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The Emotional Hell of Going No Contact with a Narcissist

Going no contact with a narcissist is one of the hardest and most painful things I’ve ever done in my life.

The relationship itself was draining enough–I either felt like the queen of the world or I was suffering through nightmares that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. There was often no in-between.

But then there was the aftermath.

Once I was out of the psychological cage my ex-boyfriend had so carefully crafted for me, my brain did not catch up to that fact immediately. I was still infected and the poison drained out slowly.

I felt rejected, broken, alone and I didn’t want anyone to see me in that condition. Who would ever understand?

There was a hole inside of me where he had been, and a range of emotions rolled in and out so frequently and so intensely that it felt sometimes as if I might drown. One minute I was ecstatic, the next I was falling apart again. One minute I was ready to go out, and the next I was withdrawing into my cave.

I was angry at the chaos he’d left behind and yet I was too scared to see, much less acknowledge, that it hadn’t been real. Then I felt devastated to let go of that person I had loved once and for all.

Sometimes I just felt disillusioned about the world.

Yet I also felt redeemed. He hadn’t beaten me after all. And I wasn’t going to let a hollow person who had never really seen me for me decide what I was worth, much less dictate my future.

What to Expect Emotionally After Going No Contact with a Narcissist

My emotions became my new prison.

I was determined to work through the emotions, no matter how painful. Yet the turmoil stretched on endlessly, and I thought I would be trapped forever by what I’d been through. It seemed I’d passed from one sort of hell and into another.

I experienced all of the following emotions multiple times, in no particular order, and with no rhyme or reason.

  • Denial.

    There are several types of denial that you’ll face at different moments. Sometimes you’ll be in denial about the narcissist’s intentions and the reality of the relationship. That was a big one for me.

    There were a lot of reasons for that, and this alone belongs in another post, but to sum up, (1) part of it was that he worked really hard to keep me from seeing the truth; (2) part of it was that I didn’t want to believe it because I needed to preserve the idea that I had been loved the way I had loved him because it hurt a lot to admit it wasn’t like that; and (3) the other part of it was that I actually could not conceive of this idea intellectually that people could interact this way until it had a chance to sink in.

    Other things you may be in denial about: sometimes you have a hard time facing that it’s really over and you’ll never see him or her again. The narcissist was such a big part of your life for so long that his or her absence is a significant force you almost feel physically. You will have to remind yourself again and again that it’s truly over.

    You may also get abuse amnesia again and want to deny to yourself what happened in the relationship. Because of this, you may want to just pretend none of it ever happened, skip over the healing and get on with your life. You may engage in a lot of things to try to numb the pain and forget, such as excessive drinking.

  • Anxiety.

    There is no closure with a narcissist. They either discard you, rage at you for rejecting them, or plead with you nonstop to try to get you to come back because they don’t like taking “no” for an answer.

    Regardless of how it happened, the ending was likely abrupt and painful, and you’ll be on edge. You will have two types of anxiety: (1) What if he or she tries to come back? and (2) What if he or she doesn’t try to come back?

    You’ll have to manage both, no matter which type is overwhelming you at the time. He or she has been a big part of your life for months or even years and the sudden end may seem overwhelming. You’ll have to reassure yourself again and again that it’s truly over.

  • Obsession.

    You will ruminate over the relationship and find it hard to concentrate on anything else.

    There are so many unanswered questions and you’ll try to understand why the narcissist did the things he or she did to hurt you. Did he or she ever really love you? Did he or she know they were hurting you? Which parts of your relationship were real? How could they have moved on so quickly?

    You’ll go over everything that happened in the relationship in your mind, trying to make sense of all the things for which you don’t have answers.

  • Loneliness.

    You feel that other people couldn’t possibly understand or believe what you’ve been through, even your closest friends, and you’re probably right. It is difficult to understand; you don’t even completely understand it.

    Plus you don’t have the words to explain it anyway. Your tendency may be to withdraw from social activities because you don’t feel like you fit in with other people anymore.

  • Isolation.

    Perhaps you feel tainted by the relationship and different from other people.

    If the narcissist isolated you while you were in the relationship, it’s difficult trying to re-integrate back into your life having been through something like this because the experience has changed you.

    Because you can’t even really talk about it, you feel alone with the experience and stuck in your head a lot of the time.

  • Suspicious.

    You may feel nothing like your old self– maybe you feel closed off and have started to doubt the motives of other people in your life. The relationship left you unable to trust your judgment and you read things into what people say.

    You may look for ulterior motives in what people are doing or assume the worst, and when you meet new people, you may feel more guarded than you used to.

  • Doubt.

    There were so many times during the course of the relationship when he or she gaslighted you about what happened or twisted the things back onto you.

    The narcissist blamed you for his or her actions. He or she probably told you that you were too sensitive or that your angry reactions to the abuse were why the relationship fell apart. He or she may have called you jealous and crazy, emotions purposely manufactured in you.

    Now you may start to second-guess the abuse. Was it as bad as I thought? Did I cause this to happen? Was he or she really a narcissist?

  • Shame.

    When the narcissist wanted to hurt you or control you, he or she knew just what your insecurities were and what to say to try to put you down. That verbal abuse has accumulated in your head over the course of the relationship and creeps into your thoughts occasionally.

    In the back of your mind, you sometimes wonder if he or she is right. After all, what was wrong with you that you stuck around and let someone say those things to you for so long? Maybe you really are worthless, you may begin to think.

  • Grief.

    It will feel as if the person you loved died and you’ll have to purge him or her from your soul. Yet you will have to grieve twice: once over the loss of the relationship itself, and once over the loss of your understanding of what the relationship represented, as it sinks in that it was never real.

    You will also grieve other things that you lost, such as your innocence. You may look back at yourself and see how innocent you were and grieve that lost person you remember.

  • Despair.

    Sometimes it will hit you like a punch in the stomach that it’s really over. That bond you had with the narcissist is broken forever.

    You may know in your heart it wasn’t real– but what you felt was real so you miss him or her. It was likely the most intense romantic connection you have ever had with another person and you miss the person you thought he or she was.

  • Fear.

    You may fear that the narcissist was right about everything he or she said about you, that no one will ever “love” you like he or she did, or love you at all.

    Or you may start to fear that you will never have a bond like you did with the narcissist ever again. Maybe you are afraid you will never be able to love or trust anyone again, or never feel like yourself again.

  • Anger.

    Over time, the doubt, anxiety, shame, and sadness begin to fade and you begin to acknowledge the magnitude of the harm that the narcissist caused. You allow yourself to feel indignant over the abuse you experienced, how that pain and suffering were denied while you were still in the relationship and how you have continued to suffer because of it.

    For me, this happened when I was no longer in denial about everything that happened, and started to actually accept the relationship for what it was.

Going No Contact with a Narcissist Does Get Easier

If you are experiencing these emotions, you are not alone, but it does get better. The emotions we feel after going no contact with a narcissist are painful, but they set in motion the phases through which we must pass in order to start over after such a devastating experience. The emotions are an indication that we are free and on the path to healing from the relationship and putting it behind us.

Slowly, as my mind started to clear, I started to forget what it was like to be so caught up in his influence. The waves of emotion became less extreme and the number of emotions on the roller coaster narrowed as I started to heal.

What I know now is that all of these emotions are normal, although they felt horrible when I experienced them. Yet emotions are our the way our bodies try to tell us something.

For example, anger rises to the surface to remind us that we suffered injustice. Sadness creeps in to let us grieve over the loss and put it in the past.

It’s best to try not to suppress your emotions when you have them. Recognize, name them, and ask yourself what they are about.

And most of all, remind yourself that, although it may not feel that way now, the emotions will pass. They are taking you down the road of recovery.

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A version of this article also published on Your Tango: The 8 Stages Of Emotional Pain You Go Through When Breaking Up With A Narcissist

Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.

30 Comments

  1. Well … it happened. I broke no contact. And I feel like a damned fool today for doing it.

    A late-night message, ostensibly from one of my children; a statement that amounted to little more than an attempt at devaluation … and what did I do? I responded.

    Her use of my son’s phone as the conduit, as well as the content of the message, so offended me that I felt a need to respond. Except that it wasn’t a response. It was a thoughtless reaction.

    I had been exchanging messages with my two sons–platitudes, really, about what’s important about being educated. She’d apparently read the exchange and was offended. Or something. So she lashed out.

    I thought I had moved through and gotten clear of all of the emotions above. Of them, despair was probably the most difficult to shake. But shake it I did, some time ago. A new feeling of freedom and tranquility replaced it. Along with a sense that what I had with her was *never* real. But never mind that. As soon as I allowed her to re-engage with me, I realized my mistake. Everything shifted, as if I was being jerked backward three years. I empowered her, and I had to block her in order to switch her off.

    The moral of the story? Don’t break no contact. Ever. It’s unspeakably dangerous to your new, calmer state of mind. As the character Finnick Odair Mockingjay says in The Hunger Games, “Better not to give in to it. It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”

    Nothing could be more true. Yet each night leads us into a new day; a day where we can acquire new experiences and perspectives, and reclaim what we’ve lost. Keep moving forward, and reflect on the lessons learned along the way.

  2. The day’s leading up to no contact were overwhelming, stressful and self-loathing for being such an idiot. although I had been dealing with financial, emotional and mental abuse. When he finally bashed me after his sister’s wedding reception & stuck in a country town with no transport as my car was back at his parent’s place and none to call as he had deleted all my phone numbers. I rang police and told them I would press charges the following morning at my local police station as all i wanted was to get home to my dogs. While reporting and making my statement to police and having photos taken of my injuries. I Had multiple calls from him and his family were waiting for me for 5 hours at my house and the police had to go there to let me know it was safe to go home. The following morning he tried to break into my house and police were called when they told him not to come unless with a police escort with a trailer so he could pick up his belongings in one trip. I was at the police station the following morning after finding various sized bullets while packing all his things up. That is when I was told that the bullets had all been tampered with to explode on impact and I was told to wait while they got the head of domestic violence to come to talk to me as my partner had access to firearms. he came out with a large file with me boyfriends photo on it. When I confirmed he had access to a large range of firearms. He told me to go to court and get a violence restraining order out on him instantly and to block him on all social media and check all my privacy settings on these sites as well as on my computer at home. So the going no contact was made easier for me because of that.

  3. I’m on my 2nd no contact. I broke tha 1st thinking I was strong enough and past the stages.. WRONG! I was going through a horrible divorce with him, there was no Medeation because he would have to agree to something..now going to litigation. I was prepared for this, everything I read about divorcing a Naccistic said be prepared. Big mistake I talked with him and just weeks away of being free.I TALKED TO HIM. I stopped the Divorce and took off with him for 3 weeks. You see he uses God to creat the guilt cycle and had me convinced I was out of favor with God. Now after 3 weeks of hell I am now in no contact and that was even hard it took 2 weeks away from him before I could do this…. I’m here to tell you it is an addiction and I understand it is 10× harder to break than heroin. Now I’m focusing on ME getting a good job make new friends in my new state. Yes I had to leave the state. Starting all over and at 57 I’m all in. Gods got it.. not him.
    I’m not sure how to Divorce him now? or if I will ever get my half of our estate? Everything is there’s.

  4. Kristin M McQuade

    This is is a great article ,I left my alcoholic narcissist in aug 2017 and lately out of nowhere I miss him so much. Why do i miss him now? Kristin

  5. This has been so helpful to me! Thank you so much Kristen and everyone who shares their stories! I am coming to the end of a tortuous 12 yr “relationship” with a narcissist who has literally left me a shell of who I once was. It has been my experience that narcissists hone in on smart, happy, empathetic people when these people become vulnerable (such as after a divorce), and move in to suck the life out of them. I spent my 40th decade in a nightmare of idealize, devalue, discard, repeat cycles that left me clinically depressed and struggling with panic attacks and complex PTSD. I have become educated about lovebombing and trauma bonding and intermittent reinforcement and Stockholm syndrome and gaslighting and all the tools in a malignant narcissists toolbox but the emotional and physical pain of losing what was promised as the “forever love of my life” is soul crushing. I have found the web based supports for survivors of narcissistic abuse to be invaluable. It is only through reading the survival stories off others that I dare to hope that one day I can and will be happy again and put this nightmare behind me.

  6. It’s important for me to learn how to patent my inner children during this time of grief and sadness because that’s where the trauma lies. My ex (s) are blips along the way. For me my only true way to freedom is inner child work however sites like yours are a tremendous help to remind me when I go to cognitive dissonance. Thank you.

  7. I have been in this relationship on and off for almost 10yrs and despite efforts of trying to get away it seems to never work? He continues to lure me back & each time it becomes worse…I discarded him this time & went No Contact for 3 weeks then he showed up at my door crying, begging & pleading…promising to change again & I let him in to talk. Those were the best 3 weeks of my life without him! He returns with empty promises, money, gifts, etc. but never really does anything to change & quickly returns to his old self…hurtful, rude, mean & disrespectful! No one seems to understand how hard it is to end it but I feel so low sometimes & I just want to go back for that brief moment of high he gives me…sounds weird??? I want the cycle to end so I can find true happinesss but it’s so hard…it’s been 2days of No Contact again & I pray he stays away this time…or maybe I will be stronger the next time he shows up?

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi KW: I’m so sorry about what’s happening to you. This is the cycle of abuse that makes it difficult for us to leave. You are not alone, and please know that you deserve so much better than this. Stay strong! -Kristen

  8. Oh my God…
    This is exactly what I’m going through right now .. I asked him to move out on the 9th of September after 5 years together ..because I could not take the emotional rolacoster he took me through , couldn’t take never feeling good enough even though I gave everything I could emotionally, physically and financially … it’s all very fresh though and I’m finding it very hard .. he ignored me for a week and then begged to come back and promissed to change and admitted everything was his fault … I even considered to give him another chance .. I’m so glad I didn’t! As he came back saying that it was me who abused him.. I’m broken hearted, angry, confused .. and yet sometimes I miss him so much.. crazy, because I miss loving him, taking care of him, being there for him .. and now realise he didn’t really give me anything in return …what keeps me at no contact is the fact that I remind myself that he just didn’t care about my wellbeing .. in any shape of form .. I so want to be free of his memory, to move on and give all my love to someone who’s worth it ..xx

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi J: I’m so sorry to hear about everything you’re going through right now. Please know you are not alone. I understand exactly what you’re going through. This is so normal, even down to his actions. I’m glad to hear that you are out of the relationship now. Please try to keep reaching out, and take care of yourself. Wishing you luck on your journey of recovery. Stay strong! -Kristen

  9. Kristen Milstead

    Hi Kate: Thank you for reading this article and taking the time to leave a comment, although I’m sorry to hear that this is where you are and what you are going through right now. I’m glad to hear the article spoke to you and that you found it helpful in some way. You are definitely not alone! Please try to stay strong and take care of yourself. -Kristen

  10. We Can't Leave a Narcissist Until We Go Through These Five Stages | In the Shadows of the Fairy Tale

    […] an emotional roller coaster.  It’s a death, fraught with loss and […]

  11. This is one of the most accurate description of a break up with a narc article I have ever read.
    I’m fresh out of a 6 year relationship/ 3year marriage with a man I could have spent the rest of my life with. I am going through all 5 of the emotions and it’s one of the most difficult, heartbreaking experiences of my life.
    I just wanted to leave my peace and say that it is comforting to know that I’m not alone.

  12. This is one of the most accurate description of a break up with a narc article I have ever read.
    I’m fresh out of a 6 year relationship/ 3year marriage with a man I could have spent the rest of my life with. I am going through all 5 of the emotions and it’s one of the most difficult, heartbreaking experiences of my life.
    I just wanted to leave my peace and say that it is comforting to know that I’m not alone.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Kate: Thank you for reading this article and taking the time to leave a comment, although I’m sorry to hear that this is where you are and what you are going through right now. I’m glad to hear the article spoke to you and that you found it helpful in some way. You are definitely not alone! Please try to stay strong and take care of yourself. -Kristen

    2. I was just thinking the same thing about this article.It hit on every emotion I’ve been going through since I was discarded almost two years ago. I still feel all alone, but its nice to know I’m not. The hardest realization is that it never was real.

      1. Hi Sue: You are definitely not alone. I’m sorry for what you have been through. I hope the emotional roller coaster is starting to get somewhat better for you these days. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Stay strong! -Kristen

  13. Five Things to Help You Move On After Going No-Contact | In the Shadows of the Fairy Tale

    […] The Emotional Hell of Going No-Contact With a Narcissist […]

  14. Kristen Milstead

    Hi Millie. I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. It must be incredibly difficult and painful to have so many people in your life that you recognize do not have your best interests at heart. I’m so glad to hear you have been taking the steps to remove them from your life, however, I know those feelings of aloneness and betrayal are very challenging to overcome despite all the toxic people in your life have done. I hope you will take good care of yourself during this time, and seek out others who are going through the same. There are a lot of us out here! Thank you for being here, and for reading my blog. I’m glad you found this article so helpful. Stay safe and strong. -Kristen

  15. I will be reading this article over again and again! I am recovering from a break up with a Lesser Narc which is hard enough but have to go No Contact with the whole of my family. Both parents and 2 siblings, the other is in denial/Flying Monkey screaming at me that ‘no one believes me’ as if that means that the abuse and violence I suffered most of my life ( I am 54 and had a chronic illness since i was 14) never happened. Its hard to give yourself the love that has been denied you since childhood – although they say they love you.
    Not many people talk about having to leave your whole family behind and set out on your own… and feeling dazed that you have been alone all along really!
    Christmas is the worst as they tell you how put out they are having to invite you despite the fact that you pay for it and spend hundreds on presents for their children getting nothing in return.They don’t care that you have no one, no children of your own. You are always a burden to them and are expected to visit them despite how it drains you physically. They don’t care about your disability and leave you living in poverty. Getting over an ex is hard yes but having to live without anyone close to you is HELL.

  16. I will be reading this article over again and again! I am recovering from a break up with a Lesser Narc which is hard enough but have to go No Contact with the whole of my family. Both parents and 2 siblings, the other is in denial/Flying Monkey screaming at me that ‘no one believes me’ as if that means that the abuse and violence I suffered most of my life ( I am 54 and had a chronic illness since i was 14) never happened. Its hard to give yourself the love that has been denied you since childhood – although they say they love you.
    Not many people talk about having to leave your whole family behind and set out on your own… and feeling dazed that you have been alone all along really!
    Christmas is the worst as they tell you how put out they are having to invite you despite the fact that you pay for it and spend hundreds on presents for their children getting nothing in return.They don’t care that you have no one, no children of your own. You are always a burden to them and are expected to visit them despite how it drains you physically. They don’t care about your disability and leave you living in poverty. Getting over an ex is hard yes but having to live without anyone close to you is HELL.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Millie. I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. It must be incredibly difficult and painful to have so many people in your life that you recognize do not have your best interests at heart. I’m so glad to hear you have been taking the steps to remove them from your life, however, I know those feelings of aloneness and betrayal are very challenging to overcome despite all the toxic people in your life have done. I hope you will take good care of yourself during this time, and seek out others who are going through the same. There are a lot of us out here! Thank you for being here, and for reading my blog. I’m glad you found this article so helpful. Stay safe and strong. -Kristen

  17. I have been in two narcissitic marriages (one currently) – problem is the narcissist had and still have full protection of family law “in the interests of the children” – I have had precious little contact with my children for perhaps a decade or more now – they have been totally controlled by the ex-wife and her equally narcissitic and controlling evil father – I am bereft of information as to what is going on in their lives other than by third parties who seem to gain pleasure in asking me if I have had any contact with either of my two kids from my first marriage and then relaying important third hand information like ” I’ve heard your daughter might have got engaged” – this is all beyond pain and I am at the point of total despair – The law has enforced that I have had to give millions to my ex for my children – but showed no interest in ensuring my continued right to have any relationship with them – Now they’re both too old and beyond the scope of family law – I have been cheated from every angle. I am a pharmacist who had my own business for 16 years – By divorcing my violent ex-wife I was made to suffer the long-term brunt of my decision through perpetual derision of anything I tried to do to further my relationship with my children – she still today has full power over every decision they take and make – I am in total despair.

  18. Do you have any idea why there are so many narcistic people in the (western) world today? I was raised by them and that off course made me attract both narcistic friends and potential partners.
    Or maybe I better say potential friends as well. Cause in the end they just give you the illusion of being your friend/partner. But never really were.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Lhena! There are a lot of researchers who try to estimate the prevalence of narcissism/sociopathy/psychopathy and combined, it seems to be somewhere around 10% (about 6% for narcissism and 4% for sociopathy/psychopathy), however, that might be a little high because there could be some overlap. What that really means is that one in every ten people, statistically speaking, would be lacking in conscience or empathy. So we’re likely to meet quite a few in our lifetimes! Some are more dangerous than others (some narcissists won’t be malignant narcissists, for example), but I think it helps being aware that there are people out there who just don’t have pro-social goals and to start trusting our own instincts on people. I’m learning how to get mine back since leaving my relationship.

  19. I’ve been reading a lot about narcissistic relationships and the end of them and constantly wondering if it was me – until I read this. I have felt (and are still feeling) all of the above. It’s all so clear now, looking back, but no article has ever put a breakup with a narc in such clear perspective. Suddenly I feel normal. It wasn’t me. It was him.

    1. Same here, I have had no contact since June 2017 and today was a bad day I just need to talk with him even though I am in a happy healthy relationship with someone I love so much I just need his answers and approval for me to move on.

      Should I contact him?

      1. Kristen Milstead

        No. He will never give you the answers or validation you seek. He may not be aware of why he does what he does and even if he is, his answers won’t be satisfying. It won’t make anything better and might make things worse. Please don’t.

      2. Nooooo please don’t. U will feel so much worse after. Talk to someone else rather or write on this forum

      3. I ended a six year relationship with a covert narcissist the day I realized what he was. Immediate and absolute no contact. I realized this is a person who created his own existence. Everything about him was an illusion and I believe he does not even know who he truly is. You cannot trust in them, either their words or actions which we all know are generally contradictory. Why do you feel you need to be validated by a narcissist? I don’t need an explanation or an apology from a liar and someone who has no clear grasp of reality. It would consider it insulting and demeaning if he tried to do either. I trust and value myself enough that I don’t need that from him. What I take from it is that I was chosen because I am an empath with a beautiful inner strength, full of love and all of the great and wonderful qualities a human being should possess. He was attracted to my light because I was everything he wasn’t but wanted to posses. He couldn’t break me because I’m still here and standing tall. I will go on and give my love to others while he will remain in his cycle of despair and emptiness. I do not need to be validated by someone like him.

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