If you’re reading this, then like I once was, you’re likely caught in the seemingly endless cycle of trying to break up with a narcissist.
It feels like a madness that we can’t escape.
They depart suddenly for reasons that seem either minor or made up completely.
They may pretend as if you don’t exist.
When they do decide to speak to you again, they act as if they are lowering themselves to interact with you.
Or perhaps you are the one to leave because you can’t take their actions anymore, but they won’t stay away. This time, they treat you as if you are the love of their lives.
The Narcissist Breakup Cycle Explained
H.G. Tudor, is a narcissist author who writes about how narcissists view relationships and their partners in his books and online in his blog, Knowing the Narcissist.
His work tries to fill in the gaps left by unanswered questions:
Why would the narcissist do that?
What was the narcissist thinking?
What was the narcissist’s goal?
That didn’t seem to make any sense– what was the narcissist trying to accomplish?
What did the narcissist want?
To describe how breaking up with a narcissist happens, he wrote three posts about the three stages of breaking up.
What his articles do is tie together what the narcissist is thinking, feeling, and attempting to accomplish at each stage with what the partner is experiencing.
He calls the stages “Post-Discard Battles.” The reference to “post-discard” is a reference to when the cycle begins (after being discarded by the narcissist).
He calls them “battles” because during each stage, the victim struggles. Those struggles can be either external with the narcissist, internal in the victim’s mind, or both.
So as we are progressing through the five stages of leaving narcissists psychologically, here is what is happening externally in our interactions with them.
Why Breaking Up with a Narcissist is So Hard
Stage One: The Emotional Battle
The first stage begins in the aftermath of the initial discard.
The victim is shell-shocked and overwhelmed. He or she and can only react according to the lovesickness, cognitive dissonance, mind games, and chemical bond that have been produced during the relationship.
There is no other basis for a victim to process the relationship.
There is no frame for understanding the relationship because this is the first glimpse that something is not right, and whatever that “something” is tells us that this relationship is somehow unlike a normal relationship.
There is no other way the victim can respond to the narcissist other than emotionally. When emotions are involved, the partner doesn’t stand a chance.
If the narcissist returns, and he or she probably will, the victim will always go back during stage one.
Stage Two: The Head vs. Heart (HvH) Battle
At this stage, the victim has realized that there is a problem with the narcissist. The relationship is untenable. The victim may have been through enough discards or discovered horrible secrets, as is what happened to me.
He or she may have stumbled upon information about narcissism and figured out that the partner’s interactions with them fit the pattern of narcissistic abuse.
The victim may have had friends or a therapist tell them that their partner has a problem and they need to leave.
They may have discovered new betrayals.
Whatever it is, something or some combination of things has taken place and the victim is no longer processing the relationship in a purely emotional manner.
It is at this point that the victim begins to have an internal battle with herself about the emotional tie to the narcissist.
The thoughts he or she has now about the actions the narcissist begin to contradict the earlier perception.
Tudor also refers to this as the Logic versus Emotional Battle.
Because all of the same dynamics from the emotional battle are still at play, a victim may struggle with this battle for a long time. It is not a sudden overnight switch from one way of viewing the narcissist to the other.
Nor is the process of change in perception linear, as the victim may swing back and forth and not know what to believe or how to reconcile the two views.
Is my partner really a narcissist, or am I wrong?
Maybe he can change.
He seems really sorry–maybe I should give him another chance.
If only I hadn’t done [x], maybe [y] wouldn’t have happened so maybe we should try again.
We have something so special if he would only stop doing [x] things would be perfect.
Maybe he realizes now how much I love him and he will treat it as if it’s valuable to him.
I just want him to explain why he did it.
I just want to see him one more time and have closure.
If the narcissist returns, and, again, he or she probably will, the victim will almost always be unable to resist going back during stage two.
This is where the narcissist breakup cycle can stall out for a long period of time while the pattern repeats itself.
The victim will likely go back many times because the head has not yet won out over the heart. The victim has only begun to become aware of what has happened and the details need time to sink in.
The narcissist knows this and will use it to their advantage. The victim’s emotions and thoughts, such as those above, as well as his or her inborn strengths and weaknesses, can be psychologically manipulated.
The narcissist will use them to cast doubts and confusion, weaken judgment, and isolate the victim from external support.
All of these factors can keep a victim stuck in this stage for a long time.
Stage Three: The Final Battle
In this stage, the victim’s head finally wins out over the heart. Each time another discard in the narcissist breakup cycle occurs again during stage two, the victim gets a little closer to the third and final stage.
Once victims finally reach it, they start to gain control of their emotions. They no longer feel as if they under the influence of the narcissist.
During this stage, the victim develops some sort of protection to keep the narcissist out. He or she guards against anything the narcissist might say or do to try to return or to cause harm.
The risk that the narcissist will show up again, however, never goes away. The narcissist may catch the victim off-guard and that is what the victim wants to protect against.
If the narcissist returns during stage three, the victim has more control over whether they go back.
Yet Tudor believes that the battle never ends because the victim can never really be certain if or when the narcissist will return.
“This final battle takes place in a land where the battlefield, for the first time, is more of your choosing than ours. You have better equipped to fight this battle and whilst there remains a risk of defeat and you are being ensnared once again, it is far less than in the previous two battles… How long will this final battle last? It will continue until one of us no longer lives.”
Does the Narcissist Breakup Cycle Ever Really End?
When you get into a relationship with a narcissist, you permanently become part of their collection.
They can try to take you down and play with you whenever they get bored. They may break up with you temporarily or you may break up with them, but they never really break up with you. “That is why we did what we did; so we always had a way back in,” Tudor writes.
In theory, this appears to give the narcissist a measure of control.
This, however, is only because his three stages assume that being on-guard is our final stance against them.
The narcissist would always have control if we were forever the passive actors they manufactured us to be. If nothing ever changed.
It is the narcissists who stay frozen in time, locked forever in fantasies of the past.
Without self-reflection, they are destined to repeat the same patterns in every new relationship. If they try to return to you, they will try to loop you back into that same tired pattern.
Yet we can change.
We, as the partners or former partners of narcissists, can grow, learn, thrive and move on.
Thus, Tudor’s analysis of the stages of the narcissist break up cycle ends prematurely.
Perhaps there’s something poetic about the fact that a narcissist perceives that there is nothing beyond stage three, where we are always protecting ourselves against being invaded by the narcissist again, where he or she is always appealing to us.
The Fourth Stage of Breaking Up with a Narcissist
There is actually a fourth stage.
It is in this fourth stage that we finally beat the narcissist. In this stage, we are no longer affected by anything the narcissist does.
Yes, it is true that it will always be up to the survivor to ensure that the relationship with the narcissist is over.
Yet in time, as we become healthier, stronger people, we will integrate the experience into who we are and heal the wounds from it.
We no longer have to protect ourselves from anything the narcissist does, because the narcissist no longer holds a key to the new person we have become.
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!
More About H.G. Tudor
Learning to think like a narcissist has been instrumental in my own healing. It answered some of my outstanding questions. It also filled in many gaps in my understanding of why my ex-boyfriend behaved as he did.
You may be intrigued, shocked, or frightened by this idea that there is no such thing as a “final discard.” If so and you want to arm yourself with information, I recommend reading more about what Tudor says about the cycle of breaking up with a narcissist. He has written several books on many related topics, such as preparing to go no-contact and understanding hoovering.
His books walk you through things you probably wouldn’t consider. He is very blunt about what narcissists think and feel.
Go slowly and take a break if any of it becomes too overwhelming emotionally or difficult to read. Some of the ideas, though enlightening, are extremely painful to comprehend at first. They become easier to absorb with time and distance from the relationship and I believe the wisdom gained is invaluable.
I recommend these books by Tudor for more information on the real point of view from a narcissist:
- Getting Out! How to Prepare to Leave the Narcissist
- Black Hole: The Narcissist Hoover
- No Contact
- Escape: How to Beat the Narcissist
Don’t forget to check out these resources on the website while you’re here: