Narcissistic relationships are among the most devastating of all broken relationships. Narcissists are generally charming, intelligent and highly manipulative. Breaking up with a narcissist means coming to terms with the fact that the person you loved was not the person you were actually with. It also means facing up to the difficult, painful and even humiliating things you went through during your relationship.
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Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by an inflated sense of self-worth and the inability to empathize with others. Narcissists require constant attention, exaggerate their talents and achievements, are selfish, and disregard the needs and desires of others. According to narcissism expert and admitted narcissist Dr. Sam Vaknin, they generally put their loved ones through psychological abuse, which sometimes escalates to other types of abuse, because of their own fear of intimacy. Dr. Vaknin likens narcissism to addiction, in which the addictive substance is a constant flow of adoration, or what he terms "Narcissistic Supply."
The Stages of Narcissistic Relationships
According to psychology writer Savannah Gray, in an article for Esteemology.com, narcissistic relationships generally follow a three-stage pattern. In the first stage, known as over-evaluation, the narcissist carefully selects and grooms his target. He becomes hyper-focused on the pursuit, learning all he can about her and using mirroring techniques to transform himself into exactly what she wants. During the devaluation stage, the narcissist reveals his true personality. He is confident that he has her devotion, so he feels more comfortable being himself. As the high he felt during the first phase diminishes, he becomes moody, silent and withdrawn. He begins ignoring phone calls, breaking promises, and punishing her for upsetting him. As she tries to get the relationship back on track, he withdraws more and more. Finally, in the discard phase, the relationship ends and the narcissist moves on without remorse or sadness. The target is left to pick up the pieces, while the narcissist sets his sights on a new target.
Going No Contact
In the immediate aftermath of a narcissistic relationship, it is critical to go “No Contact” with your ex, points out the "Narcissism Free" website. Narcissists do not easily give up access to a provider of Narcissistic Supply, so your ex is likely to keep you dangling on a string for as long as you allow. Terminate all business entanglements, file for immediate divorce or put it on hold for at least six months, get rid of everything that reminds you of her, and block her phone number and email address. Give yourself time to completely get past the relationship before making even polite conversation, and keep in mind that some narcissists draw previous targets back in years after the initial breakup. Although real change is possible with intensive psychotherapy, remain guarded.
Moving on from a narcissistic relationship is heartbreaking. In a separate article for HealthyPlace.com, Dr. Vaknin notes that the first step is to come to grips with the painful reality that your relationship was nothing like you thought it was. Once you have found acceptance, real healing can begin. Vaknin encourages learning, grieving and eventually forgiving. Seek support from friends and relatives during this challenging time, and consider at least a brief round of mental health therapy. A narcissistic relationship can damage your self-esteem, your trust and your ability to form healthy future relationships.
- Psychology Today: Why Are Narcissists (Initially) So Popular?
- Psychology Today: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Symptoms)
- Healthy Place: Relationships With Abusive Narcissists
- Esteemology: The Three Phases of a Narcissistic Relationship Cycle -- Over-Evaluation, Devaluation, Discard
- NarcissismFree.com: Why Initiate a “No Contact” Rule When Leaving a Narcissistic Relationship
- Healthy Place: Surviving the Narcissist -- Narcissist Relationships