Falling In and Out of Love with a Narcissist

Heart Hanging on by a Thread / Kelly Sikkema

Heart Hanging on by a Thread / Kelly Sikkema

“My partner is a NARCISSIST!”

I hear this a lot. The term narcissist is used, and sometimes misused, to describe an unbalanced relationship or a person that is selfish and mean. Oftentimes in therapy sessions a client will label their partner in this way, but that person probably wouldn’t actually meet the requirements to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Like many things, narcissism exists on a spectrum, and in western cultures where individualism and high achievement are valued greatly, it’s no surprise that we all have some mild degree of this. Healthy narcissism helps inform us of our own self-worth and self-esteem. Narcissistic tendencies are typically only problematic when they become extreme.

The traits that define narcissism include a lack of empathy and compassion, as well as blatant disregard for the feelings, boundaries, and needs of others. A person who demonstrates narcissistic tendencies projects an image of superiority, entitlement and grandiosity. He or she may appear self-absorbed, by interrupting and monopolizing conversations, while offering their views as indisputable. This person tends to exaggerate their knowledge, talents and achievements, seeking accolades and elevating themselves while putting others down. Those on the extreme end of the spectrum have highly developed narcissistic traits, and usually don’t believe that rules were meant for them to follow. They may lie frequently, disregard the promises they made, ignore social norms or even break the law without conscience. Typically, there is little or no remorse for their own wrong-doing or the for pain that they inflict on others.

Am I in a relationship with a narcissist?

Being in a romantic relationship with a person like this is really difficult. The partner with the narcissistic traits is often charming and romantic – especially in the beginning of the courtship. Once the relationship has formed and the hierarchy has been established, this individual will turn on his/her partner, using the charm and romance to manipulate every situation so that they remain in control. They expect total adoration, loyalty and attention to their needs. Clients who are on the receiving end of this behavior often ask me if they’re “crazy” to be caught up in this roller coaster relationship. They tolerate the mood swings, the put-downs and the broken promises until they just can’t take it anymore.

How do relationships with a narcissist end?

Getting off this roller coaster isn’t easy. This ride might actually feel more like loop de loop, with no end in sight. When the partner with the narcissistic traits feels that the relationship is in jeopardy, they may become passive aggressive, offering the silent treatment and withdrawal when he/she doesn’t get their way. When confronted about a grievance or a lie, they’ll typically use emotional warfare including blaming, criticizing, guilt-tripping and gaslighting. Then they may counter that behavior with generosity, romance and kindness to further manipulate the outcome so that their partner relents and agrees to give him/her one more chance. It’s hard to extricate oneself from this type of relationship. The end usually happens in one of two ways. The partner that has endured this behavior finally sets and maintains firm boundaries with consequences, or the one with the narcissistic tendencies realizes that to stay in the relationship will require that they behave differently and accept responsibility for their actions.

Feeling stuck in an unbalanced relationship is an unpleasant place to be, but there are ways to improve the situation, and to tip the scales of power. With therapy, change is possible, and that change may happen for both the partner with the narcissistic traits, as well as for the one that has endured these circumstances. Breaking the cycle in these toxic relationships requires time and effort, but restoring balance and self-esteem make it all worthwhile. Today is a good day for a good day.

Call or email Katey Villalon, LMFT-Associate for a free consultation at 512-537-6339 - katey@thepracticeatx.com. Katey will also be hosting a group this November 2018 - More details below:

Breaking the Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships

Are you feeling that the relationship you have is unbalanced or even toxic? Do you wish that your partner was more supportive and showed you empathy and understanding? This 8-week women's group will help you to find your voice and validate your needs.

Learning Objectives:

1. Understand why some women seek out or stay in relationships with selfish people.

2. Learn how to communicate assertively and to ask for what you desire.

3. Recognize the differentials between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

4. Identify the key factors that lead to consistently happy relationship dynamics.

5. Develop greater self-esteem and a positive self-image.

When: This group begins on Friday, November 2, 2018 and goes consecutively for 8 weeks (no group on 11/23)  

Cost: $40 per group session; SAVE $5 per session by paying for this series in full by 11/1/18! Total due with discount applied is $280 and may be paid by cash, check, credit or debit card.

Requirement: 30 minute consultation (cost $40) before 10/15/18 is required to be admitted to this group. Call Katey at 512-537-6339 or email katey@thepracticeatx.com to schedule this meeting.

The Practice ATX


Six Boundaries that Can Change Your Life



Why are boundaries important?

Last month, my colleague, Caroline, shared with you the purpose and benefits of saying “no” and it’s absolute importance when setting healthy boundaries in her blog post, "When Saying No is Actually Saying Yes." She helped us recognize and acknowledge our feelings around setting effective boundaries and in the process sparked additional intrigue for me…how do we know what healthy boundaries are and how do we know how they’ve been crossed?

To help us build this emotional intelligence and self-awareness, it’s helpful to explore the moments that you are feeling that distress to discover what boundary violations are occurring. Understanding these six types of boundaries will help us establish healthier boundaries with others and cultivate a healthier sense of self overall.

What kinds of boundaries are there?

1. Physical

These boundaries include personal space and physical touch. Has anyone ever rummaged through your purse without asking or hugged you after just meeting them? Do either of these examples make you squirm? That reactivity is your body telling you a physical boundary, whether it’s your personal body space or your personal environment, has been violated. You’re likely to welcome a hug from a long-time friend over a stranger on the street, just as you are likely to be more comfortable allowing your daughter to grab your phone out of your purse than you might be with a passerby in the store. Healthy physical boundaries include an awareness of what’s appropriate in varying settings and relationships.

2. Emotional

These boundaries refer to our feelings, including our expressiveness of them. These can be violated when we are criticized or invalidated. Has anyone ever said to you “there’s no reason to be upset” or “you’re making a big deal out of nothing.” Even if they’re trying to console you, this can feel damaging and leave us feeling unheard and dismissed. You’re likely to be more vulnerable and confide in a friend who has been through multiple life transitions with you compared to a blind date that you’re meeting for the first time. Healthy emotional boundaries include personal limitations we set for sharing personal information, which includes when this information is shared and with whom.

3. Intellectual

These boundaries are slightly less obvious, yet likely happen more often than we think. Intellectual boundaries refer to our thoughts and ideas and are often violated when someone dismisses or belittles them. Have you ever had an idea you were excited about that was quickly shut down by someone you shared it with, leaving you feeling like you wanted to hide in a hole for weeks afterwards? Or maybe you’ve shared some insight on a political topic (who hasn’t these days) and been berated about it from an opposing party? It happens all the time. Healthy intellectual boundaries will include respectfulness and a willingness to understand not only one’s own ideas and values but others as well, even if they are opposing of our own.

4. Sexual

These boundaries compile the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of sexuality. What does this mean? Essentially any unwanted sexual touch, ogling from others, sexual comments, or pressure to engage in sexual acts can qualify as a destruction of a sexual boundary. Curious about what the #MeToo movement represents? This is it folks – violated sexual boundaries. Healthy sexual boundaries will include consent, mutual agreement, respect and understanding of limits and desires that have been discussed between intimate or sexual partners.

5. Material

These boundaries refer to personal possessions. Does someone you know always ask to borrow money but never pay you back? Or maybe you lent your friend an iPad and they returned it broken? When someone pressures you to give or lend them your possessions or steals, damages or destroys your possessions, the boundary has likely been violated. Healthy material boundaries include limitations on what you choose to share and with whom.

6. Time

These boundaries reference how we use our time. These boundaries are a bit trickier to notice but are very apparent all the same. They are often violated when someone demands too much of another’s time. Do you find yourself always setting aside your own plans because a friend constantly wants to hang out instead? Or maybe your partner gives you grief for trying to take time for yourself or hang out with friends? Healthy time boundaries can be implemented by setting aside time for the various facets of our lives including work, hobbies and relationships in consideration of your values and priorities.

How to establish boundaries

These boundaries can seem tedious when we reflect on just how many variables cultivate our initial reactivity. But there’s a notable difference to negotiate. The dynamic of the environment or relationship for each is important for us to note in order to help us set clearer healthier boundaries overall. But how do we do this?

You know your body better than anyone else and if you are experiencing distress, it’s likely that a boundary is being crossed. Your boundaries are unique to you and they’re going to likely look different than others around you based on your comfort level with varying relationships, environments and culture.

Listen to what your body is telling you, be curious about the situation that’s evoking the overwhelm and as Caroline reminds us, “check-in if you’re emotionally exhausted or over-committed…slow down and re-asses.” Tune into your feelings, practice assertively addressing your limits, and take care of yourself along the way. This awareness will go a long way with helping you implement healthy boundaries for a happier and healthier sense of self.

To schedule an appointment with Alyssa Cornett, MA, LMFT-Associate, call 737-226-3803.

Logo Only Small.jpg

3 Things You Can do Right Now to Encourage Your Child's Resilience

Nguyen Nguyen/CC0

Nguyen Nguyen/CC0

Resilience is when we maintain healthy development despite our adversity. A quick google search of the definition brings up phrases like “elasticity,” “recover quickly from difficulties,” “return to previous form.” Perhaps those definitions are true to some degree, but when it comes to children and adolescents many adapt to their environment to sustain themselves, often engaging in unhealthy behaviors that allow them to survive in less than optimal conditions. One thing is for sure though, children never return to their previous form; they grow, evolve, learn and condition themselves to navigate life’s emotional difficulties.

The behavioral tools and coping skills they pick up along the way are a combination of healthy and unhealthy, effective and maladaptive, isolating and engaging, the list goes on. Our children are learning these behaviors from the vast expanse of their environments; peers, parents, siblings, social media, tv, video games, the person in the restaurant at the next table over.

True resiliency in children means they are able to weather the emotional ups and downs of life and continue to developmentally thrive. Resilient children do not always choose healthy ways of managing their emotions or anxieties, but they ARE managing them. As parents, caretakers and adults with vested interest in the emotional safety and well being of children we can all do three things right now to support and foster resiliency and emotional stability for children.

How to Build a Child's Resilience

1. Put your phone down.

Kids need to know that they are the priority over a work email or Facebook. They are taking their emotional cues from you, when you choose the phone over an interaction with them you miss an opportunity to remind them they are the most important thing in the room. Technology isn't going away, BUT YOUR KIDS EVENTUALLY WILL.

They will learn from everyone else in the world that cell phones and computers are important, your role as a parent is to ensure that your support will be given when they bring worries, concerns and questions from outside into the home. Stability supports resiliency.  BE the stable relationship in your child’s life that allows them to navigate their emotional landscape.

2. Provide consistency.

Consistency creates routine and predictability. Whether it’s the nighttime routine before bed, or the guaranteed Saturday afternoon with dad playing basketball, consistency creates a space for children to depend on. It is far easy for a child to handle the stress of a tough week at school when she knows on Thursday she will get some one on one time with her mom to talk about it. Consistency allows children and adolescents to “turn into the family” when they are having a hard time or needing support, as opposed to looking to outside influences to mitigate their stress and anxiety. Eat with your kids. Research shows it supports healthy eating patterns.

3. Talk to kids about how they feel.

Feeling is natural. No matter what, your kids will feel. But knowing how to put those feelings into words is a learned skill. Most children and adolescents walk, talk and act far more mature than their actual age. We need to remind ourselves that they are master imitators. Most children are not cognitively developed enough to fully understand and process their emotions. While it might seem that they understand what they are saying, they likely need help matching the correct words with their emotions. Anger is the easiest and most often expressed emotion in teens, it’s the most socially acceptable and accessible.

Anger is primal. It is about survival.  Anger goes hand in hand with many other emotions, and when given the language, space and opportunity to explore the other emotions can be very empowering. A safe environment for exploring emotions fosters self awareness, intrinsic validation and resiliency.

To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.

The Practice ATX


Is Social Media Messing with Your Relationship?



Social media is at our fingertips 24/7; in our homes, cars and relationships.

This is a reality that isn't going away and one that generations before us didn't have to navigate. I know I’m stating the obvious here- but social media and technology have forever changed the landscape of how we communicate, live our daily lives, and relate to one another. Whatever your social media habits might be, take a minute to think about three things: 

  1. Does the AMOUNT OF TIME spent on social media affect your relationships?
  2. How often does the CONTENT on social media impact how you view your partner?
  3. Do you use social media to distract yourself or avoid interaction with your partner?

How do your social media habits impact how you view your partner?

Social media can create unrealistic relationship expectations. Or maybe it’s not what others are doing is unrealistic - it’s just not AUTHENTIC for you or your relationship. What you see others doing or posting or tweeting is a small snap shot of their day or who they are.

If we spend enough time consuming media and other peoples lives, do we begin to believe our lives should look the same? Do we create expectations for our partners that don’t fit the uniqueness of the relationship? A lack of communication about realistic expectations breeds resentment and mistrust. So, take a minute to ask yourself if you're holding your partner accountable for something they don't know about.

Instead, what if you just talked to your partner?

Take a minute to talk about it. Just talking about expectations, wants, needs, and desires creates intimacy and vulnerability even though it's easier to bury our minds and attention in something else. Research is just starting to surface about how social media/technology can create problematic behaviors.

The tricky part about using your cell phone for everything is that it conveniently functions for professional and personal uses throughout your daily life; for example, you deposit checks, take business and personal phone calls, type emails, schedule appointments, buy groceries, watch videos and much much more!

So, carving out focused time to share with your partner is paramount. When my grandparents needed to discuss something in the evening, they didn't have the option to say, “Hold on one sec, I’m finishing this work bid that I need to email and then I need to deposit a check, troll on Twitter and Favor our dinner.” Choose your partner first, they deserve the uninterrupted, original version of face time.

How can you be more vulnerable with your partner? 

Break the cycle of disconnect. What works for your relationship might not work for another. Together with your partner decide what amount of social media and TV you allow in your home, your life, and in all your relationships.

Set boundaries and parameters. No phones during dinner. We take one hour an evening with no TV or phones to download (pun intended) our day. If you don't take the time to connect, then the ongoing narrative becomes one of you isn’t important enough to warrant genuine authentic interaction.

A lack of quality face time with your partner will begin to erode the foundation of connection and desire in the relationship. When your partner has something important to share or needs to explore their feelings and you glance between the TV and phone sharing vulnerable moments or feelings are no longer safe in a relationship, it becomes a legitimate fear. By not giving your attention to the person you love, you inadvertently communicate that they are not important.

To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.

Logo Only Small.jpg

The Practice ATX


What Does Criticism do to A Relationship?

Image by mrdonduck on  Flickr

Image by mrdonduck on Flickr

Criticism is a not-so-silent destroyer of relationships: relationships with your partner, friends and family or even with yourself. Destroyer is a pretty bold way of describing what criticism can do to relationships but in my work with individuals, couples, and families, I have yet to see a positive outcome from criticism.

Some people may think if they don’t share criticism with their partner that nothing will ever change for the better in their relationship. This is when the meaning of criticism versus feedback gets mixed up.

Why is criticism destructive?

Criticism is when you are clearly showing your disapproval of something or someone due to perceived faults or wrongdoing. I think of it as when someone just wants to pick apart a person or a situation with a tone of “I’m picking you apart because I disapprove…”

Maybe it is due to anger, insecurity, sadness, loss of hope, or a tendency to always be critical of one’s own self and others. People who are more critical in their relationships have often been surrounded by criticism their entire lives (their upbringing, friendships or work group). Criticism becomes the way in which they try to give what they think is feedback to others.

There's really no such thing as constructive criticism. We don't have different parts of our brains that take things personally and parts of our brains that don't. We have one brain. That brain goes with us to our business meetings, when we have sex and when we argue. So basically, that means everything is personal. Positive feedback, offered compassionately and carefully is much better, especially intimate relationships.

What's the difference between criticism and feedback?

            Feedback feels different. Even the word feels better to me- less attacking. Feedback is different from criticism in that you’re offering information about reactions you have to someone or something. And I think you may naturally be more compassionate with feedback because it is you offering your feelings versus pointing fingers immediately to someone or something else.  

To give good feedback, you have to turn inward and asking yourself what it is you need (maybe more of the same or something different) and then express this to your partner, or friend, colleague, or family member. It’s vulnerable.

How do I overcome criticism?

I struggle to recognize when criticism isn’t destructive. Maybe you can relate: I’m most critical of myself when my relationship and my surroundings aren’t the way I want them. It can be a vicious cycle when you pick yourself apart for not meeting expectations, and nothing else in your life seems to be going right either. Beating yourself and your relationship(s) up doesn’t feel good to anyone, and self-esteem and relational strength can suffer. So any time criticism starts knocking on my door I have to tell it to go away and focus inward on what I need- feedback.

Maybe this feedback is just for myself. Like, “Hey Mandi, you’re doing good enough. You got this.” Maybe all I really need is to recognize what I am doing versus what I’m not. Maybe offer myself a little compassion.

In my work I look for where more compassion is needed. It may be some clients need more self-compassion and others need more compassion from the people they love. Sometimes people get into a rut where the world seems really negative and they’re only aware of when things go wrong.  And sometimes, after years of history and experiences, the tone of a relationship has evolved into just a critical one.

Criticism can become the default to how one communicates with him/herself but also with his/her partner. It’s like an infection in the relationship that has now taken over and the fever isn’t fighting it, but feedback can.

So, look inward for some feedback.

Ask yourself: What is it that you are feeling? What is it that you need- from yourself or from others? What is a realistic expectation for yourself and others? This inner dialogue can help you slow down a rapid-fire critical response to a more compassionate one.

Ask your partner the same questions and ask your partner to do the same. Look inward some feedback. Criticism can go away now.

To schedule an appointment with Mandi Roarke, LMFT-Associate, call 512-537-0995.

Logo Only Small.jpg

The Practice ATX