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If you’re finding it hard to leave a relationship with someone with NPD, there may be a reason why. We asked the experts how to leave for good.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the abuse isn’t “on” all the time. As a result, you may be wondering whether you should stay or go.
To add to the confusion, you may not know if your circumstances even qualify as abuse.
If this is striking a chord for you, know that you’re not alone. There are others out there who have been through this, too, and support is available for you.
It can be helpful to know the common signs to look for. You may also wish to read our article about how to spot an abusive partner.
How it can feel
- You walk on eggshells so you don’t upset them.
- You doubt your version of reality.
- You feel isolated from loved ones.
- You’re unsure where you stand in the relationship.
- You have lowered self-esteem.
- You feel like you can’t do anything right.
How your partner may behave
- They lie about their activities.
- They gaslight and confuse you.
- They consistently shift blame onto you.
- They don’t take accountability for their actions.
- They abuse you emotionally, physically, or sexually.
Get to know DARVO
“You may be experiencing the effects of DARVO, which is a pattern of abuse,” says Lisa Wolcott, a therapist in Gainesville, Florida, who specializes in helping clients recover from abusive relationships.
“This is where your partner denies the abuse (gaslighting), attacks you for accusing them, and then reverses victim and offender so that now they’re the victim and you have offended them,” she says.
DARVO stands for:
- Denies abuse
- Attacks you
- Victim and
Narcissistic abuse isn’t always black and white. Sometimes it’s subtle and firmly planted in the gray zone — some good, some bad, and everything in between.
“Oftentimes, those experiencing narcissistic abuse in their romantic relationships can’t quite put their finger on what is wrong,” says Sybil Cummin, a licensed professional counselor in Arvada, Colorado.
“It may be that your gut is telling you that something isn’t quite right, but because it starts subtly in most cases and systematically increases in the intensity of the abuse, you ignore those feelings,” she says.
On top of that, narcissistic abuse often occurs in cycles.
Sometimes, you may feel loved and supported. Other times, you may feel devalued and discarded. But since the “good times” were there before, you may decide to stay in the hopes that the honeymoon will return.
You may also feel isolated, lack resources, or doubt your own judgment as a result of ongoing abuse, which can all make it hard to make an exit plan.
Though it may take some preparation, there are ways to leave the situation safely.
Side with ‘you’
A person behaving abusively may do their best to wear down your self-esteem. To prevent this, try and remain grounded in who you are and honor your experience.
“Pay attention to your feelings and acknowledge them to yourself,” says Wolcott. “Let go of trying to convince your partner of your point of view, or get them to agree with you on anything.”
Seek professional support
If you can, find a therapist who is familiar with narcissistic abuse.
“Oftentimes, adults with narcissistic personality disorder can be charming to the outside world but hurt those closest to them,” says Billy Roberts, a licensed therapist in Columbus, Ohio. “This reinforces the idea for the partner without NPD that they’re the problem in the relationship.”
That’s where working with a well-informed therapist can help clear things up.
“Therapy can help to untangle the psychological damage done from the abusive relationship,” says Roberts. “It can support you in rebuilding confidence, setting boundaries, and help you build healthy relationships moving forward.”
Discreetly let others know
Try to find at least one or two people to confide in, so they can help you plan.
“This can start with an advocacy agency if you don’t have other options,” says Cummin. “Start to slowly share information with family and friends that you trust won’t give information about your plans to your partner.”
For many people, the experience of narcissistic abuse can feel dizzying.
To keep an objective viewpoint, try to get as many interactions as you can in writing. After a conversation, write down what you just heard. That way, if ever in doubt, you can review your notes and reinforce your decision to leave.
Recovery from abuse takes time, but there are ways to navigate this process.
You may find it useful to take a cooling-off period or go no contact. If you can’t eliminate communication altogether (say, because you have children), set parameters, such as limiting conversations to texting only or getting off the phone after 10 minutes.
Continue seeking support
Along with individual therapy, you may want to consider joining a support group, either online or in person. Your local area may have a meeting for survivors of narcissistic abuse, or you can check the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to find a local option you can try.
Lean on your support system
Now’s a great time to foster your current connections and make new ones.
“If you’ve been isolated during your relationship, it’s imperative that you start to find sources of support so that you’re not alone once you have left,” says Cummin.
Build yourself up
Remember, narcissistic abuse can be draining. Now could be the opportune time to start filling up your own cup and meeting your own needs. Some ideas you can try include:
- taking a bubble bath
- getting a massage
- practicing meditation
- making artwork
- practicing restorative yoga
- spending time in nature
A tip from the author’s experience
Notice what activities sound fun or healing for you, and gravitate toward those.
Consider making a list of everything you used to love before this relationship, such as hobbies, groups, and activities. Try to set a goal to attend to one or two of the items on your list per week until you find your flow again.
You can do this.
Narcissistic abuse can feel isolating, confusing, or depressing. There are many ways to leave safely and get the support you need to heal.
You may find it helpful to work with a therapist, lean on your support system, and participate in self-care activities to help build your relationship with yourself.
Education on the topic of narcissism and how to deal with these behaviors in your relationship can also be useful. Some popular books include:
- “Out of the Fog: Moving from Confusion to Clarity After Narcissistic Abuse” by Dana Morningstar
- “‘Don’t You Know Who I Am?’: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility” by Ramani Durvasula, PhD
- “How to Kill a Narcissist: Debunking the Myth of Narcissism and Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse” by JH Simon
- “POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse” by Shahida Arabi
No matter what you just lived through, know that you’re worthy of love, respect, and safety. You’ll get there.