therapy for narcissistic relationships

Healing from Narcissistic Relationships Through Therapy

Narcissistic relationships can be deeply damaging, leaving you with emotional scars that can affect your self-esteem, mental health, ability to trust, and future relationships. The journey to healing from such toxic dynamics can be complex, up and down, and difficult to do on your own. It is really important to work with a therapist who is highly skilled, trained, and informed in narcissistic personality styles, dynamics, and relationships. I help my clients navigate the aftermath of a narcissistic relationships and empower them to rebuild their lives with greater resilience, self-esteem, and self-awareness.


Understanding Narcissistic Relationships

Narcissistic relationships are characterized by an imbalance of power, where the narcissist often exhibits manipulative, controlling, and abusive behaviors. No one is immune from narcissistic relationships. Narcissists often target those who are especially empathetic, responsible, supportive, and hard-working.

Narcissists typically lack empathy, have little to no core self, demonstrate a high level of impression/image management, and seek a constant supply of admiration and validation. These traits can create a toxic environment where their partners feel undervalued, confused, disempowered, and emotionally drained.

People who have experienced narcissistic relationships often endure gaslighting, where their reality is distorted by the narcissist, leading them to question their own perceptions and judgments. Over time, this can erode their self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and self-trust.

Learning Signs of Narcissistic Relationship Dynamics

Understanding the patterns, signs, and behaviors of someone with a narcissistic personality style is crucial to help you recognize when you may be in a narcissistic relationship. This is especially important if you are dating or meeting new people, as people with narcissistic personality style can present very well early on, hiding the abusive and exploitative dynamics that come later on in the relationship once you are already attached. Here are a few patterns that I teach my clients to understand and how to carefully identify them:

  • Love-bombing: this involves heightened, extreme, or overwhelming gestures of affection or attention in the early stages of the relationship. Love-bombing is a grooming technique, designed to create a strong attachment so that once the devaluation begins the person is less likely to leave the relationship. Once the partner is attached, the narcissistic person begins to devalue them. This cycle of idealization and devaluation keeps the partner off balance, hopeful things will change, and attached to the narcissist.
  • Hoovering: the process that a narcissistic person engages in after the devaluation phase, designed to draw the partner back in. Hoovering usually involves some love-bombing (typically not as intense as the initial love-bombing phase) in order to suck the person back in (like a Hoover vacuum). This creates hope (false hope) that the narcissistic person is changing or is listening to the pleas towards change. It is typically a short lived phase before devaluation begins again.
  • Future-faking: Making empty promises for the future, without delivering. This can serve the narcissistic person for several reasons, as it allows them to manage their image of a thoughtful, generous person (without ever following through), hook you back in as you believe the vision of the future promises they are making, or keep you attached as you build up (false) hope for future events, experiences, or promises. Very common during the love-bombing and hoovering phases.
  • Mirroring: Narcissistic people will shape-shift to portray similar characteristics, interests, desires, and life-goals as the person they are targeting, which is also often a part of the love-bombing dynamic. 
  • Narcissistic supply: This term refers to the constant need for attention, admiration, and power. Whomever they are gaining this through becomes their source of this supply.
  • Manipulation and control: It is crucial to learn the tactics that people with a narcissistic personality style use to gain power and control, which is often through charm/charisma, guilt-tripping, asserting that whatever you do or have done is not good enough, claiming that they are the victim (even in problems that they have created). By learning to spot these manipulations as they occur, you can begin to disengage, not take it personally, and empower yourself.
  • Gaslighting: gaslighting is a process where your reality is both denied (ex. “that didn’t happen”) and then you are additionally made to feel crazy for the reality that you are asserting (ex. “that didn’t happen, you’re always making up things to cause drama. You are so dramatic.”)
  • Baiting: the process of either fishing for compliments, or starting a fight, in order to gain more narcissistic supply. Baiting for fights can feel incredibly emotionally draining.
  • Blame-shifting and inability to take accountability: the process where you are consistently left with the blame and your feelings, account of what happened, or feedback is not only dismissed, but put back on you as the source of the problem.
  • Exploitation of relationships: narcissistic relationships are incredibly transactional. Once the narcissist feels they are no longer gaining something from the relationship, they will start to devalue and eventually discard.
  • Triangulation: This is a process where instead of engaging with someone one-on-one (typically during a conflict) the narcissistic person will involve a third person, essentially forming a triangle with you in the disadvantaged and disempowered lower position. Triangulation can often involve a flying monkey.
  • Flying monkeys: These are people close to the narcissistic person who do not recognize the narcissism. The narcissist will use their charm to convince these people that they are wonderful, and eventually start to smear you so that you become isolated and discredited if you try to speak up about the abuse or manipulation that you have endured.
  • Lack of empathy: Narcissists do not have true empathy. However, they are usually very skilled in tactics such as cognitive empathy (where they have learned how to say the right things so they come across as caring and compassionate) and fake concern (where they feign empathy to gain information about your vulnerabilities, which they will typically use to exploit you, smear you, or use against you in the future). 
  • Isolation from your support system: Over time, narcissistic people will create wedges in your relationships, consistently sowing seeds of doubt and drama over time, insidiously isolating you from your support. This is where the therapeutic relationship is even more important as a strong source of consistent, separate, source of support.
  • Smear campaigns: Narcissistic people will often engage in smear campaigns, so that if you speak up about their true nature or character, you will be discredited, disempowered, and isolated from support.

The Role of Therapy in Healing

If you have experienced, or are experiencing, a relationship with narcissistic dynamics, therapy can provide you with a safe and supportive space for you to process your experiences and begin your healing journey. Here are some of the ways that I will help you process, recover, heal, and grow from your experiences enduring a narcissistic relationship:

  • Validating emotions and experiences: One of the first steps in therapy is validating your emotions and experiences. Narcissistic abuse can leave you doubting your own reality. I help my clients recognize what they have endured, which is crucial for rebuilding self-trust and confidence. Emotional validation can be one of the foundations for further healing and recovery.
  • Rebuilding self-esteem: A key aspect of therapy is to help you rebuild your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Narcissistic relationships or abuse often leaves people feeling worthless, disempowered, helpless, flawed, or unlovable. I help my clients identify their strengths, resiliency, accomplishments, and positive qualities, fostering a renewed sense of self-confidence.
  • Establishing healthy boundaries: In narcissistic relationships, boundaries are often violated or disregarded entirely. Through therapy, I teach my clients how to establish, maintain, and assert healthy boundaries in their relationships. This involves recognizing their own needs and limits, communicating them effectively, and standing firm against boundary violations. Learning to assert boundaries is crucial for preventing future toxic relationships and fostering healthier interpersonal dynamics.
  • Trauma-focused therapy: Narcissistic relationships can be deeply traumatic, leaving lasting emotional wounds that impact how you think and feel about the world around you. Trauma-focused therapies, can help you process and integrate these relationally traumatic experiences by addressing the emotional and psychological impact of the relationship, enabling you to move start to move forward without being haunted by the past.
  • Self-discovery and empowerment: Healing from a narcissistic relationship is not just about recovering from the past; it is also about rediscovering oneself and embracing a more empowered future. I guide my clients through a journey of self-discovery, helping them reconnect with their passions, values, and goals. This process involves exploring new hobbies, building supportive social networks, and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Navigating and healing from a narcissistic relationship is difficult, but transformative. Through our therapy work, my clients improve their trust in themselves and others, increase their self-confidence, improve their boundaries, live more empowering lives, and go on to experience healthy relationships. 

It is an honor to help my clients work to recover and heal from these painful narcissistic relationships. I am based in the Seattle area and work with clients locally and across the country to help transform their relationship with themselves and others. 

Ready to get started?

Schedule your free initial consultation call where we can talk about how I can help.