End the toxic relationship with a narcissist.

Where does the term “narcissist” come from?

Narcissus was so beautiful that even the Olympic gods admired him, yet he was a sorrowful soul. His own beauty shone so brightly that it left him blind to the beauty of everyone else. He was proud but deprived of the joy of love. Anyone who saw him fell in love with him. This also happened with Echo, a woodland nymph cursed to only be able to repeat the last words of someone. One day, while Echo observed him from nearby bushes, Narcissus asked: “Who’s there?” She repeated his words, unable to say anything different. Hearing his own words echoed back at him, he hurried to follow the unknown figure. It was as if, for the first time, he felt he could love. Exhausted, he sat by a spring to drink water. In the water, he saw his reflection and fell in love immeasurably. He remained there, refusing to part with his love. Echo watched as he withered away, unable to do more than repeat Narcissus’ words, in which he professed love for himself. Thus, Narcissus’ life tragically concluded, and in its place, a beautiful flower emerged.

This is the myth that inspired the renowned Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to label certain personality traits as Narcissism. In today’s psychological texts, the extreme form of narcissism is described as a “condition characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy” (DSM-5).

Today’s literature agrees with the idea that everyone may possess personality traits that are characteristic of narcissism and that a healthy amount of self-love is normal. The problem arises when this self-love is directed solely and exclusively towards oneself. This state is referred to by professionals as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

What are the character traits of a narcissist?

  • Elevated self-esteem: Narcissists often have an inflated opinion of their abilities and importance. They may present themselves as exceptionally competent and significant.
  • Fantasies of success, perfection, and power: Narcissists often have unrealistic fantasies of great success, perfection, or exceptional power.
  • Strong belief in their uniqueness: Narcissists believe they are exceptional, requiring special attention and recognition.
  • Need for admiration: They constantly demand praise and approval from others to maintain their sense of importance.
  • Sense of entitlement: Narcissists expect special treatment and are convinced that they are unique and deserve privileges.
  • Using others for personal gain: They often take advantage of others and use their interpersonal relationships to achieve personal goals.
  • Low empathy: They find it difficult to understand or empathize with others, often focusing only on their own needs and desires.
  • Envy, jealousy, and mistrust: Narcissists may experience strong envy towards others, be jealous of their success, and typically behave with mistrust towards those around them.
  • Arrogance, haughtiness, and contempt: They are characterized by arrogance and contempt towards those who do not meet their expectations or standards.

What feelings does a narcissist have?

While Narcissus gazes into his reflection in the crystal waters, he becomes ensnared in the web of self-admiration. Forgetful of the world beyond his mirrored image, he gets lost in the depths of self-absorption. This mirrors the narcissistic tendency to fixate on oneself, ignoring the needs, desires, and emotions of those involved in the narcissistic relationship. Narcissus’s self-love obscures any ability to empathize with others. Alongside this, narcissists, driven by self-focus, often exhibit a remarkable deficit in recognizing and understanding others.

Just as Narcissus had a tragic end, engulfed by his own beauty, relationships with narcissists can lead to destructive results. Emotional turmoil, psychological stress, and shattered self-esteem often mark the consequences of relationships with individuals displaying narcissistic traits. Understanding the myth of Narcissus provides a profound perspective through which it may be easier to comprehend these relationships. For those navigating this emotional puzzle, seeking professional support, establishing firm boundaries, and prioritizing self-care become crucial components for finding an exit from these complex connections. Remember that the narcissist’s behavior is destructive even for themselves, lost between their reality and the real world.

What does a relationship with a narcissist look like?

The story of Narcissus is as old as time itself. The ancient Greek narrative, rooted in mythology, echoes frighteningly in the dynamics of modern relationships characterized by self-absorption, manipulation, and tragic separations. A relationship with a narcissist is painful, and breaking free from it is challenging.

Relationships with narcissists typically go through three well-defined phases: the love-bombing phase, followed by devaluation, and finally, discard. This cycle is defined by the narcissist’s desire to maintain control and emotional engagement with their partner while simultaneously satisfying their own needs.

Relationship Phases:

  • The Love Phase: Narcissus, an embodiment of physical perfection, possessed beauty and charm that transcended mortal boundaries. His magnetism was enchanting, effortlessly drawing others into his orbit. Similar to the charismatic allure that narcissists wield in the modern world. The relationship with a narcissist always begins passionately, with a strong attraction that seems irresistible to ordinary people, luring them into their world, where the need for the other is merely for personal validation. In the beginning, they will shower you with love, with promises, painting an irresistible world. They will seek you out, much like Narcissus searched for Echo in the forest, making it appear that you are what they need, when in reality, they are drawn to their own reflection they see in you. They will make you feel special and unique, only to echo it back to them.
  • Devaluation Phase: In the devaluation phase of the relationship with a narcissist, the initially promised future, declarations of love, and vows of loyalty undergo a sudden transformation. The narcissist starts behaving in ways aimed at belittling you, causing confusion and pain. Affection and attention diminish, replaced by irritability, restrictions, and criticism. The goal is to undermine your self-confidence, to isolate you from your support system and sometimes even humiliate or threaten you publicly. This phase creates emotional turmoil, leaving you feeling off-balance and desperate for positive attention from them, attempting to prove yourself. Periodically, the narcissist may revert to love bombing, maintaining emotional control and making the prospect of leaving even more challenging.
  • Rejection Phase: In the rejection phase, the narcissist abruptly ends the relationship or withdraws their emotional engagement without explanation. This often happens when they find a new source of narcissistic supply. The narcissist becomes distant or hostile to maintain their dominance, likely blaming you for the relationship’s failure. Victims may internalize the blame, realizing the emotional manipulation and lack of empathy. This phase exposes the violent nature of the relationship, causing immense pain and confusion due to the sudden loss and emotional whip from the cycle of abuse.

The Narcissist’s Partner (The Echo of Narcissus):

Narcissists often attach themselves to partners who are their complete opposites: empathetic, helpful, and down-to-earth – the natural instinct of the empath to care for others feeds the narcissist, easily establishing a dynamic of unconditional giving on one side and taking on the other. Moreover, they are often drawn to people with low self-esteem and a need for connection – they appreciate the vulnerability that can be easily exploited to their advantage, turning it into co-dependency. On the other hand, some narcissists are attracted to strong individuals with high societal status – they see them as a challenge to conquer, feeding into their fantasies of grandiosity. Their relationships are often long-lasting, but have no hesitation in quickly changing partners, as they don’t emotionally invest in their relationships. Regardless of the chosen partner, they expect to be the center of their universe and are likely to succeed.

Narcissistic relationships are often characterized by a toxic dynamic where one partner seeks to dominate and control while the other sacrifices their needs and desires for the sake of the relationship. Frequently, the partner becomes co-dependent. Co-dependency is a behavioral pattern where one person excessively needs the approval of another.

In narcissistic relationships, co-dependency often manifests as a partner who prioritizes the needs of the narcissist over their own, expecting validation in return for their own identity. Narcissists know how to manipulate and use others to fulfill their desires. Co-dependency takes a toll on mental, emotional, and sometimes physical well-being. Common consequences include anxiety, depression, and shattered self-esteem. Additionally, individuals may struggle with decision-making and establishing healthy relationships outside the narcissistic dynamic. The feeling experienced by the narcissist’s partner is akin to losing their voice – much like the mythological Echo – which leads to losing their authenticity.

Breaking free from the cycle of co-dependency in a narcissistic relationship is challenging, but it’s possible. You don’t have to face this challenge alone. You could seek support from a friend or even from a professional if you feel the need.

How to break up with a Narcissist:

Exiting any relationship is difficult but breaking up with a narcissist may seem even impossible. However, just because the end of the ancient Greek myth is tragic doesn’t mean your story has to be. Very often, before leaving a narcissist, partners have tried everything, driven by the illusion: “I can change them.” This means they have likely gone through all the pains of a dysfunctional relationship – lies, manipulation, humiliation, fear, and proving themselves.

Relationships for narcissists are superficial, making it much easier for them to move on to new ones fast. This leaves the partner, who needs to go through the non-superficial stages of grief, even more destabilized. Often, if it seems to the narcissist that their partner has moved on, it reignites his interest, and he is ready to shower his ex-partner with love and care again. This psychological mechanism makes the withdrawal a process of repeated traumatization. Narcissists do not like to be abandoned; it means they will fight to the end. They will tell you everything you’ve dreamed of hearing, sometimes just for revenge.

With this, preparing to leave a narcissist becomes a difficult task. Especially if divorce is involved in the separation, this often leads to complications. Be prepared. If they sense that they cannot keep you and that they are losing control, they will play the victim and blame you for the relationship’s failure. On the other hand, the perceived loss of control will drive them to try to manipulate those around you. By understanding what we have mentioned so far and by following the steps below, you will be prepared to back away from the toxic relationship:

Steps on how to break up with a narcissist:

  • Plan ahead: Make a plan and ensure your independence and security, both physically and emotionally.
  • Be direct and clear: Don’t leave room for doubt. Narcissists are adept at recognizing others’ weaknesses, and if they sense hesitation in your decision, they will exploit it.
  • Set communication boundaries: Narcissists may try to manipulate you with guilt. Signal that you stand by your decisions.
  • Be assertive: Avoid getting into arguments; it’s their territory. Set your expectations and disengage from the conversation.
  • Limit contacts: Communicate only when necessary and strive to keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand.
  • Seek support: Narcissists often isolate you from close friends and family. Rebuild those connections and find the support you need.
  • Consider professional help: Exiting a relationship with a narcissist is challenging. Find a professional to assist you.
  • Give yourself time after the break-up: Focus on yourself, and take care of your interests.

Liberation from Narcissistic Bonds:

Throughout this exploration, we’ve unraveled the intricate dynamics of the relationship with a narcissist: from the origins rooted in mythology to the challenging phases and character traits involved. The journey to sever ties with a narcissist is fraught with obstacles, yet armed with insight and resilience, it becomes a path to personal liberation. By recognizing the signs, understanding the partner’s perspective, and following the steps outlined, narcissist’s partners can reclaim their sense of self-worth and autonomy. Remember, while the road ahead may be daunting, the destination offers the promise of freedom and empowerment.


Venera Simeonova is a child psychologist and corporate wellness coach. Specialized in working with children with behavioral problems and parent counseling. Focused on early childhood development, child anxiety, family dynamics and personal development.

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