Leaving a narcissistic relationship is likely to be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Narcissists depend on their supply — the people they emotionally, financially, and psychologically drain. They need someone to abuse and manipulate to fulfill their needs and to constantly prove to themselves they are better, stronger, and smarter than everyone else.
Through the love bombing, the gaslighting, and the constant battles, you’ll already be exhausted, so leaving an abusive relationship with a narcissist is tough. But it is possible as long as you trust your gut and have firm boundaries, and keep reminding yourself why you need to walk away.
Here’s what you need to know to make sure you can get out of the potentially dangerous situation, and what to do to finally leave the abusive narcissist behind forever.
Don’t give them “one more chance.”
It takes the average person seven times to leave an abusive relationship, said doctor of psychology and therapist Perpetua Neo, who runs Detox Your Heart.
“If you leave them, they might try and seduce you back so they can dump you,” she told INSIDER. “Because everything needs to be on their terms, and if they are physically violent, there is no telling if they will be even more violent with you.”
If the narcissist isn’t ready for you to leave yet, they will probably turn on the waterworks and plead with you, telling you how sorry they are. But Neo said you shouldn’t risk giving them another chance to hurt you again.
“You never know when in those seven times your nine lives will be gone,” she said.
Don’t tell them you’re leaving.
You shouldn’t tell the narcissist you want to end the relationship right away, according to therapist Shannon Thomas, author of “Healing from Hidden Abuse.”
“That might seem counterintuitive, but the toxic person will absolutely follow with one of two things,” she said. “They will either start love bombing you to keep you emotionally trapped in the relationship through trauma bonding or their behaviors will become even more poisonous and potentially damaging to your overall wellness, physical safety or reputation. Sometimes all three.”
Make a copy of all your documents.
This is especially important if you are from a different country, as the abuser might hide your documents so you can’t escape.
“Narcissists are very known to take your stuff away,” said Neo. “So if they have your passport, track it down.”
At the very least, try to locate it, take some photos, and send them to your email. Get ahold of anything you can, including proof of address, bank details, and anything else official. Either wait until they are out, or trick them by saying you need your documents to fill out an application, Neo said.
Make sure you have spare cash.
If you’re thinking about leaving, make sure you set up your own bank account. This might need to be done a little bit in advance, so you definitely have your own money. If they are a financial abuser, you will have to do this in secret so they don’t cut you off entirely.
Report what’s happened to you.
You may not feel you want to escalate the situation to the police, but Neo said it’s important to report what happened to you. If you don’t want to get the legal system involved, you can talk to your doctor, she said.
“When you go in, make sure you say something like ‘I need your help, I have been abused, and I have been told I need to speak to my doctor,'” she said. “Even if your doctor isn’t trained in domestic violence, a lot of them have an idea of what to do. They might get you a referral to an anxiety service or depression service.”
Having all of this on record helps you if you want to make a case in the future.
Log out of everything.
If you leave yourself logged in to any of the abuser’s devices, they can track what you’re doing, said Neo. So make a list of everything you think you’ve signed into, entered your card details into, or set up any auto-fills on, and periodically delete them all.
“If you use LastPass to save all your passwords, do a master reset of all the important stuff and that will create a security boundary,” she said. “And if [your abuser] is prone to taking your stuff away keep a burner phone. Those cheap £5 phones that last forever without recharging.”
Check your devices for trackers.
Figure out if there is a tracker on your phone, said Neo.
“There’s this thing called a remote access tracker,” she said. “If your phone battery keeps depleting, that is a sign you’re being tracked. Or if you log into your Kindle and it says this book was last read yesterday on somebody else’s Mac, that means someone is tracking what you’re reading.”
Don’t believe their flattery.
“Narcissists try and use either extreme flattery or more abuse to keep a victim from leaving,” Thomas said. “The ultimate goal is to create an environment where the target of the abuse feels they don’t have a choice in leaving because the relationship has suddenly become everything they wanted or they are too worn out and fearful to leave.”
But you do have a choice. Remember that things can be better, and you deserve someone who doesn’t play with your emotions.
Reconnect with your friends and family.
Abusive narcissists want to cut you off from your family and friends, so you may not have seen some of the people who are closest to you for quite a long time. The narcissist may have turned you against them by spreading fear and lies because they didn’t want you spending time with anyone else.
The important thing to remember is not to be embarrassed and scared of how they’ll react to seeing you again, according to Neo.
“Swallow your pride,” she said. “A lot of people think they’re really stupid, or they’ve been conditioned to think their friends won’t believe them. It takes a simple mind shift to realise it doesn’t mean you were stupid, it just means you were tricked … and anybody can get tricked.
“You’ll be surprised at how many people might have suspected — and how much they may have wanted to help you but they didn’t know how to.”
Take it as an opportunity to cut out anyone else who’s toxic
But not everyone will be understanding, Neo added.
“Some people will be a——s,” she said. “They will blame you, they’ll say things like ‘I knew it, I’m psychic, you’re so stupid.’ You will face people like that, so ignore them, and kick them out of your life.”
You can actually see it as an opportunity to cut out those people who were unhealthy to be around.
Don’t just leave — stay away
When you’ve left, you may be tempted to go back when reality sets in. Our brains are good at making us remember all the good times and blocking out all the bad after a breakup, and leaving a narcissist is no different.
“It’s not just about leaving, it’s making sure you stay left,” said Neo. “Be very aware that all the good times you had with them that made you convinced of their potential were probably all a lie … The problem is nobody is 100% bad, and a narcissist is great at pretending to be good.”
Ignore the sob stories.
The narcissist will tug at your heart strings to try and get you to stay.
“They’ll say ‘I’m sorry,’ and might pop up at your birthday because that’s when you are soft,” Neo said. “Or on their birthday they’ll say they miss you and all the things you used to do together if you have a shared history. So be aware these are all manipulations.”
You should be aware of something called the “drama triangle,” she added, which is where someone flips between being a saviour (I’m going to save you), a persecutor (you’re so worthless, nobody will ever love you), and a victim (I need you to support me, without you I’m dead).
Remind yourself that it’s a rollercoaster.
No matter how many chances you give a narcissist, the result will be the same. So keep this in mind, Thomas said.
“I often compare the relationship with a narcissist to a rollercoaster,” she said. “Survivors of narcissistic abuse must remind themselves that no matter how many times they get back on the ride with the narcissist, the highs, lows and twists and turns will always be the exact same and the rollercoaster is not a healthy environment for them to flourish and thrive.”
Throw away any gifts.
Gather up anything that reminds you of the narcissist and throw it out.
“The gifts, presents … especially if you don’t need this stuff. You can just give them away,” Neo said. “They are reminders of your past chapter. It’s a lot about decluttering, and it’s about what’s representing you right now.”
Learn how to ground yourself.
It’s important to ground yourself after a traumatic experience like an abusive relationship, because you may still be living the experience.
“Your timekeeper in your brain is not functioning well, it believes that then is now,” Neo said. “So this means you can actually relive everything — the smells, the tastes and everything else can still feel very real.”
It’s like PTSD, and this is what you have to work through, she added, otherwise it might feel like it’s going to take over your whole life.
“Reclaim yourself, that’s super important,” she said. “Figure out why you were attracted to this person in the first place, and break the spell.”
Make a list.
If the narcissist is still pursuing you, you’ll need something to help keep you strong. Neo said you should write down every bad thing they ever did to you, and keep it handy in your phone.
“Every time the email or text pings in, read that document,” she said. “That will actually convince you. Because when you see all these sob stories or these love emails, all this oxytocin floods into your brain and you feel this warm fuzziness.”
But remember it’s not real, she added, because by feeling empathy for your abuser, you forget to have empathy for yourself. Read the list and think why you put up with it. You wouldn’t stand for someone treating your loved ones so poorly, so why are you allowing anyone to put you through it?
Don’t rush into anything.
People can end up dating similar people over and over because of something called repetition compulsion. Essentially, it means trying to fix the trauma of your past with the present. If you suffered abuse, you may seek out abusive people to try and change them. Or you may end up with people who treat you badly because it feels familiar.
So it’s vital you work through your pain before launching into another relationship, Neo said, because you might end up hurt again.
“If you feel you need another partner you have to ask yourself why is that,” she said. “Figure that out and sort out a game plan with a vision of what you want to be and what you want to do, not what they wanted you to be and do. Reclaim all those things that they stole away from you.”
When you’ve healed, you’ll have a better idea of what you really need, and who you should be letting into your life. Then you’ll be ready to find someone who truly deserves you.