Dee Gardner, LCSW, LCDC, CSAT, EMDR Psychotherapist

Does your narrative sound anything like

that of Dawn & David’s?

Dawn is in a relationship with David. Their relationship is filled with intense love but also periods of serious contempt. One day, Dawn has hope in the relationship, and the next day this short-lived dream is demolished by something David says or does. She often ponders about how her life can have such polar opposites. ‘How is it possible to love him so much and also hate him with the same intensity?’ she often asks herself.

On one particular evening, Dawn is driving home from work, feeling exhausted. She is excited and looking forward to taking a relaxing shower. She looks forward to telling David about an unbelievable feat she achieved at work.

She successfully takes a shower, but that is the only success she has this night.

While cuddling with David on the couch, every statement she makes is a struggle because he goes on and on about himself, and she feels as though he does not recognize her presence at all. Dawn begins to feel like an armrest. When she is finally able to tell him about the significant thing she achieved at work, he is not impressed. He minimizes her experience by telling her that her achievement is not as special as she is trying to make it seem. She is stunned! ‘How am I in a relationship with this man?’ she asks herself.

This is the constant struggle of being in a relationship with a narcissist. Although Dawn had great expectations, she believes that David ruined her evening. Now, Dawn is angry that he is stealing her moment as she tries to redirect him by pointing it out to him.

She tells him that in a relationship, partners should create time to listen to each other. She also tells him that he should have been thrilled about her achievement and should not have down-played it.

The train just jumped, the tracks folks. Dawn attempted to provide constructive criticism in an effort to get heard and obtain a pat on the back. However, as with narcissists, David reacts defensively and in an unyielding manner. He points out to Dawn that her achievement has flaws and that she should not be satisfied with anything less than perfection.

Dawn is not surprised anymore. She has lived with David acting uncomfortably when life is going smoothly, and he appears unnecessarily thrilled and excited whenever there is a crisis. She has never been able to understand that kind of behavior.

However, Dawn loves him anyway. According to her, David is almost selfless. He clings to her, almost to the point of obsession. He fears to be alone, and she can live with that. His neediness makes her feel secure.

But, with David, everything is just so checkered. He likes to be in control and simply hates being a failure.

One weekend, Dawn wakes up feeling excited and very happy. She thinks to herself ‘this is a great weekend for us to go out and have fun.’ Dawn then remembers that David finds it extremely hard to relax and have fun. This does not surprise her because he sometimes goes into this moderate narcissistic, self-loathing mode that causes her to feel numb, empty, and sad. She has tried all she can to lift his spirit, but the feeling just seems like a permanent part of him. In turn, the ability to lift her own spirit is also futile.

Dawn has trouble explaining how David’s life is starting to affect her own. David never seems fulfilled and he is certainly not one to cheer her on when she needs moral support. Dawn thinks to herself, ‘How can he give moral support to someone else when he feels unfulfilled himself? I need to be there for him, he needs me.’

Nevertheless, she is starting to doubt the relationship and her place in it. Trust is not a part of this relationship. Dawn is not comfortable truly expressing how she feels, and she is never certain about how to respond to him. David uses word salads often. He uses lots of words when talking and never really answers questions directly. He uses the old wall of words strategically. Sometimes even the original topic is forgotten. Dawn has gotten used to the strained state of their relationship, and she is unsure if she should salvage it. Actually, living in a state of uncertainly has become the norm. At this point, she is unsure about everything. Dawn is not crazy, and she is not going insane. She is simply in a relationship with a narcissist.

Sound familiar? You are not crazy either.

There is hope. There is help.

No I won’t. Even if I could, which is highly unlikely, why should I when there is nothing wrong with me. Everything I do is necessary to ensure my survival and my remaining elevated and superior. Just because you and others do not like the way that I behave does not mean that I have to alter what I am. I know however that you love to think that we can be cured of whatever ill it is that we suffer from. You want us to become better and different and naturally if this means we can get you to stay, do what we want and keep providing us with fuel we are content to tell you that we will change. We are experts at adopting false expressions of contrition as well to accompany this empty promise.

This vacant promise actually means

“I will carry on doing what I am doing and nobody will ever stop me.”

Dee Gardner, LCSW, LCDC, CSAT

EMDR Psychotherapist

Gardner Counseling Services

Reference:  H.G. Tudor, Knowing the Narcissist Blog


Narcissists in Therapy

Sam Vaknin, goes into depth on how narcissists behave and react to receiving therapy. A narcissist goes into therapy with the mindset that they already know everything the therapist is about to say to them. They will come in the session already prepared to “woo” the therapist with fancy lingo, and professional terms that would lead someone to believe they’re knowledgeable about the topic at hand. May have thoughts to themself wondering why the therapist would ask certain questions. According to Vaknin, “the general idea is to create the conditions for the True Self to resume its growth: safety, predictability, justice, love and acceptance. To achieve this ambience, the therapist tries to establish a mirroring, re-parenting, and holding environment.” Therapy isn’t meant to be another dreadful appointment, remaining open to the information presented can be the first of many new doors for the journey of life ahead.


Dee Gardner, LCSW, LCDC, CSAT

EMDR Psychotherapist

Gardner Counseling Services


Reference: “Vaknin, Sam Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited.”

Why now?

As a professional, I am regularly asked why a person that was sexually abused or assaulted remain silent for many years.  Many women AND men sometimes never disclose such devastating experience.  The individual with no experience of these types of violations, has NO IDEA of the fear, shame and emotional turmoil these victims face.  The question of ’why did you keep quiet for so long’ actually re-injures the victim.  This is why some victims decide to ‘take it to their grave’.

If you have asked the ‘why now?’ question, ‘what is your hidden statement?’  This sounds like a statement or opinion, disguised as a question.   When an abuse victim (emotional, verbal, sexual, physical, neglect) comes forward and voices their experience(s), intense feelings are automatically triggered in the listener or reader.  As a result, this emotionally triggered listener tend to respond from the ‘triggered, intense’ emotions rather than remaining open-minded and taking a supportive stance.   If the listener is attempting to hide their frustration, disapproval or judgment from the victim, the victim usually intuitively senses this.  Since the victim tend to live in a hyper-alert state, disapproval is easily identified.  This is rings true even if the listener is attempting to provide false empathy and is keeping silent.  Hence, the secrecy of the violation continues. There is a saying ‘We are only as sick as our secrets’.   Rather than adding insult to injury, the victim decides to play it safe with silence.  This is where the brain comes to the rescue.

This is an automatic physical reaction

The brain and body stores and embeds all our experiences.   Information from these experiences surfaces on an ‘as needed’ basis.   We tend to ‘remember’ data when we deem it useful at the moment.  Likened to retrieving a stored file or locating a tool when you need to use it. For example, you may need to use GPS when traveling to an unknown destination. Eventually, you automatically, even instinctively, reach that same destination without having to consciously think about each turn.  Have you ever been somewhere and think to yourself ‘hmmm, something about this place feels familiar’.  Have you ever said ‘you look familiar’ but cannot fully remember all the details about a person.  This is our mind providing only the bits and pieces of memory that it ‘thinks’ we need in order to address the immediate situation.  You see, memories are stored in fragments.

The Brain is trying to help out…

The brain is a powerful mechanism.  There is a special system in the brain that is ONLY concerned about helping the body (mind, thoughts, emotions, physical) survive.  This part of the brain (Amygdala) sends survival signals to the mind and body.  The entire body then goes into a protective state.  This is referred to as the Fight, Flight or Freeze state.  This means that the body immediately prepares to activate one of these three survival strategies.  Fight: blood rushes to the limbs and makes them stronger for fighting.  Have you heard about a petite woman somehow, suddenly gaining the strength to turn over a car to rescue her child following an auto accident?  In the fight state, our heartbeat, temperature and blood pressure increases.  Our breathing becomes fast/shallow and our digestive system releases because we do not need it at that time.  We need our limbs for fighting to survive.

Secondly, our brain may have the body go into a Flight state. The limbs become extremely strong.  I like to compare running in a race verses running from an animal for your life.  When we run from a bear or large vicious dog, we will probably break Olympic speed records, totally effortlessly.  Finally, the brain may send the body into a Freeze state.  This is liken to the opossum that plays dead only to get up and run away when surroundings appear safe.  Many animals instinctively play dead in order to survive.  We humans do this more often than we think.

More examples of Fight, Flight and Freeze states:

Fight: Argue, defend, yell, rationalize, rage, interrupt, violence, verbal put downs, verbal abuse

Flight: Leave, walk out, hang up, change the subject, or give up or leave in order to avoid

Freeze:  Shut down to avoid, withdraw, get quiet, do nothing, give in, placate, or ‘the silent treatment.’

These reactions become habits, embedded inside of us and is habitual.  They will surface on an automatic, as needed basis.

The above survival system in the body and mind can become defective.  This system can overload.  There is a limit as to how much stress and anxiety our system (mind, body) can take.   This is similar to a computer system.  Too much information or viruses can cause a computer to malfunction and sometimes become useless.  Overwhelming experiences and thoughts cause the survival system in the mind and body to become defective.  The Amygdala part of the brain sends messages that an experience needs to be put in perspective.  If a person cannot ‘make sense’ of the experience, the brain may bury the memory in the hippocampus part of the brain until the experience can be mentally and emotionally processed.   To process an experience means talk about it, visualize it, imagine it, or fully emotionally express the experience.  The processing of an experience releases it from your fight, flight, or freeze system.

When an experience (thoughts, reactions, bodily sensations,) is released, the experience is no longer emotionally hurtful, fearful nor overwhelmingly intense.  Another word for release is ‘resolved’ or ‘healed’.  Healing does not mean the memory does not cause sadness or disappointment.  Resolution of an experience means we remember without despair, fear, and hopelessness.  When the experience is recalled mentally or verbally, the fight, flight or freeze system is not activated.

If a person experiences abuse, assault or neglect and is overwhelmed by it, in an effort for survival, the brain will automatically ‘push’ the memory somewhere so that the person and move forward and continue day to day living.  Here in lies the problem.  The experience has not yet been resolved, it has only been pushed aside and buried alive.  If an experience is buried alive, it then begins to surface or spill over a bit, over and over again throughout the person’s life.  I call it a ‘wounded button’ waiting to be pushed on occasion by new experiences.  I call these new experienes triggers.

Button Pushing Triggers

A person may say or do something that sets off the fight, flight or freeze system in another person or inside themselves.  A person may see something or hear something that also activates this system.  This is a BUTTON that will not simply go away just because it is ignored or denied.  Do you ever wonder why habits are so difficult to change?  Do you find yourself uncontrollably, over reacting, over and over again? There is no way around it.  The healing work ‘must’ be intentionally take place.  This is a psychological, emotional, intellectually, physical and spiritual problem.   You may need to begin this healing process using the skilled guidance of a professional that specializes in your type of problem.  One that provides a comprehensive approach.

Why would a person voluntarily open ‘Pandora’s box’ in the presence of perceived danger? The wounded button gets pressed voluntarily when a person begins discussing and remembering past traumatic experiences.  The pressing of this button causes re-exposure to traumatic mental, physical and emotional symptoms.  Some of these symptoms may include sleep problems, flashback memories, intrusive thoughts about the event that one cannot control, panic attacks, fast shallow breathing, increased heartbeat, restlessness, agitation, over reacting, fear, poor concentration, difficulty focusing and more. . Traumatic experiences and abuse can cause the survival system to malfunction.  As a result, a safe experience can be viewed as unsafe.  A loving person may be viewed as unloving.  A helpful person may be interpreted as unhelpful.  The person develops a worldview through trauma lenses.  The victim is always hyper-vigilant and often struggle with trusting the motives of others.  Their thought process does not always accurately interpret the current actions or words of others.  The abuse victim learns to distrust their own reality.  They second guess themselves and others.  They question where they know what actions to take. They become restless, irritable and discontent.

Why now?  I ask, why not now?


Dee Gardner, LCSW, LCDC, CSAT

EMDR Psychotherapist

Gardner Counseling Services

The Courage to Change

I needed my husband to get sober so that we could live happily ever after, because I couldn’t face the ugly disease that overshadowed every aspect of our relationship, and I couldn’t face the emptiness I felt in my own life. It was so much nicer to think about a future of bliss, if only he’d change.

In Al-Anon I had to unlearn a lot of romantic nonsense in order to find a satisfying life int eh here and now. When my husband and I separated, my fantasies crashed, but with the support of the program, I learned to look to myself for happiness and to my own real life for enrichment. Two years later, when my husband and I reunited, I had to unlearn a new illusion, this time about recovery. My idea of health was now based on living alone. I had to learn to find a balance between taking care of myself and being there for my partner; I had to learn to love again.

Author Unknown

Reality is our Guide

Sometimes past abusive experiences cause us to avoid the reality of the present.  We make excuses and continue to nourish the fantasy.   Deep down, that wise person knows exactly what to do.   This quote says it all.

“When you know the truth in your heart of hearts, stop playing games with life. You will not survive the illusion.” – Amrit Desai

A Trauma Bond is formed when two people are connected so tightly that remaining in a destructive relationship is easier than ending it.  These may include romantic relationships, family relationships, work relationships, or friendships.  Those experiencing trauma bonds often may live in an on/off relationship, regularly.  If the relationship ends, the person may experience the same trauma bond, self sabotaging behaviors within the next relationship  with no relief in sight.  The rational part of the mind knows that ending the relationship is probably the safest, most wisest action to take.

Trauma Bonded relationships often result in catastrophic consequences such as loss of jobs, neglect of family, extreme violation of personal values, rage,  confusion, never-ending stress, health problems, extreme emotional problems such as being very happy and hopeful followed by repeated disappointments.  A lack of sleep, trust, security, and peace causes the trauma bonded person to do ‘anything’ to end this craziness.

A Trauma Bond is also a Biological Condition

Are you fluctuating between being aware of the right thing to do but having difficulty taking action.  This may due to the Amygdala part of your brain.  This part of the brain battles with the logical part of the brain (frontal cortex) and is much stronger.  The Amygdala is the survival part of the he brain and signals danger if a major relationship changes.  The body reacts in a panic when the ‘thought’ of ending the relationship surfaces because the brain has adapted to these repeated patterns that have become ‘normal.’   The amygdala part of the brain wants to do ‘anything’ to stop the pain.  Relief is sometimes in the form of harm to self or others (the other woman/man, the family member).

If you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing a trauma bond, know that help is available.  Professional guidance can help break these self-destructive bonds once and for all.  Keep in mind, breaking a Trauma Bond does not always result in separation from the other person.  It involves detaching from the painful, recurrent patterns.

Do you think it is really possible to break trauma bonds once and for all?

My workshops, “Breaking Trauma Bonds, Parts 1 and 2” is designed to introduce you to methods that begin to break trauma bonds once and for all.  I am located in the Montrose, Katy, and Central (Northwest) areas of Houston, TX.  Check out my website Weekly, affordable groups are also available.

Do you know that destructive and addiction type behaviors (compulsive) are the result of seeking relief from endorphin withdrawal? 

When a person engages in substance abuse, excessive  gambling, inappropriate sex, destructive relationships  internet abuse, or other compulsive behaviors, an excessive amount of endorphins are released throughout the body.  This creates a feeling of well-being, ‘high’,  and also provides a numbing effect.  Both good and bad feelings are numbed.  Endorphins not only numb emotions, physical pain is also being numbed.  This puts individuals at risk for addiction-type behaviors or other intense, destructive patterns.  Do you feel addicted to a person?  When the highly emotionally charged experience stops, endorphin withdrawal kicks in, emotions plummet, painful memories surface, and physical pain may manifest.  Relief (more endorphins) is sought in the one method the sufferer knows, addiction or self-destructive, intense, behaviors.   This cycle inhibits the body’s natural ability to produce ‘feel good’ chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.  As a result, the very thing contributing to frustration, relationship stress, depression, uncontrollable anger, financial problems, divorce, job problems, legal problems, poor choices, loneliness, and other stressful problems is sought to provide relief.  There is hope for stopping this vicious cycle once and for all. 

Abstinence from the behavior is not enough.  A lifestyle change is essential.  Positive friends, hobbies, activities, and a healthy diet increase endorphins and serotonin.  Reading positive material and developing a spiritual foundation creates a feeling of fulfillment and happiness.  This in turn, significantly reduces the chance of returning to addictive or compulsive behaviors for relief. 

So remember, take care of yourself, eat healthy, pray, meditate, and socialize with positive individuals.  You will find yourself experiencing a level of joy, peace, happiness, and fulfillment that you may not have imagined possible.