How to “Win” A Break-Up With a Narcissist – The Surprising Micro-Habits That Help You Heal

If you’re an empathic survivor of a narcissist or toxic person, it’s likely you don’t want to care at all about “winning.” You’ve just survived a war zone and now just want to survive the aftermath. It’s true that the ultimate focus should be on healing. But what if you’re in a state of learned helplessness where you can barely motivate yourself to get out of bed, let alone take the steps to process what you’ve just been through? Sometimes survivors need the motivation to begin to heal – and sometimes, counterintuitively enough, embracing all your taboo emotions and engaging in actions you otherwise might not is actually what gets you there in meaningful ways. Forget everything society has taught you so far about the “right” way to heal and what you should feel. Set aside the harmful idea that healing can only be done through forgiving, forgetting, and spiritually bypassing the trauma. Forego the idea that healing can never be joyful and must always be brutal. Put that on pause. We’ll get back to that later. Instead, ask yourself: why should narcissists get to have all the fun? Here’s how you can “win” the break-up with a narcissist:

Gamify your healing milestones.

One powerful way to get yourself motivated to heal is by “gamifying” your goals. For example, clinical trials have shown that programs that “gamify” rehabilitation goals allow people to effectively transition into self-care after events that have affected their well-being. You can approach your healing by setting up smaller goals that you can reach before you achieve the bigger ones. Treat it like a game. Pair the positive habits you want to reinforce with rewards and pleasure that will motivate you each time you engage in this behavior – this is classical conditioning at its finest. This presents a brilliant framework for how to gamefully live our lives – by setting up a reward system so that we feel rewarded and “score points” figuratively speaking every time we use our strengths and abilities to achieve something, no matter how big or small. For example, a smaller goal of healing may be going for a 15-minute walk in the morning. A bigger goal may be starting a gym routine. You’ll eventually level up to that goal – but tackle the smaller ones first. Exercise can be a vital part of recovery as it has the power to encourage neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons) in the brain – a vital aspect of healing the traumatized brain, where there tends to be neural atrophy. Every time you take that morning walk (or yoga session or meditation), reward yourself with something, like a delicious cup of your favorite coffee, an extra snuggle session with your pet, or watching another episode of your favorite television show. You can also share your progress with others too; for example, by texting a friend a picture from your daily run – studies reveal that social reinforcement can help guide our reward system to work for us.  As you get comfortable, gradually escalate – the 15-minute walk may become a 20-minute run, or an hour-long hike. Soon, your healing milestone will become a radical and ingrained part of your well-being regimen.

Replace self-sabotaging behaviors with a level-up and “glow up” activity.

Piggybacking off this, ensure that you are taking an inventory of the habits that harm you. The narcissist’s verbal and psychological abuse has likely trained you to engage in self-sabotage and self-harm, causing you to internalize false beliefs about your worthiness. One of the best ways to counter these beliefs is through small actions that communicate to yourself that you are worthy of being treated better. Fuel whatever anger you have toward the ways they degraded you into your “glow up” and “level up” goals. If you want to kick butt at school or work, now is the perfect time to channel your anger toward the narcissist into productive outlets. If you want a “revenge glow-up,” this is the perfect opportunity to sculpt both your brain and your body in ways you find most empowering and confidence-inducing for you.  Replace self-sabotage with micro-habits that allow you to flourish. Do you find yourself ruminating the first moment you wake up in the morning? Rumination can be a normal part of the healing journey but incorporating a breathing exercise (such as this popular Wim Hof breathing technique) when you wake up may help you to be more mindful and prepare you for your day so you are less anxious. Are you checking social media or your phone to see if the narcissist has tried to contact you? Practice putting your phone on airplane mode during times you don’t need it and every time you have an urge to do anything related to the narcissist, use your computer instead to focus on the work you do need to do. Install browser extensions like StayFree to prevent social media websites from being accessible – this will enhance your productivity rather than placing your focus elsewhere. Do you find yourself criticizing yourself whenever you look in the mirror? Use that opportunity to compliment yourself, provide extra incentive toward any fitness goals you have, or wear your favorite outfit and take a photo to tap into that “glow-up” energy. Any time you’re tempted to romanticize the narcissist in your mind or engage in a harmful, addictive activity to numb your emotions (like drinking or smoking), replace it with an activity that benefits your well-being, health and fitness (it could be as intensive as going to the gym or as low-effort as dancing in your room, or grabbing a green juice). Over time, replacing your self-sabotaging behaviors with these micro-habits will allow you to flourish. It will also communicate to your subconscious that you feel worthy and deserving of self-care rather than punishment.

Turn the tables on the “energy exchange” that has benefited the narcissist throughout the relationship. Visualize connecting your joy with their karma so that you’re more inclined to pursue your happiness.

Remember how each time the narcissist insulted you or demeaned you, you felt deflated and they became more energetic and vibrant? You may have been the optimistic person in the beginning of the relationship – but you found your energy drained, time and time again until the narcissist was the one who stole your energy and used it to elevate themselves. Now it’s time to turn the tables – energetically speaking.  Imagine that every time you experience happiness, a narcissist loses their wings (not that they ever had them in the first place). Our brains can be wired toward seeking pleasure or avoiding pain: use this to your advantage. If you’re in the stage of your healing journey where you feel unmotivated, visualize that each time you feel joy or help others, it depletes the narcissist in your life of energy and takes away their power. This is not about wishing ill on anyone. It’s simply capitalizing on the universal truth that when we’re happy, narcissists inevitably lose their power. This will motivate you to find more opportunities to experience joy – to laugh, connect with others, enjoy nature, set up more stringent No Contact protocols, and kick some extra butt on that project. It will also make you more motivated to steer away from self-sabotaging behaviors if you imagine that each time you self-destruct or self-sabotage, this only gives them a boost of energy. Visualize this whenever you’re tempted to check up on the narcissist on social media or skip your daily self-care routine. It will remind you that the benefit comes from upleveling yourself and not remaining stagnant in that old energy.

Wait, what? Isn’t healing all about never thinking of revenge or karma ever? We agree that your energy is usually best spent on your own healing and not on seeking revenge in the conventional sense. However, success and leveling up tends to be the best “revenge” there is. The truth of the matter is, when someone has violated you, it’s very common to feel the need for justice. To deny this is to deny the multifaceted humanity of a trauma survivor – and also to abandon how these emotions can actually serve you in your healing when used productively. By the time you’ve leveled up so hard that the narcissist’s energy can no longer even touch you, you won’t even care to think about them. But it takes some work to get there. There are times we need that extra motivation to keep going. Make your thirst for revenge, if any, functional and beneficial to you, your goals, and the greater good.

Build an unbreakable self-concept.

When survivors are healing from narcissistic abuse, they often worry that they themselves are a narcissist. They fear behaviors even remotely associated with stereotypical tropes about narcissism, even though there’s plenty of research revealing that loving oneself and exhibiting healthy pride is quite different from narcissistic traits and behaviors. So, survivors of narcissists do everything possible to humble and shrink themselves. However, that only serves the pathologically envious narcissist who was invested in keeping you down. For the time being, don’t worry about being too grandiose or “full of yourself.” These are false accusations and projections from the narcissist that they used to keep you small. You are not self-centered or selfish for acknowledging your strengths and positive traits. You are embodying the self-concept and power they were afraid you were going to own all along. Every day, make it a daily habit to write down what you like about yourself and the qualities others have given you positive feedback about (both external and internal). At the same time, mentally “devalue” the narcissist by writing down their weaknesses and unsavory qualities, as well as what you won’t miss about them and what you are free to do now that you are out of the toxic relationship. Do not filter yourself – this exercise is to empower you.

You may not be at the part of your journey yet where you are grounded in self-validation. That’s okay. You will get there. For now, it’s time to remind yourself of what makes you unique, special, and irreplaceable – what makes you a loss and what makes being free from the narcissist a gain. An abusive relationship with a narcissist trains you to always compare yourself to others and forget who you are. It’s time to remind yourself that you have no competition. Treat yourself like royalty – someone who should not settle for less. You’ll start to notice that as your self-concept changes, the way you treat yourself transforms too: on a day where you may usually neglect yourself, you find yourself dressing up and going outdoors to enjoy the sunshine; where once you spent hours in bed, you now find yourself making plans. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but eventually you will learn to put yourself on a pedestal and devalue narcissistic people in ways that make them undesirable to you. You will no longer feel the need to have them in your life or crave their validation.

Call back your power through more realistic affirmations.

Spiritual rituals can be a significant way to heal – yet most of the time, rituals that go beyond love and light are rendered taboo. After all, everyone cautions you not to hex an ex; they want you to pray for them over a candlelit vigil. People tell you never to talk back and always be the bigger person – rising above is considered energetically superior and “mature,” though the same admonishment is never administered to the perpetrator. Anger is considered practically demonic, especially in women who are socialized to stay quiet as they endure numerous transgressions. In reality, avoidance strategies such as suppressing our anger and authentic emotions worsens our trauma symptoms according to studies. Empowering affirmations can help stimulate the brain’s reward system and reinforce our positive view of self and core values, cultivating behavioral change– but the best part is, you can customize them to you and how you authentically want to feel about yourself and this situation. Affirmations can be a powerful way to call back your power on a daily basis. You don’t have to censor yourself. “I am amazing and irreplaceable. I call back my power and any benefits toxic people received from my energy,” is just as valid as “I am healing more and more every day.” Incorporate both types of affirmations into your recovery routine.

Another affirmation to call back your power could be something like, “Everything that was stolen from me in this toxic relationship returns to me tenfold.” Visualize your power coming back to you, touching every aspect of your life. Daily badass affirmations like these will train your brain over time to expect and identify opportunities to reclaim your power in real life – whether it’s deciding to pursue career opportunities or taking smaller steps toward healthier eating. Remember, not all of your affirmations need to be strictly “love and light.” You don’t have to engage in anything you’re not comfortable with or anything that isn’t safe for your healing. But there are ways you can use rituals to be a cathartic source of healing that don’t fit the cookie-cutter recipe of kumbaya and forgive and forget. Instead of turning the other cheek, make the narcissists in your life meek by feeding yourself the power toxic people have robbed you of. Words as well as actions hold the power to define yourself and your reality. They can train you to fight back and regain control and mastery over your life. You deserve to be victorious and to be the winner of your life.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.