This page explains some of my views on narcissism and how counselling can help. It starts off with an overview of what a narcissist is and then continues to outline ways that counselling can help deal with this.

What is narcissism?

The DSM-5 (the supposed bible of mental disorders) lists 9 traits as part of the narcissistic personality disorder, but it is important we acknowledge there are exceptions to this, as with any diagnostic label. However, there are some general patterns I can agree with that those with this type of personality may exhibit. Please note that the below will not be true in all cases and may be present to lesser or greater extents. This list is not exhaustive, but key behaviours I have observed include:

A lack of empathy

Empathy is the ability to try to understand how another perceives and experiences their world. We will never be able to do this fully as we will not be able to truly understand how another experiences the world, but we often try our best to, and most of us are sensitive to this. However, those that are considered narcissistic lack or have no empathy. They may relate experiences to themselves to feign empathy, but it is still about themselves. When one has no empathy, they are able to do things to others that many would not be willing to. 

Love bombing

A common behaviour used to draw you to them. They can initially start a relationship/ friendship by being and saying all the things that you would want from that ideal other. Over time this can become less frequent and may be used in between conflicts to draw you back in, and to give you hope that they can be that ideal that was initially painted to you. The amount of time it can take for the ‘mask to slip’ can be anywhere between weeks and years.

Will distort reality to suit their own narrative

They often twist reality to suit their agenda, and this can include rewriting history and manipulating what has previously been said or experienced. This can lead to self-doubt.

Cannot reason with them

I often repeat the mantra to my clients, ‘you cannot reason with unreasonable’. Do you find yourself constantly trying to justify yourself, or trying to get them to see sense even when it is painfully obvious? Do your challenges get bounced right back at you? Are you accused of the very thing you are challenging them for? Projection and deflection are common tactics used by them to avoid dealing with whatever issue you may be challenging them on.

Power for the sake of power

A main behaviour trait that I believe runs through all of those of this particular personality. It can sometimes feel surreal the extent to which they will go to get one over another. Or just when it seems clear to all they have not ‘won’ a conflict, they still believe they are on top. In their world, they are always the winners and to be in that powerful winning position is everything.

Socially cutting you off

Not in all cases, but links with the above. If they are able to socially cut you off from friends and family, it is harder for you to seek support and to question the reality of the situation. They themselves may be very socially connected, but also can be completely cut off also, it will depend on where they get their source of power from. 

The invisible audience

An interesting behaviour I have noted is the use of an ‘invisible audience’ to advance a point. For example, saying things like, ‘Well, X agrees with me.’ ‘X would be just as disappointed in you as I am’, etc. These people may or may not be real, but their opinion is often not. These made-up voices are used to bolster their power and act as a majority influence over you.


Not in all cases but can often have a grandiose sense of self, exaggerating importance or achievements.

Struggles to say ‘sorry’ and/ or ‘I love you’

A lack of apology is probably more likely and may even be replaced with, ‘you made me do it,’ or ‘If you had not done Z, I would not have done…’ Expressions of love may be present but it is important to be aware of the motivations behind it and how it is said. For example, this can range from subtly avoiding saying it, ‘you too’, to exaggerations as if it were a competition and/or expression of power, ‘no one will love you as much as I do’.

This is a brief overview and as stated previously, there are many other behavioural traits that may not be included or displayed to varying extents. 

For those on the receiving end of these behaviours, it can lead to (this list not exhaustive):

  • Self-doubt
  • Being socially cut off
  • Numb
  • Afraid
  • Blaming oneself
  • Unsure what is reality anymore and unsure of one’s own identity
  • Self-critical and low confidence
  • Powerless, helpless, isolated, and/or stuck.
  • Anxious
  • May struggle to attribute blame to the other
  • Can feel ‘crazy’ that others cannot see what they can
  • Struggling to trust in others.

How can therapy help?

The journey of disentangling or cutting off from a narcissist can be via many routes but there are general patterns to an extent, and counselling can help support you through this. The first step usually involves becoming aware of the relationship dynamic between yourself and them, and seeing it for what it is. This can be an upsetting and shocking experience for some with a great deal of swinging between self-blame, self-doubt, and bargaining going on. The self-blame and self-doubt often stem from being told for a long time that everything was your fault, and going against this narrative is challenging. Bargaining could come in the form of statements like, ‘if I did X, maybe Y would be happy with me or it would not be like this.’ ‘If they just acknowledged or took responsibility, then I could let go or move on.’ ‘If they did just X, then things would be back to how they were.’ ‘Sometimes, I see glimpses of what I have always wanted, if only we could have that.’ It can take some time to process these and similar statements and how likely they really are.


Seeing the relationship for what it is can also bring about feelings of relief, being validated, and it can also be a time to grieve. To grieve what you felt you had with this person, whatever type of relationship it was. Grieving what could have been, the future you may have been sold. Grieving the person you were perhaps, maybe your identity has changed to be with this person. Grief is something that will be in the background throughout all of this process and maybe for the long term afterwards.

Possible value

The beginning stages of renegotiating the dynamic of the relationship with somebody like this is understanding your value in the dynamic. What value are you to this person? Those with narcissism often have little to no empathy and this can mean not necessarily seeing others as a person, but as an object. What value does this object offer them? Perhaps, you are valuable for the work you perform, the childcare you offer, the perception of them being a ‘good parent,’ etc. Working this out can help change the power dynamic between yourself and them, to realise what power you may have. An important part of the process is finding out what you want from the relationship versus what is possible. There may be a mismatch here and what you want may be beyond the limitations of the other. Again, there may be grief here. 


It may be at this time you decide whether you want to disentangle or cut them off completely. This will be a unique decision to you and it may not be possible to cut them off because of things like children, family, or work colleagues. By creating a level of emotional and sometimes physical distance, it is possible with counselling to set new boundaries and understand how to relate with them in a different manner. This is a lengthy process of trial and error, seeing what works and what does not by assessing the responses to new boundaries being set, or slowly asserted. However, with time and conscious effort the hopeful outcome is to be able to establish a relationship that is more on your terms. It should be noted that it may not always be possible to achieve this. The other in this dynamic also has a choice and may choose not to continue the relationship in its new form. 

Looking ahead

Though written towards the end of this journey, finding yourself again, and building trust for future relationships usually runs parallel in this process. It can take time to build a new identity, to understand what has been lost, how you may have been changed by this experience, and who you are. You may have endured months or years of being told by another who you are, how you behave, and it can take time to challenge this and find you again in amongst that. The experience of relating to someone with narcissism can make us distrustful of future relationships and can even cause us to not trust our ability to relate to the ‘right’ people.

To summarise, the journey to disentangling from someone like this may not be linear and may run parallel with others, e.g. grieving can be long term. However, a general pattern I have observed is:

  • Seeing the relationship for what it is
  • Grieving
  • Understanding your value in the dynamic
  • Finding out what you want from the relationship versus what is possible
  • Disentanglement or cutting off
  • Setting boundaries and understanding how to relate in a different manner
  • Establishing a relationship more on your terms
  • Finding self again
  • Building trust for future relationships.

What now?

The above is by no means a full ‘guide’ on narcissism but more as a way of demonstrating how therapy could help. This is my ‘theory’ of working with narcissism and this has been pulled from the past 10 years of my counselling experience, my own personal life experiences of it through childhood and adulthood, as well as supporting the many others that have experienced similar. There is no exact science, as each relationship and situation is unique, but I believe I can help empower others to be able to either free themselves of others like this, or at least have a relationship that is more on your terms if you are unable to disentangle fully (shared children, family, etc). It is important to remember that all of this takes time and patience. There is not a quick fix to this. Relating to another in this way leaves its mark and it is not simply about ‘getting over it’, but taking time to understand what has happened and how to adjust to a life with it.

If you are interested in having therapy sessions with me, please feel free to contact me using the button below, so we could arrange for a free, brief introductory phone call.