Breakups suck. However, breaking up with a narcissist is uniquely difficult. Indeed, in my consulting room, I often come across people that look for therapy after their breakup with a narcissistic partner. Here, I explain why a breakup with a narcissist is so painful and offer expert tips on how to deal with it.
Further reading: 12 Essential (and unusual) steps to survive a relationship breakup.
Normal breakup vs narcissist break up
Even the most amicable breakups hurt badly because you are losing a significant relationship. This is true regardless of whether you are the partner who is making the decision to leave or the one left behind.
Yet, it’s worth making a distinction between normal breakups versus narcissist breakups. This is true because of how narcissists break up, which adds another layer of complexity to the ordinary heartache of a relationship ending.
Why to prepare for your breakup with a narcissist
There are several reasons why you should be prepared for the worse when you break up with a narcissistic partner.
Narcissists present with a personality style that has distinctive features. A deep sense of shame and low self-esteem lies at the heart of inflated narcissism. These feelings go hand in hand with a sense of entitlement, arrogance, self-absorption, and a limited capacity to empathise and feel remorse. The narcissist’s entire personality is formed in a way that protects them from being hurt. However, this happens at the expense of other people, especially those who are closest to them.
So, what does a narcissist do when you break up? And what should you expect when a relationship with a narcissist comes to an end?
In a nutshell, it’s going to be messy and ugly – more so than an ordinary breakup.
What happens when you breakup with a narcissist
When you breakup with a narcissist, your decision may open up old wounds for the narcissist, inflicting a narcissistic injury to them. They will feel humiliated and deeply ashamed by your decision to leave them, which will spark feelings of rage.
Narcissists don’t like looking inwards out of fear of seeing something faulty. It is unlikely that they will take responsibility for the breakup or for your unhappiness in the relationship. Instead, they may:
- Find ways to denigrate you mentally
- Make false accusations and paint you in overtly negative colours
- Be furious with you for taking the control away from them
Their behaviour can escalate to abuse, including physical violence.
On the flip side of the coin, a narcissist who feels unprepared for a breakup can plead with you to stay, promising you the world. Take such promises with a great pinch of salt. Even though a narcissist can miss you after a breakup, their promises are a form of regaining control rather than committing to long-lasting changes.
What happens when a narcissist ends a relationship
When a narcissist ends the relationship, be prepared to feel discarded by them.
They cannot tolerate feeling rejected themselves, so they will project feelings of rejection onto you and walk out of the relationship triumphantly.
Narcissists move on quickly after a breakup. It’s not uncommon for the narcissist to have already found a new romantic partner before walking out. Their new relationship is their way of regulating their self-esteem, providing them with a narcissistic supply. This type of supply is about the narcissist getting the admiration and validation that they need from others to feel good within themselves.
However, their new relationship will understandably make the breakup more painful for you. It is likely that you will doubt your self-worth and feel you were not good enough for them in the first place. Try not to buy into these thoughts.
A true narcissist will often treat other people as objects serving a single purpose of meeting their own emotional needs.
How to survive a breakup with a narcissist?
No matter who is initiating the breakup, a separation with a narcissistic individual means one thing: A bumpy ride, so fasten your seatbelt.
The more entrenched your life together is, the uglier the breakup will be.
Here are five tips to help you survive a breakup with a narcissistic partner:
Prepare for it
If you see the breakup coming, prepare for it practically.
Think of anything of value that you share in common with your narcissistic partner. Do you:
- Have kids together and may need to co-parent with a narcissist
- Have any assets or other financial ties?
- Live together?
- Have any common friends?
Individuals with narcissistic personality traits can become revengeful when someone hurts them. Thus, take any action that is necessary to safeguard the things that you value.
Seek legal or financial advice, remove beloved belongings, and prepare your friends for a possible character assassination committed by your ex-partner.
If you are afraid of your partner becoming violent towards you, then consider calling a domestic violence helpline such as 1800Respect, asking a professional to help you develop an exit plan safely.
Minimise their humiliation
The less humiliated your narcissistic partner feels during the breakup, the better.
In any kind of breakup, both partners may say and do some really hurtful things to each other, inflicting pain. However, the deeper the narcissistic injury inflicted on your partner during the breakup, the more vindictive they can become.
If there are ways in which you can help your narcissistic partner feel as little attacked as possible during the breakup, this may limit the damage caused to both of you. Could you:
- Minimise the tit-for-tat attitude and refrain from retaliating?
- Mention any qualities of your narcissistic partner that you have appreciated during the relationship?
Be warned: Despite the best intentions, an amicable breakup with a narcissistic partner may be out of the question.
Have firm boundaries
While the above point is about not adding fuel to the fire, this point is about protecting yourself and not allowing your narcissistic partner to cause disproportionate damage.
- If they post about their new relationship all over social media, block them
- If your partner is trying to take advantage of you financially, don’t agree to their terms and be prepared to fight back
- If you are being seduced back to the relationship when you were determined to leave, limit communication with them and do not fall for empty promises
It is extremely likely that a narcissistic partner will try to cross your boundaries during a breakup. Don’t allow them to do this. Get your support system ready and waiting as you may need all the help you can get.
It’s not about you, it’s about them
A narcissist will do their best to push any feelings of rejection and humiliation that they experience back onto you. They may blame you for everything, point out your character flaws, or coldly announce that they have met a new and better partner. They could make you feel utterly worthless.
Remember, this is a narcissist’s way of being: Protecting their own self-worth at the expense of others.
Try to adopt a bird’s eye view, looking at the bigger picture and don’t take things personally.
Their new partner will be no better than you, and your narcissistic ex-partner will not immediately become an improved version of themselves and live happily ever after. Their false, charming self will continue to be there after the breakup.
You will still grieve
If your breakup is a lucky escape from your narcissistic partner, what are you grieving for?
This can feel confusing.
However, you will need to grieve for the person that you had imagined your partner to be and their good qualities. You will grieve for the relationship and the moments that you experienced together – your dreams, your aspirations, and your future as a couple.
It’s ok to feel upset. Surviving a breakup is challenging. Even if this person did not deserve you, you may still miss them, not only because of who they really were but because of what they meant to you.
Breakup with a narcissist: Getting help
Life does not get better straight away following a breakup, even if you have broken free from a narcissistic partner. Time helps but does not heal all wounds.
You sometimes need professional help to recover after a breakup with a narcissist. This is especially true if you experience flashbacks, difficulty with trusting people, low mood, a sense of you being not good enough, and rumination over your ex-partner for a long while after your breakup.
A therapist experienced working with non-death related loss and survivors of narcissist abuse may be best positioned to help you.
A narcissist breakup can often feel traumatic. Hopefully, you will find ways to grow stronger and wiser and feel ready to enter a new relationship-one that meets your needs and validate your feelings instead of boosting your partner’s inflated ego.