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8 Things You Realize Only After You Leave the Narcissist

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Step into the funhouse.

The key feature of narcissistic abuse that distinguishes it from other types of abuse is the narcissist’s intricate construction of a false reality to manipulate people in social and romantic relationships.

In the funhouse, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in one of the mirrors, you will recognize yourself, and yet you will look nothing like the person you once were.

You recognize the illusion for what it is, you see the distortion staring back at you, and yet it’s not your universe and no matter how many mirrors you stare into, none of them reflect anything back to you that you can trust.


Because the narcissist can only live in a distorted reality.  In this reality, things make perfect sense to them, because it is the only reality they know and they are always the center of it, and yet it is a selfish and self-absorbed one.

While we’re in it, it’s difficult to see all of this and even immediately afterward, when we’re still putting together the pieces of what happened, it’s not easy to understand. With time, however, as the relationship begins to fade in the distance, there are some realizations that begin to rise to the surface and empower us as our own consciousness comes back around to take control again.


The 8 Things You Either Won’t Learn or Believe Until After You Leave the Narcissist             

1. Yes, it was as bad as you thought it was.

There were many times during the relationship when you likely had abuse amnesia, a dangerous form of psychological denial that our brains use to protect us from a situation we aren’t able to leave because of the connection the narcissist had formed to us.

Even after the relationship ends, there may at first be times when you will look back and wonder if it was as bad for you as your desperation was screaming at times.

Yes.  It was.

As you pass further in time from the relationship, it will feel more like a dream than a reality.  Instead of wondering if it was as bad as you thought it was, you will begin to wonder how you let it go on as long as you did.

This is because the emotional intensity has begun to fade away.  When we are not emotionally involved, things look clearer, however, that doesn’t necessarily make them so.  We just understand them from a different point of view.

Don’t succumb to the danger of shaming yourself for not being an “outsider” to your own relationship.  You walked in your own shoes– you were there!  You know what it was like.  Please take this opportunity to have empathy for yourself.  You know why you let it go on.  Don’t ever forget that feeling.

Now is the time to learn from it.  More on that later.


2. The narcissist is not two different people or a troubled person who just occasionally has bad days.

This is dangerous magical thinking that kept us stuck in the relationship for as long as it did and can keep us mired in confusion even after the relationship is over so that we don’t move on.

It’s the cognitive dissonance of trying to figure out exactly who the narcissist actually is: How can two people have seemed to exist in the same body?  How can someone have been so kind and yet also treated me so horribly? How can someone have acted so loving and then said and done things to me that I never expected to ever experience in my life from another person, especially from someone who claims to love me? 

The idea we must come to terms with is that their primary goal is always to act on their own behalf and extract what they want from others in every social situation, including romantic relationships. Narcissists are manipulative people whose behavior is self-serving and bound to be hurtful, but sometimes doing nice things for you served a purpose.

It’s not confusing at all when we understand this.


3. There will always be some unanswered questions and at some point, you have to let them go.

Because of this cognitive dissonance, for a long time, you may be stuck thinking about particular situations when he or she did or said something.

What did it all mean? You’ll be putting things together that you never put together before and some things might never fit together in a way that makes complete sense.

What we would have done and what they did will always have been different. Not only that, but the inconsistency of their behavior in the context of what should make sense given what we know now should be a testament to the fact that they are not acting rationally and they live in a reality that is always changing according to their needs in a moment– whatever will allow them to get what they want at a given time is what they will do or say.

Did they pretend to love me or did they actually love me?  What difference does it make when their actions overall were anything but loving, when ultimately, that arrow turns into a boomerang in an instant when we don’t behave as they wish us to behave.

The only predictable thing about their actions is their own disloyalty to everyone except themselves.

They’ll go through any ritual, say any words, to try to convince you it’s real.  But behave in ways that make those actions actually mean something, to give you something you can trust behind those words and rituals?

They can’t.

This is why we were always anxious, always uneasy.  They continue to provide their verbal shadow puppets, yet there’s never anything underneath.  It’s madness to us– why spend so much time building shadows?  Why not just build the real thing?

If they wanted what we did, time spent building the real thing would be well-invested. But to them, their way makes sense because a life in the shadows enables them to live secret lives undetected.

Then when it’s all over, we just want the light to illuminate the real world again so we have something true to stand on.

At some point, the realization we have to face is that they kept us confused plugging away at these emotional puzzles when we should never have been confused in the first place.

When someone loves you, there should be no confusion.  There are no shadows.

So answer the major questions but let the smaller ones lie.  Those are the ones they used to keep us trapped in the relationship.  They can never be answered.


4. There was nothing you could have done to change the outcome or save the relationship.

Once you read enough about narcissism, put enough of the pieces together and have enough distance from the relationship, you see how nothing you did could have made any difference.

There were times when you may have fooled yourself and beat yourself up about some of your own actions throughout the relationship.

If only I hadn’t questioned him so much about that or been so suspicious, it wouldn’t have started that chain reaction.  If I hadn’t gotten so upset and just stayed calm after I found out about [x].  If I hadn’t reacted to what he said to me that night the way I did.  Then he wouldn’t have cheated again/broken up with me/yelled at me/called me all those things, or that time would have worked out when he was trying to show me he changed and… 


Full stop.

  • Did your partner lie extensively about his or her past?
  • Was your partner involved with other people from Day One?
  • Did your partner cheat on you with others, and in ways that indicate elaborate multiple long-term lives, such as engagements, moving in together, having children with, or otherwise have long-term relationships with them while also being married to, engaged to, or living with you?
  • Did your partner belittle, shame, monitor or try to control who you were friends with or where you went almost from the very beginning– maybe at first with concerned comments but later with more cutting and devaluing comments or even physical or financial abuse?
  • Did your partner lie about you to other people or betray your trust by using things you had told them or had said during the course of the relationship to make you sound like a horrible person, leaving out the context, to try to turn people against you or gain sympathy?


You tell me.  When did the problems start?

Every relationship has problems and no one is perfect, but I can bet that you entered the relationship with honest intentions and a true willingness to give all of your devotion to it.

When did the narcissist ever do that?

How was it ever supposed to work?

The narcissist was a narcissist before he or she met you, and is an expert of convincing partners that if they overlook all of the bad behavior or if they hadn’t started asking about it or questioning it, or if they hadn’t done some silly thing, the relationship would have taken an entirely different track from where it ended up!

How would that ever have been possible?

The narcissist is doomed to repeat this cycle.  You are not.  It’s sad because we loved them, or at least a part of them, but the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can stop feeling responsible for something that isn’t our fault.  It’s misplaced.


5. You can’t stop the narcissist, change the narcissist, warn the next person or the people in the narcissist’s life.

This has to be the clearest case of “cutting someone off” we may ever have had to do in our lives.

The only way to truly save ourselves, however, is to do exactly that.  The realization that it is the best thing may not come until later.

It will finally sink in after we go through the roller-coaster of emotions, get angry on behalf of ourselves, feel the anxiety fade of having been in the relationship, and see the much bigger issues that the narcissist brought into the relationship and then imposed on our lives.

We realize that the best thing for ourselves is to just let all of it go. Not just the unanswered questions, but everything about him or her.

We have to stop wondering about their lives, stop wondering about who they’re with and whether we should try to warn them or talk to them, stop lamenting the past.  Just stop.

No change is going to happen.

Let them be.  Leave them to their own destiny.


6. All the things the narcissist put in your head about you are wrong.

I saw this written somewhere else once, and it’s absolutely right:  someone who is abusing you and intentionally trying to control you does not have a coherent view of you. It is being filtered through whatever distortion about the world in general in their own mind compels them to abuse you, and, therefore, anything they say about you is distorted and inaccurate.

So all those things the narcissist said about who you are, what kind of person you are, your value in relationships or how much you can be loved are not just lies, they’re the demented ravings and projections of someone who cannot keep another person in a relationship without trying to tear them down or make them dependent in some way.

Remember, narcissists want beautiful, smart, loving, and caring people who amplify their own image and make them feel special. They just don’t want you to know that’s what they think of you because they’re afraid of you.

They were always afraid you were going to leave or outshine them, that someone else would see how wonderful you were or that you would realize how bad they were for you and walk away.

Well, guess what?


7. Not everyone is like the narcissist, but also not everyone deserves your forgiveness equally.

It may be easy to write other people off too in the aftermath of a relationship with a narcissist. For a time, we may lose our faith in all of humanity as we realize there are people who will look us in the eyes and lie blatantly for years about the most intimate things in life, who have no qualms about hurting us in the most brutal ways one person can hurt another.

We are used to being able to give people the benefit of the doubt and to forgive. Now, because of our new knowledge, our way of the world may change and can cause us to want to withdraw.

One of the things we will have to further recognize, however, is that not everyone is like the narcissist– we just have to take our new view of the world and figure out how to apply it so that we know who deserves our forgiveness– or even who deserves to be in our lives in the first place.


8. You don’t need the narcissist.  Your life is actually going to be better.

The narcissist became an all-consuming part of your life for so long and implanted the idea that you couldn’t live without them.

Don’t buy it.

I get it.  After they leave, there’s that feeling of freefalling with no safety net.

The relationship has actually provided us with an opportunity to learn more about ourselves.  It provided the opportunity for us to learn about the limits of our capacity to love and trust, to establish the boundaries of what we should tolerate, and to learn what it was about ourselves that the narcissist was able to exploit so that we can ensure it never happens again.

We have been provided with an unprecedented opportunity to grow, to level-up. While it may be painful, the beauty of what it was the narcissist saw in us in the first place has not disappeared, but can actually blossom with a new understanding of ourselves going forward.


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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. I wanted to make this second comment. I am inserting the three paragraphs that you wrote that will probably change me forever. thank you so much.

    You wrote:
    “So all those things the narcissist said about who you are, what kind of person you are, your value in relationships or how much you can be loved are not just lies, they’re the demented ravings and projections of someone who cannot keep another person in a relationship without trying to tear them down or make them dependent in some way.

    Remember, narcissists want beautiful, smart, loving, and caring people who amplify their own image and make them feel special. They just don’t want you to know that’s what they think of you because they’re afraid of you.

    They were always afraid you were going to leave or outshine them, that someone else would see how wonderful you were or that you would realize how bad they were for you and walk away.”

    I mean wow….

    1. I agree completely and re-read this paragraph three times.

  2. This is hands-down the best article I have ever read about this topic. It has helped me so much and giving me confidence go forward without the pain and I’ve been living with. Thank you for writing this. I am going to sign up for emails.

  3. Hi My name is April
    I was with my NARC for 4 years with me trying to leave lots of times only to get sucked back in like a sucker lol but it’s been 11 days now that I have officially left, changed my numbers informed my family and friends that the relationship is officially over. something I never really did before. I wanted to express how my ex try to use all my past hardships against me even brining them up during arguments and using it as arsenal to hurt me. For instance, my ex husband was a serial cheater with both women and men. ( what a revelation to find this out towards the end). We worked for the same organization and all of his indiscretions was at work. long story short ultimately he had me fired.
    when disclosing this information to my now ex boyfriend he used it against me by saying you was probably fired because you was caught cheating on him! which by the way I was not!!!. I honestly, should of ran away then!! actually prior to that I think only 2 1/2 months in he was going through my phone without permission. that was the real red flag that should of made me run away. So now 4 wasted years later I was still going through the same stuff amplified with him cheating on me and finding out its been happening pretty much the whole relationship which explains why he always accused me of lying and dealing with other men.( I mean all of the time)
    so now that its over I have been working on my business something I was unable to focus on because of his jealousy and constant doubt about my abilities i feel like i have been just released from jail hahaha
    and the pictures that I have shared shows that i have a happy glow. people have asked me wow April you look so happy are you in love i tell them yes i fell back in love with myself.

  4. Jody Mitchell

    I just want to say thank you very much for this. I’m using everything I’ve read here as my motivation to close the door shut and seal it from my ex. I didn’t know what gaslighting was until someone who knew I was hurting suggested I research narcissistic abuse. My mind was blown that night, every single testimony seems to be textbook. It’s as if this is something demonic in nature that works the same through anyone with NPD at least from how I see it. I should also mention, my ex narc’s eyes turned black while staring at me one night and it still haunts me to this very day.

    I burst into tears halfway through reading #1 and realized.. What I thought was my forever was just someone draining me slowly and eventually breaking my heart and spirit all while I sat back trying everything to help fix her broken past before she knew me and I wanted nothing more than to love this woman forever.. It was all a fabrication or an illusion being cast on me until I was drained dry and thrown away. It really does feel like it was all a dream too. That’s a bittersweet reality to face.

    Two years later I am still having flashbacks to some of the good times but I have to remind myself, those days were just another weapon in the arsenal. They will do whatever manipulative act is needed to get the supply they need.

    I am officially going no contact and closing that chapter forever.. I’m broken but I didn’t die. She gets nothing else from me ever again, she took all I had anyway.. she took something from me and I don’t mean material things. I even feel like my overall well-being and health was destroyed through the trauma.

    I’ll rebuild.. One step at a time.

    Articles like this help more than people realize. Narc abuse is something that sadly a lot of people won’t and can’t truly understand, until they go through it themselves.


    Jody Mitchell

    PS- I accidentally commented this to someone else but meant to make my own. I apologize.

    1. Hi, just wanted to check in how you’re holding up since I can see you posted not too long ago 🙂 I have been trying to deal with being discarded for a month now, and articles like this seem to put me on the right path as well.

  5. This is LITERALLY the best thing I’ve ever read. Currently 2 weeks out (for the 5th time
    In two years) with a toxic narcissist who prayed on me after my divorce(and my two kids). It’s been a helluva painful lesson but holy shit am I feeling all the feels. Just thoroughly disgusted, and I think it had to get to that point.
    Thank you for so eloquently writing my exact thoughts. Xoxo

  6. Hello,

    It is hard to believe that the man I thought was “the one” could possibly do this to me. The ghosting, cheating, non-stop lying. But now I acknowledge that he never meant to be in my life longer-term. He was the archetype of a narcissist.

    two years in – 3 days out.

    I feel good about this.

    1. Same Girl. 2 Days out and we are CELEBRATING!

  7. Chauntelle A Russell

    I wanted to share something with everyone here. I know everyones at a different stage in ur journey of healing. So for those that are just starting out, or are just realizing the mess that they’re actually tangled in Id like to reassure u that there is a beautiful, peaceful, other side waiting for u. I too, remember the days my stomach would turn & I’d cry uncontrollably at Just the Thought of my npd not in my life. And also after reading things the healed ones wrote like Im about to share. Boy, Have I come a long way. U Will too. Even if ur entire existence doubts it, as I once did. Heres a text I wrote to my ex. We were together for 5 yrs. Seperated, playing on & off again half assedly for the last year (but I knew better). Well, being Away helps ur brain think clearly.
    One day last week, out of the blue, my npd decides to play the “hoover game”. Thankfully bc of all of the educating blogs I’ve read and videos I’ve watched, like Kristens (I swear I could have a PhD in this subject, lol) I was able to see Everthing so crystal clear that I couldnt Even See It the way I Used To even if I tried. I played along, sorta. Just enough for him not to catch on, until I had in mind what I needed to tell him. This was my moment to prove to myself that I was emotional healthy in dealing with an emotionally unhealthy situation. I’m quite pleased with myself and all I did to heal. My response was a much better one than one I would have given b4 I had my fall. One thing I didn’t tell u is that my 4 kids were stolen from me 11 yrs ago after I won an almost 2 yr long custody battle. I never even got them home from their (step-dad extended) visit. So I was already leveled below ground zero when I met Jim. And wouldn’t u know, that he took me the rest of the way down. But not for long. Here’s my response to him getting bent out of shape (mind u, in the middle of a hoover to get back with me) bc I had slept all day & not responded to him, or anyone.

    I went to sleep thursday night & ive stayed in bed.
    And thats not a response thats usual for normal healthy minded individuals. Jim being nice, especially when its not a natural act of ones nature, isnt changing.
    U are who u are and u always will be. I will always have a special place for u in my heart. Im not thanking u by any means, but bc of ur abuse when i met u it woke me up from the walking dead girl state I was in. I realized after a few months that I was spending a lot of energy actually fighting u to try to love u. And since I saw I had that energy again, that fight in me again, that I was not going to waste it & use it to get myself up and out of that walking dead zone i was in. I was going to use my anger, that i hadnt felt in such a long time, as positive fuel for my better. And it didnt stop. It lasted 5 whole years. Well, I have now returned from a place ppl Dont return from. They commit suicide.
    I wouldnt have done that without that. So No, I dont “thank you” for ur abuse. But u will always hold a special place in my heart bc Im alive and better than i ever was. Im not back to the very same person I was, but an even better version than Ive ever been. Just without my children. I contribute my thank you’s to God.
    He crossed our pathes for a reason. U were my defibrillator. But now that I have my strength back ur abuse is no longer welcome. Strong ppl with boundaries wont accept that. Its bc we know our value and have boundaries to how we will only accept being treated. And i wont accept being treated the only way U know how to act.
    Being nice Jim is lovely. But I already Know u. I know ur entire existing personality. Ur traits, ur quirks, the way u think, u way u operate when things need a solution. And when everything is going smoothly. When u do something wrong or hurtful, how u remedy it or lack thereof. Ur trustworthyness. And the kicker, the most valuable and important thing of all. That I can not trust in you to be open and vulnerable in ur presence with u.
    For someone to be another persons “person” they have to feel safe to be allowed to feel vulnerable with that person. It took me a long time to pinpoint that. And with that being said, that is the one main thing ive identified. That everytime I know Im going to spend anytime around u I have to put my
    Armour on to shield my heart from the atrocities that fly when Im around u. U either deny or refuse to acknowledge the wrongs and or mistakes that u make along the way. And then stand firm on ur ground, actually fighting in ur defense, as if u were correct, the most correct mind u, in the given situation. I wont and cant accept nor deal with that. I deserve better than any of That. Im actually much better a catch than most chics out there and deserve to be appreciated and for someone to show they feel that. Nothing less. Bc thats what i do. And thats what healthy, normal minded ppl do.

    Now, Im not saying this will put a stop to it, but it does show me that U Can heal very nicely if u Want to & u Believe it.
    There Is Hope for everyone going thru the struggle. Look at it as it is proving ur true strength that u didn’t even know u had.
    Stand up and Win. For urself and ur kids. U CAN DO IT!! God Bless.
    Thank u Kristen for ur strength, encouraging filled website.

  8. Chauntelle A Russell

    Thank u Kristen for putting ur site out there. U speak in a way that’s direct and just plain needs to be heard and easily understood

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Chauntelle. You are so welcome. Thank you for reading and for your kind words. I am glad you have found the articles helpful. -Kristen

  9. Hi Kristen,
    You know I love your articles and they helped me through the past 6 months to open my eyes to what in my 13 yr relationship was really going on. The abuse was so bad but I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I am 2 1/2 months out now and am struggling soooo badly right now. The first few weeks I thought “wow, I may be able to do this” The past 3 weeks have been unbearable. Unfortunately, even though I went No contact I continued to watch him on a site. Changes in his pattern triggered something in me and now I am totally obsessed with what has changed in his life, is it bad, is it good? Is he unhappy, is he happy? And I wouldn’t be happy with either one! I don’t want him to be happy after what he has done to my life and the shards of pieces I am left to pick up, but I still have this feeling inside if he’s unhappy I want to make it better. ????
    This article resonated again on so many levels. It’s like you are in my mind when you write these. But I feel like a failure when I can’t use get my head together and MOVE THE HELL ON!! The “unanswered” questions are eating my brain alive. Once again he’s on my mind 24/7, I’ve given him back that control and I hate myself for it. Also having BPD, which is emotional deregulation, fear of abandonment, self hatred and low self esteem, it mixes right in with these feelings where I’ve been having breakdowns and calling into work, sometimes driving aimlessly around just to think but keep from going home and being alone to think. None of it makes sense and everyone keeps telling me theres a light at the end of the tunnel, but I don’t even see the glimpse of a twinkle from a star. Not to mention he paid all my bills and supported me and now I can’t even keep my head above water. I feel like I’m going to lose everything.

    I’m so sorry to be such a downer, I love the understanding and support of your articles and do thank you so much for all you do to let us know we are not crazy or alone.

    Best & Happiness,

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Nicole: I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. I hope that things have gotten better for you since you wrote this. I do understand the obsessive need to understand what he is up to. I think that is so normal. They have been such an intimate part of our lives for so long, it’s hard not to wonder and want to know. I’m glad you have found some support from what I’ve written. Please know that you are not alone. There are so many of us out here. Try to stay strong. -Kristen

  10. 17 years in, nearly a year out. No contact was easy after his final blow. The question is how do I protect our 10 year old from him and how do I get the court to truly understand what they are really dealing with?

    1. Hi J: This is a good question, and one that I unfortunately do not have experience with or knowledge of myself. I am familiar with a woman who has written extensively on this however. She has a website called One Mom’s Battle specifically about this very topic and has also written many books. Her website is here: I hope this is helpful. Thank you for taking the time to post a comment and ask a question. Stay strong! -Kristen

  11. Thank you so much for this email. Every word makes perfect sense to me having been in a 10 year relationship, 4 years out but that was the hardest as the stalking, flying monkeys etc come into play. Stronger now. Good luck all ????

    1. Hello BB: You are so welcome. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m so glad that you have found this article to be comforting and validating. Stay strong! -Kristen

  12. Another point is when they present to you that there is someone that ‘disagrees’ with you in some form, someone you have never and will likely never meet. So, for all your wonder, let them wonder?

  13. Adding in response, I had a ‘little laugh to myself’ in thinking, if even a small percentage of what I had witnessed ‘with’ them came up or presented itself to me today, it would fall into ‘no brainer’. I would simply dismiss myself in the most cordial manner possible even if I met this guy (and his group) now, for the first time. But I have another comment, yikes!

  14. Whew! I always wondered why they wouldn’t want to be loved for who they really are? I mean once they got my or others attention for their fake image wouldn’t that be a non satisfaction for them? In other words I felt bad for them that I couldn’t love who they really are because they never shared that with me! And I didn’t love their mask either. I have a couple more comments, but mainly want to express thanks for this stellar post of yours Kristen.

    1. Hi Gail: Thank you for your kind words about the post, Gail. I used to wonder the same thing. I believe it takes realizing that they cannot form healthy attachments to people because of the false self. It constantly needs to be propped up, and a mature relationship with one person won’t do that. It has to be on equal footing, they fear it being taken away, they need control, they are constantly viewing what other people do as criticism, and they need to have other people in the wings propping them up too. All of this seems crazy to us, but to them, it’s how they get their needs met– needs we don’t have. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave comments, and join in the conversations! -Kristen

  15. I am SO happy to have found you and your helpful emails. Man oh man have I been going through some crap. I have been no contact for over 3 months after a 6 and half year relationship. I overlooked all the ridiculous red flags because I loved him dearly. The last straw was three months ago after he called me nasty and vulgar names over NOTHING and out of nowhere…I haven’t said a word to him. Some days are unbearable, but these are really helping me. You have no idea how much I needed all of this. Thank you SO much!!! ❤

    1. Hi Amanda: I am sorry about what has been happening to you, but I can definitely relate to it. I’m very glad to hear that something about what I’ve written has resonated and perhaps provided you with some validation or comfort. Please try to stay strong and know that you are definitely not alone! -Kristen

  16. There are no words to express my thanks for these emails. I am out now and am doing well, but reading these emails are validating. They help tremendously in my ability to be sane in my new life. Thank you so very much. It took a long time to go no contact and withstand the hoovering, and I take nothing for granted, but experiencing a better daily life is a fantastic payoff for all that pain and confusion.

    1. Hi Carol: You are so welcome. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m glad to hear that you are out of the relationship now and well on your way on your journey to recovery. I’m so glad that the articles are helpful to you. Stay strong! -Kristen

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