Category Archives: Relationship Issues

Are you in love with a Narcissist? By: Aimee Wood LCSW

Do you feel completely enamored with your partner? Maybe even lucky to be chosen by this charismatic, witty, and externally confident person? Do you also have days where you have just nothing left, feeling completely picked apart by your partner? Do you feel like the person you’re in love with is behaving like a toddler? Do you sometimes feel like your entire life is revolving around your partner’s happiness 24/7? These are just a few of the many scenarios one experiences when in a relationship with a narcissist.

Narcissistic individuals are great at drawing people in. They are fun, charming, and they can make you feel almost high on attraction and excitement. They are witty, attractive, and can make you feel unique from everyone else. But they are also emotionally exhausting, manipulative, and insecure on an extreme level. What sets a narcissist’s “flaws” apart from any other person’s is they look to the one closest to them to fill their holes, and/or take the blame. For example, if something is wrong in their life, if they made a mistake, or feel shame in any way, get ready because somehow it will become your fault. It’s very difficult for a narcissist to accept any contribution to something negative. If they had a meltdown, or made a mistake, instead of taking responsibility for their part, they are unable to see this and often focus on how someone else (likely you, the loved one) made them do it.

The problem is because it’s easy to become sucked into their world and their false sense of reality, it’s difficult to be able to stop and assess if this is a role and relationship that you can handle. If you feel something isn’t right in your relationship, but you question how much and what is “normal,” read the following list to see if you connect with any of the following scenarios.
Note: The person closest to the narcissist, the person he/she loves the most is the one that gets the brunt of it.

  • Do you get blamed for everything that’s wrong, even when you had nothing to do with it?
  • Do you feel like your partner needs constant validation and attention?
  • Do your needs often get ignored and not met?
  • Do you feel your partner lacks empathy?
  • Do you feel like it’s up to you to make your partner truly happy and whole?
  • Do you feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster with your spouse?
  • Do you ever feel these following things more often than not: blamed, emotionally drained, isolated?
  • Do you often have the opposite perspective of a situation than your partner?

So you identify with many, if not all on the above list. Now what?

Boundaries. Boundaries is the most essential step to take if you’re wanting to stop the current patterns between you and your narcissistic partner. There are hundreds of helpful books and articles to help you understand and implement boundaries. Having your own individual therapist can also help you learn about boundaries and learn where they are most needed. Meeting with a therapist who understands narcissism at it’s core can help identify where you contribute to the problem, as well as learn alternative behaviors to give you new and effective coping skills and more independence from your partner.

When focused on the needs, wants, emotions of a narcissist, the caretaker eventually realizes that there is no room for his/her needs, wants, or emotions. The job of caretaker is exhausting, and rather thankless. Nothing will be enough for a narcissist. There’s always a better way to do things, or there’s always more to want. It’s extremely difficult to explore your individuality when you’re drawn into the world of a narcissist.

Narcissists can be very difficult to break away from, and it can be just as difficult to try and change the power dynamic and expectations in the relationship. They are super convincing, manipulative, self-focused, and often they try to use power (whether it’s intelligence, money, resources) to get what they want from you. Whether you’re looking for help in how to end and exit your relationship, or you’re not sure of what you want just yet, it is important that you have your own supports and ways to cope with such a challenging situation.

Help is available, call today to schedule your first appointment: 610-608-0390

10 Signs Your Loved One May Be Struggling with Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction has become an epidemic in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and estimated 2.1 million people in the United States are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin. For more information please visit:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

Increasingly I have seen clients who have either a romantic partner or a family member who is suffering from opioid abuse. Review the following red flags to determine if someone in your life may be struggling with opioid abuse:

  1. They use old painkiller prescriptions: You may find your loved one using old or expired painkillers from past surgeries or injuries. When you ask about their use, they may become defensive or secretive. They may accuse you of being unsupportive of their illness or pain condition.
  2. You find (or suspect they are hiding) pills: You may find pills that are clearly being hidden. Others just suspect their partner is hiding pills due to the other behavioral signs.
  3. They experience paranoia: You may notice your loved one becoming increasing paranoid about yours or others behavior. Sometimes the paranoia may be subtle. For instance one client reported his wife believing her family was excluding her from events and talking about her. Other times the paranoia may be more obvious. For example another client’s partner believed someone had left him a “bomb” in a shoebox which had clearly been left by neighborhood kids playing a harmless prank.
  4. Changes in sleep patterns: Usually the opiate addict is oversleeping or not getting enough sleep. You may find that your loved one is sleeping more, or falls asleep at inopportune times (at the dinner table, watching TV or even in the middle of a conversation). The term used for this is “nodding off.” If your loved one is withdrawing they may need very little sleep or experience insomnia.
  5. Irritability: You may notice your loved one becoming increasingly more irritable and short of patience.
  6. They experience flu-like symptoms: When will notice flu-like symptoms when your loved one is experiencing withdraw. They may complain of, or you may notice he/she experiencing nausea, headaches, sweating, joint pain, etc.
  7. Low or no sexual desire: Opiates can change hormone levels that influence sexual desire. When using it may be near impossible for the male addict to get or maintain an erection, and for the female addict to experience physical changes associated with arousal.
  8. Changes in lifestyle: Your loved one may stop engaging in activities they once enjoyed such as exercising or spending time with family or friends.
  9. Money or property is missing: You may notice valuables start to disappear. Another sign may be unexplained cash withdraws from bank accounts or large charges on credit cards.
  10. Appearance changes: Your loved one may start caring less about their appearance, looking disheveled or unclean at times. He/she may neglect basic self-care and grooming.

Opiate addiction is extremely powerful and difficult to overcome. While you cannot force your loved one into treatment or sober living, you can seek support for yourself. Counseling can be beneficial for you to set healthy boundaries with your loved one, help you cope with your own emotional reactions regarding the abuse, decrease any enabling or codependent behavior you may be engaging in, and finally to make more difficult decisions about the relationship if your loved one won’t get help (separation, divorce, a period of no contact, etc.).

What is “Gaslighting”?

“Gaslighting” is a type of emotional abuse. The term comes from the play (1938) and then later the movie Gaslight (1944) in which a husband slowly begins to convince his wife and others that she is crazy. Gaslighting happens slowly over time leaving the victim feeling confused, anxious, depressed and often isolated. Listed below are 7 red flags that may indicate that you are being gaslighted by your partner:

  1. They lie. Blatantly, and a lot: Gaslighters will lie even when they know that you know they are lying. That is part of their game. They will insist that they are right, leaving you feeling confused and doubting your ability to discern truth from fiction.
  2. They dismiss your concerns: Gaslighters will dismiss any concerns you may present to them. They will often insist that you are “too dramatic” or “crazy.” You will be left feeling invalidated and as if you are not allowed to have any needs in the relationship.
  3. They use children or pets as a pawn to gain control: Gaslighters will often use your children or pets as a way to manipulate you, especially if they know how important the role of parenting (or pet parenting) is to you. They may threaten to take the children or pets away from you, often citing a list of flaws they perceive you have as justification. This leaves you feeling terrified, but also guessing your self-worth.
  4. They tell others you are “crazy:” Gaslighters will attempt to turn those close to you against you, often telling them you are crazy. Sometimes this will be done without your knowledge and you may simply notice neighbors, friends or family members distancing themselves from you. Other times Gaslighters will make false police reports or file legal documents with the court system in an attempt to have you charged with a crime you did not commit based on fabrications. Remember, anyone can file anything with the courts or police. Legally the police and court system must accept the reports or documents. Even if the charges and claims are dismissed against you, the Gaslighter will still use these documents against you. Even if the charges are dismissed, they will then use these documents to share with others and attempt to convince them that you are crazy, and that they are the victim.
  5. They put their baggage on you: They will accuse you of behaviors that they are actually engaging in, “You’re abusive!” “You’re controlling!” “You’re a toxic person!” This puts you on the defensive and distracts you from being able to see the gaslighter’s behavior. The Gaslighter is essentially projecting their issues on to you.
  6. You find yourself looking back: You will find yourself unhappy in the relationship but may be confused as to why (your needs will be dismissed, you are being told you are crazy). You soon begin to look back into your past, including at past relationships and realize you were happier and more confident. Pay attention to evidence from the past that you are not the person the gaslighter is accusing you of being!
  7. You cannot do anything right: No matter what you do, you find it is not good enough for the Gaslighter. Even if you adjust to the Gaslighters requests and expectations you will find yourself falling short. Occasionally the Gaslighter will throw in a compliment or praise simply to keep you confused.

Remember, anyone is susceptible to gaslighting. Gaslighters are master manipulators and abuse their victims slowly over time. If you find yourself experiencing some of these red flags, it may be helpful to go to counseling to determine what you would like to do next.

How Your Family Impacts The Way You Fight With Your Partner

Fighting is normal and healthy in any relationship—and in fact it can help long-term relationships strengthen. However, there is a different between healthy and unhealthy fighting. And sometimes the way we communicated and fought with our families of origin can contribute to our fighting styles. Family of origin can be defined as the immediate family or others who lived in the household and had a significant influence on your life. The following steps will help you identify the influence of your family of origin on the way you fight with your partner.

Step 1:  Identify Your Family of Origin

Family of origin can mean not only who your immediate family is/was, but can also include extended relatives who lived with you or had significant influence on your life.  Foster parents or anyone else that provided significant care for you can also be considered part of your family of origin. List their names and relationships to you.         

Step 2:  Explore How Conflict Was Dealt With in Your Family of Origin

Take at least an hour for yourself to answer the questions below. It is okay to take a break and come back to the questions if you feel stuck. Sometimes there may be gaps or questions that are difficult to answer. If you feel comfortable you may ask a sibling, parent or other family member these questions to get another perspective or to help you fill in these gaps. 

1. What did a “fight” or “conflict” mean in your family

2. How did each family member contribute to or engage in the conflict?

3. Sometimes family members cope by withdrawing…Who in your family disengaged in the conflict? And what did this look like?

4. How did you cope with conflicts or fights in your family?

5. What was each family members role in conflict in your family (including yourself)?  Who was the peacemaker?  Scapegoat?  Provoker? Etc.

6. What emotions or feelings were not okay to express during a conflict?  In general?  Who determined this and how?

7. Were there certain emotions or feelings that were used frequently during conflict?  How were they used and who used them?

Step 3:  Examine How You Handle Conflict in Your Relationship

Give yourself about an hour to complete these questions. To answer these questions think of a recent fight with your partner—especially one that was difficult to resolve. 

1. When your partner and you argue, what is typically your role?

2. During a conflict with your partner, what emotions feel safe to express? Which emotions do you find yourself struggling to express?

3. Think about the times when fights seem to escalate. What specific behaviors contribute to this escalation?

4. Consider times during a conflict with your partner when you feel very triggered, or bothered by their actions. Why are these actions triggering for you? How do you then respond to these triggers?

5. How do you cope with, or soothe yourself during a conflict with your partner? 

Step 4:  Check for Parallels

Again you should allow yourself an hour to complete the following questions. Review your answers to the previous sections before you answer the questions below. Again if you feel overwhelmed or stuck it is okay to take a break from the questions and return to them later.

1. Consider your role in conflict when with your family and when with your partner.  What are the similarities?  The differences?  Why might these similarities and differences exist? How might your past be influencing your expectations today?

2. Think about how the role you play in conflict with your partner benefits you, and then hurts you.  How do the costs and benefits compare to those from the role with your family?

3. Look at which emotions were difficult to express during a conflict in your family and with your partner.  What are the similarities and the differences and why might these exist?

4. In what ways is your coping or self-soothing when you argue with your partner similar to the ways you coped and self-soothed when in conflict with your family?  What are the differences?

5. When are you most likely to make yourself vulnerable? What happens when you do let your guard down?

5. Revisit the times when fights seem to escalate with your partner and when you feel very triggered by your partner.  Who in your family of origin perhaps acted the same towards you during a conflict? 

Remember…Once you understand your behavior it can often be easier to change this behavior. Keep in mind that this work can be challenging so you may need to pace yourself and explore slowly.

Benefits of Divorce Mediation

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Make Divorce Healthier Symposium and was able to meet likeminded therapists, lawyers, financial advisors and divorce coaches who all share the vision of making divorce healthier. When seeing couples or individuals who are going through the divorce process, I encourage them to seek mediation when possible. Here are a few ways mediating your divorce can be beneficial:

  • Mediation will save you money: Sadly, the divorce process is very broken. Remember, the longer your divorce drags on, the more money your lawyer will make. The money you and your spouse each spend on your respective lawyers is money wasted. The money lost hurts not only each of your futures, but also your children’s futures. However, with mediation you and your spouse will hire one lawyer to work collaboratively with you. This reduces the cost of divorce significantly.
  • Mediation is quicker: Because of the naturally collaborative process, mediation compared to traditional divorce is usually faster. Unlike traditional divorce, you do not have to wait for each of your lawyers to find time to communicate with each other, or wait for court dates that could be months away. This also reduces the anxiety and frustration experienced in the traditional divorce process.
  • Mediation is empowering: Both you and your spouse will have more control over the process during mediation. Compared to traditional divorce that often leaves each partner feeling powerless and confused, mediation can be an empowering experience. You and your spouse will get to determine the terms and conditions that work for your specific situation.
  • Mediation will protect your privacy: With a traditional divorce you will have to discuss private family matters (including finances, details about your children) in front of the court. Many people don’t realize they will have to discuss these personal details in front of court employees, officers and other families and lawyers also there for their court date. Mediation ensures privacy, as it can be done in your lawyer’s office.
  • Mediation may be better for your children: Not only will you save money that can go towards caring for your children or investing in their future, but mediation allows you and your spouse to model a cooperative and respectful ending to a relationship. Traditional divorce also usually forces children to undergo testing or evaluations by other professionals when parents cannot agree to a custody arrangement. This can be extremely stressful for children. However with mediation, these evaluations can be avoided. With mediation, you and your spouse can create a custody arrangement that works best for your family—instead of an arrangement mandated by a judge.
  • Mediation is a way to end your marriage with mutual respect and dignity: Remember, at one point you loved your spouse and willingly agreed to legally commit yourself to this person for life. Unlike traditional divorce, which often turns into a “pissing contest” and can get nasty very fast, mediation is a process that can honor the love you each had for each other (and maybe still have). In addition, if you have children, you will need to continue to have a cooperative and civil relationship with your spouse. Mediation is a process that will facilitate spouses being able to co-parent successfully.

If your spouse will not agree to mediation, suggest meeting with a counselor for a few sessions to at least discuss the pros and cons of mediation versus traditional divorce. Make sure you seek out a professional who understands the differences between mediation and traditional divorce. Unfortunately, you cannot force your spouse to mediate. Spouses who are angry, abusive, have narcissistic rage or those who simply want a fight, will likely not agree to mediation. If you find yourself in this situation, seek experienced legal counsel and counseling to help you through the divorce process.

9 Signs Your Partner is a Narcissist

Narcissistic personality disorder is marked by an individual’s belief they are superior to others, an exaggerated sense of one’s accomplishments and need to be well liked by others. Those traits are usually easy to see. In a relationship however, narcissistic traits can sometimes be hard to identify. Here are a few signs that your partner may be a narcissist:

1. They put you on a pedestal: Don’t flatter yourself…if your partner can’t see your flaws this could be a red flag, especially when the narcissist decides they no longer need you to inflate their ego. When the narcissist is putting you on a pedestal it is really so the narcissist can feel good about themselves…your perfection (which does not exist because it doesn’t exist in anyone) is a mere reflection of their own. Narcissists can be very charming and make others initially feel very good about themselves. However, the narcissist doesn’t actually care about you or your wellbeing. You are merely their to serve their ego, and once they no longer need you for that purpose they will discard you like a piece of trash. This is one reason why narcissists often struggle with committed relationships.

2. They cannot tolerate your flaws: If you are the partner of a narcissist you must remember you are viewed only as a mirror of the narcissist. Once the narcissist begins to see your very normal, human flaws, they cannot tolerate this because they are threatened by what it means about themselves. Some narcissists may focus on physical traits and become threatened if their partner gains weight for instance. For others they are threatened by normal anxieties and insecurities that in any health relationship are revealed as the partnership becomes more close and intimate.

3. They cannot take responsibility for their behavior: In any relationship both partners have a role in the relationship problems. However in a narcissist’s opinion you are the only one responsible for the relationship problems. A common explanation from the narcissist about their behavior is “I only act like that because I’m reacting to my partner’s behavior.” Not only is this not true, but it is the narcissists attempt at absolving him/her of any responsibility for the relationship problems. Look for this in the narcissists other relationships—for instance with their family members, coworkers, neighbors and friends. If you can obviously see them treating others this way, remind yourself you will be no different.

4. You’re always to blame: The narcissist will constantly focus on what their partner is doing wrong and how their partner is hurting them. They are always the victim. They cannot and will not look at their own behavior. Be careful. If you are always to blame and they are the victim, when the relationship ends the narcissist will believe they deserve anything and everything that is at stake (the children, pets, finances, joint assets, etc). Narcissists will often engage in slander and frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to establish themselves as the victim.

5. They never apologize: Or at least you never get a real apology. If you hear apologies like, “I’m sorry…I only act like that because you…” Run! To apologize is to take ownership of one’s behavior, which the narcissist is not capable of—unless they are getting something out of it. Be wary of apologies from a narcissist because there is usually another motive.

6. They need to be the focus of everyone else’s attention:
Whether at home, on facebook, out with friends, etc. the narcissist needs to be center of attention and everyone must like the narcissist. They may volunteer or be involved in other activities but it is simply to inflate their sense of self or to “image build.” The narcissist will also seek out relationships with others who he/she perceives to be important. Surrounding themselves with people deemed to be of a certain stature makes them feel they are equally as important.

7. They magnify their accomplishments: The narcissist will exaggerate their accomplishments. For instance, some may call themselves an “author” when they’ve literally never published anything and merely post rants online. While everyone has hobbies and other pursuits, the narcissist perceives theirs as overly important and highly successful (even though they are often not). Even mild success to a narcissist will make them believe they deserve recognition and deserve to be treated special by others.

8. You’re not allowed to have needs: The only needs that matter in the relationship are the narcissist’s. They believe they are entitled to have everyone attend to their needs while doing nothing for others. If the narcissist agrees to meet an expressed need in the relationship (example: I need you to keep our date nights and not cancel) it is only because they are getting something out of it. Be careful if you get the sense you’re only around to serve your partner. In addition, be careful of “gaslighting”—you may be accused about being unreasonable or even abusive for having needs.

9. They lash out when they don’t get what they want: When the narcissist doesn’t get what they want they lash out in extreme and inappropriate ways—this is often referred to as “narcissistic rage.” These actions could appear as child-like temper-tantrums, threats of abuse, or engaging in repeated frivolous lawsuits. Be wary if you feel as though your partner’s reaction to you or others when they don’t get what they want or are criticized is too extreme or does not fit the situation.

If you believe your partner could be a narcissist, seeking counseling could be helpful, especially in finding a way to safely get out of a relationship with a narcissist.