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Leaving a Narcissist Occurs in 5 Empowering Stages

We can’t leave a narcissist and begin our journey toward narcissistic abuse recovery until we go through five stages. 

These stages embody the necessary psychological steps that will give us back our lives.

I’ve written before about eleven things that can happen before a partner goes no-contact. These are things I experienced in response to what I was enduring in my past relationship.

They included things such as epiphanies I had, unusual behaviors I exhibited, and inexplicable emotions I felt. I wrote this not long after I went no-contact as I thought back on the relationship and the psychological turmoil I had been suffering through at the time.

Now, however, I can see that each emotion and reaction I felt, as one of those eleven things, was actually a result of progressing through a painful but necessary and empowering journey toward the breakup. 

I was awakening to a new view of the relationship, one in which it was reframed from a place where I’d once felt the happiest I’d ever been to a place where I realized I was alone with a stranger and had to use all of my mental and emotional strength to leave. 

It did not happen overnight. In fact, it took me over two years.

Why?

 

Breaking Up with a Narcissist: The Eternal Trap We Must Escape

Narcissists lure.

They lure with promises, flattery, lies and sweet words.

The mask shifts with each new person in their sights, adjusting to our likes and dislikes, filling in crevices to become whatever seems to be missing and fulfilling our long-lost dreams. What remains the same, however, is that the true nature of the narcissist remains hidden behind the mask.

With that mask, employed skillfully at the outset, the narcissist sets the stage to lure and trap by putting it back on again and again.

Untouchable. That’s what they want to be.

Imagine the narcissist with a piece of chalk. With the love-bombing they pour on us at the beginning of the relationship, narcissists draw a fat, white circle of protection around themselves.

Their words and deeds during that time further cast a glittering, golden spotlight of goodness over them and we form a bond with the person standing in that spotlight that is difficult to break.

Later, each time they step out of that circle, that is, “cross the line,” and our brain and body scream at us that we have been violated, they only have to stand under the golden goodness inside that circle so we catch them in its glow to get us to override our own instincts.

“No, I’m not abusing you. I love you.”

This is why I call it “escaping” a relationship with a narcissist.  

I am not the only one to do so. H.G. Tudor, self-aware narcissist, describes three stages in our interactions with narcissists as we try to leave them. He also describes it as if it is an escape.

Breaking up with a narcissist means psychologically changing our view of it to become free. There is no other way.

For some, it may occur faster than others.

How hard it is for us to get to the point to where we can go no-contact depends on many factors, such as the level of attachment, the length of the relationship, our willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt, our own fears and weaknesses, how hard the narcissist keeps fighting to keep us from leaving and how deeply the narcissist has obscured the idea that the relationship is abusive behind any of a dozen other smokescreens.  

This is why we must progress through these five stages psychologically before we can leave. In each stage, our view of the narcissist changes and so does our view of the relationship until we are either force ourselves out or we are broken down.

The reason why it takes so long is that the abuse itself is kept hidden from us. What we are gaining enlightenment to is the fact that we have been enduring abuse and that we must leave in order to save ourselves no matter how much it hurts.  

I hope by identifying these stages, others who read this may be able to identify their own feelings more easily, view what is happening more objectively and perhaps feel less fear and confusion.

Perhaps understanding what these stages are may shed light on where you’ve been, where you are, and where you still need to go.

I hope it may give you strength and hope that you can get there so that you can leave the narcissist, and that it can reassure you that whatever emotions you’re feeling now or fear you will feel later, you are not alone.

The Five Main Stages of Leaving a Narcissist

Because of the very nature of how we are abused, there are stages through which we progress during a romantic relationship with a narcissist, starting with the discovery that the relationship is not what we thought it was to purging the narcissist from our lives.

Narcissistic abuse hides the abuse from the partner through elaborate tactics that twist the wrongdoing of narcissists into their victimhood instead of ours and leaves us feeling guilty, shameful, afraid, confused, and anxious all at the same time.

Only through the progression of these five stages can we move from passive participants in the relationship who do what the narcissist wants us to do to active performers in our own lives, who do things that may not be in the best interest of the narcissist– but are definitely in ours. Only then can we leave the relationship.

Stage 1:  Awareness of the Narcissistic Abuse

Will the narcissist hoover? This article highlights how narcissists view relationships to explain how to know if a narcissist is finished with you.

This happens inevitably after the initial phase of the relationship when one has been idealized by a narcissist.

At the beginning of the relationship with the narcissist, things were perfect.  We were not yet aware of what was to come.  We believed in what the narcissist presented to us because we entered the relationship with good intentions.

At some point, something happens or a series of incidents occur that trigger awareness of the abuse.

We may not yet call it abuse, much less understand that our partner is a narcissist, but these are the moments that lead us to the epiphany that something is terribly wrong. Someone who loves us should not be able to do the horrifying things that were done to us.

Because these are the first glimpses behind the mask and we are bound to the narcissist at least partly if not mostly because of forces beyond our control, we likely enter a state of denial and tell ourselves that this is not what we think it is.

Stage 2: Understanding That the Behavior is Abusive 

Narcissistic abuse in relationships is difficult to define. This article describes why and explains what makes it distinct from other forms of abuse.

Reaching the second stage requires coming to understand the nature of what’s happening, that abuse is taking place. There have been too many incidents. The idealization stage has begun to fade away and we are now so miserable, we have begun to seek answers.

Perhaps we have been talking to others outside the relationship who provided us with an outsider’s perspective. We may have turned to the Internet and stumbled across details about narcissism.

The scope and magnitude of what we are up against, however, have now been planted by this external information. We now have two competing realities: one from the narcissist and one from outside the narcissist that provides us with a new and rational understanding of his or her behavior.

“Understanding,” is not usually the ticket out because it’s merely the bigger picture that is inevitably gained as we seek to make sense of the reality we live in as more of the mismatch between the narcissist’s words and deeds pile up.

At this time, it actually contributes to the cognitive dissonance we feel and now, denial is no longer sufficient as a primary method of managing our understanding of the narcissists’s behavior because the new information we have competes with the narcissist’s “version of events.”

Confusion sets in, as the narcissist returns to the white circle dozens of times and we see him or her step out of it just as many, and we now have to choose what to believe about why he or she is doing such things.

Stage 3: Accepting That the Behavior is Destructive

We may remain in Stage #2 for some time, confused.

We try new methods to cope with what’s happening– accepting the blame to try to keep the relationship together, denying that our partner is a narcissist, trying to use what we learned to become more compliant or prove the literature wrong– our relationship will turn out differently, we’ll get through this, we think defiantly.

Eventually, however, progression into Stage #3 generally comes with time, after persistent cruel treatment by the narcissist and our inability to get anything to change and improve.

At this point, the idealization stage is usually so far in the past, we rarely see glimpses of it anymore. Or we have been subjected to so much betrayal and pain, we don’t feel as if we are the same person anymore as we were when the relationship started.

In addition, we have been slowly conditioned not to talk about it or express or process our feelings about what has been done to us.

We may have lost much of our support system or feel beaten down and our emotions may have slipped long past confusion to defeat. We come to accept that the relationship is bad for us and we need to leave the narcissist.

And yet, we do not because we cannot.

We find ourselves being drawn again and again back into it.

The awareness that we cannot leave causes us additional suffering, as now we know what is happening to us and still we cannot escape. Instead, now not only does the narcissist’s behaviors not match his or her words– ours no longer do either.

Sandra L. Brown, author of Women Who Love Psychopathswrites that:

“…The partners must split in order to stay. In reality, [the survivor] has held two different relationships with the good/bad dichotomous psychopath! Each one of these relationships has required a different belief system in order to remain in it. These belief systems begin to battle each other…”

These two belief systems were drawn out of us slowly over time, using our own strengths and weaknesses against us.

This is the most difficult of the stages to explain in isolation– for how can someone know and accept that a relationship is abusive and desire to leave it, and yet not do so? 

Yet the broader context of all the stages, both those that came before and those that come after, and how the relationship has always been about dominance and control by the narcissist can provide most of the answers. 

We become paralyzed when our two belief systems are competing with one another and are at the whims of the narcissist.

We begin to develop learned helplessness, in response to being unable to act effectively one way or another in the relationship– either to leave it or to be treated in the manner in which we wished to be treated.

From my own experience, I remember at one point in my relationship with my narcissistic ex-boyfriend feeling as if I would never get away from him until one of us was dead.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

Stage 4:  Re-Awakening Eroded Aspects of the Self

This helplessness we develop is created in us over time by the abusive tactics perpetrated by the narcissist.  It is an illusion. 

Overcoming the acute abusive tactics that keep us confused and helpless is the next stage we need to enter prior to being able to leave the narcissistic relationship. These tactics the narcissist has used to get us to this point include gaslighting, refusal to discuss any of the wrong-doing, blame-shifting, and others.

The tactics keep us under the control of the narcissist. They cause us to feel both incapable and unwilling to begin to tear down the bond that the narcissist developed with us at the beginning, by manufacturing emotions in us.

We feel fear because of the unknown future or what life will be like without the narcissist in our lives.

We feel guilt at doing anything to harm the narcissist, as if we are betraying him or her, and start to think of the good times and good things he or she has done for us. We feel as if we are giving up if we stop trying.

We feel sadness thinking about the loss of the massive presence of that person in our lives if we do anything to remove it.

We feel doubt that we are right about how bad things are, that we are not to blame for how things have turned out, or that we are capable of even doing such a thing.

We feel weak and unable to pull off leaving, knowing it will cause a torrent of emotion and subsequent range of dramatic responses from the narcissist.

Yet– somehow– despite feeling all of these things, we must overcome them by realizing they are manufactured by what the narcissist has done to us.

They are illusions.

What is real is the anxiety we feel, perhaps in the back of our minds, knowing they will never change or knowing that they can’t ever be faithful.

What is real is the constant “fight or flight” mode we find ourselves in and the nightmares we wake up to due to their explosive tirades we can’t predict. The lies and the gaslighting and our unease and obsessive thoughts.

What is real is the constant questioning and accusations and that persistent feeling we can’t relax into our own lives, that we have lost ourselves a piece at a time and been forced inside a tiny cage until we now live trapped inside of it.

Stage #4 is about letting those emotions and that voice that is carrying them rise closer to the top and override the false emotions that sit in the eroded parts of ourselves where the narcissist has taken up residence and parked his or her own suggestions. Those suggestions serve his or her benefit– not ours.

Overcoming the tactics the narcissist has used to bring us to the point to where we felt we can’t escape means:

  • recognizing what they’re doing when they use one of these tactics
  • calling out the narcissist when he or she uses them
  • not treating the bad behavior they have engaged in throughout the relationship as acceptable just to keep the peace
  • not letting any of what they say when they use these tactics help resolve cognitive dissonance in their favor (e.g., believing they are correct when they gaslight and we should doubt our own perceptions, etc.)
  • seeing oneself as in control, empowered, and undeserving of this treatment; sometimes this involves “faking it until making it”

This is a turning point in the “enlightenment,” for it is when we begin to gain our control back– and yet it is difficult because nothing will bring it about other than a conscious effort on our parts to stop merely accepting that this is abuse and thinking differently about it. 

Other things that happen in the external world may assist with moving us closer to Stage #4.

For example:

Without the narcissist’s influence during a silent treatment, we may begin to think more clearly about what has been going on because the narcissist’s tactics by default will not be of immediate influence.

For example, there will be no gaslighting during this time, so we may be able to start putting things together, or having more empowering thoughts that we don’t want to and shouldn’t let go of if the narcissist reaches out again later.

Or perhaps our health begins to decline or we suffer another loss in our lives.

Or we may have an epiphany due to an action of the narcissist and realize that, though leaving may result in an emotional crisis for us, a worse fate may result from staying in the relationship. 

We may begin to feel ourselves slowly disappearing. We may begin to feel that our lives are stuck. We may begin to feel that we will never get out of the relationship, or that if we do we will never recover from the abuse the narcissist has inflicted on us.

In my case, many of these things happened and they gradually led me to become aware that I wanted and needed to be more in charge of myself than I had been in the past.  It was almost as if I no longer had a choice.  As I said, it was a turning point to where I could choose to empower myself or continue to empower him.

I realized I could not trust or rely on my narcissist ex to do what I had expected and I had to start looking out for myself.

It was not like flicking a light switch, however, where I was suddenly one day “empowered.”

It was a gradual and building sense of empowerment as I grew apart from him and let myself grow apart from him.  

“You’re getting sick.” 

“Something bad is going to happen.”

What this empowerment led to was a growing feeling of desperation. 

I knew things would never be the same.  It was only a matter of time.

Stage 5: Changing Psychological Mindset and Taking Action

Learn more about how to outsmart a narcissist

In Stage #4, the psychological shift is the attitude we have toward ourselves and our ability to do something about what we’ve gone through.

In Stage #5, our mindset changes and we no longer view the narcissist or the relationship the same way. We become ready to tear it all down. We must actually take actions to remove oneself from the abusive situation physically and psychologically and begin the process of breaking up with the narcissist. 

This is where narcissistic abuse recovery truly begins because we have begun to have more control over our own actions despite the fear and guilt we feel at how it will impact the relationship or the narcissist.

The process involves two steps:

  • Go completely no-contact with the narcissist forever; and
  • Stop idealizing the narcissist and the relationship.

It is not enough to go no contact. Shahida Arabi, narcissistic abuse survivor and researcher, says that even though the relationship is toxic, we can get stuck: “If our grief is not addressed, it will get lodged in our brains, our hearts, and our spirits as nostalgia for a man or woman that never existed.”

As alluded to in Stage #4, stating that there is a psychological shift and that we then take action implies that the shift is very black-and-white and that the action is very purposeful.

It implies that there is some dramatic confrontation, as in the movies, where we tell off our partners and walk out the door with all of our belongings never looking back, leaving them speechless and regretful for the way they treated us.

It also implies that everything is suddenly crystal clear and every move we make from here on out is with determination and a sense of self-awareness and direction.

No.

The end is an angst-ridden earthquake, a freefall into a future in which we no longer even know who we are. The end is a blind spot where they implanted themselves in our psyche, still dictating our actions and monitoring our thoughts for a time even as they are out of our lives.

It’s an emotional roller coaster.  It’s a death, fraught with loss and uncertainty.

What Stage #5 does mean is that we pass the point of no return psychologically where we no longer just see the relationship as bad for us, we start to see the narcissist as a disordered person with whom we no longer wish to be in a relationship with.

We are more willing to accept the unknown than to accept the nightmare we have been living.

We choose ourselves.

 

Assistance with Recovering from a Breakup with a Narcissist

I’m always on the lookout for new and high-quality resources for survivors. Are you struggling with how to leave your narcissist partner?  This course on the five steps you can take to exit can help. Are you having trouble recovering from the relationship even after it’s over? Try enrolling in this Webinar on getting started with your recovery so you can start to get off the emotional roller coaster or this one on using EFT Tapping to break the addiction to the narcissist. Lovefraud webinars on relationship abuse are presented by experts but also from the perspective of experience. Almost every instructor learned about the behavior of sociopaths in relationships the hard way. They’re affordable and offer practical information you can start using immediately. If you decide to try one, send me an email and let me know how it went!

 

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Don’t forget to check out these resources on the website  while you’re here:

Do you want to tell your story and have it published? Go here to learn more.

 

Sources:

Arabi, Shahida. “The Real Reason You Miss the Narcissist.” Thought Catalog. Retrieved May 4, 2019 from https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2018/02/the-real-reason-you-miss-the-narcissist/

Tudor, H.G. “The Devastation of the Illusion.” Knowing the Narcissist. Retrieved May 4, 2019 from https://narcsite.com/httpnarcsite-com20161011the-devastation-of-the-illusion/

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.

71 Comments

  1. I left the malignant and will not look back ever ! Go no contact too ; blissful peace thank-you Jesus praise God!

  2. I have just filed for divorce from a narcissist. It will be finalized in the next 10 days. I recognize these 5 steps, and I am certainly going through these. My problem is, we have a daughter together, and I will have to still see him once or twice a week. Besides limiting the drop off time spent and doing it somewhere public, what other thoughts/advice can you share to give me insight on how to prevent him from coming at me from a new angle? I have 11 years with him under my belt (and hopefully behind me) but I will see him on and off the rest of my life….I refuse to allow his existence to ruin my ability of being there for my daughters big moments at school, activities, marriage, children, etc.

  3. What an incredible article..Kristen Milstead you have captured all I’ve endured and have yet to as well.. I’m very fearful and yet ready at the same time…26+ years together and a large family we created all falling apart:( as my kids have grown it’s harder to mask the pain.. the infidelity is just….awful. Financially, emotionally and to have built our family values to see them just disintergrate pains me immensely…I’m praying I can get to the next stage as I know no contact is Truly the Only way to release the control he has over me.. but it’s not easy and I’ve been in fight mode for so long. It’s been taken a toll on my health as well I literally dry heave and have lost 20+lbs over this past year. He cannot stop and says his ego is the problem
    But there’s no shortage in woman ready to line up for a married man..so I’m the fault and enable him to hurt me I hate it but it’s a roller coaster that I can’t escape.:/ I’ve lost touch w all our close friends and isolate myself…on the outside you’d think we are perfect but I’m holding on by a thread

    1. I am so sorry regarding your situation… I too am going through the same …. know you are not alone

  4. I have been with my boyfriend for a year and a couple of months. I had those stages in the beginning where everything is just perfect and I thought he was the one. We started to live together pretty much since the beginning. About a half a year ago he started another part time job that I can also go help him with. That when I started to realize how mean and disrespectful he was to me. He started to call me names if I didn’t want to go with him, or if I was with him he would tell at me all the time. Every time we fight it’s always my fault. Even though I know I did nothing wrong. He even cheated on me by phone. He send nudes and received nudes from a girl. He convinced me that it wasn’t cheating because he didn’t actually go and seduce her. Now from talking to a lot of friend I know it was cheating and very wrong. I’m literally days from leaving him. Because I brought this up to him he is trying to be really loving and nice and says he will change but I know that narcissist guys like him won’t change for long. I do think about all the good times we have and I love him family so it’s so hard to leave but I know I’m not happy. I’m having a really hard time trying to leave and just end it. Idk if anyone has advice for me.

    1. Hailey,

      I was in a relationship with a narcissist who also struggled with addiction for 6 1/2 years. It’s been 8 months since I left him and I can honestly say that was by far the hardest and best decision I ever made for myself. My advice to you is to listen to your gut instincts, and not your heart. It seems counterintuitive, but if everything inside of you is telling you to run, girl run. Are there times I still miss my ex and reminisce on our good times and wonder if I made the right choice? Absolutely. But, nostalgia is a son of a bish and I remind myself of how he would treat me when no one was watching. I also wonder if our good times (or at least some of them) weren’t out of manipulation on his part. Narcissists are good at what they do, they know when to throw you a crumb to keep you happy and string you along. Learn the difference and be aware of when he’s really doing something nice for you out of love, and when it’s part of manipulation. Good luck to you girl, my heart goes out to you and every woman going thru it.

  5. I have been with my husband for four years now. Everything in your article is true. All the love bombing at first, but as soon as I moved a few hours away from my friends and family to be with him, the abuse started. Outbursts of anger out of the blue, yelling and cussing at me, putting me down and mooing at me for gaining a couple little pounds, pushing and shoving and tripping me, telling me to leave while knowing I had nowhere to go and putting bruises on me from grabbing my arms or legs so hard. Never actually hitting me til 3 weeks ago. I had been reading about narcissistic personality disorder for several months now and kept making excuses for his behavior. Now I know i need out. He has been ignoring me and acting like I hurt him, which he always does. I just don’t have a place to go. I quit my job to help him start his business. He says he has no money to give me for gas or essentials. I know that’s a lie. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you so much. It really helps to know I’m not alone. He has our whole church believing that I’m the monster. It’s soo hard to lose all those friends, knowing that he is NOT the good Christian man he has all of them believing.

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Hi Debbie: I am so sorry that you are going through this right now. I can relate to all of what you wrote. He has isolated you and made you dependent on him so that he can control you. Turning people against you is just part of the isolation process. It will only continue to get worse. You have to try to get out. I would encourage you to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at https://www.thehotline.org. You can chat there with someone live 24/7 or also use the phone number to give someone a call. They will be able to put you in touch with organizations that have resources in the area where you live to help you get out even if you have no place to go right now. You recognize now what’s happening. If you stay too long, they tend to beat down your self-esteem and will to the point to where you have no ability to see clearly anymore. I wish you peace and positive energy. Please stay safe. -Kristen

      1. Thank you Kristen. I will talk to them. Him hitting me in the back so hard that it knocked me down and took the breath out of me seemed to clear me from the fog I have been in. No more making excuses for him. I have been going through these stages, but didn’t know it before your article. Thank you! Deb

  6. My question has to do with being a friend to a woman who is married to a narcissist. How can I be a friend without going crazy myself with all her talk and complaints she has about him? Apparently she’s not ready yet to divorce him even though she is not fearful of him or anything like that. All she does is talk about what he has done and said, the lies, and the danger he has put her in. The rest of her family has basically stayed away because they are tired of hearing about it.

  7. Thank you for this post. I’ve so struggled to find the right words to explain what I’m going through, but always feel like I sound crazy.

    I left my narcissistic, ex-fiancé six months ago after an almost seven year relationship. I left because I realized it would kill me if I didn’t, but boy has it almost killed me doing it. It’s been six months (six full months!) And he’s been stalking/harassing/threatening me nearly every day. His number has been blocked for months, but he’ll call from private numbers, leave nasty voicemails, and send threatening emails. Once he stole the keys to my vehicle and intentionally totaled it because I had a male friend over (3 months into the break). I’m living in a constant state of fear and anxiety of what he might do next, but the fear of going back wins the argument in my head every time. At the start of this break up, I just wanted space and time to heal from his last “episode.” It was a big one. His actions ever since is what has led me to detach and leave him for good.

    I’m grateful to have found your post, and for everyone sharing their stories in the comments. It reminds me that I’m not alone, I’m not crazy, and I can get through this, too.

  8. This article is on piont! I have been with him for 13 years just realized that ive been with a narcissist almost 1 year ago I recognized it but my mother told me we all have a little narcissist in us.so i thought i was trippen.this man is extremely abusive mentaly and physically .2 years ago he broke my jaw while i was 3 months pregnant.I left moved in with a friend and didnt talk to him for a while but not long enough before i knew it he was apologetic, and trying everything he can to get me back and ive neen sp emotionally ruined by him it worked .Ive left and came back a few times .It is so hard I just cant leave.Proves what atotal mess he’s made of me! Im so fed up with this situation im ready to go for good
    And have no support system so im stuck! Looking for a way out a.s.a.p. this article proves that what I read a year ago is so true its hard to understand but I got it now scary road ahead of me I found all the post on this page helpful .Thanks much!

    1. Jasmine i left my narc husband 2 weeks ago, he is still in the house i paid for and I’m having to stay all over the place with my dog. I have come very close to going back due to pleading and begging emails but when i just reply No he gets nasty so i know I’m doing the right thing. I’ve left many times in the past but gone back due to no support. I’ve still got little support except for my counselor but I’m never going back. I’ve managed to put the house up for sale and engage a lawyer and find a place to stay for 3 weeks and am now looking for a rental close to my son. I also took out a protection order with the police due to constant contact by him. I’ve blocked him on my phone now and am leaving the house sale stuff to the lawyer. It is very tough and some days i feel totally crazy (yesterday i cried all day), but it’s still better than the 7 years of stonewalling, gaslighting, passive aggression, etc etc. I think that made this time of leaving sustainable is that i made a plan and am sticking to it. I do hope you manage to get out of this horrible situation, i don’t know you but i know you are worth so much more than this.

    2. “So often times it happens, that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” Eagles, “Already Gone” Peace.

  9. I have truly to say thank you for these words. I went through a narcissistic relationship with a man one year ago after a three year relationship. I cannot say how difficult had been for me to go over it because also after the breakup I felt like he was still commanding me by distance. It’s a long way but now I know i don’t want anymore a person like him and i cannot recommend this feeling to everyone. Dump him. Find the strength and forgive yourself to have a new start in your life.

  10. I’m day 3 of finally leaving after numerous attempts. All of the posts i could have written myself. I have been with him 9 years. About 6 weeks ago i told him i would leave if we did not get counselling. He finally agreed but then injured himself and couldn’t go so i went by myself. The counselor was amazing, i told my story and very matter of factly told me he is a narcissist. The scales fell from my eyes and the past 6 years became crystal clear. I knew i had to leave but the terror was overwhelming. We moved to a new area 9 months ago when he retired and that’s when the behaviours became worse and more noticeable. I have no support but with the help of a friend from my old town i have done it.
    I’m currently in a motel with my dog on the way to stay with my son 900 kms away. I’m being bombarded with emails from love bombing to manipulative abuse, of course it’s all my fault. I am struggling to stay strong but i have a lot of mental conflict as i have been seriously unwell over the past 2 years and he did physically and practically look after me during that period. However no emotional support or empathy and certainly no joy.
    I can really see now what a disordered person he is and can’t believe i allowed this to happen to me.
    I am never going back to him, i would die first, every time i get a ping of the email i start to shake but thank god my son is very supportive.
    One thing i am sure of is that i will never be more lonely than i have been with him. I will survive this one day at a time.

    1. My heart goes out to you..I’ve been married for 25 years with 5 children and have endured sooo much through these years..only now I learned that there is an actual name for this behavior and that so many go through this…so very painful and I’m at the verge of the “end” scared to death and yet this article has offered so much as well as these comments.. I truly admire the step you’ve taken and pray you stay strong…..

  11. How does one go no contact if you are going to divorce? You have to talk about the logistics etc.

    1. Marcia Walters

      Having just gone through a dissolution, the only way of doing no contact during that time would be to hire an attorney to act as a go between. I hired an attorney to communicate a limited amount but text/email otherwise. Nothing in person. All correspondence was sent by the attorney. Fully no contact now. Huge relief. I really feel for those who have children and need to maintain contact.

    2. Everything goes through a lawyer, that’s what I’m doing

  12. Talk about hitting the nail on the head. While my husband doesn’t fall in the full-on narcissist category, my armchair diagnosis is more Borderline Personality Disorder. We will be married for 24 years next month and I really don’t think we will make it to 25. I. Just. Can’t. Not only have the past 24 years been filled with controlling behaviors and alcoholic binges, I’ve really grown to dislike the person I’m married to. I feel a sense of dread as I hear the garage door open when he comes home in the evenings. I’ve reached a point where I will never go on another vacation with him again. Every time I say I’ve had enough, he vows to change. He becomes sweet, and charming, and generous, and kind. Behaviors change for a while and he showers me with “stuff”. It’s hard to hurt someone who is trying so hard to be the husband you want him to be. The thing I have come to realize though is that gratitude does not equal love. I appreciate the fact that he is trying so hard to change. I appreciate how kind he can be. I appreciate the gifts and thoughtfulness. Appreciation, however, does not equal love. Like the saying goes: The ax forgets but the tree remembers. It’s hard to forget all of the hardships I’ve had to endure over the years. While he has never physically abused me, the emotional and verbal abuse has been chronic. Just this past weekend he felt the need to berate and belittle me in front of some new neighbors we had just met. It’s never going to change. I just want out. I want peace. Your article helps me muster up the strength. I know he is not good for my mental health. Sometimes in my darkest moments, I think the only way I can leave is to drive straight into an oncoming semi. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not normally a suicidal person, but I know he is never going to leave me alone. We have children together and I will always have a connection with him. Like I said, he is not good for my mental health. I just want out. I miss being happy. I miss my smile. I miss a good conversation over dinner with someone. I miss making decisions. I miss peace.

    1. Bernice Fraser

      Oh Anne, I am so in the same situation as you. I feel your pain. I am on the verge of leaving my narc too. Life with him is becoming so unbearable. I have been given the silent treatment for most of the day, he does nothing to help out with the kids he even just phoned me from downstairs to tell me that the oven was beeping instead of plating up the food for our son!! Words fail me. We have been married 20 years and It all started when I was pregnant with our son – I’ve been punched, head butted In front of parents from my kid’s school, I suspect he’s cheated. I get dirty looks constantly, called all the names under the sun In front if my kids and if he doesn’t get his way he screams and shouts. The dirty looks have been so bad that he will literally stare at me until I eventually look at him before he looks away in disgust. He love bombed me at first, I remember saying to my best friend that I couldn’t imagine ever arguing with him! How little did I know. He even didn’t speak to me for a week because I didn’t want to buy the car he wanted (because he was paying) . I paid for my own car this time around so that he can’t take it from me. Our kids are growing up now so I decided to go to university. I have successfully passed my degree and I’m really proud of myself, he turned around and said I will ever be successful in my career. He has tried to sabotage my studying, but despite that I am trying to achieve a safe peaceful life for me and my kids. Is that too much to ask for ? To everyone fighting this fight, stay strong and hugs and kisses to you all.

    2. Oh Ann,
      I swear you were writing words of my life. After 18 years of marriage, a divorce and separation of 3 years, to the present moment writing this post while trying to end this same toxic abusive relationship for THE.LAST.TIME.EVER, the best advice I can give you is this……Do whatever you have to in order to GET OUT NOW and NO MATTER what…under NO circumstances should you EVER “try again!!” I promise you that when you do leave he will change and miraculously be successful completing the changes he promised you through the years. He will sulk for a moment, then he’ll excel! He will be over the top with friendly chatter mostly to make sure you know how great he’s doing. He will morphe into the man you fell in love with in the very beginning while sitting idle as he reels you back in. As soon as he fools you into trying again because he’s a changed man, you’ll be doomed. As another post stated…approx 3 months into your new, changed, magical, blissful, utterly respectful relationship of lies, he will start showing his ugly face. It’s almost as if he won’t be able to help himself. I guarantee you that same cold, disgusted look in his eyes will cut right through you. Then, you’ll be back on the rollercoaster of being mind fucked over, and over, and over, and over again!
      Please help yourself to start the healing process and close your mind to the idea of it ever working out. Of course unless you’re willing to live worse than you are now. Break free from the chains of his abuse, close the dungeon door and secure it with a million locks, and under no circumstances should you ever open that door!!! I can also promise you that if you leave and never go back, you will heal…you will feel amazing!! Better than you can ever remember feeling. Put your unconditional love and admiration into your own wellbeing. You deserve the peace you’re longing for!!! 🙂

    3. Ann,

      I am only 9 months into a relationship with a diagnosed Narcacistt and am already in the states you named above. It feels like I have already been hit by that semi, I am trying to break it off. I don’t laugh, I can’t connect aside from sex, I never feel understood, and am told all the time I am wrong. The love-bombing persists when I fight back, he promises he will work on himself (He did get a therapist), and promises we can be a better couple if we work on his problems together are overwhelming. Your post makes me feel I have made the right decision in running away now before out roots get any deeper. I really hope you are in a much better mindset and place as I post this.

  13. Hi Kristen,
    It is so great to be able to read your posts and feel part of this group of women & men who are either recovering, going through or are survivors of narcissistic abuse!
    I finally got away from my ex husband 10 years ago and I’m still trying to heal from it. We were together for 30 years and met when I was 16 years old. He was 19. We both had a lot invested in the relationship since we were both young. Even though I could tell pretty much right away after we got married that things had changed in our relationship… he got very controlling right away! It didn’t really matter because in my family you had to stay committed when you made that promise. And I didn’t know that this was what I was dealing with until a few years ago.
    So I’m thankful to have finally been able to come across all this information in these groups and people like yourselves who are willing to speak about it and people to share their stories… I wish everybody the best of luck and I’d like to encourage those of you who are thinking about leaving to do so. I thought about it for many many years and it was the scariest thing I ever did, no doubt. But if I can do it anyone can do it. And it’s the best thing I ever did!
    Thank you,
    Susan M

  14. I was with the love of my life for 23 yrs. I was aware that she was somewhat of a flirt but not until her death and the discovery of her very open daily diary did I find how deceptive and that our whole relationship was a lie.she lied, cheated and took everything but continued to tell me I was the only thing in her life that mattered. she was sexually addicted but I never .knew. weekends away with a girl friend only to find out she had been with another man. she died in my bed and I never had the opportunity to confront her about the many deceptions she put me through, now I am23 yrs older and still miss her beauty and charm but I do believe I lived those years with an uncaring monster who did not love me and the relationship was some and mirrors, I am devastated.

  15. This was an amazingly written article. Thank you for this. It’s been 7 months since I left and I’m still struggling with everything that happened. This article really hit home.

  16. The uncertainty is so scary.
    It’s true, each word is true. Yet, there is a space inside which perhaps takes us to the time when everything was so ideal. Like maybe the moments spent with the person were the best and if you leave, even though things are bad and they have betrayed you emotionally, you are willing to take and give a chance to this in a hope to experience the same feeling just one more time.
    And that urge to be able to feel love the way it was, gives you a sense of alarming pain and suffering because each time you realize how things have changed and how we will never be able to relive the pure moments once cherished. It’s all gone.

    Yet we are there with all the hope they inject in us with zero action to actually get there. A selfish motive to have our presence.. maybe we are the only person that they are able to control and they don’t wanna lose that.

    Set me free. (I need to set myself free).

    Time will come and I am hopeful to lose all hope in this association.

  17. These stages match what I went through. I was numb from the abuse for years including 2 1/2 years after we separated. I then had the free fall as described, then reached out for help. That was truly healing to know that I am not alone and helped me to feel empowered. I am been no contact for a month. The flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, are finally starting to subside. The intrusive thoughts persist. Giving myself time and ease to rebuild my new self.. Every stage takes time. Thank you for writing this.

  18. Hi! I meant to ask you in my previous comment, about calling him out on his behaviors…. What if calling him out is sure to provoke one of his rage episodes? The one I am with is dangerous. He does not directly hit me, but he throws/breaks objects.

    1. Hi Francie: I know what you mean, and this is something you will have to determine for yourself what you feel you should do. When I started to do this, my ex would get sarcastic and say things like, “Well, you know everything, don’t you?” I definitely don’t encourage doing anything to provoke rage, so each person should determine how to “respond.” Sometimes it would be internal, just knowing in your mind what’s happening without saying anything. Sometimes you can say something such as, “I see what’s happening here and I’m not going to react.” If there is violence or breaking things, I would encourage you to leave immediately or even contact 911 before things escalate. But definitely what this is about is a shift in *you* and your ability to empower yourself, because there is unlikely to be a shift in him. It’s more about breaking away from what he is trying to do to keep you in the relationship. I hope this makes sense. Thank you for leaving a comment, and I’m glad this has been helpful to you! -Kristen

  19. Hi Kristen. Thank you for sharing your experience. I find your advice in this article to be sound. I have been in my relationship for 10 years as of this coming April. It has been miserable for most of those years. It is only since our daughter was born almost 3 years ago that I am recognizing his pattern as NPD. I guess I have been at stage 3 in your article for over a year now. I am really struggling with categorizing him as NPD (labeling his treatment as abuse, as well) because he doesn’t meet all of the big criteria. He does not get jealous if I go somewhere or visit someone. Though we do live in the same town as his mother and friends, and 100 miles away from my mother and friends. We have separate friends. His friends are a lot like him. Anyway, thank you for your great writing. This article brought me to tears, partly because the ugly truth is so right-in-my-face, partly because I felt a sense of vindication knowing I really am not crazy or alone. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  20. 100 % Correct!!!!

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