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7 Steps to Emotionally Heal After Leaving (or Living With) a Narcissist

1 no emotion 2Once you accept that you’re entangled in a love relationship with a narcissist, you have a key decision to make, either to: remain in the relationship for now, or leave. Or perhaps you’ve already left, yet keep getting entangled in the narcissist’s hoovering tactics.

In either case, give yourself time to cultivate a new understanding of how different the narcissist’s worldview is from yours, to identify and avoid the mind game traps they set, and in general, to practice new ways of responding to them, and in particular healing ways of interacting with yourself inside … in the process.

It takes time to train your brain and body to not activate your survival response unnecessarily, and, like it or not, the best context to unlearn old (codependency) patterns, and replace them with new response-habits, occurs in key moments when you are interacting with the narcissist.

It’s not just about how you respond to them, however. First and foremost, it’s about how you respond and manage your own inner thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations, so that you may do so in ways that grow, heal and transform you.

This brings us to a key ability you want to master — conscious emotional detachment — a learned ability to own what is yours to control, and let go of what is not, and do so in a consciously loving way that does not activate your body’s survival response. A conscious choice to take and stay on the high road is the only option that permits you to remain effectively connected to inner sources of strength and courage, informed decision-making, hope and belief in a brighter future for yourself, life, and life around you, and so on.

Here are 7 steps to cultivate a healing practice of conscious emotional detachment.

1. Let go of trying to “get” or “understand” them from your worldview.

The first step is based on first understanding how totally different their worldview is from yours. They pride themselves in not responding like mortal human beings! For example, they view their ability to deceive, to outsmart, to emotionally manipulate, to subvert your will as evidence of their superior status in relation to you, and they look for what they regard as easy targets (whom they regard as weak, inferior, etc.), that is, persons who refuse to be anything but nice, kind, loving, etc., and easily guilted, shamed, or told what they want to hear. To emotionally detach here means to let go of thinking patterns you become aware of in your own mind about them, in particular, ones that compulsively get you to either give in to them, or worked up, frustrated or indignant because you just “can’t believe” they would do or say so and so, and such and such. If you want to understand what the “real” problem is, and why they easily get to you, do yourself a favor, and: stop trying  to “understand” or “explain” their actions from your worldview of what it means to be human, and in a relationship with another human being. Your focus and efforts instead need to be on understanding what narcissism is (careful, there are a lot of misleading articles…), and in particular, to gain an understanding of the narcissist’s worldview — and then accept this reality. This allows you to “see” how they perceive themselves, you and their relationship with you.

2. Let go of a “neediness” for the narcissist to “get you”!

If you find yourself repeatedly explaining to the narcissist what they do that hurts and wounds you, or feeling you have to justify your actions to help the narcissist deal with their “insecurities,” think again. Keeping others in pain gives them pleasure, and a narcissist associates this ability with strength, proof of their superiority. The narcissist views the world as revolving around them, and thus they see themselves as entitled to prove their superiority on the basis of hurting or subverting their partners will (or, in case of covert narcissism, blocking their partners every attempt to gain cooperation). They view it as their job to be in control of their partners thoughts and emotions, and to never be controlled; and thus, they feel entitled to treat others as they wish or please. To them, they’re in misery, and entitled to use those who love them as punching bags. From this worldview, it’s reasonable to hurt and punish, and “train” others to stay focused on the only subject (them) that matters.

3. Let go of “needing” closure with them.

Understand that, from their vantage point, their top priority is to prove you never get any satisfation or credit for resolving “issues” that you may think are driving the conflict. What seems to be the problem is likely not the problem! The problem is that, although you’ve been the one who most has the narcissist’s back, they narcissist views you as a fierce competitor, whose out to dominate or control them if they were to let down their guard. From their perspective, there is no such thing as a partnership. All relationships, in partner couples, are between a top dog and underdog. You think you’re playing the “game of life,” but they’re always watching their back, playing “king of the hill”! That explains why they’re rarely “off” guard, and mostly “on” 24/7.

4. Let go of trying to change or “heal” them.

They won’t let you (or a therapist)! Their game plan is to be charming one moment, cocky the next, miserable in between, and so on, constantly devising ways to suck attention, and energy around them. After all, this is how they capture victims, keep them spinning their wheels, make them feeling increasingly inadequate, ever losing confidence, esteem, belief and hope. Based on their worldview, it is reasonable to display their superiority based on skills, such as gaslighting, to keep others guessing, doubting or second guessing themselves, confused and working hard (spinning wheels) to figure out what’s happening. They can change, of course, in that they have the same ability for change as everyone else. The main blocking factor is the meaning they ascribe to being human. From their view, humans fall in dichotomous categories of strong versus weak, superior versus inferior, those who rule and those meant to be ruled, master versus slave, and the like. They are so “needy” that they hate feeling human in any way, rather compulsively look for evidence that they are among the “select few” superior- or super-humans. It’s no wonder that they constantly display a “neediness” to prove their superiority, and other’s inferiority. This is one of their main drugs. Misery loves company, as the saying goes; your happiness is integral to your health, thus an important (and beautiful) responsibility. Own it.

5. Let go of trying to “please” them.

This doesn’t mean to never do pleasing things; it just means, when you do, make sure you do so, firstly, because it pleases you to do so and so, or such and such, and secondly, to never expect to get any credit! A true narcissist rarely if ever expresses gratitude and appreciation for their partner (or others, that is, except in situations where they are publicly seeking to impress, convey a certain image for their personal gain, impress or con others into thinking they’re the “good” guy, and their spouse is the “bad” guy, etc.). Thus, what you’re letting go is depending on them to fulfill the yearning inside you to feel they value your contributions and that you exist as a valued partner. They won’t let this happen! A true narcissist thinks it’s their job to keep you feeling disapproved or inadequate, and this is consistent with their belief that the world revolves around them. It’s against their belief system, as: only inferior humans express gratitude and give credit to others. Also, don’t expect them to reciprocate. They view their partners like possessions, work horses or slaves, and they avoid work they consider menial and beneath them. In their mind, slaves do the work, and masters keep slaves working hard to please them, afraid not to, ever trying to win their favor, perhaps get a crumb or two tossed their way.

6. Let go of empathizing/seeing the narcissist’ view (!).

A narcissist actively seeks to get into others minds and impose their worldview. They want you to think of them as their master. They want you to think of yourself as a slave who has one purpose, and that is to serve at their pleasure. Based on their worldview, empathy is a trait that is never associated with those who are strong, mighty, superior; and rather those who are weak, inferior, low status, etc. According to their game plan, they seek those who empathize, to hoard it, and pride themselves in not being moved by others pain. So it’s not only futile to tell them how much they hurt you, and describe why this is wounding, it also gives them inside information to use against you. In relational therapy contexts, a narcissist often identifies themselves during drills that require empathic listening, for example, where they literally refuse or find ways to dance around any requests for them to paraphrase and repeat what they heard their partners say.

The more you empathize with them, or try to, the more space you give them to get into your mind, to control how you think and feel about them, yourself, your relationship, and every situation!  For example, you may have found that, the more you try to empathize with how they feel, the more you fall into taking all the responsibility for any wrongs or bad outcomes, blaming yourself for their ongoing insecurities and “unhappiness,” making excuses or justifying their wrongful or hurtful actions, and so on.

7. Let go of thinking or talking with a victim-voice.

You are who you think you are, and become what you think and speak into being. The narcissist has methodically dedicated time and effort to getting inside your mind to ensure you think and believe what serves them and their highest interest for controlling your life, isolating you from others, depending solely on them for emotional or financial support and so on. For example, they keep trying to get you to think they are the victim, to hold your attention and focus, and take your energies hostage.

In truth, they cannot get to you unless you allow them. It also helps to observe your own inner resistance, for example, a refusal to believe that their actions are intentionally cold, calculating, or that they take pleasure in hurting you emotionally. It’s cold, and yes it hurts; but facing this pain is not your enemy, it’s a best friend or teacher. The real enemy is what causes emotional suffering, that is, avoiding the pain of growing out of old comfort zones (same applies to the narcissist).

In sum, consciously-loving emotional detachment is a practice that allows you to avoid unnecessary activiating your body’s survival response, and keep your mind and body in optimal emotional states of being, so that you have access to inner resources and informed choices.

It is a gift you give yourself (and ultimately the other), though may not sound like it at first.

Potentially, it’s also a gift to the narcissist, as it offers the best context in which the narcissist partner can opt to heal themselves (however, this must not be your primary focus!). If you really, really want to heal and break free of toxic patterns, your focus must remain primarily on you, and your own inner change.

Truth be told, every partner who wants a healthy, long lasting love relationship must come to grips with the reality, that: You cannot heal or be genuinely healthy for another if you’re not genuinely invested in your own growth health and wellbeing.

Learning how to protect your health, growth and happiness is one of the most loving thing you can do to be and bring your best to your life, and all your relationships, to include the one with yourself.

7 Steps to Emotionally Heal After Leaving (or Living With) a Narcissist

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik shows clients how to break free of anxiety, addictions, and other emotional blocks, to awaken radiantly healthy lives and relationships. Dr. Staik is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2017). 7 Steps to Emotionally Heal After Leaving (or Living With) a Narcissist. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 12, 2018, from


Last updated: 7 Jan 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Jan 2017
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