It’s natural to feel confused and hurt when your ex moves on to the next relationship shortly after ending things with you.
If that ex happened to live with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), they probably moved on immediately and without ever looking back.
This pattern of behavior doesn’t necessarily mean that you did something wrong or that they’re a bad person. In fact, even though it’s highly stigmatized, NPD is a complex mental health condition that affects how people relate to others.
Many experts see narcissism as a spectrum. In this sense, we can all have one or more narcissistic traits. But some people have more than a few of these traits or experience them in a more severe way. This makes a difference when relating to others.
“The actual percentage of people […] with NPD is very small,” explains Allison Chawla, MA, LMSW, CC, a psychotherapist in New York state. “However, many others have narcissism or narcissistic tendencies as part of their personalities.”
Only a mental health professional can diagnose this condition, and people who receive this diagnosis and live with more extreme forms of the condition might have a harder time dealing with relationships and breakups.
A romantic relationship with someone with narcissistic personality may start off as something very exciting and intense.
As a defense mechanism, people with NPD may use manipulation tactics like love bombing.
“They can be extremely charming in order to attract and win over that person,” says Shana Feibel, DO, a staff psychiatrist at Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason, OH. “They may shower them with gifts and act like there is no one else in the world.”
This behavior may continue for some time during the relationship until it fully stops without warning. This might leave you very confused and with the need to find answers.
“Narcissistic people have certain characteristics that almost always come out as the relationship progresses, especially during a breakup,” Feibel explains.
This sudden change from giving you all the attention to being indifferent and even cruel might become a challenge to deal with.
If you’ve been in a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality, you may know that a breakup can get really hurtful really soon.
This goes back to understanding that NPD is a mental health condition with complex symptoms that may greatly impact how a person handles a relationship.
There are nine traits of NPD. To receive a diagnosis, someone has to have at least five of them and exhibit them across most situations for most of the time.
These traits or symptoms are linked to the ways they see themselves and how they handle relationships in general.
The symptoms of NPD are:
- a sense of grandiosity and self-importance
- persistent fantasies of success, perfection, or power
- a strong conviction of being special and unique
- a strong need for admiration and praise
- a sense of entitlement
- a pattern of using manipulation tactics and sometimes exploiting others for personal gain
- low empathy toward others
- a tendency to feel and exhibit envy, jealousy, and distrust
- an attitude of arrogance, haughtiness, and scorn
People with narcissistic personality may have a hard time taking accountability for their actions, explains Chawla. “You have to think of them as having wires that were clipped beyond repair, and for your own well-being, it is best to walk away and accept that […].”
However, everyone is different, and this also applies to people with NPD.
Some people with narcissistic personality may have a harder time dealing with a breakup. Others might move on quicker, and, to you, it may appear as if they never loved you. But things are never so black or white.
It may sting to see your ex with someone else while you’re still reeling, but Feibel explains that it’s not always about them moving on from you.
“Narcissists tend to look at their love relationships almost like commodities. They search for people who make them look good and help to represent the person they most want to be like,” she says.
If they feel that they’re not getting what they want from a relationship with you but that they could from someone else, that might make them move on quicker and easier.
It’s important to note that not everyone who moves on easily after a breakup has NPD or a mental health condition.
When they break up
Some people with narcissistic personality may jump from relationship to relationship. It may be the pattern they’re used to.
This means that they might do everything possible to get with you, then lose all interest when you’re committed to them.
They might also have a difficult time accepting their flaws and resolving relationship conflicts.
In these scenarios, they might think it’s easier to break up with you and immediately turn their attention to someone else.
Someone with NPD might also see relationships as a space to get all the praise they crave or a place to exert all the power they like. That’s what they may be looking for in a relationship.
If they see relationships as something they can gain something from, they might be more likely to move from one to the next without much thought.
Most of the time, someone with NPD will not be aware of their symptoms. They may have a difficult time self-reflecting or feeling empathy. This is why they might end a relationship in a way that feels fair to them without showing interest in or care about how you feel.
For example, they might feel that disappearing on you is better than confronting you.
They might also break up a relationship to feel that they have power over you and so that it’s you who has to convince them to stay.
Not every person with narcissistic personality will have the same motivations, though. This is why it’s sometimes better for you to focus on their behaviors than on their possible intentions.
For example, if they’re acting selfishly, cruelly, or unhealthily in general, it’s important that you set boundaries and take a step back before getting hurt more.
When you break up
Maybe you decided to end the relationship, and now you’re surprised that they moved on so quickly.
It’s possible that an ex with narcissistic personality may try to “get you back” and won’t accept a no from you. But it’s also possible that they try to “get back at you” for leaving and then walk away for good.
Remember that they’re living with specific symptoms of a condition that may lead them to feel that they ultimately control every situation or that you’ve done them wrong and won’t ever find someone better.
Those who have more severe symptoms of NPD may also have greater challenges in dealing with breakups. This means that they might use manipulation tactics and games, behave in vindictive ways because you left, or move on from the relationship with apparent ease and no regret.
They might do things that make them look good in the eyes of others or that make you feel guilty. This may be a way for them to assert their sense of entitlement and superiority, and it may have nothing to do with you.
They might also get into a new relationship right away to cope with the pain of breaking up with you. Feeling that there’s someone else giving them attention and praise might help them heal a bruised ego. It might be easier for them to think that you’re the problem and that they can just find someone else.
It’s natural to wonder if your ex is over you and moving on or if they’re moving over to the next relationship because they never cared.
The answer is: It depends.
Like anybody else, someone with narcissistic personality is able to love. Maybe they loved you and stopped, or maybe they found something in the relationship with you that fulfilled a need, and then this feeling stopped too.
People with NPD may have difficulty forming healthy bonds or being in touch with their own emotions and feelings.
“Behind the seemingly cruel behavior of a narcissist is really a layered cake of low self-esteem and unhappiness,” says Chawla. “Over time, they learn to survive off of others’ kindness and energy.”
Moving on may be a coping mechanism for people with the condition, she adds.
“Often, they are seeking validation from emptiness created in their childhoods or developed from trauma,” Chawla says. “Because they rarely get the actual help they need, they can never get what they need from another person.”
This might cause them to jump to the next relationship quickly in hopes that they’ll get the satisfaction they feel they didn’t find in the relationship with you. But it’s really not about you and what you did or didn’t do. It’s a need at the core of their unresolved difficulties with relationships.
They certainly may attempt to come back to a relationship after a breakup.
People with narcissistic personality sometimes have a propensity for impulsive behaviors, and they might end and restart relationships continuously for the thrill of it.
“A narcissist will stay with you and come back to you as long and as often as you let them,” explains Chawla.
This doesn’t mean that the relationship will change, though. They might need to feel that they have the last word or that they’re able to change your desire to end the relationship. Getting you back might be a challenge to them and not necessarily a romantic action.
“Getting over any relationship is always difficult. But because they come on so strong and then get so cold, people who were in relationships with narcissists often feel like they were punched in the gut after a breakup,” says Feibel.
Chawla says that the first important step is to realize that you weren’t the problem.
Someone with narcissistic personality might tell you that they’re leaving because of you or because of something you did or didn’t do. They might even play the victim or decide to disappear without notice.
It’s important to realize that this might be the way they know how to deal with relationships, not a reflection of how things really are.
What someone says about you doesn’t define you.
It might also help you to learn more about NPD symptoms and causes.
“Understand how narcissistic people think and act so that you do not take the breakup too personally,” says Feibel.
Here are a few other things that you can try when moving on from a relationship with someone with NPD:
- Surround yourself with people you trust and who can support you during difficult times.
- Spend some time writing about your relationship. Write about how you felt at the beginning and how you felt toward the end. Include the lessons you learned about relationships and about yourself.
- Focus on yourself. It’s time to think about your goals, needs, interests, and future.
- Close all your doors to your ex. Even if there’s a part of you that wonders what they’re up to or that finds cutting all communication challenging, try to close the door to all possible contact with them.
If you’re having a particularly difficult time letting go, consider talking with a mental health professional who has experience with NPD.
NPD is a mental health condition with a set of complex symptoms and relationship patterns.
Seeing an ex move on quickly after you’ve been invested in the relationship can be a challenging situation. In the case of someone with narcissistic personality, it’s important to understand that what they may say or do isn’t personal.
There are many reasons that an ex with narcissistic personality may move on without ever looking back or considering how you feel. But it’s most likely never a personal choice. Instead, handling relationships in this way is part of the complexity of their condition.
Even if you find it difficult at first, focusing on moving on yourself might be the best way to overcome the hurt.