Letting go of a relationship can be the most difficult thing you will do in your life, even if you know it’s the right thing to do. This is especially true of relationships with toxic individuals, such as narcissists.
Despite all the crying, begging, conforming, and compromising that those who’ve traveled this courageous passage have engaged in, once they made the final leap and left, they discovered that their relationship was over long before it ended.
When life is telling you you’re in a relationship that’s no good for you, it’s in your best interest to notice the signs and plan accordingly. Following are five compelling signs it’s time to leave:
1 – Your partner constantly points out things they “don’t like” about you
Oddly, they may be the very things they loved about you in the beginning. Narcissists groom their targets by claiming to love everything about them…the way they dress, their hairstyle, their interests, their taste in music, their love of the arts.
Then shockingly, the things they once loved about you became the reasons they were ‘forced’ to cheat, stop having sex with you, or start a new relationship with someone else.
The reason this manipulative tactic has such a profound effect on your self-esteem is because you’ve spent a good portion of your life developing your preferences, interests, personality, and personal style. Along the way, you became comfortable in your own skin. Then, along came someone who appeared to love every little thing about you. In fact, it seemed the two of you shared many things in common.
Then slowly, like dismantling a jigsaw puzzle, they began taking little parts of you away by claiming they were intolerable. Things that meant the most to you: your family, your friends, your appearance, your relationship with your children, the love you have for your pets, your charity involvements, your violin lessons.
Until, you didn’t know who you were anymore.
Narcissists strive to keep people small and “well-disciplined”. This will play out through criticizing everything about you so that you end up changing yourself to fit inside the small box they’ve designed for you.
True love doesn’t take away the things that make up who you are. It doesn’t diminish you. If you feel like you can’t do anything right, that you couldn’t possibly attract someone else, that you’re “too old”, too needy, too sensitive to be in a relationship with anyone else, these are signs that scream it’s time to leave.
2 – Their words don’t match their actions
Narcissists are absolute geniuses at telling you what you want to hear at just the right moment to keep you hooked in the relationship.
Think back to the last time you caught them cheating or they suddenly materialized after disappearing off the face of the earth for two weeks. Regardless of the dialogue that played out, I would imagine they successfully rationalized and minimized their relationship crimes. In the moment, you may have even felt like you could sympathize with what they were saying. They promised they would try to do better, that they love only you, that the two of you belong together (and should get engaged), they’ll get that house the two of you looked at, that they will break it off with the new person.
And you bought into it.
Alternately, they may have come back saying they met someone new and now can’t decide between you or the other person. This is the initial step in their plan to triangulate between the two of you.
This is precisely what they do to people who are over-conscientious (willing to give the narcissist the benefit of the doubt) and who tend to over-intellectualization (tries hard to empathize and believe the narcissist has some understandable reason to be hurtful). It also plays into the fairytale you have in your mind about their finally having The Epiphany and renouncing their awful behaviors for the sake of true love.
This typically plays out in their depicting their horrible childhood, their crippling family-of-origin wounds, their Ex who cheated on them all the time – and now they have some unconscious and uncontrollable agenda to sleep with everyone they can…
Before you know it, you’re accepting things you never thought you would in your relationship, vowing to stick by their side, and feeling like a fool because of it. That’s because on a subconscious and intuitive level, you know the narcissist is a liar who has absolutely no plans to change.
That’s not to say that you should stop being compassionate and understanding with the people you care about, only that if your toxic partner constantly has “reasons” they behave the way they do, and is perpetually explaining away their unacceptable behaviors and you feel like an idiot because of it, it’s another sign that shouts it’s time to leave.
3 – You constantly obsess about your toxic partner and feel insecure about yourself
Do you obsess for hours, wondering what you’ve done wrong and what precisely changed about you that caused your relationship to be sucked into a spiraling eddy of despair?
Are you barely able to function at work or, worse, barely able to function as a parent because you’re immobilized by feelings of powerlessness and fear of what your partner is up to?
Do you constantly feel the awful knot of abandonment fear in your stomach, terrified that your relationship is on thin ice and in danger of falling into the subzero, deadly waters below?
Sure, maybe you’ve dealt with insecurity or struggled with low self-esteem before, but it was always a passing moment that you talked yourself out of. Now, after meeting the narcissist, you feel like you’re among the dregs of society, despite your success and accomplishments.
What does this mean? Your whole state of emotional brokenness has been manufactured by the narcissist. Your life may not have been perfect before meeting them, but you were generally happy and satisfied with life, right?
The only independent variable here is the narcissist. See screaming sign #1.
Narcissists tend to choose open, kind people with compassionate hearts because they are more likely to fight for the relationship and less likely to leave when the going gets tough. These empathic individuals never stop trying to fix the relationship and narcissists are keenly aware of this…and they will manipulate you until the end of time based on your compassionate tendencies.
If you feel worthless, depressed, crazy, suspicious, and are unable to function in your daily life, it’s a screaming sign that you have Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome and need to leave.
4 – They make you choose between them or your children
Narcissists are jealous of anything or anyone that takes your attention away from them. Your children are no exception.
One of the most heartbreaking elements of narcissistic abuse is the disconnect that happens between abuse victims and their children. There are few things that make the narcissist feel more powerful than having so much influence over you that you are willing to obey their commands and interact with your children according to what the narcissist deems fit. I’ve even seen parents kicking their older children out of the house because the narcissist said it was time for them to go.
There are two common and unfortunate scenarios that typically play out when one is involved with a narcissist in regards to their children. First, abuse victims are so consumed with the narcissist due to crippling self-esteem issues, trauma-bonding and PTSD symptoms, they have little attention or energy to give to their children. Many times, all they can do is clothe and feed them, but have very little capacity to be truly present with them. This often results in children feeling unseen, neglected, and unloved.
Second, because parents who are targets of narcissistic abuse often develop such extreme levels of anxiety, depression, and hypersensitivity, they can become impatient with their children, or find themselves resenting their children for behaving in ways that upset the narcissist. This leads to further disconnect, with the children feeling unloved and unworthy, which may lead to their developing either codependent or narcissistic traits as a defense mechanism.
If either of the above scenarios describe your relationship with your children, it’s a sign that thunders it’s time to leave.
5 – You’re constantly trying to change or “improve” yourself
Because narcissistic abuse victims are often “fixer” types, they tend to believe the narcissist when he or she blames them for the cavernous cracks in the relationship. This leads to the non-narcissist trying to “be flexible and compromising”. This may play out in the form of changing their appearance, behaviors, habits, or even relationships with other people (including family members!)
The reason this never results in an improved relationship with the narcissist is because their whole agenda consists of never allowing you to feel a shred of emotional security. This is how they control you. When you are focused on changing things about yourself, you are less focused on what they are up to behind the scenes. Additionally, if they can make you feel like your relationship problems are all your fault, they feel justified in continuing their hurtful behaviors, i.e., cheating, lying, and disappearing for days on end.
This is typically referred to as the narcissist “changing the goal posts”, and it’s a hallmark behavior trait of manipulative people whose intention is to exploit your willingness to try harder. If this sounds like your relationship, it’s a screaming sign that it’s time to leave.
Leaving a toxic relationship is never easy, but it’s always the right thing to do. There is nothing you can do to change a toxic, narcissistic individual. You can’t pretend their behavior away or love it away or deny it away. You can’t change it by drinking, drugging, shopping, or self-sabotaging it away.
You can’t avoid their negative influence by being more submissive. Devotion is never about being submissive. Devotion never requires that you feel small to make another person feel big.
However, you can change your life’s course by changing your circumstances. If you decide to stay, it’s certainly your prerogative, but you must acknowledge that doing so will not result in any improved behaviors on the narcissist’s part.
Copyright 2016 Kim Saeed and Let Me Reach
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Kim Saeed is a recognized relationship and new life educator specializing in helping narcissistic abuse survivors to heal, rebuild, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. In 2013, she founded Let Me Reach, a life transformation company that teaches people to flourish after toxic relationships.