Understanding narcissistic patterns in relationships

Narcissism, a personality trait characterised by excessive self-focus, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, can significantly affect relationships. When one partner exhibits narcissistic patterns, it often leads to a toxic and imbalanced dynamic that can cause substantial emotional harm to the other party.


Understanding these patterns and seeking professional help through counselling can be crucial steps towards recovery and healthier relationships. This article explores the nature of narcissistic patterns in relationships, the impact they have on partners, and how counselling can provide essential support and guidance.

Narcissistic patterns in relationships

Narcissistic patterns in relationships are marked by behaviours and attitudes that centre around the narcissist’s needs, desires, and self-image, often at the expense of their partner. These patterns can manifest in various ways, including:

Grandiosity and self-importance

Narcissistic individuals often have an inflated sense of their own importance and abilities. They may demand excessive attention and admiration from their partner and others.

Lack of empathy

A hallmark of narcissism is a profound lack of empathy. Narcissists struggle to understand or care about their partner’s feelings and needs, often disregarding them entirely.

Manipulation and control

Narcissists frequently use manipulation to maintain control in the relationship. This can include gaslighting (making their partner doubt their own reality), guilt-tripping, and exploiting their partner’s vulnerabilities.


Narcissists believe they are entitled to special treatment and privileges. They expect their partner to cater to their needs without reciprocating.

Devaluation and criticism

While initially charming and affectionate, narcissists often turn to devaluing and criticising their partner once the initial phase of admiration fades. This can lead to emotional abuse and a significant erosion of the partner’s self-esteem.

Boundary violations

Narcissists tend to disregard personal boundaries, seeing their partner’s life and resources as extensions of their own. This can lead to intrusive and controlling behaviour.

Projection and blame

Narcissists often project their own flaws and insecurities onto their partner, blaming them for issues within the relationship and refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.

Impact on partners

The impact of narcissistic patterns on the partner can be devastating, leading to a range of emotional, psychological, and even physical issues:

Emotional distress

Constant criticism, manipulation, and lack of empathy can lead to chronic emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, and a pervasive sense of worthlessness.

Erosion of self-esteem

The devaluation and criticism inherent in narcissistic relationships can significantly erode the partner’s self-esteem, making them feel unworthy and inadequate.

Confusion and self-doubt

Gaslighting and other manipulative tactics can create a sense of confusion and self-doubt, causing the partner to question their own reality and judgment.


Narcissists often isolate their partners from friends and family to maintain control. This isolation can leave the partner feeling lonely and unsupported.

Physical symptoms

The stress and emotional turmoil of a narcissistic relationship can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and sleep disturbances.

How counselling can help

Counselling provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals dealing with narcissistic patterns in their relationships. Here’s how counselling can be beneficial:

Emotional support

Counselling offers a space for individuals to express their feelings and experiences without fear of judgment. This emotional support is crucial for healing from the trauma of a narcissistic relationship.

Understanding narcissism

Counsellors can help individuals understand the nature of narcissism and its impact on relationships. This understanding can be empowering and provide clarity about the dynamics at play.

Rebuilding self-esteem

Counselling can help individuals rebuild their self-esteem and self-worth. Through therapeutic techniques, they can challenge negative self-perceptions and develop a more positive self-image.

Setting boundaries

Counselling can teach individuals how to set and maintain healthy boundaries. This is essential for protecting themselves from further emotional harm and establishing a sense of autonomy.

Developing coping strategies

Counsellors can provide practical tools and coping strategies to manage the emotional distress associated with narcissistic relationships. This can include stress management techniques, mindfulness practices, and assertiveness training.

Exploring options

For those considering leaving a narcissistic relationship, counselling can provide support in exploring their options and planning for a safe exit. It can also assist in navigating the complexities of co-parenting or ongoing interactions with a narcissistic ex-partner.

Healing from trauma

Counselling can address the trauma and emotional wounds inflicted by the narcissistic relationship. This involves processing painful experiences and working towards emotional recovery.

Additional strategies to combat the effects of narcissistic relationships

In addition to counselling, there are several self-care strategies and resources that can support individuals in recovering from the effects of a narcissistic relationship:

Education and awareness

Learning about narcissism and its effects can provide valuable insights and validation. Books, articles, and support groups can be helpful resources.

Build a support network

Reconnect with friends, family, or support groups. Having a strong support network can provide emotional backing and practical advice.

Engage in self-care

Prioritise activities that promote physical and emotional well-being. This can include regular exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and engaging in hobbies and interests.

Practice mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can help manage stress and anxiety, promoting a sense of calm and presence.

Set realistic goals

Break down tasks into manageable steps and set achievable goals. This can help rebuild a sense of control and accomplishment.

Seek professional help

If feelings of distress persist or worsen, consider seeking additional professional help. Therapists and mental health professionals can provide specialised support.

Narcissistic patterns in relationships can cause significant emotional and psychological harm to the partner. Recognising these patterns and understanding their impact is the first step towards healing. Counselling offers a supportive and effective way to address the trauma of a narcissistic relationship, rebuild self-esteem, and develop healthy coping strategies. Coupled with self-care practices and support networks, counselling can guide individuals towards recovery and healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, Offering Counselling, CBT, Hypnotherapy, EMDR & Mindfulness.
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Ian Stockbridge is the founder and lead counsellor at Hope Therapy and Counselling Services. 

As an experienced Counsellor, Ian recognised a huge societal need for therapeutic services that were often not being met. As such the 'Hope Agency' was born and its counselling team now offers counselling and therapeutic support throughout the UK.

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