As an author who writes about emotional abuse, I am often asked by readers how to break up with a narcissist – safely and with no return. Breaking up with a person who is not narcissistic is hard enough, but when you’re dealing with a manipulator, the road to freedom is rocky to say the least.
I am not going to lie to you. It won’t be easy. There will be lots of trial and error. Experts note that on average, a person usually leaves an abusive relationship seven times before they finally leave for good. So if you’re finding that it’s been difficult to leave and stay away from the toxic relationship, you’re not alone.
Our addiction to the narcissist is a deep, intense and emotionally charged one. As a result, you’ll probably endure many setbacks on your journey when fully detaching from a toxic person. You’ll miss them and the person they pretended to be, you’ll second-guess yourself, and you’ll be tempted to romanticize the relationship for fear of losing out.
You’ll have to grieve numerous times in many different ways and go through some severe temporary pain to get to the other side of freedom – but it’s well worth it, considering you’d lose out on many years wasting time on a person who mistreats you otherwise.
As you may have guessed, there is no simple black and white plan that allows someone to make a painless break from a narcissist. The journey is not an easy one, though it brings with it the ultimate reward of regaining your sense of self.
How you finally break up with a narcissist depends on the circumstances of every individual: the longevity of the relationship, the severity of the trauma experienced, the survivor’s coping resources, their support networks, their internal willingness to end the relationship, their current options, and the presence of children are just a few of the factors that play a role in ending a relationship with an abusive person.
However, there are a few things you will want to know about breaking up with a narcissist effectively. These three tips can help you to effectively detach from one and can apply to most survivors even across diverse circumstances.
1. Within any type of toxic relationship, there is usually some type of trauma bond that has formed. In order to leave, you’ll have to start breaking that bond.
A trauma bond is a connection formed between abuser and victim through intense, shared emotional experiences. That means that in order to even be willing to think about breaking up with a narcissist, you’ll have to put a few dents in that bond. How do you do this? You start by reconnecting with the reality of the abuse and the abuser. Write down the abusive incidents to counter any form of “abuse amnesia” that may occur during times when the abuser is acting sweet and loving. Speak to a trauma-informed counselor who knows about the dynamics of abuse, can help you identify abuse tactics and discuss your various options for coping and detaching from the abusive person safely.
It’s important to note that when seeking help, you keep in mind that not every therapist is equipped to deal with an abuse survivor who has experienced a narcissist. In fact, there are many invalidating therapists out there who can unintentionally retraumatize a victim by causing the victim to look within more than they should – leading to self-blame and staying within the relationship to “make it work.”
That’s why I always recommend finding someone who specifically specializes in trauma and emotional abuse. Enlisting the help of both trauma counselor and a coach who understands narcissistic abuse can be a dynamic duo to help you get back on your feet and wake up more fully to the reality of the situation.
2. You’re going to get attempts from the narcissist to make you stay. In order to resist these attempts, you’ll have to be strategic.
A narcissist doesn’t like having his or her control taken away. Breaking up with one is sure to inflict a “narcissistic injury” that can induce narcissistic rage. Although some people are able to leave the narcissist right away, not all are in the position to do so. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to create an emotional and physical safety plan ahead of time to ensure that you have a safe place to retreat and skills to help you cope in the aftermath. It’s also good to be wary of your partner suddenly being warm and affectionate towards you when they notice you’re withdrawing.
Sometimes the best strategy is not to clue them into your inevitable departure; act as if you are busy with other projects or are preoccupied with something else if they seem to get suspicious. Use the Grey Rock Method to seem emotionally unreactive when they try to provoke you; this can help to get them off your back momentarily.
In the meantime, if you happen to be cohabitating or married to the narcissist, get your finances together, seek the support of a lawyer well-versed in high-conflict divorces, and start to build your coping resources to rebuild your sense of independence. This could range from visiting your local domestic violence shelter to finding local communities such as meditation or yoga centers.
Just because you’re still with the narcissist does not mean you can’t get a head start on healing and finding connections outside of the relationship. In fact, doing so can help strengthen your resolve to leave because you’re likely to encounter people who will remind you of the respectful and loving way you do deserve to be treated.
Also keep in mind that when you’ve left a narcissist for good, he or she may still find ways to reach out to you. This is what we call “hoovering,” where, like a Hoover vacuum, the narcissist tries to suck you back into the toxicity of the relationship. In order to resist hoovering attempts, you have to stick to as little contact as possible based on your specific situation.
For more tips on going No Contact, see here.
3. It’s helpful to build a social network outside of the narcissist – and self-care during this time is paramount.
When you’ve been isolated by an abusive person, it can be difficult to feel like you’re not alone. You feel like you don’t have any options outside of this one person. I am here to tell you that this is not true, although it may seem like it is. Even if you don’t have a good support network in real life, there are now plenty of resources online for survivors of psychological abuse.
Everything from Facebook groups to online forums to personalized Skype coaching is available nowadays. In some cities, there are even local Meetup groups that have formed on the topic of narcissistic abuse. Some resources will be more helpful and well vetted than others, but they exist and there is something out there for every type of survivor – whether you’re a teenager dating an abusive partner or a young mother co-parenting with a narcissist.
There is someone out there who may not be in your exact situation but has felt what you felt. These painful experiences don’t just ‘bond’ us unhealthily to the narcissist – they also have the potential to help us form healthy bonds with those who’ve been there. Many survivor communities are filled with empathic people who are looking for help just like you. So join a few groups, read and re-read articles about narcissistic abuse, watch videos on the topic by fellow survivors, advocates or experts. Engage in extreme self-care. There is a whole world out there talking about this and there is much more validation and acknowledgement of this type of insidious violence than there was decades ago.
Take advantage of the support that is available for you – whether it be finding real life support groups in your local community or online forums, they can help to remind you that you’re not alone and that there is a far better life out there waiting for you.