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.


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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  • 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 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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