Breaking up with a narcissist: 12 things you need to know

Image credit: Shutterstock - By Roman Kosolapov

It’s exhausting dating a narcissist.

On the surface, they’re charming, captivating and make you feel like a million dollars.

On the other hand, they’re manipulative, self-centered and don’t care about your feelings.

If you’ve been in a relationship for a while with a narcissist, it can be difficult to leave them because they’ve made themselves the center of your universe.

But if they’re a narcissist, then leaving them will benefit your emotional health and your life, so it’s crucial that you maintain the courage to go through with it.

Here are 12 things you need to know about breaking up with a narcissist.

1) It will feel sudden and brutal

If they’re breaking up with you, it will feel like a car crash you didn’t see coming. They won’t hesitate to rip the band-aid off without considering your feelings.

You’ll be left wondering what went wrong. Don’t. Their reasons will be entirely about them – and nothing to do with you.

You won’t notice this break-up coming, especially if they’ve been love bombing you, and making you feel like you’re everything they’ve ever wanted.

The real reason they’re breaking up with you is that they’re done using you. Narcissists get involved in relationships to “get” something out of the relationship.

According to Mayo Clinic, narcissists are skilled at “taking advantage of others to get what they want” and “have an exaggerated sense of self-importance.”

The most likely scenario is that they won’t show any remorse or apologize for breaking up with you.

It’s brutal for you, but you need to realize who they are – they’re all about themselves and you’re better off without them.

They’ll leave and only come back if they can get something out of you.

2) They’ll beg, plead or even attempt a negotiation

Now if you’re the one who has chosen to leave, prepare for negotiation attempts and pleading.

They don’t like it when they don’t get what they want. And if they’re still in a relationship with you, it means that there’s still something they want from you.

This is why they won’t let go of you easily.

What’s most common is that they will “promise to change”. They’ll immediately try to do things for you to make you feel awesome.

Once it’s clear that you’re not going to budge, they’ll start threatening you by saying things such as “you’ll be lost without me” or “you’ll never find someone as good”.

Don’t worry, this is normal. Don’t listen and get manipulated into going back to them. It’s not worth it.

But don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to be easy to leave them for good. According to experts, on average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good.

It’s important that you have the courage to stick with the course. You’ll be immensely grateful in the long run.

3) Break the trauma bond

Within any type of narcissistic relationship, there is usually a trauma bond – a connection between the abuser and victim through intense, shared emotional experiences.

In order to leave for good, you’ll have to break that bond.

The reason it’s difficult to break this bond is that it has been addictive. You’re abused but then you’re rewarded with love bombs when you do something right for the abuser.

This can really take a toll on your mental health as you can experience frequent bouts of stress and sadness when you’re being abused, but then elevated highs when you’re rewarded with good behavior.

The victim often doesn’t really know what’s going on, because manipulative tactics and intermittent love put the victim in a cycle of self-blame and desperation to win back their partner’s affection.

According to therapist Shannon Thomas, Author of “Healing from Hidden Abuse”, there comes a time when victim’s leave and during the grieving process they start coming round to the idea that they were abused.

They finally see the damage that was being done and realize that it wasn’t their fault.

4) Next, you need to establish no contact.

No contact sounds fairly simple, but it will take strength. You’re going to have to block their number and delete them off social media.

Basically, figure out all the different ways they can contact you and shut them off.

This sounds tough, but it’s essential. Narcissists are master manipulators and they know exactly what to say to get themselves back into your life.

So the best way to avoid manipulation is to cut them off and forgo communication.

In Mind Body Green, Annice Star, who was involved in a relationship with a narcissist, decided to see her partner again months after breaking up. Here’s why it was a bad idea:

“What did shock me, however, was how easily I flipped right back into scurrying around, fetching him this and that, tiptoeing, soft-pedaling, rationalizing, even lying … you name it, I did it. Within the first hour, I lost all the gains I thought I had secured over the months since our breakup.”

Also, keep in mind that’s okay to break up with a narcissist in text – that way they won’t be able to manipulate you.

5) If you can’t avoid them, adopt the “grey rock technique”

In a nutshell, the Gray Rock Method promotes blending in.

If you look around at the ground, you don’t typically see the individual rocks as they are: you see the dirt, rocks, and grass as a collective.

When we are faced with narcissists, they tend to see everything.

The Gray Rock Method gives you the option of blending in so that you no longer serve as a target for that person.

Live Strong says that the Gray Rock Method involves remaining emotionally unresponsive:

“It’s a matter of making yourself as boring, nonreactive and unremarkable as possible — like a gray rock…More importantly, remain as emotionally unresponsive to their pokes and prods as you can possibly allow yourself.”

If you can’t cut them out of your life completely, try separating yourself from them as much as possible.

If you need to be in the same room as them, distract yourself with your phone. Don’t be present for conversations.

Answer short answers and don’t engage in conversation.

At first, they will become frustrated by your inaction, but they’ll eventually see that there is no getting ahead with you and they’ll move onto someone else.

If they aren’t getting what they want: satisfaction from hurting other people or manipulating them, they’ll find another source of that satisfaction.

When the person enters the room, do your best to just leave.

(Related: If you want to discover the six deadly relationship sins and learn how to “re-attract” your ex-boyfriend, check out my new article here).

6) Remove any connections in your life with the narcissist

Do you have any mutual connections on social media? Remove them.

It sounds ruthless, but a narcissist will find any way they can to try and get you back.

And they won’t shy away from using your friends to do so.

Worse, if they already know they can’t get you back, they may bad mouth you to your mutual connections.

After all, they don’t care about your feelings. The only thing they understand is that you’ve left them and they haven’t got everything they want from you.

So if you want to move on with your life and start afresh, remove any associations in your life that connect you with the narcissist, unless of course they’re good friends and you can completely trust them.

Remember, the more connections you have with your ex, the more opportunities they’ll have to wriggle their way back into your life.

7) Remember why you broke up with them

Now that you’ve ended the relationship, you may be feeling a bit down. It’s a big change.

But those negative emotions you’re feeling may cause you to question your decision.

You might start thinking about all the great times you had with your narcissistic partner. Feelings will come rushing back and regret bubbles up.

Don’t listen to those feelings. You need to keep in mind that they are unrepresentative of the relationship.

For example, you’re probably remembering all the “compliments” your partner gave you.

Don’t get me wrong, compliments are usually great – but when a narcissist gives them, it’s part of a technique called love bombing.

According to Psychology Today, love bombing is the practice of “overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction…designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber.”

So to get your mind back on an even keel, jot down all the reasons you wanted to split up with your partner in the first place.

Ultimately, it was a decision that you didn’t take lightly. Remember those reasons, because if they’re a self-serving narcissist, you’ve likely made a great decision for your future to get rid of them.

And if the narcissist ended the relationship, jot down all the negative aspects of the relationship. When you look at the relationship from the outside, it’s likely that there was a lot of them.

To dive deep into strategies and techniques to help you get over your ex, check out my latest eBook: The Art of Breaking Up: The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go of Someone You Loved.

7) Be prepared that they will move on really quickly

Most narcissists heal quickly from a breakup as their feelings weren’t real in the first place. After all, they weren’t emotionally invested in the relationship and were simply using you to get something they want.

This is one of the reasons you want to get rid of them on social media – it’s not totally out of the ordinary that they will be charming and manipulating someone else in a week or two and posting romantic photos.

If not that, then they’ll probably be posting “selfies” where they look beautiful and happy.

“Their superficial approach to relationships means that it is very easy for them to replace people (including their partners) and find someone new rather quickly.” – Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D. 

So if you see them with someone else quickly, keep in mind that they’re probably “love bombing” them in an effort to use them. Be glad it isn’t you anymore.

Furthermore, according to Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, it’s a bad idea to assume that “someone else is going to get the good version of them”.

She says that the “better version” does not really exist. The way that you were treated is exactly the way that their new lover will be treated.

Narcissists tend to be pretty stable in the way they act in relationships.

8) You will grieve

Even though they were a narcissist, you probably had a strong emotional bond to them – even if they didn’t.

Therefore, you are going to feel bad about it, and you’re going to go through a grieving process. The more accept these emotions and process them, the quicker you will get over them.

Narcissists know how to charm people’s socks off – and that’s exactly what’s happened to you for a long period of time. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t feeling somewhat down about letting them go.

Also, keep in mind that a relationship with a narcissist is largely a power struggle – one that you didn’t know you were part of.

Being controlled and emotionally dominated for such a long time can take its toll.

Now that it’s over, you may feel emotionally drained. Again, this is perfectly normal.

But you need to remember that it takes time to recover and you don’t need to back to them in a moment of weakness.

According to research, it usually takes at least 11 weeks to feel better after a relationship has ended – so give yourself time to grieve and get over those emotions.

But remember:

Millions of people have been through the pain of a break-up before, and they’ve successfully moved on to be a better, stronger human being.

It’s a natural process that most people will go through at least once in their life.

But just like any other wound: Heartbreak heals with time – and you will eventually move on.

Remind yourself of why you ended the relationship and be glad that you’ve found your way out of that toxic environment.

It’s also important to get yourself involved in hobbies, activities and spending time with friends.

Because unless you get your mind focused on something else, your mind will start dwelling on what if.

Everything you read or everything that’s in this article won’t heal your broken heart, but you’ve set the process in motion for time to heal your wounds.

The healing of a human heart is a long and tender process. But for now, honor your grief and find value in the difficult emotions you’re experiencing right now.

You’ve probably bottled up a lot of those negative emotions in the past in an effort to deal with your narcissistic partner. Now, you’re letting it all go.

Even if it’s hurting now, staying the course and not contacting them will benefit you in the long run.

9) You will continue to think about them – but that’s normal

Having a relationship with a narcissist isn’t easy, and as a result, you’re probably used to analyzing your ex-partner’s behavior and words to work out what they really mean.

After all, they’ve most likely been playing games with you in an effort to manipulate and use you.

You might have made excuses for their behavior, reframed their lies and tip-toed around their self-delusion in order to keep things peaceful.

This habit of analyzing their behavior may continue after the relationship has ended. This is why adopting the no-contact approach and deleting them from social media is crucial.

Experts say it takes 3 months to break a habit, so once the 3 months are over, you’ll wonder why the hell you thought about them so much.

10) You may feel shame

Once you spent time away from the relationship and you can look at things from a bird’s eye view, you may start to feel shame from letting the wool be pulled over your eyes for so long.

You may be asking yourself how you could have been so gullible and naive for so long. How could you let them walk over all over you for so long?

The shame may be especially pronounced if your family and friends warned you about your partner.

But the truth is, many people get manipulated and controlled by narcissists. They are known as being experts at seduction for a reason.

You may have some self-esteem and codependent issues you want to explore later, but for now, forgive yourself and have pride that you’ve managed to walk away. Not many people have the strength to do that.

You may also feel regret. You may wonder why you wasted so much time on them. And if you’ve had kids with them, or you’ve racked up debt with them, you may have more than wasted time on your mind.

But the best advice right now is to stop looking back. It won’t serve you any good. As Buddha said:

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

All you can focus on is right now, and be glad that you’ve got a life (without their limitations) ahead of you.

RELATED: What J.K Rowling can teach us about mental toughness

11) It’s time to love yourself

Narcissists are skilled are putting others down to elevate themselves, so your self-esteem may have taken a battering.

It’s unlikely that you were appreciated for who you are. Instead, you’ve only been complimented and appreciated when it suits them.

You may have suffered verbal abuse as well. Narcissists want their victims to stay insecure and doubt themselves. It makes it easier for them to play their wicked games.

The good news is, you’ve left your partner and they can’t hinder your growth anymore.

It’s a big topic on how to practice self-love, but for now, think of the people in your life that you love and respect. How do you treat them?

You are kind to them, patient with their thoughts and ideas, and you forgive them when they make a mistake.

You give them space, time, and opportunity; you make sure they have the room to grow because you love them enough to believe in the potential of their growth.

Now think of how you treat yourself.

Do you give yourself the love and respect that you might give your closest friends or significant other?

Do you take care of your body, your mind, and your needs?

Here are all the ways that you could be showing your body and mind self-love in your everyday life:

  • Sleeping properly
  • Eating healthy
  • Giving yourself time and space to understand your spirituality
  • Exercising regularly
  • Thanking yourself and those around you
  • Playing when you need it
  • Avoiding vices and toxic influences
  • Reflecting and meditating

How many of these daily activities do you allow yourself? And if not, then how can you say you truly love yourself?

Loving yourself and build your confidence is more than just a state of mind—it’s also a series of actions and habits that you embed into your everyday life.

To dive deep into the art of how to practice self-love, check out Hack Spirit’s most popular eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life

12) It’s time to focus on yourself and how you can build a better you

It’s time to focus on yourself and recover meaning in life. Narcissists are skilled at making everything about them – so what’s likely happened is that they’ve been the center of your universe for a long time. It’s a significant change.

As humans, we create meaning through our relationships, and now you’ve lost a lot of meaning to your life.

But that’s exciting as well. You can try new hobbies, or go to a yoga class and meet new people.

Whatever it is, you can use up a lot of energy on new pursuits because you don’t have to worry about a narcissist dragging you down in life.

Reconnect with people who make you happy. See this is a great opportunity to build new meaning in life and a brand new self without limitations put on you by a narcissist trying to control you.

Psychologist Dr. Guy Winch recommends writing an “emotional first aid” list of things you can do as a distraction when you find yourself thinking of your ex-partner.

You may not see it now, but after you’ve broken up with your partner for a while, you’ll start to look back and realize how toxic and manipulative your partner was.

You’ll almost breathe a sigh of relief and be so thankful that you managed to stick it through.

Don’t forget that dating is part of the recovery. Go out and meet new people. You’ll find that most people aren’t narcissists and will genuinely like you for who you are.

Don’t try to find “the one” straight away. Just enjoying meeting new people and making new friends. These people will be the breath of fresh air that you need.

While there may be a lot of scars that come from dating an emotionally abusive narcissist, keep in mind that the experience will hold you in good stead for the future.

You’ve learned a lot about yourself, and what kind of partner is better suited to you. You’ll also be much more aware when a narcissist enters your life – and you can avoid experiencing that kind of toxic relationship ever again.

NEW EBOOK: If you found this article useful, then check out my latest eBook: The Art of Breaking Up: The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go of Someone You Loved.  Letting go of the life you’ve spent months or years building with a partner isn’t as easy as swiping left or right. While there is no snap-of-the-fingers solution for getting over a breakup, with the help of the no-nonsense advice in this eBook, you’ll stop agonizing over your past, and be reinvigorated to tackle life head-on. Check out my eBook here.

You may also like reading:

Sign up to Hack Spirit's daily emails

Learn how to reduce stress, cultivate healthy relationships, handle people you don't like and find your place in the world.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

growth mindset quotes

91 growth mindset quotes that will inspire you to work for your success

Soul searching: 10 steps to find direction when you’re feeling lost