How To Leave A Narcissist (Because It Won't Be Easy)
Narcissism is a tricky concept. Although most people intuitively understand why narcissism is toxic to be around (the superiority complex that makes a person treat all others as beneath them, the aggressive need for control, the inability to take responsibility for their actions, and many other harmful behaviors), many still often find themselves ensnared by a narcissist's charm long before they actually realize the person they're with suffers from a serious personality disorder.
If you find yourself dating a narcissist, it is possible to make the relationship work with a lot of strength, patience, and self-love—as long as the relationship hasn't turned abusive. But for many, narcissism is unbearable in the long term, and a breakup is absolutely necessary. The challenge, then, will be to get out safely.
If you have decided that it's time to leave your narcissistic partner, you are likely in for a big challenge on multiple levels. Here's what to do to protect yourself.
The emotional level.
One of the problems with leaving a narcissist is that you might be trauma-bonded—which means that you have been on a roller coaster of abuse and reward, and you are not only addicted to the reward aspect of this but to the intensity of it. Narcissists know exactly what to say and how to act to get you to fall deeply in love with them. They often seem to know exactly how to act especially loving after being abusive, and if you are needy for that "love" for your own reasons, it's easy to become addicted to it. It might seem to you that no one can be as exciting as your partner when they are operating from the reward stage of this abuse-reward system.
So even if you manage to leave, you might find yourself missing your partner so much that you are willing to try again, which, of course, will result in the same abusive relationship. Since your narcissist partner might use every manipulation they can think of to get you to stay, it's important for you to write down why you are leaving. It's too easy to forget the awful stuff and just remember the good stuff when you are alone and feeling lonely. You will do yourself a big favor if you clearly write down all the very good reasons you have for leaving and look at it anytime you consider getting back together.
It's vitally important to remember that narcissists lack empathy and to remember all the times you were hurting from your partner's abusive behavior and how they didn't care at all about the hurt they caused. You need to have enough compassion for yourself to no longer be willing to tolerate this abuse and lack of caring from them about all the hurt they've inflicted on you.
Most people need support in leaving a narcissist. As a result of the abuse, you might have very low self-worth, which also makes it hard to leave. You might need to get help in learning to love yourself before you will be able to leave, and certainly you need to do this after you leave as well. Connect with a strong support group and consider a therapist.
The financial level.
You are fortunate if you are self-supporting, but many people are financially dependent on their narcissistic partner, or their partner is financially dependent on them. This, of course, can cause huge issues that you need a good attorney to help you with. Make sure to start speaking with an attorney you trust early on in this process (or, ideally, before) to make sure you have your bases covered before you move in to have the breakup conversation.
The physical level.
If your narcissistic partner is a malignant narcissist—which means that they not only lack empathy but that they have a sadistic streak and might even enjoy hurting you—then you need to be prepared for a very hard time. Malignant narcissists want more than anything to be in control and get what they want, and choosing to leave makes them feel helpless—the last thing they want to feel. They have learned to cover over their feelings of helplessness with threats, rage, and other forms of intimidation, which all too often can turn to violence.
Clients of mine who left a malignant narcissist ended up for years in court with huge expenses over children or didn't receive child support. Some were threatened with phone calls, emails, or texts or stalked and had to get restraining orders or move. Some have even been murdered.
If you know that your narcissistic partner can be violent, it's vital that you prepare well before leaving. You won't be able to do this on your own—get support from your friends and family. You may need to move without letting your partner know where you are, and you might need to do this suddenly and all at once when they aren't there. If needed, consider a women's shelter for safety.
It's best to have no contact with your narcissistic ex after leaving if they tend toward violence, but if you do have to have contact due to children, be sure you always have someone with you and insist that all communications transpire through an attorney.
What to do during the breakup.
If they aren't a malignant narcissist in which a secret escape is necessary, you need to clearly state that you are leaving. You can directly tell them they're a narcissist, but if they refuse to accept your assessment, make it about how you feel, which is something they cannot control or deny no matter how much they may want to: Say you don't feel safe with them or valued by them, and you now want to be alone.
You can expect a narcissist to be quite reactive to this—getting angry, crying, explaining, defending, promising to do better if you stay, or even threatening self-harm if you leave. It's vital that you have reached a place in your own healing where you no longer take responsibility for their feelings and can let them know that you are not going to be held responsible for their life or their decisions. Otherwise, the narcissist will keep you captive with these threats.
It's imperative that you not be reactive to whatever the narcissist says. One kind but firm way to do this is to say something along these lines as many times as needed: "I know this is hard for you, and I care about you. But it's time for me to care about me, so this is what I need to do." Avoid discussions and debates over your decision. Stay firm in your resolve.
It's obviously not easy to leave, but by resolutely prioritizing and valuing yourself and getting the support you need, you can do it and get your life back.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator. She has counseled individuals and couples since 1968. She is the author/co-author of nine books, including the internationally best-selling Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding, and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by God? and her recently published book, Diet For Divine Connection. She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah, as well as on the unique and popular website Inner Bonding.