In a high percentage of cases, relationships with narcissists are unsustainable.  It may be that you will need to cease contact with that person altogether.  Barring that possibility, you may decide to unhook emotionally as much as possible in the interest of maintaining your dignity.  Either way, when you disconnect from a narcissist, that does not mean the negativity ends.  In fact, there are times when the disconnect opens a whole new can of worms.

As a therapist who has walked the road of disconnect with many people, I have heard people express the classic double bind: “If I stay with the narcissist the cost is too high.  If I leave the narcissist, the cost is also too high.” 

Once narcissists know you are done, they do not sail off gently into the night.  Instead, they become The Victim, allowing them to justify treating you with increased contempt.  Ugh.

Over and over, I’ve heard cries from individuals who might say something like:

“She’s not going to let me see my grandchildren.”

“My adult sister has been brainwashed by her husband that we are not good people.”

“I want to care for my ailing elderly mother, but my step-father is her gatekeeper and he’s an   absolutely miserable person.”

“If I say what I really think about my job, I could be fired.”

“After standing up for myself, I’ve been black-balled in my social circle.”

Yes, you need to separate from narcissists when possible, but as these comments attest, it’s not always a clean cut.  Disconnecting can be accompanied by a high personal cost for a variety of reasons.  For instance:

  1. The narcissist cannot tolerate not being in control.  It is baked into their nature to dominate, and when you choose to play that game no more, your decision is received as both a threat and a personal invalidation.  This spurs them to prove they are a force to be reckoned with.
  1. Conflict brings out the worst in a narcissist.  More than ever, when the conflict comes out into the open, that person is increasingly irrational and punitive.  Their anger becomes contemptuous, which then prompts them to teach others to hate you as much as they do.  Then to top it off, they will lie about you as part of creating a revisionist history narrative.
  1. The narcissist interprets your withdrawal as an invitation to battle.  They can feel emboldened by the prospect of dominating you.  This means their criticisms can increase, and they will look for new ways to humiliate you.
  1. The narcissist will increase dehumanizing actions.  Not only are they unwilling to empathize with your feelings, but when your feelings run counter to their preferences, they rationalize their negative attitudes by insinuating you are sub-human.  They dismiss any conception of your dignity,
  1. They have zero sense of justice or fairness.  In the narcissist’s world you do not write the rules.  So, when you choose to step outside their parameters, they interpret that as foul play.  That is when they assume the role of judge, proclaiming you as delinquent.

If you protest, narcissists typically increase their vitriol.  If you withdraw, they gloat.  Either way, narcissists must position themselves as the winner.  And if others can be poisoned against you in the process, that suits them just fine.

In the meantime, you ache.  Part of the aching is linked to the absurdity of it all.  And part of the aching is linked to the people in your life who become collateral damage.  All the while, you can be thinking: “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”  And yet it is.

Breaking away from a narcissist teaches how limited you really are.  You certainly cannot control the narcissist…control is their illusion and they continue in that illusion.  You can have keen psychological insights, yet narcissists could not care less about your insights.  You can plainly see their distorted thinking, but all the while the narcissist will insist you are the distorted one.

Disconnecting from a narcissist is truly a cringeworthy experience, evoking the regretful thought: “If I only knew back then what I know now.”  And yet, given the erosive effects of remaining inside the narcissist’s toxicity, you move on.

Simply put, we have not yet figured out how to rid the world of psychological depravity.  As long as humans have clashed, depravity has reared its ugly head.  But what we do know is that even when the cost of disconnection is high, it is still possible to find healthier alternatives.  Leaving a narcissist can mean adding to your quality of life by subtraction, albeit with tears along the way.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.