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Why is Leaving a Narcissist Hard?


“I’ve never walked out from a court session with him disappointed…

Barry really saved my life and my son in that situation”


A good amount of confidence and self-love is healthy. These characteristics can help you build a strong personality that can benefit many areas of your life.

However, narcissism is different from healthy confidence. Narcissism often comes with a grandiose sense of self and a lack of empathy for others. When left unchecked, narcissistic traits could negatively impact relationships and escalate to abuse.

High levels of narcissism could contribute to people abusing their spouses or intimate partners. In 2021, there were 114,132 reported victims of intimate partner violence in Canada. These figures have seen a gradual increase over the past seven years.

Experiencing narcissistic abuse can significantly harm one’s physical and mental health. In many instances, leaving a narcissistic partner would be your best option.

Key takeaways:
▪ Narcissistic traits can make people put themselves in high regard at the expense of other people’s well-being.
▪ Extreme narcissistic traits could signify narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
▪ Narcissists could become abusive to their partners.
▪ Leaving a narcissist can be difficult but doable with the right plan and enough resources.


Who is a narcissist?

What is a narcissistic husband or wife? How can you tell if a family member or friend is narcissistic?

A narcissist is a person with narcissistic traits. They have an inflated sense of self and an extreme degree of self-involvement. Narcissists often lack empathy and ignore the needs of the people around them.

The term originates from Greek mythology, named after Narcissus, the son of the nymph Liriope and river god Cephissus. He died by a pool after falling in love with his reflection.

Do narcissists feel guilt? People with strong narcissistic traits might not feel guilt, shame, or doubt. They could disregard anything that contradicts their inflated sense of self.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum and may manifest differently for various people. There are several types of narcissism. We discuss three of those types below.

Grandiose narcissism

As the name suggests, grandiose narcissists have an extremely high level of self-esteem and a tendency to overestimate their abilities. They are usually the types of people we picture when we think about narcissism.

Grandiose narcissists want to build a positive image of themselves and expect the admiration of others. They want to get special recognition and associate themselves with others they deem successful. They may also exploit other people to achieve their desired ends.

They might become resentful or upset if they don’t receive special treatment or recognition. Grandiose narcissists may also try to suppress unflattering information that might put them in a bad light. 

Vulnerable narcissism

Vulnerable narcissists aren’t as outwardly expressive as grandiose narcissists. However, they have similar motivations and desires for special treatment and recognition. 

They are often profoundly insecure and desire positive attention. However, because they have low self-esteem, they aren’t as aggressive as grandiose narcissists in meeting these needs.

While grandiose narcissists can be go-getters, vulnerable narcissists are timider. However, they may still experience the same resentment that grandiose narcissists feel when ignored or criticized.

Since they are more shy and insecure, it can often be difficult for vulnerable narcissists to get the admiration and success they crave. For this reason, they may often resort to manipulative or passive-aggressive methods to get their way.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)

Narcissism exists on a spectrum. Many people have narcissistic traits that would not necessarily bar them from having healthy relationships. In many cases, these traits help them advance in their careers.  

However, the case is different when these traits go beyond normal and into pathological. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by grandiosity, absence of empathy, and a need for admiration. 

People with NPD exhibit many of the characteristics we have already identified. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnostic criteria for NPD include the following:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited brilliance, success, power, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that they are special and unique and they should only associate with high-status individuals or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • A tendency to take advantage or exploit others for their gains
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envy for others or the belief that others are envious of them
  • Arrogance and haughtiness

Due to these characteristics, people with NPD can struggle in various areas. People may not want to be around them, especially when they exhibit toxic behaviours and narcissistic abuse. The disorder can affect their relationships, professional life, and financial matters, among other things. 

People might want to know how to get rid of NPD. Can a narcissist ever change? Can you reverse narcissism? Unfortunately, there is no cure for NPD. However, therapy and self-awareness can help.

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissists in relationships can be highly manipulative and initially come across as charming and kind. For this reason, narcissistic abuse can be challenging to spot, especially when you’re on the receiving end.

Escaping an abusive relationship can be very difficult, especially if it has been going on for a long time. Narcissistic abuse can have long-term effects on the victim, so it’s crucial to spot the red flags. 

Signs of narcissistic abuse can include the following:

  • Gaslighting. This emotional manipulation causes the victim to doubt their perceptions, memories, and judgment. Examples include denying facts or trivializing feelings. Gaslighting It often occurs over an extended period as the perpetrator slowly wears away at the victim’s self-esteem and mental stability.
  • Lack of empathy. Empathy is the ability of a person to share and understand another person’s feelings. A lack of empathy towards their partner is a common reason for the failure of narcissistic relationships. A healthy relationship requires mutual compassion and care, which could be severely lacking when one has a narcissistic partner.
  • Emotional abuse. This kind of abuse covers tactics that undermine a person’s mental health and confidence. Emotionally abusive behaviours include bullying, belittling, guilt-tripping, accusing, criticizing, shaming, threatening, etc. The victim could end up walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting the abuser.
  • Financial abuse. To keep the victim dependent, a narcissist could become financially abusive. Financial abuse can come in varying degrees. It could involve controlling your bank account, withholding money, refusing to include one’s input in financial decisions, theft, and extortion.
  • Lying. Narcissists could lie to protect their interests and avoid responsibility.
  • Projection. Projection is placing one’s negative emotions or traits onto others. Instead of taking responsibility for their harmful actions or feelings, a narcissistic abuser would accuse the victim of committing similar acts. For example, if your narcissistic boyfriend has been cheating, they might accuse you of doing the same thing without proof.
  • Silent treatment. Silent treatment occurs when someone refuses to communicate when the other party wants a response. Narcissists often use this as a method of punishment when they don’t get their way.
  • Manipulative behaviour. Narcissists use manipulative behaviour to get what they want out of a relationship. They gaslight, make grand promises, and perform emotional blackmail. Narcissistic manipulation can leave the victim feeling used, anxious, guilty, and confused.
  • Isolation. A relationship with an abusive narcissist could leave you isolated from your friends and family. The narcissist would want you to become entirely dependent on them so they could control you more easily. They could lie and say things that would cause you to distrust the people in your life.
  • Violence. Narcissists could use violence to intimidate their victims. Violent practices could include physical abuse, breaking property, blocking movement, etc.


Effects of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse can adversely affect the victim’s physical and mental health, especially if it occurs over an extended period. It can have long-term and even life-long effects, which victims may find challenging to acknowledge and overcome.

If you have experienced this type of abuse, seeking professional help is essential. Trauma responses could develop into long-term disorders that could endanger or harm one’s quality of life.

Below are some ways narcissistic abuse could impact your life and well-being.

Post-traumatic stress

After experiencing traumatic events like abuse, victims often experience post-traumatic stress. Such events are common aftermath, as intense pressure could trigger our brains to induce a fight-or-flight response.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress include could include the following:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Hands shaking
  • Sweating
  • Feeling nervous or afraid
  • Nightmares
  • Avoiding certain activities or situations

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress could subside within a month. If they don’t, you might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. 

PTSD has similar symptoms to post-traumatic stress, but it lasts much longer and could interfere with one’s daily functioning. It could severely deteriorate one’s quality of life. You could experience flashbacks of traumatic events, even after leaving a traumatic or abusive situation.

Treatment for PTSD can consist of certain medications like Sertraline and Paroxetine. Trauma-focused therapies like cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy can also help.


Victims of narcissistic abuse could experience anxiety, with can manifest through hypervigilance, anxiety attacks, and panic attacks. Anxiety could be a passing feeling. However, it could also develop into a disorder, especially in a sustained, abusive relationship.

Anxiety symptoms can include the following:

  • Anxious thoughts that are hard to control
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Aches and pains
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

Anxiety could cause the victim to fear leaving their abuser, as they have become dependent on them. 

Like post-traumatic stress, abuse victims can experience anxiety and anxiety disorders after leaving an abusive situation. It can also affect future relationships, as victims could fear trusting and forming connections with new people.

Treatment for anxiety disorders can include medications and therapy. It’s essential to consult a healthcare provider to ensure you are getting the appropriate treatment for your particular case.


Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a severe illness that can affect one’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. It causes a person to experience prolonged periods of sadness or lose interest in previously enjoyed activities.

Months or years of abuse could lead to the victim experiencing depression. Manipulation, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse could cause a person to feel worthless and hopeless. 

Victims of narcissistic abuse could experience the following symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities one previously enjoyed
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite
  • Brain fog
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

It can be challenging to seek help, as people with depression tend to isolate themselves. Still, seeking help is essential, especially in severe cases. Medication and therapy have proven helpful in managing depression.

Why is it hard to leave a narcissist?

Relationships and intimate connections, in general, are difficult to end. You have likely spent considerable time building a bond and are reluctant to let it go. These experiences also define narcissistic relationships.

Leaving an abusive relationship can perhaps be more difficult than usual, especially if it involves letting go of a narcissist you love. Narcissists can be incredibly charming and likable, and being with them can sometimes feel good. 

When a relationship becomes abusive, you must leave to avoid further damage. However, various factors could make it difficult for you to leave a relationship with a narcissist.

A narcissist can make you feel needed and special

Narcissists are often insecure, despite how they try to project themselves as confident or unique. They may strive for success or want others to see them as exceptional. However, these behaviours stem from feelings of inadequacy.

Loving a narcissist can expose you to this vulnerability, thus making you feel needed. You might feel important by being privy to a seemingly confident person’s innermost thoughts.

If you are close to a narcissist, they might use you to bolster their confidence. You might feel like your validation is necessary for their well-being and feel guilty for leaving.

When narcissists are in their prime, their energy can also be incredibly enticing. It can feel good to associate with them, particularly if they exude confidence and achieve success.

A narcissist can damage your self-esteem

Everyone has insecure thoughts from time to time. Many people can manage them effectively so that it doesn’t interfere too much with daily life.

However, life with a narcissist can amplify these insecurities. Even though being with them can sometimes feel good, narcissists can be emotionally abusive and make you feel worthless. 

If they feel like they’re being challenged or criticized, a narcissist can retaliate through hurtful words and actions. They could be highly critical, bullying, and do other things that can make you feel small.

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You can get hooked on the relationship dynamic

A relationship with a narcissist has many highs and lows. For some people, this can be an addicting dynamic. 

The highs can feel extremely good, mainly if the narcissist also uses love-bombing tactics. However, the narcissist can also pull away suddenly, causing the victim to feel down and confused. The victim may chase and please the narcissist to get their favour.

While confusing and frustrating, this dynamic can make the narcissist seem more alluring. The push and pull can feel exciting for some people, especially those who have developed an insecure attachment style

Many people get used to this kind of relationship and feel incomplete in a more stable connection. They may experience cognitive dissonance in breakups. 

Positive feelings may still linger if they know the relationship is bad for them. Cognitive dissonance in narcissistic abuse is common.

You can feel like you’re losing yourself

A narcissist can occupy a lot of space in your life. Losing them could make you feel like you’re losing a part of yourself. You can see how a narcissist changes you in different ways.

Your partner might be highly volatile and dependent on you to affirm their self-worth. Narcissists could take up a large portion of your time and attention. Losing them could make you feel like you are losing your life’s purpose.

Tactics like gaslighting can also damage your trust in yourself and your judgment. For these reasons, thinking about leaving your partner could bring up feelings of guilt and fear.

How To Leave a Narcissist

How do you end a relationship with a narcissist? Doing so can be difficult, especially if you have spent considerable time with them. Once you have convinced yourself that leaving is the right decision, other barriers may still be in your way.

Despite these difficulties, breaking up with a narcissistic boyfriend or partner is still possible. You must ensure you can follow through. Follow the tips below on how to leave a narcissist safely.

Have a plan

When you leave a narcissist, you must plan for it. It will help you stay on track and prepare for possible challenges you may face in the process.

Anticipate the narcissist’s reaction to your decision. They might get angry and threaten you. They might try to beg or bargain. They might resort to physical means of stopping you from leaving. Explore your options and prepare for different scenarios.

Make sure you have access to finances, housing, and other necessities before you leave. These resources can help you stay self-sufficient and avoid returning to your abuser.

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Set strong boundaries and stick with them

Breaking up with a narcissistic man or woman can challenge your boundaries. It can be difficult to get a narcissist to leave you alone.

They might resist the idea and reality of you leaving. They could try to manipulate you back into a relationship with them in various ways. 

They could try to bomb you with affection and promise to change or get violent. They could try to stalk you, invade your privacy, or flood your phone with messages and calls.

Make sure to stand your ground. Block your abuser on social media. Taking power away from a narcissist requires firm boundaries. 

If you need to respond, such as with things concerning mutual property or relationships with your children, be straightforward. Should you feel overwhelmed, you can turn off your phone and not respond.

Have a support system

A solid support system is essential to successfully leave and stay away from a narcissist. Tell your friends and family about your plan. 

Your support system can help you access necessities like housing, transportation, and finances. They can also assist you in dealing with the dangers of leaving a narcissist.

Loved ones can also give you the emotional support and encouragement you need to move forward in life. Their presence and support can help you heal from a narcissist and their effects on your well-being.

Document everything

A narcissist could lie to get their way and make you doubt your memories and judgment. Living with a narcissistic husband, partner, or family member can frustrate you.

Documenting your experiences can help you keep track of the facts and stay grounded. You can take photos, videos, and recordings or keep a journal.

Document everything. Your documentation can include text messages, call logs, physical damage or violence, or recordings of bullying or verbal abuse. Aside from helping you stay grounded, your documentation can provide evidence for a possible lawsuit or divorce. 

Seek professional mental health help

An abusive relationship with a narcissist can severely impact one’s mental health and quality of life. Long-term abuse can even trigger the development of mental health disorders like anxiety, PTSD, and depression.

Victims of narcissistic abuse can suffer even long after the relationship is over. Learning how to get over a narcissistic breakup can be difficult. You might still have lingering feelings of affection for your abuser. Questions like “Did the narcissist ever love me?” or “Can a narcissist feel love?” could pop up.

Speaking with a therapist, counsellor, or support group can help you make sense of your feelings. A mental health professional can help you navigate your life outside of your relationship with your abuser. 

Getting over a narcissist won’t happen overnight, as the aftereffects of abuse can take a long time to overcome. However, being proactive in seeking mental health treatment can help how to get over a toxic relationship with a narcissist.

Get a lawyer

Not all narcissists are abusive. However, if you have experienced abuse from a narcissistic husband, wife, or family member, you might consider filing a lawsuit. A divorce might be in order if you are married to a narcissistic man or woman. 

Do narcissists get married? Yes, and narcissistic marriage problems can be complex.

Separating from a narcissistic husband, wife, or family member can have several legal implications. A narcissistic wife might even file for divorce and “beat” their spouse to the punch.

A family lawyer can help you build a strong case and protect your rights. They can help ease the burden of facing a lawsuit while recovering from your abusive relationship.


How To Live With a Narcissist

Can you successfully date a narcissist? Can you learn how to live or deal with a narcissistic husband? Knowing how to deal with a narcissistic spouse or family member presents unique and complex challenges.

Many people can exhibit narcissistic traits. A person having these traits doesn’t automatically mean they are abusive.  However, balancing your needs living with a narcissistic husband, wife, partner, or family member can sometimes be challenging.

Can you make a relationship work with a narcissist? Even though not all of them are abusive, dealing with their hurtful behaviour can be challenging. Below are some tips on how to live in peace with a narcissist and how to deal with a narcissistic partner.

Set boundaries

Boundaries allow you to limit what kinds of behaviour and treatment you accept from the people around you. 

This practice doesn’t mean that you can immediately change how a narcissist might behave. However, enforcing firm boundaries allows you to protect your peace and well-being. Limitations make it harder for a narcissist to exploit you.

Learning how to get over being used by a narcissist can be difficult. Boundaries help you avoid reaching such a point.

Learn how to negotiate

Healthy relationships should feel safe. However, being with a narcissistic person can challenge this notion. Narcissists often lack empathy and have trouble understanding or responding to traditional communication.

Knowing how to handle marriage to a narcissist or being in close connection with them requires adjusting your language. You can try using transactional communication to appeal to their nature and assert your boundaries simultaneously.

Disengage from outbursts

A narcissist can have emotional outbursts sometimes, especially when things do not go their way. When this happens, disengage. Let them know that you will not be an emotional punching bag.

Deciding to learn how to be in a relationship with a narcissist requires strength, even when they say or do cruel things. Tell them you will not engage in a conversation unless they come to you calmly.

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Learn the signs of gaslighting

Gaslighting is a common form of emotional manipulation. It can cause you to doubt your sanity, memory, and judgment. A narcissist could lie, deny certain things, and tell you that you are overreacting.

Be wary when this happens. You can keep a record of your interactions with them to consult when they try to gaslight you.

Build your self-esteem

Strength and self-esteem are essential when you’re wondering how to deal with a narcissistic boyfriend, spouse, or family member.

Engage in activities that help you self-soothe and build your self-esteem. Pick up a hobby. Go out with friends. Nurture your relationships outside of the narcissistic partnership. Family and friends can help how to stay away from a narcissist.

A strong sense of self can help you manage a narcissistic relationship. It may also strengthen your desire and decision to leave, especially if the relationship turns abusive. 

Know when to leave

Can a narcissist change with tough love? It’s hard to tell. Narcissists can manage their tendencies with therapy but can be slow to change.

Start planning how to leave a relationship with a narcissist once it no longer serves you. You don’t need to wait for the relationship to turn abusive before considering how to leave a narcissistic friend. Prioritize yourself and do what’s best for your physical and mental health.

Intimate relationships can be trickier to handle. Deciding how to break up with a narcissistic male or female is difficult, especially if they have a volatile temperament. 

Getting legal advice is also advisable if you are married to a narcissist. A divorce or family lawyer can help how to leave a narcissistic marriage. 

A lawyer can also assist in arranging how to break up with a narcissist with whom you share a home. Narcissistic friends or family members can fall under this category.

Pro Tip:
Strengthen relationships with family, friends, and other loved ones, especially when in a relationship with a narcissist. They can help you spot red flags and assist in your exit plan.


Seek Legal Assistance When Leaving a Narcissist

Ending an abusive relationship with a narcissist can be one of the most challenging decisions of one’s life. Narcissists could be incredibly charming and likable. However, their lack of empathy and tendency to manipulate others could lead to abusive relationships.

Having a plan and enough resources to support oneself to leave a narcissistic relationship successfully is essential. Support groups, family, friends, and mental healthcare can help you move on. 

Legal assistance is also necessary, especially if you plan to file a lawsuit or divorce. The lawyers at Nussbaum Family Law can help you navigate these legal processes more efficiently. 

A sound personal and legal support system can help you leave an abusive relationship. Contact Nussbaum Law today for legal assistance.

FAQs on Leaving a Narcissist

Do narcissists come back after divorce?

It depends on the circumstances of your relationship and the narcissist’s options. Many narcissists come back after a divorce since they are always looking for a source of validation and support.

Can a narcissist be with another narcissist?

Yes. Some narcissists might target non-narcissists, who are easier to manipulate. However, narcissists could also get drawn to one another, especially since they hold similar values and motivations.

I hit my narcissistic boyfriend. Can he press charges?

Yes. A narcissist could weaponize the court system against you. If this happens, hiring a lawyer to build your case and defend you in court is best.

Did You Know

Most abusers’ behaviour stems from feelings of privilege and entitlement and learned attitudes.

These can be extremely challenging to change. They must be deeply committed to making lasting changes to their behaviour. 

Published On:December 21, 2022