Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by a lack of empathy, combined with extreme self-centeredness and a need for constant attention. It’s a disorder that can have a profoundly negative effect on people, and it can be difficult to deal with someone who has it.
Today, we’ll dig into the collapsed narcissist and identify some of the red flags or signs that you might be dealing with a narcissist who might be what psychologists call a collapsed narcissist.
What is Narcissistic Collapse?
When someone with NPD (or even toxic narcissist traits) loses the ability to get their unrealistic needs met through their usual methods of manipulation and deceitful behaviors, they will often begin to exhibit signs of collapse as they struggle to maintain control over the situation. A narcissist may also collapse if they’ve been confronted about their behavior and are forced to accept accountability for it.
Collapsing is a painful process for them since it’s often a point of extremely high stress and anxiety in their lives. In so many cases, the narcissist may have developed an entire persona around being superior to everyone else, but when this starts to break down, so does their false self.
While there are many signs to watch for, most are related to how a narcissist experiences a significant event or loss of supply; or in many cases, they just fail to maintain the normal amount of narcissistic supply.
Another form of narcissistic collapse occurs when a person becomes depressed without their narcissistic supply. This happens usually post-discard when the narcissist feels that he/she has lost control over someone’s admiration and adoration.
When someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or narcissistic traits can no longer uphold their grandiose, confident image, they feel profoundly threatened due to the lack of narcissistic supply – or even the potential of lack.
As a result, they tend to become enraged, resulting in impulsive behavior, intense lashing out, or hurting other people.
In severe cases, a person with NPD or NPD traits may feel so wounded they become suicidal or homicidal. They may see suicide or murder as the only way to get back at a perceived slight.
Narcissists who are in collapse also tend to become enraged, resulting in impulsive behavior, intense lashing out, or hurting other people.
What does a collapsed narcissist look like?
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this kind of narcissistic rage and have wondered what prompted it, then you’ve probably seen a collapsed narcissist in action.
This is especially true if you’re involved with a narcissist who has been removed from their primary sources of supply: family members who have wised up to their manipulation and gaslighting; former friends who have rejected their lies and abuse, or even employers that have caught on to their toxic ways.
They have become devastated, hollow versions of what they once were. You ALMOST feel sorry for them. Of course, the specific reaction will also depend on the type of narcissist they happen to be.
Vulnerable narcissists tend to be shy and self-effacing. They are also hypersensitive to how others perceive them, which means they are easily hurt and offended by criticism. They tend to be pessimistic, insecure, and fragile. A vulnerable narcissist will respond with shame or anger when their sense of superiority is threatened or injured by criticism or rejection.
By contrast, grandiose narcissists are those most people think about when they hear the word “narcissist.” Grandiose narcissists are arrogant, indifferent to others’ feelings and needs, and expect special treatment. When criticized or challenged in any way, they lash out with contempt and rage.
Can a collapsed narcissist recover?
Sometimes we’ll see a narcissist who has “collapsed” or otherwise seems to be going through some kind of emotional upheaval and distress. This begs the question: Can a collapsed narcissist recover?
Is it possible for a collapsed narcissist to become normal again?
Sadly, the answer is no. A collapsed narcissist is not able to recover and be normal, because they do not understand that they are a narcissist or why they have become a narcissist.
In other words, they almost completely lack self-awareness, at least when you compare them to non-narcissists.
This lack of self-awareness, combined with their natural sense of entitlement and other typical narcissistic traits makes it nearly impossible for a malignant narcissist to recover from collapse.
In fact, most of them will never realize the truth about themselves, even if their life depended on it. It is difficult for anyone to admit that their entire life has been a lie and a waste of time and energy.
The narcissist, a highly disordered personality, is incapable of having a healthy relationship with anyone. Because of this, their relationships are toxic and riddled with abuse.
Perhaps even more confusing, narcissists can be incredibly charming and enticing when they want to be. They’re also extremely manipulative and adept at grooming you to meet their needs. They do whatever they can to suck you in and hold you tight, to use you up until there’s nothing left.
When they “move on” or the relationship ends, they will often discard you without another thought. This is because they have no empathy or regard for anyone but themselves. In fact, they’re quite pleased with themselves when they can leave you utterly shattered as if it were some kind of game to them.
What triggers narcissistic collapse?
In the end, the collapsed narcissist is someone that has had their self-image severely damaged so much by a particular experience or situation, that they’ve begun to lose all sense of who they are. This often leads them down a path of anxiety, depression, and an inflated sense of oppression when dealing with others.
Narcissistic collapse is often triggered by narcissistic injury – a perceived threat to their self-worth or self-esteem. When this happens, narcissists typically respond with rage and contempt and may engage in destructive or self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse, suicide threats or attempts, violent outbursts, or physical violence directed toward themselves or others.
The Empty Shell Person
The best way to gain a better understanding of what is going on with the collapsed narcissist is to use the term “empty shell.” That’s because the narcissist in collapse very much appears to be a hollow shell of what they once were.
Most people have a solid sense of who they are. An empty shell person has lost their sense of self.
Because they’re so afraid to let their facade down, it’s hard to understand what is really taking place because underneath.
After all, beneath the ego structure of most human beings lies a sensitive and vulnerable narcissistic child. This can be a very painful place to be, and if this child was neglected or abused enough, they may have collapsed into themselves in order to survive.
This means that a lot of the personality structure and defense mechanisms had to go away in order to just cope with life day by day.
Have you been discarded by a narcissist, only to learn that they’ve already moved on to another partner days, weeks, or even hours after your relationship ended? Or, have you learned the hard way that your ex (or soon-to-be-ex) is already involved with someone else even before your relationship ended? Sadly, it’s all about narcissistic supply. Let me explain.
What is narcissistic supply?
Narcissistic supply is what makes the narcissist sort of an “energy vampire.” In other words, they get a certain amount of attention, validation, admiration – basically your energy, from people in their lives. While a narcissist’s main source of narcissistic supply usually comes from one or more people, it can also involve pets, groups of people, and more. The so-called “supply” is the food for the narcissist’s ego. Many narcissists have a whole circle of supply or “narcissistic harem.”
Why do narcissists move on so quickly after they discard you?
Why does it always seem like narcissists need a new source of narcissistic supply almost immediately when your relationship ends – and that’s assuming they haven’t secured it ahead of time? The narcissist most often moves on quickly after a relationship. Many narcissists will be already involved with new supply before discarding you and so the new supply is well in place before they lose your supply.
This is one really devastating part of the narcissistic pattern that hurts and leaves survivors with no sense of closure.
Many survivors deeply internalize the final blow from this as if they have no worth, and never meant anything to the narcissist. They worry they must be at fault, that they are not good enough. They wonder if they should have done more, if they are less beautiful/handsome, that they are inadequate…are you feeling me here?
I’m hoping that by seeing this is a toxic pattern of the narcissistic person and some reasons they do this you may feel validation or even a sense of relief that you are indeed not the problem and never were.
Narcissists Take No Accountability
One thing to understand and really, to me it’s one of the main indications of a toxic person, is that a narcissist will not accept accountability for their actions or emotions. They have a constant need to protect the delusional personality they set up.
What they think is who they are, they reason. So, when seeing any issue they may cause that does not align with the delusional belief of “self,” they push it away and start to blame shift or deny.
One big way a narcissist uses denial is to use a new person to bolster the ego and delusional created self. After all, how hard is it to convince a stranger through love bombing and overt attention that you are an amazing person? This is the lie they are telling their new supply. They are shirking all responsibility both to the old relationship, yours, as well as to their own healing from a breakup. They need others to give and boost their sense of self so badly they do not care who they use to get there. It’s like if they have someone new to mirror back all the love-bombing they can prove to the world how astoundingly perfect they are and thus continue the delusion they live in. Couple all of this with zero empathy for others and you have a selfish drive for attention and the use of another to regain the sense of their own inflated ego.
You were once the new source of narcissistic supply.
If you find yourself asking why or doubting your worth because the narcissist has a new supply, remember that you too were a new supply once. Remember that narcissists use all others in their life to feed their egos in one way or another. While it can hurt a lot and it can seem like the person who is new supply is at fault, oftentimes they are as much a victim as you were.
Of course, there are cases where the new supply seems to be as toxic as the narcissist – but then you might ask yourself do you really want any attention or association going to those people? New supply is simply that, a new person to be used by the narcissist for supply and you, too, were in the position of being that new person once. You were told lies about their exes and were made to feel like you were different and needed by the narcissist.
The narcissist is the common denominator.
The most important thing to realize is this is not because of you. You are not the problem and you are certainly deserving of being treated way better than any narcissist will treat you. You are no less valid or important because a toxic narcissist has found a new supply. You deserve the healing and amazing things life outside of narcissistic abuse can give you. Moving on fast is a narcissist’s weakness not because of you or who/how you are. The narcissist is a perpetual liar with the most significant lie being who they present themselves as. They are seeking the supply they need and taking and using another person. You deserve a better life and to be loved for who you are. Love yourself, find the truth of your amazing truth, and do not compare yourself to the new supply. New supply is the new victim, you have survived and can move past the abuse into a thriving life.
Worried the narcissist will be better for the new source of narcissistic supply?
If you’ve ever met a malignant narcissist or someone with traits consistent with narcissistic personality disorder, chances are you know someone addicted to narcissistic supply.
Most malignant narcissists are addicted to admiration, at least on some level, and nearly all are addicted to having people “give themselves” to them!
What is Narcissistic Supply?
Narcissistic supply means attention, admiration, emotional energy, and other “services” the narcissist requires to function and maintain their ego. It can involve just getting attention, or it might involve sex, money, caregiving (and caretaking), and more.
The narcissist’s need for your emotional energy can be likened to the mythical vampire’s need for blood. They require it to survive. It nourishes them and keeps them feeling comfortable with their lives.
They get their narcissistic supply from people, but in some cases, they might even get it from a pet or group of people.
What does it mean when you call someone “a narcissistic supply?”
In the narcissistic abuse recovery community, we often refer to the victim of the abusive narcissist as “the narcissistic supply.”
We mean the “source of narcissistic supply,” which is sometimes misunderstood. People might think by calling ourselves “supply,” we are minimizing ourselves.
But what we are doing is acknowledging that the abusers in our lives only saw us for what we could provide to them – not for what and who we actually are.
In other words, we are reminding ourselves that, as a “narcissistic supply,” we are used by the narcissist to get attention, validation, admiration – all the “supply” they need to feed their ego.
What is it like to be a narcissistic supply?
If you are among the people the narcissist considers to be part of their inner circle, or if you’re the spouse, child, or another family member, you are most likely being used for narcissistic supply, or you were in the past.
They demand your respect even though they don’t earn it. They demand your support, but they never return the favor unless it benefits them.
They love being told they are amazing – and they love it when you freak out, scream, and act crazy. That’s especially true when they drive you to it.
They want attention, whether it is positive or negative. That also means they demand compliments, money, sex, and anything else that helps them keep their false self alive.
The continuous attention and admiration that the narcissist gets from you help to feed their over-blown, bloated, secretly non-existent sense of self-worth and esteem – that false self they project to the outside world.
In many cases, narcissists can summon up a powerful kind of charm and charisma that seems to help them keep getting more and more attention, assuring a constant stream of narcissistic supply coming their way.
What qualities do narcissists look for in a source of narcissistic supply?
Empathetic (especially when it means you react quickly to their extreme emotions).
Kind and compassionate (but they’ll call you abusive for setting a healthy boundary).
Willing to put others first (though they’ll always accuse you of being selfish).
Modest about your good qualities (so your ego won’t require much of them – they never validate you).
Attractive (even though they will tell you otherwise to hurt you).
Intelligent (even though they will constantly make you doubt it).
Independent and able to entertain yourself (so they can ignore you when they want to).
Willing to drop everything for them and do whatever they want, when they want, without question (because they need your attention when they need it, but they want you to leave them alone when they want that).
Flexible and willing to change for them (though they’ll literally never return the favor).
Loyal (because, obviously, they deserve loyalty, despite the fact that you don’t, according to them).
Low or reduced self-esteem (often due to having grown up in a toxic family or having previously have endured an abusive relationship of any kind (because it makes you more likely to accept abuse again and/or to have lower standards, along with a higher threshold for abuse, making you more tolerant and accepting of their abuse).
Socially brag-worthy (In other words, they’ll be proud to show you off and claim you as their property – even though they’ll do everything in your power to make you feel completely worthless behind closed doors. They do this because it keeps you from believing you can do any better. This, along with all of their other manipulations, is designed to keep you around if and when they want you).
What kind of people typically attract narcissists?
Whether you are a child of a narcissistic parent, a co-worker of a narcissist, or someone who has or had a narcissistic partner, you could be a source of narcissistic supply for them. Many have a whole circle of supply, which we sometimes call a narcissistic harem.
As a source of narcissistic supply, the narcissist sees you as someone who gives them something they need. This could be simply attention and admiration, or much more. In most cases, they may also get supply out of scaring you, making you cry, or making you chase them or worry about them.
While they may say otherwise, the narcissist sees you as a product and/or a service – or, in many cases, as an extension of themselves. And while they may claim to love you, what they really love is what you can do for them. They love that you are among the people who provide them what they “need,” and yet, sadly, they can never love or feel any compassionate empathy for you.
What happens if you refuse to keep providing narcissistic supply?
The fact that they see you as a source of narcissistic supply leads the narcissist to literally NEED you on so many levels. And that is exactly why you’re likely to see a fit of narcissistic rage if they start doubting your devotion. FOr example, you might suddenly decide you’re going to start taking care of yourself because you’ve recognized that you have recently slipped in that area. As you do this, you might even start setting a few boundaries and feeling even better.
How does the narcissist feel when you cut off their source of narcissistic supply?
This will lead you to start questioning them and demanding the respect you’re due. They might notice that you’re not bending to their wishes anymore. And of course, being as self-focused as they are, they won’t be interested in your personal growth. All they see is that their source of narcissistic supply might suddenly be cut off. That scares them.
Just for reference, close your eyes for a second and imagine how you feel when you are facing a power outage. If you’re anything like me, you might get a little irritated (or more than a little), especially if you are busy on a particular day and need the power to work on your computer. The longer it is out, the angrier you become.
Or, imagine how you’d feel if you were suddenly forced to fast for 48 hours and you’re not prepared. You’re going to stay hungry (and if we’re being honest, maybe a little hangry, at the very least). And you’re going to be pretty cranky.
Both of these examples offer insight into how the narcissist feels when they are deprived of narcissistic supply.
A narcissist will always look for a source of supply even if you are no longer that source if you go no contact. And if they find a source of supply before you leave them, they will discard you and end up hoovering if their new source of supply ‘dries up’.
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Not only do they tend to fly under the radar more often than male narcissists, but their toxic behaviors are often attributed to the fact that they’re a mother or that they’re “more emotional” than their male counterparts, among other things. But trust me when I tell you that they are just as toxic as any other narcissist, if not more so. So let’s talk about it.
You might already know that narcissists in general, regardless of sex, will continuously manipulate to get what they want. They usually show certain symptoms pretty universally – grandiosity, an inflated sense of self-importance and they tend to feel “superior” to others around them, whether they say that out loud or not.
Since their feelings of superiority are typically “bloated” versions of the truth, most narcissists, whether they are male and female, will spend a lot of time focusing on reinforcing their fragile self-perceptions – and that leads to their various forms of manipulation.
When many people think about narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder, they think of men who are more often stereotyped as violent, and full of rage.
And most narcissism experts would tell you that these stereotypes will more often manifest in narcissistic males when they feel threatened that their source of supply will disappear – or if we’re being honest – when they feel that they have been crossed in any way.
Despite popular assumption, narcissistic women are just as toxic and nearly as plentiful as narcissistic men. Studies vary on actual numbers and percentages, but in general, researchers estimate that just over half of all diagnosed narcissists are men. But those are DIAGNOSED narcissists – and you and I both know that most people who have the toxic qualities of a narcissist aren’t likely to be diagnosed.
With that being said, I personally think the numbers are most likely fairly equal. In addition to the fact that narcissistic women slide under the radar because they are often mothers, there’s the fact that fewer men are willing to admit to themselves or anyone else that they might be being abused by a woman. For that reason, fewer women are reported and diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
Key Identifiers of the Narcissistic Female
So clearly, there are plenty of narcissistic women around. And if you are a child of a narcissistic mother, you would most definitely know how true that is, based on your own first-hand experience. But whether or not your mother is or was a narcissist, you may not know the signs of a narcissistic female. Let’s talk about that now.
Women With NPD Express Anger Differently Than Men With NPD
Many people will assume that the malignant narcissist who becomes explosive and aggressive is always male. But that could not be further from the truth. In fact, women with NPD can be the same. There are a shocking amount of physically and emotionally abusive women – and it doesn’t only affect their children. Some women even physically and/or emotionally abuse their partners – male, female, or otherwise. They may also abuse their friends, coworkers or subordinates at work, their siblings, parents, and literally anyone else they feel they have the right to control – or who they feel is less than or otherwise wrong in any way, to put it nicely.
Some common ways female narcissists punish you for not doing what they want is by withholding affection or attention, or by making you feel very guilty to the point that you feel you have no choice other than to beg for their forgiveness. They will gaslight and manipulate you, sometimes covertly, but often blatantly and without remorse. And of course, as I said, many are physically abusive as well.
Women With NPD Appear To Be Martyrs
Women with NPD are more likely to play the victim or the “put-upon” martyr. They might even sacrifice more than is necessary, or appear to, as a play for attention and praise from the people around them. Plus, they are certain (and they expect you to know and recognize) that their pain is worse than the pain that anyone else has and that they suffer more than anyone else. To be fair, this is usually seen in women who might be considered covert narcissists, but any narcissistic woman can display this trait.
Women With NPD Are Extremely Superficial
Male narcissists are just as superficial as female narcissists, and they both care very much about image. They are concerned about their material items such as having the best car, house, and they will brag about how wonderful their kids are – all the while telling their kids the opposite behind closed doors. They do this to hide any insecurities they have just like their male counterparts. They may or may not want designer, name brand everything – and whatever they prefer, they’ll assume the other choice is wrong.
The Female Narcissist Dress Code
One more reason female narcissists slip under the radar so frequently is that most of us would expect a narcissistic female to at least attempt to appear attractive on some level. We might expect that she would appear to be overdone or expensively dressed, and we might think these are the women we would see in the plastic surgeon’s office to get their weekly botox touchups. And in some cases, we’d be right.
But despite this unfortunate stereotype, women who care about how they appear can be narcissists or not. See, the way a woman chooses to present herself really has nothing to do with toxic narcissism. It’s really all about their personality traits and specifically how they perceive and treat others in their lives.
And let’s just put it out here – just as many female narcissists will judge women who focus on their appearance, and in these cases, they will be very “practical” in their attire, or even completely neglect their appearance. This is when you’ll see them calling other women “shallow” or “materialistic” or worse, they’ll imply that these women are somehow beneath or less than them because they are “attempting to get too much attention,” to put it politely.
Then there are female narcissists who are involved with certain types of religion or spirituality who may dress as dictated by their faith. In those cases, they will judge and feel superior to women who dress in other fashions. And they’ll even judge women who are in the same faith but who don’t, in their opinion, follow all of the specific rules their religion requires. For example, if a religion requires a woman to never cut her hair, but someone gets her ends trimmed, the narcissistic female might tell everyone she knows how that woman is a bad person.
In other words, regardless of what her physical look happens to be, this woman will judge anyone who chooses to look different than she does. The narcissistic female is ALWAYS right, no matter what, and she will not hesitate to tell you all about it.
Narcissistic Women Are Extremely Jealous And Competitive
Narcissistic women are highly competitive and will become jealous easily. They must be known as the prettiest, most successful, most endearing, and smartest around – or whatever their particular version of “best” happens to be. And watch out if you’ve got it going on yourself! Because if you are a woman who makes them feel threatened at all in any way, they will viciously bully you and shame you, and exile you from any social group. They will even do this to their daughters – often. You must remember that there are no limits to which a narcissist will not stoop to get their needs met.
Narcissistic Women Will Be Controlling Mothers Or Mothers-In-Law
While there are many neglectful narcissistic mothers who will simply ignore or refuse to take care of their kids, many will also actively control them without concern for how they feel or what they want. They will aggressively (or passive-aggressively) control the lives of their children and this will continue even when their kids are adults, unless and until they do happen to figure them out and go no contact. They might decide your house isn’t decorated right and start rearranging furniture for example, or they will demand that you raise your kids a certain way, or that you discipline them (or don’t discipline) them in the way they prefer. And in many cases, narcissistic mothers-in-law will be painfully cruel to their daughters-in-law as they see them as someone who took their son away or who is trying to “replace” them. They will also actively compete with them in weird ways – just as they will with their own daughters. Also worth noting: the narcissistic mother will often prefer her male children to her female ones for this reason, among others, and she is more likely to scapegoat her female child. But that isn’t always the case – male children can and are scapegoated often.
What Do Research Studies Tell Us About Identifying Narcissistic Females vs. Narcissistic Males?
I read about a study a while back that offered a few key findings of the major differences between male and female narcs, and in my own experience, a lot of the findings were true.
Male Narcissists Use Force, Female Narcissists Use Martyr Act
So, to begin with, men will often use a lot of force, directly or indirectly, to sort of “assert” themselves and their superiority over others, while women who are narcissists will often take a different form – usually a bit more of narcissistic injury or even seduction. So, in other words, they are more likely than males to either use the “poor me” martyr act mentioned earlier or to use their appearance and sexuality to manipulate people to get what they want.
Some of the study findings included some really interesting and telling key differences.
Male Narcissists More Likely to Self-Handicap
For example, male narcissists, but not female narcissists, will use a face-saving tactic called “self-handicapping.” This is defined as “a course of action to protect or enhance one’s self-evaluation in the face of an evaluation threat.”
In layman’s terms, that means that male narcissists will try to appear confident, but if they fear they will fail, they will “self-handicap” to avoid having to perform at all – they use this tactic to avoid feeling or seeming incompetent. So, for example, let’s say they’re a tennis pro and they’re going to play tennis with a new partner. To avoid humiliation (in case the new partner wins) they might claim this is the first time they’ve ever played. Or, they’ll feign an injury to avoid playing at all.
According to the study authors, this kind of manipulation is directly connected to a “failure in empathic responding by the mother, resulting in both males and females developing a deficient internalized structure of self. Strategies developed to compensate for it may take on different forms in the males and female.”
This means, according to the authors, that, “mothers may be responding to boys as a significant other figure (e.g. husband), but to girls as an extension of self. As a result, each gender uses different psychological resources to cope with the same deficient internalized structure of self.”
Male Narcissists Can Be More Blatantly Controlling
The study also noted that while male narcissists are likely to actively and openly assert their superiority over others in order to dominate them and for their own self-interest, they can get away with it because it is more socially acceptable for males in most societies. But this kind of behavior from females is less tolerated and will not benefit them as much, so they will often be a lot more subtle than their male counterparts with their brand of manipulation – another reason they slip under the radar so often.
Other points of note:
Female narcissists will use their bodies to get what they want, in many cases, and this includes their sexuality.
Female narcissists are more likely to have an eating disorder than male narcissists.
Female narcissists are more likely to have issues with getting older, especially when they use their bodies or sexuality to get what they want.
Female narcissists are more likely to secure their supply sources at home by controlling their family directly and using guilt to help secure their control.
Female narcissists tend to be less openly over-confident than male narcissists, who get much of their over-inflated confidence from inside their own heads – but females are more likely to take secret pleasure in their own perceived superiority over others.
Female narcissists are more likely to spend money frivolously while males are more likely to believe that money gives them power, control, status, and related conditions. (Neither concerns himself/herself with shame or remorse, of course).
While both female and male narcs are known to cheat, males are more likely to be serial adulterers. Females are more likely to idealize a guy and then emasculate him when they get him under their “spell.” In both cases, the more their partners give, the more they want and take from them – it’s an insatiable need for supply.
Male narcissists often see their kids as mostly a problem or an annoyance that gets in their way, as well as competition for the attention of their main forms of narcissistic supply (generally their wives and mothers), while females are more likely see the kids as an extension of themselves, even well into adulthood. So when the kid does good things, narcissist moms take credit – and when they do things that mom doesn’t like, she will take it very personally even and maybe especially when whatever they did was obviously not related to the mother or her efforts in any way at all.
Male narcissists are likely to openly treat other men as rivals or competition, while females are more likely to go nose-to-nose with other women in a more underhanded way (which often resembles “friendship” to the untrained eye). In other words, they are lifelong “mean girls.”
While this list isn’t all-encompassing, it does offer you a general overview of both male and female narcissists and their various differences in behaviors.
(Prefer to watch/listen rather than read? See video here)I have to be honest. In all the years I’ve been researching, writing about, and producing videos on narcissistic abuse recovery and narcissism in toxic relationships, I’ve seen the amount of “experts” go from single digits to probably thousands. In fact, the topic has become an official “niche,” which means that people who teach others how to make money online are recommending it as an option for people who don’t know what topic they want to focus on.
And while this should be a good thing because it could raise awareness of narcissistic abuse, you would be shocked at how often I see my own content repeated and rewritten on sites that appear quite professional. Though I am certain that many of these new experts are actual survivors of narcissistic abuse who are doing what they do for good reasons, there’s one particular bunch I need to complain about for just a minute: all of these so-called coaches who think there’s only one way to go when it comes to dealing with narcissists in your life. They don’t consider any individual person’s situation, and they refuse to imagine any possibility in which it’s not possible to completely cut someone out of your life. And that’s because they just don’t get it – but they also don’t realize (or don’t care) how painfully invalidating this can be for victims and survivors of toxic relationships.
Because I’m here to tell you, it is not always possible, at least not immediately. And quite honestly, I have repeatedly found that people who have not experienced truly toxic relationships don’t really understand the depth of trauma bonding, not to mention the isolation factor and the financial abuse and control that comes along with them. And anyone who hasn’t been there really cannot understand the complicated nature of a narcissist’s manipulation and control tactics, which, in my opinion and experience, means they should not be coaching anyone on this topic and they shouldn’t be creating content that is meant for people who are dealing with it.
So, let’s talk about it. Here is what happened.
Today, after hearing from yet another survivor that a particular coach (with whom she paid for a session) berated and belittled her for not being able to just go no contact with her narcissistic partner, I felt like I was going to lose it. That coach and anyone else who are die-hard no contact pushers are doing survivors a disservice, and to be perfectly honest, I think these people just need to stop it, to put it politely.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The fact is that going no contact works remarkably well for healing after a toxic relationship. And of COURSE, I recommend it – we all know that no contact is the ideal solution to dealing with and healing from a toxic relationship with a narcissist. But the truth is that it isn’t always an option for everyone who has to deal with narcissists for a bunch of different reasons.
For example, maybe you have to live with a narcissistic parent for financial reasons, or you’re unwilling to go no contact with your entire extended family, and you know they won’t or can’t choose you over the toxic family member you’re dealing with. Or you’re working on leaving your narcissistic partner, but haven’t figured out all the logistics yet. There’s also a possibility that you’re dealing with a narcissist at work, and you are not in a position where you can change jobs so easily which means you will have to keep dealing with the narcissistic co-worker or worse, manager. Maybe the narcissist lives next door and you aren’t able to just sell your home and move right away – if at all. Or, and this is probably what I hear more than anything else, you might have to co-parent with a narcissistic ex.
Those are really tough situations as it is, and it frustrates me how often coaches and therapists will tell people in these situations they’re wrong for not going no contact because I get it from a personal perspective. The truth is that it took me a while to figure out how to leave my own ex for with a baby for both financial and logistical reasons. It makes me so angry because quite honestly, anyone who has to deal with a toxic narcissist is already dealing with enough self-doubt and invalidation on a daily basis. They just don’t need any added stress and they don’t need anyone else telling them they’re wrong for something they really can’t control.
So, please hear me on this one, my friend. The truth is, whether we like to admit it or not, there are some situations where it just plain is not an option – at least not immediately.
And while I’ll admit that it is very difficult, if not completely impossible, to fully heal while you’re still dealing with a narcissist on a daily basis, there are certain things you can do to make life a little less difficult while you’re there, and there are things you can do to begin to work toward healing in the process. Let me fill you in.
How to Deal with a Narcissist When No Contact is Not an Option
When you find yourself enmeshed in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, even though you realize your best option would be to leave or go no-contact, it isn’t always a real possibility in every situation. Sometimes, you just want things to go smoothly – you’re not in the mood for a narcissist’s usual games, gaslighting, and emotional manipulation. And there are plenty of times when you’re certainly not feeling like fending off any narcissistic rage, or narcissistic injury.
Let’s talk about five ways to manage the narcissist even if you are unable to go no contact. And if you stick with me through the end, I’ll share one more – a little bonus for you. It’s my own personal secret technique that will help you manage any narcissist you can’t go no contact with. In fact, this technique will work on literally almost any difficult person you come across.
Respond To The Narcissist Without Reacting
You already know how much the narcissist enjoys controlling and manipulating you by triggering your emotions. And, I’m sure you’re well aware that they deliberately say hurtful or dishonest things to evoke emotional outbursts from you. And you might even know that they do this intentionally to make you feel crazy – and to make you look crazy to others – because they want to keep you isolated and under their control. But as frustrating and overwhelming as this can be, if you want to manage a narcissist’s abusive behavior, what you need to do is to be as cool as a cucumber – no matter how hurtful the narcissist is to you. This will be challenging because they will always do what they can to provoke you into blowing up. But if you give them logical, calm, and relatively cordial answers that lack emotion, they will get bored and eventually move on to a different tactic. You can also use the grey rock method, which is both proven and highly recommended. This is where you give really boring one-word answers without reacting and without emotion to push them away.
Keep Your Boundaries Firm
If you are unsure of how to create firm boundaries, then you must learn to do that first. To do that, take a few minutes and decide what is and what is not acceptable to you. Then, you’ll want to make it clear which behaviors you will tolerate and which ones you will not. For instance, if you are co-parenting and you don’t want the narcissistic ex to keep calling you every time your kid farts during their visit, then you make it firm that you will only want to communicate through email or a court-approved app, unless it’s an absolute emergency. And, take steps toward being independent of the narcissist’s help as much as possible – or at least do what you can to limit your dependency on any narcissist. The more independent you are, the less you will have to deal with them.
Make Sure You Have A Solid Support System
When you are unable to go no contact with a narcissist, you will be stressed enough as it is. Make sure you build yourself a solid support system of friends who will understand what you are going through. Now, I’m well-aware that many of us have very few people in real life who really get it, and that’s why I recommend that you get involved with a narcissistic abuse recovery support group. In addition to various local groups you can find at meetup.com, there are also many online support groups, including our top-rated and absolutely free QueenBeeing SPANily groups. In any case, you need access to people who really get it – and you want to make sure you are not all alone in this so that when something upsetting happens caused by the narcissist, you have someone to vent to who will listen and support you.
Keep Your Expectations Realistic
This is difficult, but you’ve got to remember who you are dealing with here. You must remind yourself as difficult as it is having to deal with a narcissist that you cannot kick out of your life that they will not change. They are ridiculously limited, so recognize those limitations. See them for who they are, and use this awareness to help you see that you really aren’t the problem. The fact is that narcissists have so many shocking similarities among them, regardless of age, financial status, culture, religion, sex, or location, that it almost feels like there’s a narcissist playbook. Just remember, you don’t have to like it, but you do need to remember that they will not change and despite what they might pretend, they will always keep doing what they do. In other words, and I’m sorry to have to tell you this, never have hope that the narcissist will all of a sudden treat you with love and respect, because sadly they won’t.
You must take good care of yourself such as getting the sleep you need, get some exercise, eat healthily, and engage in your hobbies, your spiritual beliefs, and anything else that makes you happy. Never allow the narcissist to take that away from you. Never allow them to have that kind of power over you. Self-care is critical when you are dealing with a narcissist.
Are you still with me? Okay, this is where I’m going to share my own secret narcissist management technique with you. It is only two steps, and it is both ethical and repeatable.
Use This Technique to Manage Any Narcissist in Any Situation
You want to know how to make a narcissist be nice to you, right? Isn’t that what we all want? Well, I’m going to tell you how to do that right now, because sometimes, you just want first aid – a quick and simple way to make life easier for a while – to make the narcissist just BE NICE TO YOU.
PLEASE NOTE: This ONLY works if you ARE NOT IN ANY DANGER OF A PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE REACTION!
Step One: Do not reward “bad” behavior with the narcissist’s desired reaction. So: Your only response to negative behavior is “GRAY ROCK.” Now, you’re going to want to be super careful here and stay calm, even when the inevitable happens – because this can and may induce narcissistic rage, narcissistic injury, and extreme gaslighting. You may feel angry or upset -but DO NOT show it, no matter what. Stay positive and polite.
Step Two: Reward “good” behavior with what the narcissist needs from you: love, admiration, and his or her proper place on the pedestal. When the narc behaves him or herself, even if you recognize it as love bombing or idealization, bestow all the love and admiration you can on him/her — tell him/her how amazing and wonderful and perfect they are – and do it as sincerely if you can. AND: This can even work if you’re dealing with an ex in a co-parenting situation or a boss or co-worker – just adjust to make it appropriate for the situation.
Using this technique will cause the narcissist to indirectly realize that you’re not going to give them your emotional energy unless they are kind to you. Your emotional energy and focus on the narcissist is pure narcissistic supply – and they need that. So what will happen is that most of the time, if you stick it out, they’ll try to be at least polite if not go into the love-bombing mode. That means that you’ll essentially be training them to be nice to you by only giving them narcissistic supply when they treat you nicely.
Bottom line? Don’t expect miracles – narcissists don’t change, even if it is theoretically possible. So make sure you understand that this will be your new way of life if you do stick around forever.
Worth noting: You’ll have to be consistent if you want this to work. You can NEVER stop these practices if you hope to keep this thing going. The narc will absolutely and repeatedly try the various “bad” behaviors – aka manipulation and abuse tactics – and you will need to be very in control of your emotions to make this happen. BUT you CAN do it, if you choose to.
With all of that being said, I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing that as difficult as things are right now, it won’t last forever. One day you will be able to go no contact, one way or another, should you choose that. Eventually, you will have a well-enough paying job that will allow you to leave home if you are dealing with a narcissistic parent or partner. Eventually, you will be able to find another opportunity for the right job if you are dealing with a narcissistic coworker or boss. And eventually, your kids will reach 18 which means you will no longer have to deal with the narcissistic ex.
About a year after my divorce was final, I got a call from my ex-mother-in-law, letting me know that my ex was getting remarried. I was only mildly surprised – mostly that it had taken him almost two years to meet, successfully propose and schedule a wedding with his would-be second ex-wife. In hindsight, I’m actually kind of surprised it took him that long because usually, narcissists move much quicker. Still, I have absolutely no doubt he was dating and being “in love” with someone – more likely, more than one person, shortly after I left him, but for me, I didn’t even start dating until the divorce was final, and that itself took close to a year after I left.
Even though I did not in any way want him back, part of me felt some kind of way about this whole situation. It wasn’t that I felt jealous. I felt…confused. I felt like I wanted to contact this woman and tell her what she was in for. But if I’m being honest, I wanted to know how he was treating her. Was he being nice? Had he suddenly become the person I’d always wanted him to be? Had all the time and effort I spent trying to help him get it together finally benefitted someone, even if it wasn’t me?
Part of me hoped that he would be different for her. But the other part of me knew he wouldn’t.
It would be about five years later that I’d finally speak to her. When my now-husband decided to adopt my oldest son (the one I’d had with my ex), I had to reach out to the ex. He agreed to sign the papers because it might mean that he would no longer be on the hook for child support. Understandably, despite the fact that she’d never met or spoken to my son because he’d spent literally no time at all with my ex, his then-wife was quite concerned about the situation and showed up with him when I met him to sign the papers.
Once everything was resolved, she ended up calling me several times to discuss her husband and their relationship. She wanted to know if her experiences were like mine. It turned out that her marriage was nearly identical to mine, except she didn’t tolerate as much of his crap as I had. This led to his increasing the intensity and frequency of manipulation and gaslighting. Either way, though, she ended up divorcing him not long after. He’d end up married twice more after that, as far as I know.
The one thing I had felt worried about was that he would be better for someone who wasn’t me. But after having the opportunity to talk to both his second and third wives, I learned the truth: he was the same person for them as he’d been for me. He never changed.
Will the Narcissist Change for the New Supply?
Have you ever felt worried that your ex would somehow change for their new “source of narcissistic supply?” If so, you’re not alone. In fact, I hear this question all the time. People want to know: will the narcissist change for the new supply? Will they take everything I tried to teach them and use it successfully in a new relationship? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today – narcissists and their new sources of supply – how they treat them and whether their new relationship is as good as they make it seem from the outside.
So, you’ve finally had the nerve to leave your partner, who you’re pretty sure is a toxic narcissist. And now, after years of psychological and emotional mind games, and you’re finally starting to breathe again. You are finally free of this horrible, selfish energy and you feel like you’re a brand new person! Life is just starting to get really, really good.
And then it happens. In-person or on social media, you spot your former would-be soulmate with someone new. You are startled and it feels like you’ve been slapped in the face. But pretty soon, you notice that there’s something different about them. They seem happier, brighter. Relaxed, even. They’re having a good time with a new person – maybe even someone who looks a little like you or who has something in common with you. They’re laughing, talking and even being charming.
“Who IS this person?” you wonder.
You’re confused. You’re hurt. You’re angry, maybe. A far cry from the narcissist you recently knew, your ex has somehow transformed themselves back into the amazing person you fell in love with. But seconds later, almost as if time is moving in slow motion, you realize what is happening. Your narcissist has found their next victim – and they’re in the process of love bombing this person, and for just a moment, you get a front-row seat.
Listen. I know it stings. I know it hurts when you see the person you fell in love with re-emerging after you’re away for a while. And I know that you wonder (at least a little bit) if somehow he narcissist was right all along – and if it really WAS just you.
(Side note: I PROMISE you that it wasn’t you.) Let’s talk about it.
The Truth About Narcissists in Relationships
Time for a reality check, my friend: you were never the problem in your toxic relationship. I’m not saying you were perfect. I’m not saying you didn’t make mistakes. I’m just saying that the majority of your issues in the relationship were a direct reaction to the mind games and manipulation that you were putting up within the relationship.
First, let me acknowledge that while every step in the healing process after a toxic relationship with a narcissist can be very painful, this one is probably one of the most confusing. See, while the bigger part of you knows that the narcissist is never going to REALLY change, this other little part of you still loves them – or, to put it more accurately, the version of them that you once believed was real. The one you signed up for in the first place. And that’s the part of them that they’re parading around now – so it’s like you’re mourning “that version” of the narcissist all over again.
But let me repeat: the problem was NOT you! The problem was that the narcissist took you for granted. They got used to having you around. They got spoiled by your supply. And they got bored, or you demanded that they behave like an actual grownup. Or maybe they got shiny new object syndrome, or they said they didn’t love you anymore, and left you to pursue whatever it was they wanted in the moment. Maybe you just finally had enough and you left the narcissist yourself.
Why the Narcissist Becomes the Person You Fell In Love With When You Leave
Maybe it would help you to understand why the narcissist has suddenly become Mr. or Ms. Perfect again. Here’s the truth: now that the relationship has ended, whether it was the narcissist’s idea or yours to end things, the narcissist was left without a source of regular narcissistic supply – and it is not possible for a narcissist to exist for long without it. Sure, they’ll have their little circle of supply. Friends, family members, even people they’ve cheated on you with. But now that you’re no longer officially together, the narcissist is out there on the prowl again, seeking out the new source of narcissistic supply that they need to save them from themselves.
This is normal – it’s exactly what you should expect from a toxic narcissist. And while a small part of you might secretly hate the new supply, the other part of you sadly already knows that it isn’t going to be all hearts and flowers for this person either. That’s right – if you really think about it, you’ll know exactly know how this story is going to go.
Narcissistic Abuse Has a Standard Cycle
Now, as you know, narcissists are very hard to live with, and even a reasonably intelligent person would feel ashamed that they tolerate the narcissist’s manipulative tactics. This means that the new supply is probably keeping any drama and BS under wraps. And if you’re being honest, you might have done the same thing back then, especially on social media. I remember being really embarrassed if anyone found out what I’d been dealing with, so I told very few people.
This happens in varying iterations and it happens often inside the same relationship over and over for decades sometimes. But if I’m in your shoes at this point, I’m going to make use of the no-contact/low-contact thing and use it to my advantage. That means to block them both on Facebook so you can stop torturing yourself by stalking their profiles. It means you will not listen when some well-meaning flying monkey tries to offer you updates on the narcissist and the new supply.
It means you’re going to move forward and focus ONLY on what you can control (not what you can’t), and since you couldn’t control the narcissist while you were together, you sure as heck can’t now (nor should you want to – this person no longer your problem!). If you have kids together and you can’t go completely no contact, then you go low contact, meaning that you ONLY deal with the narcissist about the business of raising the kids. Nothing else.
But how do you deal with the painful reality of watching your ex narcissist be perfect for someone else?
How to Deal When the Narcissist Moves On with Someone Else
1. See the Patterns!
Start by remembering what you dealt with and by recognizing what the new supply will deal with soon enough, if they’re not already going through it. (And even if you’re tempted to warn your narcissist’s new supply about what they’re getting themselves into, don’t do it – even if your intentions are good. Since chances are they’re still in the love-bombing or idealization phase, and since your ex has likely told them a lot of lies about you, they won’t likely believe you anyway and you’ll end up regretting the decision to reach out.)
2. Realize the Truth!
Don’t sit around thinking that the narcissist’s new supply will end up getting the benefit of all the work you did trying to fix them. It doesn’t work like that. The narcissist is and always be exactly who they are. Narcissists do not change. I’m not saying they can’t – because I believe that if a narcissist were to really dig in to discover and heal their core wounds, it might be possible. But I’m saying they don’t. In all the years I’ve worked in this business, I’ve never seen it happen. I’ve never seen it happen with any narcissist in my own life and I’ve interviewed and worked with a number of psychologists and other experts who will tell you the same thing: a narcissist does not change (not for long, anyway). The most you’ll get is a temporary behavior modification, and that’s only if the narcissist gets something out of it.
3. Grieve the Relationship!
This is one place I failed in my early recovery. Rather than grieving the relationship, I decided to avoid my feelings and just move forward. That turned out to be a bad idea as it would later come back and bite me in the butt – and while the grief process will wait, it will not just go away. Eventually, you’re going to have to grieve the person you signed up for and let them go.
4. Be Honest with Yourself!
Remember that you’re not really mourning the person you lost; you’re mourning your illusion of who you believed they were. It’s an ever-turning cycle that the narcissist will repeat in varying iterations for the rest of their life. Be glad you’re off the wheel.
5. Put Yourself First for Once!
Stay focused on you, and on making your own life better. You have already been tortured enough – if you let this situation keep making you miserable, you’re only allowing the narcissist to continue the abuse and control you from afar. Take back your life, my friend, and choose to be happy, in your own way. Focus on what you can control and not what you can’t.
6. Focus on Healing.
It’s time for you to heal and release the anger and sadness. As you work on your own healing, the layers of anger and sadness will soon disappear. One of the hardest things for me and for many survivors of these kinds of relationships was mourning the illusion of that perfect relationship we wanted to truly believe that we had. Letting that go was a big step for me and many other survivors have told me the same thing.
7. Don’t Overthink the New Supply.
NEVER compare yourself to the new supply, unless it’s to feel sorry for them as you take note of the pattern that you’re thankfully no longer subjected to in your life. Don’t do yourself the disservice of trying to think the new supply somehow “better” than you; the truth is that narcissists are very picky, so chances are, if the new source of narcissistic supply “seems” better somehow, it’s only because the hasn’t ruined them just yet.
8. Skip the “What Ifs.”
Don’t “if only” and “what if” yourself to death. It’s common to have feelings of regret after any relationship ends, and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t wonder what you could have done differently or whether something you did or said could have been the trigger that caused it all to go downhill. But that’s not the truth, and it’s not helping you – it’s only causing you more pain – and chances are, you couldn’t have changed the situation without going completely insane trying to make the narcissist happy. Remember that the narcissist will NEVER be truly happy, because true happiness comes from within – and they are empty on the inside, at least on an emotional level. Now it’s time to live in the moment and to think about how you want the future to go.
What do you think?
Question of the Day: Have you ever experienced watching your ex-narcissist get involved with a new person, or even just appear to return to the person they used to be, and how did it make you feel? What advice would you offer your fellow survivors in this situation? Or are you currently dealing with this issue? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.