The Chaos Theory of Narcissistic Abuse

By Kim Saeed | Contemplating No Contact

Aug 25
Chaos Theory Narcissistic Abuse

Most people have heard of the Butterfly Effect, which states that a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world – at just the right point in space and time – can eventually cause a hurricane on the other side of the world.

And while we don’t have any control over the world’s butterflies flapping their wings, we set in motion a different set of events for each decision we make inside toxic relationships.

People generally want to stay away from hazardous situations, right?

Most people avoid trying Meth because they’ve seen pictures of what it can do to one’s physical appearance.

Others avoid drinking and driving because it’s against the law, and because it would put themselves and other drivers in danger of losing their lives.

We know that smoking cigarettes can lead to lung disease or cancer.

…and any sensible person would steer clear of a mother bear who’s foraging with her cubs because they know they probably wouldn’t leave that encounter alive. 

More than the immediate or short-term effects of these actions, people typically strive to avoid engaging in them because those activities have the potential to destroy lives.

But what about the long-term implications of being in a toxic relationship?

Just like the butterfly flapping its wings in China which might cause a hurricane in Mexico, there are longstanding effects for every decision we make, and the ones we make while in toxic relationships can either move us and the world toward healing…or move us toward chaos.

The Choice Point

Each time a narcissist’s target completes another cycle of emotional abuse, there is a window of opportunity called a Choice Point. It’s in this place where we have the chance to change the negative cycles that have become a pattern…in our lives and those of the people we love.

In that space, we can either keep making the same choices that keep us entangled in toxic relationships, or we can choose a different path.  We can choose other ways of behaving and different ways of thinking.

Every choice we make is creating our future. 

It’s challenging to stop and think about this when you’re in constant fight-or-flight mode during narcissistic abuse.  But, the choices we make now not only affect our future, but the future of our children, our grandchildren, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our society.

In moments of betrayal and emotional devastation – which are inescapable inside narcissistic abuse – we just want to feel better about ourselves, to stop the pain, and for things to change back to “normal”. 

But what we typically don’t think about in those moments is what could happen in the next week, year, or decade when we choose to stay in toxic relationships.  We don’t ponder that we are creating ripples that will affect other individuals and ultimately, the world.

Many people believe they’re immune from the effects of narcissistic abuse…until they get fired from their job, their pet is harmed or killed, they have a psychotic breakdown, or their child commits suicide due to constant verbal assaults and being made to feel unworthy. 

  • We don’t ponder that we might be ruining our career because we won’t stop answering an abusive partner’s text messages in the middle of a corporate meeting – putting ourselves at risk of homelessness.
  • We may not recognize that when we experience repeated stress from emotional and verbal abuse, our brains are being restructured… for the worse.
  • We don’t think about how staying in toxic relationships will likely set our children up to be either narcissistic or codependent…thereby perpetuating generational dysfunction.

But, what can you do when you’ve just found out the narcissist has cheated (once more) or you’ve discovered they told you a whopper of a lie (once more) and all you can do to get through the moment is breathe into a paper bag to prevent yourself from hyperventilating? 

You always have a choice

It’s almost impossible to think rationally during moments of emotional crisis.  But, even during times of unbearable anguish, there exists that fraction of a second when your cognitive mind says, “See, we knew this would happen.  I don’t know why you won’t listen to me.”

But then, your traumatized subconscious mind tries to beat your cognitive mind to the ground.  Almost instantly, you start wondering how you can make the narcissist accountable or how you can get back into their good graces so they’ll choose you over their affair partner. 

These are your choice point events.  And there are much larger forces at play.  Choice points are not random episodes, but wake up calls.  Times where we need to read the signs and make better choices. 

Some choice points are extremely important in our lives… life-changing turning points.  When we can bring our awareness to when important choice points are at hand, our lives can become greatly enriched with far wiser choices.

How to navigate your Choice Point moments

1 – Notice your “Not This” moments

In every toxic relationship, there comes a point where you look at your life and think, “Not This”.  It could be a fleeting moment of awareness during your morning shower or when you’re being subjected to yet another Silent Treatment or Triangulation event. 

We all have “Not This” moments during the course of toxic relationships.

“At some point in our lives (unless we have done everything perfectly…which is: nobody) we will have to face a terrible moment in which we realize that we have somehow ended up in the wrong place — or at least, in a very bad place.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Option A – It’s during our “Not This” moments that we can choose to start planning something different for ourselves. We may not know what that will look like, but in the moment, it doesn’t matter.  All we know is “Not This”.  There is no turning back.

Option B – Or, after the dust settles, we choose to “work on” the relationship because staying means less upheaval than leaving. At least with a toxic partner, we know what to expect.  Nobody’s life is perfect, right?  

Getting out on one’s own is often a scary proposition, so we choose to stay in “Not This”, thereby setting ourselves (and our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren) up for lives of chaos and emotional ruin.

2 – Don’t let old paradigms chart the course of your life

Most of us were raised with very limiting ideas and concepts, such as:

  • Marriage is sacred and to leave that institution is unforgivable
  • Having a job and bringing in a steady paycheck is the formula for success in life
  • We shouldn’t let emotional setbacks delay our progression…any breakups or fights with significant others should be kept to oneself
  • Suck it up and get over it

Subscribing to these beliefs is part of what’s wrong with our world today.  They’re why most people never create a Plan B for their lives.

Perhaps you’ve had many “Not This” moments, but you are frozen because…

…your brain can’t bring itself to say “NOT THIS”, because that would cause a serious problem. The problem is: You don’t have a Plan B in place. This is the only life you have. This is the only job you have. This is the only spouse you have. This is the only house you have. Your brain says, “It may not be great, but we have to put up with it, because there are no other options.” You’re not sure how you got here — to this place of THIS — but you sure as hell don’t know how to get out…

So, your brain says: “WE NEED TO KEEP PUTTING UP WITH THIS, BECAUSE THIS IS ALL WE HAVE.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

You don’t have to have Plan B in place to make different choices.  It only requires that you believe a different life is possible. 

It requires you to stop for a second to observe what you are doing, feeling, and thinking. Allow inner experience to flow throw you.   Decide what kind of person you want to be.  Decide on actions and do them.   Choose actions that will reflect your values.

Choice points are times when you can stop, reflect, and look for answers.

3 –   Know that you are no less than other survivors

Ultimately, there are no defining differences between you and others who have made it through their own choice points. 

I’ve seen doctors, attorneys, and therapists lose everything while choosing to stay with abusive partners.

I’ve seen people who were unemployed, on disability, and even a few people on the brink of homelessness decide “Not This” – and work toward building a different life for themselves after leaving narcissistic abuse.

Our circumstances don’t define us.  Change is an act of will.

“Will is our acting upon and in our world. It is not wish, want, hope, try, maybe, should, kinda, soon, have to. It is the act that moves us from purpose and meaning through deliberation into choice and action. And right in the middle, between purpose and action is the Choice Point. There is always a fraction of a second, or a minute or days, when we are poised at the edge of a decision.” – Dorothy Firman, Ed.D

Choice points are precious moments where we get to identify the actions which will become our legacy. When we consider that moment between impulse and action, we then have a true choice. We can act in accordance with our values instead of against them. We can act in congruence with our deepest truth.

Copyright Let Me Reach and Kim Saeed 2017



About the Author

Kim Saeed is a narcissistic abuse recovery expert on a mission to help abuse survivors to heal, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. She also hosts a podcast called Heal, Grow, Evolve, where she aims to help people create meaningful lives and relationships after emotional abuse. Listen and subscribe at

Leave a Comment:

(27) comments

Lavin October 15, 2017

Thank you Kim! My story is the same as countless others. The only difference is when he discarded me, I contacted a woman from his past who had the same unexpected discard. Her sharing the hoovering and triangulation and gut wrenching pain he put her through helped me stay no contact. I went from shattered into a million pieces to understang so much about myself. Your site has hèlped me understand NPD. I had no idea what it was! Thank you Kim. You are a great gift to us all.

Jaxs September 20, 2017

Kim, I’ve been struggling this past few weeks with a dark sadness. I have no contact with him and we’ve been separate for 17 months, fully divorced nine months. No kids. Our marriage ended when he became someone I had not seen in 19 years with him. An ugly, vile, hissing creature. I’ve gone to counseling but recognize I owe so much to the Polk County Attorney, the five weeks after I called 911 saved me, gave me time to breathe clean air!

Back to your article… I think I was feeling like all of this “happened” to me. Your article opened my eyes that it didn’t just happen, I made it happen. It was my choice point moment. I hated him driving drunk and refused to get out of the car, trying to keep him home. He pulled me out of the car by my hair, laughed that I couldn’t lick the door to protect myself because the keys were in his pocket, sat on me and started hitting me in the face. It was the first and last time he touched me. I got a good punch back that shows up on his mugshot. When he got back in the car because neighbors were stirring, I jumped back in too. I gave him three chances to pull over and on the third he sped up. I used his phone and dialed 911. As the operator came on to say what’s your emergency I watched him morph back into a scared man. Thank you so much! I woke up this morning and the sadness was gone. Realized I put this part into play is life changing for me, I’m not the victim. I stood up for myself and said no more. You’ll never know how great I feel today. I can think and I can smile. This was so powerful for me!! Thank you!! Jackie

    Kim Saeed September 25, 2017

    Wow, Jackie.

    Thank you for letting me know how deeply my article resonated with you. I am beyond happy that you have taken your power back and are on the way to a healed and joyful life. You deserve it 🙂

    Wishing you all the best,

    Kim XoXo

Irma September 17, 2017

Yes I finally made a choice .I suffered 4years of verbal,emotional and physical abuse from my ex narc boyfriend and I took the high road when it comes to life and death .Took him to court and got a temporary restraining order .Needless to say he didn’t got a permanent restraining order.
Started to Hoover me back after 3 1/2 months by using his step mom to contact me and wanted to talk to me regarding his medical insurance and that he just got out of the hospital.
So I talk to him and since I wanted closure I got suck back in by telling me he misses me so much and loves me .I end up meeting with him and found out his the same person with no remorse and no intention of getting help from his abuse .I finally found closure knowing he has his status in Facebook “in a relationship ” 2months after we broke up.
It was the ultimate insult and final revelation that I decided this is all I needed to close the chapter in my life from this heartless, evil person in the face of the earth .

SVR September 11, 2017

I loved this. All so very true. Choice Point is brilliant where you get a glimpse of clarity. Also I liked “change is an act of will, indeed.
Thank you Kim ☺

Jennifer September 11, 2017

This is so right on. I remember contiplating both choices. In the end I knew my life depended on it. I was an emotional wreck.. I just made a phone call on a burner phone to a moving company that got me out fast, trusting the universe to steer me from there… Motel and storage facility. Lost a lot but not my life!!!

    Kim Saeed September 13, 2017

    Hi Jennifer…good for you. It truly is a life or death situation. Wishing you all the best!


Karen September 8, 2017

Thank you for this article I finally had this “Not This” moment just last week. It is both terrifying and liberating at the same time. I am learning to cut off my very alcoholic, verbally abusive husband. As his addictions have deepened through the last 12 plus years in an almost 20-year marriage I have struggled to find the strength to leave him. I am the main bread winner of the family and the kids have always said but where will dad go. That can no longer be my concern. And now he says I am evil and heartless. The thought of being with him even one more day is more than I can bear and feels like a death sentence. If it were not for the kids I would quit my job and disappear into the night. Your insight is very helpful at this point in my life.

Jean Byars September 2, 2017

it has close to 5 years of no contact and rebuilding my life….I have got no words to make sense at all….Not only no contact with the XN…I also have had no contact with my oldest daughter…My heart will never be the same…She saw and new all about his extra maritial affairs…heard him wishing me was dead and so on and so on….I just cant wrap my head around why she stands by my XN….
Feel like i am living in a nightmare…

javad September 1, 2017

its,great…and funny on time for how i feel now..thank you kim

Jamuna August 30, 2017

Hi Kim, I would love to let you know that I pray for you and your good work, I didnt know about narcssism at all although having a narcssist Mom,everything went wrong in m’y life bcoz her, finaly I was drowned in happiness that I hv found thé love of my life and hé is going to fullfil the emptiness of a family, the maternal love i never had…sadly he is also a narcssist…..your mails are like a torch light in my darkness….Im fighting against the love addiciction that m’y lover is not a bad person at all but all I can forsee is Im going to loose everything again in my life bcoz of him.
Thann you so much m’y friend in need Kim…..

    Kim Saeed September 3, 2017

    Thank you for your sweet message, Jamuna. Wishing you all the very best as you move forward.

    Kim XoXo

Bobby August 30, 2017

I just discovered your blog. Thank you….mine was such a strange N/SP situation that a movie script is being written about it…and a record…Still recovering..
Thanks Kim

Ring August 28, 2017

I think I forgot to add my email address when I previously submitted this post….thankfully I’ve developed the good habit of copying everything I write in a form before submitting! 🙂

I believe a fundamental element that leads to a healthy decision at a choice point is intuition. A few days ago I listened to a very important Sam Harris podcast titled “Living With Violence” with Gavin de Becker which can be listened to here: He stresses the importance of heeding one’s intuition when confronted with danger. Although his message is primarily targeted at avoiding physical danger (as many of us are placed in), the same principle applies to implementing intuition to avoiding emotional danger as well. And how right he was. I can hear the voice that went through my head as clear as day that said “Stay away from him, ________, stay away.” Right on par with “Not this”….which is an intuitive message as well.

Mr de Becker also wrote the #1 New York Times bestseller The Gift of Fear (also on my ever-growing list of books to read).

I think it’s really essential.

Thanks for the ripples Kim.

Bonnie August 27, 2017

Thank you for this thoughtful and insighful post. I can only wish I had known this information at age 18. I spent over 40 years married to a narcissist. Jumping through the hoops of perpetual people pleasing left me tired and sad but on the day he put a note on the door saying he needed to ‘find himself’ ( along with a internet honey)I was devastated beyond belief. At age 65 it was hard to start over. Now at age 70,with much education on and about his condition and my own dysfunctional people pleasing approach to life, I see that my choices and options are broader and more varied than I thought. This has been the most difficult lesson of my life. I hope younger people hear the stories so they make wiser choices. Thank you for all you do to spread the word.

    Kim Saeed August 27, 2017

    Hi Bonnie,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you’ll continue to work on your happiness as you move forward. You deserve it.

    Kim XoXo

Michelle August 26, 2017

Thank you for sending this today. I am at one of my “pausing points” where I think “this sucks”, “he makes me cry more than he makes me smile”, “he steps on my boundaries on purpose”. “He doesn’t respect me”, “I deserve more “, “we want different things”, “I can’t do this anymore”, “it’s not getting better “. I’ve been here before, but I go back to him. I am codependent and insecure.

    Kim Saeed August 27, 2017

    Hi Michelle,

    Thank you for sharing. Please know that being codependent and insecure is not a life sentence. I’ve healed from those things and you can, too. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

    Kim XoXo

    Lisa September 6, 2017

    I hear ya…….that’s how I feel and that’s what I say all of the time.

Anonymous August 26, 2017

Thank you Kim,
It’s been almost a year of NC and your work keeps me motivated. I am forever grateful the universe brought you to me.

    Kim Saeed August 27, 2017

    Thank you, Anon. So glad to know my work is helping you along the way.

    Kim XoXo

Anonymous August 26, 2017

Yes, the Butterfly Effect is unexpected. A year after break up & No Contact, a year of No Response from his online boovers from fake online accounts & he hoovered my sister 2 days ago. Never expected that, or to have warn my nieces on that app to block him immediately after my sisters hoover…just in case.

    Kim Saeed August 26, 2017

    Hi Anon…I’m sorry to hear that. Good job on the blocking and NC, though!

    Kim XoXo

tamterell August 26, 2017

My oh my, this is life changing, Thank you Kim
Forget about the naysayers and keep doing what you do for those of us who really need you. For those of us who truly appreciate all you do. For those of us who are SURVIVORS because of you.

    Kim Saeed August 26, 2017

    Thank you, Tamterell. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for the long haul…for people just like you 🙂

    Kim XoXo

ThePinch August 25, 2017

I learned a lot from Kim.

I no longer blame myself. He was one of the few individuals I’ve met in my life who could lie looking straight in my eyes. Almost impossible not to be fooled by this.

I wasn’t a weak person. I was someone who needed love and sex like I need food and nurture. I’d been denying it for a long time in myself. He provided an automatic solution to my dilemma. You know, like junk food. But the danger went way beyond food poisoning, into the realm of life and death. At that point, I had no choice.

Through radical acceptance, I was able to I accept these needs. I need good loving, good sex, and a healthy relationship. And the AHA button turned on. I learned something about psychopaths. I can survive them. And I learned something about myself. I’m okay!

Thanks, Kim – you are a beacon of light.

    Kim Saeed August 27, 2017

    Thank you, Pinch. I’m very glad to know I’ve helped in some way. I like your mention of ‘radical acceptance’. That’s a necessary step in moving forward. I think reaching acceptance is hard for most, and I’m glad you’ve embraced it and are healing.

    Kim XoXo

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