It’s Narcissist Friday!


As you can tell by my responses to the comments, I believe that counseling can help those who have been abused by narcissists.  I encourage people to find counselors and stick with counseling as long as it is helpful.  However, there are some cautions I would like to share.  I hope you will forgive how short and blunt this will be.

First, I know your pastor doesn’t charge, but that doesn’t mean he is the best counselor for you.  I have counseled people for 35 years as a pastor.  I think I have helped people.  But I have been very aware of my limitations and the complications of pastoral counseling.  Most pastors are poorly trained as counselors.  They care and they can pray with you and they can listen, but counseling today is more than a pat on the back and a word of encouragement.  I learned quickly to set a limit of a few sessions, depending on the situation, and keep a list of good professionals handy for recommendation.

I constantly hear what I consider horror stories about pastoral counseling.  Some pastors refuse to involve law enforcement in child abuse cases.  Some believe that every problem is a sin problem.  Some will compromise their advice for the sake of the big givers or church leaders.  Some actually believe the woman is always at fault.  I wish it were otherwise and these were just “straw men,” but I know better.  I even know pastors who have crossed moral lines with women they have counseled.

The pastoral position is a position of prayer and spiritual guidance.  Go for that and ask for a reference to a professional who has the time and training you need.

And how do you find a good counselor?  The truth is that counselors are like other professionals.  Some excel in one area and some in others.  I would be upfront in talking about narcissism just to see what the reaction is.  If the counselor understands narcissism and is willing to believe you, then give it a try.  Many psychologists and mental health therapists will put you off if you mention narcissism simply because they will assume you are unqualified to make such a diagnosis.  Personally, I would do a little homework before I went and wouldn’t stay with a counselor who treated me like I was stupid.  If the counselor asks why you would make such a statement about your person, be ready to make your case.  That isn’t a bad thing.  But, at the end of the session, the counselor should believe your account of what the narcissist has done and is doing, even if he/she doesn’t agree with the narcissism diagnosis.

Don’t be afraid to find a different counselor.  If you want the help, find the person who can help.  You are in charge.  Get a clear picture from the counselor about what his or her goal will be.  And, listen, if you ever feel that a counselor crosses a boundary, get out.  Counselors sometimes take advantage of weakened clients.  Not often, because there are serious professional repercussions, but it still happens.  Be willing to move somewhere else, but don’t give up on counseling.

What should you want to be working on?  How to set boundaries and enforce them.  Why you are open to such manipulation.  Why you can’t say no.  These are straightforward things that will help a great deal.  It may be that you need something more immediate, some type of PTSD counseling.  Just make sure that you get to the other things.  And don’t expect your counselor to tell you whether or not to leave the relationship.  You have to decide that.  If the counselor tells you what to do, get a different counselor.  The most a professional counselor should do is help you find the way to the answer you need.

Now, you have noticed that I have not made a distinction between types of narcissistic abuse.  You can work through parental narcissism, narcissistic marriage and intimate relationships, even friendships or job connections.  If you feel burdened, confused, manipulated, out of control, or that you are going crazy—find some help.

Finally, should you bring your narcissist along?  No!  Narcissists center the sessions on themselves and are extremely persuasive.  Many counselors are deceived by the narcissist.  And, even when yours is not, the value of the session goes away because the whole thing will become about the narcissist.  The narcissist has a problem and the problem will be you.  I know that marriage counseling may require some joint sessions, but not instead of your private ones.  And, again, if you feel that the counselor has become distracted or has stopped believing you, you should probably change counselors.

Counseling is something you do for yourself.  You find the counselor and you make sure you are getting what you need.  Don’t hesitate to ask the counselor why you are doing something.  You wouldn’t take your car to the shop and just tell the mechanic to fix anything he wants.  (Actually I knew someone who did this and was surprised at the things that were on the bill.  Big mistake.)  No, you go to the counselor with a specific need: to deal with the ongoing narcissistic relationship or with the aftermath of the relationship.  You are in charge.

This would be a great opportunity for some of you to share your thoughts and concerns about counseling!   I welcome your comments and questions.


Filed under Narcissism

21 responses to “Counseling

  1. This is FABULOUS advice. I’m sharing it with my friends.

  2. prodigalkatherine

    Counseling after an abusive relationship is valuable the same way going to the ER after being physically abused. You would never ask someone who was brutally assaulted to “just pray” to have physical wounds healed. If there is internal bleeding or there is vulnerability to infection, those wounds must be examined by a trained professional.

    After experiencing both Christian counseling and “regular” counseling, I think that it’s important to find a counselor who understands that your faith is an integral part of your recover rather than a pathological symptom of your “codependent” tendencies. That being said, Christian counselors are like any other believers in that they are still in process. They don’t know everything and there is a danger of allowing them to define your faith – it sets up a similar dynamic you find with a priest playing middleman between God and you.

    Dave, you are very correct that many pastors are misogynistic and their first response is to point out the ways that a victim brought abuse on herself by not being virtuous enough. Women who have been wounded often leave these settings feeling that they have been forever tarnished and that they deserve everything that happened to them. A good clue that this is happening is when the pastor asks “What footholds have you given Satan in your personal sin to cause the breakdown of this relationship?” At that point, the pastor unwittingly colludes with the abuser in reinforcing a “blame the victim” situation.

    To be fair- It’s probably not from a place of malice- but rather from a place of “God let this happen to you for a reason”. In my mind this is a horribly perverted twisting of the truth expressed in Romans 8:28- that “all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” Does God allow genocide to teach a people group a lesson? Some might say yes, but I doubt they’d say it if genocide wiped out their communities. It’s easy to judge abuse as something both partners have a role in and infer that both partners have an equal capacity to change. What this mindset misses is that abusive relationships thrive on power imbalances and often, the only power a victim has is the power to leave. No amount of love or positive psychology from a victim can “cure” a dominating personality. The domination, not the mutual sin, is why abusive relationships are “stuck”.

  3. Beautifully written – I always enjoy your balanced, yet strong! writings. Thank you.

    • Fellow Survivor

      So true that the narcisists will be so convincing that the councelor thinks the abused spouse is crazy, which they very well might be after all the abuse they have suffered from. In my case the first councelor we saw, my wife’s choice, was convinced I was nuts and my wife was a sweet angle. The only way I could get his attention was to talk about our family histories. My parents have been married over 60 years, and their parents (my grandparents) were married until death. There is a history of valueing marraige and families. On the other hand, my wife’s mother has been married 3 times, her dad married twice divorced twice etc. People/Spouses are expendable, if one doesn’t fit just get a new one.

      We switched to the councelor I see now, but everytime we started to make headway my wife would say its not worth the money and stop going. I on the other hand have never stopped going. Almost immediately he identified the problem and suggested I read the book “Boundries In Marraige” The problem with narcisists is they don’t respect boundries because boundries only restrict the damage they can inflict or become an obsticle in their getting what they think they are intitled to.

      Anyway, one of the things I am confused about is why I am so terrified of the soon to be ex. I mean I am really scared of her. I feel like Elijah who was terrified of Jezebel. I know what she is capable of, she is sending her lawyers out to slay me so to speak. I have to keep focused on the fact that God wins the battles for me because I know I can’t do it myself.

      • You are right- narcissists never respect boundaries- ever. it is totally normal to be frightened by a narcissist. It’s our survival instinct kicking in . We should sense fear when we must interact with them. They are hurtful, threatening people. Trust your instincts and know that you will be supported. Narcissism is evil, and is thus, self-limiting. Evil only ends up destroying itself. I wish you well.

  4. Anne-Christina

    As a counsellor I could not agree more. Very appropriate and sound advice. Thank you.

  5. Angela

    Dave, you are SO right. as a chronic (I hope no more) narcissist magnet, I have been to a pastor that did cross that line, another one that after 20 minutes with both the narc and myself told me, “see? he promises not to lie, cheat etc anymore, all is well”. Those were with husbands #1 and #2. My brother primed his cute very young blond counsellor who he was enamored with- for months about his “poor sick sister” (whose finances he needed to control for her sake) before demanding I go see her to prove I am either insane or not, after all she is the proffesional, she will know the truth. (funny, after months of this, I finally said, ok, we can go to a counsellor, but one that I choose- and he never brought up the subject again). Sometimes it seems that if the narcissists don’t turn you into a raving lunatic or commandment breaker, the counselling could tip you over that line.
    The people’s stories that write to this site break my heart. This site has been a life saver for many, as we can write without further condescension or condemnation.
    You are also right about GRACE and FREEDOM in Christ. His love is something there are no words in our language to fully describe, the total, complete, absolute joy, the love that holds nothing back- and never, ever wavers..EVER, the love that burns so pure and bright that our knees grow weak in the Presence (hence “sick with love”?) and our human frailties are insignificant in light of the strength and power of that Love. If God says you have been accepted and accepted completely, who is a narcissist to say otherwise?
    Like many who write, I have been at the point of giving up (and still fight it) so often the numbers look like the national debt. But God has never grown weary of coming to find me, pick me up out of the ugliness and despair around me, and love me back onto the right path again. I found that I cannot give up because He cannot stop loving me.
    Thank you again for the kindness, truth and grace of this site, for always pointing to Jesus.

  6. Joy

    So much of what you write hits home. My ex and I went to a Christian counselor for marriage counseling. At first it seemed as if he was listening to both of us, but with in 5 sessions he was completely charmed by my ex. Everything became about how things effect the ex’s feelings, just like our marriage had been all about his feelings. The counselor told me I just needed to forgive and move on with our marriage, and that the ex didn’t have to talk about anything that would make him uncomfortable. My ex had completely controlled the conversations in our marriage, and I didn’t want to pay a professional to help him do the same in our counseling sessions. I quit going. Ever since, ex has blamed the end of our marriage on me, because I quit going to marriage counseling. I felt like I’d been betrayed by my husband, and then by my counselor as well.

    I did go on to find another counselor. She is a christian (understands that part of me) and she is the one who suggested that my ex sounds like a narcissist. Since then I have done a lot of reading and agree…it helps so much just to see that there are those that understand what happened in our marriage! I’m still seeing her, trying to move on and know how to avoid the N type in the future.

    I suggested ex go to counseling by himself. He did..for a few sessions. I asked why he quit. His answer: “The counselor didn’t want to let me talk about what I wanted. I didn’t like him directing our conversations.” My guess is that the new counselor thought they should talk about the tough stuff, and was not as easily charmed.

    • I have taught counselors about narcissism for the past five years and I often say that if you find yourself thinking of murdering your client, he might be a narcissist. Believe it or not, this is something counselors talk about in regards to narcissists. They are so frustrating and so manipulating that the counselor often feels controlled and intimidated. Others have noticed these feelings and some have even admitted them. (Have you ever watched “What about Bob?)

      When I first sent someone to a therapist to work on his narcissism, the therapist listened to him for a while, asked him some diagnostic questions, and dismissed him, saying that he was not a narcissist. He was smart enough and bold enough to formulate his answers and deceive her. I fully believe it was easy for him and maybe even enjoyable. Just another conquest.

      I am glad you found someone else to work with. A good counselor can be such a help.

  7. prairiemom

    THANKYOU! This is such a timely post. I have just emailed the link to my friend who is in counseling with her N. And guess what? She is looking like the bad guy and he is looking like the saint and the victim. It seems as though pastors and counselors (even really good, wise, godly ones, as in her case) can also become “useful people” to help the N to control his family. I am beginning to think that was this N’s plan from the beginning. Aaaaargh!!

  8. Ntombizonke Gcule

    I’m grateful about the help I’m getting from this forum.
    The fact that I don’t get confusing statements about my loving Father and my stand with Him is encouraging.
    Been curious to know though have you ever heard or witnessed good outcome of narcissistic husband changing and actually knowing that it’s ok not to cheat.?

    • I apologize for letting this slip. There’s a lot in your question. I have witnessed very few “good outcomes” in narcissistic relationships, to put it bluntly. That’s because the primary good outcome in my mind would be that the N would stop being an N. But I have seen narcissists who have “cleaned up their act.” They have realized that the loss would be too great if they continued their behavior and they have changed. Some have changed so much that people close to them believe the N has stopped being an N. When I interview them, they are much the same, but they have learned to adapt their behavior to what is needed. Of course, for some that is change enough.

      Some narcissists don’t cheat in relationships. Some are in serial relationships with clean intervals between. And some continue with the same person throughout their lives. Not all are the same. But the underlying motivation is what they get out of the relationship. What this means to me is that a narcissist can learn that cheating will cost more than he wants to pay. Because of that, he may stop. Remember that he doesn’t value the person as a person, so when he cheats he is just using people. He does it because of what he gets. If there is enough negative attached to what he gets, he may not want it anymore.

      Bottom line is that narcissistic behavior can be changed.

  9. Broken

    I just wanted to say narcissism is real. lt’s the biggest side evil l’ve encountered. Especially in the gact he went to church. l put up with it until l got spiritually drained. l knew they were false; l discerned and had dreams and just flat out common sence signs. So, my N husband was a deacon and a singer there…l did’nt care; enough was enough- l told him l was’nt going anymore. Anger and cursing got immediately threw at me and by the time he came back from evening service, he told me that 2 othets told him that God told them l had the devil in me. The pastor was abusive towards me. And him and my husband fed off each other. Of course at home l get ignored, cursed, abandoned, lied to, and told how bad l am everytime he does wrong lm a liar somehow and hes ywisyed the story and mimicked the one hes done himself. I still dont get debit card access and he punishes me from everything. Hes never sorry, never wrong, and tells everuone hes abused. lf he does something nice…its because theres something evil coming ahead, but the nice will be drug in your face forever to show how sorry you are after how good hes been to you and uou are just using him. My car is not inspected or tagged because hes so good. lol He has shouted leave and divorce so many times it makes me sick. l only wish l could leave. Pray for me….lm a real christian…l dont need counseling; l just want the road to open for me to leave. l have job apps out and need emotional strength and my car drive ready. Anyway, l would never do this again…..l’ve been through alot all my life; but this and act a christian too? I learnt alot alright; but lm not even in my families state. lm really alone.

    • Penny

      Is there a battered women’s shelter nearby? Many shelters will keep you safe and anonymous until you can safely flee.

    • Broken, I am so sorry that you have to go through this. I have prayed for you and will continue. The Lord loves you, even when it doesn’t feel like it. When the pastor and church are part of your pain, it is hard to feel good about your relationship with the Lord. But He is separate from them, especially from their wickedness. They do not represent Him in their sin.

      WHat I have suggested to others is that they begin to make serious plans as to how they can get out. Put away whatever money you can in a place only you know. A couple hundred dollars will give you meals and a couple nights at a motel. It might take you back to your family. You don’t even have to leave, just have the strength of knowing that you can leave. Find a friend or a pastor in another church who will listen and care and believe you. Find a women’s shelter or support group. You might learn of jobs or other opportunities there. Maybe someone from your family would come to get you. You might be surprised. Do whatever it takes to be ready when the time comes.

      Don’t judge yourself. You are under a great deal of pressure and you are in pain. No one acts the way they want to act when they are hurting like that.

      Please keep me posted. I will be praying. You can contact me directly through the contact page link or you can post a comment here.

      • Mel

        I have found on my path out of a Narcissistic marriage that if you ask others for help it will be forthcoming. Asking for help is a way of honoring yourself and will give you great strength. As Dave says you don’t have to leave, but knowing that you can, that you have a plan, will give you some power back.

  10. Sue

    One thing I have been working on with my counselor is how I view God after being married to a N for so long. I project those same qualities on God. My counselor had me read a book about how God was a lover and my response was, “Right, just like my husband. God gives me the silent treatment when he feels like it. When I need him the most, he doesn’t come through. And it is all about what he wants, never what I want.” To some, I suppose, I sound like either I expect God to be Santa or I’m a spoiled brat that expects God to work for me. It is neither. I have no frame of reference to understand what true love is and I can’t see beyond my searing pain.

    • David1

      Sue, You are not alone. We all that read this blog know exactly what you are feeling. The feeling of total hopelessness and helplessness.. I have been where you are and it is horrible, pure agony. I was re-watching the “Jesus” series that was on TV several weeks ago and in the passion episode there was a scene where Saul/Paul had just been blinded and was just starting to understand just who Jesus was. He was on his bed crying out that his soul was on fire. Boy, do I know how that feels and I know you do too. All I can offer is what I have done to start to climb out of this terrible pain, and that is to pray often everyday. Pray in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep, pray in the morning, afternoon, evening, all day. My prayer is pretty simple and direct, I just ask ” Save me Jesus, Help me Jesus, take this pain away because I am not strong enough to carry it.” He will hear and He will carry your burden because He promised that He would and I believe Him. Sue, you are not alone.

  11. Penny

    I need prayer, my friends. For those of you who read and respond to Dave’s posts, I am asking prayer. Tomorrow my 87 year old N is seeing her pastor for “counseling” b/c we have basically changed our response[s] to her (knowing she will never change) and she is as mad as hell. She wants to control our marriage, my husband, my children, our lives. She has scapegoated me for nearly 40 years, suggested to my husband that I am mentally ill, and 2 days ago she told my husband that I had brainwashed him. We have a disabled adult son that she routinely tries to exploit–I have put a stop to that by removing our landline, blocking her email, her phone numbers, etc. Thankfully, my husband loves me and is willing to sever whatever relationship may be left, and he is not willing to subject me or our son to further abuse by her. She wants to destroy me and our marriage so she can have a “surrogate husband” thru her son. This pastor seems to understand N, and has many years’ experience with my N, but she is a “pro”, and I am dreading the drama of what she will do. Please, please pray that the pastor will be a Jehu and not fall for her Jezebel schemes. Pray that she will either repent or “take her ball and go home”. I do not want or need her or her money. I do not want or need her in our lives. I do not want her curses. I want peace and calm and Jesus. Please pray, friends, for the Holy Spirit to pierce her heart with His truth and His word. Pray for my husband to stand firm, pray for our son to be at peace, pray for my heart to be calm. This is an intense spiritual battle and she is a willing vessel for the enemy. She is 87 years old and in better health than me! I believe that God is giving her time to repent, but she refuses, and all hell could break loose tomorrow–so, please pray for me. Selah.

    • Angela

      Penny, I “get it”, God help me, I “get it”.
      In a similar but different situation, I am going through the same thing right now. I am praying for you. I am praying for her too, that her “kingdom” will crash. Also for the pastor, for wisdom, insight, courage, discernment.
      I read your previous comment, and I have asked the same thing many times, there seems not to be a formula for creating a narcissist or for ensuring that someone doesn’t become one. I have many of the same questions you have raised.
      I understand your health suffering while the N is like the energizer bunny. Praise God your husband is on your side, and praise God you have God. Please take care of yourself.
      I am praying for you and your family. I know you have a lot of prayer going up on your behalf.

      • Penny

        thank you Angela for your response. Thankfully, this particular pastor seems to “get it” and even tho she was the predicted drama queen with the requisite weeping and kleenex, even he wasn’t buying it and affirmed our own skepticism. Her problem is that trust is utterly shattered and will take years to repair, and at her age she may not be able to invest the years required. I guess she should of thot of that, like the rest of us, eh? My SiL got a very different story, not quite so repentant, so I am waiting for the other shoe to drop…..and staying out of the way so she doesn’t throw it at me. Duck.

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