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How To Break Free From A Narcissist In 5 Steps

Unless you've experienced the fury unleashed by a narcissistic spouse, you may not understand why a family member or friend might choose to stay in a volatile relationship.
09/11/2015 11:26am ET | Updated September 11, 2016
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Articles and posts about the narcissist probably proliferate your Facebook feed and your inbox. But unless you've experienced the fury unleashed by a narcissistic spouse, you may not understand why a family member or friend might choose to stay in a volatile relationship.

Those who have been on the receiving end of a narcissist's wrath know the quickening of breath and the fear that rises when the garage door opens at the end of the day or the key jiggles in the door. You'll never get it right. Disagreeing with the narcissist releases a floodgate of hostility. You aren't supposed to have an opinion of your own.

The narcissist is a master at turning the tables. "I never said that. You're much too sensitive. Everyone says you're crazy and mean." When you try to set limits or to defend yourself, the narcissist stockpiles your grievances to throw at you during a later date.

Perhaps your narcissist is charming in between blowouts. Or maybe he ignores you until the next explosion.

You've always known something was off but weren't quite sure what it was. Your relationship probably started out in a whirlwind. He assured you nobody would ever love you more. You didn't really need your family and friends. By the time you had married and were pregnant with your first child, you sensed something was wrong. He was jealous of the attention you were receiving and later on, the focus on the baby who needed to be diapered and fed or just held.

By then, you were in this vortex and it felt like there was no way out. You got sucked deeper and deeper, doubting yourself and wondering what you did wrong.

That breakthrough moment when you realize what you're dealing with is priceless. Perhaps you've recognized your husband in a blog post or a book. A concerned friend approached you after witnessing your husband's treatment or maybe your family staged an intervention, as dealing with a narcissist can be addictive.

Whether your spouse has been clinically diagnosed or exhibits hallmarks of narcissism, common traits include a lack of empathy and a resistance to boundaries. The narcissist often aims to make his target break down in anger and frustration or end in a crying heap. Overt narcissists are free-wheeling with their arrogance and sense of grandiosity. Covert or shy narcissists are plagued with anxiety and stress. They project their insecurities on their targets and pretend to be loving and caring until they are crossed.

How can you break away from a narcissist? We spoke with several divorce and mental health experts to get tips to help you as you launch your journey.

1. Hire an attorney. J. Benjamin Stevens, Senior Partner of The Stevens Firm, P.A. Family Law Center in South Carolina says, "One of the quickest ways to take the power away from a narcissist is to hire an attorney, particularly an experienced and well respected one. It's much easier for a narcissist to play games with his spouse than with her attorney because the attorney will not be affected by the emotional aspect of the case, which is where the narcissists thrive. Plus, the attorney will know how to keep the case moving toward a resolution, even if the other side attempts to drag their feet."

2. Remember, your attorney is your advocate. Stevens shares, "When a narcissist realizes that his spouse his hired an experienced attorney and that his 'mind games' will no longer be effective, he will be much more likely stop playing them because they will not garner the desired effect. If the opposing party is actively attempting to delay the case, the attorney can get the court involved to help move the case forward, as judges want cases to proceed and not linger. If the narcissist violates a court order, contempt actions are a great way to get his attention and make him realize that he is not in control of the case."

3. Assemble a supportive team. This may mean enlisting a financial advisor or team, a custody evaluator, and a therapist for yourself and your kids. The narcissist will play hardball and likely try to hide assets. He may try to alienate you from your children.

4. Turn the tables. Southern California divorce mediator and CDC-certified divorce coach Arianna Jeret says for the narcissist, self-interest always prevails over empathy. "The key is to figure out what you want to achieve and how to present it so it's somehow in the narcissist's self-interest, that it's somehow better for him or her to go with the custody or financial plan."

5. Practice self-care. Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D., expert in Narcissistic Personality Disorder and author of Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life, says, "Put your self-care first. Various practices -- gentle Hatha yoga, guided meditation, acupuncture that calms the nervous system, your form of exercise are all keys to your success throughout this major shift in your life."

Martinez-Lewi adds, "Once you are in the process of extricating yourself from the narcissist, take heart in who you are as an individual and give yourself tremendous credit for taking this courageous step."

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