This can be a terrifying question if you have gone through a bad breakup with a narcissist. While there is no one clear answer to whether a narcissist will return post-breakup, there is evidence to suggest that, in many cases, unfortunately, they will. That’s due, in part, to the fact that they have complex emotions when they know you’ve moved on.
The narcissist isn’t accustomed to not getting their way, so if you initiate the breakup, then it might be necessary for their ego to try to reconcile. They might also come back, even when they instigate the breakup, because they cannot admit to failure or because they cannot find an adequate narcissistic supply elsewhere.
To understand more about what motivates a narcissist to come back after a breakup, as well as what you might expect during the breakup, continue reading.
What to Expect in a Breakup with a Narcissist
The ways in which a narcissist behaves during the process of a breakup depends, at least in part, on who is initiating the split. If the breakup is the narcissist’s idea, then they will likely cut ties and move on—at least at first. However, when the breakup is your idea, the narcissist’s sense of self-esteem and superiority is damaged, and their reactions range from inappropriate to threatening.
First, it’s in the narcissist’s nature to deflect blame and reject criticism, so they will blame the failure of the relationship on you. If you are immune to that claim—you are well aware that their actions are to blame—then they will shift gears and try to convince you that you are making a mistake. They are too important, successful, attractive, and intelligent to walk away from.
When these tactics don’t work, the narcissist might try to elicit sympathy from you, playing the victim and laying on a guilt trip. Without you, the narcissist claims, they will be devastated and incapable of going on. Or, they might berate you for your selfishness and heartlessness. All of this is designed to hold onto their narcissistic supply—the attention and validation they get from you.
Why a Narcissist Comes Back
Because the narcissist cannot imagine why they are not the center of your world, cannot fathom why you don’t see how great they are, they might simply refuse to accept the breakup. They will continue to demand your attention even when you’ve moved on and kept away. They still crave your attention, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative.
The narcissist might also be frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of power and control. Should you break up with them, they will come back to test the limits of their control over you. They need to remain convinced of their dominance, and they will return simply to challenge your resolve. This is especially true if it appears as if you are doing well and moving on—they like to defeat strong individuals.
They are also reluctant to let you go because, as with most personal relationships, the narcissist sees you as an extension of themselves. Thus, you represent everything the narcissist has invested in creating an idealized version of themselves. They come back so they can soothe their ego and rebuild their insecure self.
No Contact Doesn’t Always Mean No
You are absolutely justified in being concerned about how a narcissist will react to a breakup. They are often full of rage and recrimination and, if they are a malignant narcissist, they may even become verbally abusive or physically violent. The best way in which to ensure that the breakup goes smoothly is simply to cut off all contact.
Be aware, though, that because narcissists lack boundaries, they may try to dismantle your boundaries and reassert their dominance. They might seek you out on social media or catch you unawares at the office. They might reach out to your friends or family in order to find out how to locate you. Keep your networks secure, and your loved ones informed of the situation.
My sister’s narcissistic ex-boyfriend periodically tracks her down every couple of years or so—for the last 25 years! He is so convinced that they are “soul mates”—that she needs him and that only he can offer her the best life—that he simply won’t accept that she is happily married and uninterested in ever seeing him again.
Extreme Post-Breakup Behaviors
As in the above example, narcissists can often behave in very inappropriate ways post-breakup. Unwarranted and unwanted contact is only one example of how narcissists try to continue to insert themselves into your life.
If the narcissist feels thwarted in their attempts to reignite the flames of the failed relationship, they might resort to spreading lies about you, maligning you on public platforms, and/or damage your reputation among mutual friends and family members. This is disturbing and frightening, of course, but the positive news here is that most people who know the narcissist won’t believe their vicious lies.
Some narcissists go so far as to engage in stalking behavior. If you feel that your personal boundaries and physical safety are being threatened in this extreme manner, then you should contact the authorities immediately. Stalking quickly devolves into physical confrontations and potentially life-threatening encounters.
How to Uphold the Breakup
The best way in which to make your intentions known is to be firm, direct, and absolutely clear in establishing your boundaries. In most cases, going “no contact” as soon as possible is the most effective way to break off with a narcissist. Resist the temptation to re-engage with the narcissist, even if it’s months or years later. They rarely, if ever, change.
Remember that narcissists are incredibly skilled manipulators, and they will use every trick they have in order to insinuate themselves back into your life. In the beginning, especially, they may call with stories of financial woes or health problems—anything to elicit your sympathy and get them back, front and center, into your life.
Stay firm and focused, enlisting the help of friends and family (professionals, too, if necessary) to hasten the healing process. Remind yourself that the narcissist isn’t mourning their relationship with you; rather, they are mourning the loss of the attention and validation you supplied them.
Sometimes a new relationship can help them move on, but even that’s not a sure way to keep them from coming back.
Narcissists will often come back, especially if they are not the party to initiate a breakup. They need to soothe their ego, convince themselves of their indispensable nature, and despise losing control. They still crave the attention you provided and need the self-worth you bestowed on them.
Be cautious when dealing with an angry or hurt narcissist, as they are capable of lashing out and other inappropriate actions. Stay determined to stick with your plan, regardless of their agenda. These tips for divorcing a narcissistic husband might also help you to take care of yourself first following a breakup.
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