Manipulative, Toxic, Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships

Please note that I am open and accepting new clients during the COVID-19 quarantine. Find out more about setting up a free consultation.

Do you think you want to leave your current relationship but feel powerless to go?

Do you feel manipulated by your partner, boss or coach?

Does your partner misremember or change the past – making you doubt your memory?

Are you getting blamed for things that upset him? Even when you have not done anything. Are the fights always your fault?

Have you pulled away from your friends or family because your partner or coach thinks they are bad influences on you. Does he tell you that your friends don’t like him because they are jealous of your relationship? Do you feel isolated?

Is it confusing to think about leaving this relationship because there are truly wonderful moments? Are these good moments times where you feel completely loved, unbelievable special or totally connected to him?

Do you sometimes feel crazy?

Do you need help?

It is completely normal to feel crazy when the person you are interacting with is not acting rational or manipulating you.

What are manipulators?

Manipulators are people who use their influence and power over others as a weapon. Many manipulators are narcissists or suffer from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They can be very generous and kind when all of your adoration and attention is on them. However, when your attention shifts away, you have needs of your own that conflict with theirs or if they are not the center of attention – they can shift very quickly to rage, abuse and blame. This shift can be dizzying in its speed and can seemingly come out of nowhere. Many manipulators use wit and sharp humor to mask their abuse. The refrain many victims hear is “Why are you so sensitive? Can’t you take a joke?”

A manipulator can be your husband, your co-worker, your boss, your parents or your coach. They usually find positions of authority where they can use their power to trap a victim. When you are in a manipulative or toxic relationship your self-esteem takes a big hit. Your ability to advocate for your needs seemingly disappears. You lose a sense of your boundaries and you feel helpless to leave. Many manipulators or narcissists use gaslighting, lying and cruelty to maintain control in their relationships.

What is a narcissist?

The Mayo Clinic describes someone suffering from a Narcissistic Personality Disorder as someone who has “an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” These types of people need all of the attention to be focused on themselves and can flip into anger and even rage when attention, admiration or love is given to others.

They believe that they are deserving of extra attention and admiration. Their need for extra attention sometimes causes them to exaggerate their own accomplishments. They lie. Narcissists can be especially cruel to those that are closest to them. It is very difficult to remain in a long term relationship with a narcissist. One way to stay is to forget that you have needs of your own and simply become an extension of them. This tactic leaves us feeling empty, angry and crazy.

One common trait of a narcissist is their inability to empathize with other people’s feelings. They are not able to “put themselves in other people’s shoes.” One way I describe this is to imagine that you have broken your leg. A non-narcissist would respond by asking you how you are feeling and what you need. A narcissist might respond with rage; asking you if you have any idea how much extra work this is going to make for them; asking if you have any idea what bad timing this is for them. They are not able to empathize. It is not that they are selfish and refuse to see your side; it is that they are not capable of seeing anyone else’s needs.

How can you tell if someone is a narcissist?

The DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Association, 2013) defines someone as having a Narcissistic Personality Disorder if they have any five of the following nine traits:

  • A grandiose logic of self-importance
  • A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love
  • A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
  • A desire for unwarranted admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally oppressive behavior
  • No form of empathy
  • Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
  • A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes

I believe that all of us have some of these traits at different times in our lives. At times, we all act in a narcissistic way. However, someone who has a Narcissistic Personality can’t stop. Narcissists also have an intense anger or rage that pops up when they feel their needs are being denied. They blame and attack, forcing all of the attention back onto themselves.

Why is it so hard to leave this toxic relationship?

It can be very difficult to get out of a relationship with a narcissist mainly because of the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) abuse which leaves their partner with little self esteem. Their manipulations, gaslighting and mind-games create an environment where we feel like we have caused the fights, we are too selfish and we are bad. The manipulation traps us.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where one person uses cruel tactics to make the other person doubt their memories and their sanity. Many people who utilize gaslighting are narcissists or have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The term comes from the 1944 movie, “Gaslight” starring Ingred Bergman. In this movie, a husband attempts to make his wife believe that she is insane by altering her environment in small ways and then denying anything has changed. He hopes to get her institutionalized to gain her fortune. The title comes from the lights in his house. He lowers them a little bit each day but tells his wife that they are just as bright as always. He tells her that she is crazy and her perceptions are wrong.

This small but persistent pressure making someone doubt what they know to be true will break down anyone’s sense of self and sense of reality. Once we lose this we feel crazy, helpless and many times, depressed.

Patricia Evans describes examples of gaslighting in her book from 1996 entitled “The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond.” In it, she lists the following behaviors:

  • Withholding information from the victim;
  • Countering information to fit the abuser’s perspective;
  • Discounting information;
  • Using verbal abuse, usually in the form of jokes;
  • Blocking and diverting the victim’s attention from outside sources;
  • Trivializing (“minimising”) the victim’s worth; and,
  • Undermining the victim by gradually weakening them and their thought processes.

Elinor Greenberg also describes three common methods of gaslighting in her 2018 book “Are you Being ‘Gaslighted’ By the Narcissist in Your Life?”

  • Hiding. The abuser may hide things from the victim and cover up what they have done. Instead of feeling ashamed, the abuser may convince the victim to doubt their own beliefs about the situation and turn the blame on themselves.
  • Changing. The abuser feels the need to change something about the victim. Whether it be the way the victim dresses or acts, they want the victim to mold into their fantasy. If the victim does not comply, the abuser may convince the victim that he or she is in fact not good enough.
  • Control. The abuser may want to fully control and have power over the victim. In doing so, the abuser will try to seclude them from other friends and family so only they can influence the victim’s thoughts and actions. The abuser gets pleasure from knowing the victim is being fully controlled by them.

Counseling can help

For over 20 years, I have helped women break free from manipulative relationships. We can feel so trapped by toxic coaches, bosses, partners and family members. Many times these people appear to be engaging, generous and loving; their toxicity is hidden. The abuse only comes out in private. We feel at fault; we end up feeling crazy.

In therapy you will learn to recognize your own needs and feelings. For some this will be a remembering and for others it will be a discovering that you have feelings and needs. You will see what behaviors are OK and which ones are abusive. You will forgive yourself for your choices and participation. And you will see that you are not crazy. Your inner voice is correct; your compass points to true North; you will find a way forward.

How much does counseling cost?

My fee for individual counseling is $175/50-minute session.

How long will this take?

There is no way for me to answer this question without first meeting you and gaining an understanding of what is happening. I wish I could guarantee that I can fix everything in 8 sessions, but I can’t. I don’t have a magic pill or a new skill that will easily unwind the knots that your manipulator has tied in your life, your mind or your heart. This work involves two steps. The first is to find a way to distance yourself from your abuser – whether that is your coach, your husband, your parent or your boss. The second step is to explore if this is a pattern in your life – do you keep attracting manipulators to you – and if it is a pattern, you will learn how to break it .

Have you helped other women?

Yes, I have worked with women caught up in narcissistic relationships for over 20 years. I have helped to remind them that it is ok to have needs and feelings that are in conflict with those around them. We work to remember that just because someone says the sky is green we don’t have to agree and we don’t have to stay silent. We remember that we have strong legs and we can walk away. We work to remember that he is crazy – not us.

My partner won’t let me come to therapy – what do I do?

Please be brave and call me. We can find a way to meet. I have clients who call me when they are driving to work and clients who sit in their cars at lunch for a video call. I know we can find a way to meet

If you are in urgent need of help, please reach out to Violence Free Colorado. You can find them at or you can call their hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

If you are feeling suicidal you can talk with a counselor right now at the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Please call if you are in need.

Do you offer online therapy?

Yes, I am able to provide both individual and couples counseling using online therapy. It is a wonderful resource for our work as we all shelter at home and are safer at home.

What to do now?

Please contact me for a free consultation so we can talk about what is going on and see if I am a good fit to help. I look forward to hearing from you. Learn more about individual counseling with Ashley.