Help towards managing to escape a narcissist

This is the first page I wrote after I left the narcissist (December 2004), so it might be the page which is most useful to you when you are about to leave or when you just left. It touches on issues which can be found on other pages, but it is intended to be of practical use and to strengthen the motivation to do the first step and to leave the narcissist or to ensure no return back to him or her.

The page has been updated on the 29th of October 2008.


The reason to write this page is very simple. In some sense it helps me to come to terms with what happened to me (and I can assure you, just like other victims affected by NPD, it is extremely painful and threatening to the entire personality) but also because the Internet has helped me a great deal, more than any member of family or friend (additionally, you will get stupid comments, like "oh, how old are you that you didn't see this coming", "oh, you just had a baby", "oh, you have to learn to make compromises" - just don't listen). It is true, if you haven't experienced NPD or if you are not a professional, there is no way anybody can understand how bad it is. In fact, a colleague of mine, a psychotherapist, explained to me that narcissists are even a threat to a professional because of transference and counter-transference. If you ever have been close to a narcissist, you will know that there are many times, where you feel that you are going insane.

If you live with a narcissist, you will have to leave. Bring yourself into safety somewhere and start reclaiming your life from there. If you have kids take them with you if you can. If not, leave anyway. You will be better helping them from safety. If you stay with the narcissist, you will drown and all what you have will go under too. Get out and take what you can with you (the narcissist will do everything to steal your belongings).

In terms of using the Internet to gain an understanding and a list of symptoms, there is a very simple advice. Just look at many different articles and find out where they are consistent. Step by step you will get the picture. It might be a starting point to look up "Abuse". This is, often narcissistic personality disorder feels like abuse, but it isn't quite that. Still, symptoms are often very similar.

However, one thing I did not find out there, and that is, an answer to why the narcissist behaves the way (s)he does. I might mention that there are obviously both male and female narcissists. However, what kind of balance there is nobody knows. There is some general talk about that there is a gender difference but I have not come across any study confirming this. However, it seems that the male narcissist might be preoccupied with success (captin), while the female narcissist might be preoccupies with beauty (princess). Without a study, I would say that the ratio between female and male narcissists is 1 to 7. I base this number on how many men play dominant sexual roles in chat rooms in comparison to female dominant people. It looks like that about 5% of the population in the English speaking world are narcissistic.

There is no point in detailing what I went through, but if you live with a narcissist, you will notice (if you take a step back), that things which meant something to you, start to disappear, how you lose touch with friends and family, how your work suffers, how you might want to escape (in my case alcohol), how you wake up and you are scared to do anything other than a well-rehearsed routine and how false memories are implanted and things you said are being twisted. Additionally, you will get accused of anything possible, such that you have an affair, that you don't spend enough time with the narcissist, that you work too much and that the things you like doing interfere with the relationship. Finally, the narcissist threatens with suicide and self mutilation. The narcissist will go through your diaries and anything private, and will control your time. The police keeps coming around too. This is what psychologists call transference; the narcissist will do anything to make you feel inadequate, and the narcissist will always try to be superior to you using any means to maintain this superiority.

Still, this doesn't answer the question of what makes the narcissist tick. And there is an important factor in knowing what make her or him tick; once, you understand her or his behavior, you can rationalize your past (like "why were there so many good times", "how does it all go together"), you can understand what happened. This can enable you to distance yourself from the narcissist and also to grieve over the lost time and come to peace with it.

You read on the Internet that the narcissist is a person where there is nobody there, that the narcissist plays a mono drama, or that the narcissist is simply evil. All this doesn't really help and expresses confusion, misunderstanding and anger. There are psychometric scales too, but they produce a profile of the narcissist (e.g. someone who has no empathy) but do not address the issue of motivation. Hence, the question here: What drives the narcissist?

Down to the point. Here is my explanation of what makes a narcissist tick. You can agree or disagree, but it surely made sense to me and I found myself enabled to explain all that had happened to me in a coherent and simple fashion.

The narcissist lives in a four dimensional world. The narcissist knows the feelings of being superior and inferior and the feelings of anger and fear. The narcissist does not know any other feelings. All other feelings are mimicked and if you look at the behavior of your narcissist, you will find that everything a narcissist does, is somewhat not quite normal, everything seems exaggerated, in short, it all is an act (and just forget the idea that the narcissist ever loved you or ever will, too). Now, the cognitive make-up of the narcissist is limited. This is, the understanding of the world is naive and infantile, although the narcissist claims to be competent in almost any area. This serious lack of understanding (psychologists refer to this as the inability to take perspective) makes it very hard for the narcissist to analyze and comprehend normal human activities. If someone says "hello" to a narcissist, the narcissist is not sure what this "hello" means and starts to question the meaning of this "hello" along the dimensions of being superior or inferior. If the narcissist comes to the conclusion (and this conclusion is random and chaotic) that the narcissist is superior, everything is fine. However, if this "hello" is interpreted as a sign that the narcissist is inferior, the cycle of escalating thoughts will be entered. Generally, the narcissist will not approach someone who the narcissist feels inferior to because there is great fear. However, the feeling of this inferiority eats away inside the narcissist and will have to be relieved. And this is where you come into the equation. The narcissist will have rationalized that you are inferior to her or him (this is one of the reasons why the narcissist destroys the things which are of meaning to you). The rest you can imagine; the escalating thoughts become painful and the narcissist becomes enraged that someone has made her or him feel inferior, and hence this anger will be directed against you or anybody close enough who the narcissist feels superior to (your children included). However, this is not all, the narcissist does not need any real input in order to evaluate her or his status. These thoughts appear to preoccupy the narcissist to a large extend (psychologists refer to this as being preoccupied with her/his personal distress), and if the narcissist comes to the conclusion that s(he) is inferior to something or someone, the same cycle will be entered and will escalate into some form of violence.

To summarize this, the anger of the narcissist is, that someone or something made her or him feel inferior. Anything that makes the narcissist feel inferior s(he) will avoid and everything which makes the narcissist superior (like shopping) will attract the narcissist. The narcissist lives constantly in fear that something will make her or him feel inferior. The abuse towards you is two dimensional: Firstly, the narcissist needs to establish her - or himself as being superior to you. Any means will be used to make you feel this way (do not confuse this with sado/masochism - a sadist does care about the submissive person). Secondly, any feeling of inferiority the narcissist generates through internal or external input, will have to be resolved through you. The narcissist will feel better and superior if s(he) can make you suffer.

However, there is another aspect to the narcissist which can be quite dangerous: This is, the narcissist can never admit to be inferior or to be truly wrong (in psychology: narcissistic hypersensitivity). As much as the narcissist will avoid situations which make him/her feel inferior, if such a situation arises, the narcissist must walk away as the winner. If you attempt to fight against a narcissist, you will have to make sure that you are safe first. The narcissist will either stop with your defeat or when the narcissist can rationalize that (s)he is the winner. This explains why the narcissist is drawn back to situation where (s)he felt inferior. There is the need to walk away as the winner. However, if you have been able to defeat the narcissist on a number of occasions, you will eventually be left alone by the narcissist and you will have helped the narcissist to display a slightly more moral outlook on life because the narcissist will have learned that nasty deads might be punished.

How do you get away from a narcissist? That is easier said than done. Firstly, abuse produces co-dependency. This is, you feel that you depend on the narcissist (as you are inferior to her or him). And secondly, you have no friends left and no means either. So what do you do? Reconnect with your friends, do things for yourself and plan your escape. Don't let the narcissist bully you into leaving when you are not ready. And do things which the narcissist has prohibited you. This way you are breaking your co-dependency. Let the narcissist not know what you are doing. Create a mental distance. And once you are out you will have to minimize the contact with the narcissist, because (s)he will still attempt to infiltrate your perception and knows too well how to hurt you (even by saying how much (s)he misses you and loves you, that nobody loved you like (s)he does). If you can speak to people and especially strangers (for instance in local activity groups, clubs,religious institutions and best a therapist - chat rooms are useless because you do not know who you are talking to), do so. This way you can put yourself through the sanity check and repair your skewed perception. Explain to yourself that while you might differ from the norm, you are not criminal while the narcissist is. In the end you will have to go through the stages of bereavement. These are: Denial (denying that you have been abused, that your "loved one" is a narcissist), anger (over the lies, the loss of time, money etc) - do not direct this anger against yourself, remember that you are the victim - grief, acceptance and finally reinvestment into your new life. All these steps are interwoven and you will find that sometimes you feel you are already accepting the loss only to find yourself back at this stage of anger or even denial a few moments later. Don't worry about this, take time and be pleased with every little step you take. Trust me, I know what it feels like and the tears too.

Just before you leave or even when you just have left, fights - and you will have to call these encounters fights - will be inevitable. As mentioned above, you have to challenge the narcissist. However, fighting back does not help you heal and hence you are better off to minimize the contact or stop contact completely as soon as you can (emotionally and physically). The best way is to involve institutions such as the courts to resolve all issues. This is not to say that this is easy. To your surprise maybe, you will find that the narcissist too makes use of the police and courts portraying false facts. This is the final moment of abuse against you and you will have to face unpleasant questions and accusations. Again, the narcissist finds her/himself in a strong position there, because courts are places where people act and this is where the narcissist is very good. You will have to be very careful corporating the evidence.

In order to fight the narcissist effectively, it is useful to know what the narcissist is up to. Again, this is - once you have taken the step back - fairly easy. You have to look at the messages and statements of the narcissist, and look out for transferences and projections. This is, whatever the narcissist does, which is morally unacceptable, (s)he will accuse you that you are doing this and will try to make you feel guilty for it. For example, if the narcissist accuses you that you are slandering her or him, you know that (s)he does it. If (s)he says you are a threat to the kids, then you know they are in some danger. Even if you can't do anything to help the children immediately, you will have to try to help them as soon as you find the means, but as mentioned above, bring yourself into safety first, heel yourself, give yourself some time and then see what you can do. Being in the position of being a man might force you to let the children go as in many countries you will find that the law is so much in favor of the woman that you cannot afford to remain emotionally involved. Never stay in an abusive situation because of the children. You are not helping the children this way. If there is fear of child abuse involve social services.

Dr. Ludger Hofmann-Engl


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