What’s wrong with me? Why do I keep going back to the narcissist?
Why do I miss them so much when they were so terrible for me?
Why won’t the narcissist just leave me alone?
Believe it or not, these are some of the biggest questions I hear from both readers and coaching clients as they work through their narcissistic abuse recovery program. Almost always, when you finally gather up the nerve to end a toxic relationship, you’re going to be faced with a rocky road at first.
What Makes the Narcissist So Hard to Leave?
Most narcissists will try to get your attention again after you’ve been separated – whether it’s immediately or after a period of time. And many survivors of narcissistic abuse admit that they get sucked back in from time to time. This has a lot to do with trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome.
It’s a condition that causes abuse you to literally to develop a psychological dependence on the narcissist as a survival strategy during abuse. And of course, trauma bonding also makes recovering from a toxic relationship significantly more difficult.
Speaking of “sucked in,” let’s remember that narcissists love to “hoover” you when they feel like they’ve lost control of you. Read more about hoovering here.
Oh, and let’s not forget the love-bombing of it all.
What if you’re the one trying to get back together with the narcissist?
Now, if you’re the one trying to reconnect with the narcissist, you’re probably experiencing a lot of emotional abuse right now – it’s exactly the type of thing a narc enjoys. You’ll repeatedly go through the devalue and discard phases, peppered with brief episodes of reprieve in which you almost catch a glimpse of the person you once knew.
If you think about it, the psychology of people who have been abused by narcissists is so altered by the abuse that their reactions to things that happen in their life aren’t “normal,” for lack of a better word.
Trauma Bonding in Action: The Biting Puppy
What does that mean, exactly? Well, let me offer up a quick example using puppies. (Stick with me here, it’s not as crazy as it sounds!)
The Happy Puppy and the Biting Puppy
Let’s say that you were out to buy a puppy. You find a group of perfectly adorable pups and it’s time to make the choice.
One puppy seems happy and friendly, and when you hold out your hand, he sniffs it and offers up a little doggie kiss.
Another puppy seems a bit stressed, to say the least, and when you hold out your hand, he bites your finger, drawing blood in the shape of his tiny little puppy teeth.
A “normal” response would be to take the happy puppy home and never think of the biting puppy again, while a person who has experienced narcissistic abuse is more likely to keep going back to the biter and hoping for different results.
The fact is that it’s “normal” for us as humans to go toward pleasure and away from pain – after all, pain is a warning sign that something is WRONG. You feel me?
Along the same line, let’s get back to those dogs for a moment.
Think about the stories you’ve heard about dogs who stay loyal to their owners who hurt them. Why would they do that? It’s because of programming – the training and conditioning that you instill into them, along with their need to look to their “pack leader” for guidance.
How is this relevant to your situation?
Well, the fact is that if you’re going to voluntarily return to someone who has abused you, you’ve experienced a similar kind of conditioning. And sort of like the dog, or even like hostages who experience Stockholm syndrome, you find that you become addicted to the need to please the narcissist, or the need to find out if he or she is okay, or even of the need to get some of his coveted “positive” attention if that’s what he’s been depriving you of – those glimpses of what he once was. This is what brings you back, at least on one level.
And, like the dog who is beaten, the narcissist uses fear to control you – and when you’ve gone no-contact or when you threaten to, the narcissist reaches deep into his manipulative toolbox and pulls out your biggest fear of all the fear of being utterly, desperately alone.
So, in a way, you have to recognize that the feeling of obligation and almost desperation that you feel when you’re away from the abuser isn’t real.
The Ugly Truth: Maybe You Keep Going Back Because You’re Scared That the Narcissist Was Right
The bottom line, though is this: the reason you want that abusive jerk back, even though he put you through absolute hell, is because the pain of the idea of being ALONE, abandoned, helpless, worthless – that’s so much worse, in your mind, than the actual abuse.
Sometimes, having someone who just seems to have all the “right” answers – someone who keeps you right on the edge of sanity – just feels like home, especially if you’ve been stuck in a toxic relationship for long.
And that, my friend, is where we all sort of figure out where our places are in this world – it’s part of what makes us attractive to narcissists in the first place.
And what makes them attractive to US – they can sort of seem like what we’ve always wanted, our hero, our savior – that is, until we discover that they’ve been secretly consuming our souls, one bite at a time. Before you know it, you’re left spinning and feeling empty.
So how do you get over the need to keep going back to the narcissist?
- You’ve got to change your mind. I know, it sounds simple. But if you change your mind and literally DECIDE that you don’t need him, you’ll eventually get there – even if you have to fake it a little at first.
- Use the law of attraction to your advantage by employing a simple-to-remember mantra or affirmation that you repeat to yourself anytime you have feelings or thoughts that make you want to go back.
- And, if you have to, create a little “narc-resistance” file – one where you write down or record your reasons for leaving – and staying away – and make sure you’re very honest with yourself – after all, no one else needs to see it.
- Stick to your no contact plan.
Avoid the Hoover Maneuver – How a Narcissist Sucks You Back In
Often, when the narcissist in your life feels the need to gain more of your attention and “narcissistic supply,” they will use a technique we call the “hoover maneuver” – and it’s meant to suck you back into the relationship, or at least, into the drama.
Have you ever experienced a desire to reconnect with a narcissist after you’ve separated from him or her? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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.