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What NOT to do when leaving or breaking an abusive relationship

There’s lots of advice on what to do when you leave an abusive or narcissistic relationship but what about the things that you really don’t want to do as they are really not going to be helpful.  Here are my thoughts on this.

Don’t tell the narcissist that you think they are a narcissist.

You may think this is a reasonable or helpful thing to do so that they can understand why you’re leaving them and maybe even help them to get help. You may find yourself slinging the word at them in anger or frustration.

Don’t do it. 

Narcissists are masters of projection and more likely than not they will turn it around and you might be made to believe that you are the narcissist.  They may even tell friends, family, anyone who listens that this is true.  You have been gas-lighted enough, don’t invite it in any more.  It will only make you doubt whether you really are the narcissist but it may just alienate friends and family who know nothing or little about it – after all he has probably been charming to them and in public.

It also just invites them to search for an alternative diagnosis for you, maybe labelling you unstable, borderline, bipolar.  You may be experiencing mood swings, sudden intense anger, tension and rage but this is because of the abuse and anyone in your situation would probably feel this way.   It’ll just invite more conflict and abuse. Don’t do it.


Don’t expect marriage guidance to work

I fell for this one.  If your partner is a true narcissist no amount of counselling will cure them and although you should take your own share of responsibility for anything in any relationship, the fundamental problem here is your partner’s mis wired brain.  If you do decide to give it a shot then just realise that you are probably going to be blamed for the problems in your relationship by your partner, and possibly even the counsellor who can themselves be drawn, unwittingly, into the narcissistic drama.  So you end up being gas-lighted by yet another person.

By all means try it if you feel you have to give it all you’ve got but keep your eyes wide open and just watch out for the narcissist manipulating the counsellor just as they manipulated you.


Don’t put anything on social media

Yes, you want everyone to know how you suffered and that you are not the ‘bad guy’ here, and I know how that feels, but just don’t do it.  If you put blow by blow accounts of what you are doing and share your suspicions publicly the narcissist has access to this, either directly (if you haven’t blocked him – see …..do’s) or via his friends. Don’t give them any ammunition in the forthcoming divorce negotiations.  You are just continuing to provide narcissistic supply.  You need to disappear from their lives and pretend not to exist as far as possible.  See ‘Grey Rock Tecnique’.

And as you are likely to be emotionally up and down and tearful you don’t want to advertise this as they could use it to discredit you and make you look unstable in any negotiations about the children.  Narcissists often go after the children as an attempt to hurt you by insisting that you are an unfit parent.

It will also just drive some people away if they are not aware of narcissism and the damage it can cause.

Don’t tell anyone other than your very closest allies that you think your former partner is a narcissist. No one, other than your very close friends or family who have seen the behaviour first hand and have an awareness, will believe you or understand it.  They will just think you are bitter and that it is just an acrimonious divorce. They may tell you it takes two to tango and that you are equally to blame.  The majority of people are utterly ignorant about narcissism and may well end up gas-lighting you themselves.  Accept their ignorance, don’t bother trying to explain anything to them until you are well out of the other side of the divorce.

I felt the need to explain why I was divorcing because I didn’t want people to think badly of me.  Some people will, true friends won’t.  This is when you will know who your true friends are and you may even lose some. You just have to accept that, as harsh as it is.


Don’t tell the narcissist’s new partner they are narcissist

I know. You’re nice and you really don’t want anyone to suffer what you did.  You’re a natural rescuer and maybe that’s what drew the narcissist to you in the first place  but don’t do this.  Remember the early days of your relationship? How lovely it was, how special you felt, the love bombing, how you thought you’d met your soul mate?  Well they’ll be feeling the same feelings now.  The chemicals of love (dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) makes us incapable of seeing the true picture – this is how we are wired.  And the new partner will be immersed in this chemical soup and loving it.

If an ex-partner had told you in the early days you may well have labelled them as ‘bitter’ or ‘crazy’ instead.

As harsh as this sounds, they’re on their own journey and it’s not your job to rescue them. You need to focus on your journey and on your healing.


Don’t expect the narcissist to be formally diagnosed or seek help

The UK lags well behind the US in recognising NPD and it is extremely unlikely you will get them diagnosed. You will just have to settle for recognising that they have extreme narcissistic traits and deal with what that means to you and the divorce process.  Use the word as a shorthand for the bundle of behaviours they exhibit and the effect on you but you are not a psychiatrist so can’t diagnose.  Of course you can recognise the behaviours but don’t expect the judge to listen, for example. The only person you should be using the N word to in your divorce is your lawyer.  Which brings me onto the last don’t.


Don’t settle for the cheapest lawyer

This one is really, really important.

Find someone who recognises and understands narcissistic abuse. Preferably one who has dealt with this before.  Your divorce is likely to be long, difficult and very high conflict.  Your solicitor can easily be drawn in by the charm and manipulation of the narcissist via their solicitor (which happened to me).  So choose carefully.  Even if they are more expensive, it may well prove to be cheaper in the long run.

You want someone who:

  • Is a specialist family solicitor
  • Has sufficient level or air of seniority to hold the awe of your spouse – you need someone with robust experience to deal directly with the narcissist.
  • Knows all the methods of possible dispute resolution, specifically those that should be avoided with the narcissist as they are a waste of time and money
  • Will recognise the behaviour traits to which you have been subjected and know what they are up against
  • Can manage the process and advise you specifically on how to deal with your particular situation (some simply take your instructions)

Don’t be put off getting out of the relationship because you’re scared

Yes of course this is scary, change is always scary and this is particularly scary as you are going to be making changes when you are not as strong as you might once have been.  At times it is going to feel like swimming upstream in extremely strong currents and you will doubt yourself at times.  But if it isn’t right, and you’ll know in your heart if it isn’t, then please get out.

If you’re not sure then speak to someone to explore how you feel and make sense of your thoughts and feelings.  But if you recognise it’s unlikely to ever change then do it, you deserve to be happy.  Don’t settle for anything less.  Honestly, you can do this.  I remember a friend telling me that when this is all over (my divorce) I would be happier than I could even imagine. I didn’t really believe her then but she was right. I am.

My divorce brought me to my knees at times and I was afraid it would break me. But  I was lucky, I had my training behind me, many tools to use and a fantastic support network.  I’m in a very good place now, more resilient and happier than I ever thought possible, but there are some things I wish I’d known beforehand that would have saved me heartache, stress, time and, very importantly, money.   And I want to share my learnings and hindsight with you, to help you navigate your divorce or break up and recover as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Please get in touch if you would like help to make sense of what you’re going through or have gone through so that you can move on and love your life.