The men in my life who have been narcissists were not only hard for me to recognize, they were sort of hard for me to get rid of. I am usually good about putting up a wall with people who have hurt me, but I also have a heart, and narcissists are very good at pulling at your heartstrings when they want to stay in your life. Especially when a narcissist has had a difficult life or a hard childhood, which is common, it’s hard not to feel for them. It’s hard not to want to help them. The tears, begging, apologizing, promising… But healing is a process we have to learn as well.
In part 1 of this topic (read that post HERE), we talked about defining narcissism and then we gave real examples we’ve experienced. We talked about getting out of those relationships, how to tell the difference between a good guy and a narcissist, and friends who can be just as narcissistic as partners. In part 2, Rikki, Mandy, and I will dive into the healing portion of this topic. Let’s pick up where we left off!
To Get a Narcissist Out of Your Life Completely, You Have to Have Zero Contact
Natalie: When you say no contact, what does that mean?
Rikki: So what narcissists tend to do is, when they miss you or need that hunger fed again, they come back around. When I had my falling out with one of my best friends who was a narcissist (read that story in Part 1), I knew where the cycle would go because of my experiences with all the men I dated who were narcissists. I knew part of the cycle involved them coming to “win me back.” So, with this friend, I had to block her back to avoid that — even though she had blocked me first as part of the discard phase. So, if someone blocks you on Facebook, you can’t block them back, so I had to block everyone in her family, everyone that was close to her. And I stopped talking to the woman who reached out to me about her story with this friend. I didn’t want to hear about it. I didn’t want to feed her stories. She was still super traumatized and I just wanted to get over it.
With men, when I was in college I didn’t have social media because it was back in 2002. Back then I was still dating this narcissist and knew he was terrible for me. I just moved away. After my college graduation in Pocatello, my family came with three vehicles and we packed all my stuff into them. I threw my hat in the air, and drove back to Boise that night, and that’s how I got away from him.
Mandy: So with my ex, I was still in love. It’s very hard to fall out of love with a narcissist because they’re so intoxicating and they’re very good at telling if you’re starting to pull away. I always remember the dates, and it was February 4th, 2013 that I had my first attempt to break up with him. I had dinner with my niece and she really wanted me to break up with him and I wanted to be a good role model for her. You know your relationship is bad when your therapist trains you to have a “bug out bag,” just in case something happens and you can grab the bag and go. That’s quite the red flag!
So I had my bug out bag and I told him that I was done and that I wanted to break up. It was awful because he was so good at debate and I’m just not good at debate. He was just so much smarter than me when it came to arguing points, and every time I’d have a point he was so good at arguing against it. This is the thing that narcissists do. They have this way of making you doubt yourself because they have so much certainty. They have so much rock solid confidence. It’s not really confidence because they don’t really love themselves, but they have this rock solid certainty.
So, I attempted to leave. I walked out and then he came out and he had tears in his eyes. He begged me to come back in and told me all the things I wanted to hear. It felt like such a relief. I was embarrassed to have to text my niece the next day and tell her I didn’t do it, but it felt so good to come back. I remember being back in his arms and thinking, you know what? No one gets it. No one understands. Not even my therapist.
It was actually my niece, Savannah, who really helped me finally leave him. The next day I told her that it was complicated, but I didn’t leave. I’ll always remember what she texted me. She said, “Whatever, I don’t want to ever hear about it.” She called me out. The next day I happened to be with my other best friend, Mikey, who is like the brother I’ve never had. I happened to have a therapy appointment and I asked Mikey to go to my therapy appointment with me. I told my therapist about what happened, and he said me trying to debate him was like getting in the ring with Mike Tyson. You’re not going to win. I even asked my therapist if I could break up with him with a letter, like I was asking permission. And he was so good at helping me realize I didn’t need to ask for permission. He jumped up from his chair and said, “Is God sitting there? Stop giving your power away. You can do this however you want to do it.”
Natalie: Just to put this out there, this is the same therapist that I see who I’ve been raving about for a long time! Mandy introduced me to him, and he’s the same one that all three of us see, including Rikki. He is amazing.
Mandy: I love Rick. I would not have done it without him. There’s no way. So after that conversation, I realized a letter was how I was going to do it.
Narcissists Care About Themselves and Aren’t Consistent
Natalie: I have a question. You said narcissists are great at being able to tell when you’re going to bail. How can you tell the difference between a narcissist trying to reel you back in when they notice you’re going to leave, versus a partner recognizing there’s an issue in your relationship? How can you tell that difference?
Mandy: Because narcissists are only there for themselves. So the difference is that a good person is going to be there for you 100%. They’re a rock. It’s not up and down. A narcissist is not consistent. Pay attention to how you feel. I felt like I was charting how much I cried. I cried every week. There was never one week where I didn’t cry. I bawled. I was with him for three years. I’ve been with my husband now almost six years. I only cried one time, and it was because I was worried about something he wanted to do for work.
Rikki: Another thing that narcissists are really good at, and it’s during the love bombing phase, is future faking. They do it when they are trying to get you back, too. They go back to you being the one, they want to marry you, they want to go on a bunch of trips with you. They want the big house, a bunch of kids, a long life together. When they paint this beautiful future, it’s hard not to see this future with them and to go back.
Natalie: I’ve heard that it can be a red flag when they really do take you on the big trips right away.
Rikki: Yes, it’s the extravagance. Everything is immediate, everything is a big deal. With the guy I dated in college who was into big gestures, our first date was in Salt Lake City, hours away, to see Les Misérables. We were all dressed up and we went to this super fancy dinner (there was nothing fancy in the town we lived in) and I remember thinking this was the life I wanted.
Mandy: Then there is my first date with my husband, Curtis, who is the kindest most loyal man. We ate pizza and watched a Tom Cruise Movie…
So, back to my story about leaving my ex, I finally left for good on February 6th, 2013. This was two days after I tried to do it the first time and he convinced me not to. I knew I couldn’t trust myself and that I needed a clean break from him or I would be convinced to come back. I wrote him a letter, and I knew I had to leave right then and there, and it was messy. I asked for help, and I think it’s important to ask for help when you’re ready to leave. My friends Mikey, Lori, Rikki of course, and my dad went and got my stuff. I changed my phone number, and I haven’t spoken to him once to this day. And, just so you know, the no contact rule is not for the narcissist, it’s for you. He has reached out on social media, and he’s reached out to my friends.
Rikki: Yes, all of us got a hand delivered, written letter to our house. It freaked me out. I really lost sleep over it one night. I had a three year old and a one year old, so I was already a little crazy with hormones. She breaks up with her boyfriend that I’ve been trying to get her to break up with for forever, and I get this letter at my house. I had just moved into this house three weeks earlier! After I got the letter, I heard a noise in the night thinking it was him. I climbed up on this bookshelf to see out of the windows, and the bookshelf breaks and I slash my leg open and the baby wakes up! It was a mess.
Natalie: What did he say in the letter?
Rikki: He kept saying, “My Mandy,” in the letter. It was so creepy. It was very long. He said things like, “The longer my Mandy and I are apart, the more detrimental it is to our future because we’re not building it. The longer we’re apart, the worst it is on her. The worst it is on me, we’re going to end up together. I cherish her.” He talked about her like she was his possession. Just like everything you would ever want to hear out of like a romantic comedy. But knowing what a monster he was… it was scary.
Being Alone is Hard, But it’s Important
Natalie: So how did you feel in that moment when you knew this man was trying so hard to get back to you? How did you deal with that? There must have been nights right where you were lying in bed and you thought about him. If I’m being honest, I can relate to that. Where you’re lying in bed and you think about how you just want to be desired like that. When you just want to be loved.
Mandy: Yes, I missed him. Like I said, I still loved him. So I had a list of eight people that I could call before I call him. I used that. I would call Rikki. I called Mikey, my sister, I called my friend Lori. I called my friend Jody. I had people that I called before him, and I made a promise to myself that if I felt like calling him, I would call them before I called him. It was kind of like AA where they say if you’re craving a drink, call your sponsor. Something that really helped me was retelling stories from when he was abusive. At first, if I had heard his voice or seen him, I would have been puddy. I wanted to move past this, but I missed him.
Rikki: She even had a huge sticky poster where she’d write all the bad things. Whenever she told me one of these, we were like, “Put it on the board!” For example, there was a time he said her breath stank, or the time he said her legs were too white in that dress, and that her dress had lint on it.
Mandy: I tried so hard to be perfect. Now I do not try to look good with Curtis. He never puts me down and he says I look beautiful when I’m really dressed like a clown. I’m wearing like green sweatpants with like a plaid shirt and he loves me anyway. With my ex, he always found something. The harder I tried, the more he’d find something. I remember him finding hair on top of my knee, because you know sometimes you just miss a spot shaving, and he made fun of me and called me Chewbacca and was so mean.
So remembering the stories and retelling the stories to your friends really wakes you up. It helped me not go back. My therapist Rick told me about how many times it really takes for a woman to leave for good. I can’t remember what it is, but it’s a really obscene number. It’s a really sad number for how many times it usually takes a woman to leave an abusive relationship. I think it’s like seven or eight times. I think that if you have children with them and you have to interact, then you need to have someone maybe mediate. Mikey had my phone, and he had my email so he could trash any emails from him, and I vowed I’d never check my trash. I actually kept that promise for like a month, if I’m being honest, but I never emailed him back. I never engaged because I knew I wouldn’t be able to heal.
Be Cautious About Getting into Another Relationship
Natalie: So, did you have to go into another relationship? That’s a struggle I have. If I’m not going to talk to the bad person, I need to be talking to someone else.
Rikki: I want to interject here for a second. It was four months, and I’ll tell you the story. I was in my sons bedroom and I was rocking him to sleep and Mandy called, and I knew I needed to answer because of what was going on. She called and said (I’ll paraphrase), “I’m ready to date.”
It had been four months of girl time and nights out, and my husband at the time was really understanding about me having extra time out with Mandy because he was supportive and knew how bad her ex was, so he always watched the kids for me. So, about 48 hours later, I set her up with her current husband, Curtis. She is so unlike me! I would go from lily pad to lily pad, you know?
Mandy: I mean, honestly, I was under my therapist’s supervision. I mean, it wasn’t this great four months where it was easy to be alone. I promised my therapist and I knew that he had my best interests in mind, that it would be a big consideration whether or not I was ready to date. I think talking to a therapist and having a lot of time with girlfriends was helpful, but that time was so painful. The experience was so painful that, for me, I did not want to go through that pain again. And yeah, there were some lonely nights. There were some nights where I cried myself to sleep. There were some nights where I ached — it was like having withdrawals.
I had an apartment that faced Table Rock (a great place to hike in Boise) and I remember looking out at Table Rock and telling myself it was going to be okay. I’m going to be happy again. I’m not going to always feel this sad and lonely, it’s going to be okay. And I would just talk to myself. And I really bonded with myself. It was like I was on a four month retreat with myself getting comfortable with being alone. I don’t ever want to be alone again, but you know what, going through that, I’m not afraid of being alone. It doesn’t paralyze me like it used to, and I think that that’s important.
Natalie: Well that’s the phase I’ve been in recently. I don’t know how to be alone. For me, being alone was the hard part. The love bombing is a drug, our therapist says it really is dopamine. It really is like a drug. When I’m not getting that, I will try to find it. One important step is recognizing it. Two is talking to friends and actually listening to them.
It’s Possible to Find a Good Relationship and to Get Out of Your Own Cycle
Mandy: I just had a breakthrough. I realized what finally did it for me and it’s exactly the same story you hear from recovered addicts. I hit my bottom and my bottom was sitting in the Mongolian restaurant with my niece, Savannah. I don’t have children, and Savannah is my oldest niece. I helped raise her when she was a baby and I just love her so much and it’s so important to me to be a good role model for her. I will always remember my niece being really sassy and blunt, and she hated my ex, and I remember her saying she looked at me and my relationship as being kind of pathetic.
Those words were like a knife to the heart. Not only am I not a role model, I’m a pathetic role model. I could tell you so many awful stories, and you’d keep asking, “Why didn’t you leave him?” It’s just like asking an addict why they didn’t just stop the drugs after hearing their stories. They have to hit their bottom, and I had to hit mine. However, it’s important to realize that you can decide what your bottom is. You can decide this is not what you want anymore. For me, even though it was painful to leave and to be alone, being a pathetic role model was more pain. I remembered that and it really kept me strong. I worked with my therapist and I remember saying I wanted to be so proud of my next man that I want to introduce him to my therapist, and he has.
Natalie: Wow, you’re going to make me cry. So, did you ex ever meet your therapist?
Mandy: No, but he did call him. I left his card in my room, so he called and tried to get an appointment with him. My therapist of course couldn’t say anything because everything is confidential. However, he did say he couldn’t see him, which basically told him he was my therapist. My ex was very intelligent, he researched and he paid attention to all the details. Looking back on it, one perk about breaking up with a narcissist (other than getting them away from you) is that you’ll get this stadium of people applauding your decision and validating your choice to leave. Unlike breaking up with someone that’s healthy, you’ll get all these messages from people congratulating you. When I broke up with him, I got so many Facebook messages from people congratulating me that you’d think I got engaged. People said they were proud of me, they said, “Good for you!” I had so many cheerleaders, so that was nice. It was a celebration.
I think it’s important to allow yourself to take that in and to focus on those people. There was a time when Curtis and I would leave little love notes to each other all over the house, and my niece saw them. I’ll never forget when she saw them, she sent me a Snapchat of one of them, and the caption read, “#relationshipgoals.” I went from being pathetic to being relationship goals. I’m the perfect example that proves you can swing the pendulum in the other direction.
Natalie: For those reading this and realizing they are in that kind of relationship, how do they heal? We know they need to go no contact, then how do you make sure you don’t get in that kind of relationship again? How do you forgive yourself for the mistakes that you made? What if it’s a family relationship and not a significant other?
Rikki: I’d say to read the book Help! I’m in Love With a Narcissist if you’re in a romantic relationship with a narcissist. If you’re dealing with a parent, sibling, co-parent, or someone else you can’t run from or remove from your life, I’d recommend the book Disarming the Narcissist. It talks about how to identify their lies, their schemes, their ploys, and how to protect yourself and others around you.
Natalie: How do you protect your kids?
Mandy: Teach them the term, teach them to understand it. Teach them that language is so powerful and help them be aware of it.Teach them empathy. I would also say that if someone’s reading and they know they’re in a relationship with a narcissist but they’re not ready to have no contact, they’re not ready to end it, to be kind to yourself and to be compassionate. It’s okay if you don’t feel ready. It’s not an intellectual decision. It’s purely an emotional decision. I would say therapy, therapy, therapy, therapy, therapy.
Natalie: Yes. I’ve been in therapy for a while now, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my self-care. If I had to cut out a gym membership, if I had to cut my healthy food, I would cut all that out for therapy because it’s the number one thing that I did to actually improve myself as a person.
Rikki: I think something important is that both of you, Natalie and Mandy, can be so open and vulnerable. You don’t hold back or edit your stories. Make sure you tell your friends those crazy stories. Once Mandy was able to be open about those stories, it got her that much closer to being able to leave. Once you publicize it and put it out there, it holds you accountable to stay away from this awful person. It reminds you of their toxicity. Look what they did to you. Do what Mandy did and write it down for you to look at when you’re missing them. She was reminded of the headbutting incident, the threesome thing, when he yelled at her in front of her friends, when he made her feel bad about herself.
Mandy: I think it’s really important to recognize too that they purposely isolate you and they’re very good at putting other people down that are in your life.
Natalie: That’s interesting. I guess when I think about a narcissist isolating you, I think about them saying you can’t hang out with someone. But what you’re saying is that they can also isolate you more subtly by degrading your close friends and people close to you?
Rikki: Yes. They may say this person is stupid, or that person is boring, or this friend is a bad friend. I remember my boyfriend in college made fun of my brother in law because he had a hornet tattoo on his bicep, just little things like that. He always made fun of my roommates, my religious leaders back when I was religious in college. That isolates you and pushes you away from those people.
Mandy: And because they are smart, and good at being manipulative, and they have good points, it makes you question your friends. You start to think, maybe they aren’t that smart. Maybe they are boring. Maybe they are a bad friend. You start looking at the people around you. That’s how they get into your head, because you start looking at the people around you and doubting them. If the people close to you something bad about the narcissist you are dating, you may doubt their motives and think about them being stupid or boring or a bad friend. You may stop answering their calls and you think it’s your idea, but he planted the seed.
Rikki: I became really judgmental when I was deeply in a narcissist relationship. I was listening to his voice and he’d find little flaws in everybody and point them out to me as a reason to stay away from them. It rubbed off on me in a very toxic way.
Natalie: If you were in a narcissistic relationship again, what is the advice you’d give yourself?
Mandy: Therapy, therapy, therapy!
Rikki: Dump them, dump them, dump them!
Use Tools to Help Yourself Heal
Natalie: If you were in love with a narcissist, knowing what you know now, what are the things you would do to get out of your narcissistic relationship?
Rikki: I would keep a journal. Because when you’re in it, you don’t understand how it keeps happening, but it makes you feel crazy. They make you feel crazy, it’s called gaslighting. They make you doubt your own memory. I kept a journal in my relationship right after my divorce, and having that record of events in my own words was so important, and why that relationship only lasted five months. I’d also be vulnerable and public about all of the bad things they do to my friends instead of hiding their flaws from loved ones. That way, they can help you see clearly when you can’t.
Natalie: I would also say, have compassion for yourself. Maybe you crave attention again, or love again, and you’re confused by it. Just know it takes time to get out of your own habits and cycles with men like this. It takes time with a therapist or it takes time with self love or it takes time to really have honest conversations with your girlfriends or your parents or your siblings or whoever it is that you can open up to and trust. Just know you’re not alone. I would say almost every person that I am close to has gone through hard stuff. Don’t think that you’re this terrible person at relationships because you keep being drawn to the same kind of person. There’s something there. There’s a root reason for why it’s happening. My therapist would say it’s the little girl part of us that hasn’t been healed. Maybe it’s a wound that you have that you don’t know about, or maybe it’s something old that you just need to fix. It’s not an instant fix, and it’s important to give yourself grace in this process.
Mandy: You might even look at it as a gift in disguise. I’d say my ex was a gift because that situation got me into therapy, which got me into the relationship that I’m in now. It’s actually a gift even though it’s painful because there’s some part of you that is drawn to that. You might realize that it’s not something bad, it’s something that is going to lead you closer to what you want. I mean, Mandy in her twenties would not have been attracted to my current husband, Curtis, because I would’ve thought that he was dull and boring. That makes me sad to say because I think he is the most fun, wonderful man ever. But I had wounds in me.
Therapy taught me that I was attracted to men that treated me like crap because if they were so mean to me and I could win their love, it meant I was worthy of love. When I realized I was worthy of love, right now, today, this Mandy that I am right now, I was able to find the man that could love me for who I was and that it didn’t have to be hard to be real.
Natalie: Same with friendship. Our friendship came pretty easy. We just went to dinner, and boom we were just these three hotties!
Well, this has been a very real and raw conversation with me and two of my very close friends. This was basically a little view into my real conversations with these two women about my relationships, about men, and them teaching me about narcissism and toxic relationships. I learned so much through them sharing their stories with me, so I hope you got as much as I do from their thoughts and experiences.
If you’re in this space right now, you’re not alone. If you’ve gone through this space before, that doesn’t mean you’re broken. If you’re trying to recover from this, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you’re in the midst of it and you’re screwing up, we’re in the midst of it too. We get it, none of us have judgment towards it. It’s hard and we all go through hard stuff. The hard stuff is actually what strengthens you, and what gives you the grit and character necessarily to have success later on.
I hope this helped. If you can relate, or you have your own advice for anyone dealing with a narcissistic relationship, please share!
Thank you so much, Mandy and Rikki, for helping to cover this topic!