Modern Family Matters

What Is a Narcissist, and How Can You Break Ties with One?

February 15, 2024 with Shannon Petrovich Season 1 Episode 127
Modern Family Matters
What Is a Narcissist, and How Can You Break Ties with One?
Show Notes Transcript

Join us as we sit down with Therapist, Shannon Petrovich, to discuss what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is, and how you can break emotional ties with a narcissist when you're in an unhealthy romantic relationship.

If you would like to speak with one of our attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at

To learn more about Shannon can help you, you can visit her website:

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

Steve Altishin  0:32  
Everyone, I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships here at Pacific Cascade Legal. And today we have therapist, Shannon Petrovich, to talk about what is a narcissist and how you can exit one in a relationship. So Shannon, how're you doing today? 

Shannon Petrovich  0:48  
Doing great. How about you, Steve? 

Steve Altishin  0:49  
I'm doing well, we got Oregon rain gone. Nothing better. Let's see if we can talk to you about your background and kind of what you do. 

Shannon Petrovich  1:01  
I've been a therapist for about 35 years. And then about five years ago, I decided I wanted to have a broader reach. And I started a YouTube channel therapists talks Thrive beyond narcissism. And it really began to focus really on toxic relationships. And then a couple of years ago, I thought, Gosh, I need to pull this all together into a framework that can help people and that I wrote a book called out of the fog into the clear journaling to help you heal from toxic relationships. And then just recently, I started a masterclass video series and coaching program. So that's kind of my new focus.

Steve Altishin  1:43  
I love it, you're perfect for this. Because, you know, in divorce, we get a lot of cases, and it is not uncommon for one spouse to just declare that the other spouse is a narcissist. And, you know, half the time, both insists that each other are narcissists. So it kind of leads to the first sort of obvious question, I guess, you know, what, actually, is a narcissist.

Shannon Petrovich  2:10  
Very good question. And it has really become weaponized and being used in all the wrong ways. And truly, there are nine traits of a narcissist. And in order to get the diagnosis, you have to have five of those nine, but it's in a really serious, significant way, so that it actually impacts your job, your life, your ability to have relationships. So the actual narcissistic personality disorder is a very small portion of the population. But narcissistic traits, unfortunately, are kind of rampant in our culture today. And part of that is how people are being in a way brainwashed into thinking that our sense of self revolves around really superficial things like appearance, and those really external things, our appearance, our bank account, our our status, if you will, instead of more old school, around character qualities, so we can talk about that. But there is a lot in our culture that kind of promotes narcissistic traits. And that's why we tend to label people that but the real nine traits are, and this is a really cool acronym that I just found recently. It's called Special ni, which is a perfect acronym for a narcissist, right? So the first trait is sense of self importance. So when you're around a narcissist, they only talk about themselves, they're not really interested in other people. The second is preoccupation with power, beauty or success. So you'll notice that all conversations revolve around that, and in the positive and negative, so when they're talking about other people, and so always how they're not beautiful, and they're not powerful. And that's why we don't think well of them instead of focusing on real qualities. Number three, is that they are entitled, and the entitlement means that they feel like they ought to matter. Their thoughts, feelings, wants and needs should matter and yours shouldn't. And this is also where they get a sense of blaming everybody else for what they do. Number four is they can only be around people who are important or special. So sometimes that comes out as it's really gaslighting kind of a thing where in the love bombing stage of a relationship, they're like, you're so special, you're the only person on the planet that gets me and you know, you and me against the world, baby, we got this and so that's sort of that initial love bombing. That is followed up by devaluing number five is they're interpersonally exploitative for their own gain. And that's kind of self explanatory. They really are in everything just for themselves. And so even though initially in a relationship, somebody might feel love bombed. There's never any actual love coming back and forth. Number six is arrogant. Number seven is lack of empathy. And a lack of empathy really set somebody up for being a really crummy partner. I'd also really crummy parent. And you know, if we think about parenting, it's all extremely altruistic, and extremely empathic. So narcissists, who really have these traits tend to be very difficult to be around because they just completely lack any empathy. And eight is they must be admired. They're like a hot air balloon where you have to constantly puff them up. Or they kind of implode and then explode. And number nine is they're envious of others, and they believe that others are envious of them.

Steve Altishin  5:53  
Oh, this is so, I mean, as you go through all these, I'm thinking, Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It's, you know, everyone has a bunch of friends who have been in divorces, and they've talked about it in these points, some of them definitely hit these points a lot more than others. And you're kind of like, okay, well, you know, now I know why you got divorced. But that kind of leads to the next question which is, with narcissism, how does that sort of portray itself and act out in a relationship?

Shannon Petrovich  6:27  
It's ugly, you know, and initially, that love bombing, and mirroring and all of that gooey, gooey initial coming in hot firing up that relationship. And the beginning feels so good that a person who doesn't get narcissism and doesn't see it for what it is, gets hooked. And so when you've been hooked, it's very hard to get free of it. And then they've got like a whole smorgasbord of games they use to keep you hooked. So as soon as you start to kind of get a clue and want to separate, then they reel you in again, with some love bombing. And then you start to get too comfortable, then they devalue you and put you down and isolate you from others that you care about, so that you don't get any sense of reality testing from your people. And then they gaslight you making you feel like you're the crazy one, and you're the one that's the problem in this relationship, and everybody else thinks so. So they pull in other people. So all these manipulations are for the purpose of them not having to feel empty, or less than or whatever. But they act out constantly, they lie constantly. So if you're an empathic, honest, caring person, this is like you've landed on Mars, and you're talking to Martians, you, you, you want to think that they're like you, but they're not. And that's the really important piece that I always start with. And helping person get that this person doesn't, doesn't come from the same place you're coming from, they're not wired the same way. You have to assume that everything they're saying is a lie, because that's where they're coming from, you have to assume that they're going to be hurtful, vengeful, because they lack empathy. So it's really hard. But once you see it, you can't unsee it so when usually when that that sort of light dawns then they're good to go.

Steve Altishin  8:27  
It really was interesting when you touched on how they're hiding themselves or other feelings they have. So can a narcissist feel shame, jealousy, things like that? Or is that just something that just doesn't reach their screen?

Shannon Petrovich  8:47  
They do feel those kinds of things, they feel shame. And then what they do with that, you know, we all feel shame, jealousy, sadness, upset anger, all of it. We have you know, mental health is not just only feeling rainbows and sunshine, it's feeling all of your feelings and being able to deal with them productively and non destructively. Your narcissist will feel shame and attack you. So it's your fault. You made me feel this way and now I'm going to blast you or I'm going to implode and I'm going to kill myself or you know, like they're acting out as is them not being able to cope with their feelings. But what they don't really feel is love. So when they say they love you, it's a manipulation and it's a you're doing what I want you to right now and I I love you. So, one of the most painful things in recovering from these types of relationships is the question Did I was I ever loved by this person and I have to say honestly now, you know love is love is patient love is kind love does not boast is doesn't I mean it All the things if you tick through what love is, they are the opposite. And so, you know, they can feign these things a little bit when they're trying to love bomb you. But they never are genuinely loving you. So that's painful. I think it's harder to let go of and grieve the relationship we wished or we thought we had not the real one. 

Steve Altishin  10:22  
Yeah like hope, always that's there and in wanting to be better, and all of that stuff. Plus, it seems like, you know, a lot of us, a lot of people, have some of those traits, sometimes. And so there's, like you said, there's some traits, there's more traits. And that can make it difficult, I would imagine, for someone to kind of decide or understand when it's time to leave a narcissist. And how can someone come to that conclusion or figure that, okay, this is it, it's time?

Shannon Petrovich  10:57  
That's a really important question. And usually when someone is struggling with those decisions, I start with a let's talk about your toxic relationship within your own self. And we've got to heal that and work on that, first and foremost, because if you're telling yourself 40,000 times a day that you're useless and worthless, and not good enough, and all that, you're not going to be able to stand up for yourself with anybody, much less this narcissistic person in your life. So you've got to heal that internal stuff first. And that's really critical, then you need to learn to set boundaries. So in a narcissistic relationship, their thoughts, feelings, wants and needs matter and yours don't. So in this new relationship, you have to show up with your whole self. I think this, I want that I'm interested in this, I feel that. And when you do that, what happens. So sometimes the relationship has been set up in this way, because you've shown up placating and people pleasing and not really fully showing up. And so you have to take ownership of that and fully show up. Well, sometimes a partner will say, hey, awesome, good to see you. Not totally usually, but and then other times you say what you think, feel want and need, and they implode and then explode. And you know what this relationship is really about? You are not allowed to fully exist in that relationship, then you have to get out. 

Steve Altishin  12:28  
It sounds like what you're saying, and it just now snaps and makes sense, is that you're not, I mean, you are I mean, I'm sure there's some like points where the narcissist does that, there's no question mark, go, but,  a lot of it is examining yourself and where you are and if it's itme to go as much as sometimes examining them.

Shannon Petrovich  12:55  
Right. And if there's violence, absolutely get out sorted out later, do your healing later. But sometimes, if you don't do that internal work, you'll leave and then go back because you leave and then you're full, you're empty. You know, if you have focused all of yourself on this other person for however many years, you almost don't know what you think feel want or need. And then you are really at risk of leaving and bouncing right back in. Because you are so hooked on them for your sense of self, your identity, everything else. And you it's almost like heroin, trying to get off of that. That relationship is really hard. As I've seen people kind of bounce back once or twice, and then do the internal work, and then they get free. But like I said, if there's violence, you just have to split and heals as you go.

Steve Altishin  13:55  
Well yeah, I imagine, like you're saying, it's just, it's really difficult. And as you're kind of bringing up, it's not just difficult to leave, it's difficult to stay left.

Shannon Petrovich  14:06  

Steve Altishin  14:08  
That's got to be you know, part of that. So it's like, I'll come in to you. And I'll say, you know, I'm trying, I think that I can't take it anymore. I think this is what's going on. And this is you know, in and what, give me some advice wouldn't How do I you know, how do I break up? What should I do when you want I know I'm ready to break? 

Shannon Petrovich  14:30  
Yeah, really in my style of helping people, I'm constantly asking, What do you think, what do you want? What are your feeling? And what would you say if you weren't afraid of that person? And their response and then start to walk through? Well, what if you said that? Well, I can say that over the phone because then if he does blow a gasket then I'm safe. Okay, cool. So that gives you the ability to see what he's going to do now. See can come back and be mad later. But but that's it's really important that we don't give advice in a sense, because that's just me taking on that role of my thoughts, feelings, wants and needs mattering my opinions mattering and hers not. And, you know, men fall into these relationships too, but primarily it's women. So it's really important to help her see, and start to claim and own her own self, and then express herself and stand up for herself and see what happens in the relationship. And again, if he or she respects that, great. If that just causes more explosion, and more implosion, and more acting out on their part, then you've got that clarity. It's like, oh, cool. And so I teach people also how to emotionally step back and watch the circus go by. So all these different games that the narcissist will play is like a big circus. And if you emotionally step back and recognize it's not about you, it's 100% about them. They do this to everybody in their lives, they do it differently, because different things hook different people, right. But if you emotionally step back and watch it, you can go Oh, wow, look, they did that again. Oh, wow. Now they switched to this, you know, they went from guilt trip to tears to anger, back to guilt trip to gaslighting, like when you step back and watch, you go, wow, then I say Marvel and move on. Like, you can just literally Marvel and go, Wow, that's amazing. And then move on.

Steve Altishin  16:39  
It sounds like the help they're getting includes understanding, it's like you said, step back. And look, it's when you finally look from a different set of eyes kind of thing, almost that you can see it because otherwise, it seems like it's just going to be, well, I don't know what to do. I don't I don't have a plan. And I don't, I don't know where to start kind of stuff.

Shannon Petrovich  17:04  
Right. And people can be lost in that fog for a long time. But usually there are breaks in it, where they see the truth. And then I also teach people to really recognize that there are different parts of your brain at work. So the survival and emotional systems are just on fire all the time, when you're in a chronically stressful relationship. Even if there's not physical violence, it's emotional aggression. And that puts us in that fight flight or freeze mode, and we get stuck there are literally on that survival. Adrenaline constantly, then we've got cortisol build up, then we're exhausted, frustrated, and we can't think straight. And that's true. Because when you're in survival mode, your rational mind goes offline. Because you don't need it, you know, if you were just getting chased down the street by a cheetah, you wouldn't need your rational mind, you just gotta go. And so your rational mind goes offline that it's we're created that way. But if you live there, that's horrible, because you don't have access to that rational mind. So you've got to work on calming down those emotional and survival systems so that you can take everything upstairs and and logically think it through. And once you've done that, make a decision from your rational mind perspective. And then you've got to drag the emotional mind along because it's not going to want to go. But you have to make good decisions, and then walk through the process without letting that emotional mind takeover. 

Steve Altishin  18:40  
Right, you hear a lot, and a lot of people advise, and maybe it's great in cases that you don't communicate with them, you don't get back into that cycle of being talking with them. And but we have a large majority of our clients who have to continue to communicate because they have a kid. And so what can that kind of person? Do? I mean, it first of all, maybe just what to expect going forward from them? And how do I still be able to function as a co parent, but not get drawn back into that?

Shannon Petrovich  19:21  
Yeah, that's a critical thing, because so many people have to be in relationship with that person, the next 18 years, or maybe, you know, in a sense forever. Yeah. So again, you have to learn to emotionally step back. And then I like to my did a video called The journalist method, because you know, a lot of people talk about the gray rock. Well, you're not a rock and you're not a grey rock. So I don't like that. The journalists method is if you imagine Christiane Amanpour, she's in the war zone. She's interviewing some terrorist and she's like, and she just stays focus unflappable, have completely in her journalist mode, then she, you know, she might fall apart, but it's never on camera. Right? So she and you know, the bombs might be going off. She's just they're doing her job, which is super cool. So if you think about that you go in, you exchange the kids. And that's it. You're unflappable. You don't take anything they do personally, it's not about you. You watch the circus go by, and then you get out if you fall apart later. Cool, but don't do it in front of the cameras, and not in front of the kids and not in front of the narcissist because they it's like chumming the water around sharks, it's this not a good idea. You know, a narcissist is very shark. Like, if you cheat on the water, they just get really animated, and they come after you. So you want to make sure that you are unflappable near the journalist, get it out, get on your way.

Steve Altishin  20:56  
I love that concept. Because, you know, again, we see where someone gets pulled into arguing. And they get kind of caught up in that fight. And then it gets worse and worse and worse. And you're almost treating it like a business. Yeah, no, it's just very this, this, this and that. I really liked that. So how How can folks prevent themselves having this happen again, is there a sort of a method they can start to go through or changing other things themselves, you've talked about love. So that's just okay, this narcissist is gone. But end up falling in the same trap with another one down the line. 

Shannon Petrovich  21:38  
Exactly. And unfortunately, that's what we see a lot. And that's part of also why I've created this coaching program to help people really do the internal work really do it now for good. So that this is the last time they fall under that spell and fall into that kind of trap. And that kind of relationship, because unfortunately, these people are really good at it. At the far extreme, you can think of Ted Bundy, and how perfect he was at it, and how many people got sucked in. So it's a really important thing that you do that internal work, and become so solid within yourself, and so clear. And so boundaried that when you go into a new relationship, you've got your whole self on board. And when you take space, and you say, Yeah, I'd love to hang out, but I won't be able to this week, I've got a lot going on. And then if they kind of give you a little pouty thing, or they blow up you go, Huh, okay, bye, bye. You know, it's like, and then if you say, Yeah, I feel this way, or I feel that way, and they just count you. Or if they're like, coming in so hot that you know that it's not genuine. Like, you'll have the self esteem and the self awareness to step back and go, yeah, no. But if you don't do that work, you more than likely will keep drawing into that same type of person. 

Steve Altishin  23:07  
Oh yeah. And in that kind of leads to the fact we know, you need a support group sometimes. And like, and someone like you that this doesn't end, when the relationship stops, your type of help, can can be, you know, valuable as or more going on and continuing so people should continue kind of maybe having at least some sort of a support group. 

Shannon Petrovich  23:38  
Yeah, absolutely. The specific coaching program I'm doing is after it's done, you know, the, the I did a recent video, and a lot of women are chiming in on it about, you know, the narcissist is gone, but I still feel awful. And that's the truth of it. Because these emotional Survival Systems are just on fire all the time. You're still not kind of feeling whole again. And you've lost yourself in this person for however many years you've been with them. So how do you reclaim How do you rebuild? How do you really rebuild your whole life? 

Steve Altishin  24:15  
Yeah yeah. Wow, we have blown through almost 30 minutes. This is wonderful. Before we go, before we go, I'm gonna ask you if there's something we didn't talk about, or there's some little piece of advice, or you know, if you don't do anything else, do this kind of a thing you like to add? 

Shannon Petrovich  24:36  
Oh boy, we covered a lot. I'm really listening to and finding your and healing your toxic relationship with yourself. Learning how to speak up for yourself setting boundaries, and really learning to emotionally step back and watch the circus.

Steve Altishin  24:53  
I love that step back part. I mean, it's why the dog I mean, that's that it's that sort of thing. Suddenly you're seeing differently. I love that. Oh, totally. So if someone would like to contact you, how can they do that? Tell us how we can get a hold of you if we need to. 

Shannon Petrovich  25:09  
Yeah, my new site is heal from And you'll see more information and free training video that's about 20 minutes long, where I talk more in depth about these same issues. And then if you want to schedule a call with me, you can jump into my schedule at the end of that.

Steve Altishin  25:32  
I love it. I love it. Well, thank you, Shannon, thank you again for bringing your knowledge and experience, you know, to talk about a concept that people think is easy to understand, but it's not easy to understand. Not at all and explaining it to us in a way we can we can understand it. So thank you so much.

Shannon Petrovich  25:54  
You're welcome. Thanks so much for having me, Steve.

Steve Altishin  25:58  
Anytime you want to come on, and everyone else, thank you for joining us today. If you have any further questions on this topic, we can get you connected with Shannon or you can connect to Shannon and yourself. So until next time, stay safe. Stay happy be well.

This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Pacific Cascade Legal, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at or You can also call our headquarters at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the modern family.