Getting Over the Narcissist One Small Choice at a Time

get-over-narcissistThe hardest part about leaving a narcissist is the thought that we’re never going to get over it. Even though we’ve been subjected to a zillion silent treatments and disappearances (and survived!), we figure that once it’s really over, we might as well curl up in the fetal position and get comfortable because that’s where we’ll stay for a long while. We imagine months and months of sobbing incessantly, not being able to work, not being able to eat (or eating too much), and certainly not being able to venture outside where a chance encounter with the narcissist and his new “love” could literally kick us over the edge. From our vantage point at the tail end of the relationship, the future after the break-up looks bleak indeed.

So, how do we mentally get ready to make the final break? The answer is really so simple it’s ridiculous. We start by making a series of small choices and re-train our fucking brain. During the relationship, our co-dependency creates the illusion of there only ever being one big painful choice we can make – the choice to end it or accept that it’s over – but this isn’t true. There are actually a whole bunch of little choices – like stepping stones –  to be made prior to the big one and we all but ignore them. This is crazy because once you get the hang of making small but right choices, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to get on with it.

If there’s one thing consistent about our time with an N, it’s the fact that chaos is involved in every little thing. Make no mistake about it – this is by design. A narcissist will manipulate and distract us so that we are always on the edge of our seat…so that we don’t make the right choices. This is his job in the relationship. In other words, even though we have the capability to make choices, we are, over time, reduced to bundles of conditioned reflexes that are constantly triggered into predictable behaviors.

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In my first book When Love Is a Lie, I describe a pivotal moment towards the end of the relationship where, for the first time in years, I actually made a rational choice about my own behavior and it absolutely changed my trajectory in the relationship. Here’s that passage:

“Over time, by making a conscious effort to change my thought process, I felt things starting to shift in my favor. Now, I never knew exactly how (or even when) things would shift but I would, every once in a while, just know that they had because certain frenetic behaviors of mine would simply stop. For example, for a good part of twelve years, whenever subjected to a silent treatment or unexpected dismissal by the narcissist, I would feel compelled to take to the streets in the wee hours of the morning, five-page letter in hand and butterflies in my stomach, hoping to either catch him in the act of something or at least connect (albeit by proxy…the letter). Over the years, I must have written nearly a thousand letters to the N – all heart-felt pleas for peace, begging him, in desperation, to change his ways, end the silent treatment, and come back to the fold. Sometimes this tactic worked, sometimes it didn’t, but the writing and re-writing, always trying to get the words just right, exhausted me every time. Then came the drive across town and the nerve-wracking moments of tip-toeing to the apartment door to attach the letter, my heart pounding out of my chest. Sometimes he’d be home, sometimes he’d be out, but it mattered not because the anxiety was the same. Minutes later, as I made my way home, then and only then, did I feel the huge wave of relief that made it all worthwhile….the feeling that I’d connected and that perhaps he’d respond and the silence would end. Up until that point, I’d feel absolutely consumed….

…..Then, one night, on my way out the door with letter and keys in hand, I felt a sudden and unexpected shifting in my mindset…kind of like an earthquake shaking loose the petrified pieces of my common sense. For the first time in years, I looked at the clock, thought about how tired I felt, how late I’d get back, and about all of the anxiety-filled miles between my front door and his and simply didn’t go. My heart-heavy weariness and my common sense finally became bigger than the urge to chase the N and participate in the game. I knew, in that split second, that my nightly ritual of driving across town in the middle of the night during a silent treatment was over…that at least my participation in that part of the manipulation had ended…Somehow, by the grace of God, I had been granted a semblance of control within the chaos and I relaxed that night for the first time in years.”

I could have made that simple choice – to not go – any one of the hundreds of times that I made that anxiety-ridden drive and I didn’t do it. If I had, I could have saved myself years of misery. Sure, there had been times when I considered not going but I somehow thought that the anxiety of not going would be worse than the anxiety I felt on the drive over. I was counting on the relief I’d feel after the trip – a relief that was fleeting at best! On that pivotal night, when I did make the right choice, I could have never imagined just how right it truly was. It was so right that I never made that drive again or wrote another tear-stained letter…after over a decade of doing it! The relationship itself hung on for two more years but the driving and the writing – my desperation rituals – ended and, believe me, he noticed it.

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That little choice became a turning point because it proved, without a doubt, that making the right decision wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Something clicked. So, from that moment forward, here and there, I started making the right choices about the little things and it became easier and easier. Did the narcissist approve? Hell no! He, of course, accused me of not loving him like I used to and not caring – you know, all those things that he always accused me of. Look, if you’re going to get treated a certain way no matter what choices you make then at least make the choices that ultimately are more beneficial to you.

For instance, my ex loved the Cell Phone Game and played it every chance he could get. One of the most maddening rules of this game was that, although he never had to answer his phone (or even have one!), I had better answer mine or risk never hearing from him again. If my phone happened to be in another room and it started to ring, I would literally trip over myself (and everybody else) to get to it. If I was somewhere talking to someone and the phone began vibrating in my purse, I would literally lose my complete train of thought until I answered it or got back to him. Then, one random day, I made a choice – albeit a small one – to not behave like that anymore…to chill out and act normal. While that might seem like a no-brainer to most, for me it was a major accomplishment. Now, if the phone rang and it was convenient to talk, I did. If not, oh well! The first time I tried the new plan, allowing the phone to ring while I calmly cooked dinner, my son came flying out of his room with a panicked look on his face. I knew right then I’d made the right choice – no more.

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Even something as ordinary as choosing to lock my own front door became empowering. Over thirteen years, I avoided ever having to give him a key by simply leaving my front door unlocked whenever I knew he was on his way. The fact that his front door was always bolted tight didn’t matter; he fully expected mine to be unlocked day and night “just in case” and became infuriated when it wasn’t. If he came by and found it locked, he’d pound on it and then demand to know why I had locked it. The only times he ever felt obligated to knock, whether it was locked or not, were the moments he’d appear unannounced after a long silent treatment. Once I let him in, though, he never knocked again until the next reappearance. One night, I’d had enough. I made a choice to lock it all the time whether he liked it or not. After all, it was my apartment and my fucking front door! Since he also liked to tip-toe down the hall and startle me, locking the door allowed me to relax and gave me back control.

Mentally breaking free from the narcissist can start before you ever leave his ass and, in fact, it must! It can start with just a few small, empowering choices. If you don’t feel like having sex but you worry that he’ll leave if you don’t, choose to say no! Just do it. What’s the worst that can happen…he’ll leave like he’s left a thousand times before? So what! Take that chance. If he hates your friends but you miss them terribly, make a plan to go out with the girls every Wednesday and stick to it. The next time that he vanishes for no reason and blocks his phone, choose NOT to go looking for him. Just don’t. Appreciate the silence, In fact, make every day Silence Appreciation Day while he’s gone and get on with things. Again, what’s the worst that can happen? A silent treatment is a silent treatment. Might as well make the best of it!

Even when the narcissist is causing chaos and manipulating your life, you still have the power to make choices. I can tell you, without hesitation, that after that first little choice to not drive across town with that letter, I couldn’t stop making them every chance I got. By the time it was over, when he kissed me good-by after great sex and a nice day together and never came back, I was ready for it. It’s been almost three years since that day and I’ve shed about three tears. Does that mean it wasn’t sad and still isn’t sad sometimes? No, of course not. But it does mean that I took control, one choice at a time, over how I reacted to his awful narcissistic behaviors and the payoff was, for all intents and purposes, a tear-free good-by.

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75 Comments

  • Raven

    August 10, 2017 at 12:04 am Reply

    Hello Zari & everyone else involved in this one sided hell we are living!!! I have been reading your Blog for over a year now & it’s really freaky how it seems we are all dating or married to the exact same man ( or woman ) my best friend who’s a guy happened to marry an ex friend of mine who is actually a female N etc…. crazy huh? For lack of a better term!!! But she treats him like crappppp!!! Anyway….I feel like I used up all of my strength about oh 5-6 years ago we had moved to Nebraska of all places for his dadssss business of course & I finally got a lawyer (was terrified) of things to come because his family seems fo LOVE a good bullying fest together & man they enjoyed the hell out of this!! Wow…. So at that point say about 10yrs married I still had my thriving business (( which he purposely ruined yet his famous words “I didn’t MAKE you do anything” total bs )) also had my car & my son who was still very young & I know had I carried through with that instead of allowing them to bully me to stay (( assholes… selfish self centered spoiled evil ones!! That turn on each other of they don’t have what I like to call an outside bait dog like myself to attack together when I learned the term flying monkeys I thought holy crap! It’s not my imagination!!! )) His son from a previous marriage & I had been going to therapist after therapist & he’d only go to the first visit then pooffff it was all about me & the kid!?! His actual mom total just wasted well nevermind cause now I almost sympathize with her which says a lotttttt!!! But anyway in Nebraska his dad set up a new therapist & same routine started EXCEPT this therapist was like where in the hell is his father!?!?! ( ding ding!!! ) so she said he should come with us the next week. I had no idea as to why because many many before never said a word!!! And nothing ever really was resolved either until we told him & the next visit scared the utter shit out of me!! We were there maybe 30 mins before it happened I noticed right away he ( the N ) was using his “fake nice as can be for the public voice”,…. grrrr. I had known he did that for yearssssss!!! I noticed she didn’t speak to the kid and kept looking at me I was silent & must have been rolling my eyes or my body language something set her off!?! She stopped him mid BS speech & asked did I have something to say & of course I’m like me??? Oh nooo noooo not me no way ppppsshhttttt!!! So she insisted & I don’t recall what I said but he went back to his almost scripted blah blah blahhhhh bs bs bs …… when she cut him off you could have dropped a nail silent!?!? Then she suddenly “went off on …… him!!!”,…. myself & step son looked amazed & like wtf?!? She told him that just meeting him that few minutes she knew the issues!? & it was not the two of us ( me & kid ) it was him!?! I wanted to hide under her desk at that point!! He suddenly stopped his fake goody niceness voice & the real him started in…. she told him that he was either NPD or something more that it would take more time…..?!? (( I had noooo idea she was one that knew about this stuff or what not & remember HE chose her!!! )) all hell broke loose and he told her to go fk herself etc!!! She banned him from the office and omg she then started seeing me for free but scaring the crap out of me too!! That’s when I got all set to leave until they ganged up on me : / Now I am still with him and have no freedom we share a damn car!! He let my car repo after he ruined my business (( all after I tried to go so I believe leaving can be excruciating)) It ended up making me very very sick I am actually thin as can be now and caused physical things like my skin to break out all over and scar!? I do morn what I used to be & never realized it actually that I had it all & I guess had I gotten away that’s shameful to them ( the N’s ) his dad even made the comment I’d end up just like his mom?!?! If I did not leave awhile to teach him a leason?!? Wtf??? And his mom still hangs around while his dad dates girls younger than us!?!? I used to sense things and wonder wtf is going on turns out I’m an empath and it’s not a gift it’s a curse like being an emotional vampires feeding bowl…. & just recently realized that most my life has been like this ((yayyyyy))). Now trying to decide if it’s my mom
    Or dad that wired me for this bs because it’s definitely one of them looking back…. I actually started this to you because see being married at one point some how I disconnected and was healthy happy until he stopped it…. is there a way to do that while maintaining “this” for now? Mine recently let me ramble for hourssss while I kept saying put your phone down please and he’d say I’m listening (bs!) then have to drag answers that meant nothing from
    Him & then bammmm!!! Time to stop it he put down his phone ( triangulation ) always the phone
    Or laptop then he yelled and belittled me until I was exhausted and lately end up thinking wtf is his deal what happened to this sob!?! And when I ask that much nicer way of course he usually will then flip out which makes me wonder if it’s all because his family uses him big time and he’s the oldest and only son!! Gets crapped on then well applies to me of course! I mean he caused his son and I to fight and I could neve figure it out ever that’s not how I ever was!?! Amd he’d laugh when his ex would try to physically fight me or call etc it’s been a lie since day oneeee!! Not to mention we dated back in high school!?! Even then he swore his parents only told him a week ahead of time they were moving across the country and when we met he was dating my friend but onlyyyyy sat & picked at me I HATED HIM!!! So wth was that? And yearsssss later finds ma ruins a relationship and now he seems to like knowing I rarely leave the house and feel like a loser also says I need a JOB!?! Wtf he ruined mine and spent every penny I made : / I actually do feel locked up and unfortunately my family made alienation easier for him because of the way they are and become hermit like so he has not gone home to visit since our son was TWO he is now 13 wtf wtf …. he used to say I was a crazy bitch needed crazy pills & then that wore off got along oddly awhile Now he read an audio book about learning from psychopaths and murderers and he thinks I’m stupid for finding it odd he always reads this stuff and now has began to call me a psychopath bitch !! It is like being beaten verbally even his body gives off vibes that make me ask what’s wrong a million times ultimately making him lash out at me and ohhh he even has a logic made up that he can cheat on me it means nothing cause he doesn’t care about thhemmmm they arent me and that’s bs!! But if I cheat it’s wrong cause I have to “care” to screw someone as h says and see I had said I had to care at some time then he put the two together for his convenience and future faking holy shit it’s ljke whyyyyy even bother!?! I honestly don’t know what to do with my parents the way they are no siblings only child and he seems
    To tighten up even more if i feel better i dont even know the money situation now….. please help!! Sorry for the mixed rant!! I have been told by a published author to write a book she’d ghost write!!?!? Any help is appreciated….. thanks a bunch “Raven”

    • Zari Ballard

      September 22, 2017 at 7:35 pm Reply

      Hi Raven,

      I know it’s been a month since you wrote and I’m sorry for the delay in responding. It’s a very telling story of being in the shrink’s office and all that taking place. He sounds like a typical, very un-special narcissist to me and I’m not sure why you stay at this point except that maybe it’s a money situation. If you had a business before, isn’t there a way to go back to that? To try to get it going again? You should have a way to make your own money. THAT may be the one big thing you have control over. You obviously have talents and skills and you need not let all that go and doom yourself to this life. Make it part of your strategy to escape in the near future. You don’t give a single redeeming quality about this dude…not that you’re still in love or sometimes he’s just over-the-top nice. Nothing. He sounds very awful and all that I can say is that there has to be a way out. He cheats, belittles, demeans, etc. and hasn’t a single decent civil bone in his body. Yup, just a typical sociopathic narc and he doesn’t even try to hide it. Don’t worry about your childhood and your parents and how you “got” that way because that is not going to help you get out of this NOW. Stop trying to argue with him as if you can change his thinking. Focus on you and yes you can do it while you are together…without a doubt. You can do this!

      Zari xo

      • Raven

        September 22, 2017 at 8:27 pm Reply

        Hey Zari…. It’s odd that I noticed your message tonight?!? I did mean to say that sometimes he is nice like overly nice and now it feels like everything has been taken away literally and with my business (& thanks so much for the compliments about talent etc see I don’t even know how to get back to that person now?!) my father just passed away less than two
        Weeks ago now !?! 😭😡 and I didn’t even get to go home for that and or deal with my feelings about it at all?!? See he took a week off and made it up to me etc BUT even my own family seems to be on his side pushing me away or here and unfortunately I always share everything and he knows emotionally damaging things and uses them….. I just realized something happened while I slept and I feel so disgraced and intruded upon like while talking to my friend it all unwound earlier and U can’t believe what I am saying meanwhile I don’t know if he is at work or not?! Never do and I of course don’t have passwords to his phone! He says now work makes him have them?!? And never calls me ever from work now that he has the clearance to have his phone etc….. I feel so like lost and this feeling I have seems like crazy but I know something happened …… & I can’t believe it but I can because I have been totally against sex since my dad passed away omg…. I feel so disgusting.

        • Zari Ballard

          September 28, 2017 at 12:58 pm Reply

          Hi Raven,

          I am so, so sorry about your father:( Makes me very sad to read that. Please make a plan for your life in your mind and don’t share it with anyone but work towards it even in the smallest of ways. Not everyone has to know everything about what goes on in your life – especially him! Thinking about things and keeping it to yourself sometimes can help you work it through without any outside influences. You are not crazy and your intuition is ALWAYS right…Again, so sorry about your dad…

          Zari xo

  • Essie

    April 5, 2017 at 9:48 am Reply

    I had instinctively begun making incremental changes toward detachment almost two years ago. What I didn’t know was that my tech-smart narcopath husband had remotely installed some type of *illegal* spyware on my mobile phone so that he could — in real time — read any of my communication (instant messaging, text messaging, e-mails — all password-protected), and also track my phone’s location. When I stopped springing for his calls, he would barrage me with 40+ calls over only a few minutes. Sometimes I would just turn off the phone when this pattern emerged. However, he started showing up wherever I was. This was post-discard, a month or more after he’d told me that he was finished with our 20-plus-year marriage, but that we could be FWB (I rejected that arrangement), and that I needed to meet other people and stop thinking about him. I did get on with my life, right then and there — getting the ball rolling with a divorce attorney, looking for a new place to live, engaging in social activity — and things turned ugly in a hurry. My narc spouse worked out of town and had carried on a long-term double life with no remorse, but he wasn’t going to let me escape and live my life without him in it.

  • Kristi

    March 27, 2017 at 8:54 pm Reply

    Hi zari!

    My narc, conveniently for him and now for me too, is a “super commuter.” So he gets to live out his double life in the state he lives in (hence the silent treatment is there if he wants to use it) and travels back to home on the weekends. He’s finally reached his dream job status where his ego is stroked by 250 employees, and there’s even the introduction of a 20 something girl placed conveniently for me to worry about. I get it now. After the realization of his tell-tale narcissism, that going no contact during the week for me is helping me in a lot of ways –mainly I can concentrate on my life and kids here without planning my entire week around his schedule. But it comes at a cost, when he’s here on weekends, he’s either trying to pull his tricks on me in full force, or being pouty or giving me silent treatment in public. Since I’ve been aware of his tactics, especially now that I’ve got proof of his triangulation and gaslighting, I do view him as a very sad individual indeed. I realized tonight I feel right into another scheme. I was so jealous about the 20 something that I (shamelessly) threatened to set up a 24 hour servellance in his apartment! But guess who I just paid money to come check out my smoke detectors—– for hidden cameras! There’s none of course. Ugh. Guess I need to go full contact. But it’s going to be hard. He just is new to counseling, but I’m sure this won’t last. As I write this, The writing on the wall is pretty clear.

    • Zari Ballard

      April 14, 2017 at 1:58 pm Reply

      Hey girl,

      You and I spoke and it was awesome to meet you. Let me know how things are going either here or by emailing me. I love updates and I’ll always be wondering what happened. Hopefully, I was able to give you some insight into what is up with him and how to handle the weekends. Let me know how you’re doing, sister!

      Zari xo

  • Fred

    November 30, 2016 at 4:44 am Reply

    Briiliant post. Two parts really helped. I have written down and keep the words “Silence appreciation day” on a note and I keep it with me most of the time, something so simple helps so much. The ending is just what I want with the Narc I dated – a tear free goodbye. She cheated on me within days of becoming engaged even leaving and coming back just to have somewhere to stay while she and her new “love” found a place for her to live while they continued their affair under the nose of his partner (she lived in a caravan in the garden of the house he shared with his partner). She got preganant, he didn’t want to know, mug that I am I took her back and still offered her the world – again she kept seeing him. She is gone now for the last time and I hope they are very happy in the cesspit of a life they are living. The one I feel for is the unborn child, a Narcissist for a mother and a Father with no morals – the poor mite will be on these forums in 20 years time wondering what he did wrong. To adopt a child you have to go through the hoops to prove your can be a worthy parent yet these mentally ill people can procreate at will inflicting the worst kind of damage on the very people who love them.

    • Zari Ballard

      December 2, 2016 at 7:46 pm Reply

      Hi Fred,

      Thank you for sharing:) I’m finding that all the guys that call in for consultations and those who write in like you wish for the “tear free” goodby. One man that I have been counseling for months calls it “the calm walkaway” and he is forever struggling with the fact that he can’t seem to get it. LOL I hope, for you, it is different. Make sure that you block her on all avenues of communication. She can’t be allowed to use you as a fallback guy whenever things don’t work out with the new target (as immoral as he is). The female narc, often more so than the male narc, will do this at the drop of a hat.

      Stay strong, my friend, and we’re all here to support you!

      Zari xo

  • Lost in my mind

    July 31, 2016 at 10:53 am Reply

    Well first I would like to say thanks for all the great words of wisdom.
    I feel as though we have some how shared almost the same life.
    I am still with my N we have been together for almost 30 yrs and I don’t actually know where I was cause it just seems like a blurr. We have 3 kids who all have kids of there own know and I am left with this man I don’t even feel that I know he’s some kinda cruel monster and maybe I was to busy doing everything by myself to realize he’s not a nice person. But as I read your blogs this light just keeps flashing in my head like I’m in a dam disco lol !!!!!
    He has never supported me or are family he has a very serious drug addiction and has bin in and out if jail.my therapist says that I’m of the codependent generation were women just did lol my grandparents stayed together my parents and know me but I don’t want to but wen it comes down to it I can not seem to get out and the closer I get the more violent he becomes I’m not scared of him as I am confused as to how I could be with someone for so many years and not see what was right in front of me. Maybe ashamed and desperate to understand how life can be so giving to people who really deserve the karma of pain that they so willing give to others.
    So anyways I’m rambling cause my mind is going everywhere and I just can not wrap my thoughts around just one thing. I just wanted to say thank you for something in my life that makes sense.
    Keep up the great insight

  • Bernadette

    December 3, 2015 at 4:19 am Reply

    Hi Zari
    I posted yesterday about my experience with a narcissist and it hasn’t shown.
    I hope it wasn’t offensive x
    Kind regards

    • Zari Ballard

      December 4, 2015 at 2:24 pm Reply

      Hi Bernadette,

      No, no….did you use the same email that you always use? If it’s a first post with a new email, it still has to be moderated and I probably haven’t even got to it. That’s all. I’ll look for it. I just happened to see this little post and thought I’d answer it real quick:)

      Zari xo

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