How to heal after dating a narcissist

Rebuild your self-esteem and take things slowly (Picture: Getty)

Narcissists see the world through a self-obsessed lens, always wanting to be the centre of attention and manipulating others to get their way.

Put simply, they are the exact opposite of what a loving and caring partner looks like.

Narcissists often excel in shattering a person’s confidence and self-esteem, and making their victim feel at fault and responsible.

In fact, anyone who has ever dated a narcissist will know how exhausting and dangerous it can be.

Sexologist and relationship coach Ness Cooper says: ‘Dating a narcissist can affect an individual in multiple ways and this can make them lose a sense of their own identity.

‘It can have a knock-on effect on their self-esteem and confidence – and because narcissists swing from gaslighting to love bombing, it can make an individual doubt their internal world and outlook on the world.’

Because of how narcissists behave at the beginning of relationships, it’s easy to be fooled by one.

A narcissist will often charm with romance and love on the first few dates, but soon self absorption, self-centered thinking and manipulation takes over.

‘You often wont realise that you are dating a narcissist unless you understand their behaviour pattern,’ explains Karin Walker, co-author of Divorcing a Narcissist – the Lure, the Loss and the Law.

‘You will think that you have met your soulmate – they have the same interests and they put you on a pedestal, making you feel like the most important person in the world. Sadly, that is the “love-bombing” stage – quickly to be followed by the “de-value and discard” stage – which is an inevitability and part of their behaviour cycle.’

Narcissists are also drawn to empathetic people – the very trait they lack – and they will take full advantage of these loving and caring qualities. 

‘There is an addictive quality to that time where you’re love bombed and valued – so many empathic people just want to be appreciated and loved,’ says relationship psychotherapist Heather Garbutt.

There are so many reasons why dating a narcissist can be so damaging – from the impact it has on confidence and self-esteem, to the way individuals can lose a grip on reality from the manipulation and gaslighting.

If you’ve recently stopped dating a narcissist – or ended a relationship with one – and want to know how to start the healing process, experts have shared some important things to keep in mind, to avoid long-lasting problems:

Don’t rush

Ness says the most important thing to do is to take your time and go at your own pace, in terms of getting ‘back to normal.’

She explains: ‘Due to narcissists often changing individuals on multiple levels, there’s a lot to work through and it can take time. 

‘It can be tempting to try and skip past certain areas but it’s often better to work through them – particularly before making new and big life changes after the relationship has ended. 

‘Sometimes getting extra help from a specialist can be a good move, as some areas can be more challenging that others to work through. A trauma-informed therapist might be helpful in this case.’

Go through stages of grief (and all the feelings)

‘Understand that while the relationship was a toxic one, you may still have to work through stages of grief as you move on from the old relationship,’ Ness adds.

She stresses that while it can be tempting to try and ignore these feelings, working through them is important for the healing process.

This is something backed up by Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, who says it’s crucial to acknowledge and accept all your breakup feelings. 

She says: ‘Feel all the feels – as with any breakup, it’s important to be gentle and kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings.’

Put yourself first again

girl meditating at home Focus on your needs (Picture: Getty Images)

‘To heal from a relationship like this you need to come back to yourself, listen to your own feelings and needs – do all the things that gave you pleasure before and which reinforced your identity,’ explains Heather.

When a person is in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s likely their needs will never be put first.

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, explains this in a little more detail.

She says: ‘A person with strong narcissistic traits lacks empathy which is a primary component of any healthy relationship. Because of this, the relationship is likely to be very one-sided and focused around them getting their needs met with little regard for yours.

‘In time, the relationship is likely to become extremely draining and chip away at your self-esteem.’

As a result, it’s vital to prioritise what you want, need and deserve again.

Find yourself again

When you’re dating or in a relationship it can be easy to lose yourself when you’re thinking about someone else.

But this is even more the case when a narcissist is involved – as everything and anything is about them.  

So part of the healing process will involve rediscovering your identity again.

Dr Elena says: ‘Reclaim the parts of yourself you feel you may have “lost” in the relationship – people with narcissistic traits are often critical and sometimes controlling too. 

‘Focus on reconnecting to yourself – your identity and your wants and needs.’

This might involve rediscovering old forms of self-care and things that previously made you feel positive about yourself.

Set new boundaries and rules

Learning to set new boundaries and rules is crucial to working through the damage of dating a narcissist.

Ness says: ‘Finding ways to make you feel safe in yourself can be very important and help you move onto healthier things. 

‘It may take a bit of trial and error as you learn what boundaries you need, but it’ll be a positive step forward to healing.’

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Lean on those around you

A narcissist may have cut you off from loved ones or sabotaged your relationships with family and friends. So it’s a good idea to rebuild this network post-breakup and turn to these people for support.

‘These people are the ones who will help you when you need moments of distraction and help to work through other potential challenges you may face,’ adds Ness.

Seek professional help

Dating or being in a relationship with a narcissist can lead to problems such as PTSD, depression or anxiety – so speaking to a professional may help you come to terms with their behaviour and feel better about yourself.

Dr. Supriya McKenna, a GP and a narcissistic abuse recovery expert, says: ‘If you’ve dated a narcissist you will have been subjected to “narcissistic abuse” but you may well not have realised this, because this type of abuse is incredibly subtle – certainly to begin with. It’s always covert psychological abuse – but there may be also a physical component.

‘You will have been made to believe that you are not enough, not in any way, by the narcissist’s devaulations, criticisms and put-downs, and you will have found yourself trying harder and harder to please them by jumping through hoops. 

‘You’ll have tried to love them more, give them more and be more – but not one person will ever be enough for a narcissist. This inevitably leads to self-blame and low self-esteem in victims – and people report feeling like a “shell” of their former selves.’

Dr Elena also stresses that if dating narcissists is a pattern for you, therapy can be a good way to get to the bottom of why this is the case.

How to spot narcissistic traits:

Someone with narcissistic personality disorder may:

  • have a strong sense of your own self-importance.
  • dream of unlimited success, power and intellectual brilliance.
  • crave attention from other people, but show few warm feelings in return.
  • take advantage of other people.
  • ask for favours that you do not then return.

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