Coping Strategies - after having left the narcissist

There are principally three areas of how to deal with the issues once you left a narcissistic relationship. These are co-dependency, safety and post traumatic stress.


For various reasons you feel that you depend on the narcissist. One such reason is, that the narcissist has been telling you how useless you are. Another reason is that the narcissist will have done everything possible to make you physically dependent as well (withholding money and your belongings). Additionally, the narcissist will have tried to turn people against you and you feel that you can be validated only through the narcissist.

Quite clearly, you have to break this co-dependency. This is not an easy thing at all. First of all you have to learn to admit to yourself that the narcissist did all these evil things to you not because (s)he loved you but because (s)he enjoyed seeing you suffering. It made her/him feel great. Her/his one big goal was to break you. Accept that you have been abused by your narcissist. Do no longer except the crazy explanations your narcissist used to give you. The narcissist gave you these explanations to keep you as her/his slave.

Secondly, see the narcissist for what (s)he really is and allow yourself to feel angry and express this anger. Allow yourself wild fantasies of how you hit back. I used to imagine that I would return to my old home with a sword, cut the narcissist's head off and throw it down the stairs. Do not however, act upon these fantasies. If you want to regain your life, you must never ever cross the line of the law.

Generally, it is best if you keep away from the narcissist. However, there are times when the co-dependency seems so strong that it pulls you towards the narcissist. It actually is not such a bad thing to see your narcissist from time to time shortly after the separation (make sure that the circumstances are safe though - for instance bring a friend along). This will also help you to see for yourself how evil the narcissist is.

The co-dependency gets worse when the narcissist attacks you. For instance you might receive a nasty phone call or letter, and you cannot bear the tension. Hence, you feel pulled towards the narcissist in order to harmonize. Do not give in into such a pull - rather than that take a sleeping pill or drink yourself to sleep. However, be careful about any such self-medication that you do not end up with another dependency. If you are not sure, talk to a friend or your general practitioner. Alcohol is a common drug taken by people suffering from post traumatic stress and it generally does not help the situation but adds another problem to it.

Remember the only happy times you had with the narcissist were when you gave everything, or when you enjoyed something regardless the bad temper of the narcissist. Everything on the side of the narcissist was nothing but a nasty act.


Safety is most important. You will have to work hard to work on your safety. Do not seek to address your psychological problems too much at this point. Definitely do not make use of regression therapy or psychotherapy, both will only make you even less safe. This is not to say that psychotherapy can be of use once you feel better, but there is evidence that talking too much about your experiences brings back too many unsettled emotions.

You need to work on the three main areas: Secure financial independence, secure a safe home and secure yourself and your personal belongings. Everything else is of secondary importance. The very fact that you will feel safe will contribute to you feeling better all round.

Accept all help you can get but no help from the narcissist.

Post Traumatic Stress

Post traumatic stress can be very severe. The symptoms vary, but if your heart beat is increased, if your startle response is exaggerated, if you feel outbursts of hot/cold sweat, you might have a light form of post traumatic stress. However, if the symptoms include severe nightmares, inability to focus on anything, blind panic and the wish to curl up somewhere, and severe shaking (at one point I found myself unable to hold a cup) you might need to see a doctor. There is medication which can help you. Be always very careful about self-medication. There is a chance that you harm yourself. However, if it helps you to take a sleeping tablet or a drink in order to calm down for some time, this might be safe. Always interrupt such self-medication for a day or two at least, to ensure that you are not falling into some new dependency.

Besides medication there are three main psychological tools. These are deconditioning, interrupting automatic thoughts and forced regression.


If you respond to the sound of a slammed door with an exaggerated startle response, you can try to decondition yourself. Bang doors yourself. If you are shocked each time a car starts up, start the car yourself until you feel you are in control. This is what we call deconditioning. You have been conditioned to be scared about sounds, situations even smells, now you undo this by deconditioning yourself.

Interrupting automatic thoughts

Each time you feel that an episode of post traumatic stress is coming over you, there will also be automatic thoughts such as "here, I go again", "I am sliding" etc. Interrupt those thoughts and tell yourself: "No, this time I am not going down this road", "My heart beat might be up, but I don't care", "Don't panic it will all pass" etc. However, before you can interrupt these automatic thoughts, you need to learn to listen to them. They are fast and most of the time you are not aware of them. Very often we actually feel bad not because we feel bad as such but because such an automatic thought has been triggered off (e.g. "I am a looser", "Everybody is better off than me", "I'll never cope" etc).

Forced regression

When we feel overpowered by a problem, we tend to regress to an earlier developmental stage. For instance when you break down, you curl up and cry like a baby in the embryo position. You can see this really well when you watch children. If a 7 year old is distressed (s)he falls back into the baby stage. Regressing means to return to a place where you felt safe. Now, in order to fight the effects of post traumatic stress, you can try and force yourself to go back to stages where you felt safe. If such a stage is coloring in pictures, do this. If it is playing with a toy train, do it. Listen to music which made you feel good. Go where you felt good. Do anything you remember that was good. Whatever you remember what made you feel safe in the past, just do it. This is what I call forced regression.

Dr. Ludger Hofmann-Engl


Chameleon Group of Composers © 2005