting their financial security at risk as easily as he got out of bed in the morning. He held a position of sacred trust and spiritual authority at work that was now a perverse taunting of my own same calling. If he was capable of that divided life he was certainly capable of killing me.

But in my most desperate moments, even then, I knew that the information I was receiving about the treatment industry just didn’t make any sense on its own and had nothing credible underneath it. I couldn’t let this go. I knew, even as a person of faith who respects sacred mystery and things beyond our imagining, that my husband’s life and my life deserved something much better than what I saw as an industry with nothing underneath it but the social currency of misogyny and patriarchal privilege.

In my opinion it functioned more like a cultic movement around a handful of charismatic leaders, some with few research qualifications to justify their leadership besides being sex addicts themselves and the awards they gave each other at their conferences. The ranks of practitioners grew ripe with sex addicts freshly polished up into sex addiction therapists and coaches. The industry increased, but the thinking never advanced. In fact, it almost seemed resistant to critical analysis and deaf to calls for research even as it demanded that the field of mental health recognize and validate its unsupported theories, practices, and claims—more fantasy world thinking.

That’s when I began to look for other things that my husband’s sexual and sexualized activities might indicate. It didn’t take me long to learn that not only his sexual and sexualized activities but also his emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse tactics were the nuts and bolts of many disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder. But in the sex addiction treatment industry, the focus was always on his penis activities. Only recently have practitioners begun to name these other narcissistic tactics and sometimes call them “abusive”, and they’ve only done that because we won’t stop talking about it!  But rarely are the two things put together for consideration. This treatment model and its practitioners are invested in sex addiction and it appears that’s the only thing their clients can have.

Then along came Dr. B. Steffens and her research showing that nearly 70% of wives and partners were more properly diagnosed as suffering from PTSD, not codependence, co-addiction, or co-sex addiction. As we began to raise our voices and demand proper trauma care (and not therapeutic trauma) the industry quietly put away its “co-“ vocabulary and talked up a good story about trauma care without adopting the standard tri-phasic model of trauma care for partners. We may need trauma care, but it appears we will only get a version of it that suits the treatment industry’s investment in something they call sex addiction.

Then, in what for me was a truly surreal development, one of the leading “recovered sex addict industry experts” actually made up a new word to call us, now that the “co-“words were out of bounds. And now I’m wondering if this research from the University of Waterloo helps us to understand that strange move.

It would seem that the hard work of critical thinking and analysis about the implications that wives and partners are traumatized and traumatized more by the lack of safety in their relationship with the man called a sex addict than by his sexual and sexualized activities is not work experts want to do. And, as the research indicates, maybe they can’t do it.

So, it seems that fantasy world thinking prevails and a new label for us is created. For all the time experts have spent trying to get a name that applies to wives and partners, they work hard to stay away from the name that applies to these men—abusers. Instead we hear that what these men do is “abusive”—as if that behavior can’t point to the name that so clearly applies—abuser. No, they may abuse wives, partners, children—ruining their physical health, their formation as human beings, their psychological health, their sense of safety in this world, their opportunities for education and financial security—but these men are sex addicts, not abusers. That way experts can avoid everything we know about working with victims of intimate partner violence and covert parental abuse. Because most of them are not experts in that at all.

Even with what appears to be the industry’s take on our experiences and our children’s experiences, more and more women are beginning to drill down their primary relationship into the phenomena of abuse, and I don’t know one of them who was happy to end up there. Who among us wants to see herself as an abused woman? And when the industry is more afraid of that truth than you are, “who ya gonna call?”

The spectre of personality disorders becomes a live category that deserves more rational and critical inquiry. My life is worth more than spending it with someone who can’t be trusted with its worth. Is yours? My children are worth more than being good cover for their father’s con. Are yours? What are we teaching them to do with the value of their lives by what we do with the value of our own?

Sometimes wives and partners take years to get to clarity about what is at stake, what is true, and what is worth their lives. Clients who choked on those questions two years ago, return to me (five or six figures deeper into debt) to share realizations about their husband or boyfriend that they couldn’t face before. Then they wonder whether the reason the treatment industry is so persuasive (in work that has no apparent supporting data) is because so many of the practitioners are sex addicts themselves. And we begin again.

So, the results are in: narcissists aren’t all that bright. But they know how to get desperate women’s money until we start connecting the dots ourselves.

With you,


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Diane Strickland