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narcissist breaks promises

When the Narcissist Does What They Said They Wouldn’t Do…Again

Does this sound familiar?

You recently settled into a vague sense of security after the narcissist swore on their mother’s grave that they wouldn’t (insert relationship crime) again, yet you discovered they broke their sacred promise.  Perhaps they…

  • Swore they’d stop cheating, but you discovered they not only cheated again, they never stopped
  • Swore they’d try to be a better partner, spouse, friend, or parent, but after a short period of charades, they went back to the same ole, same ole
  • Swore they’d find gainful employment, and you found out they were not going on interviews, but visiting a lover
  • Swore they’d be fair and civil during the custody hearing, but you got sucker-punched when you went before the Judge
  • Swore they’d stop being insensitive, stop raging, stop lying, but you realized that was all just more lies

Consequently, you not only loathe the narcissist, you loathe yourself for falling for their lies once more.  You feel the punch of indignation in your gut and your fight-or-flight reaction kicks into overdrive.

Why the heck do they do it?  Do they get some sick enjoyment out of it?  Is it to prove to themselves (and you) that they can do anything they want and you’ll keep taking them back?  Is it their sadistic sense of entitlement?

Among the horrid relationship crimes that one endures from the narcissist in their life, habitually broken promises are the worst.  Why? Well, for one, it’s futile to blame a narcissist for being a narcissist.  After all, they have a track record of being habitual liars.  We can’t really expect them to change when they’ve given no indication that they can be trusted.

More importantly, though, these repeat offenses lead to learned helplessness, depression, and C-PTSD.

The danger of staying when the narcissist keeps breaking their promises

Narcissists love to blame other people for their nasty behaviors.  In turn, their targets typically respond by being more supportive, understanding, kind, or compromising in an effort to persuade the narcissist to halt their betrayals and cruelties.

Instead, what happens is, patterns of deception and denial are established.  This may be to avoid the narcissist’s wrath or keep the peace, proving to the narcissist you’re not the crazy psycho they say you are but, underneath the surface, it’s a system of enabling.  A system the narcissist fabricates from the very start. 

Eventually, the target of this type of manipulation begins to feel powerless to do anything to stop the cheating, lying, disappearing, etc., believing they are resigned to accept their situation – even though this usually is not the case. 

Abuse victims may soldier on, keeping a silent list of the narcissist’s dreadful traits and wondering when their betrayals will stop. However, these attempts to cope accomplish nothing but staying stuck in an impossible situation. 

Disappointment is a constant and fixed component of a relationship with a narcissist.  Below are the long-term repercussions of staying in the relationship when the narcissist breaks promises.

Learned Helplessness

According to Wikipedia, Learned Helplessness is “a mental state in which a subject forced to endure stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are escapable, presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation”.

If you are familiar with the “Seligman Dog” experiments, the dogs were shocked repeatedly both when they completed a task correctly and also when they did not.  The “dogs were so confused that they laid down depressed and GAVE UP and even whined–and this was Learned Helplessness that the dogs were experiencing”.

The Narcissist instills this in his or her targets through behaviors such as systematic brainwashing, inconsistent actions and words, blame-shifting, gas lighting, and more – which also results in Trauma Bonding.

Or, you may simply be in a state of denial because you want the relationship to continue, still holding onto hope that things might eventually improve.  Either way, these are all-inclusive signs that you’re being psychologically manipulated and on a path of irreparable annihilation. 


In many cases, depression can be traced back to emotional trauma. In the context of narcissistic abuse, emotional trauma happens with single or repeated incidents of shaming, verbal attacks, and chronic incidents of infidelity.  The eventual discard of the target of narcissistic abuse adds to any existing emotional traumas, leading to the overwhelming shock of the person’s equilibrium. 

People who are emotionally traumatized often form limiting and self-defeating beliefs about themselves.  These negative beliefs may include: “I’m unlovable”, “love hurts”, “I’ll never feel emotionally safe”, “no one truly cares about me” …many of which are the product of early childhood wounds and further exacerbated by the betrayals and cruel statements by a narcissistic partner. 

Further, it’s not only traumatic events that cause depression, but how we think about the events that often determines the level of strain we experience in the context of depressive episodes.  A study by psychologists at the University of Liverpool found that traumatic life events are the biggest cause of anxiety and depression, but how a person thinks about these events ultimately determines the level of stress they experience.

Researchers from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society analyzed the responses of over 32,000 participants to explore the causes and consequences of stress.  The study — the biggest of its kind in the UK- found that traumatic life events were the single biggest determinant of anxiety and depression. However, the results revealed that a person’s thinking style was as much a factor in the level of anxiety and depression a person experienced.[1]

You can see, then, how staying in a relationship with an individual who emotionally abuses you and repeatedly breaks their promises can cause crippling levels of chronic depression due to repeated emotional traumas, the nature of which is made worse by the limiting beliefs we form in response to the narcissist’s degrading verbal assaults.


People who have been emotionally and psychologically abused typically display C-PTSD symptoms that can mimic bipolar disorder.

Judith Herman, author of Trauma & Recovery, describes C-PTSD as a form of trauma associated with prolonged subjection to totalitarian control including emotional abuse, domestic violence or torture—all repeated traumas in which there is an actual or perceived inability for the victim to escape. [2]  This may cause difficulty in regulating one’s emotions, explosive anger, and changes in self-perception which include shame, guilt, and self-blame.

Even more alarming, repeated emotional injuries shrink the brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, while enlarging the amygdala, which houses primitive emotions such as fear, grief, guilt, envy, and shame.

In short, you habitually become hijacked by your freeze response, unable to form rational thoughts or reactions.  Over time, this becomes your baseline state of being.  It’s a cycle of emotional destruction of the most grievous kind. 

What to do

Giving the narcissist another chance only makes sense if they have dealt responsibly and completely with the consequences of previous failures. Otherwise, their requests for “second chances” are just  attempts to live irresponsibly.  Waiting for the narcissist to change may stem from not wanting to make the difficult decisions that are clearly called for.

Recovery from narcissistic abuse (along with the constant broken promises) begins with No Contact (or, in the case of shared custody, a strict program of Modified Contact).  Narcissistic abuse creates a toxic addiction which is near impossible to overcome unless strong boundaries are implemented and communications are ceased altogether. 

The narcissist’s presence damages your recovery, and believe me, you want to recover as quickly as possible.  Otherwise, things will only continue to spiral downwards for you.

[1] Traumatic life events biggest cause of anxiety, depression. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2016, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016213223.htm

[2] PTSD: National Center for PTSD. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2016, from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/complex-ptsd.asp 

Leave a Comment:

1 comment
Chely says August 17, 2017

Hello Kim,
Thank-you for your articles and insight relationships with narcissists. I have been married to a narcisisst, covertly abusive man for just over 20 years. Four years ago I discovered the affairs, and had been trying to save my marriage since then. When I first started my education on emotional abuse and narcissism I read a few of your articles but hoped I was different and could save my marriage. Being together since then, from the outside looking in you would think that we have (appearances ya know). Not that too many people even know of our situation (his affairs). There was a point that I actually thought I might have. But I must admit that I realize that there wasn’t really any chance all along.

But it’s been hard to admit the truth and let go of the comforts/standard of living afforded me as his wife. And despite the abuse there have been many good things in our life together, sadly though many unfullfilled needs too. Mine is the nice guy abuser- no one sees but me and kids,(young adults now.

I realize that I will never have peace of mind again if I remain with him. It’s back to just like before but the difference this time is me, No longer am I willing to accept the crumbs, the lies, being second choice, gas lighted and manipulated. I want a divorce, but I also want my fair share of our assets. I am fairly certain he will hide money as he has always controlled everything. I know I need the best lawyer possible who understands about covert emotional abuse or I don’t stand much of a chance of not getting steamrolled in this divorce. Not to mention the smear campaign that scares the hell out of me. I need someone on my side who gets it.

But my question is how do I find a lawyer who is skilled in this area that practices in my county? I have searched many ways, interviewed three different ones. Two didn’t understand and the third I think got it, but he got terrible reviews by many clients; late to court, unprepared, didn’t return calls etc.. So I couldn’t trust him. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

Thank-you Kim

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