Ending a relationship of any kind can be tough, but when someone tries to disentangle themselves from a narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath, the experience is a special kind of hell. From the beginning, partners are groomed to cater to the needs of the narc while denying all of their own. It’s an insidious process of devaluation that happens so gradually, few recognize what’s happening until it’s too late. Eventually, the partner of a narcissist will feel guilty for having any needs or boundaries at all. The narc’s constant requirement to be the center of attention at all times ensures that no one else can exist in that space. In the world of a narcissist, they are always right and everyone else is always wrong. If you don’t go along with their program, they are always the victim and you are always the perp. Anyone who does not feed the insatiable ego of a narc at all times will be punished, and narcs are experts at dreaming up ways to be particularly and intentionally cruel.
The rules require 100% enforcement, which is why it is impossible to be in a relationship “just a little bit” with a narcissist. If you are in a relationship with them of any kind, you are required to go along with their plan to abuse you. Those who understand the rules but must interact with a narc, say for the sake of shared custody of children, can go gray rock. Gray rock can be effective as a short term solution, but it doesn’t prevent one from being abused. It simply prevents a reaction to the abuse which is what the narcissist looks for to escalate even more harm.
There are a few factors which make it extremely difficult to get away from a narcissist. First and foremost, if you leave, the narc will play every trick they know to suck you back in. And they know a lot of tricks. They have been studying you and grooming you since day one. They picked you because you are kind, understanding, and empathetic, which are all the traits that they lack. They will play to your sense of goodness and decency. They will beg you for another chance. They will love bomb you and will use all the ways they know to appeal to your weaknesses. Narcs know they have a good deal going with you, and they will fight like hell to ensure their narcissistic supply doesn’t leave. It’s not you they want, it’s your kindness and empathy, which they intend to drain out of you. They are true vampires.
If you don’t give them what they want, narcs will switch love bombing tactics on a dime, and try to steamroll you into submission. Chances are, you’ve already experienced this, which is why you are trying to leave. It’s common for the victim of narcissistic abuse to feel extremely guilty about this. It’s part of the grooming. It’s common for the victim of narcissistic abuse to feel addicted to the narc. It’s part of the grooming. It’s common for the victim of narcissistic abuse to feel like they can “handle” the narc, especially in the love bombing stage. It’s part of the grooming. Once they learn to have better boundaries, it’s common for a victim of narcissistic abuse to feel like they can be in a relationship with a narc “just a little bit.” It’s part of the grooming.
Narcissists are not like other people. There is no such thing as “just a little bit.” It’s all or nothing. The only kind of boundary that works with a narc is a permanent, impermeable one, such as no contact. This is a difficult concept for most reasonable people because we are accustomed to human beings who are capable of being more dynamic than that. It is exactly because we don’t see the world in black and white terms that make us susceptible to narcissistic abuse. We project our own goodness, kindness, and common decency onto narcs when they have none. Our own self-preservation then sounds selfish and cruel, and we are suckered back into the abuse.
If you find yourself tempted to check in on the narc, or extend some kindness to them if they are going through a difficult time, be warned. It may not happen all at once, but the eventual cost of offering any part of yourself to a narcissist is your identity, self-esteem, and personhood. Your desire to be kind and compassionate is far better spent on your own healing.