14 things a narcissist does when they realize you’re pulling away

Oh no, you didn’t!

… is probably the first thought a narcissist would have at the first realization that you’re trying to break free from them.

But if you think they’d stop at that thought, you might want to think again.

Remember that narcissists are all about having the upper hand, and letting you go without a fight means relinquishing that control.

So what else could they do?

Brace yourself. 

We’re about to peek into the playbook of a narcissist when they realize they’re losing their grip.

1) They go all out with the gaslighting

Your withdrawal triggers the narcissist’s last-ditch efforts at tricking you into questioning your memory, reality, and even sanity. 

They stop at nothing to convince you that you were the problem in the relationship.

While this won’t necessarily stop you from leaving, it can leave you with an enormous scar of self-doubt.

So be careful not to fall into this trap. 

Being self-assured and keeping your sanity after breaking free from them is the best way to one-up a narcissist.

2) They bait you

It’s exactly as it sounds -only this time, it’s neither cheese nor worms. 

Baiting, in the narcissist’s dictionary, refers to emotional baiting.

They do this by throwing emotional jabs or playing on your emotional vulnerabilities – anything to provoke you into reacting. 

It could be commenting about a topic they know you’re extremely sensitive about or showing interest in things that will make you jealous or upset.

What do they get out of it?

It’s not really about stopping you from pulling away. It’s really more about reaffirming their control.

Because here’s the thing:

Your reaction to each bait they throw is proof that you’re still under their spell. 

3) They use guilt trips to glue you in

Anyone who’s been in a relationship with a narcissist knows that guilt is a card they love to pull up their sleeve.

It’s actually one of their most effective ones. 

Think about it:

Have you wanted out for a long time, but you just can’t seem to because you feel guilty about leaving them, especially considering what they’ve done for you?

If you can relate, it may be a sign that you’re entangled in a narcissist’s manipulative traps.

The only way to escape this is to free yourself from the guilt. 

Psychologists advise that the first step is to forgive yourself.

Once that’s done, break the chains of guilt by putting yourself first for a change.

4) They denigrate you to shut down your departure

If guilt doesn’t do the trick they resort to denigration.

It’s a fancy word for belittling, criticizing, or demeaning – all telltale signs of narcissism.

Their main goal for doing this is to assert their superiority over you.

But their motive may be different when they feel you pulling away.

Their demeaning becomes their way of putting you down to make you feel flawed or worthless.

They do this until you believe you are good for nothing and, therefore, no one. 

If you bite into this, you may end up believing you’re better off staying with them rather than risk being alone. 

If this hits a nerve, maybe it’s time you’re reminded of this:

You’re worth more.

5) They sabotage themselves

If you’re wondering to what lengths narcissists go to just to keep you under their control, here’s a hint:

According to trauma and narcissistic abuse expert Dr Melissa Kalt, they can go as far as sabotaging themselves if that means you’ll stay.

She says they can do things to their health or careers, such as deliberately getting fired from work or intentionally slipping to injure an arm or break a bone. 

They do this to play on your sympathy because they know your kind heart can never leave them in that condition.

Talk about going the extra mile!

6) They promise to change

Speaking of being extra, narcissists also love to use over-the-top promises to change when you threaten to leave.

It’s easy to feel like these are promises they intend to keep, especially because you see them exerting effort in making changes.

But don’t be fooled.

While theoretically narcissists can change, the reality is that these promises are more for show. 

Once they’ve lured you back in, their cycle of narcissistic abuse – the one that made you want to leave in the first place – begins again.

7) They do intermittent reinforcement

Another component of the narcissistic cycle is intermittent reinforcement.

Psychologists describe this as a trauma bond that hooks you in, like you’re chasing the high of a good moment.

But how does it work?

Once they sense you breaking free from them, they try to reel you back in by showering you with love and affection. The aim is to make you feel positive emotions like a dopamine high.

This messes with your head and convinces you that the tough times are a small price to pay for the euphoria of these good times. 

And just like that, they make it really hard for you to walk away.

8) They threaten you

When the niceties fail, they turn to aggression, such as threatening.

According to psychotherapist and narcissistic personality expert Dr. Elinor Greenberg, they threaten because they can’t grasp anyone else’s viewpoint when it’s different from their own.

So when you pull away, they don’t understand that you’re doing it because you’re hurt or unhappy.

Instead, they consider it as your personal attack on their self-esteem. 

Their threats are their way of fighting back, showing you they’re in charge.

9) They go on a narcissistic rage

On the topic of threats, when you direct it to their ego by trying to leave, it triggers their narcissistic rage.

Psychologists explain this as an explosive response that often results in a fiery temper tantrum.

How is it different from a non-narcissistic person’s anger? 

Narcissistic rage is about protecting their self-image and re-establishing dominance. Whether or not someone gets hurt while they’re lashing out doesn’t matter to them.

On the other hand, non-narcissistic anger is more about expressing an issue with the intention for resolution while being still maintaining a dose of empathy.

In short, narcissists display fury solely to maintain authority.

10) They hoover

If you’re thinking of a vacuum cleaner, believe it or not, you’re spot on.

Experts say the term hoovering was derived from the sucking nature of a vacuum.

Ever notice how it sucks every debris towards it?

That’s the same tactics narcissists use on you the moment they feel you breaking away.

Hoovering is any behavior that pulls you back in, including the ones we’ve already listed above.

They could even use others to suck you back in, like contacting your friends and family and convincing them to convince you to stay. 

So what do you do?

Avoid the hoover at all costs. Don’t let yourself get sucked back in.

After all, that dust isn’t yours to clean anymore.

11) They discard

When all’s said and done, and they finally accept that they’ve lost control of you, as ruthless as it may sound, the narcissist will simply discard you.

But come to think of it, they don’t just “simply” let you go.

It’s almost laughable, really.

Because instead of just letting you walk away, they’ll make it look like they left you in the first place. 

They carefully set the stage for their abandonment because they still want to have full control even in terms of how the relationship ends. 

They must have the last word – always.

12) They play the victim card

Don’t be too quick to sigh in relief after they’ve discarded you.

Let me remind you:

The narcissist is all about protecting their self-image.

So, while you may not be on their leash anymore, they can still use you to boost their egos.

And what better way to do this than play the victim?

They will bring out their acting skills and portray themselves as the injured party to protect their reputation and gain sympathy and support from your mutual connections.

13) They launch a smear campaign

Narcissists are smart.

Even if they’ve successfully played the victim, they know that doesn’t stop you from revealing their true nature.

Think about it:

Only you, as their victim, know how abusive they are. 

So they want to stop you from letting their abuse out in the open. 

Because once this happens, people will avoid them, cutting off the narcissist’s attention supply.

And that’s what drives them to start a smear campaign against you.

They will act swiftly to destroy your reputation and credibility before you get the chance to expose them for who they truly are.

14) They retaliate

Be extra careful!

Experts say it’s not uncommon for narcissists to stalk and harass those who cut ties with them. They believe this is the narcissist’s way of inflicting “tangible damage” on you.

This goes beyond just running a smear campaign. It can be as troubling as stalking or assaulting your privacy.

The experts’ advice?

Take as many precautions as possible and document and alert law enforcement of any threats or stalking behaviors.

Difficult, but doable

Whether it’s platonic or romantic, maintaining a relationship with a narcissist is hard.

And we’ve just proven that breaking free from them could even be harder.

It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible.

Remember that you don’t have to do it alone. 

Once you’re ready to take this step, there’s tons of support and resources that’s just a call or click away.

That said, let me leave you this one for the road:

“If you think leaving a narcissist is hard, just wait until you get the bill for not doing it.” – @kim.saeed   

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

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