Leaving a narcissist or an abusive relationship.  Why does it hurt so badly?

Leaving a narcissist or an abusive relationship.  Why does it hurt so badly?

I hear this question a lot and I asked myself the same after leaving my abusive ex.

It takes a lot of courage to leave a narcissist or an abusive relationship.   Many don’t understand how complex and traumatic this can be.

‘Why don’t you just leave?’ they say.  If only it were as simple as that.

On average it takes a victim 7 times to ultimately leave an abusive relationship.  I went back many times, even after my ex almost killed me.

I am lucky to be alive as the odds of a partner who has done this to you, killing you, goes up by 750%.

When you’re in an abusive relationship you learn to internalise your emotions.  If you show them, you’re usually punished for them.

Or gaslighted, when told by them ‘you’re crazy’, ‘you’re imagining it’!

You start to mistrust your gut as well, after being told for so long that you’re wrong in what you say.

That you’re to blame for their bad behaviour and deserve any abuse.  Your protective coping strategy in the face of that is to numb any feelings you have.

So when the relationship ends, it hurts.

Why does leaving a narcissist hurt so much?

Leaving an abusive relationship

When you leave an abusive relationship you suddenly find yourself still for the first time.

Plus, you’re now in a safer space, so all those repressed emotions are freer to come to the surface.   They start to pour out.

For me it was a flood of emotions I’d not felt before.   Guilt, shame, fear, loneliness, anger …. the list goes on.  I was so raw.

I have never felt pain like that before. Leaving an abusive relationship is agony.

I was the one who decided to end it.  When I stopped convincing myself he had two sides: the nice side that I loved and the nasty side who hurt me.

When I finally realised that changing my behaviour in the hope the abuse would go away, was wishful thinking.

I started to see him for who he really was, not the person I projected onto him, complete with the dream of a perfect future together.

I didn’t like what I saw anymore.   What if he never changed?   Was this the right environment to bring up a child?

If, like me, you’re the one who calls it quits, then you’ll need to find every ounce of willpower and strength.  A narcissist or abusive person needs to have total control.

When they fear they’re losing this, they up the ante in their manipulative tactics.  They need to get that control of you back.

You’ll get the fight of your life because, even though you want to move on, they’re not done with you yet.

Narcissists feed off others to make themselves feel good.  They do this as they have low self-esteem (don’t be fooled by their inflated sense of ego).

Having control of us gives them a sense of stability.  They can’t bear to lose their ‘supply’, that is us, so they won’t let go of you easily.

Their promises to change will go up to a whole new level of begging you.  They might even start giving you signs that they will change this time.

They may seed your self-doubts with comments like: “You’ll never find someone like me”.    This makes is so much harder to stay strong.

I didn't choose to leave a narcissist. I had to for my safety. Click To Tweet

I still loved him.  I wanted to have a future as a family together.  But I had no choice. I had to leave for my safety and for the sake of my son.   So, it was hard.  It hurt like hell, actually.

I felt guilt for abandoning him.  I felt sorrow for my dreams that had been shattered.  I felt loneliness, convinced I would spend the rest of my life as a single mother.

Every bone in my body wanted to run back to him to alleviate the pain.

Don’t listen to any of their words.  It’s just their way of conning you back to alleviate their fear of losing control of you.

You left for good reason and those reasons still stand.  They always told you they loved you.  Did they treat you that way as well?

If they’re the ones to leave first, it can feel brutal and sudden.

One minute they’ve been lifting you up onto a pedestal, telling you you’re the only person in the world for them, the next you’re left wondering what in hell just happened?

This is because the love-bombing was all part of their manipulative game.

They are masters of deception and are great at faking a perfect future together with you. Whatever it takes to hook you in and get control of you.  So, they can always have a source from which to feed their fragile ego.

There will be no apologies or remorse, and you may well never hear from them again. If they do come back, it will be because they want something from you again.

With a narcissist, it is not about love, but control. Click To Tweet

The pain of this sudden dumping may turn you into someone you don’t recognise.  You start to become fixated on the relationship.  Examining old texts, trying to make sense of it all.

What if I’d said this, instead of that! What did he mean when he told me he loved me more than anyone else?

Or, a crazy, obsessive person who stalks them on social media.  You are so desperate for that high of being with them again.

The one you felt when they adored you, you become obsessed with trying to win them back.   You’ll do anything to numb this pain.

It hurts when we leave a narcissist or abusive relationship.

It may be hard to hear this but a) we have to feel these feelings.  It’s better to thaw out, than to stay numb.  It is essentially if you want to heal.

And b) going back to them might anaesthetise the pain.  But only for so long.  You’re just prolonging the heartache that will eventually come out again and it will probably be worse.

The only way around this is to do the opposite of what you want to do.   Go Cold Turkey.   Cut off all contact, if you can.

Block their telephone number, screen your calls if you don’t recognise the number.   Delete them on social media.   This is partly to protect you from yourself.

It’s one thing to feel strong if you’ve made the decision to leave.   It’s another when they start pushing your buttons.

They know exactly what to say to weaken our resolve and get us to go back to them.   Why else would it take victims so many times to finally leave a relationship like that?

The more connections you still have to each other, the more opportunities the narcissist has to slide back into your life.

They can also use their friends to try and make you jealous.  So it might be worth cutting contact from anyone you don’t trust completely.

When I left, I did so without him knowing.  I went to a safe location, one in which he wouldn’t know how to find me.  And I cut all ties.

I was euphoric at first, with my new-found freedom and then I crashed hard.

When the flood of emotions engulfed me, I was overwhelmed.  I thought leaving was the end of it all.  Little did I realise it was just the start.

I had to use all my willpower to override the good memories that floated to the surface and tempted me to go back.

I had to keep reminding myself why I left.  To eradicate these false memories of how wonderful the relationship had been.

I had to remember that what he said, wasn’t in line with his actions.  They were empty words.  It was about control, not love.  And that was the hardest part of all.

Leaving a narcissist. Why does it hurt so badly? Click To Tweet

This is why it hurts so badly.  Knowing he never really loved me at all.

What can really stick the knife in is when you convince yourself they’ve moved on just fine. Whilst you’re raw with pain.

Most true narcissists don’t need time to heal from a break up.   Their love-bombing was just an act.

They are incapable of feeling empathy and unconditional love for another person.  Often, they have someone else already lined up.

If you do see signs of this, they are more than likely love-bombing a new target. On the bright side, it isn’t you anymore.

What are you struggling with the most?   Let me know in the comments below.

If you need professional help, advice or support please see Domestic Violence resources here.


Start with Me: Survivor to Staying Strong — is my online video course on how to get over an abusive relationship or narcissist, even when you still love them and feel that intense pull back to them.  How not to go back to them or into another abusive relationship. How to trust again and, if and when you’re ready, how to date again.

How to get over an abusive relationship, even when you still love them and feel that intense pull back to them.

Have you left or are thinking of leaving an abusive or controlling relationship?

Are you a Survivor of emotional and / or physical abuse, but still struggling to cope with how painful it is?

Or just trying to make sense of what happened?

Do you keep picking the wrong partner? The ones who are bad for you?

The full details are here, but let me show you just a couple of the things I’ve packed into course:

In START WITH ME: Survivor to Staying Strong I’ll show you how to get over a controlling or abusive relationship, even when you still love them and feel the intense pull back to them. How to stay strong so that you can:

  • deal with the pain of withdrawing from a controlling or abusive relationship
  • thaw out after being numb for so long (as a means to survive)
  • understand why we are attracted to abusive types and stay
  • understand why we feel sorry for our abuser
  • understand why we have such low self-esteem and how to heal it
  • stay strong when the pull back to them is so intense
  • break the cycle and unhealthy addiction to them
  • learn how to forgive yourself and / or them and move on
  • learn how to trust again
  • avoid going back to them or into another abusive relationship
  • stay strong and take your first steps towards living the life you lov

This is the second in a series of online video courses I have designed especially for you. To help you change your mindset from victim to survivor. Go from survivor to staying strong. And from staying strong to finding success.

The same steps I took as a young, single mother after my ex almost killed me. And turning my life around to find success in life, career and long-term healthy love.

I hope to see you there!

Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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