Getting Over A Relationship With A Narcissist


I bet you have asked yourself this question at least a hundred times, “Why is it so hard to get over the narcissist in my life?”. It probably doesn’t make much sense to you why you’re struggling so hard, to move on from someone, whose rap sheet of wrongdoings toward you is a mile long. It should be easy to let go of someone who has caused you so much pain… right? Well, not really, when you understand the interplay of factors that contribute to the concept of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance, can be viewed as a Grand Canyon-sized gap, between our beliefs and new data that is presented (facts). It is the difficulty of accepting what you believed to be true, is actually false. Mental conflict and confusion arise, when the beliefs we hold so firmly and the new facts, contradict each other. Dissolving the cognitive dissonance, by challenging the conflicting information, is the cornerstone of recovery from narcissistic abuse.

Here’s how it works.

The love-bombing of the idealization stage of a toxic relationship sows the initial seeds of cognitive dissonance. The narcissist fakes being the ideal partner by saying and doing all the right things. They pretend to be everything we ever dreamed of, and shower us with promises of perfect and eternal love. We are conned into believing the narcissist is the best partner we’ve ever had, and the most wonderful person on the planet. We trust their promises, and believe they’re able to love wholeheartedly, and without limits, in the same way we do.

We fall madly in love, and our brains become drenched in a potent cocktail of love-bombing, and the pleasure-inducing chemicals, that are released by neurotransmitters in our brains, when we are in love. This potent cocktail is what germinates the seeds of cognitive dissonance, that were planted in our minds, during the idealization stage.

By the time the devaluation stage occurs, and the narcissist’s behavior begins to deviate from the way they first acted, our positive regard for them, and our beliefs about their good character and intentions, have grown like weeds that have permeated, and become firmly rooted throughout our minds.

To reduce the confusion and discomfort of having beliefs of positive regard, that are challenged by the new facts, we instinctively try to reestablish congruity and close the gap between our originally held beliefs, and the new data, by using one or more defense mechanisms. We reject the facts (denial). We explain them away (rationalize), or ignore the new information altogether. We may try to convince ourselves that no conflict really exists, and the problem must be our fault. Or, we attempt to reconcile the distance between our beliefs and the new facts, through easing the gap, by focusing on our memories of how the narcissist used to be.

Since narcissistic abuse is characterized by various forms of ambient or stealth abuse, such as gaslighting, triangulation, intermittent reinforcement, and projection, the more covert and crafty the narcissist is, the more difficult it can be to dissolve the cognitive dissonance. The reason being, is the intensity, and power of the positive image of the narcissist we adopted during the love-bombing stage, is so embedded in our minds, that it appears more believable to us, than the reality of the ambiguous, ambient abuse we experience, but aren’t able to quite put the finger on. So when the narcissist shocks us from time to time with more overt cruelty, we are inclined to engage in some of the defensive maneuvers mentioned earlier, to resolve the inconsistency and discrepancy of their actions.

This is the reason why so many victims of narcissistic abuse have tremendous difficulty getting over their narcissist or leaving their abusive relationships for good, and instead continue to become trapped in the vicious seduce/discard cycle, even though they know their relationship is toxic.

One of the main focal points of therapy in my psychotherapy practice, with narcissistic abuse victims, is to help dissolve the cognitive dissonance, through the therapeutic use of Cognitive Behavioral techniques, and narrative therapy. These modalities, combined with education, about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, are effective at helping the survivor finally disentangle the facts from the fiction in their relationships. By clearing out the weeds from their minds, which are akin to clarifying their beliefs about their narcissist, and replacing them with new beliefs, based on the new data and facts the cognitive dissonance and doubt decreases, freeing the survivor from the stranglehold of their cognitive dissonance for good.


Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.



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20 thoughts on “Getting Over A Relationship With A Narcissist

  1. STOVER is a very logical solution to dislodge from a husband/wife, lover narcissist. But what if the narcissist is your adult SON who was the most loving, considerate, intelligent only child up until he started trying to control me in his thirties, an now in his fifties the verbal abuse has become so brutal that I have called the police twice on him to remove him from my house.

  2. Thank you very much for such a great article. I had seen these words: “COGNITIVE DISSONANCE” so many times in different web pages and forums but I had never been able to understand this until now after I read your work. Now it is crystal clear to me, and I can relate to it, and realize that is precisely what happened to me, what I did, and why I stayed 10 years in a relationship that was destroying me, and I would have stayed even longer if he did not discard me.
    I can understand why I did not want to break free, why I fought to stay with him, why it took me so long to accept what he really is and to find peace.

    Thank you so much for explaining what COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is clearly, brightly.

    I am so happy and thankful for having found your Website. It is by far, the best of all what I have found and that has helped me the most, and believe me, all what I do in my free time is searching and searching the internet reading every article I find about these evil monsters, so I can tell I have read a lot and found lots of websites ever since he discarded me one year ago.

    1. Hi Millie, I really happy I was able to explain the concept of cognitive dissonance in a way that made sense to you. And thank you for your kind words about my blog. I’m so glad my articles resonate with you. Stay free my friend. ~ Bree

      1. Hi again Bree, thanks for replying.

        I wonder if you could please write a separate post about what CODEPENDENCY is.
        That is another thing that I have found everywhere but so far not fully understood clearly.

  3. Thank you so much Bree. Cognitive Dissonance. Absolutely brutal attack on everything that makes us, they break in us, self worth…annihilated, self respect…obliterated, and self esteem…destroyed.

  4. Wow, this really helps me understand why I still hurt so much. It’s so twisted how they manipulate us to bond with them with the only intentions of crushing our spirits. I read an article recently on the frog in boiling water the other day which explained exactly how it felt only with a different idea. I described it as: Consider allowing someone to cradle you very heart, the actual organ, in their hands because they convinced you that it was the best thing for you and it was right. Imagine, them holding your heart ever so gently and tenderly in their grasp for such a long time. “Protecting” it. Keeping it “safe”. Then slowly, they starts to squeeze. So slow that you don’t really ever realize it. You just feel shorter of breath, like your chest is heavy. There is a huge weight on you now and you dont know why. When you ask them why you are feeling this way, they look you in your eyes so deeply and convince you that it’s your own fault or that it’s all in your head. Telling you he is not squeezing your heart, as he squeezes it tighter. Then tries to convince you that you need help, but doesn’t believe in any of the help that might cure you. He tells you how much he loves you and has plans for having such a picture perfect family. He tries to remind you of “how it used to be” and coyly throws in things like “before you did…..” before this person came I to our lives” before you got this friend…this job…etc”…. but remember how much we love each other? Never mind the names I just called you and how I played on all of your insecurities to throw them in your face…..and just remember what we “Love” about eachother. He has you tell him 10 things you love about him. This feeds him. Then it’s supposed to be his turn. But he only names physical things, the obvious, or copies what you said. This is because guys like that don’t have an original idea in their bodies. They’re straight up copy cats and try to play like their the best ever. Eventually he coaxed you into remenicing on the good things of the past. He squeezes tighter when he asks you, “why can’t you just be happy?”. If you are a Strong willed woman, not someone who thinks it’s just easier to try to “get along” and please your master, then you will catch on eventually. But then it’s tricky…..because you love him. He doesn’t know how that feels. But you do. So you want to fix it. Save it. So you do everything in your power to “fix you” and what’s wrong with you. But he doesn’t change. He squeezes harder because he feels his grasp of control slipping as you are awakening. You are the person who wants to make things right. He knows that, but will still tell you that you are wrong. Your still not doing things right. Why can’t you just be a good wife, mother, person? He squeezes harder. Your chest now hurts daily and you feel physically ill. Because stress can take a toll on the body no matter how young you are. You try to find time to yourself but he’s catching on. He doesn’t want you to have enough time to actually process what’s really going on. So he invades all of your boundaries. You now can’t even go to the bathroom without him exploiting you in any way possible. Even if it’s to tell your children he doesnt know why you always have to do this…..insert blame here…..he squeezes harder. You try to confront him about his behavior and hope he realizes how much he is hurting you. But he laughs in your face and mocks you. Even when you have tears streaking your face he mocks you. He tells you that words are just “sticks and stones”. Then turns it around on you that you’re now causing a fight. Why can’t you just be happy? He squeezes harder. Then releases just a tiny bit to remind you of how it used to be. To remenice again. Tears streaking down your face, eyes swollen from crying so much. He kisses you and tells you how beautiful you are when you cry. That’s when you realize he is enjoying every bit of this. Your fight or flight instincts kick in. You realize the only way you will survive is by getting out and away from him. You think, “if I leave maybe he will realize what he did wrong”. As you carefully plan your escape, your heart is now bleeding all over the floor. He squeezes harder because you are slipping away. The moment he realizes you are done, if he does, he practically forces you to leave by being extremely emotionally abusive and manipulative. Pulling you and pushing you at the same time. Confusion. When your heart finally bursts from all of the pressure from being inside his grasp, is when he has discarded you. Telling you to leave, telling you that he doesn’t want you any more like a toy he’s done playing with. Or when you leave, if he paid no mind to it, he cuts you off from all contact with him. Either way, he makes you feel worthless, undesired, unwanted, unloved, and abandoned. And blames you for it. Even after realizing all of this, it’s been 3 years, and I still find myself getting entangled in an arguement on the phone that he runs the circle on because I actually have feelings so I get mad, while while he laughs then tries to redirect me. I’m still learning how to not allow myself to care so much about him. It’s hard though. Because I took my heart back. Every day is still a struggle. I have to be stern am actually discipline myself to Not engage in any sort of conversation with him. I still fail at that he because it’s hard to not communicate with someone you share your children with.

    1. hi desiree..all u have described is all what i also endured,pls understand this takes time to digest and reorient our lives,i know its easier said than done,but understand that you truly loved him,and also suggest yourself that u can love him much better and truly and genuinely from far..,this way u are your true self in loving him,becoz u are manipulated if close,so you loose yourself,so just be compassionate to ur own self first understand that you have be your authentic version,and that is possible only from far and not while near to him,u dont try to conveine him of ur love,but just love them as deeply as u always did but silently,and if ever u have to attend them tend them with compassion..try this.,believe me.,it will soothe your nerves little by litte,have dreams of your own,what all u wanted to acheive in ur life,think that this is the best time where u can focus on ur passions and goals,just be there all yourself,relish the soulfulness u fell and where there id no distraction..,you are all yours,now.
      try to feel your soul.,just shower all the love u did for him on yourself..,feel the divinity in your soul.

  5. kind of confusing to understand. would this be like when you’re not sure if you’re good memories were even real – because they happened when you didn’t know when you were being controlled?

    1. The power and intensity of the idealization stage is much stronger in shaping our beliefs than the covert nature of the abuse in the devaluation stage. The manipulation and tactics of devaluation stage is what further destroys our ability to tell truth from fiction causing doubt.

      So when the narcissists does something more overtly cruel, we engage in defensive maneuvers that attempt to restore congruity in our world and about about our original beliefs about the narcissist.

      The positive beliefs in the beginning are vivid, concrete and very clear to us. So instinctively we try to justify the narc’s cruel actions to be in alignment with the stronger belief system. Hope that helps.

      1. still kind of confusing but I’m getting there. With my husband, I was married for 7 years before I woke up and realized what happened. I didn’t know how it happened. I was sooooo isolated, and neck deep in it. It was crazy. I was a shadow of who I really am. It felt crazy.

  6. Aft er 5 7yr s of being at my mother’s beck and call as well as my siblings.
    I asked her a question a therapist ha DC w z nte DC me to a ask.
    W ef ll that w a s the beginning of the end

    No Mom, no sis and one daughter will not speak to me either.
    I’m not going back to them after I see what limited emotional life they have for me.
    AND my daughter is getting msrrie DC and has invited all of them.
    I feel completely alone and overwhelmed.
    U SHOULD feel sooo happy about this wedding. However,as I stated previously,
    I feel alone az n DC overwhelmed.

  7. After 25 years of being abused by a narcissisic sociopath, the blog being love bombed in the beginning and then moving on to more sinister abuse and making me look like I am the abuser or i was the one always at fault. Describing what we believed and what was really truth, and learning to recognize truth, was a turning point in my life. All the while , he was stealing from me, lying to me and hiding assets. It was only when i stopped allowing him to control me, that things really fell apart. He held a broken glass to my face a few years ago and when I left him, he begged me to come home and he would never do that again. I acame home. He convinced me that he would never touch me in a harmful way. After another episode that left me so scared for my life,I left again. Once more, he convinced me that he would get counseling, see a dr, do anything i wanted him to do.. If i would just come home. All his promises lasted about 2 months. He was making a plan to really financially do me in this time but when he lost his temper this time and attempted to strangle me, i got away and called 911 and he spent the night in jail. Since that day, i have not spoken a word to him and while researching financial records for the divorce, I have a monumental amount of information that I was clueless about because he was the best liar in the world. His acting was superb. The blogs from your readers has been so helpful and I am beginning to heal. He has tried to contact me, but I refuse to even speak a word to him. That would be a victory in his eyes. Still a ways to go but I will get there. I have a strong support group and my Church Family and most of all God to lean on through this dark period of my life. Being 75 makes it all the worse. If i were younger and had time to rebuild a life, that would be encouraging. I will make the most of what I have left.

  8. More of a question than a comment. My 33 yr old daughter who is bisexual, started a new relationship at the beginning of this yr. I was caring for my granddaughter after school until the end of the school yr, she is six. I have cared for her since she was 11 months old , while my daughter went to work. Basically, I have been discarded, by my N daughter. Problem being, we are a very small family, I am the only grandparent in the picture. We live in same town, maybe 6 km apart. I feel that my granddaughter and I ( and her 2 uncles, and great- grandparents) NEED to have a relationship!! We are basically the only sane family that she has. The new girlfriend is a big concern if she comes into this supporting my daughters decisions. She has to realize that there are 2 sides to every story! I have no idea what my fighter has told her to justify her disowning her family?!?! I am so worried about my granddaughter !! My kids were raised by a narcissist . I can’t stand by and let her screw with my granddaughters mental health and well- being!!! What does Gramma do!?!!??

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