Many of us have had an ex we couldn’t quit. Someone who you knew deep down was toxic—or you were warned against—but you still kept coming back. Leaving someone who manipulates you and puts you down can feel impossible, but ending a relationship with a narcissist is certainly possible. Here’s how to leave a narcissist.
What is a narcissist?
A narcissist is a person with an inflated sense of self-importance, according to Julia Bekker, a matchmaker and dating coach based in New York.
“They believe they are superior and behave in an entitled, manipulative manner,” Bekker said.
Narcissistic personality disorder tends to be more common in men (7.7%) than women (4.8%), according to a 2018 study published in the Psychiatry Research journal.
Why is ending a relationship with a narcissist so hard?
Narcissists can be charming and convincing. They’re also typically adept at manipulating your emotions. In one moment, they might make you feel amazing; the next, they make you feel worthless.
Bekker notes that narcissists tend to be drawn to empaths, people who are very caring and attuned to emotions. Because empaths put themselves in other people’s shoes, they struggle to leave narcissists because they feel sorry for them.
“Although they are abandoning their own needs and selves,” Bekker said, “they always have an understanding of what their partner (the narcissist) might be going through internally and put the needs of their partners before their own happiness.”
Another reason leaving a narcissist is so hard is because they can make their partner feel like the villain.
According to Bekker, narcissists project their own self-hate and misery onto their partners. They put them down in order to feel better about themselves and create a feeling of inadequacy and guilt in their partners.
As a result, empaths feel like they’re the ones screwing up the relationship, so they constantly strive to win the love, respect and validation of the narcissistic partner.
“Their narcissistic partner makes them feel unworthy,” Bekker said, “which instills a lack of self-esteem, making it hard to imagine anyone else will ever love them.”
How to leave a narcissist
Ending a relationship with a narcissist requires planning. Otherwise, their mind games are likely to lead you into a cycle of pain and reconciliation. Take note of the following steps and be ready to act when you’re ready to decide the relationship is over.
Come to a point of self-awareness
First, realize that your partner’s narcissism is why the relationship is failing. Absolve yourself of blame and make peace with moving on_._
“You are good enough,” Bekker said. “Recognize you are worthy of a healthy companionship and someone who equally reciprocates love and respect in your relationship.”
Evaluate your needs
Next, ask yourself if the relationship makes you happy. Also ask (and answer) important questions, such as:
- Are my needs being met, or is everything always about them?
- Do I like who they are as a person?
- Do I like who I am when I’m with them?
According to Bekker, asking these questions about any relationship is important, but especially when a narcissist is involved. They can create overwhelming self-esteem issues and distort what a healthy relationship should be like.
When you look in the mirror, that person you see is the most important person to respect—you can’t care for others before taking care of yourself.
Simply put, loving yourself doesn’t make you selfish.
“In this case, being selfless should not apply to the rules of a partnership,” Bekker said. “Do not abandon yourself, your needs and your happiness for someone who is not concerned with your needs or your happiness.”
Do not fall into the trap of believing things will improve on their own. They won’t, and you’re wasting your time waiting.
According to Bekker, narcissists will never value you—or anyone else, for that matter.
Pack your bags and leave
“You don’t even need to have a discussion,” Bekker said, “but if you feel the need for closure, my advice is to do it over text or email so the narcissist does not have an opportunity to feed manipulative thoughts into your head again. You need to break the cycle, once and for all.”
This is why planning is so important. If you live together, secure a safe place to stay with friends or family before you pull the trigger. If you split time between two residences, enlist friends to help you remove left-behind belongings from your ex’s home. If they have a key, change the locks. Fully detaching yourself from a narcissist is hard without first cutting off their access to you.
What to do after leaving a narcissist
Actually leaving is the hardest part of ending a relationship with a narcissist, but the work isn’t over, because narcissists are typically not gracious in defeat. They’re bound to try their best to win you back. They may also retaliate in cold, hurtful ways when those efforts fail.
You may feel guilty, but don’t give up. Here’s how to try and hold on after the dust settles.
See a therapist
“You will need time to heal from this trauma,” Bekker said. “You will need to get to a healthy mindset and a better place with yourself.”
To do that, deconstructing what you went through with the help of a therapist can be useful.
“It will be helpful to understand narcissistic behavior,” Bekker said, “so that you can stop blaming yourself for the failure of this relationship and recognize the red flags of a narcissist to avoid falling into this trap in the future.”
Maintain zero contact
You can’t half-heartedly leave a narcissist. You need to cut off all communication so they don’t get back into your head. That means blocking them on your phone and on all social media.
“Give them no way to reach out,” Bekker said, “and relieve yourself of the temptation to cling to them by seeing what they’re doing or what they post.”
Work on self-love
“Take the time to focus on yourself,” Bekker said. “Do the things that bring you joy, see friends who make you happy. Remember who you are and what you have to offer.“
Unfortunately, this may be hard for the kind of selfless people who attract narcissists in the first place. But self-love doesn’t mean turning into a narcissist yourself, it means taking care to ensure your needs are met first.
Change your language
Your internal monologue is probably influenced by your toxic relationship.
By this point, your narcissistic ex-partner will probably have you feeling so low about yourself (that) you are convinced you are not good enough for anyone.
To change the way you think about yourself, you have to replace negative thoughts with new, more positive thoughts.
“Train your brain to believe in yourself and your worth again,” Bekker said.
Remember how they made you feel
Don’t fall into the trap of remembering the relationship as better than it actually was. You were manipulated, and you have to move on. You left for concrete reasons, and those reasons haven’t changed.
“Make a list of all the bad things they did and said, all the pain they caused you,” Bekker said, “so that, in time, when you start to miss them, you are not tempted to go back.”
Don’t look back
Whether a week, six months or a year have passed, Bekker insisted on committing to your decision to end a relationship with a narcissist.
Don’t unblock them, don’t text them, don’t meet up with them to talk again at any point. Don’t give them the chance to be nice again.
As you know from your relationship, narcissists have strategies for manipulating you. Don’t give in.
Write a goodbye letter to yourself
A tried-and-true way to leave a narcissist for good is to truly let go of the past by identifying what you’re giving up and watching it burn.
“If you need more closure, write a letter to release your emotions,” Bekker said, “stating how you feel and then tear it up or burn it.”
Leaving a narcissist is not easy. They keep you hooked with their charm and charisma— that’s why people get caught up in these relationships.
But you can’t change a narcissist, and it’s not your job to “fix” someone who exhibits this type of personality.
Start by identifying all the ways they manipulated you, then come up with a plan to leave and don’t look back.
When you’re ready, move onto someone who’ll treat you better. You owe yourself that much.
“Be selfish and move on,” Bekker said, “so you can choose a partner in the future who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.”