How to leave a narcissist - advice from family lawyers at Shulman Law Firm in Toronto
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Need Help Leaving a Narcissist?  Here’s What to Do.

The term’s bandied around rather cavalierly. A true “Narcissist” is someone who can be charming and confident in the outside world, often excessively so. But in romantic relationships they can excel at manipulating and abusing his or her spouse behind closed doors.  

Narcissists are afflicted with a personality disorder that makes them preoccupied with grandiose fantasies of self-importance, power, and success.  They have an unlimited need for the attention and admiration of others, but deep down they have very fragile egos.  This toxic combination makes them prone to taking advantage of and controlling those around them – including a spouse, and especially when that spouse wants to leave the marriage or romantic partnership.  

Indeed, while Narcissists are known for initially idealizing their spouses, they have very black-and-white thinking . They devaluate and ultimately “discard” them once the relationship ends – but usually not before embarking on a campaign of psychological, emotional, and financial abuse and tactics. 

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How to Leave a Narcissist? 

Leaving a relationship with a Narcissist is never easy.   Because their need for control is secretly at the forefront of their behaviour, they can either pull out all the stops to keep you where they need you, or else see the end of the relationship as an affront to their ego, and work hard to get their revenge. 

But there is a right way to leave these relationships. Here are some tips: 

  • Make your moves in silence.  Don’t warn the Narcissist that you are leaving.  Otherwise, they might: 1) ramp up efforts to keep you on the hook, or 2) embark on self-protective, sneaky, and exploitative measures that will leave you blindsided.  
  • Copy everything.  Make copies of all the documents to get a divorce and prove any legal claims or entitlements you have.   This can include proof of your address, banking information, identification and health cards, and medical documents. 
  • Protect your passport. Store your passport in a safe place, especially if you are from a different country.  Also take a photo of it, and store the digital image on your phone and on an external storage device, like a USB key. 
  • Get your finances in order.   Set aside some funds surreptitiously, for your upcoming departure from the relationship. Open a new bank account, and get separate credit cards if you can.  If your narcissistic spouse has taken over the control of your finances during your relationship, you will want to locate, copy, and re-assembled the needed information. 
  • Be untraceable.  Safeguard your cellphone, computer passwords, and banking information.  Turn off any GPS or other location-sharing services that may be running on your cellphone or Apple watch devices.  Turn off auto-fill and auto-complete features that fill in the passwords and identification on website forms.  Conceal the contact information of your Family lawyer, or anyone else who is assisting you with leaving.  And above all – be on the lookout for the Narcissist’s efforts to track your whereabouts and activities. 
  • Rely on your support system.   Whether your support is informal, or comes from more professional sources, you will need to rely on those who can and will help you. Consult your doctor and therapists as needed.  Reconnect with trusted family.  Rely on offered support and assistance from friends.   
  • Take care of yourself.  Make sure you are eating healthily, sleeping well, and exercising regularly.   And if your situation with your Narcissist spouse looks like it is escalating, or if things are starting to get physically violent, then don’t hesitate to contact police and social services, who are well-versed in dealing with domestic abuse. 
  • Cut yourself a break.  So much of the Narcissist’s power over you comes from emotional abuse, brought on by his or her criticisms, and efforts to gaslight or sow self-doubt in you.  Your self-esteem may be at an all-time low.  You may also feel shame for tolerating the abusive relationship for such a long time, unbeknownst to others around you.   But you need to fortify your resolve, and emerge from the toxicity of your environment. When leaving a Narcissist, you may need all the inner strength you can muster. 

Hire a Good Lawyer

And importantly:  Hire a good lawyer.  When it comes to asserting your legal rights against a Narcissist spouse, it can take an especially strong lawyer, ideally one who has had to deal with narcissistic opponents before. He or she will have to navigate the muddy waters that have been stirred up by your spouse’s revengeful or manipulative misconduct in a divorce.  Find someone you trust, and who can add level-headed objectivity to the task of getting what you legally deserve. 

Resist Going Back to the Narcissist

If and when the Narcissist does inevitably find out you are leaving, don’t fall for flattery, crocodile tears, pleading, blame-shifting, sudden apologies, late-breaking epiphanies, or threats.  The Narcissist will often reach deep into his or her bag of tricks to try to keep you hooked, and maintain the status quo.   

Don’t be tempted to go back.  Keep in mind that you may not be seeing clearly after years or decades of being in a toxic relationship.  And know that no matter what they promise, it won’t get better.  True Narcissists are hard-wired to be incapable of a healthy, loving relationship, and their protestations of love are merely self-serving. If you can, keep a list of all the conflicts, bad times, and poor or abusive behaviour, to remind yourself during those times when your resolve is flagging.   Keep the list in your phone, where you have it handy in your weaker moments. 

You Always Have a Choice 

Divorce is always hard, but divorcing a Narcissist poses special challenges.  Although it may be hard to see because you have been living in an atmosphere of abuse and toxicity, know that there is freedom and peace on the other side of it.   

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