When the Narcissist Fools the Counselor

A few years ago, I was a member of a counseling association for Christian therapists and pastors. This association supported its members with continuing education, scholarly research and ethical guidelines for good practice. I went to a few of the national events and conferences and usually left smarter and more motivated.

One year, however, I got a flyer for an upcoming conference with the name of a plenary speaker from my area. He was wildly popular, and had written many books. Though this talented speaker had a large following, I knew a different side of him. A side of him only seen behind closed doors. I had worked with people who knew him to  be manipulative, abrasive and famously controlling. My clients and colleagues described him as someone who created a climate of fear through verbal abuse, arrogant bullying, and narcissistic control. I would think, “Note to self, avoid this bozo at all costs!”

So, when I saw his name and face on the pamphlet as a plenary speaker for my beloved Christian counseling organization, I was shocked. How could a counseling organization promote him? How could they invite a wolf into the sheep fold? Why couldn’t they see past his polished persona and see the wake of relational wreckage he left trailing behind him? I trusted this organization, and was baffled by their decision to invite him to speak at their conference. I thought to myself, “out of all the people in the Christian community, it should be the counselors who can see through narcissism. It should be the counselors who recognize abusers when we see them. Why are they drinking his kool-aid?”

confused me

I was prompted to write them a letter expressing my concern, but talked myself out of it. I thought to myself, “why would they listen to me? I’m a no-name,” and “if that’s the direction they are going, then good riddance to bad rubbish!” I’m sorry I talked myself out of it. Neither was a healthy or loving way to respond. Instead of communicating my concern, I just didn’t renew my membership that year. Kind of passive- aggressive, I know.

amy's coffee

I should have written that letter, if only for the bragging rights of later being able to say, “I told you so!” Because, about a year later that popular speaker was sent packing and was relieved from his position. He was also found to have participated in plagiarism and unethical use of donated funds. The victims of his financial and spiritual abuse came out publicly about their experiences, and the guy lost all credibility.

Why is this important to you? Well, if you’re living with a Narcissist, and you feel like you’re going crazy, and even the marriage counselor doesn’t see why you’re so upset- I get it. If your narcissist looks great from the outside- good dad, good Christian, good provider, good guy- then you may think no one will believe the pain you experience behind closed doors. Unfortunately well-meaning Christians, pastors, counselors, even whole organizations, can get hood-winkled, Bamboozled, and Cully-gulled by all the charming flim-flam.

oh brother doggy

Narcissistic people can be very convincing when they want something. They can shine the light on their good side so brightly, that it blinds everyone from seeing their bad side. When this happens, the spouse of the narcissist ends up feeling worse than before. The spouse may say, “I finally got him/her to go to counseling, and now he/she got the counselor to side against me. No one sees how she/he really is at home!”

What to do if Your Counselor or Pastor is Fooled:

Don’t chicken out like I did. Be brave and say what you need to say. It’s important for you to do the following:

  1. Address this trickery during your counseling session. The counselor cannot know what they do not know, so it is up to you address your frustrations. 
  2. Don’t wait for the pastor or counselor to rescue you, side with you, or confront your partner. Only you can do your work.
  3. Bring specific actions that you consider to be hostile, controlling, abusive, mean spirited, badgering or manipulative to the session, and talk about them with the counselor. Point out the kind of behavior that is unacceptable to you.
  4. Be honest about what is happening at home, and how you want help confronting these unacceptable behaviors.  

No, your narcissist will not like this, and may deny, cast blame or even retaliate. However, it is important for you to shed light on your relationship and get the support from professionals that seek to live in that light. If the counselor is still hesitant to recognize the destructiveness present in the marriage, then it may be time to find a new counselor. I would recommend a counselor who has experience treating issues related to domestic violence, co-dependence, and narcissism.


13 responses to “When the Narcissist Fools the Counselor”

  1. Marilyn miller says:

    Wonderful article. My father in law was a perfect example of this. In counseling made my mother in law look like she was nuts.

    • Michelle Hollomon says:

      This happens more often than we know. The saddest thing about this, is that the victim usually gets more and more depressed, feels more and more isolated, and believes she is ultimately alone. Sometimes, the Narcissist will even gas-light the spouse into thinking she is actually crazy. It’s psychologically abusive, and can be very scary for the victim. THank you for your important comment, Marilyn! I know it is helping someone out there.

    • Michelle Hollomon says:

      No Bueno! Narcissism affects us all- I think we all can point to someone in our family circle who has used these tactics to hurt people.

  2. Shannon McManus says:

    Great article. I fortunately have a great Christian counselor that has helped me not to repeat those relationships.

  3. Mom of 8 says:

    My husband accuses me of being a narcissist. And he tells the counselor (we’ve been through three now) that I am lying whenever my account differs from his. But since none of our friends, church family, even children, agree with him, he feels that bolsters his claim because I’m so good at hiding it. And then he quits seeing the counselor when things get hot in his corner. It’s a Catch-22, but I trust my God to sort things out.

    • Michelle Hollomon says:

      This is such a difficult place to be, Mom of 8. I think the hope/disappointment cycle is one of the most painful that one experiences when married to a Narcissist. Just when you think that counseling may help, you can be so disappointed when it all comes crashing down. You are right, that God sees, and God knows the truth. Sometimes we can be blinded, but God know the pain. Bringing up boundaries during the counseling session is a way to address acceptable behavior in the safety of the office of a skilled counselor. Saying something like, “Calling me a liar is no longer acceptable,” or “Lying about me in the counseling session is no longer acceptable.”

    • Michelle Hollomon says:

      Yes, this is an accurate observation of the narcissistic pattern. Projection, deception, and dropping out of counseling. I know God is showing you, and will continue to show you the right steps to take.

  4. Dana says:

    Wow this exact thing happened to me. I finally left that counselor and found a new one who told me about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It was so regretting have someone believe me and tell me I wasn’t crazy!

    • Michelle Hollomon says:

      Thank you for your comment, Dana. Isn’t it a wonderful feeling, finally being heard and affirmed. I think this is the essential work of the Holy Spirit- to shed light on truth and cause healing and freedom.

    • Michelle Hollomon says:

      No, you’re not crazy! 🙂

  5. Thanks for this wisdom, Michelle. Your posts are always enlightening and helpful. I would love to read one on how to deal with the fallout once the narcissist does “deny, cast blame or even retaliate,” especially the latter.

    • Michelle Hollomon says:

      Thank you for your comment Jeanette- I think this is a great idea to start writing on. Setting our boundaries is an essential step, but only the first step a succession of important steps. I’ll be addressing those this week! Thanks again!

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