Finding Alignment with Darlene Lancer
As someone who had an inkling of what her purpose was from a very young age, Darlene Lancer is fascinating to speak to. And though she took a roundabout way to find her life’s greatest work, in this conversation she helps other people find their most aligned state, understand what can happen to their own boundaries when engaged with a narcissist, and understand how to follow your own path. Can you tell me about your childhood and why you think you were drawn to this field?
I grew up in Los Angeles, in the Los Feliz area. My older brother was studying to be a doctor and one of his textbooks was Freud’s The Interpretations of Dreams. I was fascinated by it and was already fascinated by my dreams, to begin with—so much so that I would try to plan my dreams when I went to sleep. I was also fascinated by subjects like multiple personality disorders, and past lives and my family would humor me by letting me test out my ESP skills on them. By the time I was twelve and I had decided I wanted to be a psychologist and wanted to understand dreams more. Is that what you ultimately went to study in college?
I was an undergraduate in Psychology at UCLA. Their program was very much research-oriented, like doing rat experiments for example, and that was boring to me. I had another interest in international relations and wanted to be a foreign diplomat at one point, so I decided to focus on that. I went on to Law School at UCLA. I ended up practicing law for about eighteen years. Somewhere along the way, I was unhappy with my profession, and I had forgotten about my first career love. I decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree in Psychology. That was so joyous to me. I did that in my midlife years. I loved every moment of that, and I was back on my soul path. Once I made that decision, I never regretted that. I had been an entertainment lawyer for about sixteen years. I first went into criminal law probably because a lot of it was about the mind. I was writing a lot as a lawyer too. Then when I changed careers, I started writing more for magazines, both as a lawyer and a therapist. How did you know you weren’t on your soul path?
I would have successful negotiations as a lawyer and then go in the bathroom and cry. The role that I was playing in my profession was not aligned with who I was. It wasn’t fulfilling, I really didn’t like all the conflict. Why were you so drawn to being a therapist?
I wanted to understand the mind more. It’s interesting, all my siblings, we’ve all written books so that’s in our genes. My mom wanted to be a journalist and she never was. My older brother was a neurologist, and he wrote about the mind, my other brother was a sociologist and he wanted to understand people from a macro-social point of view. Then, here I was wanting to
explore writing a book on the psyche level. My sister is an ecologist, and also an author, but she wanted to understand how we relate to the earth. We’re all trying to understand man’s relationship to himself and each other and the planet. I want to talk about your writing life. Tell me about your first book, Codependency for Dummies?
I wrote this in 2012, and I had to compete against other authors to get this job. What was that process like for you?
It was daunting. The subject matter is complicated. Wiley. the publisher, wanted me to write about two hundred pages. At first, I thought I could say it all in ten pages so I didn’t know how I would expand on it. But, it turns out it’s such a complex topic. I broke it down to start doing one subtopic at a time. Doing it like this, I ended up writing over the amount of material I was required to at first. I took it one day, one paragraph at a time.
Can you speak to the fear of writing a book?
Well, it’s very similar to other fears I’ve had. I was very afraid of falling always, so I took up rock climbing to overcome my fears. I was climbing this big thirty-foot boulder. I had gear on, but it was still terrifying, and I just had to not look up and not look down but just look at the next foot hole in front of me. It’s the same with writing a book. Just keep plugging away at the next paragraph, the next page. Why were you drawn to the topic of codependency?
They gave me that title. I had written a blog about it, among other topics. After that book, it then became the focus of my practice. I realized that it had also been my own journey. For so many years I wasn’t following my own true soul path or following myself. I was in a codependent relationship, and I had a strained relationship with myself. Why was it important for you to write your latest book, Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist?
After the Codependency for Dummies book came out, I thought people would be calling me that was in an alcoholic relationship, because the whole definition of the word started with relationships with addicts. Instead, all these people that we're dating narcissists started calling me to work with me as a therapist. In 2015 I wrote my first book, Dealing with a Narcissist. Since then, I became even more deeply informed about narcissism and there’s been a lot more research on the topic since. I wanted to update that and expand it to cover dating and leaving. My latest book is a stepping stone for people to make changes in their relationships or to leave those relationships altogether. It’s a workbook, it’s full of strategies, tips, and even scripts to use in conversations: how to set boundaries, how to ask for your needs, etc. Most people contact me because they’re unhappy in their relationship, but they don’t want to leave.
What’s the one takeaway you want people to have after reading your book?
That by following the steps in this book, they will transform themselves in a positive way, as well as transform their relationship. Or if they decide that it’s still not working for them they will be empowered to leave. It’s hard to leave when you’re so miserable. It’s all about changing the power dynamics in the relationships and when you’re happy the whole relationship changes. Here’s a quote from the book I love: “The core problem in relationships with narcissists, is that they prioritize power and sacrifice the relationship to get it, while their partners prioritize the relationship and sacrifice themselves to keep it.” Once you understand this, everything can change for the better. What’s something you would tell your younger self?
Trust yourself. Be your own guide. If you’re in a relationship or job you hate, you’re not in alignment with yourself. Are you working on anything else?
Not yet, but I have a couple of ideas in the pipeline. Go to www.whatiscodependency.com and you can pre-order on my website.