Notes From Kristen

Beating the Narcissist: Releasing the Grip After a Breakup

chained heart

Where are you in your relationship with a narcissist?

Are you in a half-alive state in that shadowy area beyond the relationship periphery, slowly smothering in their death grip where they won’t release you and give you back your life but neither will they reel you in and breathe into you the golden spectacle, the private delusion that existed only for the two of you?

Are they killing you by putting your own hands around your throat and telling you it’s for your own good?

Or is it all over– and are you shivering in the aftermath, trying to understand whether you miss them or hate them, love them or pity them, whether they were your poison or cure, rescuer or torturer, soulmate or enemy.

What has happened is that you have developed a powerful psychological bond with the narcissist, who repeatedly hurled sneak attacks and horrid betrayals our way that eroded our self-worth, judgment, and ability to make decisions for ourselves and then at the moment our eyes were about to slip closed in utter submission, we were pulled back up and exalted, coming alive once again.  It’s a re-training, a conditioning.

According to H.G Tudor, in an article I previously wrote about extensively, “What a Narcissist Says About Break-Ups: They Never Let You Go,” there are three stages of breaking up with a narcissist.


Stage One:

After an initial breakup with a narcissist, you’ve already been through the idealize and devalue stages. When the two of you first met, you were the most beautiful and wonderful person they had ever met and you could do no wrong. They had never felt the way with anyone else that they felt with you, but then there is a switch that may happen gradually or it may happen very quickly.

The narcissist starts to see your flaws, or you say something they don’t like that they believe is a criticism, and they start to take jabs at you or turn on you and this may go back-and forth for a while. At some point it may feel like “too much worth to them” and this is where the “discard phase” comes into play. The extremes in behavior of the narcissist leave us so shell-shocked that we are defenseless in a breakup. The narcissist has complete control. There are reasons for this that we don’t even yet understand.

The narcissist will return, and we will go back to the narcissist.

Stage Two:

This is the stage where we stay for a long time trying to understand what is happening and trying to get the narcissist to stop treating us in such an abusive manner.  We may beg, cajole, explain, ask, demand, and do all manner of things in an attempt to make the irrational rational, but the narcissist is using our confusion to continue to abuse and exploit us.

As the narcissist continues to exploit us we are simultaneously getting weaker, and yet we are also getting wiser to the fact that nothing will change.  So there is a widening gap between what we know we should do and what we believe is possible.


Stage Three:

We finally muster the strength to pull ourselves out based on a realization or epiphany, or “last straw.” Perhaps the narcissist has played a role in this as well by enacting another discard. Either way, we have made it to the “other side” and the relationship is finally, mercifully, over.

We have made it to “no contact.”

But have we? How do we know when we have made it to “no contact?”

According to Tudor, we will have to be vigilant for the rest of our lives to guard against the return of the narcissist.

There are steps we can take to make it difficult to reach us, however, we can’t ensure that there won’t be something that makes the narcissist think of us and want to reach out to us in a way we can’t control.

How do we know when we are no longer vulnerable to a hoovering attempt no matter what vows we have made in our minds that we are in no-contact?

I believe there is a fourth stage of breaking up with the narcissist.  I believe Stage 3 stops at the vulnerable period after first breaking up and before having done the work to process the relationship.


Stage Four:

In the final stage of “breaking up,” we keep pushing forward into our new lives, despite the “freefall” we may feel immediately after the split. Although we have just shut the door, we don’t linger on the other side wondering if he or she is on the other side and what we might do if there’s a knock.

We stop seeking answers from the narcissist because we realize he or she doesn’t have them.

We ask ourselves the hard questions, such as what is so painful to give up about the relationship that is keeping us from moving forward, and we work on letting that go so we can save ourselves.

We can learn more about what motivated the narcissist in the relationship so that we understand why things turned out as they did.

Doing these things can help us to stop romanticizing the relationship.

In other words– I disagree that we have to remain vigilant for the rest of our lives. When we reach this stage, we will have achieved a new level of empowerment and the narcissist can never again take control.

Kristen Milstead

Instagram: fairytaleshadows

15 thoughts on “Beating the Narcissist: Releasing the Grip After a Breakup

  1. …and there really is life without the narcissist…on the other side. I found it, along with love, true love, trust, acceptance for who I am, and a depth of friendship I had forgotten.

  2. I like this. Although we may need to remain aware, I think that once we make it through all of the stages and we are fully healed, the hoovers won’t affect us anymore so although they may try, we will no longer be vulnerable to their attempts and we will see it for what it is. I am not there at all – but I’m hopeful. I just hope someday soon he will stop using our child as a weapon and understand he is hurting the child more than me and be a little more “reasonable” with his efforts so we can all move on in a more positive way. As it sits, the way things are, I’m feeling so stuck and can’t move on as I fee like he is taking our child and the Court is allowing him to manipulate the system, continue the abuse, and control the outcomes so his actions (withholding information, completely lying to the Court, and simply being difficult) are completely ignored. Everything that is happening with us is straight out of the “book” on narcissism, yet no one is helping me or my son. I’m not sure what else I can do anymore.

    1. here is the link to my first reply to your comment There are attorneys that specialize in high conflict divorces especially with a Narcissist. Judges are becoming educated on the matter as well. Because I don’t know where you live, I know the Dr. McBride has filters on her site for counselors that have been trained and certified by her based on State. It’s a start at least. Wishing you the best.

      1. Thank you for this information. I am in Canada and I searched for information for lawyers with experience with this and they don’t seem to exist. The one I have seemed to understand at first, but it seems like no matter what I say – when I say he is a narcissist and has mental health issues, I’m the one who looks like that. It’s sad and awful and I’m in a rough place. I keep trying to remain positive, but that’s not helping. lol

  3. I don’t think we need to be vigilant, but we need to be aware of why we attract people like them so we don’t find ourselves in the same place. Being with someone like them is familiar to us which is why we stay. We know how to function. We’re saviors and want to help….Thanks for breaking it down.

    1. Hi V: Yes, definitely. We need to do our inner work as part of healing. Now that I have answered most of my questions about the relationship itself, I can tell that is where I am going to be headed next in my own healing process. As always, thank you for your insights. -Kristen

      1. Right back at you Kristine! You’ve been instrumental to my being able to verbalize the chaos that twirls around in my head. You don’t know this but I forward the posts that resonate to my psychologist to better explain what I’m feeling.

        We are in this together!

  4. Now, today, I am out completely, but a month ago, I had a set back. In the 7 years of on and off, Jeff was always either unemployed, underemployed or just barely skating by with a job that he put very little into or outright hated. He had quite a pattern of letting women semi-support him. At 50, his own Mom was still partially supporting him, at one point cashing out one of her two retirement accounts and giving him the money. I was never going to be that gal and that always drove a wedge between us. You know he “deserves” to have his woman pay his way. In hindsight, it was bizarre. So here he is again unemployed since December (the State of Penn is paying for him to go to school for a Cisco IT credential CCNA) something he had and lost due to lack of required ongoing participation. So, he was still doing his helicopter thing, telling me he loved and missed me and that he wasn’t dating or talking to anyone, just going to school. He said he was depressed because he had no money or job.
    Then out of the blue, he fell madly passionately in love with a younger gal with a boatload of psychological issues and addictions. Love bombing in full swing. He’s getting married. It surprised me that it just came out of left field and I was surprised that it stung, but it did. I know he’s going to really disappoint this poor gal eventually, but honestly I’m praying hard that because he is so desperate (he’s living in his Mom’s very small apartment with his 22 year old son) that he will indeed marry this girl. It would be awesome to not have him keep coming back with all his excuses/apologies/proclamations of true love etc.
    I found out that I am a bit of an empath and I am a sucker for a sad story. Trying to save Jeff has been an exercise in futility of course. So, it’s been about a month and I’m feeling pretty much nothing about him. I was stalking a bit just because a guy says he loves you and “just say the word and my bags are packed”, but then is with someone else and forgot to tell you that he changed his mind, you sort of have to do the research to put the puzzle together. But, I no longer look. I’m not sad or mad or anything at all. I wasted a lot of time listening to a lot of lies. I’m fine now. No contact. If she keeps paying his way, letting him move in, maybe he’ll stay. He plays the narc game very well and will splurge and spend on you at first, but what you don’t know is that he certainly did not earn the money he is spending on you and it’s only temporary, a bait and switch. LOL Better her than me.
    So, question: Have you tried to “save” your narcissist? Did you keep believing (and damn, they can be so convincing and seem so sincere) and giving more chances?

    1. Hello and thank you for sharing your story… I’m sorry to hear about what you are going through. It’s so shocking yet sad how similar many of our stories are. I can relate to many of the things you are going through– “say the word and my bags are pack,” and being with someone else at the same time or within days or hours. Marrying people they barely know who don’t know who they really are. Constant lying. Bait and switch. Yes, I wanted to save him at times… this this is only something I am coming now to recognize, and I will be able to speak more on it another time, but now I realize he was only reflecting back to me what I wanted to hear. Despite the absolutely appalling behavior he subjected me and multiple other women to across three continents– for starters, he put his now wife in the hospital, apparently, (showed no empathy when talking about it) and I ended up very sick and my hair fell out (it’s now growing back), using as an excuse that he himself had been so horribly treated in the past that he could not trust others and that he was being forced into other relationships he did not want, he said to me literally at a different time, “there’s nothing wrong with me.” I am able to think now about the contradiction. “I’ve been devastatingly hurt in the past and therefore I inflict horrifying pain on others” which implies a need to forgive and to save and not abandon on the part of others and “There’s nothing wrong with me.” I realize now this shows a very sinister desire to manipulate to serve his own ends, excuse his own behavior, and shows a lack of true insight. He has no remorse for what he has done. There is no saving him. And besides… no one can save another person. I know this now. I choose to save myself. 🙂 I wish you well on your journey to recovery and I hope that you will choose yourself! Please stay to keep up the conversation and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. -Kristen

      1. Kristen,
        I’m so sad to read what you have been through, but so happy to read that you are on a path to recovery. Jeff is pushing a quicky marriage to a freshly divorced woman. This poor victim is a sexual abuse survivor, recovering addict, and has multiple psychological issues- bi-polar, depression, PTSD, etc. She is being love bombed and gushing about “never been loved like this, never been so complete, so happy”. She is wearing an engagement ring that was not bought with money he earned. I feel sooooo bad for her because I know what’s she in for and she has already been through so much. He’s always gone for successful, educated, strong, happy women. This is a big departure for him. He gets disgusted easily. He told me he once lost interest in a long term woman because her gray hairs were showing.
        The years I spent trying to understand what was going on. I was so clueless to the world of narcissism.
        He’s not physically violent, I mean I’ve never seen him be physically violent. He is the cruelest, most heartless person I’ve ever known. His Mom is his enabler, she supports him no matter what he does and financially, I have seen her give him tens if thousands of dollars and she is retired and of very limited means. I’ve seen Jeff screaming the f word at her and I’ve seen him be unimaginably cruel to her.
        He has a special needs son and Jeff has repeatedly abandoned him, pursuing women. For years and months at a time. 😦
        I’ve witnessed degrading, profanity laced language directed at his son and watched him keep going even after his son was defeated and devastated.
        All those episodes cemented my understanding that no matter how sincere or loving Jeff seemed, I could never expect anything better than what he had previously unleashed on me and what I witnessed him do to his Mother and son, repeatedly.
        Yes, the only person you can save is yourself. May God give you strength and help you continue on a path of joy.

  5. This is my first time ever commenting on a blog. I just want to start off by saying Kristen I cannot tell you enough after finding you recently how much help you’ve been!! I have wanted to tell & comment so many times, but like someone else here said….they strip you of all the energy & sometimes even the will to live that you’ve got….especially when you have to work together everyday!!!!! I bought the book on Kindle you recommended …”Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare”. Haven’t read much (can’t do much of anything) but what a great book so far. The Author Shahida Arabi is well educated and very intelligent & insightful.
    I feel the same way you do…an overwhelming desire to become part of a group like yours & read everything I can on subject. I can say as well….I Never Knew These Creatures Existed!!!
    I just wanted to share a little tonight & hopefully make it a regular thing cuz that’s what I Need to get through this. I’ve been in the relationship with the Narc for 3 yrs. I also have C-PTSD. I had an entire childhood of just about every abuse. So know you know what I’m dealing with. Finding qualified, caring therapist are hard. I’ve been going to therapists since 3rd grade so i should know.


    1. Hi Tracy: Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I am humbled and honored by your kind words and that you decided to do so. I’m so glad you chose to say something because perhaps it helps you feel less alone (you definitely are not) and maybe it helps others to feel less alone as well. I am so sorry for what you have been through. You are definitely not alone! Please stay strong and keep fighting. ❤ -Kristen

  6. Thank you so much for sharing, I have been out and separated for over 3 years now, ,my dilemma is this, Although my son does not have to go see his father because he was old enough to stand up and speak for himself.. My daughter does have to, which breaks my heart for her to have deal with, however the court system said he had never abused her therefore he has right to see her. they did have him go through counseling but if you know a narcissist you know he slid right through, knew all the right things to say. I am looking for resources or books, something to help my daughter has she has to endure this time in her life. All I can find is after the child is grown. I don’t want her to have to wait and suffer like that. Where I live mental abuse is not considered to be serious and not much I can do but help her get through. I have to be very cautious of what I tell her because he picks her to see if I haven’t talked down about him to her. Feeling helpless! I managed to get free but I feel more tangled because of my children. I do Not regret leaving at all I just wish I knew a way to help her in this tough situation

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