Leaving a narcissist is a very difficult thing to do. All relationship separations are difficult but a narcissist will make it particularly hard because they will be reeling from narcissistic injury and that will turn to anger, indignation and they will have an obsessive desire to punish you (how could anyone want to leave them when they are such perfect people). It will also damage their public image, the very suggestion that someone would not want to stay with them and devote their lives to them is a complete insult.
The reality is that a relationship with a narcissist isn’t a relationship, simply because they cannot relate to anyone else. Not their partner, not their children, other members of their family or friends. So, once you realise that you are in a relationship with a narcissist and they are not going to change, leaving them is really the only healthy option for your well-being.
This can be done in two ways. Either by physically leaving the partnership or by reducing the emotional commitment to them, separated under the same roof, this however could be even more detrimental to your well-being because the narcissist will know immediately when you withdraw your emotional commitment and will start acting out like a petulant child. It will be relentless and very draining, but it will escalate into something much more aggressive if this tactic doesn’t work. Because the narcissist is a narcissist OBVIOUSLY it will be all your fault that the partnership ended and will say things like “you said that you loved me” , “How could you do this to me”, “you are so selfish, think about the children”, “we had it so good why do you have to go and destroy it all” “You have gone mad, you need to go to therapy” (You probably would benefit from therapy, not because you have gone mad but because you are probably suffering from some form of complex post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of living with a narcissist, if you do look for help it is important to make sure that your therapist is an expert in narcissism, otherwise therapy will only be useful to you up to a point, in that it could help you to start to talk about the problem, but will probably not be able to deliver the tools to resolve anything.
Hot on the heels of declaring that you are moving out or withdrawing emotionally, there will probably be allegations of your having an affair or multiple affairs and there will probably be accusations of infidelity during the relationship, being a bad parent, being emotionally unavailable, working all of the time, being too independent, not giving narcissist enough time and attention, being ungrateful, never earning enough money, being too involved with any hobby and so forth.
Before you declare that you want to leave the narcissist it is important to protect your assets as best as you can. So, once you have made this hard decision it is important to act like business as usual. An aggressive fit of self-righteous indignation will be inevitable from the narcissist, and as it was your fault that the relationship ended the narcissist will feel justified in punishing you for ruining their life by ruining yours as much as they can. This will happen on several levels:
- They will go after all of your assets (do not expect them to be reasonable or to play fair, integrity, morality or honour are not traits that the narcissist has).
- They will go on a public smear campaign against you to anyone who will listen, including your own friends and family. They will site something like infidelity or mental instability as the cause of the break up, will let everyone know that it is your fault and that you have broken their heart.
- They will play the abused victim.
- They will harass you as much as they can, they might even stalk you either physically or on social media.
- They will open your post, look at your phone (to get proof of anything that they can use against you, if they cannot find anything they will just make stuff up), open bank statements, credit card statements, befriend your colleagues at work etc.
- They might damage your property.
- If you have children, they will spend hours telling them what a horrible person you are and how cruel and unfaithful you have been to them (parental alienation).
- They might try to get full custody of your children and battle it out as long as they can.
- They will aim to “win” the fight, even if both parties go broke by paying legal fees this could even be at the expense of children’s well-being. It doesn’t matter to them, they just have to win and winning to them means doing as much damage to you as they can.
So how do you protect yourself? It is really important to put yourself into a position that is as independent as possible before you say or do anything. At this stage you are going to have to act like nothing has changed. If they feel like something has changed they will go on high alert, they will monitor absolutely everything that you do, or say and every piece of information that manage to “collect” about you, will be twisted where ever possible and used against you and that will put you in a very vulnerable position because you will know that it is a fabrication of lies (but with elements of truth to make their story more credible) and you will not know what stories they have told about you behind your back. At this stage it is very important not to go on a counter attack because this will only excite them more.
If you have been married to a narcissist for a long time, it is very likely that your self-esteem has been badly eroded and that you have been subject to verbal and/or physical abuse for a long while. I would recommend that you don’t take on the battle until you feel like you are up to it. Because it will be a battle you “have given” narcissistic injury so the narcissist will punish you and will bring out all of the weapons that they have in their arsenal, no matter how inappropriate (like using the children as pawns in the game that is playing out in their head (this incidentally is child abuse, it is completely inappropriate to involve children in adult affairs)), making up lies about you, stealing and rewriting history.
It is important to remember that narcissists are very convincing liars and they will be accompanied with tears and histrionics, it might surprise you the amount of people who actually believe them and consequently their hostility towards you. This is especially true as non narcissists generally feel that a relationship is a private affair and the reasons for the break up is not something that you want to talk about with everyone and anyone, so that the target audience of the narcissist will think that the narcissist must have been suffering in silence for a long time and that only now the true nature of their partner has come to light and that the narcissist who is terribly heartbroken, is absolutely beyond reproach.
It is worth noting that anyone who is unhappy in a relationship has an absolute right to leave that relationship, you are not your partners prisoner (although they might not see it that way). It is best if you withdraw emotionally before you withdraw physically. It is healthier for you if you stop playing “happy couple” for everyone else. A side effect of going from “happy couple” to separating couple is that it will shock some of your friends and relations and they might get upset with you because it makes them question their own relationships. This can cause hostility and judgement along with the narcissists smear campaign, it will just further alienate you – which is exactly what the narcissist wants.
If you catch the narcissist going through your things looking for information and you ask them not to, they will automatically reply “Well, if you didn’t have anything to hide it wouldn’t matter”, this is absolutely not true. Nobody has a right to violate other people’s privacy like that. It is important that you do not show any doubt on this issue, it is a complete lack of respect for you and your right to privacy, it is also indicative of their lack of regard for your boundaries, they do not own you and they may not rifle through your things.
Your narcissist partner might suggest that you go to couples counselling in an attempt to salvage the status quo. This is not a good idea because the dynamic is as follows:
- The narcissist opts to state where s/he thinks the problems lie. This could take a few sessions.
- The narcissist will manipulate and sway a therapist to see their point of view without interruption. If you do not see a therapist who is fully informed on NPD, they may well believe everything that is said to them, at this point your narcissist will consider that the therapist is “amazing” and will categorically refuse to see someone else
- When the non-narcissist gets their turn to talk about the relationship the narcissist will get extremely uncomfortable, will interrupt, correct, chastise and probably interrupt you while you are speaking, negating everything that you say. If the therapist believes you the “amazing” therapist will metamorphasise into an idiot and be absolutely useless. The narcissist might even walk out on the session there and then.
- A narcissists idea of a resolution to a problem is to shut the other person down, try to force them to retract anything negative they said about them and if that fails they will rage at you. If you say something like “that is not how I see it”, they will just say “well that is how it is”, name call or storm out of the room.
It is a futile exercise and will only aggravate the narcissist even more. It is important to remember that the narcissist will go into over drive to protect their image, it is as though their life depends on it.