Being in a relationship with a narcissist is a game in which the rules constantly change. They are charming one minute and in a rage the next. They’re always manipulating you, and their tendency to dissociate means they often forget what actually happened. Yet, somehow, you stuck it out and now you’re on the receiving end of a breakup scratching your head and wondering what happened! While you’re still reeling from the breakup, they’ve already started a new life.
It’s a tricky situation because they will likely be back, but here are 7 common reasons why narcissists break up with their partners:
- They Found a New Source of Narcissistic Supply;
- They Fear You’re Close to Exposing Them;
- They’ve Gotten What They Want from You, For Now;
- You’re No Longer Giving Them the Narcissistic Supply They Need;
- They’re Bored;
- They’ve Decided You’re the Enemy;
- They Believe They’re Entitled to Someone Better.
Narcissists are nothing if not game players, and to understand the game, you have to understand what’s behind the quirky rules the narcissist uses. Relationships with narcissists follow a typical pattern, and once you understand how it works, you can better anticipate what’s coming. It’s vital to understand their thinking to be able to really understand why they might leave and if they will come back.
What is a Relationship with a Narcissist Like?
At the beginning of a relationship, narcissists are very charming, supportive, and interested in everything you have to share. They want to know you, and they can seem like they really care. It may not be exactly true to say that they don’t, but the reality is that they have an agenda.
Courtship and Persuasion
During the initial stages of a relationship, the narcissist is learning everything they can about you. They will love-bomb you and shower you with attention. They want to know what makes you tick, but not for the best of reasons.
Once they get a good idea of what you’re like, the persuasion stage starts where they begin to manipulate and control you. They want to make you into who they want you to be, and who you need to be is someone who complements their false self-image.
They want you to give them what they need from you – a constant flow of loving adulation, intense focus on their needs, and unconditional support that is known as narcissistic supply. They also want you to boost their self-esteem by talking them up to other people, and you should be someone who they can show off to those very same people. They want to be able to say, “Look who I got.”
The narcissist, however, is not able to return those gifts to you. They seem to be supportive at first, but that’s just until they learn what they need to know. The narcissist actually views the other people in their life as extensions of their own identity.
Because of childhood experiences, the narcissist abandoned their true self and constructed a false self-image in its place, but that false self can’t do the work of a real ego. For that, they need other people to feed them adulation to feel good about themselves. They have no internal mechanisms to do that for them like healthy people do.
Because they view you as part of their own identity, they set unrealistically high expectations of you. When you begin to fall short, as is inevitable, the narcissist begins the next phase of the relationship – devaluation.
At this point, the narcissist will criticize you relentlessly, and you’ll soon feel like you’re walking on eggshells. You may even decide you’ve had enough and leave them, but if you don’t, they will keep on.
At the same time, they’re doing this, they’re often lining up someone who can take your place in the event of a breakup. They’re doing this to ensure they never have to worry about a loss of narcissistic supply. They can just transition from one source to another without having to go without.
That means that they’re likely flirting and even having an affair as they prepare for a breakup. They’ve learned that many people won’t put up with their treatment, but even if they do, they are looking for something fresh too.
Domination and Discard
Toward the end of your relationship, the narcissist will attempt to dominate and get you to fall in line with their expectations. This is almost always likely to fail because they have unrealistic expectations that no one can meet.
Once the narcissist is unable to dominate you, it’s likely they will discard you, but it is likely not a permanent situation. A narcissist can be incredibly cruel when they discard you. They may even just disappear without an explanation.
Narcissists lack the ability to experience empathy in the same way a healthy person does, and so they don’t have an understanding of how their actions affect you. For that reason, they will say incredibly offensive things to you when they leave.
You’ll likely think that this is really the end, but it usually isn’t. They’re leaving for now, but it’s more than likely that they will be back at some time. Even years after a breakup, narcissists have returned to exes and sought to draw them back into their web of drama.
What are the Narcissist’s Reasons for the Breakup?
If they give you a reason at all, narcissists will usually claim one of several reasons for leaving. Of course, they are not likely to say it nicely or explain it, but typically, they will choose from among one of the 7 following reasons:
1. They Found a New Source of Narcissistic Supply
In this case, they have basically found someone new. Narcissists will frequently cheat on their partners since they need so much narcissistic supply. It also plays to their sense of power and control when someone else is attracted to them.
Once they have a new source of dependable narcissistic supply, they may be willing to discard you both because it allows them to focus on this new person and because it makes them feel like they are in control.
They want to be the one who decides to end the relationship, and they want to know that it has affected you. If they see that it has, that only enhances their sense of power and worth.
2. They Fear You’re Close to Exposing Them
Narcissists fear intimacy because they fear that their true self – which they believe to be hopelessly flawed and ultimately worthless – will be exposed. Narcissists live in an almost constant fear that will happen.
As you get closer to them, you’re closer to learning the truth and exposing what you learn. Not only will you expose their ugly secret, but you’ll also abandon them, and because they essentially abandoned themselves in childhood, they fear reliving that pain.
Another reason the narcissist doesn’t want you to get too close is that you’ll start expecting them to focus more on you. The narcissist has no desire to do that since they are only interested in their own needs. They can’t focus on you because they have to be constantly vigilant for possible attacks on their false self-image.
3. They’ve Gotten What They Want from You, For Now
Once a narcissist feels they have gotten everything they can from you – your attention, love, money, and material possessions – they are often ready to move on to another victim. They need someone new to draw from.
Of course, the real problem here is that the narcissist doesn’t understand the emptiness they feel inside. They think they can fill the void if they can just get enough love, enough money, enough prestige, or enough material possessions.
The reality is that nothing they get is ever enough, because the problem is inside of them. They need to fix their broken identity and sense of self-worth. They need to address the considerable shame they feel about themself. Until they do that – and they almost never do heal themselves – they will never feel like anything is enough.
It’s also true they almost never discard people permanently, and they will likely be back in your life someday. It makes them feel empowered to think they can leave you and come back into your life when they want.
4. You’re No Longer Giving Them the Narcissistic Supply They Need
One of the biggest reasons a narcissist is with someone is that they are getting narcissistic supply from them. Over time, as you begin to see their true colors, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t be as complimentary as you might have once been.
As they begin to devalue you, you naturally feel even less inclined to shower them with praise and adoration. This is exactly what the narcissist needs, however, and when you stop giving it to them, they start seeking it elsewhere.
If you want to keep a narcissist around, it’s important to keep that supply flowing, but that’s hard to do when someone is constantly criticizing you. As you stop the flow, they escalate their criticism. That’s why so many relationships involving narcissists never make it past this stage.
5. They’re Bored
According to psychologists at Albright College, lack of interest in the relationship was identified by people who score high on the narcissism scale as the primary cause of a breakup. Narcissists don’t have internal support mechanisms to entertain themselves.
Because they don’t have a rich internal dialogue, narcissists seek external sources to keep them entertained and interested. As they get to know you and feel as though you’re predictable, they start looking elsewhere for something to keep them engaged.
It’s not that you’re boring, per se, it’s that they have that childish need for something new all the time. Their emotional intelligence was stunted in childhood, and they look to the external world for everything from validation to entertainment.
6. They’ve Decided You’re the Enemy
As your relationship with a narcissist progresses into the devaluation stage, you might start to defend yourself or fight back against their constant, and often withering, criticism. That’s completely understandable, but it pits you directly against the narcissist.
This is particularly true if you should contradict them in front of other people. That’s something they often provoke because they devalue you in public, and of course, you feel the need to defend yourself. The more you do that, however, the more the narcissist begins to see you as the enemy.
If they can’t get positive attention from you, the narcissist will take negative attention. What’s more, if they identify you as an enemy, they can then begin to hold you up for comparison with them. When they call out a mistake you’ve made in front of others, they believe it makes them look more intelligent than you. It boosts their self-esteem even if the other people actually don’t believe that.
Moreover, when you’ve been identified as an enemy of the narcissist, they will not stop until they’ve completely crushed you. For a narcissist, it’s not enough to prove their point; they want to completely destroy their enemies.
7. They Believe They’re Entitled to Someone Better
Part of what happens as narcissism develops is that the narcissistic child infuses the false self they’ve constructed with grandiose ideas. These are often ideas of omniscience and omnipotence.
Additionally, they will develop a sense of entitlement. After all, surely someone so wonderful is entitled to all the good things in life, right? That’s what they come to believe, and as they go through life, whenever they become dissatisfied with a life situation, that sense of entitlement can have a big effect on their behavior.
As they begin to see that you’re meeting their (unrealistic) expectations, they begin to feel entitled to someone better than you. This is a means of justifying their actions since they don’t have a healthy moral compass to guide them.
How Do Narcissists React After a Breakup?
Once the breakup has happened, the narcissist usually moves on to another source of narcissistic supply. As mentioned, they often have this lined up before they initiate the discard. They may miss you insomuch as they miss your adoration and support of them and their choices, but they often think little of you until such a time as they may feel they need you again.
Narcissists frequently cycle through people in their lives. They have learned along the way that people won’t put up with being pushed too far. They may not realize this consciously, but they have developed numerous subconscious mechanisms that effectively warn them when they are in danger of pushing someone over the edge.
That’s why they will often move on to another person before you would choose to leave them. They would prefer to have left you because it reinforces their belief that they are in control of the situation. In their mind, that means they can come back anytime they please, and they usually will.
Even years after the relationship ended, they may show up unexpectedly somewhere they know you usually hang out. They might also send what are colloquially called ‘flying monkeys’ to find out information about how you’re doing.
Flying monkeys refers to friends of theirs that they send to contact you in some way and find out how and what you’re doing. Effectively, they are spying on you through their friends, and they’re hoping to get information they can use to re-insert themselves into their life.
What if You Initiated the Breakup?
If you initiated the breakup, the narcissist may do one of three things: they may start love-bombing you again as they did in the beginning of your relationship, they may begin stalking you, or they may decide to take their revenge.
It’s difficult at best for a narcissist to accept that you simply don’t want to be with them anymore. That’s a huge blow to their already fragile self-esteem, and the narcissist feels the need to rectify the situation.
One way they can do that is to get you back by once again becoming the charming person you initially feel for – it worked once so why wouldn’t it work again? They love-bomb you and try to charm you just like they did before.
If that doesn’t work, some narcissists may take to stalking you, and they can become dangerous. It’s common for narcissists to demonstrate obsessive behavior, and they can become obsessed with you.
If none of the above works, the narcissist turns you into the enemy and seeks revenge. They could go to your work and cause problems there, interfere with your next relationship, or destroy property of yours. If you were married to them and/or shared children with them, they may fight for property you want or have a right to keep or they may initiate a lengthy custody battle.
If your relationship with a narcissist lasts past the devaluation stage but they are unable to dominate you, it’s likely that you’re headed for the discard. The reasons why are all related to the narcissist’s inability to support themselves with internal identity mechanisms. Because of that, they will always want more out of a relationship than anyone can ever reasonably give.
What’s most important for you to realize is that you have to protect yourself and your own priorities because the narcissist can be incredibly cruel and self-centered when they discard you. Keep your own money separate, make sure property you want to keep is in your name, and work on your own self-esteem and emotional health. You’re going to need it when the inevitable happens.
If you’re in a romantic relationship with a narcissist, it’s critical to understand how their mental condition affects your interactions. You need to read this post about why narcissists usually get married multiple times. It has vital information you need to know as you try to better understand your narcissistic partner.
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