Escaping Narcissistic Relationships
Personality Disorders

Escaping Narcissistic Relationships


The term narcissism is derived from the Roman poet, Ovid, in his book, The Metamorphosis. Narcissus is a handsome young man who rejects the advances of many possible lovers. When the nymph Echo falls in love with Narcissus, he spurns her advances as well. Because of this, the gods punish Narcissus by making him fall in love with his own reflection. Because the image cannot love him back, he slowly dies from heartbreak. Narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) includes inflated feelings of self-importance, a disproportionate need for admiration, and a diminished ability to empathize with other people’s feelings.3 Dating a narcissist can be challenging, and escaping narcissistic relationships can be ever harder.

Narcissistic relationships

Narcissists often begin the relationship by being charming, perhaps coming on too strong, excessively complementing the other person. This is called “love-bombing,” where the narcissist showers their partner with love and affection to manipulate them. Many times, the narcissist will dominate the conversation, usually talking about how great they are, leaving little room for their new partner to contribute to the conversation. The narcissist may seem self-confident, but instead they “require excessive attention.”1 Then narcissist needs a great deal of praise, and they are often punishing when they don’t get it.

A major trait of narcissism is the lack of empathy. Narcissists have difficulty understanding or caring about the feelings of others. This lack of caring is what ends many relationships with narcissists, romantic or otherwise. Because of this, narcissists lack long-term friendships. Relationships are difficult for them, and many friends and romantic partners choose to end the relationships.

The narcissist often picks on those they are in relationships with, insulting their partner and tearing down their self-esteem. They also “gaslight” their partners. Gaslighting is a “form of manipulation and emotional abuse” where a person “may tell blatant lies, falsely accuse others, spin the truth, and ultimately distort your reality, especially towards perceived challenges of authority or fear of abandonment”.1 Another tactic the narcissist may revert to is called DARVO or “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.” These facets of the disorder are especially harmful to the narcissist’s partner as these traits are abusive. The narcissist thinks they are always correct and has trouble apologizing and finally, when a partner chooses to leave the relationship with a narcissist, the narcissist will lash out.

Repeating cycles

Narcissistic relationships often go through a painful cycle that is predictable. “Central to understanding a narcissist’s behavior is that their relationships are transactional. Their impaired boundaries and lack of empathy prevent them from seeing other people as separate three-dimensional beings with needs and feelings of their own.”2 According to Darlene Lancer, JD & LMFT, there are 5 stages to a relationship with someone who has NPD:

Stage 1—Impression Management:

This is the beginning stage of the relationship. Narcissists often gravitate towards partners who can enhance their status. They seek out someone who is attractive, successful, and talented.  “They evaluate how interested you are in them, and how supportive, pliable, and accommodating you are”2 and use this to their advantage. Narcissists often seek out those who are lonely or are craving a relationship, so the best defense is to have a full life and a strong self-esteem. Set boundaries and be honest about your needs from the beginning.

Stage 2—They Find You Imperfect:

Once you’ve been hooked by Stage 1, the narcissist will then begin a period of fault-finding. They blame and insult you; they make unreasonable demands; they tear down your self-esteem. Once they are secure in their relationship, the narcissist will no longer attempt to win you over and their love for you wains. They anger easily at the demands and boundaries of their partner. The only thing that matters is that the demands of the narcissist are met, leaving little for their partner.

Stage 3—Escalating Abuse:

If the partner hasn’t established clear boundaries, the abuse will escalate. The narcissist will become more insulting, angrier at their partner, more rageful in their behavior. Sometimes the narcissist will play the role of the victim to try to manipulate their partner into conceding. This often results in the partner being more reliant on the narcissist as the partner may start to accept the narcissist’s view of themselves.

Stage 4—Replacing or Discarding You:

The fourth stage happens when the narcissist tires of their partner and looks for another partner. If married, the narcissist may have an affair or seek out another person who they consider a more desirable mate. The narcissist will blame their current partner and often play the victim to mitigate their responsibility.

Stage 5—The Aftermath:

Even after the narcissistic relationship has ended the narcissist will continue to harass, ignore, and blame their partner. The narcissist may stalk their partner as their control over the other person lessens. The narcissist may even attempt to seduce their partner with promises that they will change, go to therapy, be nicer, but these promises will go unfulfilled. Therapists recommend that after breaking up with a narcissist “no contact” is advisable as the narcissist will continue this cycle of abuse unless clear boundaries are set.

Partners of narcissists should seek help at any stage of the relationship. Admitting that you are a victim of narcissistic abuse is key to healing from it. Such a relationship can trigger past abuses and cause PTSD so working with a therapist is advised. Try not to isolate and work on rebuilding self-esteem.

Recognizing the behavior and avoiding a narcissist in the first place is preferrable. Continuing to set clear boundaries and maintaining a healthy self-esteem is another way to avoid getting into an unhealthy relationship. Don’t ignore the red flags and seek help to remove yourself from the narcissist’s path.

  1. Kassel, Gabrielle. “9 Signs You’re Dating a Narcassist.” Retrieved on June 17, 2024.
  2. Lancer, Darlene. “The Stages of Narcissistic Relationships.” Retrieved on June 17, 2024.
  3. Paroma Mitra; Tyler J. Torrico; Dimy Fluyau. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Retrieved on June 17, 2024.

What Are the Four Types of Borderline Personality Disorder?