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The 3 Stages of No-Contact with a Narcissist

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This is going to be the first personal post I’ve written in a long time.

For those who have been reading for a while, you might have noticed that many of my posts for months have been more objective rather than subjective, although I often use my own experience as examples because I don’t want to violate anyone else’s privacy.

There was a very good reason for that, I realize.

My recovery has been happening in real time.

In the earliest days after no-contact, I wrote articles about what it felt like to be in a relationship with a narcissist and go no-contact, my confusion over why the relationship had gone the way it had, and questions that were still lingering.

It was my way of trying to cope with the emotional hell of no-contact, the absolute lack of anchoring felt when a person who has made themselves such an omnipotent force in your life, both benevolent and malevolent, to the point that a part of your identity has been eroded is suddenly gone.

It is not just the end of a relationship– it is an escape. But it is one in which you are no longer equipped to deal with the world in the same way you once were, as you have been corrupted in some way you can’t explain with words to anyone who has never been there.

I did not know it, but no-contact has many layers to it. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far.


Stage One of No-Contact: Freefall

Going no-contact sends us into freefall. Everything we know has been violated and we struggle for something to hang onto that isn’t tainted. They have made themselves the only thing that seems worth hanging onto, although they feel tainted too because of everything good we shared with them they have gleefully ripped to shreds.

Breaking that connection is one of the hardest things we will ever have to do, because walking away means living only as the shell where they hollowed us out. It’s a choice between one hell or another.

Sometimes it becomes a lack of choice as they swallow us until we nearly disappear, but that doesn’t make the agony or the emptiness any less powerful once they are physical absent.

They taught us to think as they think, feel as they feel, do as they wanted, defend on their behalf, keep their insane secrets, poison our own souls. When the bars of their prison lift, we have forgotten what it feels like to be free even when a part of us hates them for what they have done.

Being in freefall occurs because closure is not possible. At least not closure as we normally think about it.

Narcissists cannot give you closure because the relationship was never a relationship in the traditional sense to begin with. This means it can never end in a way that will tie up loose ends and provide us with a sense that either of us was anything but a ghost during the time we were together.

The ending creates a spiritual sense in us that we never existed and that they never did either.

And yet, that in and of itself has an explanation. By understanding what passed between us and how, that explanation itself can be the closure we need– even if it wasn’t the closure we expected.

So began my quest for my own closure, in which I sought answers.

Phase One was all about the emotional aspect of struggling through the initial shock of what had just happened, of stumbling out of a madhouse and catching my breath, of letting his distorted views fade away.


Stage Two of No-Contact: Intellectualizing

As my heartbeat finally started to stop thrumming in my chest and the grief over the permanent loss of him was staunched by the soothing calmness caused by his absence, I could finally turn to rational thought.

I intellectualized this subject to death. I read everything I could get my hands on.

I talked to people who are considered authorities on the subject and asked them my questions.

I listened to hundreds of hours of video by experts, both narcissists themselves and those who work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.

I heard hundreds of your stories.

I myself wrote hundreds of thousands of words about my own experiences, sorting through the narrative of what happened to me and trying to put everything I had heard and read together to generate a cohesive picture that made sense, a working theory– several working theories in some cases.

I did all this so I could stop the questions and move on from emotions that did nothing but fell into a void.

It came to me quite suddenly recently. I have reached the end.

There is no more I need to know.

Not about him.

He is gone.

I had felt eroded by him, as what he did was done slowly– one lie, one jab, one cruel word– at a time, like grains of sand being scrubbed from a mountaintop by the wind.

In contrast, I scooped him out from inside me one shovelful at a time, each new understanding gained from a question answered, ripping his connection to me out by the roots in much bigger chunks than it was put there in the first place.

Phase Two was about purging my ex-boyfriend from my being through facing the truth and gaining the understanding behind his behavior I’d never had before.


Stage Three of No-Contact: Introspection

Everyone who has been through this said this day would come: I feel nothing where he is concerned.

He is completely gone.

And yet, somehow, this recovery is not over.

Aptly, it is even now that I have realized that there are phases to no-contact.

I had assumed that when there were no more emotions around him, everything would be back to normal. I would feel differently, having gone through the ordeal of the relationship– but I had expected my life to return mostly back to the way it had been, except I would be wiser and stronger.


In war, when battle is over and the enemy has been disarmed, when the threat is gone and the danger has passed, there has always been a cost, even for the winner. Buildings are burned to the ground, resources are depleted, the population is decimated. Rebuilding begins.

This period is typically called Reconstruction.

This is where I realized I have a choice. I could prematurely have ended my recovery, declared myself healed and moved forward into my new life.

I ripped him out, so there is no more of this narcissist bizarro-programming going on inside me, and I understand why he did what he did, but I can feel the wounds that I still need to heal in myself now.

The choice that I have now seemed painful either way:

  • Gloss over the wounds by ignoring them.
  • Work through the trauma that has been done in a thorough way, examining it not only from the perspective of the relationship but through anything potentially tied to the traumas that happened before and how they have either been re-triggered or put me in a position to be re-victimized.

Oh, God.. let me tell you just how much I don’t want to do that. And yet it’s precisely what I need to do.

Only now do I even have a preview of how all of my traumas have been tied together, even the ones that seem so completely unrelated and the ones that I have processed long ago.

The thought of understanding myself and the whole of my life so completely, of pulling out all of this from the closet feels so overwhelming, that the hopelessness of defeat has had its moments, as if what I had gone through in this relationship had been too damaging for me to ever recover.

Yet, I know I have to go on living and persisting in the world and if I gloss over the trauma and my wounds, they’d still be there anyway and I would still be guided by them involuntarily.

I couldn’t decide which fate I feared more.

What if I ended up in a relationship with another narcissist, someone who would hurt me in those exact same ways I’d been sliced open before, someone who would know exactly what crevices in which to shove himself to exploit me so those wounds would cease to cry out because they were still my blind spots, but would rip open again and perhaps this time never heal.

Or perhaps I’d just suppress everything, see danger in every act, like looking through one-way mirrors, always an observer and never a participant, too scared to trust anyone, and instead try to bury my pain in solitude, work, or some other vice.

Or I could look inward and fill myself back in– the right way– so no one could ever do that to me again.

The choice was really a non-choice, to accept the pain of facing myself now.

I don’t even know exactly what that will look like, I only know that a lack of honesty with myself would short-circuit my healing and either land me back in the same spot or leave me in a state where I could not integrate what had happened completely and become a whole person again.

When I accepted that, I realized that this is an opportunity.

Never before has someone so cleanly stripped me bare inside and made me question so much.

Instead of reacting, I choose to rebuild.

Instead of weakness, I choose strength.

Instead of subconscious disempowerment by a fire I didn’t set, I choose actively walking into the blaze to finally extinguish it.

This is going to be painful. It already is.

Every area of my life and every period of my life has been passing through my mind on a conveyor belt that hasn’t stopped in weeks.

One of the things I’ve realized is that there are patterns to this I need to figure out, patterns related to me putting myself in dangerous situations, my lack of recognition of many different kinds of predators over the last few years, my focus on one person’s infliction of pain and blindness to how other people were also exploiting me, and an inability to recognize inappropriate behavior on behalf of others elsewhere in other domains of my life.

And my desire to save, save, save, everyone and anyone, instead of myself, while hiding. Always hiding and reserving my true self for my perceived rescuer– who turned out to be the one slowly killing me.

What the hell was that about?

I’m ready to focus on the scorched earth that has been left behind in all this devastation. It’s not noble, nor is it pretty.

I have no idea where it will lead me yet. What comes after this? Is there a Phase Four?

I don’t know.

The only thing I know is that the hardest thing I will have to do so far is to forgive myself.


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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.


  1. Holy shit. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words- thoughts that I couldn’t quite put together. This helped me so much.

  2. Thank you for your writing. This is the hardest thing I have ever been through. Soon it will be 6 months of No contact. The pain is still raw and I find it really hard understanding what happened to me. I still do therapy twice a week and I am working hard to move on. Realizing who this man was is still a shock but I understand why I lost all confidence, 25 kilos and myself in only 9 months. I can not wait until the day I feel completely healed.

    1. I also do therapy twice weekly. Sometimes I feel like I will never get past all the hurt and sadness. I go from angry and hating him to missing him. Why do I miss and love him so much for all I allowed him to do to me. I should only hate him.
      Though I made the decision to have no contact, I’m still allowing him to control my mind and thoughts. Though I know he will NEVER be truly sorry and he will NEVER take responsibility for any of my hurt. I am afraid I will taker that call . I cant even block him because then I cant see if he tried calling or text me. Am I that insane and messed up. Its crazy

      1. Julie, I want you to know you are not alone. It is not easy what you are going through. Missing someone you truly cared for is hard, and all the pain he causes you still not going to change the fact you are a human being with feeling. Allow your feelings to serve its time. Sadness, disappointment, anger, and missing all okay. Hoping you will have more strength to deal during your healing journey.

  3. Kristen, You write so purely, deeply and eloquently and your toolkit is such a lifesaver for me. In fact, I shared it with my therapist and she loved it. This deep introspection you discuss is so essential no matter how painful, because your mindful awareness will empower you and all of us. I am at the end of a 39-year marriage (three cats and no children by choice) to a narcissist and at the third and fourth stage and moving quickly as I read the H. G. Tudor links you provided and your five stages article. The crazy-making behavior at my home is becoming more and more obvious and while my husband was highly-successful in business and is well-liked and respected in the community, taking leadership to the max, at the home level the cold, emotionally-indifferent persona takes over. I would love to hear one or two specific examples that occurred with your narcissist. Can you share a couple of experiences without violating privacy issues? Mine run the gamut from screaming at me over insignificant things (I’m late getting in the car, my lentil soup is causing the stovetop he cleaned to get soiled in the midst of my cooking (!), calling him out for leaving the Dutch door screen open so our cats won’t get out and then being the brunt of a huge raging, outburst rather than saying he’s sorry (this then morphed into the notion that he thought I’d bought a new scratching post (I hadn’t; he just didn’t recall we had two!) and that I cluttered up the house and spent money needlessly, all the while I’m stirring my lentil soup. You get the picture. I’m so close to leaving. Add that my Dad is now in hospice and his health is day to day (my narcissist husband didn’t even go to his 90th birthday party this spring, because “they don’t like me and what do they do for me‽”), so these are difficult and stressful times for me. I’m so glad I found you, Kristen.

    1. Hi Vicki: I really must thank *you* for taking the time to join in the conversations here and share so much of your story. I’m so glad that you have found the things I have written here so helpful, and thank you so much for your kind words about them. You ask for me to share some experiences about crazy-making experiences, or examples from my relationship. I have shared a few specific things in my articles across time and the ones I can think of off the top of my head are “How Did I Know He Was a Narcissist?”, “How My Narcissist Ex Gained Control Over Me,” “What Cruelty By a Narcissist Looks Like.” These are very extreme examples. As far as the everyday stuff went, where should I start?? I will say that gaslighting was one of the biggest crazy-makers, because he did it constantly, and my merely asking about it he could then turn around back on me, and then that was a further form of the conditioning. Here are just a few examples:

      -He added an ex-girlfriend back to a social media app that he claimed was obsessed with him and he was trying to avoid and who he also claimed had called me names and I was pretty upset about it since he’d made such a big deal about how she’d tried to interfere in our relationship, and he claimed it was an Internet glitch and suddenly she disappeared from his list. For six hours he tried to claim he didn’t add her. It was only after I said he was lying and I didn’t date liars and was about to break up with him that he admitted he was lying. If I hadn’t screenshotted it, I would have started to doubt myself. One of the few times he came clean– this happened early. I had proof and he knew I was serious about walking away.

      -He told me he didn’t care if I left, that there would always be someone better to come along. Later, I reminded him what he said and he said, “I didn’t say that, I said you could find someone better.”

      -He’d say he met people certain places, then say he met them somewhere else. I’d say, but I thought you said you met them [first place]. He’d say, “I never said that.”

      -He told me a story about his father that he said happened in the country that he is originally from. Later he told me the same story and said it happened to his uncle. Then I started to doubt myself and think maybe I’d misheard and that he was repeating it and had told it to me about his uncle the first time.

      -He told me about the first time he had sex with an ex-girlfriend once randomly. Later, he was telling me a similar story that he said happened at a party, and I said, I thought you said that happened with [the ex-girlfriend]– “I never said that. You don’t even know that story or what you’re talking about. Why are you bringing her up?”

      -“I’m going to stop by the gym on the way home.” Me: “Okay.” The next day. Him: “Yesterday when I stopped by [the gas station where his friend works…]” Me: “I thought you went to the gym?” Him: “The gym? I didn’t say that. Well, maybe I did, I don’t remember, but who cares where I was? Why do you always have to start an argument.”

      Gaslighting, gaslighting, gaslighting, all day long… it was ridiculous.

      Anyway, I hope that this is helpful. It’s not pretty to live with, but the more you can get out from under it even just to spend some time away, the more your head clears enough to start getting your own control back.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave your comments and for your kind words. Keep being strong! -Kristen

    2. At least he said sorry, mine never did. It was always my fault.

  4. Ya know what ladies, men go through this as victims as well. All the comments are saying the man or the husband or the boy etc etc. That needs to be addressed.

    1. Hi Rick: The only way it can be addressed is by men with female partners telling their own stories, not by shaming or blaming women who are already telling their own. I believe every woman here who has mentioned men as narcissists is writing from the experience of their lives, just as you are welcome to write about yours. None of us need to feel guilty about how we tell our stories and claim.the narratives of what happened. As survivors, we are all on the same side. Thank you for leaving a comment. -Kristen

  5. Hi Kristen,

    Your articles have really hit home for me! I am a pretty self-confident, honest, assertive person, with a history of healthy relationships so I was shocked to find myself in a situation where I was being so well manipulated by a narcissist in my workplace. He came off as being charming and funny. His games were so subtle I didn’t realize I was becoming consumed until I was in deep. You have made me realize that ANYBODY can be manipulated by a narcissist because EVERYONE has scars and insecurities and narcissists are professionals at exploiting those areas. They are even good at taking advantage of positive qualities you have (Ex: sympathy, caring for others, etc) My breaking point came when he outright threatened to burn down my friend’s house and harass my family on social media. I realized I was scared to be home alone and enough was enough. I decided to out him because I had reached a point where that option was better than continuing to live the way I had been living. I revealed information to people that he had been using to black mail me. Like you, I have found comfort in researching the topic and learning that I am not weak or unusual; many people have been through the same thing that I have! I have also decided to look inward and address the issues within myself that made me susceptible to his vile games. I have made a point to learn from the experience and think positively about my future even if I feel weak. I went through a phase where I thought I could never trust men again but I have realized that my energy is better spent on recognizing patterns and being able to see warning signs earlier on because there are always warning signs! My situation actually turned out better than I had hoped. I reported specific examples of abuse to my employer in a calm, professional manner even though I had no solid evidence of his abuse (out of shame, fear and self-blame I deleted his texts.) Even though I had already quit my job without warning, my employer looked into it, fired my coworker and asked for me to come back. There are still good people in the world! The important thing is to gather your evidence once you suspect you are involved with a narcissist and present the information in a practical way. Give yourself time to grieve and heal and realize that the pain you feel today will be useful to you in the future if you refuse to give up on yourself!

    1. Hi Jesse: That is all so horrible! You went through a lot. I’m sorry you had to quit your job. I’m glad you had a supportive employer, however, even though the damage is still something that you had to deal with psychologically. Thank you for sharing your story. It provides me with a lot of hope! -Kristen

  6. This whole situation of figuring out exactly what I was going through has been the hardest realization I have to accept in my whole life. I almost feel I have become weaker as I have grown older or because of the fact I am the age I am and knowing now what my relationship was with this man. He has a son and I have been raising him for 4 years and now I have a huge emptiness because of that loss. This has all been an awakening for me, I truly didn’t know such people existed, that if you were giving everything of you they were doing the same. To find out all the betrayal, deceit, and knowing now it was all just a lie. The last 4 years of my life have been a lie, this haunts me every single minute of every single day. I want so badly for someone to wake me up and say it was just a dream but the cruelty of his words and actions will scar me forever. I am very new to this and doing my best to stay strong but now I’m broke, homeless and fighting for my job. I don’t know how I got here and still trying to comprehend how he never loved me. How can all this pain and hurt not be seen by him and the fact he caused it. I’m lost, broken and now don’t trust anything I feel. Thank you for giving me insight on a subject I didn’t even fathom actually existed.

    1. Hello, and thank you for being here and being willing to share so much about what you have been through. I’m so sorry. I think so many of us can relate to both the experiences and the emotions. It may be little comfort but please know that you are not alone. Also, you can get through the pain of losing him… it takes, I believe, grieving and understanding that the loss is not over him as a person but over what we thought the relationship was and a kindness toward ourselves for having lived through it believing it. There was nothing wrong with us for being true and acting the way normal humans behave.. there is something wrong with them. And it takes as long as it takes so don’t let anyone tell you when you should be “over it” and have moved on. It seems then comes the “what now” part. But that’s I guess the rebuilding. You will get through this even though it may not seem like it. Please don’t give up hope. -Kristen

  7. Hi Kristen – I had been called Jezebel and Delilah by my narcissist. Until recently I had not researched. It is Biblical terminology. Do yourself a favour and you and divsine reading on this area – you will realise why this has been so hard. This is the closest thing you will ever get to relating to evil or the devil. It’s even mentioned in the scripture that it parallels narcissism – probably the malignant giant type! An angle perhaps you may not have covered. You have been trying to escape a vortex of evil – that is another reason it feels so hard to rise up and get out. Read something in these two names and you will see the uncanny parallels. It blew me away- unexpectedly! And you may find the closure you are desperate seeking Good luck and keep smiling ??!

  8. Nice! I’m almost a year of a pretty solid but not perfect no-contact. But today I passed my ex on the sidewalk and felt not much. I just said a calm hello and kept walking. Just a feeling that they’re the same and I’m different now. I’m not enchanted by her. I know what it’s like close up and it’s not pretty. So – day by day. It Does get better.

  9. Nice! I’m almost a year of a pretty solid but not perfect no-contact. But today I passed my ex on the sidewalk and felt not much. I just said a calm hello and kept walking. Just a feeling that they’re the same and I’m different now. I’m not enchanted by her. I know what it’s like close up and it’s not pretty. So – day by day. It Does get better.

  10. Kristen, this is a powerful message. Thank you for sharing. I am in my reconstruction phase as well. I realized very early on that I had things to fix in myself, but it is so hard to go back and relive these traumatic moments and acknowledge their effect. I was with my Narc for 25 years (22 married). When people tell me I should forgive him, I always respond, I don’t need to forgive him…I only need to forgive myself.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Thank You, Mindy, for taking the time to leave a message. It helps me to feel less alone myself! I think you are exactly right about everything you said.

    2. Hi Karen: Thank you so much for your support. I am so glad you have been able to find some peace and closure in your own recovery. Your words of encouragement and kindness mean so much to me. I appreciate your taking the time to leave them. -Kristen

  11. Omg, Kristin. It pains and heartens me to read such heartfelt words, capturing my current experiences and feelings exactly. Thank you so much for having the courage to articulate such deep, overwhelming, scary and (at times) paralyzing emotions. I’ve found that even with the help of a caring and experienced therapist, this phase doesn’t feel any easier. True, unfettered introspection and forgiving oneself is probably the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to try…and unlike previous broken relationships or childhood experiences, there is no other choice following a relationship with a narcissist. Denial is dangerous, and it feels like there is no other option but to, as you say, walk into the blaze.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Thank YOU for speaking up to support me and helping me feel less alone! I don’t know if it’s courage, but there is a certain exposure I feel about being so brutally honest about my own fears and uncertainty and weaknesses. I have been completely honest to date about what I’m going through and don’t intend to stop now.

  12. Crying my eyes out reading this … Oh the devastation – So hard to bare! One day you feel like your doing better and then the next day it all comes crashing down again. I’ve been in No-Contact for 4 months … I know I must look inside myself … I know exactly why I chose what I did. The desire to be loved, the desire to have someone totally have your back, be loyal, kind and loving! We closes our eyes to the truth, even though there were many red flags early on! The excuses we make up in our heads, actually lying to ourselves, , for the pure hope, that maybe, just maybe he will love me like I need to be loved. What a illusion . We just continue to lie to ourselves .. and even when it is all crumbling down around us … we still hope. Please let him fight for me … please please please!

    1. Kristen Milstead

      I am so sorry you are going through so much pain right now. I recognize all of these feelings so well. Please don’t beat yourself up and don’t do it before you are ready. I believe that we have to fully understand what happened externally before we can turn inward. Otherwise there is too much opening for them to exploit us because they can use our to encourage us to blame ourselves only and not understand what they did and how they are still using it against us. They warp our reality. I know it’s hard for you to hear this right now. I only recognize now it’s time for me to look inside myself now that he is completely out of my consciousness except as a memory. When you no longer feel split in any way, when you no longer have “why” questions, this will likely be the time. Everyone has their own path but I do believe you will know when it is the time. Please know you are not alone. 🙂 Thank you for being here.

  13. Oh Kristin. I’m kind of straddling phases 2 & 3. I still have some fear of him but know that I need to go deep inside myself, face all my demons and work through them. I’m starting therapy soon.I’m guessing that’s when the hard work really begins but if I can survive my life once, I can revisit the traumas and heal them so that the rest of my life is no longer affected by them. It will take as long as it takes, I’m not putting any time limits on it. You don’t get over 39 years of abuse quickly but I have given myself permission to heal for as long as it takes. Much love to you xxx

    1. Hi Amanda: Thank you for taking the time to leave a message. I’m so glad to hear that you’re starting therapy soon. I admire your courage and strength and the kindness you are able to show yourself in this time of vulnerability. I hope that things go well for you and wish you well on your path to recovery. -Kristen

  14. Kristin, I feel your pain and understand your anguish. You used the term Reconstruction, that is what it is. Unless we look deep within and see the patterns and all that has contributed we can not become filled, we remain empty. Thank you for your writing and sharing. It helps to realize we aren’t alone.

    1. Hi Alane: You are so welcome, and thank you so much for reading. -Kristen

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