There are only a few breakups that are pretty and agreeable. It’s rare that two people can part with none of them getting hurt, even if they know that they have grown apart. Even if it’s for the better.
Every heartbreak hurts. Even those where you think you weren’t emotionally involved. If you invested your time, energy — it is enough to grieve the end of a relationship.
But breaking up with the narcissist is one of the ugliest things that can ever befall you. It’s unfair. It’s mean. It’s hurtful at best and traumatising at worst.
By the time we broke up, being discarded by a narcissist wasn’t a novelty for me. I didn’t know the term for it yet — my awareness that it was narcissistic abuse came only later — but being left to my own devices, being abandoned in need, being ghosted for days and stonewalled for weeks were part of our regular relationship dynamics.
It’s amazing how the human mind can make peace with the unacceptable in the name of love, in the hope of a better future. We are amazing at making excuses and turning our heads to something that doesn’t fit the narrative we want to tell ourselves.
My narrative was that we had the greatest love you can ever imagine. It had its ups and downs but it was Love — capital L — that everyone longs to have, the one that used to start wars and that takes no prisoners. I was the only prisoner alive — caged by my over-romanticised illusion of love conquering all. I wanted to believe that just by the power of love I can heal him, I can save him from himself, I can get him to change into the person I wanted him to be.
He left me. It was abrupt, unexpected and mean.
He chose the day in advance, to surprise me — and he even said so. He chose my birthday to walk out — just so that he can hurt me even more. And hurt me he did. It was a carefully orchestrated plan, to maximise my pain, to ruin the day and never to forget.
I spiralled into a quickly spreading depression with full-scale anxiety and a blooming PTSD with flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia. And it hurt. It hurt like hell.
How can a breakup hurt so much?
Love is an addiction
When you fall in love and when you are in love it’s a chemical-induced craze that hacks your brain — rendering you irrational, craving for more. The biochemical explanation of this is crystal clear. Helen Fisher pointed out that love activates the same areas of the brain that cocaine does. From the first ecstasy to the last bit of withdrawal symptoms. The dopamine rush we feel near our love is causing real addiction, to make us want to come back for more, always more.
At the point of the breakup this very addictive, cocaine-like dopamine kick has no fuel, so it leaves our systems. We start to have withdrawal symptoms — of a natural drug, but it is still a drug.
“If the beloved breaks off the relationship, the lover shows all the common signs of withdrawal, including depression, crying spells, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite (or binge eating), irritability, and chronic loneliness. Like all addicts, the lover then goes to unhealthy, humiliating, even physically dangerous lengths to procure their narcotic.”
The narcissistic love is especially an addictive one — in the love-bombing phase the intensity of the dopamine can take extreme lengths, and with the intermittent reinforcement (playing push and pull all the time) they are establishing an even unhealthier addiction.
It physically hurts
There are studies proving that rejection activates the same areas of the brain as physical pain, so when we say it “hurt” it actually really did. It doesn’t matter how many arguments you can back it up with, it doesn’t matter if for the rest of the world it’s a tiny thing — if it hurts you, it hurts. It makes your brain feel the same thing as if someone punched you in the stomach or shut the door on your fingers.
A specific study showed that when research participants were shown the picture of their exes — with whom they experienced an unexpected break-up, the same brain areas were activated as it were physical pain.
The unexpectedness of a breakup and the cruelty of it — that is so typical of a narcissist — makes it even worse. Think about the difference between pain that you get prepared for and something that catches you off guard.
We enjoy the suffering
I know, I know — you say we don’t. But there is an irrational longing to feel bad. We are wallowing in our pain, we take our time with grieving. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t mourn our loss, I am saying, we embrace it. We take in the pain and we heal by making place for it.
In case of a tumultuous breakup, usually, the pain and disappointment are all we are left with. We look through memories, we torture ourselves with going through our exes’ social media accounts, we try to figure out what went wrong.
We spend an insane amount of time thinking of them — instead of finding a distraction because we think we deserve the suffering. After all, we were the ones worth leaving — and they must have been right about us. And at least we feel something, anything.
With the narcissist, the suffering is a prolonged one. Especially because you can never know if their breakup will be the last one or if they will come back in a day, in a week, or in a month.
Holding out for hope, clutching to our love and pain lasts longer — because of the uncertainty of it being finite.
You are not yourself anymore
With every relationship, you create an identity of the two of you. You cease to be only yourself, there is a part of you that is transferred to the “us” identity. It consists of all the things that you have been doing together, all the insider jokes, all the places you went to — and where you weren’t just your individual self, but you were a part of the couple.
With losing the relationship you lose a significant part of the self that you created together.
You need to recreate those parts that are attached to the other person — and depending on the intensity and the length of the relationship it might take a long time. It needs time and effort and while rebuilding yourself you are constantly reminded of what you lost.
With the narcissist, the intensity can be extreme. They are doing everything during the relationship to make your world revolve around them. they are creating special places, special meals just for you, they name streets and parks after you — they get under your skin everywhere and ever possible way. They alienate you from your support network, and they monopolise your time and attention. They use the concept of togetherness as a shield against the world, and they keep you in this bubble until they want you to stay in there.
Then when the bubble bursts you have to realise that the you who is left is mainly the you who you were within the relationship — with no independent thoughts, feelings or actions. Realising that you didn’t only lose them, but you also lost a great part of you is painful.
And the bonus with the narcissist
Trauma bonding refers to the case when victims are forming a bond with someone who is clearly destructive to them. It has a huge effect on the victim, and while everything screams and shouts against it, the bond is tough to break.
Trauma bonding is the Stockholm Syndrome of a romantic relationship.
Stockholm syndrome as an idea was first coined by a Swedish psychiatrist and criminologist, Nils Bejerot. Bejerot was advising the Swedish police after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973, that turned into a severe hostage situation. Four employees (three women and a man) of the bank were taken captive and held hostage when an attempted bank robbery failed. After being held captive for six days, the hostages after their release denied testifying against their captors, they defended them and even started to raise money for their defense. The term Stockholm Syndrome got to be used later on outside of Sweden, to aid the resolution of hostage situations.
Stockholm Syndrome is a condition, which causes the victim to develop a bond with their abuser — initially as a survival strategy.
In a narcissistic relationship, there is always some kind of an abusive cycle going on. Whether it’s verbal, emotional or physical, it follows an abusive pattern and as the cycle is weakening the resistance each time, it’s even harder to break out.
The breakup is ugly with a narcissist. But life is better without them.
Sadly you will need a lot of time to get to the point where you don’t want to do anything to get back to how it was.
You need the following steps:
You need to understand what you were going through. You need to understand the dynamics of a narcissistic personality — so that you can understand that you are not at fault. You need to understand the nature of your addiction to this toxic person — that goes against your instincts and defies rational thinking.
- Zero contact.
I know you want to get them back. But once you understand that it is more your addiction and withdrawal symptoms talking, you will accept it easier how you need to stay away.
They are master manipulators and as they probably have more than one other women waiting, it can take some time until they find their ways back to you — but they will. You need to do everything in your power to get strong enough to resist them if they try to win you back.
The only way to get stronger and to rebuild your self is to distance yourself and to go zero contact. It means that any kind of contact is out of the question, including stalking them on their social media or looking through old photos with them.
The no contact is not just about not contacting them, but also distancing yourself from anything related to them — emotionally just as much as physically.
The bad news is that the healing comes only after this. No matter how long the healing takes, no matter how it feels to be thrown back to square one over and over again — similarly to grief — you need to take your time. You need to learn to trust again — despite everything that you experienced. You need to learn to love again. You need to learn to love yourself again. You need to learn to find ways to express yourself again.
It is a tough journey. And there are no shortcuts. You need to go through it, there is no other way.
But there is life after the life with the narcissist. To be honest, life only starts now. When you already know your boundaries better, when you are fully aware of what you allow and what you don’t, when you recognise manipulation at first sight.
And just by knowing what you don’t want you are much closer to accept only what you want.