By and large, escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle is usually depicted as someone leaving a narcissistic environment and never looking back. While physically escaping the cycle is undeniably the best option one could take, it isn’t always feasible.

There are so many different variables that could keep you trapped within a narcissistic environment that even with all of the knowledge about narcissism you’d need to escape, it is still possible that something will hold you back for months, years, or even decades. 

Which is why understanding the dynamics of living with a narcissist when leaving isn’t an option is very important. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a position where you can leave the narcissist in your life or not, everyone has to learn how to manage narcissism before they’re able to escape it. 

This article is going to give you a comprehensive understanding of living with a narcissist when leaving isn’t an option by redefining the concept of escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle entirely.  

A woman learning and reading about narcissism.

Why Is Leaving a Narcissistic Environment So Hard?

One of the most common questions non-narcissistic people, including those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse themselves, circulates around the concept of if the relationship is as bad as someone claims it is, why can’t they just leave.

Narcissistic behavior patterns are designed to erode your emotional stability. It leaves you plagued with self-doubt, desperate for answers, blaming yourself, and with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. 

Trauma Bonds

A trauma bond is a very deep emotional attachment that is formed through emotional and/or physical abuse. A trauma bond refers to someone who can’t physically and emotionally leave an abusive environment. Trauma bonds are incredibly difficult to break because of the influence they have over one’s cognitive ability. 

The 5 most commonly seen causes of the formation of a trauma bond are: growing up in an abusive environment, idealization, low self-esteem, love bombing phase, and intermittent reinforcement.

Growing Up In An Abusive Environment

We are swarmed with depictions of healthy relationships throughout our childhood through various forms of media like television, movies, books, comics, and so on. 

When a child is existing in a pervasive environment of abuse while simultaneously being shown healthy relationships, the probability of them equating the abuse they’re enduring with the love they’re being shown is very high.

A child’s cognitive development is heavily dependent on the relationships they form at an early age. Their innocence prohibits them from being able to understand that while their primary caregivers are supposed to love them unconditionally, that’s not always the reality. 

A kid growing up with an abusive father.

If this level of trauma and corruption is neglected, the child could go into adulthood with a corrupt perception of the dynamics of a healthy relationship, which causes them to gravitate towards abusive environments simply because it is familiar. 

After a childhood of neglected trauma, the person in question would be very vulnerable to trauma bonds because an abusive environment is what they’re used to.

Idealization

There are specific types of people that attract narcissistic abuse, one of these types is called empaths. First and foremost, being an empath is a fantastic quality to have. It means that you naturally put the needs of others before your own, and the world benefits tremendously from your presence. 

As an empath, you’re incredibly attuned with your own emotions and the emotions of others, and you have a fantastic ability to see the good in others, no matter what. 

This becomes very dangerous when you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.

Due to the fact that you’re naturally forgiving, understanding, accepting, and loving you’re much more likely to rationalize, justify, and normalize narcissistic abuse.

Meaning, instead of being able to acknowledge abusive patterns and behaviors for what it is, you’re much more likely to ignore and/or minimize the abusive patterns and behaviors, which is idealization.

When you idealize a narcissistic relationship, you portray it as a healthy relationship to friends, family, and even yourself. One of the fundamental dynamics of narcissistic abuse is isolation and gaslighting. 

A woman idealizing her relationship to her friends.

By idealizing the relationship, you’re isolating yourself from friends and family because they don’t know about the abuse, and you’re gaslighting yourself because you’re not acknowledging the reality. 

In other words, you’re your own worst enemy because you’re doing all of the narcissist’s dirty work for them…

As an empath, it can be incredibly difficult, even repulsive to write someone off as permanently damaged. But when it comes to narcissism, your well-being is vitally dependent on your ability to acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is abuse and that the narcissist’s behavior will not change.

Low Self-Esteem

There’s an endless amount of possibilities that could lead to one having a low self-esteem. It could originate from an unhealthy/abusive environment, lack of prosperity, mood disorders, anxiety and so on. 

When it comes to narcissistic relationships, low self-esteem is detrimental to your-well being. 

The reason being that narcissists are so emotionally inadequate that they’re unable to regulate the abundance of negative emotions they have suppressed within their psyche, making you a repository for their negative emotions. 

This is known as scapegoating which is a form of projection. What ends up happening is that the narcissist throws all of their fears, insecurities, vulnerabilities, and inadequacies onto you on top of the other forms of emotional and/or physical abuse they perpetuate. 

Having a low self-esteem makes it incredibly difficult to escape a narcissistic abuse cycle because if you truly believe you aren’t worth anything more than the abuse you’re enduring, the chances of you acknowledging that what you’re experiencing is abuse is very unlikely.

The Love Bombing Phase

The love bombing phase is to blame for the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. It is a period at the beginning of the relationship where a narcissist will morph into the embodiment of your “Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.” 

Depending on the type of narcissism you’re dealing with, this can be done in a variety of ways, but it tends to circulate around the way they accumulate narcissistic supply. 

Different types of narcissists accumulate their narcissistic supply differently.

Meaning that if you’re dealing with a grandiose narcissist, the love bombing phase will be full of spontaneous moments, gifts, instagrammable moments and so on. 

With a malignant narcissist, love bombing will circulate around their paranoia and need for control. They’ll buy you a car, house, pay your rent, a new phone that they might secretly put spyware on and so on. These types of dynamics fulfill the malignant narcissists need for control and power over you.

The love bombing phase with a communal narcissist will circulate around their charitable nature. Communal narcissism is a very confusing type of narcissism because they’re constantly doing amazing things for other people.

But there’s a catch…

Their actions are only to accumulate narcissistic supply. They’ll only help others if the camera is rolling or they’re admired and validated in some other way. So, the love bombing phase with a communal narcissist will make you feel good about yourself, like together you can change the world. 

Covert narcissists portray themselves as victimized by the world. They often come off as depressed making the love bombing phase quite an anomaly in the narcissistic realm. 

Meaning that instead of grandiose gifts, insecure grasps for power, or narcissistic supply, they draw you in by creating a narrative where you’re the only one who can see their greatness, you’re their savior. 

Regardless of what type of love bombing you experience, it lays a nearly unbreakable foundation on which you’ll normalize, justify, and rationalize the forthcoming abuse. This is because the core aspect of the love bombing phase is mirroring

In the narcissistic realm, mirroring is when a narcissist will pay an incredible amount of attention to your vulnerabilities, insecurities, goals, desires and reflects them back to you. It makes you feel like they understand you better than anyone ever has.

Narcissist mirroring their partner in the beginning of the relationship.

What ends up happening is that you are unable to acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is abuse because the person you fell in love with during the love bombing phase is the embodiment of your “Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.”

Intermittent Reinforcement

Intermittent reinforcement is one of the most dangerous forms of manipulation commonly seen in narcissistic relationships. Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. 

This is so dangerous because in narcissistic relationships, it manipulates the chemicals in your brain. The reason being that narcissistic relationships are so emotionally starved that even the slightest amount of empathy triggers your brain’s reward sector, swarming it with dopamine. 

It is a very, very addictive feeling. In fact, it is the same addiction that is associated with those who are addicted to substances.

You’ll end up living your life chasing those moments of empathy a narcissist will strategically drop to hoover you back into the relationship. You normalize, rationalize, and justify the abuse because through intermittent reinforcement, the narcissist becomes your only known source of happiness. 

Financial Abuse

It’s no secret that narcissists have a very insecure need for control, power, validation, and admiration. Many researchers suggest that this need originates from their upbringing. While the specifics of their upbringing are different in each theory, they all intersect and circulate around an unhealthy/abusive childhood. 

Each of the different theories highlight a very important aspect of narcissism: emotional instability, inadequacy, and immaturity. For example, Otto Friedmann Kernberg believes that narcissists are created by narcissistic parents. 

Meaning that during their childhood, the narcissist was taught that the only way he/she could be loved is if they created a significant amount of narcissistic supply, the validation and admiration narcissists receive from others, for their parents. 

The most obvious manifestation of this would be the golden child. In a narcissistic family, the golden child is the favorite. They are the child who excels at something the narcissist values, but isn’t threatened by. 

Narcissist being happy for their golden child.

With that being said, there is a lot of stuff that goes into creating a narcissist, but where this correlates with financial abuse lies within a narcissist’s emotional inadequacy.

An upbringing where achievements are prioritized over cognitive development and one’s well-being creates a child who builds their self-esteem off of materialistic things like money, awards, social status, rather than the relationships they develop with others, and the way they treat others. 

Fast forward to adulthood, you’re looking at an individual who has an insecure need to fit in and be accepted by society because he/she never learned to accept themselves.  

This is where things get interesting… 

The only way a narcissist believes they can fit in and be accepted by society is if they follow society’s “rules.” In the era we are living in, money, power, and social status are very large indicators of one’s worth.

It is no coincidence that those are things that narcissists disproportionately gravitate towards as well. An obvious explanation for financial abuse in narcissistic relationships would be their insecure need for power, control, and dominance.

Having control over your ability to acquire, use and maintain your financial resources fulfills the narcissist’s insecure need for power and control.

But there’s also a hidden aspect of financial abuse in narcissistic relationships, sexism. 

There’s no doubt about it, we live in a society that is more accepting of men in positions of power than we are of women in positions of power. This manifests in a numerous amount of ways, ranging from politics all the way to fundamental human rights. 

A narcissist’s emotional immaturity causes them to blindly follow societal norms, sexism being one of them. 

We discovered this hidden aspect of narcissism while interviewing 231 survivors of narcissistic abuse for our article Narcissism & Money. 134 of the participants were female, and had experienced narcissism in a romantic relationship with a person who identified as a man. 

When we asked them about the financial abuse they endured, 97 of them told us that their partner had coerced them into staying at home, while they went out and worked.

Quote about financial abuse.

With that being said, we have met a handful of men who were in a narcissistic relationship with a woman and experienced financial abuse. 

However, the dynamics of their experiences with financial abuse didn’t circulate around the ideologies of the traditional gender roles, like we saw within the relationships of the 134 women we interviewed. 

Rumination

The secret weapon of narcissistic abuse is rumination. When someone obsessively over thinks the same thoughts, it is called rumination. 

It is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something you should be aware of as it has the ability to trap you within the abuse cycle even if you’ve left the narcissistic environment. 

Rumination can manifest in a variety of different ways. You could ruminate about whether or not you made the right decision by leaving the narcissistic environment. 

You could be very angry and constantly ruminate about getting justice, or you could even be terrified that you’ll run into the narcissist somewhere. 

A narcissist’s objective is to project their own emotional instability onto you by creating a pervasive environment of self-doubt, self-blame, fear, and guilt. 

Narcissists projecting their own emotional instability onto another person.

Combine this with the fact that we live in a society that often fosters and awards narcissistic behavior, rumination is normal and nothing to be too hard on yourself about. 

Learning how to manage narcissism will enable you to squash ruminating thoughts, but I want to make sure that you understand that if you’re ruminating about seeking justice, you need let go of the wish for things to be different.

While it is absolutely insane how the justice system around the world favors narcissistic behavior patterns, exhausting yourself in the pursuit of justice is a complete waste of your time. 

You did all of the hard work to get out of the abusive cycle, don’t manipulate yourself back into it!

Children

Co-parenting with a narcissist is a very, very challenging task. If nothing else, you have to ensure that you’re an emotional mirror for your children. This means that you’ll teach your children all of the qualities that their narcissistic parent lacks: empathy, discipline, respect, responsibility and consistency. 

Under these circumstances the most obvious scenario that would lead to you being forced to live with a narcissist because leaving isn’t an option would be if you felt like you should stay together for your children’s sake. 

This decision usually arises out of one’s realization of how unjust the justice system is when it comes to handling narcissism, and they rather endure the pain of narcissistic abuse than watch their children be manipulated by the narcissist’s shenanigans in court.

But let’s imagine that you’re in a position where you can leave the narcissistic relationship. There are three huge hurdles you should be aware of because the fact that you’re co-parenting with a narcissist means that you’re technically still living with the narcissist, even though you’ve left the narcissistic environment. 

Don’t Tell Your Children That Their Mother/Father Is a Narcissist

You can’t bluntly tell your children that you’re leaving their mother/father because they are narcissistic and abusive. The reason being that they’re victims of narcissistic abuse as well. When you’re trying to support someone in a narcissistic environment, telling them that their abuser is a narcissist is the last thing you should do!

Put yourself in their shoes and think back to when you hadn’t acknowledged that what you were experiencing was abuse, and still had a tremendous amount of hope that things would be different one day. Someone telling you that the person you love doesn’t truly love you back would be devastating

A woman telling her friend that their partner is a narcissist.
Be Prepared For the Narcissist to Try to Turn Your Children Against You

The narcissist in your life will try to manipulate your own children against you. When you leave a narcissist, it is very triggering for them. It contradicts their sense of specialness by exposing their fear of abandonment, insecurities, vulnerabilities, rejection, and inadequacies. 

Narcissistic behavior patterns are designed to allow the narcissist to neglect all of those negative emotions I listed above, by fabricating a reality that portrays them as desirable, successful, admirable, and happy. 

When this superficial reality is contradicted and they’re forced to see themselves accurately, their emotional immaturity prohibits them from being able to regulate their own emotions. 

When it comes to regaining their superficial reality, they know no boundaries and will manipulate your children into turning against you.

Again, it is really important that you don’t try to expose the narcissist to your children because they most likely not in the mental space to handle the truth at this time.

Be Aware of the Effects An Unhealthy/Abusive Environment Has on Children

Having a narcissistic parent can have a significant amount of psychological damage on a child if their trauma is neglected. A child of a narcissist could grow up being narcissistic themselves, or they could grow up with detrimental levels of self-doubt, anxiety, complex PTSD, depression, and maladaptive coping mechanisms. 

The effects an unhealthy environment has on people.

There are five different roles a narcissist could give to a child: scapegoat, golden child, invisible child, truth teller, and the helper child. They all come with their struggles so you should really check out What Effect Does Having A Narcissistic Parent Have On a Child to grasp a comprehensive understanding of each role.

What Should You Take Away From This Section?

There are so many different circumstances that could force you to to learn how to live with a narcissist when leaving isn’t an option, but honestly, it might be a blessing in disguise. 

The truth is that while physically breaking away from the narcissistic abuse cycle and going no contact is amazing, it is impossible if you don’t learn how to manage narcissism. 

If you don’t have the skillset to live with a narcissist when leaving isn’t an option, you won’t be able to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle if/when the time comes to do so.

How to Live With a Narcissist When Leaving Isn’t an Option

Before you read this section I want to be really clear that if you’re in an environment where you aren’t safe, you should leave and contact the proper authorities immediately. Narcissists, especially malignant narcissists, are known to be physically violent. 

This section is meant to teach you how to use living with a narcissist when leaving isn’t an option to your advantage, but your safety is, and always will be, the most important thing. 

Learn How to Set and Maintain Boundaries

If you want to protect your emotional stability and start on a path towards rebuilding your self-esteem, identity, and purpose in life then learning how to set and maintain boundaries with the narcissist in your life should be your top priority. 

By no means is this an easy task. When you set a boundary with a narcissist you contradict their sense of specialness, which causes them to experience a narcissistic injury. 

A man setting a boundary with a narcissist.

Narcissistic injuries are essentially ego injuries, but because they’re incapable of regulating their own emotions, they respond with rage and/or passive aggressive behavior. 

In the beginning, setting a boundary with a narcissist doesn’t need to be an elaborate plan that will break you out of the narcissistic abuse cycle. Your focus should just be on feeling comfortable setting boundaries in the first place. 

The reason being that narcissist’s are masterful at using fear, obligation, and guilt (F.O.G.) to manipulate you into believing you don’t have the right to defend and/or stand up for yourself

With tactics like gaslighting, scapegoating, rage, the silent treatment, and projection they’ll scare you into silence if you don’t have any boundaries set.

It is nothing to be too hard on yourself about, but the best way to overcome this hurdle would be to set boundaries with yourself rather than the narcissist in your life. 

Examples of Setting Boundaries With Yourself:

  • I will not let him/her discard my thoughts, feelings, needs, and emotions.
  • I will leave the environment if I feel like I’m being invalidated and/or degraded. 
  • I refuse to take responsibility for something I didn’t do.
  • I will work hard to find my identity outside of the relationship. 
  • I understand that I have the right to say no, expect respect, and ask for space.
  • My emotional stability is my responsibility and my responsibility only. 
  • I am allowed to express my physical and emotional needs.
  • I don’t need permission to do things that make me happy.

By setting and maintaining these types of boundaries you put yourself in a position to rebuild your self-esteem, identity, and purpose in life. 

You must regain a sense of authoritativeness over yourself to break free from the narcissistic abuse cycle and setting boundaries is a great place to start.

Use the Gray Rock Method

Your escape from the narcissistic abuse cycle is vitally dependent on your ability to use the gray rock method. In my opinion, the gray rock method is one of the most intelligent defenses in the narcissistic realm. 

The gray rock method symbolizes growth because by using it, you’re showing that you have a comprehensive grasp of narcissism, something you can only acquire through hard work. 

Why? 

The gray rock method is when someone refuses to have significant conversations with the narcissist in their lives. 

This means that they won’t share good news with them, they won’t fall for the narcissist’s bait, they won’t defend themselves against projection, they won’t validate or admire the narcissist, and they’ll essentially become indifferent to narcissistic abuse. 

A woman using the gray rock method with her narcissist husband.

This is nothing short of genius because by using this technique you’re taking away two of the most important things in a narcissist’s life, someone to project their emotional instability on and narcissistic supply. 

Reconnect With Your Core Values

I’ve mentioned this a lot, but it is really important for you to understand how damaging the self-doubt, self-blame, and low self-esteem that narcissists project onto you is. 

If you neglect the trauma you’ve endured, you’ll find yourself either rationalizing, justifying, and normalizing narcissistic abuse in an another abusive relationship, or with crippling levels of depression and/or anxiety. 

The best way to go about this would be to seek out a qualified therapist, but while you search for the right one, try to reconnect with your core values so when you do find the right therapist you’ll already be miles ahead on your healing journey. 

Four Step Program for Reconnecting With Your Core Values:

  • Re-Educate Yourself on the Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
    • After suffering narcissistic abuse for an extended period of time, the concept of a healthy relationship could feel destabilizing because of how long you’ve been forced to normalize abusive behavior. 
    • Everyone is going to have their own definition of what a healthy relationship looks like but in a healthy relationship you should feel comfortable setting boundaries, expressing your emotions, sharing your vulnerabilities and insecurities, and being yourself. 
A woman educating herself on the dynamics of a healthy relationship.
  • Rediscover What You Want In Life
    • Being in a narcissistic relationship is like walking on eggshells. Narcissists expect to get what they want, when they want 24/7. Just to keep the peace, you may cater to their every need. Over time, this willingness to put their needs before your own will cause you to lose sight of what you want in life. 
    • You can start this by writing your goals in a journal and setting small daily goals to achieve them. By doing this, you’ll teach yourself to be comfortable taking charge of your own life.
A woman laying down on the floor and writing in her journal.
  • Rebuild Your Self-Esteem
    • The purpose of narcissistic abuse is to erode your emotional stability so the narcissist can project their negative emotions onto you. This level of manipulation on a daily basis is disastrous for your self-esteem. 
    • With manipulative tactics like scapegoating and gaslighting you could believe all of the negative emotions that a narcissist is projecting onto you and internalize their instability. 
    • One of our participants’ favorite ways to rebuild self-esteem is to do everything that the narcissist said you can’t. If they said you’re a terrible writer, go write a book. If they said you aren’t attractive, go have a photoshoot done. If they said you’ll never truly live life, go travel the world and so on.
A woman cooking soup.
  • Rebuild Your Identity 
    • After completing all of the previous steps, it is time to rebuild your identity. It starts with acknowledging that the limitations that the narcissist in your life placed on you are only as true as you let them be. 
    • Reconnect with the life you envisioned for yourself before the narcissistic abuse, and if you don’t like that version of yourself, work hard to create a new one. Put yourself in situations where you’re forced to push your boundaries in a healthy way, redefine your limitations, and learn how to truly be happy.
A woman rebuilding her identity.

Learn How to Explain Narcissism to Others

One of the most challenging aspects of managing narcissism is learning how to defend yourself against non-narcissistic people who don’t understand narcissism. In all honesty, narcissistic behavior patterns are unbelievable to those who don’t understand narcissism. 

For example, if you tried to explain love bombing to someone who doesn’t understand narcissism, you would sound very cynical and ungrateful. If you were to try to explain gaslighting to the same person, you’d come off as paranoid.

There are two types of people who don’t understand narcissism who are detrimental to your well-being.

  1. Flying monkeys are people who are manipulated by a narcissist into participating in their smear campaign. What makes them so dangerous is that they believe the narrative the narcissist has created that portrays you as the abuser and the narcissist as the victim. 
  2. Narcissist enablers are people who don’t understand narcissism at all so they approach the situation as they would a healthy relationship. This usually leads to them giving terrible advice and accidentally gaslighting you. 
The difference between an enabler and flying monkey.

When it comes to flying monkeys, you can’t explain narcissism to them because they truly believe that you’re the problem, not the narcissist. You should check out The Best Way to Disarm Flying Monkeys: 431 Survivors’ Advice to learn how to use techniques like radical acceptance, remaining defiant, and building new sources of support. 

On the bright side, there is a very effective way you could explain narcissism to enablers that could turn them into supporters. One of the most common issues you’ll run into on your healing journey is other people shaming, or shutting you down for calling your abuser a narcissist. 

After months, years, or even decades of narcissistic abuse, oftentimes the only thing holding you back from escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle is self-doubt. Meaning that all you need to feel empowered to make a change is one other person to validate your reality. 

Coming face to face with someone who puts you down for using narcissistic terminology when describing the abuse you’re enduring could consume you with self-doubt, self-blame, and fear, pushing you right back into the arms of the narcissist. 

So, instead of calling your abuser a narcissist, you should focus on explaining the narcissistic behavior patterns instead. 

Example of Correctly Explaining Narcissism to Others

It has been really hard with (blank) lately. It is so hard to communicate with him/her, I don’t know what to do. It doesn’t matter what I say or how I say it, he/she always explodes with anger or gets really passive aggressive. 

There have been a few times where (blank) has given me the silent treatment for days at a time! When we do get a chance to talk, it makes me feel horrible because he/she always uses my insecurities and vulnerabilities against me. 

I feel like I have to constantly walk on eggshells to avoid his/her rage. I often find myself questioning my own reality because no matter how clear it may be that he/she is in the wrong, (blank) never takes responsibility for his/her actions. 

A man explaining narcissism to his friend.

This is a fantastic approach because you’re touching on all of the important aspects of narcissism like their rage, antagonistic tendencies, passive aggressive behavior, lack of communication, and manipulative nature without using terms that might make someone who is oblivious to the narcissism phenomenon defensive. 

I would just like to remind you that this technique is for narcissist enablers, not flying monkeys. Flying monkeys believe the narcissists narrative, so trying to use this technique would do nothing but turn them against you even more. 

Be Aware of Ruminating Thoughts

Rumination is the secret weapon of narcissistic abuse, and exists in every single narcissistic relationship on the planet. When someone obsessively over thinks the same thoughts, it is called rumination. 

This is very common amongst those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse because narcissistic behavior patterns are designed to create a pervasive environment of self-doubt, low self-esteem, self-blame, confusion, shame, and grief. 

Gaslighting and scapegoating in a narcissistic relationship.
Intermittent reinforcement and hoovering in a narcissistic relationship.

The problem with rumination is that it keeps you trapped within the abusive cycle even if you haven’t seen your ex abuser for years because your mind is constantly thinking about the abusive cycle when it should be focused on healing.

The three most common forms of rumination manifest in wanting justice, wondering if you’ve made a mistake, and wishing for things to be different. 

We currently live in a society that often rewards narcissistic behavior, meaning that justice is rarely something you’re going to get. It can be so infuriating to suffer narcissistic abuse and watch them move on with their new supply, manipulate the judicial system, and make a mockery of the whole situation. 

With that being said, don’t lose yourself searching for justice. Focusing on rebuilding your core values and mending the relationships you may have lost is much more important than ruminating about making others see the truth.

Ruminating about whether or not you’ve made the right decision or wishing for things to be different is detrimental to your mental health. If you’re still physically with the narcissist, this type of rumination can cause you to normalize, justify, and rationalize narcissistic abuse.

It also makes you very vulnerable to manipulative tactics like intermittent reinforcement, gaslighting, love bombing, and intimacy avoidance as well. 

If you’ve physically escaped the narcissistic abuse cycle and have these types of ruminating thoughts, manipulative tactics like hoovering are almost guaranteed to work on you. 

A man falling for a narcissist's hoovering tactic.

Hoovering is when a narcissist will use their charm, charisma, intelligence, and confidence to suck you back into the abusive cycle by saying and doing exactly what you want to hear and see.

There are two kinds of hoovering that you should be aware of: love bomb hoovering and guilt hoovering.

We spoke about this in the beginning of the article, but love bombing is a phase in the beginning of the relationship where the narcissist uses their most manipulative qualities to morph into the embodiment of your “Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.”

They do this with a technique called mirroring where they learn the ins and outs of your life quickly and reflect them back to you. It makes you feel as if they know you better than anyone else.

Love bomb hoovering is love bombing, but on steroids. Hoovering happens at the end of the relationship so the narcissist already knows exactly what you want to hear and what you need them to do. 

By now the narcissist knows you so well that they could trigger you by a side comment or even something as small as breathing a certain way. 

Examples of Love Bomb Hoovering

  • Temporarily going to therapy.
  • Telling you how much they love you and that they’ve made a mistake.
  • Telling your friends and family how much they miss you. 
  • Telling you that they didn’t know how much you meant to them until you went your separate ways. 

If you’ve suffered narcissistic abuse I’m sure you already know that narcissists are masterful at the weaponization of guilt and shame. 

A narcissist weaponizing guilt and shame.

For many, guilt and shame is the glue that keeps the relationship together and it can also be used to hoover you back into the abuse cycle, especially if you’re an empath and/or ruminating about the relationship. 

Examples of Guilt & Shame Based Hoovering

  • Telling you how hard it has been since you left.
  • Being angry that you left just as they started to go to therapy to get better for you.
  • Making you feel bad about yourself for refusing to communicate with them.
  • Claiming that they gave you everything and telling you that this is no way to treat someone you’re supposed to love unconditionally.

Some of those examples are very unsettling and obviously break your boundaries, but after what felt like a lifetime of abuse, those red-flags can be misidentified as interest, sign of a true connection, sign of growth, and love. 

Practice Radical Acceptance

When you let go of the wish for things to be different by acknowledging that the narcissist in your life isn’t going to change their behavior, it is called radical acceptance. 

I’m not going to lie, radical acceptance is insanely hard because it requires that you abandon hope. This is so hard to do, even if you know that they are narcissistic, because the relationship isn’t bad all of the time.

They are so good at doing and saying exactly what you need to keep you trapped within the relationship with manipulative tactics like hoovering, future faking, love bombing, mirroring, gaslighting, and intermittent reinforcement. 

So, I certainly don’t expect you to be able to wake up one morning and decide to cut them out of your life without a second thought, especially if you’re living with the narcissist because leaving isn’t an option. 

What I do expect you to at least try is to compartmentalize your radical acceptance campaign by focusing on specific dynamics of the relationship. 

A woman practicing radical acceptance gradually.

Examples of Small Radical Acceptances  

  • They aren’t going to value my opinion, but I won’t let that affect my mood or silence my voice.
  • They are going to say and do horrific things at family gatherings so I’ll make sure to keep myself busy and out of earshot. 
  • They aren’t going to respect my boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a right to set them. 
  • I know that they are going to bait me into an argument every single time I use the gray rock method, but I am prepared to remain indifferent to their abuse while in their presence.
  • They are going to mock me in front of my children, but that doesn’t mean I am a bad parent. 
  • They are going to try to manipulate my children against me, but I will not defend myself by telling them that their mother/father is a narcissist. Instead I will learn how to co-parent with a narcissist.

The list could go on forever, but those were some small acceptances that you could make that will help you build up the courage to use radical acceptance on a much larger scale. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The only way you can escape the narcissistic abuse cycle is if you learn how to manage narcissism when leaving isn’t an option.

It is important to know that just because you’ve physically left the narcissist, doesn’t mean the abuse you suffered is over. You could either experience the narcissist making a last ditch effort to drag you back into the cycle. 

Or, you could, and most likely will still have a significant amount of self-doubt, fear, and instability following you around long after the relationship ended. If you haven’t worked hard to learn how to manage narcissism, you could find yourself back in the abusive cycle in the blink of an eye.


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References

Issue Brief: COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (France Cyprus Singapore)

Alarming trends in US domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ellert R. S. Nijenhuis PhD & Onno van der Hart PhD (2011) Dissociation in Trauma: A New Definition and Comparison with Previous Formulations, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 12:4, 416-445, DOI: 10.1080/15299732.2011.570592

WebMD (Setting Boundaries)

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