There are multiple ways that a “break-up” with a narcissist may occur and rarely does it look like what happens in a normal breakup.
In normal breakups, partners may drift apart or decide they are incompatible. In the worst scenarios, one partner may betray the other and the relationship may end painfully.
However, both partners end with the same narrative of the relationship. They started with the idea that they wanted things to work out, but they didn’t. There was no deception involved, and, even in the worst case scenario, with a betrayal, generally the one who has cheated expresses remorse.
Yet, as Jackson MacKenzie writes in Psychopath Free, normal breakups do not end with the partner who cheated parading the new partner around in front of the brokenhearted partner’s face “trying to prove how happy they are with your replacement (p. 113)” as narcissists often do.
One of the ways a relationship with a narcissist might end that a normal breakup would never end is that a partner may cut off contact completely without letting the narcissist know, out of concerns for safety or to avoid narcissistic rage or intense hoovering (or even some combination of all three).
The narcissist may also cut off contact without a word once securing a new source of primary narcissistic supply if the original partner has fallen off the pedestal.
This may happen if the partner has begun to see through the cracks in the narcissist’s facade and the narcissist has realized that the partner has seen these cracks or if the narcissist has begun to see the partner’s flaws.
Breakups can also occur if the narcissist seeks revenge after a narcissistic injury and discards the partner in a humiliating or cruel manner.
Sometimes, during a breakup, a narcissist may even give a faux sort of “closure” that feels open-ended and leaves many unanswered questions with no real resolution. This lack of satisfaction comes from the same mismatch of words and deeds that occurs throughout the rest of the relationship.
For example, if the partner tries to tell the narcissist calmly that he or she is leaving instead of cutting off contact and explain why, the narcissist may offer up explanations for why things occurred as if it is a normal breakup yet if you look closer, the responses feel nonsensical or don’t add up. You may feel the narcissist is trying to provide closure at the time, but there is a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction.
This is not closure.
What on earth is going on?
“Closure” is just one more conversation and narcissists are unable to provide closure for many of the same reasons that they cannot engage in constructive conversations with us.
With closure, however, the reasons why they can’t or won’t do so can be even more complex than the reasons they cannot engage in other types of conversations because, in addition to the same things they might be seeking from normal conversations with us that serve their own interests, there are other things from closure that they are able to gain.
Closure, because it is what we think of as a final conversation, has a symbolic meaning that gives a narcissist many more ways to both potentially manipulate and remain in control.
Yet it also gives us a way to render the narcissist completely powerless if we handle it properly.
Let’s pick apart reasons why closure with a narcissist is not possible.
Seven Reasons Why We Should Give Up Trying to Get Closure With a Narcissist*
1. They can only care about how they feel and can’t put themselves in our shoes.
Whatever is causing them to leave or you to leave, they don’t care if we have closure or not. As mentioned above, narcissists and their partners have always had different narratives of the relationship and that’s no different at the end. We’re attached to the relationship; they’re not. They have been attached to the way we make them feel.
If they’re angry that the relationship is ending, they will only be concerned with the fact that they’re losing a source of narcissistic supply, not the demise of the relationship itself. If they are leaving for some reason related to their own lives, they already have new partners lined up.
Either way, our “closure” is a concept that isn’t even on their radar because the relationship itself is one that was always designed to serve their interests. They didn’t care enough to stop hurting us, why should they care enough to provide us with closure?
Closure, as we define it, is for people who are attached to others and need to “disengage” themselves from the lives of others when relationships are coming to an end, not for people who are tossing one “thing” aside and replacing it with another so they don’t have to miss what the original item was doing for them.
2. They generally can’t or won’t answer our questions in a way that makes any sense.
Many times, part of closure involves trying to understand why the relationship unfolded the way it did and we attempt to seek answers from the narcissist. If you claimed to love me so much, why did you hurt me like that? If you wanted to be with that other person, why can’t or couldn’t you just leave me alone? What is really going on? What is it you’re really trying to accomplish?
In truth, there are no answers they could provide to us that we could accept until we are ready to accept that our partner did not view our relationship the same way that we did and never had the same goals. They don’t enter any of their relationships with the same goals as any of their partners, including the new partners after us.
The questions we want to know the answers to come from the place of someone who can’t understand why someone who loves and is attached to someone else would do the things that the narcissist has done.
However, once we come to understand that the narcissist did not come from the same place– that is, does not view the world as we do–we can realize it is pointless to ask these questions because a narcissist cannot provide answers to questions that do not pertain to his or her point of view.
What kind of answers are we likely to get? Answers that don’t match with the actions that we see. Vague answers. “I don’t know.” Answers that blame others. Excuses, such as blaming actions on alcohol or youth or stress or something that happened to the narcissist in the past. “Because I felt like it at the time.”
Yet it never makes sense, because the sum total of any answers they provide never add up to a coherent picture of someone who regrets what they did and took actions to stop it while still claiming to love us.
Narcissists act in their own self-interest. This is the answer to the majority of our questions that we seek during closure.
That part of closure we desire will not come from the narcissist. It will come from reading about narcissistic abuse and perhaps talking to others who have experienced the same type of relationship.
3. Not providing us with closure makes it harder to go and stay no-contact.
To us, by definition, “closure” means relationships are ending. For narcissists, leaving without what we consider to be closure (whether on bad terms or not) leaves open the possibility that they can manipulate their way back into our lives if they decide we can fulfill a role for them again.
Whether they fall silent or their answers are unsatisfactory, if they know we are unsatisfied with the way things ended, there is “unfinished business” that they can capitalize on. It sets the stage for a hoover to take place at a later time.
They may even promise to answer questions at a later time. They may intentionally say they want to continue a conversation later or that they will think about our questions because they want to give us serious answers.
What they want is not to answer at all.
4. Not providing closure is a form of punishment.
If the breakup is a negative one, whether we are leaving them or they are leaving us, denying us anything we need to make the breakup go smoothly is one way for them to either get revenge or to try to demonstrate our unimportance.
If we are the ones leaving them, they may try at first a multitude of things to get us to stay, however, ultimately, if those things do not work, their demeanor will likely turn to rage at their loss of control over us.
If they are the ones leaving, they may want to send the message that we are unimportant and they don’t owe us any answers.
Either way, the message is clear: we don’t deserve closure.
5. They get narcissistic supply out of believing that we’re still thinking about them.
Again, it doesn’t matter who left first or how the breakup occurred. As long as it was abrupt and didn’t provide us with the satisfaction that we needed, they will gain satisfaction knowing that we’re left with questions and a lack of understanding of why the relationship unfolded as it did or ended as it did.
If they ended things out of anger or there was a painful discard, they will gain narcissistic supply out of believing that we are suffering. If we were the one to end things, their narcissistic supply may come from knowing we have to maintain vigilance and gain our own closure without them even if we were the ones to go.
The ironic thing is that this means is they are the ones still thinking about us, inflating themselves by believing we’re thinking about them– whether it’s true or not.
6. If they have been running a smear campaign, it may fit with the narrative they’ve already been telling everyone else.
If they have been setting up a breakup for a while, which can happen when they have stopped idealizing us and have a replacement ready, they can use our need for closure as part of that narrative, even though closure is a perfectly rational thing in relationships when they come to an end.
For example, the cycle of narcissistic relationships shows that once a narcissist begins the bait-and-switch and the baffled partner begins to react, the narcissist begins to seek out others or move others to the forefront that he or she has kept in the wings all along. The narcissist uses the original partner’s reactions to the blatant cheating and horrific treatment to justify the abuse and the planned move to the new partner.
As the narcissist makes an exit, the bewildered original partner may contact the narcissist wanting to know what happened to gain some kind of closure. The more the narcissist refuses to provide it, the more the partner reacts.
The narcissist can sit back and use the partner’s need for closure to further bolster this narrative he or she has been feeding the new supply and everyone else. By calling the partner “obsessed” and “clingy” and leaving out the details of how the relationship transpired and what the original partner is seeking from the narcissist, he or she can continue to wage the smear campaign using a perfectly normal human response.
7. In every scenario except one, they have their “closure.”
As alluded to, narcissists have a different idea of what closure means. To us, closure means tying up loose ends in preparation to end the relationship for good. Narcissists do whatever they want to do at the end of the relationship, creating some amorphous definition that apparently suits their needs at the time because they want one thing and one thing only: control.
Throughout the relationship, they have sought control and they seek to maintain it when the relationship ends as well. They will do everything in their power to keep it even when they have no interaction with us at all. That control is control over us and consists of one or more of the following: control over how we feel, control over our lack of knowledge about their own goals and motivations, and control over their ability to come and go as they please.
By not giving us what they know is our definition of closure, they maintain these things.
It’s very telling that they have enough power over us that even when we are not in contact with them, unless we take specific actions and make specific choices, they can still dictate how we think and what we do.
Except in one case and one case only.
And that is if we choose to go no-contact with them.
It is vital that we realize we will never get what we need to get closure from the narcissist. Never.
Regardless of if we leave or if they leave, we must take the steps required to go true no-contact and work toward the closure without them that will put us on the path to recovering from the manipulation that they implement to keep us from shutting the door that would enable them to come and go forever.