(Prefer to watch/listen? See/hear on YouTube) If you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship with a narcissist – a toxic parent, friend or family member – or even a narcissistic ex – chances are that at least on some level, you found yourself feeling pretty alone in the world. If this person isn’t a family member, you might even find yourself thinking back and remembering the good old days when you might have had a best friend or even a whole group of them. And if the narcissist is or was a romantic partner, you may have had a family that cared about you, and other friends who had your back before you had met the narcissist.
But what happens all too often is that we get so wrapped up in these toxic relationships that we miss something really big – the fact that narcissists have this way of pushing people away from us. We are kept away from people in our lives who might either take our attention away from the narcissist or worse, who might support us against them once we realize exactly what we’re dealing with.
How Love-Bombing and Idealization Play Into Self-Isolation in Toxic Relationships
Now, at first, if this person is a friend or especially a romantic partner, this will seem almost natural. You might find yourself sort of foregoing time with others for a while, voluntarily. And this is pretty normal up to a point at the beginning of a new relationship. But when you’re dealing with a toxic narcissist, it isn’t just that you’re dealing with a normal sort of early-relationship infatuation. Instead, something much more sinister is going on.
On a deeper level, whether consciously or not, the narcissist has a goal to isolate you from others, both for the reasons I mentioned, as well as because it causes you to become more dependent on the narcissist. This ensures that not only will you stick around until they’re done with you, but also that you’ll be more easily controlled by the narcissist.
And, in so many cases, you might find yourself self-isolating as a result of emotional exhaustion that you deal with when you are constantly bombarded with the narcissistic manipulation tactics and games they play with your head. As if that wasn’t enough, you might also develop crippling social anxiety after or during a relationship with a narcissist.
Crippling Fear, Shame and Guilt Related to Narcissistic Abuse Leads to Self-Isolation
You know how it feels when you are in a room full of people, and yet you feel completely alone? If you can relate to that, then you might also be able to relate to the shame, fear, guilt, and/or embarrassment of being tortured by a narcissist.
And, if you’re like a lot of narcissistic abuse victims and survivors, you won’t always feel comfortable discussing it with the people you’re close to, not to mention anyone else. If you’re being honest, the truth is that even though you do your best to put on a good front and generally appear to be totally fine, and even though you’re totally capable of engaging in friendly conversation (and have good social skills), there can be an underlying feeling of isolation when you’re in a relationship with a toxic, controlling narcissist – one that feels sort of like a dull ache. You know it’s there, and you want to soothe it, but you also feel like you’re not really equipped to do so.
You feel like you can’t trust anyone, not even yourself, thanks to months or years of gaslighting and manipulation. And listen, my friend – you’re not alone here. So often, I hear this from my clients – they feel like they don’t even know how to be vulnerable anymore – and they find themselves feeling very gunshy, constantly on alert.
This is just one aspect of the profound effects of narcissistic abuse in our lives.
Do you know how it feels? It’s where you carry a lot of tension in your body. You have aches and pains and you’re tired. Your stomach is weird. You’re always in “fight or flight” mode, or worse, you freeze. In fact, I’d venture to guess that you sometimes forget how to even talk about yourself, much less how to connect with others on a deep level. Even the idea of having to put yourself together enough to go to the grocery store might feel like too much.
Narcissistic Abuse Takes a Toll on Your Whole Life
See, emotional abuse (not to mention physical and even deeper forms of psychological abuse such as gaslighting) can really teach us to shut up – to stop talking about ourselves – and this leads to our becoming paralyzed in certain ways – one of which is developing the need to be alone! So, we self-isolate and even though we might feel lonely on occasion, we feel safer this way – or at least we think we’re less stressed. This will prove to be a false sense of peace, on some level, since isolating ourselves can be dangerous for our physical and mental health.
And the really messed up part of all of this is that if and when we do find the strength to leave the narcissist, we look around and find that we’re all alone. Our family might be estranged, our best friends have moved on and we don’t even have anyone to invite out for a cup of coffee.
But how is it that the narcissist is able to have such power over you? Maybe you were previously the sort of person who had decent friends and at least a few connections.
The Underhanded Ways Narcissists Make You Self-Isolate
Just like other kinds of narcissistic abuse and manipulation, it’s all very sneaky and subtle, especially if you aren’t watching for it. And the narcissist rarely just comes right out and says, “You need to dump everyone in your life in order to be with me.” In fact, they might even straight up tell you that they LOVE your friends and family members. They might charm them and get them on their side, even. And at first, the people in your life who go along with the narcissist and fall for their charm might be safe – especially if the narcissist can get them to team up with them against you. This might be a little joke at first, but the narcissist hopes for (and sometimes gets) a good flying monkey out of that deal – you know, someone who will assist them in their smear campaign later.
But there will be many people in your life who, initially or over time, might admit to you that they really don’t like the narcissist, or who actively challenge them. They might refuse to “get” the narcissist’s bad jokes, or actively question them when they sense that the narcissist is lying or hiding details. Or, there might people who will act protective of you, like that one friend who sweetly gets up in the narcissist’s face the first time they meet him or her and says something like, “I really like you but if you hurt my friend, I’ll rain down on you like the wrath of a thousand bumblebees,” or whatever.
These people are a problem for the narcissist, because not only might they point out that you’re being emotionally and psychologically abused or manipulated, but they might even help you stand up to the narcissist and get you away from them. Since this would foil their evil plan to dominate and control you, the narcissist sees them as a threat and needs to eliminate them from the equation. And, as I’m guessing you’re painfully aware of by now, there’s no level to which they won’t stoop to get what they want.
Five Things Narcissists Say to Make You Self-Isolate During a Toxic Relationship
So how do you know if this is happening to you? I know, you’re probably thinking it should be obvious when it’s happening, right? But it isn’t, not always, because narcissists can be very subtle and sneaky – and because narcissistic abuse is so pervasive and confusing that you sometimes don’t even know it’s happening to you WHILE you’re in the middle of it. That’s why I’m going to share five things that narcissists will say and do to cause you to self-isolate during a toxic relationship.
1. You’re my person. I’ll always be there for you.
If the narcissist is not a parent or family member, the love-bombing or idealization phase will be the stuff of legends and romcoms alike. Believe it or not, one of the biggest ways non-family narcissists get you to self-isolate is by promising you that they’ll always be there for you – and that they’ll always have your back. It is often the first thing they will audibly say that will lead to this unfortunate situation.
Why? Because a lot of people who end up in relationships with narcissists were also raised by toxic people and/or suffered trauma during childhood that led to them feeling alone in the world. Without realizing it, this leads us to desperately seek someone who is willing to be “our person,” as in, someone for whom we are the most important person in their lives. And, whether or not this person is toxic, because of our own issues developed in childhood, we are at tremendous risk of becoming codependent. This means that we grew up in such a way that we didn’t feel loved and supported – and we are so happy and surprised that someone wants to be “our person” finally, we allow ourselves to be seduced and hooked by the idea of it.
2. This person doesn’t like me, and you need to choose: me or them.
Ah, yes – the good old “me or them” thing – the ultimate ultimatum that no one should ever have to deal with. But sadly, this is another common thing that narcissists say to make you isolate yourself from your family. Not only do they want you to not be with your friends, but they don’t want you to have anything to do with your family, especially when they might emotionally (or otherwise) support you in any way. They will manipulate you into believing that your family or friends don’t seem to like them – or they will DO something to ensure that this is the case. And whether anyone they’re pushing away actually said or indicated any issues with the narcissist won’t matter. The narcissist will literally say whatever they need to say to get your full and undivided attention – at least when and if they want it. Of course, if you don’t immediately dump the offending person, the narcissist, without remorse, will pull out the old narcissistic injury card and tell you how hurt they would be if they were forced to leave you for not dumping this person. You’re put in a position that leaves you with almost no choice.
3. Your best friend did something awful…I just thought you should know.
As you know, narcissists are pathological liars and at times, they are so good at it that they could even pass a lie detector test. That’s because they have a very limited ability to empathize on a genuine level – and because they aren’t likely to feel remorse. This is especially true when they feel upset and threatened, which they are bound to do when you’re close to someone who isn’t them. And your friends, especially your best friend, can become a serious threat to the narcissist’s sense of control. That’s why the narcissist will do the unthinkable to push them away.
For example, the narcissist might make you isolate from your friends by telling you that they are saying not so nice things behind your back. And you might believe them because since they’ll focus this little campaign on your shortcomings and/or insecurities. For instance, if you have a habit of laughing nervously, the narcissist will pick that up and not hesitate to tell you that your friends make fun of how you do that laugh. You know you laugh that way…and you can’t help yourself at times, therefore, you would immediately believe what the narcissist says. That will make you cut your friends off.
Or, and this is the worst, they might make up a story about a specific friend. It might be a total lie, but the narcissist will throw in enough “facts” and so-called evidence that you’ll at least doubt the person in question, if not totally fall for it. For example, they might say your best friend made an inappropriate move on them in some way. This will follow the narcissist having told you (or your friend) that they found the friend attractive. Then, they might have started little innocent flirtations in front of you and later confided to you that your friend made a comment that turned them on or that they saw or heard something that otherwise got their attention.
Even if you don’t believe it at first, this could cause you to have doubts about them as people which will in the end cause you to pull away from them. And along with your own mind’s ability to connect details and to feel protective of your relationship, this will change the way you feel about your friend – and that will lead to a moment of desperation in which you cut off contact – either directly or indirectly. You’ll lose touch and before you know it, you don’t even know each other anymore. Meanwhile, the narcissist is getting exactly what they want – you, isolated and under their full control.
4. Your family doesn’t think much of you, do they?
Whether your family is amazing and supportive or painfully toxic, the narcissist doesn’t want them in the way. That’s why they will often say things to you about how they notice that your family does not respect you in any way or form. Or they’ll say your family uses you, or that they don’t care about you at all.
They’ll say that they’ve seen this before, and they’ll point out little idiosyncrasies that you’ll start to hyperfocus on (such as the way your mom’s left eye twitches every time you talk about your relationship or the way your sister rolls her eyes when you talk about your dream of writing the great American novel). And to really put the nail in this coffin, the narcissist will do their best to exacerbate and exaggerate actual issues that you have shared with them about different people in your family. They’ll amplify and magnify anything you’ve shared and actively cultivate doubt, anger, and the feeling of betrayal in your mind. This will begin to poke at you over time. The narcissist will keep pushing it, maybe even blatantly lying and saying things that aren’t true, or things that have a whisper of truth to them, such as pointing out how the family is always talking about you behind your back.
And since you already know that every family talks about its members among themselves, you’ll assume they’re telling the truth. Why wouldn’t you? What kind of person would want to intentionally push someone’s family away from them? (Yes, that was a touch of sarcasm.) But, all joking aside, you will find yourself falling for this stuff, especially during the love-bombing or idealization phase. If it happens later, you might even push the family away in order to show the narcissist how loyal you are to them or even to get them off your back. But only rarely will you consciously understand what is going on while it’s happening, because the narcissist can be so sneaky and subtle in their manipulation.
5. I’m the only one who really loves you, you know. It’s us against the world!
This kind of manipulation might look different in different relationships. For example, let’s say the narcissist in your life is your spouse or partner. They pulled you in with promises of having someone “on your side,” of a “soulmate” or whatever your version of that was – but ultimately, you were brought in thinking you were getting your dream person. So, they’ll pull the old “us against the world” thing, which will initially feel really good to you because you’ll feel like you belong somewhere and are a part of something special – maybe for the first time in your life. Or, if your narcissist was your parent or parental figure, it looked more like “I’m the only person who REALLY loves you so you better do exactly what I want or you risk being completely abandoned in the world.”
And in either case, it looks like “if you don’t do what I want, you will be alone” – and the narcissist KNOWS instinctively that everyone’s secretly afraid, at least on some level, of ending up completely alone and unloved in the world – whether we admit it or not. So, in order to properly secure you as a source of narcissistic supply, they’ll play on your very human fear of abandonment. And if you do happen to have a touch of codependency in you, this will feel like a life or death decision, which the narcissist will seduce you into making before you even realize what has happened.
Bottom Line: Narcissists make you self-isolate for control, manipulation and to secure you as narcissistic supply.
In the end, just know that without hesitation or remorse, the narcissist can easily and methodically manipulate you into believing that your friends and family are no good for you for one reason or another. You will believe the narcissist either because you’re head-over-heels in love with them, or you will do it out of fear because you don’t want to lose them. Of course, once you see the truth, that they are abusive and toxic, it’ll be too late, because they have managed to make you push everyone out of your life and you’ll be alone. This will leave you struggling to find support and, if the narcissist has their way, without access to the help you need to get out of the relationship.
If this situation sounds familiar to you and you’re struggling to figure out how to deal with it, you might want to watch this video, which I’ll also link in the description.
Question of the day: Have you found yourself in a situation like this, where you’ve self-isolated during a relationship with a narcissist? How did you deal with it? And what tips would you offer another survivor in this same situation? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.
Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy.
She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.