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Trust me, you don’t want to know how narcissists treat their exes. And if they had a kid (or kids) together… things just got a whole lot more complicated.
First, if you are one of these people dealing with battle scars from a past relationship with a narcissist, let me say that I empathize with you deeply for having to put up with your ex. My ex-husband is a grandiose narcissist, so I have a fair idea of how they treat their wives during and after the relationship ends.
In short, narcissists (or narcs for short) can be bitter and vindictive people. They may persistently devalue and terrorize their exes after the relationship ends.
I’ll break down how that plays out by pointing out 11 things they say and do to continue making your life hell. Some get even more vicious and nasty towards their exes. Just when you think you’ve successfully gotten rid of them, they show up again to try and destroy you further.
The knowledge you gain here will help arm you to deal with your ex accordingly. Be sure to read the “ACTION PLAN” examples of how to cope and respond to their post-break-up tactics.
What Is a Narcissist?
The term ‘narcissist’ is the description given to males and females who are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It’s also loosely used to refer to people who exhibit narcissistic traits and characteristics. In other words, a pattern of behavior that creates dysfunction in relationships and is harmful to your mental health.
NPD is a mental disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) The manual for clinical psychologists outlines the characteristics, traits, and behaviors of narcissists.
One of the most prominent and across-the-board features is a lack of empathy. There are other traits you will notice depending on the type of narc you’re dealing with.
Traits and Characteristics
Narcissists are obsessed with being seen as special, unique, superior, or powerful. They will go out of their way to draw attention to themselves. They struggle with low self-esteem yet are able to portray false self-confidence to connect socially. They have fragile egos that are easily bruised by criticism and rejection.
In their minds, all they want is to be loved and admired but can’t understand why others don’t get them. For one, they are controlling and difficult to deal with, especially when you establish boundaries or they don’t get their way. Somehow, their bad behavior intensifies after a divorce or breakup.
To be fair, not all narcissists behave in an antagonistic or evil way. Some are able to leverage traits, such as control and dominance, to build a successful life.
How Do People Become Narcissists?
For many people, a narcissist is a narcissist regardless of type… and whether or not they have good intentions. One of the biggest problems people have with them is their persistent selfishness and treating people as objects to exploit for personal gains. The burning question is why do they act this way? Research shows that narcissism is linked to several factors such as:
How Narcissistic Behaviors Affect Relationships
A love relationship with a narcissist changes you forever. Speaking from personal experience, you can go into it whole and come out broken. Narcs seem to have a manual on how to wear down your self-confidence and break your spirit.
Psychological manipulation and abuse tactics, such as gaslighting, trauma-bonding, and creating a codependent relationship, are used to weaken you emotionally and mentally. The more time passes, the harder it becomes for you to end the relationship.
According to PsychCentral, “Partners of narcissists feel torn between their love and their pain, between staying and leaving, but they can’t seem to do either”. Some issues you may face as a result of exposure to your narcissist ex are as follows:
Some of the negative effects listed above are linked to narcissistic victim syndrome and may also arise in women who experienced emotional abuse.
Dealing with a narcissistic husband or boyfriend can push a person to start or increase drug and alcohol use to cope. If you’re experiencing these psychological effects, it may be time to dump the narcissist.
Breaking up does not always mean you can move on in peace and never hear from your ex again. Things can get a bit sticky if you work or socialize in the same environment or share children.
Kids could mean having to share custody and co-parenting with your ex. If you can identify with these circumstances, then the following crash course on how narcissists treat their exes can prepare you for what’s ahead.
11 Ways Narcissists Treat Their Exes and How to React
Any one of the five basic types of narcissists is capable of retaliation after a breakup. While an overt narcissist will openly bash you, the covert type will adopt more subtle or passive-aggressive methods to continue manipulating and pissing you off.
A narcissist’s playbook is filled with tactics. Below are 11 they’re not afraid to use to keep antagonizing you long after the breakup. By keeping one step ahead of their plans to ruin you, you’ll beat them as their own game. Equip yourself with the following counter-tactics to handle what they’re going to dish out.
#1. Blame you for the breakup
Regardless of who broke up with who, he’ll spin the narrative and make you the scapegoat. Gaslighting you again by trying to make you question your recollection of who actually caused the breakup. He might make a statement like “You didn’t love or treat me right, plus you acted crazy all the time.”
Denying his role fits well into the narrative of him being the victim and you the villain. Rest assured, that’s the story he’s selling to his friends and family members in an attempt to degrade you. Playing the victim is another way of getting them to resent you but empathize with him.
Action plan: Tell him your recollection of events differs from his. Don’t argue with him. You could remind him of the terrible way he treated you using messages or recordings as proof. Chances are, he’ll deny or justify what he’s done. Tell him it’s over and it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. End the conversation there.
#2. Devalue you
What does the fox say if it can’t get the grapes? “It’s sour!” If you were the one to call it quits, he’ll act like he’s the one who dumped you. Maybe he’ll call you crazy or stupid for leaving such a ‘good’ man like him.
You may be labeled as “damaged goods” or told you’re nothing but thrash no other man wants. Yes, it gets that nasty, and it’s wholly unfair for you to be treated this way. It’s a vile attempt to destroy your self-esteem and self-confidence.
Narcissists will try to push you over the edge with harmful and emotionally abusive statements to make you retaliate. If you do, they’ll turn around and say, “You see, I told you you’re crazy.”
Action plan: Such statements are further attempts to gaslight you and create self-doubt. Stay calm and keep your emotions in check. Don’t cry or beg him to leave you alone. He will only devalue you more now that he sees how much his statements devastate you.
#3. Run a public smear campaign
Initiating a breakup with a narc is perceived as rejection. Getting rejected is taken as a narcissistic injury and will cause narcissistic rage. Rejection is a blow to his fragile ego, so he has to take revenge.
Publicly smearing your reputation is a vindictive act intended to make you pay for whatever wrongs, slights, and narcissistic injury he feels he suffered in the relationship. He may publish any communication (text, photo, or video) he has of you or distributes it to your social circle. If not, he’ll tell everyone you’re a ‘crazy’ chick. All of it is to try and damage your reputation.
Action plan: Don’t take it personally. Remind yourself that this is someone who’s acting out of spite. He won’t be a happy camper until he’s able to one-up you. You could obtain a cease and desist order from the court to get him to stop disparaging you. Talk to your lawyer about filing a civil suit for damages if your health, career, or reputation is affected as a result.
#4. Triangulate you
Triangulation means getting a third person involved either during or after the relationship ends. The individual is usually an ex or his latest fling. According to PsychCentral, the tactic is the narcissist’s best play.
She may unfairly compare you to the man she’s triangulating you with. For example, by saying John is such a smart, kind, and loving guy. If your ex does this, she’s devaluing you, trying to make you jealous, and stirring up more drama.
Don’t be surprised if she posts a photo of her new man on her social media within days or weeks of the breakup with the caption, ‘My soulmate’. She’s trying to make it look like you meant nothing to her, which can throw you into a state of sadness and depression.
Action plan: Tell her you know what she’s doing and that she’s entitled to her opinions. Wish her well in her new romance. Cut ties with her if she continues to rub another man in your face. Taking her out of the picture is an effective way to make her triangulation attempt an epic failure.
#5. Try to maintain control over you
Regardless of how you twist and turn it, a relationship with a narcissist has a high likelihood of turning toxic. Their controlling and manipulative behavior quickly takes a toll on you.
After the breakup, he’ll still seek to exert control over you. Watch out for sneaky ways like saying he wants to remain friends or will be around if you need anything.
The so-called “friendship” allows him to know what’s going on in your life or keep you as a booty call. It will also be used as a medium to continue the gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional abuse.
Action plan: Send a strong message to your ex that you’re over him by not giving him any attention. Let him know you don’t want to be friends. Don’t take his call, reply to his text or accept invitations to meet. Block him on your phone, email, and social media if he doesn’t respect your decision.
#6. Try to use you for sex
People described as narcissists don’t have healthy boundaries. A breakup doesn’t mean anything to them. It’s business as usual. They want to continue interacting with you as if nothing happened.
Calling, texting, wanting to meet up, and making sexual advances are all post-breakup behaviors that are, quite frankly, distasteful. He may send you things you like, such as flowers, gifts, or money. This is nothing but a love-bombing strategy to get you to give in.
Action plan: Avoid contacting or responding to him once the breakup is official. If they contact you, reinforce the fact that you’re no longer a couple and request that they stop contacting you. Block his number if he refuses to abide by your request. Taking this step should put an end to the narcissist supply he's getting from you.
#7. Keep invading your space
Men prone to narcissism do not respect physical or emotional boundaries–at least not initially. They usually become far more relentless after a breakup, stopping at nothing to push past your boundaries. Your ex might decide to secretly follow you on social media, aka online stalking. He’ll save new photos of you, your kids, and your new man.
You may see a friend request and DMs from him pop up after you unfriended him. Out of persistence, he might create a special social media account to follow you. Another strategy is to stalk you and show up at places you frequent.
Action plan: These acts can bring on fresh emotional distress, fear, anxiety, or depression. Try not to react emotionally toward him. You could ask him to stop his antics, in writing to have proof. The next step is to block him on social media and your phone. If he shows up again, rinse and repeat. Stalking is an example of intimate partner violence and a crime.
Make a report of harassment if he’s not backing down. Take offline stalking seriously. Leave right away if he shows up in person. Make a police report and consider getting an order of restraint.
#8. Paint you as the evil parent
Narcissists are experts at using what you love most to hurt you. More than likely, it will be your children. He’ll be enraged if you were granted full custody. In essence, he’s reduced to a part-time, visitation dad. He’ll perceive it as a loss of control and will resent you for it.
It’s time to take revenge for making him lose full-time access to his kids and still have to pay child support. He’ll say mean and ugly things about you to kids to make them resent you. The act is a form of psychological manipulation called parental alienation.
Action plan: Keep your cool. As much as you would like to tell off the hostile co-parent, maintaining a dignified attitude will prevent intense disagreements. You also won’t want your children to be emotionally affected by overhearing you and dad arguing.
It may cross your mind to call him out for trying to make the kids hate you. Don’t. He’ll tell them nastier things now that he realizes it hurts you to the core.
#9. Make attempts to sabotage your new relationship
Imagine starting a new healthy and happy relationship after successfully getting rid of your toxic ex. The only problem that remains is having to interface with her because of shared child custody. She may meet your new partner at some point and whisper ill things into her ears.
For example, spilling private things or secrets about you. While playing the victim, your ex will paint you as an angry, controlling, and abusive loser. The goal is to destroy your relationship.
Action plan: A narcissist ex trying to ruin your new relationship is a revenge tactic. Remind her to keep the interaction between you two strictly about the welfare of the children. Next, straight up tell her to stay the hell away from your personal life. Speak to your partner about having minimal to no contact with your ex and explain why.
#10. Breach court orders or agreements
There’s not much respect for anything, including the law, when it comes to narcissistic manipulators. Your ex may stop at nothing to anger you and won’t think twice to disregard the rules of engagement set out by the court or an out-of-court agreement between you.
Cease and desist orders, restraining orders, child custody or visitation orders, and child support orders don’t mean a thing to malignant or sociopathic narcissists. Your ex may contact you despite a restraining order or refuse to pay child support.
Action plan: Explain that a failure to pay child support places a financial burden on you. Of course, he's aware of the setbacks. He wants to make you ask for money, so he can feel superior and in control.
Breaching a restraining order is a serious offense and can put you in harm’s way. Get to a safe place and alert the police if your ex comes into your physical space. Legal punishment for breaking court orders may deter future disobedience of the law.
#11. Try to win you back
This guy might pester you to take him back, even after all the stunts he pulled. He might not back down if you’ve started dating someone new. Narc males don’t mind competing for a mate. Expect apologies that lack sincerity. There will be persistent begging and pleading and crocodile tears if that strategy doesn’t work.
If not that, it could be idealizing you by saying you’re the best he’s ever had. Get ready for a new round of love-bombing by way of lofty promises to change his behavior. He’ll use the things that make you feel insecure or empathetic as a means of breaking down your emotional walls.
Action plan: You’ve seen this behavior before, love-bombing and putting you on a pedestal (idealization stage of abuse). Don’t fall for it. Tell him it’s completely over between you too and it’s for the best. Encourage him to move on. If you take him back, he’ll be nice at first, then the narcissistic abuse cycle will start all over again.
Final Thoughts on How Narcissists Treat Their Exes
The treatment you’re getting is all part of a giant manipulation strategy by your ex to create further emotional harm, so that they can continue exploiting and abusing you. You’ll most likely see the pattern of behaviors if you discarded them first… since they want to be the ones discarding you, due to the strong need for control.
The road to recovery from narcissistic abuse, even after the relationship no longer exists, can seem daunting. Persistently rejecting your ex and establishing strong boundaries can make them give up and move on faster.
They may not accept the breakup, as that would mean acknowledging they lost. More than likely, they’ll continue to hover in the background, plotting new ways to either get you back or make your life miserable.
Narcissists usually only go away when they found someone who provides prime narcissistic supply, e.g., more attention, sex, money, or validation. At this point, you can breathe with ease and hope they leave you alone– for good! Be sure to read about our 5 Stages of Healing & Recovery After Narcissistic Abuse.