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How to Outsmart a Narcissist and Break Their Spell

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To outsmart a narcissist, the first step is to become very aware of the trap they’ve put you in.   

When you’re with a narcissist, you’re typically in limbo where either you leave and then they draw you back in once again, or they give you a silent treatment or discard you, leaving you baffled over what has just taken place.

Often they then return after a period of days or weeks to tell you that they can’t live without you. We need to be able to outsmart the narcissist in order to ever break out of this pattern that keeps us locked in invisible chains that weaken our ability to ever leave at all.

There is a reason you feel inexplicably tied to them.

It is clearly a relationship, although it is like no other you have ever experienced. You are bound to them in ways you can’t explain to anyone else.

Things would be perfect… if only they would stop psychologically and/or physically harming you, if only they would stop triangulating you with others, accusing you of cheating or of not loving them, then threatening to leave you for someone who will love them better. When did things get so confusing, so backward?

It is hope, both lost and found.

And yet it is despair.

It is slow death by a poisoned will to act.

All this because you already know the truth but they won’t let you have it. 

How Narcissists Trap You In the Abuse Cycle

In the narcissistic abuse cycle, there is a clear cycle of idealization, devaluation, discard, and hoovering that describes what happens in our relationships with them. 

It can be difficult to understand why a narcissist repeatedly progresses through these four stages until we begin to examine the larger pattern of our interactions with them and what they are trying to accomplish. [Read Idealization and Devaluation: Why Narcissists Flip]

Because narcissists split people into “good” and “bad” they are constantly fluctuating between feeling victimized and feeling emboldened by what other people do. 

They do not take into account the effect of their own actions because they feel entitled to do whatever they want to do to get their own needs met. If there is a problem, because they cannot accept that what they do might be wrong, the problem must exist because of what the partner is doing.


If they love how you treat them, they will idealize you.  If they perceive you have slighted them, they feel victimized by what you have done and will tear you down– and lack the emotional empathy to see how they have hurt you.

Then if you give in to what they want and work harder to show them how much you love them, you provide them with the ego boost they need to make them feel like they are in control once again and they may start to shower you with praise and love because you’ve put them in that position of strength.

But it’s not an equal relationship.  They don’t provide a foundation of respect, honesty and their “love” is conditional, based on your one-down position of not challenging them or demanding these things.

What they will never do is see how they are the problem, how they are the cause of this harmful and abusive dynamic.  They do not believe there is anything wrong with them.  They cannot bear to be criticized for any of their wrongs and view you as the problem for pointing out what they did. 

Ultimately, it is a self-reinforcing model from hell where the relationship deteriorates to the point to where you will be so ill there is little value left for them to extract, and as that happens, their abuse gets worse, which in turn breaks you down further. 

There is no happy ending.  

How to Outsmart a Narcissist

Recognizing this pattern is the first step to extricating ourselves from it, because spiraling downward is going to make it harder to both leave and recover.

In each of the four stages– idealize, devalue, discard, and hoover– they have woven a tapestry in which they can dominate you into providing them with what they need while giving as little in return as possible to get it from you. You are reacting to what the narcissist does in the way you have been conditioned to do so at each stage.

That means, however, that you have four chances to react differently. 

With even a few minor tweaks in what you do in one or more of the stages, you can start to pull some threads in this entire cycle until it falls apart. Although doing it once or twice may not get you where you need to go at first, each act is a step in the direction of no-contact and this is how you build up your strength to leave.  

This is how you outsmart a narcissist.

Learn more about how to outsmart a narcissist

Idealization Phase

In the idealization phase, when they’ve put you back on the pedestal again, you know you have to jump through all those hoops to stay there.  What if you do the opposite of walking on eggshells?  

Example:  My ex texted me nonstop when I was out with my friends.  Once the devaluation period of the relationship started, if I took longer than an hour or so to respond, I was subjected to accusations and name-calling. 

Yet, at some point, I stopped caring how long it took to respond.  Why?  

Some part of me had started to see the pattern. No matter what I did, he was always going to find a reason to be upset with me. What difference did it make if he got upset about how long it took me to text back?  What was the worst he was going to do?  He’d already subjected me to his rage over it multiple times. I’d become numb to it, so I called his bluff.

You:  What if you tried something like this instead of trying to avoid the devaluation phase altogether or one of the predictable issues you know is coming? 

Realize that the devaluation is an inevitability.  Your partner will always find something to become threatened about or offended by. Avoiding the walk on eggshells, even if you start with just one or two actions, helps you to accept this fact that there is no different outcome. 

Devaluation Phase

So they’ve started in on the verbal abuse, the accusations, the gaslighting and the lies, the cheating.  You’re back to the same old pattern. 

Don’t try to hold back. They want you to remain silent but avoid the urge to give into the conditioning.  Keep calling them out.  The difference now is that you should try to do it from a more empowered position, if possible.

Examples:  “I don’t put up with that type of behavior anymore” and leave the room.  “Your attempt to paint me in a negative light is noted.”  “I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work.”  Stay calm.

If you respond from a position of power, they have nothing to smear about you to others.   

What are they going to say– claim that you have done something you didn’t actually do by twisting your lack of reaction or avoidance of a real response to their baiting questions or statements as an “admission of guilt?”  (My ex was a master of this). 

If they do, note it silently to yourself. You’re sticking up for yourself and they’re not letting you have boundaries and self-respect.

Discard Phase

If they discard you or give you a silent treatment because you’re not putting up with their abuse or giving them the reaction they need to feel validated, be mindful of what that tells you.  If he or she loves you so much, wouldn’t they want you to feel respected and wouldn’t they want to be with you?

Don’t placate their twisted victimization.  Remember:  you were just sticking up for yourself.  You remained calm and asked to be respected.  Now they’re rejecting or ignoring you for it?  Let that sink in.

When they aren’t around, this is a period of self-reflection and self-care.  Use it and avoid reaching out to them.

Hoover Phase

If they come back, don’t excuse what they did and don’t forget.  Note this pattern to yourself and how it repeats.

Ask them about what they are doing and why.  Listen carefully for their answers.  Note the inconsistency– because there will be some and it likely won’t sit well.  If they want to come back so badly, why start arguments over ridiculous topics?  Why treat you so badly?  Pay attention.

The Narcissistic Abuse Dynamic Is Not Your Destiny

Repeat all of this as many time as it takes. Yes, it may be mixed in with moments of weakness where you give in to what they want as well.  But there will be times when you won’t.

Sometimes the pattern will look something like this:




The difference between you and your narcissist partner is that the narcissist is doomed to repeat the pattern they started with you.

You are not.  You can change it.

You can use the knowledge of exactly what is happening to outsmart the narcissist and stop this painful nightmare.  You can make different choices!

I know, because I did it, and I’m not special.  It isn’t easy, but the good news is that any choice to make one small change in what you do, in how you react or process what is happening, or even challenge how you think about what is happening makes it easier to make other changes.

When you start to do these things, you are doing is the following:

  1. Making yourself such a nuisance to the narcissist that they will stay gone for longer periods of time, giving yourself time to reduce or eliminate your chemical addiction to the relationship.
  2. Making yourself so uncomfortable with this pattern consciously that it is more uncomfortable for you to be in the relationship that any comfort they can offer you by their presence when they are there cannot overcome the anxiety and discomfort you feel by the relationship overall.

If You Want to Outsmart a Narcissist, Taking Small Steps is the Key 

This is why even starting with small actions helps. 

The actions accumulate and increase your ability to perform more of them and think about the relationship with a clearer frame of mind, ultimately leading to the strength you need to outsmart the narcissist and overpower the dynamic of the relationship entirely and get out.

You don’t have to start at or wait for the idealization stage to do it.  Start anywhere.  Start where you are now.

If you are in the devaluation stage with them, start reacting calmly or walking away to what they do.  If you are in the discard phase, stop trying to contact them.  Ponder why they discarded you and take note of how they trap you in this pattern.

I promise you that it may not happen right away, but the day will come that you will start to see them in a different light as you begin to develop new neural pathways in your brain in how you are thinking about the relationship and change the pattern in how you are responding to it.

Your partner will become less and less appealing.

One day, you will find your way to saying, “No more” and it will be your the truth, the one that was waiting for you all along, and they won’t be able to keep it from you anymore.


If you’d like to download the free toolkit with more ideas about how to leave the relationship or get over the narcissist, go here:

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. I’m in a discard phase with mine after 1 1/2 years of lying and cheating. Caught him soooo many times chatting texting sneaking calls with supposed ex plus so many women I can’t count anymore. When he is with me he blocks everyone and denies knowing whose calling if I bring it up he goes into a rage. Last straw found different opened boxes of condoms in his jacket on top of closet in his back pack. Found sex toy on top of his dresser he denied using it with someone. He deletes security camera history he switches it offline and claims it’s provider fault. Does not answer calls all day and night and claims phone was dead no charger or no signal. Last Thursday he joked that nobody loves him so I jokingly mentioned that all the women he is chatting with seeing and meeting for. Sex all loves him and that i was proud that he now uses condoms. He went into a rage and accused me that our relationship won’t work that I will never change so it’s better to pack my things and he is driving me back to NY which is 3 hour drive from PA. He already contacted his ex and a woman he had a child back home in the Philippines and had affair with while married. I’m drained.

    1. Hi Jessie: I’m so sorry this is happening to you. My heart goes out to you to read the experiences you have been having. I hope that you are able to find some peace in all this and find your way out of his darkness. Stay strong! -Kristen

      1. Thank you because now I understand what I’m going through. I was so lost and even doubted myself. A friend even told me that I should have not expected more since we are not married. I was confused even longing for him although I knew there was something seriously wrong. I stopped asking in order to avoid a fight and the rage. Now that I’m back home and blocked him from contacting me i now see things clearly and understand specially after reading your article. Thank you so much

  2. I called mine selfish and she discarded me and is with someone else. We were engaged.

    While my heart understands all this, its hard for my heart. Still miss her. Still think of her. It will take time

  3. I was in 2 narcissistic relationships 8 years ago. Before these I had never experienced or even knew these predators existed and how the 4 cycles worked. I did intense work on myself and never thought I could be fooled again.
    In Decembee I became FB friends with someone I meant in 6th grade and knew through high school. We were not friends, we just knew of each other. We began December, he flew to see me in Feb. He was my kindred spirit I believed. I feel because we grew up in the same area, we had both left our home states and we had so much in common. We were in love, he was planning on moving her to live with me at the new year 2020. There were some flags or things I tucked away in my intuition file. Fast forward to June and I had seen inconsistencies, noticed other things as well. He argued with me a few times very recently and tried to shut me down. I know who I am and this is what saved me. I trusted my gut. I KNEW he was covert narcissist. He had barely dropped his mask but I knew what was coming
    I lived this nightmare before and I wasn’t waiting to be sure.
    I immediately issued NO.CONTACT
    I blocked all numbers, I blocked anyone on FB who knew both of is or who he was friend with..sadly this included some of my immediate family who I convinced I was with THE ONE
    When you do this to a narcissist before they even truly devalue you and truse me discard was not in this person vision..they become I infuriated. I had to try an explain to my family. I know from learning the hard way trying to explain narcissistic abuse to anyone who has not experienced look delusional. I accept this. He tried to feign caring about me to family and friends and when this didn’t work he flipped or his mask fell off un writing. This was a vital mistake because before this it.was his word against mine.
    I have learned to do NO CONTACT FOR REAL no to play a game or get them back. I also know use them for what they are. A mirror to our parts which need healing. They are a catalyst for growth. I don’t ponder about this person.
    He has threatened to come to the city I live through a mutual friend.
    I understand fully how dangerous a covert narcissist who is dealt a narcissitic injury like this is capable of anything
    He has no power over me and had no idea I was planning.MY EXIT. As soon as I realized..when things were “still good” I executed my EXIT PLAN. Do I feel bad he didn’t see it coming? NO! It only gets work folks and they annihilate you if you let them.
    I have empathy for these broken individuals but not to the extent where I will go back, unblock or ever reengage
    Melanie Tonia Evan’s is a women who specialized in this and I have learned so much.
    I am exhausted, I feel betrayed and disappointed but no surprised. These predators exist and always’s the victims who carry so much damage unless we do the work.
    It is an invidious disorder but we can heal and thrive!
    It is our only hope..

    1. Thank you so much Sara. It’s true everyone who knows nothing about this (wish I was one who never experienced it). I am so grateful to ya’ll for sharing. I believe learning about this cycle NPD, etc empowers us, the victims
      . It strengthens me and begins to heal many wounds. Thank you, Sara

  4. Read this again if you are struggling with what to do. Read it every day. I did this, most of it, and am 2 months no contact after 12 yrs of confusion and abuse.
    It works. I wish I’d seen this article before I left since I muddled through figuring it out as I went but it works. It will change your perspectives. It will help you. Please, please, Save yourselves. They are not worth sacrificing your life for.
    Thank you Kristen for putting into words every single thing I’ve felt for over a decade.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      You’re so welcome. I’m so glad that it’s been helpful for you. I’m so glad that you’re out of the relationship and feeling stronger now. -Kristen

  5. Great article. Very helpful and knowledgeable to discern the pattern, and how to break it.

  6. Your posts and sharing has helped immensely! I was in a relationship for 11 years with a sociopathic narcissist and as I got married young- had kids and was married for 18 years then divorced, I had NO idea what a sociopathic narcissist was. He became my boyfriend after my divorce. Throughout this I journalled EVERYTHING and encourage others to do the same. Not only is it a law record- I found it unreal how much I blocked out just to survive. It has given me “no contact” strength and your description of the feast or famine concept is precise.

  7. I really like this, I’m a survivor also. Only my ex became extremely physically abuse often and that’s why I never felt I could stand up to him. Thankfully we’ve been separated for 4.5 years now but we have 2 children together. It’s really hard to have to deal with him during exchanging the kids for his weekends. I’m so disgusted by him and his narcissistic behavior but I just do my best to not say anything because I don’t want to talk badly about him or cause arguments infront of the children.

  8. My ex from 3 years ago was a total narcissit. This reminds me a lot of him. I’m in a new relationship now and I made the mistake of labelig my fiance too quickly. I was doing this pattern and then I realized my partner isn’t a narcissist. Having this belief system actually made me create negative patterns in the relationship. I kept shutting him out, accusing him of being manipulative and that led to him not feeling heard. I decided to listen and validate him instead. His concerns were actually very real. He also listened and validated my concerns. We’re engaged now and there’s no more “pattern.” It turns out I was just shutting down communicaiotn.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Jennifer: Congratulations! That’s great news! I would say that it sounds like you are on a path of healthy healing from your past relationship. I wish you well in your continued recovery. -Kristen

  9. Wish I had read this a year or two ago…. very good reads. Knowledge is power with these soulless wonders…. : )

  10. Wish I had read this a year or two ago…. very good reads. Knowledge is power with these soulless wonders…. : )

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Lynn: Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Yes it is, I completely agree! -Kristen

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