The stages of grief after breaking up with a narcissist

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Hey, how are you holding up? 

I know… breaking up with a narcissist can be agonizing–even if you know deep down that you’re better off without them. 

You just ended a rollercoaster of a relationship and now you feel hopeless. 

But chin up, I promise things will get better. And when they do, you’ll feel liberated with a sense of clarity. But like anything in life, grief is a process. 

In this article, I outline the stages of grief after breaking up with a narcissist and the measures you can take to soften that blow. 

Now, one thing to note is that grief isn’t linear; you might find yourself cycling back and forth these stages. But don’t be discouraged, just keep moving forward and remember that pain is temporary. 

Let’s get to it!

Shock and denial 

Feeling shock and denial is your way of coping with the sudden turn of events. In other words, even though it’s over your brain is still processing what is going on. 

You might not even cry because you still haven’t fully accepted what has happened. Instead, you feel numb and disconnected from your emotions. 

As is typical with a narcissist, the ending was probably abrupt and devastating so you don’t quite know what to feel yet. 

Although there’s an overarching feeling of sadness and loss, your head is scattered. You’re confused.  Somewhere down the line, you’ll come to terms with reality but not yet.

I remember when I broke up with my first serious girlfriend years ago. She was a complex woman and regularly liked to belittle me. I never felt like I was good enough yet I wanted it to work. I later concluded she was a narcissist.

Eventually, she broke up with me. We got back together. Then she broke up with me again. Then she wanted to reconcile, which I hesitantly shut down. 

This was one of the most difficult (and it turns out, the best) decisions of my life. I knew in my heart we weren’t good for each other. I would realize much later that breaking up with a narcissist was for the best, and eventually I learned how to resist the trap of getting caught up in nostalgia. 

But at the time it was happening, I was in a state of shock. Things had ended so abruptly, and I was so overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, it was difficult to process everything.

I remember going home that afternoon feeling completely desensitized. I was too numb to feel sadness. Instead I just ordered a cheeseburger and watched TV in the hours after the break up, not fully taking in what happened. 

It was only days later when I began to feel something. I felt both sadness and anger, delayed and in equal doses. 

Speaking of anger, this brings me to the next stage…

Anger 

Here’s the thing: when you break up with a narcissist, anger is inevitable. 

And now that the dust has settled a little bit, expect that anger to make an appearance. You’re upset that your relationship ended the way it did. You’re upset with your narcissistic ex and their audacity throughout this whole ordeal. You’re upset that a narcissist could make you feel this way. 

You reflect on the relationship and feel angry about how poorly you were treated. You feel used, abused, and now on the defense. Your ex regularly made you feel so small, you were just too deep in it to see things for what they were. 

You are disappointed in yourself that you let it get to this point. That you let yourself be a narcissist’s doormat, that you were too weak and in love to stand up for yourself. 

You feel anger, regret, wanting vengeance. Eventually, through the fury, you start to miss your ex. This coincides with the grief setting in…  

Grief 

You’re beginning to understand that this isn’t a fake breakup or a bad fight, it’s different this time: the separation may well be permanent. You feel a sense of hopelessness and a deep longing for your partner. 

You begin to reminisce and daydream focusing on the good times you two had, filtering out everything else. You romanticize things in your grief

You might try to justify the breakup by remembering how toxic your ex was but your mind won’t have it. You miss your ex. You are emotional and vulnerable. You might even begin to blame yourself for the downfall. 

Allow yourself to feel these emotions; you’re human after all. Second guessing yourself is normal. The key is to pick up the pieces and move forward with new life lessons firmly in tow. 

Grief over a narcissist seems counterproductive but it’s perfectly natural. So is rumination and obsession…

Obsession 

Let’s be honest: we all at one point are guilty of stalking our exes. This type of behavior is probably most evident fresh off a bad breakup. We may ultimately believe that we’re better off without our narcissistic ex but that doesn’t mean we won’t obsess over them, sadly. 

As we established, you’re only human, it’s completely normal, even expected to be preoccupied with intrusive thoughts about your former lover. 

Did they ever really love you? Are they dating someone new? Are they happier now? Have they moved on already? These are some of the questions you might ask yourself as you frantically ruminate about your ex. This is part of the withdrawal process. 

You might stalk their social media profiles for hours, keeping track of their actions and whereabouts. Perhaps you even made a fake profile so your ex won’t see you browsing through their profile. 

But soon, you’ll get over this phase and won’t look back. But not before you feel a bout of depression. 

And speaking of depression…

Loneliness and depression 

Like anything bad for you, once you let go, your body and mind will go through withdrawals. After a breakup with a narcissist, you will experience some dark moments. 

You will feel lonely–partly because it’s a fresh break up, but mostly because not many can truly understand the level of abuse you went through. You tell yourself you should feel uplifted, that you shouldn’t be hung up over a narcissist, someone so genuinely toxic for you. 

But you’re not thinking rationally quite yet. You feel isolated, your self-esteem still in tatters, the narcissist-inflicted wounds still fresh.

 Going out to meet someone is the last thing on your mind. You don’t have the stomach or energy for that. You need to recover. After all, abuse from a narcissist is extremely damaging.  

You spend your days almost exclusively wallowing and depressed in bed, occasionally venturing to the kitchen to get something to eat. 

You are drained and demoralized and the light at the end of the tunnel seems really dim. 

But then you wake up one morning, and like a fever breaking, you’ve miraculously snapped out of it. You’re ready to move on… 

Acceptance 

It hasn’t been very inspiring so far, huh? Well I promised you things would get better. Human beings are naturally resilient creatures. In times of crisis, we tend to bounce back after being down

At this stage, you might consider educating yourself about the true nature of a narcissist. There are limitless resources online to provide answers and help you make sense of things. Education and gaining insight are key steps to acceptance. 

And now that you’ve made it past the hard part, you’re fully on the mend. You’re at the stage where the grief and hopelessness are winding down. The nightmare isn’t fully over yet, but at least you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel clearly.

You begin to accept that the relationship is done. Everyone goes through a painful breakup at some point and most get over it, you’re no different. You’re stronger than you think. 

You might even consider getting out there again. Maybe you’ll create a profile on a dating app and meet someone. And when you do, you’ll start seeing things more objectively again: that you are infinitely better off.

This brings us to the final stage:  

Relief

Guess what? It’s only a matter of time when the powerful grip of attachment weakens. Once this happens, you’ll know you’re free–free from narcissists and their toxic ways. You’ll know that the heartache and pain is a thing of the past

You might even be dating someone new at this point. Or have something else to focus on, like a new business or new job. 

You’ll feel content and happy where you are, wondering why you were so sad over a narcissist in the first place. Once you reach this stage, your relationship will slowly be a distant memory–one you’re completely over. 

How to get over a narcissist 

I know it’s easier said than done. But getting over a narcissist is extremely doable. First, allow yourself to grieve. You don’t want to keep unresolved emotions bottled up. That’s just unhealthy. 

Once you feel you’ve thoroughly grieved, keep yourself busy. Maybe this means starting a new job or a business or doing volunteer work. This could also mean adopting a new exercise routine. Try enrolling in a gym or a yoga or spin class. 

Not only is exercise a fantastic antidote to sadness, but being around other people will give you a sense of community, which everyone needs whether they admit it or not. 

Above all, practice self-care

Go on solo adventures. Travel somewhere you’ve never been before. Make friends with the locals, try their food and drink. Don’t hold back. 

You’re free to be your best self now, no more soul-sucking narcissist bringing you down. No looking back. Own it. 

If you feel some lingering trauma, then don’t be ashamed to seek help. Find a competent therapist, counselor or at the very least, a good friend you can speak to when necessary. 

Write your feelings down. Write about how you’re so much better off narcissist-free. Articulating your thoughts on paper will give you greater perspective. 

You made it this far, that’s quite an accomplishment. I’m proud of you, you’re over your narcissistic ex. Give yourself a big hug, you did it!

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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