Do you think your partner is narcissistic?

If so, chances are that your partner is male! And that you are extremely frustrated and unhappy!

In my experience of counselling couples, in many of my couples who report having tempestuous and high conflict relationships, one partner accuses the other of being narcissistic.

Why? Because the partner is accused on showing zero empathy, only considers their own needs and demonstrates a strong sense of entitlement without considering their partner’s feelings or needs.

Recent research which as involved a meta-analysis of 31 years of research on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder reports that they have found significant differences between males and females in this regard (across all age groups and multiple generations). Men have been found consistently to have higher incidences of narcissism and a sense of entitlement. This is bad news for the women who are in relationships with these men unfortunately!

Narcissistic personalities tend to be high in self-esteem (they tend to believe that they are perfect and do not need to change in any way), lack empathy for their partners (and anyone else) and are prone to unethical behaviour and to high levels of aggression. This combination of traits very rarely leads to happy relationships!

Narcissistic personalities rarely do well in couple counselling as these individuals invariably want to call the shots and want it all their own way. They tend to be unable, or unwilling, to see things from their partner’s point of view.

So is there any hope for partners who are involved in a relationship with someone who is a narcissist? Of course it depends on a number of factors such as the personality of the partner and whether or not they are prepared to adjust their expectations, their own attitude and their behaviour to accommodate their mate’s personality style. In my experience, someone with a dependent personality style is most likely to be prepared to accept a partner’s narcissism because they have low levels of self-esteem and a high need to be in a relationship.

More often than not, though, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder tend to develop a history of short, unstable relationships. They are also bad news as parents.

So the moral of this story is: Don’t be blinded by a date’s good looks and his charm (narcissists can be really charming)! Look beyond this to the other relationships he has and has had in his life!


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Couples: Does your partner sometimes drive you crazy?

With some behaviour that you can’t stand?

How likely is it that he/she will change?


Unhappy couples who see me for relationship counselling usually complain at length about their partner’s problematic behaviour.

Often, though, their partner is not convinced that their behaviour is a problem and hence they are unwilling to do the work required to bring about behaviour change.

How can we assess our partner’s readiness for change?

Ellen Bader, an international trainer of therapists in the specialist field  of couple counselling, has come up with an interesting way to determine a partner’s motivation for change. See the video at

As Ellen discusses in her video, motivation is a complex issue and involves a number of components namely desire for change, evaluation of the likelihood of success divided by the degree of unwanted effort required as well as the degree of emotional risk.

It is important for the partner who is initiating the request for change to occur in their spouse to be open to their own emotional underpinnings for wanting the change to occur. The partner should also be encouraging and provide positive reinforcement in the form of acknowledgement and praise for signs of positive change.

I would welcome your comments on this model once you have given it a try!



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Perfectionism: Are you the perfect perfectionist?

And is it working for you?

Perfectionists are invariably high achievers as they are usually single-minded in their determination to be the best at everything they undertake. Perfectionists are highly motivated and goal directed and usually do well at work as a result. For this reason, society and bosses, value perfectionists.

So why can perfectionism become a problem?

Perfectionists tend to see things in terms of black and white – only 100% (or even 110%) is seen as good enough. Small mistakes are often catastrophised as failure. Perfectionists tend to drive themselves ruthlessly, often resulting in burnout and health problems, such as high blood pressure and cardiac problems.

Individuals prone to perfectionistic thinking also suffer from high levels of anxiety and depression. They tend to worry excessively about making mistakes – being five minutes late for work can be viewed as a major disaster!

For this reason perfectionists often consider psychotherapy to help them to overcome and manage their symptoms and to make desired  changes to their lifestyle so they are able to feel less burned out and exhausted.

Why is perfectionism such a hard nut to crack when there are such obvious benefits to moderating this behaviour pattern?

Perfectionists try hard to achieve in everything they set out to do – however, trying hard to become less of a perfectionist creates a paradox – a bit like trying hard to sleep or to relax! I point out to my perfectionist clients that, if they are convinced that curbing their perfectionistic tendencies will lead to greater happiness that they will need to learn the cognitive skills that will allow them to revise their all-or-nothing thinking and to control and calm their minds. Useful approaches in this regard include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), relaxation and mindfulness training.

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Can we ever hope to be truly and permanently happy?

In life, is the attainment of personal happiness an achievable goal?

In my psychology practice, when I ask clients what their goals are for the New Year, many say that they “just want to be happy”.

This is, of course, quite a natural and normal aspiration, and one with which most of us can identify. It seems such a simple and straightforward hope – yet when one explores it in more depth it turns out to be a lot more complicated as it tends to opens up an existential can of worms!

Questions that come up are: What is happiness and what makes me happy?  When last was I really happy and why is it so difficult to hold on to happiness? Isn’t wanting to be happy quite a selfish goal? Are other people happy and if so, how do they do it?

Happiness is a feeling consisting of positive emotions and often accompanied by a sense of well-being. It is based on a personal judgement about life. If you were to ask yourself to rate your happiness in this moment on a scale from zero to ten, with ten being absolute happiness, where would you rate yourself and why? How do you think you will rate in five years’ time?

There are many benefits to being a generally happy type of person. Research has found that happy and optimistic people tend to be healthier. Happiness and low levels of stress are good for the immune system. Happy people even appear to be luckier and more fortunate in life, largely because they tend to take up opportunities when they present themselves. They do well because they expect to do well (and of course the converse is also the case due to the nature of self-fulfilling prophecy.


Why is happiness as a permanent state of mind to hard to achieve and is being happy always a good thing?

These two questions will be explored in future posts.





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Do you have mental health goals for 2015?

When considering New Year’s resolutions, most people think about their physical health or career goals. I contend though that without sound mental health it will be very difficult to achieve one’s other goals!

I therefore suggest that you consider your mental health for a moment….

If you had to rate your current happiness and contentment with life on a ten point scale, with ten being total contentment, where would you place yourself at the moment? Perhaps for a moment you could think about why you have placed yourself where you have on this scale. Some interesting, and revealing questions that you may pose to yourself might include the following existential questions:

What makes me happy in life? What matters most to me and what do I want to achieve in the areas that count, such as in my relationships and my quality of life? What stands in my way of making the necessary changes so that I can live a truly authentic life? (Here I am referring mainly to internal, psychological barriers, such as depression, anxiety and procrastination).

Often, as you know,  we tend to spend our time grappling with immediate concerns and short-term deadlines, with the result that these important questions often get ignored until some huge crisis such a death or a divorce forces a reappraisal of one’s life. I suggest that it is a good idea to do some psychological housekeeping on a regular basis in order to make sure that you have the psychological resources and resilience to tackle all the challenges that will come your way in 2015.


In my next post I will expand further on this topic!



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Do you plan to be healthier and happier in 2015?

Give yourself a sporting chance of keeping those important New Year’s resolutions!

How recent findings from psychology can inform our efforts when it comes to goal-setting and successful behaviour change.


A recent article in Time magazine outlines the steps that each of us should take when we are considering a health-related behaviour goal for 2015, such as becoming fitter, eating more healthily or giving up smoking. This behaviour change process is based on psychological research findings.


First, it is advised that you start immediately as the start of a New Year provides us with a boost of optimism and a sense of renewal. Tomorrow would be an ideal day as research indicates that this is the most popular day of the week to initiate a behaviour change initiate such as starting with a new eating or exercise plan.


Second, work out a detailed plan. You are much more likely to be successful if you have made a detailed plan (written down), with short, medium and long-term goals listed as well as (realistic) time frames.


One shouldn’t, however, have a back-up plan! It appears that the existence of a back-up plan signals to our unconscious that failure is an option, which weakens one’s resolve!


Then in order to really commit to the goal you could promise to donate a certain amount of money to a worthy cause! And tell someone else about your plan. Social support is invaluable and also it is more difficult to relapse without losing face!


And finally – conserve your willpower for the really important behaviour changes! Research findings indicate that our willpower is a finite resource – only a certain amount is available at any one time, so if we resist temptation in once area it is very hard to marshal the necessary willpower for something else.


It is therefore advisably not to try to change too many things in one’s life at one time!


Best wishes to everyone who is going for a healthier and happier 2015!





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When it comes to anxiety, stress and depression: Are you unwittingly making things worse?

Our thinking patterns are crucial in determining how we feel!

In my psychology practice, anxiety, depression and stress are the three major problems that cause many of my clients acute distress so I am always interested to read about research in these areas.

A recent article in Psyblog mentioned three behavioural styles that are common in individuals who suffer from depression. These include rumination (preoccupation with cycles of negative throughts), a lack of adaptive coping ( failing to seek support and also not using positive approaches such as exercising and seeking out positive experiences) and self-blame.

On the subject of stress – a large proportion of the stress we experience is as a result of daily hassles – recurrent, annoying things that happen on a daily basis such as hold-ups in the traffic, appliance malfunctions and call-centre queries. Our stress levels are dependent on the way in which we interpret and respond to these stressors and our health is directly affected by our characteristic way of responding to these hassles.

The postive implication of this research is, of course, that it is possible to alter these patterns of behaviour. This is frequently the focus of my counselling and psychotherapy with my clients.


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Do you expect too much (or too little) in life? Don’t underestimate the importance of your expectations!

Time and time again in my psychology practice I am told by my clients that one of the most useful things they have got out of coming for psychotherapy or counselling is my highlighting the role that our expectations play in our lives.

Why are our expectations so important?

I have found that faulty and unrealistic expectations underlie many of the issues that bring clients into therapy. Anger, frustration, depression and anxiety often a result of expectations that are out of sync with reality. For example, clients with anger and frustration problems will invariably think  ” X should or shouldn’t act in a certain way” or in the case of road rage “that type of behaviour should not be allowed on the road” If you commonly use the words “Should”, “must”, “always” and “never” in your internal dialogue this is a sign that you are setting yourself up for frustration and anger, which is of course ultimately self-defeating and also potentially damaging to your health in the long-term!

Anxiety, on the other hand, is caused when we predict some dire event occuring at some time in the future – the “what …if” scenarios. When we get depressed we expect that nothing is going to improve and that we will always feel the same way as we do in the moment, which is, of course, also highly unlikely and unrealistic.

And then there are the cases of self-fulfilling prophecies when we predict some dire outcome and then unconsciously act in a way that brings these into being!

As most of the expectations that we harbour operate on a totally unconscious level, these tend to influence our behaviour and our moods largely outside our awareness. This dynamic forms the basis of cognitive-behavoural therapy, or CBT, which has been found to be extremely effective in enabling individuals to improve their moods and thus also their general wellbeing.

So I suggest that you do some self-reflection – get in touch with your expectations and think about how they influence your life and your relationships!



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Couples take note! If you want to tie the knot…

There are certain things that predict a long and happy marriage.

Recent research cited in a blog post in Psyblog has identified four factors that are associated with long and happy marriages.

These are:

1. Fewer sexual partners before marriage, especially for women. Why? It is suggested that the more sexual experience one has, the greater one’s awareness of potentially greener pastures out there!

2. Committing to marriage before moving in together. This prevents “sliding” through relationship transitions without conscious decision and without ritual. Sliding can be dangerous to relationships as it tends to erode commitment.

3. Invite more than 150 guests to your wedding. This may prove expensive, but research findings indicate that big weddings tend to be associated with happier marriages on the long-term!

4. Waiting until after marriage to have children.

The research cited in this article states that only 3% of college educated couples who had children before marriage went on to have a good marriage!


I don’t know about you, but I found these findings to be thought-provoking and potentially really important for prospective spouses!



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Couples: Beware of Self-diagnosis in your Relationship!

When individuals and couples come to see me for counselling, they often already have a come up with a label to explain their problem. Sometimes it’s a diagnosis in respect of their partner, for example “I think our problems in our relationship are the result of his/her narcissistic personality disorder”.

Diagnosing one’s own ailments with the aid of the internet is always a risky undertaking, especially when it comes to mental health. However, in the realm of relationships it is even more problematic for a number of reasons.

A diagnosis inevitably relates to an individual only. You or your partner are regarded as “The Problem” because one of you is judged to has a “Disorder”. This puts the “blame” for the couple’s problems squarely in the lap of one of the spouses. The other one often feels that they are not implicated to any degree and are thus completely off the hook in terms of their responsibility to try to work at improving their relationship.

In this type of scenario, often the spouse who is given the disorder “label” comes to therapy alone, stating that if they were to be able to “fix” themselves, that the relationship problems would be solved.  Often, however, the main problem resides in the relationship itself, in the dynamics between the couple – their “relationship dance”, communication patterns and the way in which conflict is resolved.


In my opinion, a great opportunity is lost if an unhappy couple do not opt for couple counselling as a starting point, especially if their individual problems arise principally in their relationship with their significant other.


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