Getting over a narcissist and the abuse that you experienced is hard. In our article How Long Do Trauma Bonds Last we conducted a survey among 300 survivors of narcissistic abuse and found that on average it took 5.5 years for our participants to break a trauma bond and get over a narcissist that they were in a romantic relationship with and 12.2 years for those who were trauma bonded to a family member. That is a long time but knowing why it is so hard to get over a narcissist can make it much more manageable.

There are three reasons why it is so hard to get over a narcissist. First, it’s hard to let go of the emotions and feelings that you have for the narcissist. Second, to get over a narcissist you have to rebuild yourself, which takes a lot of time. Third, the narcissist is still controlling your surrounding environment.

Healing and rebuilding yourself after narcissistic abuse is incredibly difficult. This article is going to guide you through the different reasons why it is so hard to get over a narcissist. We have also put together a short video down below that summarizes our article How Do You Know That a Trauma Bond Is Over that you can use to help you see the signs that you’re getting over a narcissist.

A Short Video About How One Can Know When a Trauma Bond Is Over

It Is Hard to Get Over a Narcissist Because You Are Emotionally Invested In Them

Letting go of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs that you have invested into the narcissist in your life is one of the most challenging parts of healing and rebuilding yourself after narcissistic abuse. 

In the beginning stages of a narcissistic relationship, narcissists use a ton of different manipulative techniques that are designed to manipulate the victim into envisioning a happier and healthier version of themselves because they have the narcissist in their life. These manipulative behaviors are powerful ones like mirroring, future faking, and intermittent reinforcement.

Mirroring 

In a romantic narcissistic relationship mirroring is when the narcissist absorbs a ton of information about the victim’s identity and uses that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life. This manipulates the victim into believing that they have a special and unique connection with someone who is meant to be in their life.

When it comes to a narcissistic relationship between family members, the narcissist doesn’t have to rely on mirroring as much because they already have a bond with the victim because of the fact that they’re family. So, mirroring is usually the narcissist pretending to be emotionally available, responsive, and consistent to manipulate the victim. 

Future Faking

When a narcissist uses future faking they are making false promises for the future to get what they want in the present. It can be done both verbally and nonverbally. A verbal future fake is simply when a narcissist makes a promise that they don’t intend on keeping. 

A simple example of a verbal future fake in a romantic relationship would be if a narcissist noticed that their victim was no longer a viable source of validation, admiration, and reassurance so they lied and told the victim that they were taking them on a trip to Paris for their anniversary in a few months just to manipulate them into getting excited, and subsequently, become a viable source again.

A nonverbal future fake is actually the falsified identity that the narcissist created by mirroring their victim. By presenting themselves as someone who can add meaningful value to their life, they are manipulating the victim into envisioning a happier and healthier future that is never going to happen.

a victim of narcissistic abuse being love bombed

In a narcissistic family setting a simple example of a verbal future fake would be a narcissistic parent making a false promise to pay for their child’s tuition if they did something in return. When it comes to nonverbal future faking, again, it often manifests in the form of the narcissist pretending to be emotionally available, consistent, and responsive to manipulate the victim into doing what they want.

Intermittent Reinforcement

We spoke about this a lot in our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction but intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. In narcissistic relationships, the “reward” that narcissists use is actually empathy and compassion because of how emotionally starved the relationship is.

When narcissists realize that they are losing control over the amount of validation, admiration, and reassurance that the victim is providing them, they’ll use empathy and compassion to manipulate the victim into believing that the happier and healthier life that they desire with the narcissist is still possible. 

This “reward” is actually so powerful that it triggers the reward center in the victim’s brain and floods their body with dopamine, the same neurotransmitter that is released when humans abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. 

What ends up happening is that the victim develops an addiction for the “reward” the narcissist is giving them and remains in the relationship, despite the negative impacts it is having on their health. This can occur in both romantic and family narcissistic relationships. 

How Do All These Forms of Manipulation Make Getting Over a Narcissist So Hard?

Over time, the intensity of the narcissistic abuse is going to bully the victim into investing all of their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs into the narcissistic relationship. So, when the narcissistic relationship ends, the victim still has a lot emotionally invested into the narcissist which can make getting over them extremely hard. 

We highly recommend that you read our articles Can Narcissists Love, Why Do I Still Love the Narcissist, and Why Do I Love the Narcissist So Much to have a better understanding of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs when trying to get over the narcissist in your life.

“What people forget is that whilst the narcissists professed love for you was built off lies, manipulation and abuse, yours was not. Your feelings of love, care, kindness, compassion, and connection were REAL, and you enjoyed the beauty of them. The feelings were simply wasted on the narcissist the moment they started to abuse you. You don’t have to stop being you, just learn to channel these beautiful qualities on those that actually deserve them. Learn from boundaries you may have not adhered to in the past relationships, so you are very clear of your self worth. – Dr. Daksha Hirani, Clinical Psychologist Specializing in Trauma Informed Psychotherapy and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery.

It Is Hard to Get Over a Narcissist Because It Requires You to Rebuild Yourself

It is really hard to get over the narcissist because it requires that you spend months, maybe even years, working hard to rebuild yourself. The rebuilding process after narcissistic abuse is a product of what is arguably the most malicious aspect of narcissistic abuse, projection. 

Projection is a defense mechanism that we all use from time to time where we take aspects of our own identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto others. A simple example of projection would be a soccer player who instinctively hates one of their teammates, but over time projects his feelings onto his teammate by victimizing themselves and accusing them of hating him. 

A narcissist using projection

It is a very common defense mechanism that we all use from time to time, but narcissists use it all the time. The reason for this is that narcissists have a lot of negative emotions suppressed within their psyche that they’re too emotionally inadequate and immature to manage with healthy forms of emotional regulation.

Instead, they rely on compartmentalization, another defense mechanism that the APA Dictionary of Psychology defines as “a defense mechanism in which thoughts and feelings that seem to conflict or to be incompatible are isolated from each other in separate and apparently impermeable psychic compartments.”

We put together a lot of really good information about this in our article How Are Narcissists Made but what is happening when the narcissist is using compartmentalization is that they are suppressing all of their negative emotions deep within their psyche and replacing them with a false sense of self that they construct out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment.  

This false sense of self is a fundamental requirement for a narcissist’s emotional stability because it is their primary form of emotional regulation. But because of how emotionally inadequate and immature narcissists are, their false sense of self is extremely fragile and vulnerable. 

When it gets contradicted, it triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions and jeopardizes their emotional stability. Desperate, and too emotionally immature and inadequate to manage their emotions, a narcissist will resort to projection to regain their emotional stability. What this means is that victims of narcissistic abuse are essentially repositories for the negative emotions of a narcissist.

We spoke about this in our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship but narcissists depend on their victims to help them regulate their negative emotions. To do this they will subject their victim to such intense levels of manipulation that it destroys the victim’s sense of self and makes them feel incapable of rebuilding it without the help of the narcissist.

Instead of helping the victim reconnect with their core values, direction in life, sense of self, and goals, the narcissist will project all of their negative emotions onto their victim and disguise it as if the narcissist are helping them rebuild themselves. 

This can make getting over a narcissist extremely difficult because after months, years, or even decades of having your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs dictated by the narcissist and their inability to deal with their negative emotions, you’re going to have to destroy the sense of self that they created for you and rebuild it with one of your own. 

It is not an easy task but once you are able to do it, you’ll be able to become the happiest and healthiest version of yourself. We strongly encourage you to read our articles How Do I Stop Thinking About My Narcissistic Ex and How to Stop Ruminating After Narcissistic Abuse to help you rebuild yourself and get over the narcissist in your life!

It Is Hard to Get Over the Narcissist Because They Are Still Controlling Your Surrounding Environment

Narcissists feel entitled to remaining in power and control of your life for as long as they see fit so there is a possibility that getting over the narcissist in your life is so hard for you because they still are controlling your surrounding environment. In this section we’re going to talk about two of the most common ways that a narcissist is able to do this, flying monkeys and social media.

Flying Monkeys

A flying monkey is a person that a narcissist manipulates into participating in their smear campaign of the victim. This can be done by spreading lies and gossip about the victim. It could occur because the narcissist has some type of power and control over the flying monkeys, like a narcissistic parent or boss. Or it can happen because the flying monkeys are narcissistic and like abusing other people. 

a narcissist laughing at his victim

In our articles Why Do Some People Become Flying Monkeys and How Do Narcissists Get Flying Monkeys we talk a lot about the different ways that flying monkeys are recruited but the point is that they are a huge reason that it is hard to get over a narcissist. 

Our article How Do Narcissists Use Flying Monkeys goes a lot deeper into this but flying monkeys have been known to support the narcissist’s narrative. Manipulate the victim into reconciling with the narcissist. Participating in the narcissist’s smear campaign of the victim by spreading lies, gossiping, harassing, and bullying the victim. And even go as far as to pretend to be the victim’s friend to extract information out of them.

Social Media

Narcissists love social media because it gives them an endless amount of validation, admiration, and reassurance. But they also use it to make it harder for their victims to move on by publicly invalidating, devaluing, degrading, and humiliating them.

We spoke about this a lot in our article Why Do Narcissists Show Off Their New Supply but one of the most common ways that a narcissist will use social media to prevent their victim from moving on is by showing off their new supply. They will call their new supply their soulmate, they will move in with them very quickly, they might even propose to them very quickly, and they will broadcast all of this on their social media. 

This can be extremely invalidating, devaluing, degrading, and humiliating for victims of narcissistic abuse if they don’t know that everything the narcissist is saying is a lie and they’re just putting their new supply through the love bombing phase. It can cause a lot of self-doubt and self-blame for the victim and keep them from moving on from the narcissist.

When it comes to narcissistic families and social media,  it is very common to see the narcissist broadcast the falling out all over social media by victimizing themselves. With comments like, “I guess not all children love their mothers” or “I wish I had a sister who stood up for her family and not just herself” narcissists are going to be able to cause a tremendous amount of self-doubt and self-blame within the victim’s psyche. 

If your choices in living a life you value is leading the narcissist in your life to unravel because they have less control and power over you as a result, it is not your fault. It is important to know that it is not your job to rescue and alleviate their apparent suffering. You are not the cause of their suicidal ideation, their health problems, their hysteria. Each human has to walk their own path towards self-compassion and self-love. You cannot do this work for them, and it is not for you to show them how either.  – Dr. Daksha Hirani, Clinical Psychologist Specializing in Trauma Informed Psychotherapy and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Getting over a narcissist and letting go of the wish for things to be different is extremely difficult for victims of narcissistic abuse to do.

The victim has so many different thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs invested into a narcissistic relationship, they have to learn how to rebuild themselves, and the narcissist uses many different manipulative techniques to control the victim’s environment. It is not an easy task but with the right guidance and attitude, it is more than doable.

Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!


  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
  • 1 Informative PDF About Narcissistic Abuse
  • 1 Journaling Exercise With Multiple Prompts
  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • Lifetime Access to Our Private Online Community

Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!

  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
  • 1 Informative PDF About Narcissistic Abuse
  • 1 Journaling Exercise With Multiple Prompts
  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • Lifetime Access to Our Private Online Community

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:

Erin F. Pesek-Cotton, Joshua E. Johnson, M. Christopher Newland, Reinforcing behavioral variability: An analysis of dopamine-receptor subtypes and intermittent reinforcement, Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, Volume 97, Issue 3, 2011, Pages 551-559, ISSN 0091-3057.