Should I stay or should I go? This is not an easy question for those of you living with a narcissist. True to their nature, these people are able to woo you the way you like it best, so it is difficult to move away. They are exceptional at knowing how to make you feel the way that you want to feel. Unfortunately, they can make your life a living hell as well.
If you have had enough of the emotional drama, the swings in your relationship, the unpredictability from moment to moment and the soul crushing doubt that can descend when your confidence has been undermined, it may be time to develop an exit strategy. This, of course, is not your only option. Even though these people are highly pathologic and difficult to be with, you may decide to stay. They can be very charismatic people and you never get bored. Either way, the tips below can help you cope with your situation and may or may not be your ticket out the door, if you do decide to leave.
The starting point has to be the acceptance of the fact that things will not change. They will not change. This is simply the way that your relationship will be for the rest of the time. This is the most difficult and most important step in either staying or going. Finally letting go of the hope that the narcissist will change and do all of the things that they have promised that they will do is quite difficult. Make it your mantra. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. What I mean by this is that since the narcissist is so good at telling you what you want to hear, they will know what to promise. It does not matter to them if it is a lie or not because they lie as a matter of course. They will agree to anything, go to counselling, try new things, anything, if they think that that will make you stay. It is all a lie. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.
Then you must accept them and forgive yourself. What I mean by acceptance is not the absolution of sins. It is the understanding that anything in the past, is what it is. It does not mean that it is OK. It does not mean that you weren’t hurt, that you aren’t disappointed in yourself for your past behaviour or that you would want to do any of it again. It means that you stop trying to rewrite history. Any thought process that starts with some variation of, “if things had been different, then….. ” means that you have not accepted the truth of what happened. When you find yourself wishing that your life was different, pay attention, remind yourself that you cannot change things that have happened in the past and accept the past for what it is. You know that you have been successful with this step when you stop berating yourself for your failings, you stop wishing things had been different and you feel a sense of calm come over you when you think about past events.
Start small. Accept that the narcissist forgot your birthday, or something small, and then work up to when you were really hurt by them. It happened. It is part of the past now and there is no way to change that. Forgive yourself for believing the lies and staying in a relationship that brought you so much pain. There are worst things in the world than loving and trusting. It does not make you a bad person or a stupid person. You were a loving person and a trusting person. You were purposefully misled by someone that does not care about you. It is what it is.
When you can honestly say to yourself that you know that your relationship will NOT improve, it is time to move to the next step. I detailed how to protect yourself from the narcissist in an earlier post. That post outlined keeping a journal and always asking yourself the question, what do they want right now? Moving into this observational stage is very important. It allows you to get some distance and improves your objectivity. Instead of swimming in a sea of confusion and being overtaken by waves of emotion, you can come up for air, reconnect with your sanity and see the shore.
The most powerful next step is to become less valuable to them. If you are still the person managing their lives and meeting their needs, you have value to them and they are less likely to let you go easily. When you ask yourself, “What do they want right now?” and you have a solid answer, do not give it to them. If they want a fight — agree (not to the fight!), instead of letting them pull you in. If they would like you to do something for them — don’t. Be careful here. You know whether or not they might become violent if you do not follow their rules. If you have any concerns for your safety, you are better off leaving. Some narcissists can become very violent if they cannot control you in any other way, so don’t be stupid about this. If you are in danger leave.
As you become less and less reliable and valuable to them they will begin to look for someone else. They don’t actually care about you, they only care about themselves and their needs aren’t being met so they will find a way to get them met. Expect this. Prepare yourself. Do not let jealousy pull you back into fighting for a relationship that you do not want. See it as a something you planned. If the narcissist can replace you, they will let you go without a fight and this is a good thing. You want to be replaced. The narcissist must always win and if you want to leave, you have to let them think that it was their idea.
Develop an exit strategy. Where will you go? How can you manage on your own or with the help of friends? Plan ahead. They must be the one that wants you gone or they’ll pursue you for a long time. They must win. In order to get what you want, which is your freedom, you must have a plan in place. Bide your time. When they finally have had enough with you, since you no longer meet their needs, they’ll want you gone. Agree. Go.