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Recovery From a Narcissistic Relationship

Updated on June 15, 2012

Narcissists are very good at what they do; the smarter the narcissist, the more clever they are at seducing and trapping their victims. And yes, 'victim' is not too strong a word to use for those who suddenly find themselves in relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Though there are female narcissists, by and large, most narcissists are male. And male narcissists often leave a long, wide trail of relationship wreckage behind them.

Once in the trap, victims begin to realize that the person that thought they knew is not the real person. But by then, it is too late, because commitments have been made, lives entwined, and the brainwashing already doing its insidious work. Many male narcissists are quite keen on making a baby with their victim, as it is a good way to tie themselves to the victim for a very long time. And it is not just women with stereotypical 'low self esteem' that fall victim to male narcissists in relationship...anyone, male or female can be ensnared by a narcissist. This is because the progress of the relationship sickness is often very slow and subtle...until the narcissist feels secure in the fact they have their 'narcissistic supply' (read 'victim') wrapped tightly enough into the relationship to reveal their true, abusive identity.

All charm, complimentary and flattering efforts at the beginning of the relationship are an elaborate ruse to lure the unsuspecting victim into the web of control. Male narcissists learn very well from watching other men who are genuinely charming, complimentary, and flattering. The difference is that the narcissist does not and can not feel the emotions that go along with these behaviors; they are simply a means to and end. But enough about the narcissist.

Victims of narcissists in relationship have an uphill climb to move from being a victim to a survivor and then a thriver. The feelings of being duped, feeling stupid, and feeling guilty are only the beginning. Add to this the devastating negative impact to self esteem and the tendency for others to look at the victim as either naïve or an idiot, and you have what amounts to a crushed life.


Victims in relationship with narcissists quite often need a life-line (or several) in order to extract themselves from the relationship. These life lines usually are people on the outside of the relationship that have been supporting the victim through the outrageous and abusive tactics that narcissists make every day use of. If the victim can trust their life-line(s) enough, they just may make the leap to actually severing the ties between themselves and the narcissist.

If a victim has been able to take the step of leaving, they are on the road to recovery and becoming a survivor, but still have a good bit of work to do to protect themselves (and their child, if they have one). The primary two places to take action are in personal boundaries and legal boundaries. Personal boundaries include things like controlling communication and contact (see the article 'Terms of Engagement'). While many people may feel uncomfortable with using the legal system to restrain the actions of their narcissistic ex, it is highly advisable to do so. First of all, a survivor needs all the help they can get to control the boundaries with the narcissist. Secondly, legal boundaries imposed by courts are often quite effective in keeping the narcissist at bay, because they absolutely fear the authority represented by the legal system. It is important to note that some narcissists who have a history of violence may be incited by legal action, but legal action is still often a wise choice.

Alongside setting strong boundaries, a survivor must begin to do something to reverse the effects of the brainwashing that the narcissist engaged in during the relationship. Constant streams of put downs, manipulations to create dependency, and erosion of self esteem over the course of years can have a profound effect on the survivor. It is advisable for a survivor of a narcissistic relationship to seek out a qualified, experienced counselor to process the brainwashing effects and reclaim their self esteem. A counselor can also begin to help the survivor genuinely accept that anyone can be tricked into relationship with a narcissist. Easing the feeling of being stupid and guilty (especially the guilt the survivor may feel if a child was created between the survivor and the narcissist) are key to recovery and moving towards self forgiveness.

Once these issues have been adequately addressed, recovery moves towards healing the intense guardedness the survivor experiences when considering new relationships. Never did the saying “Once bitten, twice shy” apply more than to a survivor of a narcissistic relationship. It is not uncommon for survivors to be very cautious at least, and at worse totally avoid entering new relationships out of fear of repeating their pain. Even when survivors choose to begin a new relationship, they may have persistent feelings of suspicion and have difficulty allowing intimacy to grow in the new relationship. Again, this issue can be improved by working with a good counselor both individually and along with the new partner.

Additionally, once the survivor's new prospective or actual partner has begun to understand the damages the survivor has sustained through the counseling process, the survivor can choose to ask the new partner to cooperate with a background check as a means to ease the survivor's anxiety about being able to trust the new partner. A background check may sound like a crazy idea, but it in fact is a fairly reliable way of identifying a possible narcissist. Public information on arrest records and other legal actions can be accessed at a county courthouse prothonotary office, as well as online through State Police checks and child abuse checks. A long string of legal charges, failed finances, lengthy child support complaints should be a clear indication of who to stay clear of.

Recovery from a relationship with a narcissist is possible, but it is hard work and does take time. Making continued abuse very difficult for the narcissist usually results, unfortunately, in them turning away from the survivor and towards yet another victim. And not just surviving, but

thriving is the best revenge against a narcissist.


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    • lizbeth1 profile image

      lizbeth1 5 years ago

      @krillco, you've mapped out the mind of the narcissist to a T. What's worse than living with one is managing an escape from their manipulations. Very few victims succeed in making a clean break and starting afresh. One of the lifelong aftereffects is the inability to trust anyone completely just as you have pointed out. It's tragic how these individuals ruin lives at will and go victim hopping to their hearts' content.

    • wonderful1 profile image

      Sheila Varga Szabo 5 years ago from Southern California

      Well said. Unless you've been a victim of a Narcissist, you can't fully comprehend how manipulative they are, and how devastating it is to have one in your life. In hindsight, everything becomes crystal clear as you reassess where things went wrong (most often, the Narcissist will leave with accusatory fingers pointed at the victim, and a sense of complete chaos). I was just talking to a client of mine who is now ending a short marriage because her husband has been diagnosed with NPD. I'm so sad for her, because I know how she must be feeling (ironically, what NPD people are unable to do). One of the strangest things I can remember about my ex (although it didn't occur to me that he could have NPD) was whenever I hurt myself, he just looked at me with a blank stare, unemotionally. He didn't even have the basic instinct to ask, "are you okay?"

      They are emotional vampires, and I pray that I won't be unfortunate enough to fall victim to them again. They can be charming to lure you in, and then become aloof, cold and live a secret life of deceit behind your back. I sure hope I will be able to trust again (although, it will never be at the level I had for my ex-- lesson learned!).

      Thanks for sharing your informative Hub.