How to Leave & End a Relationship With a Narcissist

Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Read Time: 5 Minutes
Written by:Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

Published On: September 28, 2023

Medically reviewed by: Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Reviewed On: September 28, 2023

Updated On: September 28, 2023


Being in a narcissistic relationship can be incredibly challenging and emotionally taxing. You need to know how to make a narcissist respect you to have a functioning relationship with them. While it can be possible to figure out how to live with a narcissist and develop a relationship that works for both parties, sometimes you might need to figure out how to leave a narcissist.

When a connection with somebody with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) becomes a toxic relationship rather than a healthy one, you need to have strategies to know how to effectively end the relationship. The manipulation, narcissistic rage, and emotional abuse can take a toll, and ending the cycle and leaving a narcissist may be your only choice.

If you’ve realized that you need to know how to get away from a narcissist, you should be very proud of yourself for recognizing that you cannot handle dealing with narcissistic traits. This is often a very difficult decision, and understanding that you’ve reached a point where you need to take care of yourself or others in the household is incredibly brave.

Keep reading to learn how to leave a narcissist.

1. Acknowledge the Problem

The most crucial part of leaving a narcissist is acknowledging that the relationship has become too toxic or problematic to survive. Narcissistic abuse can be challenging to recognize, but once you realize the relationship is unhealthy for you or others in the household, it’s time to accept that you need to move on. It might help to remind yourself that you’ve done everything you can and that sometimes things are outside your control.

2. Develop a Support Network

When navigating how to end a relationship with a narcissist, support will be vital as you gain the strength and resources to leave. Find family members and friends you can trust who can provide you with emotional, physical, and perhaps even financial support during this transition. It might be beneficial to connect with people who’ve experienced a similar situation – you might consider joining a support group or seeking online therapy if you’re struggling.

3. Plan a Safe Exit Strategy

Before you leave, planning a safe exit strategy will be necessary. This can include things like:

  • Finding a safe place to go before you leave your current situation
  • Gathering important documents like your ID or driver’s license, your passport, your birth certificate, marriage license, and any financial records
  • Figuring out how you’ll financially support yourself
  • Making sure you have the time to get items you need before you leave
  • If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

4. Set Boundaries

Establishing and enforcing your boundaries is so essential when you’re in an NPD relationship. If you’re leaving someone with narcissistic personality disorder, you’ll want clear limits about what you will and won’t tolerate during the transition. Knowing how to set healthy boundaries can help you protect your mental health and prevent you from being further manipulated. They can be instrumental in helping you break free from the relationship.

iconExpert Insight

“It’s important to remember that narcissistic behaviors stem from severe insecurities. Narcissists crave validation often at the cost of empathy. Setting very clear boundaries can set the stage for leaving. It’s important to prime a partner for departure, letting them know, in a prepared way, how your needs should and do matter but are just not getting met.”
Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical, (LCSW-C), LICSW, MSW Elizabeth Keohan

5. Keep a Record

Keeping a record or documenting abusive behavior or threats can be useful if you ever need evidence for legal action. Tracking incidences of abuse will also help you stay focused on your decision and reaffirm that you’re making the right decision. It can help you remember that you’re doing what’s best for you if you ever doubt your decision to leave.

6. Seek Legal Assistance

Often leaving a narcissist requires seeking legal assistance. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from a lawyer. You’ll want to understand your legal rights during the separation. For example, you might need to seek legal advice or assistance if you:

  • Are seeking a divorce or separation
  • Anticipate a custody battle
  • Need a restraining order
  • Must navigate complex financial matters

7. Stay Calm and Focused

Any interaction with somebody who has NPD requires you to stay calm and focused. This becomes even more essential if you’re leaving a narcissist. Maintaining emotional control during this challenging time will help you navigate the process effectively and safely. It can also minimize the potential for damage caused by confrontations or arguments. Try to remain calm using the following tools:

iconExpert Insight

“I encourage clients to do their own mindfulness work first and also concurrently when prepping for emotionally charged dialogue. We can so easily lose sight of what is at the core of discussion if we don’t find a healthy place for high reactivity and sometimes resentment. But if we hone it in with some meditative thought, we can more actively apply calm and focus when we plan to say hard things.”
Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical, (LCSW-C), LICSW, MSW Elizabeth Keohan

8. Protect Children and Pets

If you’re planning to leave a narcissistic relationship, you must think about and prioritize the safety of any children or pets. Remember that people with NPD will use whatever they can as leverage during a conflict. Taking steps to protect those who are most vulnerable from harm or abuse is going to be critical. To do so, you should:

  1. Create a safety plan: You might need to pre-plan a safe place for them to go. In cases of emergency, contact the police or the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has resources for creating a personal safety plan.
  2. Talk to your children: Having age-appropriate conversations before issues arise can help your children understand what’s happening. Encourage open communication and explain why leaving might be necessary.
  3. Make sure you have essential documents: While you may already have personal documents, make sure you also gather anything specific to children and pets — birth certificates, immunization records, pet registrations, and vet records will be important documents for you to store outside the home so you have them when you need them.
  4. Be willing to contact authorities: If any incidents of abuse have been directed towards children or pets, you should report the information to the appropriate authorities.
  5. Seek legal advice: Family law attorneys can help you understand your options for custody and visitation arrangements. They can also file protective orders if necessary. Keep in mind, you don’t need to wait until you’re leaving a narcissist to get help.

9. Cut Off Contact

If you’ve already left a narcissistic relationship or plan to do so in the near future, you must be willing to cut off contact. This can include phone calls, text messages, emails, social media, interactions, and face-to-face conversations. If the relationship is at the point where you no longer feel safe, contact can be detrimental to your physical and mental well-being.

10. Be Aware of The Cycle of Their Behavior

Keep in mind that narcissistic behavior is a cycle. You may find increasing periods of kindness and remorse — which are likely manipulative tactics — in an attempt to get you to return to the relationship. Stand firm in your resolve and remind yourself that you need to leave. Don’t be manipulated into falling back into old harmful habits and patterns.

Remember: you are leaving for a reason. Trust your gut and instinct to know it’s time to get out.

iconExpert Insight

“Getting some therapeutic support is key when we are in an emotionally tough spot with our relationships. A therapist can help not only support your processing and observations, but also help you create a framework for understanding unhealthy patterns of behavior. With that, it becomes vitally clear what needs to change while creating a path to get there.”
Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical, (LCSW-C), LICSW, MSW Elizabeth Keohan

11. Practice Self Care

Practicing self care will be critical as you prepare and leave the relationship. Take time to pamper yourself emotionally, physically, and mentally while you rebuild your life. You can work out, read, take walks, spend time with positive people, or do anything that involves being kind and gentle to your spirit and body.

12. Seek Professional Help

It’s very common to seek help from a mental health professional while learning how to get away from a narcissist. Coping with the aftermath of an NPD relationship can be demanding as you grapple with feelings of remorse, loss, and healing. Seeking professional help from a qualified and experienced therapist who understands the nuances of NPD relationships can be a game changer in how you begin to rebuild your life.

iconExpert Insight

““Leaving a relationship is a loss, and even if there was a need to change, feelings of grief and bereavement are inevitable. As well, we can become flooded by confusing and ambivalent emotions after leaving; at times feeling guilt, shame, anxiety and also compassion for an ex-partner. Keep therapeutic support in place in your life in the months ahead to help navigate getting used to a healthier mindset while learning to elevate your own positive self talk, in order to see the process through.”
Licensed Certified Social Worker-Clinical, (LCSW-C), LICSW, MSW Elizabeth Keohan

13. Find New Ways to Restart

Finding new ways to restart your life can involve things like moving to a new part of town or city, changing jobs, finding a new circle of friends, or relying on old circles that have been supportive.

You must be incredibly focused on personal growth to move on and heal from this relationship. Seek new hobbies, socialize with friends, and pursue any new opportunities that come your way. Stay busy, and above all, don’t be lured back into the relationship when common tactics like manipulation, narcissistic gaslighting, or intimidation are used.

Leave a Narcissistic Relationship with Help from Talkspace

Building a support system and creating an exit plan will be critical to leave a narcissistic relationship. However, you also might need help figuring out how to leave a narcissist. If you or someone you know is trying to leave a narcissistic relationship and needs help navigating the process, Talkspace is here for you. Our experienced and qualified therapists understand the challenges of leaving a narcissist. We can help you create an effective plan that gets you safely out of your situation.

You don’t have to live in fear or under the control of somebody with NPD. If you need to leave, help is available. Reach out today to learn more and get started.

See References

Elizabeth Keohan

Licensed Talkspace Therapist, Elizabeth Keohan has enjoyed working with clients in communities from Washington DC through rural Maine over the course of her career. While she has worked extensively with those experiencing anxiety and depression, she embodies a unique comfort working with the bereaved. Elizabeth combines a compassionate, holistic approach with Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT), to help clients counter their somatic response to stress, anxiety, mood, grief and loss.

Effective and affordable mental health treatment

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