When you’re in love with a narcissist, it’s not easy to leave. Despite the abuse and your unhappiness, you may be unsure about leaving for a variety of reasons—you still love your partner, you have young children, you lack resources, and/or you enjoy your lifestyle. You may want to leave, but feel stuck, and don’t understand why.
Why It’s Hard to Leave
Narcissists can be exceedingly charming, interesting, and exciting to be around. Initially, they (and other abusers) may treat you with kindness and warmth, or even overwhelm you with attention and affection. Of course, you want to be with them forever and easily become dependent on their attention and validation. Once you’re hooked and they feel secure, they aren’t motivated to seduce you anymore. Their charming traits fade or disappear altogether and are replaced or intermixed with varying degrees of coldness, criticism, demands, and abuse.
You’re hopeful and accommodating and keep trying to win back their loving attention, but, meanwhile, your self-esteem and independence are undermined daily. You may be gaslighted and begin doubting your own perceptions due to blame and lies. When you say something, you’re attacked, intimidated, or confused by manipulation. Over time, you learn to avoid conflict. As denial and cognitive dissonance grow, you do and allow things you would have never even imagined when you first met. Your shame increases as your self-esteem declines. You wonder what happened to the happy, self-respecting, confident person you once were.
It’s common for victims to attach to their abuser, particularly when there’s intermittent positive reinforcement. You may be trauma-bonded, meaning that after being subjected to prolonged belittling and control, you’ve become childlike and addicted to any sign of approval from your abuser. You’re especially susceptible to this if the relationship dynamics are repeating a pattern you experienced with a distant, abusive, absent, or withholding parent.
The trauma bond with your partner outweighs the negative aspects of the relationship. Studies show that victims of physical abuse on average don’t leave until after the seventh incident of violence. They not only fear retaliation, but also the loss of the emotional connection with their partner, which can feel worse than the abuse.
After You Leave
Narcissists are basically co-dependent. If you distance yourself from them, they do what it takes to pull you back in, because they don’t want to be abandoned. They want to keep you interested to feed their ego and supply their needs. Being left by someone is a humiliating blow to their fragile self. They will attempt to stop you with kindness and charm, blame and guilt-trips, threats and punishment, or neediness, promises, or pleas—whatever it takes to control you so that they “win.”
If you resist their attention, it fuels their ambition. But once you fall into their trap and they feel in control, they’ll return to their old cold and abusive ways. Only consistent and firm boundaries will protect you and disincentivize them.
How to Leave
As long as you’re under their spell, an abuser has control over you. In order to become empowered, you need to educate yourself. Come out of denial and see reality for what it really is. Information is power, Queen. Read up on narcissism and abuse.
Regardless of your decision, it’s important for your own mental health for you to protect your self-esteem. Here are some steps you can take:
Find a support group, including a therapist or counselor, or sympathetic friends—not the ones who bash your partner or judge you for staying in the relationship.
Create a life outside of your relationship, that includes friends, hobbies, work, and other interests. Whether you stay or leave, you need a fulfilling life to supplement or replace your relationship.
Build your self-esteem. Learn to value yourself and honor your own needs and feelings. Develop trust in your perceptions and overcome self-doubt and guilt.
Learn how to be assertive and set boundaries.
Identify the abuser’s defenses and your triggers and detach from them.
If you’re physically threatened or harmed, immediately seek shelter. Physical abuse repeats itself, Queen.
Don’t make empty threats. When you decide to leave, be certain you’re ready to end the relationship for good. (Note: If you decide to leave, and you’re married, or there are children involved, find an experienced lawyer who is a family law specialist. Mediation is not a good option when there is a history of abuse.)
Whether you leave or are left, allow yourself time to grieve, build resilience, and recover from the breakup.
Maintain strict no-contact, or only minimal, if necessary, impersonal contact that’s required for co-parenting in accordance with a formal visitation and custody agreement.
As difficult as this transition may be, you have to remind yourself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and many benefits to releasing yourself from the emotional bondage created by a narcissistic relationship:
Freedom—When you can achieve having “no contact” with your abuser for a significant amount of time, you will come to realize that you are now able to be yourself without someone constantly causing you to feel guilty, hurt, or ashamed. You are free.
Peace—You don’t have to argue all the time and put yourself in constant drama. Now, you can have seamless conversations that aren’t loaded with secret meanings, and you don’t have to feel confused or defensive with every human interaction you have.
Everything is as it seems—You no longer have to live in a state of mind-fuckery. Get up in the morning, have your day, and go to bed at night. Everything just is.
Yourself—You eventually realize that you have yourself back and that you like yourself and that you are okay just the way you are. You hold on to yourself and no longer give yourself away to others.
Your Intuition—You actually pay attention to your intuition and value what it says to you. Red flags are no longer ignored or excused; they become deal-breakers. If someone tries to challenge your reality, you are not swayed.
Healthy Relationships—Your relationship was so toxic, that now you want nothing to do with toxic people or anything that even resembles an unhealthy relationship. You have come to realize that you don’t need to spend time with toxic people and their enablers. You choose healthy connections over “complicated situations.” You actually have relationships that work, with people capable of validation and empathy. Now, you can connect on a real level effortlessly.
No more walking on eggshells— Your days are not spent feeling chronic unease regarding what is going to happen next or on what mood your narcissist is in. You feel lighter and less worried about everything. Your anxiety dissipates.
No more navigating emotional landmines—Remember those days of wondering, “What will he/she do or think if I …?” Well, you have disentangled yourself from the situation. Just breathe, Queen.
Somatic symptoms disappear—These are all the physical symptoms you experienced, such as migraine headaches, your stomach in knots, eczema, mysterious ailments, etc.; all these are examples of how your difficult emotions and stress were being expressed.
Depression is lifted—After years of narcissistic abuse, you have lost yourself and dissociated from your emotions. Once you leave the toxic relationship and stop reinforcing the abusive relationship dynamic, your energy is no longer spent protecting your mind from psychological abuse, and you find your voice, free-up your emotions, and begin to feel happy again.
Drama-free interactions—Surprisingly, everyone else is easier to get along with. Your relationships aren’t full of crises or turmoil anymore. There is no longer drama in your interactions with others. Relationships just happen, and they work, with no feelings of guilt or obligation on your part.
Empowerment—Once you realize you’re free from the opinions and manipulations of the narcissist, you find an inner strength and capacity for self-advocacy. You have learned to set boundaries.
While you’re in a toxic relationship, you feel constantly driven to fix it and improve it or hold out for the hope that “one day, things will work out,” but that day never comes. At some point, you realize that you just need to lay it down and walk away…for good. Yes, it’s hard to get to that place. In fact, that is the hardest part of the journey.
But, after you get to that place of surrender, where you let go of any and all attempts to change the other person or repair the relationship, then you start on a new chapter in your life—one of freedom, peace, and happiness.
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