Relationships with a narcissist often start like a fairytale, with their codependent victim’s becoming hooked by their charming facade almost instantly.  

Partner’s can be glamorous, charismatic, and confident. It’s easy to fall for their initial attraction. 

However, when their mask finally falls off, their true self is revealed. They exhibit the personality traits of an ‘intimidating bully’ or a “petulant child” and toxic partners follow with gaslighting and false regret. 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), is a mental condition where people have an overinflated sense of their importance and a deep need to pay attention, but lack empathy for others. 

Michael Padraig Acton, an American therapist, claimed in his book, Learning How To Leave, that escaping a narcissist can be more difficult than quitting a highly addictive drug.  

He claims that those who fall for the narcissist’s charm are often vulnerable, and they constantly seek the love and attention of the toxic partner. 

The therapist explains why people become narcissists and how to spot them. He also outlines the long process of healing from a toxic relationship. 

In a new book, a therapist explained why people become narcissists, how to spot the tell-tale signs and detailed the lengthy process of recovering from a toxic relationship

A therapist has written a book that explains why people become narcissists and how to spot them. It also outlines the long process of healing from a toxic relationship.


While it’s widely assumed that narcissists have a high sense of self worth, Michael revealed how those with the disorder actually feel ‘chronically empty’ and scared of being discovered for the ‘wretched fakes they are’.  

He says they will often ensure every aspect of their appearance, behaviour and environment are perfect in a bid to exert their ‘superiority over others’ and proving their worth.  

Michael says a narcissist is a ‘perfect actor’ and one of the most common signs This is a whirlwind romance that sweeps victims off their feet. 

The narcissist will often reveal their true personality when they feel they are losing control of their partner or others around them. They believe that any weakness makes them vulnerable to attack.  

According to Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams (psychological researchers), narcissists are known to exhibit the “The Dark Triad” personality traits. 

These traits are a combination of narcissism (machiavellianism) and psychopathy. He says that although everyone can exhibit them to some degree, they are much more prevalent in those with the disorder.   

Narcissists may be aware of the pain they cause, but they show little empathy. They see their lack in emotional intelligence as a strength which elevates them above others.  


While there is no certain cause of the disorder, Michael says there are two likely reasons for the condition. 

Either the person comes from a home where their needs were not met and they were treated with cruelty, or they were given excessive admiration and a lack of discipline as a child. 

Because narcissists can exist among non-narcissistic siblings Michael says that either parenting or genetics cannot be the sole cause for the condition.  

What is the ‘Dark Triad? A therapist explains how excessive narcissism and Machiavellianism can indicate a toxic partner 

NarcissismThese personality traits give the person a sense that they are entitled and make them believe their needs should always be taken first

Machiavellianism –  These traits cause the person to lie and scheme in order to get what they want. They are often manipulative and will rely on others for solutions to their problems. 

PsychopathyThese traits eliminate empathy and remorse. Psychopaths see life as an evolutionary survival of the fittest.

He wrote, “The narcissist’ is like an angry child who never grew up.” They can emerge from families where there was a profound lack in nurture or, conversely if they were heavily’spoilt’ and doted upon. 

‘The narcissist’s emotional development is arrested at around the years of five to seven and they never develop the moderating objective part of the mind that weighs up actions and effects; this makes them exceedingly impulsive and sometimes aggressive.’


Those who become trapped in toxic relationships are known as ‘codependents’, a term which was coined when addiction groups discovered harmful behaviours were often enabled by partners and family members.  

For a relationship with a narcissist to blossom, codependency is essential and the therapist says those with the condition are masters of seeking out vulnerable people to control.  

He claims that narcissists will be obsessed with finding a partner in order to avoid ‘being alone’ with their despised selfs, and will disguise their obsession with the relationship as a love for their partner. 

Those who become codependent’s can often come from turbulent homes where they have had to appease the needs of their parents, which shifts to their partner after they embark on the relationship.  

They have a fear of rejection, often base their own self worth on the approval of others and confuse their need to please with love.


Michael believes that confusion is the first sign of a toxic codependent relationship. They are baffled by the fact that the sweet and kind person they fell for is capable to such a shift in personality.  

The therapist wrote that the narcissist does not often unleash all of their rage on their partner in one blow, but rather reveals their flaws in small, gradual ways.  

Another warning sign, which the therapist called the narcissist’s Achilles’ Heel, is their need to be constantly admired and to quickly become frustrated when attention isn’t on them.  

Michael Padraig Acton, a leading therapist, claimed in his book, Learning How To Leave, that escaping a narcissist can be more difficult than quitting a highly addictive drug

Michael Padraig Acton, a prominent therapist, stated in his book Learning How To Leave that it can be more difficult to escape a narcissist than quitting an addictive drug.

Selfishness in sex can be a warning sign, especially if there is ‘aggression’ or ‘perversion’.

Another sign is that the toxic partner doesn’t take responsibility. After abuse episodes, narcissists will often gaslight their victims by blaming their partner and offering mock remorse using phrases like “I love you so much; this will never happen again.”   

The therapist states that many victims are too deeply entangled in the relationship to be able leave once the narcissist starts to show their true selves. 


Michael says that those who live with a narcissistic spouse will find that their emotional needs are seldom met due to their partner’s inability to empathize and anger at them.  

He wrote that the narcissist is unable to give out genuine warmth despite his sophisticated ability to make fun of concern around others. 

He said that having children can be difficult for a narcissist, as their partner’s attention is not on them. This often causes them to lash back and show their true colours. 

The therapist, who has worked for years with victims of abusive relationships, said that narcissists often chip away’ at them over long periods of times. 

He said that their ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ complex means that those with the disorder are able to be ‘disarmingly nice’ one moment and cold and distant another, while the codependent partner walks on eggshells in order to not upsetting them.

Narcissists won’t be able to show vulnerability or accept responsibility for their actions. If they are criticised, they will blame others.  

Michael observed that heterosexual relationships can be characterized by narcissists having a ‘obsession and hatred’ towards their opposite sex. Heavily using gendered insults when they lose control, Michael said.  

Recognizing the warning signs and symptoms of NPD: Character traits that are often associated with narcissism 

Michael lists the traits that he associates with the disorder in his book. A person can be considered a Narcissist if they have at least one of the above traits. 

  • A lack humility. True narcissists will not feel sorry for themselves and will never admit to being wrong. While they may apologize for the situation, almost all of them will do so with a thinly disguised excuse that has the victim to blame. 
  • Narcissists believe that they are right all the time, and they react angrily to being criticised. 
  • Narcissists are skilled in attracting attention and admiration from others, often boasting about the achievements of theirs.
  • Narcissists are so disconnected to themselves that they have trouble even trying to relate to others emotionally. They are unable to empathize with others and, therefore, love. However, they can often put on an act to hide their inability to relate to others. 
  • Narcissists will often send excessive amounts of text messages and/or calls to their partners. This controlling behavior is often misinterpreted as a sign that a person is in love and committed.
  • Without attention, narcissists will become sulky or depressed.
  • Narcissists dislike normality and consider themselves above everyday concerns (which often don’t provide them the special attention they seek).
  • This can result in them losing their job or failing to manage their finances well. They may also be able to create crises to get their attention. 

He claims that the narcissist is often dishonest in order to control the relationship.


A common problem that Michael has faced when tackling recovery from abusive relationships is victim’s looking back on the early days of their relationship and not accepting that their happy memories was not the reality of their relationship. 

“They don’t want those first six months or one year, when they were swept off their feet by the love of their life, to be forgotten. They thought they were in love but were actually prey to their addictions. He writes that when it seems too good to be true it often is, unfortunately. 

“Having worked in drug dependency units for many decades, I can attest that working with someone who has been codependent and trying to unhook them from a toxic relationship is ten times more difficult than helping them get off high-addictive drugs.”  

The therapist explained the six stages of transformation that victims must go through to get rid of their narcissistic partner. 

Pre-contemplation is the first stage. This is when the victim is not willing to change and is unaware that their partner is damaging them.  

The victim believes that the positives in their relationship outweigh any negatives at this stage.  

Next comes contemplation. This is when the victim feels the need to let go of their ‘addiction to their partner’. 

At this stage, it may be difficult to change old habits and continue to rely on your toxic partner. 

They may lack self-esteem at the moment, and must acknowledge that the negatives of their relationship outweigh them.  

The preparation stage is when the victim has made the decision to make a change.  

Stage four is where action is being taken and the victim is addressing their own behaviour. They are also acknowledging why they feel the need to be with the narcissist. 

If the victim is able to remain at the action stage for six more months, they can then move on to maintenance. 

This stage of recovery is where the victim has made significant progress. They are more aware of their own behavior and have formed positive habits. However they are still dependent on their partner. 

The final stage is termination. It occurs when the person has redefined their self-image, and no longer defines themselves based on how another person feels about them.  

Learning How To Leave: A Practical Guide To Stepping Away From Toxic & Narcissistic Relationships by Michael Padraig Acton, out now in paperback, ebook and audiobook online and in all good bookshops for £11.99