Taylor Swift once said “never trust a narcissist.” And she’s right—especially because trusting a narcissist might lead to a breakup with a narcissist. And that’s fun for no one. Ending any relationship, in any circumstance tends to fall somewhere between “unpleasant” and “downright horrible,” but when you’re contending with a narcissist, a unique set of challenges may emerge.
“Narcissists are very self-absorbed and selfish, so they talk about what they want and what they need from you, disregarding whatever you tell them about your own feelings and concerns about the relationship,” says relationship therapist Jane Greer, PhD. This is consistent with the telltale sign of a narcissist: that they put their feelings in front of everyone else’s—including their partner’s—which usually means ignoring what their partner wants.
So if you want to break up and they don’t, they’ll do everything in their power to keep the relationship going. “A narcissist will use every trick in the book to achieve their end goals: emotional manipulation, psychological manipulation, mind games, and emotional torment,” says relationship expert Susan Winter.
While there are certain hints that may open your eyes to the fact that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist (…the most obvious of which apparently being that they love to send you dick pics on the reg), the reality often becomes most evident when you’re trying to distance yourself from the situation. For instance, it took me a full year to break up with my own narcissistic ex, and according to the pros, that prolonged period of not being able to cut the cord of the relationship is common with this kind of person. “It’s challenging to break up with a narcissist because they’re so consumed with their own needs and what they want, they very often won’t listen to your needs or discount whatever you say,” says Dr. Greer. In other words, they’ll convince you that the breakup doesn’t work for them, and therefore shouldn’t work for you, either.
“You want to break up with a narcissist in a caring way to avoid provoking their anger or antagonism toward you.” — therapist Jane Greer, PhD
“Narcissists get very angry when their needs are not being met, and they can intimidate you, making you feel frightened or anxious about what could happen if you leave them,” Dr. Greer says. “They’ll make you feel bad that you would consider abandoning them. They’ll attack you and make you feel like you’re a bad person because you want to end the relationship.” These manipulative tactics can majorly mess with your self-esteem, and draw you back into a toxic relationship that you don’t want to be in.
But just because a breakup with a narcissist can be tough to pull off, that doesn’t make it impossible. “You want to break up with a narcissist in a caring way to avoid provoking their anger or antagonism toward you,” says Dr. Greer. Have a very clear message to deliver—and stick to it; don’t get caught up defending yourself, arguing, or trying to explain your reasons. Acknowledge their feelings, but also acknowledge that you disagree with them, and stress that things simply aren’t working for you. “The important thing to hold onto and repeat is that you feel differently and that’s not going to change,” says Dr. Greer.
And once you finally are able to sever ties, take the necessary measures to ensure you actually stay separated. “Narcissists have developed highly skilled methodologies for winning you back. They know how to play into your emotional history and push all of your buttons,” says Winter. “The only way to break up with a narcissist—and stay broken up—is to completely remove them from your life,” says Winter, who adds that your best bet in these situations is to go full “no-contact” so that you don’t even provide a chance for the narcissist to draw you back into the cycle of dysfunction.
Once it’s over, give yourself space to heal from the experience. (Dating and subsequently breaking up with a narcissist can leave behind its fair share of trauma.) After you block their phone number and delete them from your social media profiles, prioritize surrounding yourself with a support system, and be sure to carve out time for self-care. And, if you’re anything like me, that may include treating yourself to a whole lot of Taylor Swift on repeat.
The best way to avoid having to break up with a narcissist? Don’t date one in the first place. Here’s how to avoid them like the plague in your romantic life. And if you’re worried that you’re the narcissist in your relationship, take this science-backed quiz to find out.
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