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.
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.
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.
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.
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.