Ending a relationship is difficult at the best of times. If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, this can be 100 times worse. Not only do you have to overcome your own doubts and make the decision to end the relationship, but you also have to worry about what the narcissist does at the end of the relationship.
Narcissists harm the people who date them, and they will often continue to cause problems when you try to leave.
Luckily, there are things you can do. In this article, we’re going to cover the main harmful things a narcissist does at the end of a relationship and give you the tools you need to get out safely.
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A narcissist is someone who has little-to-no empathy for others. Instead, they have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value. They expect special treatment and they don’t think that they should have to follow the same social rules that the rest of us live by1.
They’re more than happy to manipulate or hurt others to get what they want. Of course, lots of people manipulate others. One of the things that sets a narcissist apart is that they don’t feel guilty about it or pay any attention to the pain and suffering they cause, even to people they claim they love.
If you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist for a while, you may find that your self-confidence and self-esteem have decreased2. This is because you are spending a lot of time with someone who is constantly telling you (both in words and through their actions) that you’re not important.
When you’re dating a narcissist, their focus is almost always on their image and status3. That’s part of what being a narcissist is. When you end a relationship with a narcissist, they need to find a way to present this to other people (as well as you, and even themselves) which shows them in a good light.
Sometimes, they might change the story so that they left you. This helps to preserve their ego because in their mind no one would ever want to leave someone as wonderful as they are. They’re able to portray themselves as an ideal partner and imply that you just didn’t quite measure up.
If they don’t rewrite history to suggest that they dumped you, they will often find a different way to make you the bad guy in the relationship.
They might say that you were making unreasonable demands, that you were cruel, thoughtless, and uncaring. They might tell others that you violated their trust, or were selfish and demanding. This is especially unfair as these are all things that you’ve been putting up with from them.
Narcissists are often very socially adept and charming4. They will also often actually start to believe the lies they tell about you. This makes it hard for others to realize that they’re not being honest about the relationship, or your behavior.
Narcissists might not have much empathy, but they do understand how people work. They have learned how to hit all of your buttons because they enjoy manipulating and controlling others5. When you try to walk away from a relationship with a narcissist, they’re usually quick to play on your feelings of guilt.
It’s really normal to feel some guilt at the end of a relationship, even if you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. We worry that we haven’t tried hard enough or that we’re giving up too easily. We will also often worry about how our ex is going to cope without us.
A narcissist will take all of that normal, albeit unnecessary, guilt and make it into something much harder to cope with.
How they do this will depend on what they’ve learned about you and your feelings. For example, if they know that your family hurt you by calling you ungrateful, they’ll make sure that they call you that as well.
They might bring up things that they have done for you in the past, asking why it “means nothing to you.” When you’re breaking up with a narcissist, they feel this as an attack on their identity. They have no difficulty using whatever levers they have to try to get you to change your mind.
Narcissists can be pretty dramatic at the best of times. This may well be a part of why you need to end your relationship with them. Unfortunately, ending a relationship with a narcissist doesn’t mean an end to their dramatic gestures. Often, it means the opposite.
This ties in with a narcissist’s desire to use your guilt against you and to pressure you into getting back together with them. They will often carry out a big, dramatic, unreasonable gesture to highlight just how devastated they are by the end of your relationship and how § they are.
These might include quitting their jobs, talking about taking their own life, or even very public, ostentatious self-harm.
Now, it’s important that we’re completely clear about this. People who are struggling with their mental health or considering suicide or self-harm are in a bad place and they need help and support rather than judgment and criticism.
Those kinds of difficulties also shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. The idea that “someone who is talking about suicide isn’t actually going to do it” is both wrong and harmful6. It’s important that people can talk about those feelings openly to get the support that they need.
The difference here is that a narcissist isn’t just being honest about the pain that they’re in. They’re trying to use their pain and mental health as a weapon. In fact, they’re trying to use your empathy and compassion as a weapon.
You might know deep down that you’re dating a narcissist, but you’ll probably still have a little bit of self-doubt or worry. When your narcissist ex tells you that they’re contemplating taking their own life or carries out some other big, public form of self-sabotage, it’s normal to worry that you’re wrong and they really are deeply devoted to you.
A lot of the difference between a genuine expression of pain and a narcissist trying to manipulate you comes down to what they expect or demand. A narcissist is trying to push you into letting them back into your life and they won’t accept any other forms of help or support.
If you’ve been dating a narcissist, you’re probably no stranger to gaslighting7. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, they’ve probably been lying to you, denying your reality, and undermining your confidence in your own understanding of the world. This will often ramp up when you end the relationship.
When a narcissist gaslights you at the end of a relationship, they’re usually telling you that you have misunderstood or misremembered the things that have led you to break up with them. For example, they might tell you that they never said hurtful things about you, even though you remember the conversations.
A more subtle type of gaslighting is when they tell you that you’ve forgotten all of the good parts of the relationship, or that you are rewriting history to ignore all of the ways that they were kind and loving.
You might think that someone who is ending a relationship is better at spotting gaslighting than others because they’ve seen so much of it. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true. When you’ve been gaslighted in a relationship, especially if it has happened for a long time, you become more uncertain and it becomes harder to trust your own perceptions.
When a narcissist tells you that you’re making a mistake by leaving them, they’re probably giving you all of the social and non-verbal signs that they’re telling the truth. That’s because, from their perspective, they are. They actually do believe that you’re making a mistake.
This is largely because they’re not feeling empathy. They simply don’t recognize how the relationship has hurt you. They see that they will be less happy, and therefore decide that your leaving is a mistake.
A narcissist hates to feel as though they’re being ignored or that they’ve been forgotten. When you end a relationship with them, they will try to find ways to push their way into your life and to continue being involved in what you’re doing.
There are lots of different ways that they might do this, ranging from mildly annoying to full stalking. For example, they might call you regularly “just to check in,” even if you tell them that this is unwelcome. They’re even more likely to drunk-dial you late at night.
They might lean into their sense of victimization, by expecting you to still do things for them that you did when you were a couple. They will then claim that you’re being unreasonable for not reminding them about their dad’s birthday or picking up their prescriptions or dry cleaning.
This kind of intrusion into your daily life can become really unsettling, especially if they start following you around or harassing you or the people you spend time with. In the most extreme cases, you might need to obtain a restraining order to keep yourself safe.
In some ways, one of the things that a narcissist does at the end of a relationship that is hardest to deal with is that they promise to change. You’ve loved this person and you’ve probably already given them loads of chances to change. Walking away when they’re promising that things will be different from now on is really difficult.
Don’t be fooled. This promise, like so much with a narcissist, is intended to get you to change your behavior. The chance of them changing is remote at best.
If you listen carefully to a narcissist who is promising to change, you’ll often notice that they don’t actually admit that they have done anything wrong. They don’t say that they were totally out of line.
For example, if you’ve explained that they are rude and hurtful, they might say “I didn’t know that bothered you. If you can’t deal with me being honest, I’ll keep quiet about things like that in the future.” As you can see, they’re not actually taking responsibility or accepting blame. They’re just promising to act differently to try to get you to stay.
When you’re trying to end this kind of relationship, you need to understand both what a narcissist does at the end of a relationship and how to protect yourself from it.
When you’re working out how to end this relationship, you have two main objectives; you need to make sure that you hold firm on the decision you know is right and protect yourself from the ways that they will try to hurt or punish you.
Here are the most helpful things you can do to try to achieve this.
A narcissist is great at manipulating people and, as we’ve already mentioned, they know you well enough to find all of your buttons. They will try to gaslight you or use other manipulative techniques to make you change your mind.
Try to create a reminder of why you need to leave your relationship. There are different ways to do this. You might make a list of bullet points. You could have a box full of pictures and things that remind you of all of the ways that they have hurt you.
It might also be helpful to look back at your journal entries from times when you’ve felt upset, guilty, or scared. Think about what will help you to remember the reasons behind your decision and try to get that into one place ready for you to look back at it if you waver.
If you’ve been dating a narcissist for a long time, you might notice that your support network has started to fray a little. Narcissists often separate you from the people who could support and protect you.
If you’re worried about ending your relationship with a narcissist, talk to people you care about in advance and set up your support network. If you don’t have a network to turn to, you might be able to find a support group for people dealing with narcissistic partners, which can at least give you somewhere to speak openly about what you’re going through.
A trained therapist or counselor can also be a great source of support. Again, it can be helpful to start seeing them as soon as possible. They might be able to give you more specific ideas about how to deal with your narcissist and their likely reactions.
Domestic violence experts strongly recommend that anyone leaving an abusive relationship have a safety plan8. This is where you think through all of the places that you can turn to for support and create a list of all of the people you can turn to.
Relationships with a narcissist are regularly abusive, and abuse often escalates when you try to leave. Don’t assume that he won’t get aggressive or violent just because he hasn’t in the past. If you plan for things to go much worse than they do, that’s ok. You’ve still kept yourself safe.
So, what does a safety plan look like? This really depends on your personal situation. For example, you might arrange to have a friend call you an hour after you plan to start the breakup conversation to make sure that you’re ok. If you’re living with them, you might need to plan where you’re going to stay.
It’s understandable when you want your pain and upset to mean something. You might want your ex to understand that the way they treated you wasn’t ok, and to have them behave better to their next partner. You want them to learn. Unfortunately, this is almost certainly not going to happen.
A narcissist isn’t interested in having a healthier relationship. They don’t want a better relationship with their new partner. They just want someone who is going to put up with the way they treat others.
If you try to give them insight into the ways that their actions have harmed you, they’re likely to see it as an attack on their ego. This often leads them to lash out. There is nothing to be gained from trying to educate them or help them learn. Focus on yourself and your well-being instead.
If possible, try to sever all ties with your narcissist ex. Obviously, this is much harder if you have shared property or if you have children together, but the more distance you can create between you and them, the better, especially in the short term.
A narcissist will often use any link between you to try to worm their way back into your life. If you can make a completely clean break, you will find it easier to rebuild your life.
You might need to ask friends not to pass on messages or keep you updated on their life. In extreme cases, you might want to change your phone number. You should definitely remove them from your social media, or at the very least mute them.
Narcissists will often spread nasty gossip about you when your relationship ends. How you deal with that is totally up to you. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with this, but it is helpful to have thought about it in advance.
Some people want to be able to set the record straight. That’s totally understandable. It’s really uncomfortable to have people thinking things about you that are untrue. If you feel this way, you might want to prepare evidence to show that they’re lying or be prepared to justify yourself over and over.
Other people don’t feel they should have to defend themselves. Their perspective is that anyone who believes lies about them wasn’t a good friend in the first place. Again, that’s a totally reasonable position. If you feel this way, you will have to accept that you may lose some ‘friends’ over this situation. Try to focus on the quality of the ones you keep.
No matter which approach you choose, the most important thing is that you get to be the one to decide how you respond.
It’s hard to know that a narcissist is finished with you. They can often keep popping back up in your life, especially when you least expect it. Rather than worry about whether they’re finished with you, decide that you’re done with them. Block them and ignore their calls.
A narcissist doesn’t have the kind of empathy that allows them to understand their partner’s feelings after a breakup, or the self-reflection to learn from it or blame themselves. They will usually feel unfairly victimized and that their ego has been bruised.
A narcissist will usually struggle to accept you ending a relationship with them, whether it’s abrupt or not. They will try to punish you and/or convince you to come back to them. What they won’t do is do any self-reflection to solve the problems that made you leave.
Dating a narcissist is pretty awful, but so is what a narcissist does at the end of a relationship. They are focused on fulfilling their own needs and looking after their self-image. It’s important that you put yourself first and prioritize your own well-being during the breakup.
Was this article helpful? What has surprised you about ending a relationship with a narcissist? How did you protect yourself? Let us know in the comments. Do you have a friend who is dating a narcissist? Try sharing this article so they can look after themselves when they’re ready to leave.