It is challenging and exhausting being romantically involved with a narcissist, and they can also cause havoc when they leave. Breakups are always hard, but when you’ve been in a relationship with someone who uses others and is obsessed with themselves, it can be even harder.
On the surface, narcissists can seem charming, engaging and charismatic, which can make them difficult to leave in the first place.
Dr Judith Orloff, a clinical psychiatrist at the University of California Los Angeles, told Insider that narcissists can make you fall in love with them quickly, because they’re very adept at becoming the centre of your universe.
“Narcissists present a false self, where they can seem charming and intelligent, and even giving,” she said. “Until you don’t do things their way. Then they get cold, withholding and punishing.”
Here’s what to expect if a relationship with a narcissist ends.
It can feel brutal and sudden
One minute you may feel like everything your partner has ever wanted, and the next you’re left wondering what on Earth went wrong. This is because narcissists are great at playing a part while they’re getting something from you, according to Orloff. But when they’re done using you, they have no difficulty in casting you aside like a used tissue.
There will be no apologies or remorse, and you may well never hear from them again, regardless of how long your relationship was. If they do return, it will be because they’ve realized they can get something from you.
Be prepared for begging, pleading, or bargaining
If you’re the one who chose to leave, good for you, because that’s hard to do, Orloff said. They are likely to give you the fight of your life because they’re not done with you yet. Narcissists hate losing their supply, so they won’t let you go easily.
Prepare for them to promise “to change.” They might suddenly start doing things for you that you’d been complaining about. They may say “you’ll be lost without me,” or “you’ll never find someone like me.”
Don’t listen, Orloff advised. It’s just a trick to get you to come back to them out of fear.
If that doesn’t work, they may try different tactics
If their begging isn’t successful, narcissists can turn mean. Psychiatrist Dr. Edward Ratush told Insider that narcissists are master manipulators, and will have learned over time how to use your thoughts and behaviors to control you.
“Strategically, separating from a narcissist can resemble defending oneself against a shark: you have to punch them right in the nose,” he said. “Despite the fierceness of their appearance, they often crumble when confronted. Their bullying ways will quickly dissolve and reveal what’s beneath.”
The best defense against the narcissist’s tactics is a good, strong sense of self, Ratush said — “a solid grasp of your needs and how they can be used against you.”
Prepare for insults, but avoid an argument
Even though the narcissist will likely start hurling insults at you, you should at all costs avoid arguing, according to Derek Jacques, a divorce attorney at The Mitten Law Firm who has worked with clients seeking divorces from narcissistic spouses.
“It is hard to bite your tongue when a narcissist is spewing insults your way, however, it is best to avoid engaging with them on their level,” he told Insider. “Be aware that narcissists don’t argue to prove a point. They argue to feel a rush of satisfaction of putting you down and belittling you.
“An innocuous statement can provide the narcissist all the ammo they need to launch a verbal assault. Take those opportunities away from them and you remove their power.”
What next? Establish no contact
No contact is exactly what it sounds like: no contact whatsoever. That means blocking their number, making sure any emails from their address go into your spam folder, and deleting them from social media.
This is tough, but mental-health counselor Stephanie Sarkis explained in a blog post on Psychology Today that it’s the best option because sooner or later the narcissist will find a way to return.
The narcissist will try to contact you if you cut off their supply, and they know just what to say to make you come back. So you have to be brutal, and fast. It may be best to break up with them over text also, so they can’t manipulate you any further.
If you left something at the narcissist’s house, Sarkis added, you should just leave it and let it go. Consider it a very small price to pay for your own sanity and well-being.
Remove people you have in common from social media
It might seem harsh, but sometimes it’s just better to start completely fresh and remove any association of the narcissist from you life, psychologists advise. This includes their friends and family, from all social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and anything else you can think of.
Otherwise, the narcissist is likely to come looking for you. This is known as “hoovering,” according to licensed marriage therapist Darlene Lancer.
“The best way to deal with hoovering is to ignore it,” she wrote in another Psychology Today post. “No contact both protects you and helps you recover from a breakup. That includes not looking at photos or social media accounts of your ex. A narcissist may escalate hoovering, then lose interest after a while, only to reappear a year or more later when they’re in need.”
The more connections you still have to each other, the more opportunities the narcissist has to slide back into your life. They could also use their friends to try and make you jealous.
So unless you’re very good friends with those people, and you trust them completely, you should probably wipe the social-media slate clean.
Remind yourself of why it ended
When you break up with someone, a few selective good memories can come flooding back, prompting confusing feelings of regret. These feelings are usually false and unrepresentative of the relationship, psychiatrists say.
You might remember a time when your partner was sending you loads of messages every day and continually complimenting you. Compliments are great when they’re sincere, but when a narcissist uses them it may be part of a technique called “love-bombing” in which the person smothers you with affection but has an ulterior motive.
As a reminder to yourself, jot down the reasons you split up. Did your partner frequently put you down? Call you names? Make you feel guilty or like you were crazy? Don’t let them rewrite history in an attempt to get you back.
They will ‘move on’ quickly — and tell you about it.
Most true narcissists don’t need time to heal from a break up as their initial feelings about the relationship were insincere or absent. It’s not unheard of for a narcissist to have someone already waiting in the wings as a new source of support, or have their exit strategy carefully planned out.
This is one of the reasons removing them from social media can be helpful — there’s likely to be a lot of loved-up selfies.
In reality, they may simply be love-bombing a new target. On the bright side, it isn’t you anymore.
Expect grief and embrace it
Grieving will be an important part of your recovery, so embrace it when it comes, advises Sarkis. After all, you have a lot to grieve over: the end of a relationship, and the person you thought your partner was. They love-bombed you when they first met you, and these feelings are still there, strong and intense.
However, you figured out enough reason to get out of there, so remind yourself that many of these feelings were likely built on something false. The narcissist may have appeared to sweep you off your feet, but did they really deliver on their promises? Probably not.
Nevertheless, you probably had, and still have, a strong emotional bond to the narcissist, and only time can heal that wound. Sarkis says to be glad you ended things when you did, because otherwise you’d still be in that toxic environment, losing more of yourself every day. The pain is only temporary.
Focus on yourself and do things that make you happy
Most importantly, you’re going to need to focus on yourself, Orloff says. Take this time to try a new hobby or gym class, or go out and meet new people. This may sound daunting — being with a narcissist can use up a lot of energy and make you timid around new people.
But you’re out of that situation now. It’s time to reconnect with people that make you happy.
Sarkis and psychologist Dr Guy Winch recommend writing an “emotional first aid” list of things you can do as a distraction when you find yourself thinking about your former partner. You were pushed aside when you were with the narcissist, because your needs weren’t important. Now it’s time to look after you.
You’ll realise relationships aren’t supposed to be that way
When the time is right, you’ll find someone new. Dating is an important part of recovery. Still, you shouldn’t expect to find “the one” right away. Just go out and have fun. Maybe you’ll meet someone amazing, or maybe you’ll make some great friends. Either way, these people will be a breath of fresh air.
Plus, you’ll likely have a deeper understand of your own boundaries than you did previously, so give yourself more respect if someone isn’t treating you the way you want.
When you finally develop your first crush after a relationship with a narcissist, it feels really great. It might not work out, but you’ll be reminded of all the reasons someone actually likes you — and there are a lot.
If you think you may be involved in an abusive relationship, or would just like to talk to someone, there are helplines you can call, such as The National Domestic Violence Hotline, RAINN, and Love is Respect. Emotional, psychological, and mental abuse can be extremely difficult to recognize and hard to report; these support networks exist to help.
This article was first published in February 2017, but was updated in August 2023 to include more experts and information.
The post Here’s what happens when you break up with a narcissist appeared first on Business Insider.