If you’ve recently ended a toxic relationship with someone with narcissistic traits, you’re likely dealing with plenty of hurt and confusion.
Even when you know, deep down, that you weren’t to blame, believing this is often another story entirely.
Wondering what you could have done differently to prevent abuse or help your loved one address their issues can add to your emotional turmoil.
Toxic relationships also share some similarities with addiction, explains Ellen Biros, a therapist in Suwanee, Georgia, who specializes in helping people recover from abusive relationships.
“The relationship is intoxicating. There is intermittent reinforcement, and there is a great deal of shame and guilt about the relationship,” Biros says.
These factors can come into play as you try to recover.
You know the relationship wasn’t healthy. You’re aware they mistreated you. But you still can’t shake your memories of how you felt in the beginning and the good times you had.
These memories might lead you to crave their company and feel like you’d do anything to earn their love and approval again.
Abuse is often deeply traumatizing, and the healing process can take some time.
If you’re feeling lost, the tips below can help you take your first steps on the path to recovery.
Recognizing that you did experience abuse, whether from a romantic partner, family member, or friend, is an important first step toward recovery.
In the beginning of the healing process, you might have a hard time setting aside rationalizations and potential excuses for the other person’s behavior.
In fact, you may feel perfectly willing to take blame on yourself, as long as it means you don’t have to admit someone you love intentionally hurt you.
This is normal and completely understandable.
Denial can protect you, in a way. Strong romantic or familial love overshadows reality for many people.
It’s also tough to accept that some people just don’t seem to care when they hurt others.
But denying what happened prevents you from addressing it and healing from it. It can also set you up to experience more pain in the future.
If you know your loved one experienced emotional distress of their own, you might empathize with these struggles and want to give them a second chance.
Compassion is never wrong, but mental health issues don’t excuse abuse. You can always encourage them to reach out for support — while creating enough space to keep yourself safe.
“Arm yourself with education about narcissistic behaviors,” Biros recommends.
Learning to identify tactics often used by people with narcissism can make it easier to come to terms with your experience.
Therapists and abuse recovery specialists often recommend cutting off all contact with your ex-partner after ending the relationship, whenever possible.
Going no contact isn’t just a boundary for them. It’s also a boundary for you, one you might find extremely difficult at first.
It’s common to feel tempted to reach out or respond to phone calls and messages, especially if they apologize sincerely and promise to change.
Blocking their number, email address, and social media accounts can help you avoid giving in to this temptation.
Keep in mind they may still try to contact you through other routes, so it can help to have a plan for how you’ll deal with this.
But going no contact isn’t possible in every situation. Maybe you have children with them, or they’re a family member you’ll see occasionally at gatherings.
If so, think about what you want and need: “I deserve to be treated with respect.”
Then turn that into a boundary: “I am willing to have a conversation with you, but if you shout, swear, or call me names, I’ll leave immediately.”
To create essential space and distance for yourself, also consider personal boundaries, such as:
- not sharing personal information (a key step in grey rocking)
- restricting communication to one platform, like an email address you don’t use for anything else
Most breakups involve painful feelings, including:
- grief and loss
- sadness or feelings of depression
After ending a relationship characterized by narcissistic abuse, you might experience these along with other types of emotional distress, Biros explains.
The trauma of a toxic relationship can also leave you with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Toxic people can cause a lot of pain. But they also have a knack for getting you to believe in their reality.
So while you may have sustained some deep emotional wounds, you might still question your own actions.
Your love for them can, for example, convince you it was your fault they manipulated you and mistreated you.
Breaking off a toxic family relationship can also trigger feelings of guilt or disloyalty.
These are normal emotional experiences. Working through them alone isn’t always easy, though, especially when you feel confused by manipulation tactics.
A therapist can offer support as you begin navigating these complicated feelings.
People with narcissistic traits often expect others to behave in certain ways. They harshly belittle or criticize people for failing to meet these standards. Here’s what it can look like:
- Your ex said your hair looked “stupid and ugly,” so you changed it.
- Your parent regularly told you how “foolish” you were for “wasting time” on music, so you gave up playing the piano.
- They might try to control your time and keep you from seeing friends or participating in activities by yourself.
If you’ve changed your looks and style or lost things you used to value as a result of this manipulation, you might feel as if you no longer know yourself very well.
Part of recovery involves getting reacquainted with yourself, or figuring out what you enjoy, how you want to spend your time, and who you want to spend it with.
Biros recommends avoiding dating and forming new relationships during the recovery period.
You’re still healing, after all. Self-exploration and rebuilding your relationship with yourself can make you pretty vulnerable.
Once you acknowledge that your relationship was, in fact, abusive, you might have a lot of criticism for yourself.
But remember, no one deserves abuse, and their behavior is not your fault.
Instead of blaming yourself for falling for their manipulation or judging yourself letting them mistreat you for so long, offer yourself forgiveness instead.
You can’t change the past, and you can’t change their behavior or actions. You only have power over yourself.
But you can use this power to make the choice to honor your needs, like respect, happiness, and healthy love.
Praise yourself for the choice to end the relationship, and encourage yourself to stick to that decision.
When you feel down on yourself, try repeating a mantra like “I am strong,” “I am loved,” or “I am brave.”
Love can be difficult, in part because you can’t really control it.
You can’t always stop loving someone, even someone who hurts you.
After ending the relationship, you might still hold on to positive memories and wish you could somehow experience those days again.
But it’s important to recognize you don’t need to stop loving someone to start healing. Waiting for that to happen can stall the recovery process.
You can continue loving someone while recognizing their behavior makes it impossible for you to safely maintain a relationship with them.
Sometimes, accepting this knowledge can jumpstart an emotional disconnect that helps you feel more able to detach from the relationship.
Good self-care practices can make a big difference in your recovery. Self-care involves meeting your emotional and physical needs.
That might include things like:
- getting enough restful sleep
- relaxing when overwhelmed or stressed
- making time for hobbies and other activities you enjoy
- connecting with loved ones
- using coping skills to manage distressing thoughts
- eating balanced meals
- staying physically active
Your mind and body help support each other, so taking care of physical needs can help you feel stronger and more equipped to work through emotional distress.
Opening up to supportive friends and family members can help you feel less alone as you heal.
The people who care about you can:
- offer compassion
- validate the pain you experience
- help distract you or provide company on difficult days
- remind you the abuse wasn’t your fault
But some people in your life may not offer much (or any) support.
Some family members may take the abusive person’s side. Mutual friends might support an abusive ex.
This can cause a lot of confusion and hurt. It’s often helpful to set boundaries around your time with these people as you work to recover.
You might, for example, ask them not to mention the person around you, or to avoid sharing their opinions about the situation with you.
If they don’t respect those boundaries, consider limiting the time you spend with them.
Support groups also provide the opportunity to break your silence about the abuse you experienced.
In a support group, you can share your story with others also trying to heal.
- Narcissist Abuse Support, a website that offers information and resources about narcissistic abuse
- life coach and author Lisa A. Romano’s YouTube videos about recovery from toxic relationships
- Queen Beeing, a secure, private, and free support group for people recovering from narcissistic abuse
- Meetup groups for narcissism survivors
Talking to a therapist one-on-one can help you take a significant step toward improving emotional well-being.
If you found it difficult to leave the person abusing you, or already have thoughts of giving them another chance, a therapist can help you identify reasons behind these feelings and create a plan to avoid unhelpful choices in the future.
A therapist can also offer guidance with:
- building new coping skills
- telling people about the abuse
- fighting urges to contact the abusive person
- dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms
- overcoming thoughts of suicide or self-harm
Biros explains that therapy can also help you understand underlying factors that could make you more vulnerable to patterns of abuse.
To sum up, therapy offers a safe space where a trained, compassionate professional can help you explore and understand the mess of emotions you’re struggling to unpack.
You can heal, though it may not happen right away. A therapist can help you feel more supported as you begin the journey.
Online therapy options
Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
Is it possible to fully recover from narcissistic abuse? It can take years to fully recover from the damage that was done because of the psychological manipulation that you have endured. That being said, moving past the abuse and achieving full recovery is entirely possible with professional help.What is the fastest way to recover from narcissistic abuse? ›
- Acknowledgement. Keep in mind that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) doesn't only affect romantic relationships. ...
- Practice Self-Compassion. ...
- Be Patient. ...
- Exercise Self-Care. ...
- Lean on Support from Loved Ones.
Recovering from narcissistic abuse takes time, so you will have to remain patient. This process could take months or even years, but it's worth all of the hard work and effort. You can and will move on to find healthier and happier connections with others.Will I ever be the same after narcissistic abuse? ›
Even if you manage to escape narcissistic abuse, its effects are long-lasting and can follow you for years and years to come. It shifts our world perspective and can even result in major changes to our personality — changes which can have a major impact on our lives.What happens to your brain after narcissistic abuse? ›
As a narcissistic abuse survivor, you will likely have symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Your brain will be on high alert, looking out for danger. This is because the traumatic events triggered a fight or flight response within you. As a result, anything associated with those memories can trigger an anxiety attack.Can you get PTSD from narcissistic abuse? ›
The emotional/psychological manipulation and abuse that are characteristic of Narcissistic Abuse can lead to the development of PTSD among survivors of this type of trauma (sometimes specified as post traumatic relationship syndrome).Why is it so hard to recover from narcissistic abuse? ›
Punchline: It can be very hard to heal from narcissistic abuse because we tend to only focus on the good parts. We tell ourselves that we could have done something differently and we imagine that our ex will be giving someone new the perfect, everlasting love that we crave.How do I find my true self after narcissistic abuse? ›
- Step 1: Reflect on how your experiences affected your sense of self. ...
- Step 2: Separate yourself from the effects of the abuse. ...
- Step 3: Get in touch with your real feelings. ...
- Step 4: Reflect on your values and beliefs. ...
- Step 5: Focus on what's good about you.
Because in a narcissistic relationship we have taken on so many of the other person's struggles and so much of their identity as our own, we may feel like we'd be giving up part of ourselves if we were to leave them. If they have become the center of our world, we may then feel lost without them.What is life like after narcissistic abuse? ›
After the break-up, people will experience an obsessive longing for their abusive partner (drug), debilitating emotional pain, and often engage in self-destructive behavior. This emotional response is why some people feel incapacitated by the hurt and obsess about hooking up with an ex-partner for more abuse.
- Get to know yourself again. Remember who you were before a narcissist got a hold of you. ...
- Know your boundaries and be prepared to enforce them. ...
- Believe people the first time when they show you who they are. ...
- Listen to your intuition. ...
- Put yourself first.
Victims of narcissistic abuse have been reported to experience symptoms similar to PTSD, known informally as narcissistic abuse syndrome. Symptoms include intrusive, invasive, or unwanted thoughts, flashbacks, avoidance, feelings of loneliness, isolation, and feeling extremely alert.What does PTSD look like after narcissistic abuse? ›
Nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. Hyper-awareness, vigilance, anger, and irritability. Misplaced sense of blame, low self-worth. Avoidance of certain situations or people or a sense of detachment.What is PTSD from narcissistic abuse? ›
Symptoms of Complex PTSD in Narcissistic Abuse include:
* Having nightmares or flashbacks. * High level of hyperarousal; anxiety, nervousness, feeling jumpy, obsessive thinking, racing thoughts, feeling scared, agitated, stressed, overwhelmed, emotional, etc. * Difficulties controlling emotions.
The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress the victim back to the abusive incidents, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.What part of the brain is damaged in a narcissist? ›
Narcissistic traits have been linked to structural and functional brain networks, including the insular cortex, however, with inconsistent findings. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that subclinical narcissism is associated with variations in regional brain volumes in insular and prefrontal areas.What is the victim of a narcissist called? ›
If someone is in or has been in a relationship with someone who is a narcissist, they may be experiencing something called Narcissistic Victim Syndrome as a result of domestic violence in their relationship.Why is narcissistic abuse so shocking? ›
This type of abuse isn't just about anger or other emotions; rather, it's about power. This abuse can manifest at the physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, financial, and even sexual level. And in many cases, the victim isn't even fully aware of the abusive dynamic of their relationship.What does the Bible say about narcissistic abuse? ›
1 Corinthians 7: 15 tells us that if an unbeliever (this includes a narcissist [you can read my article about whether someone is a believer here]) can't live with you in peace, then let them live without you.What it's like to be a complex trauma survivor of narcissistic abuse? ›
Complex trauma survivors can become socially withdrawn and self-isolate due to the abuse. Since they never develop a sense of safety, they distrust others while simultaneously searching for a “rescuer” who can finally give them the unconditional positive regard they were robbed of in childhood.
Trauma bonding occurs when a narcissist repeats a cycle of abuse with another person which fuels a need for validation and love from the person being abused. Trauma bonding often happens in romantic relationships, however, it can also occur between colleagues, non-romantic family members, and friends.How long do the effects of narcissistic abuse last? ›
In my experience, it seems to take anywhere from a few weeks to about 18 months for most people to get over the trauma-bond addiction, but it can be longer than that for some people and far less for others – depending on the intensity and length of the relationship. In some cases, it never seems to go away completely.What is GREY rocking? ›
Grey rocking is one of many techniques that people use to protect themselves from abuse. It involves becoming as uninteresting as possible to the abusive person. This may require a person to hide their feelings, avoid revealing personal information, and minimize contact.How do you know when a narcissist is defeated? ›
One sign that you have defeated a narcissist is that you no longer need their approval. You have developed a healthy sense of self-worth and no longer base your worth on their opinion of you. Narcissists try to control others by belittling them and making them feel inferior.How do I forgive myself after narcissistic abuse? ›
- Forgive Yourself. ...
- Accept who they are. ...
- Be Mindful of The Voice Inside Your Head. ...
- Don't Pressure Yourself. ...
- Set Boundaries. ...
- Find Ways To Get Your Feelings Out.
There are early sometimes subtle signs the narcissist may be finished with you and more obvious absolute signals. The narcissist often ignores what you say almost as if you never spoke. The narcissist stops texting back to you or delays for days. The narcissist does not make eye contact with you.Why do narcissists only connect with certain exes? ›
By remaining friends with their exes, narcissists get to keep all of their former partners on a carousel of convenience: they can create a harem of people to use for sex, money, praise, attention or whatever else they desire, at any time.What happens to the narcissist once you moved on? ›
#5 The Narcissist Will Attack Your New Partner
Because you've moved on to someone new, your new partner serves as a constant reminder that they were not good enough for you, so they'll launch an attack against them. They'll start spreading false truths about your new lover and slandering their name on every corner.
Breakups with narcissists don't always end the relationship. Many won't let you go, even when they are the ones who left the relationship, and even when they're with a new partner. They won't accept “no.” They hoover in an attempt to rekindle the relationship or stay friends after a breakup or divorce.What does a victim of narcissistic abuse look like? ›
Flashbacks – recurring instances in which the individual feels like they're reliving a traumatic experience. Avoiding people, places or situations associated with the narcissistic individual. Feeling isolated, alone, or detached from others. Feeling extremely alert or vigilant all the time.
However, a recent study suggests that as far as forgiveness goes, not all narcissists are a lost cause. Some of them possess more abilities to forgive than others. In summary, a narcissist may forgive you after a long period of groveling and begging for it.Do narcissists think they are the victim? ›
Research from 2003 suggests that people high in narcissism may see themselves as victims of interpersonal transgressions more often than people not living with the disorder. In a 2020 qualitative study , relatives of people with narcissistic personalities reported that their loved ones often showed a victim mentality.What weird things do narcissists do? ›
One of the weird things narcissists do involves destroying your happiness and relaxing moments. They will purposefully do things to prevent you from doing something as simple as sleep. Even if you had a long day or are sick, a narcissist may start a fight while you are trying to sleep.How does a narcissist victim feel? ›
Anxiety and depression commonly develop as a result of narcissistic abuse. The significant stress you face can trigger persistent feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear, especially when you never know what to expect from their behavior.How does a narcissist traumatize you? ›
Through ongoing gaslighting and demeaning of the partner, the narcissist undermines the individual's self-worth and self-confidence, creating extreme emotional abuse that is constant and devastating.What trauma causes a person to become a narcissist? ›
Narcissism tends to emerge as a psychological defence in response to excessive levels of parental criticism, abuse or neglect in early life. Narcissistic personalities tend to be formed by emotional injury as a result of overwhelming shame, loss or deprivation during childhood.How do you break a trauma bond with a narcissist? ›
- Physically separate from the abuser. ...
- Cut off all lines of communication as far as possible. ...
- Acknowledge you have a choice and can choose to leave the relationship.
Living or working with a narcissistic person can be incredibly challenging, often leading to feelings of inadequacy, self doubt, and anxiety. In more extreme cases, exposure to a narcissist can lead to clinical depression from the emotional abuse and torment a person has had to endure.How does a narcissist treat a woman? ›
Narcissistic partners act as if they are always right, that they know better and that their partner is wrong or incompetent. This often leaves the other person in the relationship either angry and trying to defend themselves or identifying with this negative self-image and feeling badly about themselves.How long can a narcissist go with no contact before they reach back out to you? ›
The narcissist can go for weeks without speaking to you, with the implication being that you need them more than they need you. You will be the one to beg for forgiveness and acquiesce to their demands. Sometimes the silent treatment never ends.
People who are impressive in some way, either in their career, hobbies and talents, their friendship circles, or family. Someone who will make the narcissist feel good about themselves, through compliments or gestures. Anyone who will reflect well on them in the eyes of other people.Why do narcissists abuse those they love? ›
According to Tanya, “Narcissistic abuse is about power and control,” which “can be verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, and/or physical.” Often, a Narcissist suffers from feeling a lack of control in their life, so they try to control the people around them.How do I know if I am recovered from narcissistic abuse? ›
- You feel “lighter” literally and figuratively. ...
- You smile, genuinely, sometimes for no reason.
- You feel a sense of relief.
- Some chronic physical symptoms may begin to alleviate (joint pain, stomach aches, headaches, autoimmune disease flare-ups may reduce in frequency and severity)
- Let your emotions flow. ...
- Replace negative messages with positive ones. ...
- Forgive yourself for the abuse. ...
- Celebrate your successes. ...
- Practise self-love.
One treatment option is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals learn how to manage their thoughts and emotions. CBT is often successful in treating other mental health issues, so it would likely be equally effective in treating brain damage caused by narcissistic abuse.What are typical behaviors of narcissistic abuse survivors? ›
The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress the victim back to the abusive incidents, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.Is brain damage from narcissistic abuse reversible? ›
Narcissistic abuse changes your brain
But, there is hope. There are reparative activities you can do to restore and rebuild your hippocampus and stop the hijacking of your psyche by your amygdala.
Healing takes time and consistent action. Keep reading about narcissistic abuse, sharing your story, expressing your emotions, letting yourself mourn, prioritizing self-care, trusting your intuition, and expanding your life outside of the narcissist. Our bodies know what we need.