Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

4 Ways to Break Up with a Narcissist

Judith Orloff - Thursday, July 02, 2015

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s book,“The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” (Sounds True, 2017)

In my psychiatric practice I’ve seen how hard it is for my patients to break up with a partner who’s a narcissist. Narcissists can make you fall in love with them so hard that it feels like you're giving up a part of your heart to leave them. And they use every manipulation in the book to get you to stay.

On the surface narcissists can seem charming, intelligent, caring—knowing how to entice and lure their way back into your life. But once they reel you back then they revert to their egotistical selves. Their motto will always be “Me First!” Everything’s all about them. They have a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, crave admiration and attention. They can also be highly intuitive, but use their intuition for self-interest and manipulation.

Narcissists are so dangerous because they lack empathy, have a limited capacity for unconditional love. Sadly, their hearts either haven’t developed or have been shut down due to early psychic trauma, such as being raised by narcissistic parents, a crippling handicap both emotionally and spiritually. (The damage of narcissistic parenting is outstandingly detailed in Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child). Hard as it may be to comprehend, these people have little insight into their actions, nor do they regret them.

To find out if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, ask yourself the following questions from my book, Emotional Freedom.


  • Does the person act as if life revolves around him?
  • Do I have to compliment him to get his attention or approval?
  • Does he constantly steer the conversation back to himself?
  • Does he downplay my feelings or interests?
  • If I disagree, does he become cold or withholding?
  • If you answer “yes” to one or two questions, it’s likely you’re dealing with a narcissist. Responding “yes” to three or more questions suggests that a narcissist is violating your emotional freedom.

    Narcissists are hard nuts to crack. With these patients, the best I can do is align with their positive aspects and focus on behaviors that they agree aren’t working. Still, even if one wants to change, progress is limited, with meager gains. My professional advice: Don’t fall in love with a narcissist or entertain illusions they’re capable of the give and take necessary for intimacy. In such relationships you’ll always be emotionally alone to some degree. If you have a withholding narcissist spouse, beware of trying to win the nurturing you never got from your parents; it’s not going to happen. Also, don’t expect to have your sensitivity honored. These people sour love with all the hoops you must jump through to please them.

    If you’re trying to break up with a narcissist, use these methods from my emotional freedom book to get your power back.

    Don’t Fall For Their Manipulations
    They will use every trick in the book to get you back so be prepared. Narcissists are really convincing. When you are ready to leave, stick to your convictions and move on to a more positive future filled with real love.

    Set Limits
    Since narcissists have no empathy, nor can they really love, you must leave them cold turkey and endure the pain. Set limits and say "no" to them and in your heart. Then gather all your strength and keep walking into the unknown towards something better.

    Focus on the Future
    Once detached from a narcissist it is extremely important than you focus all your positive energy and thoughts on doing good things for yourself and the world. Don't let your mind wander to the past or to what he is doing.

    Be Kind to Yourself
    Treasure yourself. Be very kind to yourself and know that you deserve a loving relationship with someone who can reciprocate that love.

    My view on life is that every person we meet along the way, loving or not, is meant to help us grow. Do not beat yourself up for getting involved with a narcissist. But please learn what you can from it, including setting healthy boundaries and saying "no" to abuse, so you don't repeat this lesson again. It is very emotionally freeing to heal any attraction to abusive people so you can have more true love in your life.


    Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

    Anonymous commented on 10-Oct-2015 09:17 AM
    Sometimes I wonder what happened to us
    And some days I miss you so much
    My heart starts breaking all over again
    Knowing nothing's for real, it's the end.

    And sometimes I'm crazy for you
    And sometimes I'm nuthin but blue
    Remembering your hold
    I thought that we would grow old
    Together no more cause you're through.

    The change was so fast, I wasn't ready
    What happened to new starts and going steady
    Yet you thought the worst
    It was clear I wasn't first
    In your heart any more on that day

    Each morning I hold my head high
    In my heart I know it's a lie
    And at night the tears flow
    Cos of how fast you let go
    Of me and our dreams, say goodbye.

    And sometimes I'm crazy for you
    And sometimes I'm nuthin but blue
    Yet as each day goes by and
    The less that I cry
    I know that I'll fade the memories of you.

    So there will come a day
    I'll truly be okay and I'll smile at the joy I've found in me
    I'll find love again, but first I'll make sure I mend...so that this never hapens again.

    AM commented on 09-Jan-2016 04:43 PM
    that's me...totally!
    Pheonix commented on 05-Feb-2016 07:52 AM
    so much
    for this :)
    Tamy commented on 17-Jun-2016 06:22 PM
    This article hit me like a brick. For so long I've been telling myself, "If only I were younger, prettier, wealthier, smarter, etc, he will love me like I love him". But he never will... Deep down I knew it, I just didn't want to face it. I can't live in the "What I wish he was". I have to live for me...Now! It will be hard, but letting go is my path to true happiness with someone who can really love me back.
    ANS commented on 22-Jun-2016 10:25 AM
    Whoever wrote this I feel my heart sink. I know this situation and these terrible feelings so well. Your not alone. You will overcome this and you will be better because of it. Very touching poem. I absolutely love it.
    David commented on 31-Jul-2016 01:55 AM
    I am from england raised by narcissistic parents. I ended up ten years with a narcissist, many leavings, many discardings. I have no paperwork in the USA even tho i am from england, so never was able to drive. That dependency was fostered by him, and then used against me. Marriage was used as a carrot then i was blamed for only being with him for this. He left tonight with all his things, but I know the games will continue. Right now, things are dark for so many, as people reveal who they really are. I have no idea if I even have a future here, no life back in UK no life here but its day 1 of a longer path.
    Love to you all. We were targeted because we were SMART and EMPATHIC. Once we realize it is a compliment, we can (hopefully) mitigate the devastating effects on our body, mind and spirit dealing with this on and off, up and down rollercoaster. Keep shining bright ones.
    Tamara commented on 14-Sep-2016 05:46 AM
    How do you break up with a narcissist,keep your sanity, and not fall into traps when you have a child involved? This is more tricky than anything you can imagine. They try to use the child as a weapon. Weather it's turning them against you, trying to force you to give up custody, or threatening to abandon them, these people use children to their advantage to try to get you to stay or return.
    Anonymous commented on 18-Oct-2016 05:36 PM
    What if it's a close family member?
    Morgan commented on 09-Nov-2016 08:43 PM
    Just realized I was in a relationship with a narcissist named Tamara. That's pretty scary because the whole time she was calling me a narcissist and when I finally showed the narcissist her true self after catching her abusing her sisters kids on nanny cam and she was setting up already to discard me. Not only did she research her part to make me think i was a narcissist she mentally broke me down when I tried to spend more time with her because I thought all the ignoring and fighting was from being at work all the time she used my trust issues against me by making me think i was saving her from the escort life which she told me she quit for me. I am now almost 12 weeks into the discard phase she left me at the worse point in my life i was trying to overcome a back injury no job and when it was time for her to help she discarded me went no contact i had to seek counseling because I felt i was never good enough and I thought something was wrong with me like I was the crazy one. And to this day I still love the narc. I even wrote my own poem when I was so stressed out from the constant put downs and ended up in the icu Oct. 2015

    As I layed in the bed, death gripping at my heart; you arrived with a smile on your face a whole world apart. Forever turned into never as you walked out that night, you left me with an angel who comforted me through the fight. The last year was distant, a dark memory you tried to break me but I only fell to my knees. I knew death was coming from you and when I finally saw your game my life went from sunshine to nothing but rain. The lion inside me roared once again as I sat on the couch, I was telling you I could not mend. The voice you heard that night, came from my soul what you did to it took a heavy toll.
    Struggler commented on 10-Dec-2016 01:58 AM
    I just discovered this website and that there are so many others like me! For the past 3 years, a narcissist at school had been manipulating me into believing him. There was an intense attraction that I initially tried resisting but eventually failed to fight off. We didn't start going out because I was terribly scared, and he too egotistical to directly ask. But he nevertheless led me into believing in the connection we had. Would get mad if another guy attempted to come near. In utmost, sincere loyalty I didn't entertain anyone else's attentions either, for years. I would read up on the destructive relationships between empaths and narcissists but having been through a previous heartbreak, I didn't want to believe this wasn't true love. I couldn't accept the thought of ending 'us'. Then all of a sudden as school was ending, I heard he's started seeing his ex and I was left without a closure, without an explanation, without an answer. Still trying to comprehend what happened.
    Anonymous commented on 15-Dec-2016 06:03 PM
    Just found this...I'm divorcing a narcissist and am in a relationship with another - and I just figured the latter out! My boyfriend is so charming and when he's focused on me I feel on top of the world - but unfortunately that's not much of the time and when I get after him about it he acts so hurt and has almost cried. He just doesn't seem to understand where I'm coming from, and now I know why. I don't want to dump him but I feel my attachment to him slowly decreasing because I know I deserve better. I just can't seem to break the cycle.
    Lisa commented on 21-Dec-2016 09:07 PM
    I am with a narc i believe. He just moved in (going through divorce) He rarely wants sex and won't give me any money towards bills. I just feel drained in every way. I love him but I feel very alone.
    Anonymous commented on 24-Dec-2016 04:19 PM
    Last night, while l was on a bus after spending all day at the Children's Hospital, where my brave child did her MRI,he , my FBW for the past 3 years texted me, why have you not texted me, l told him, that I have been on transit since 2 pm. This is now 7 -40 pm. He said u are lying, my child started to cry. He has made reference for him to wait for my special needs child to grow up so he could date her. She is 9. That was the final straw. He has always said that if you didn't have a fat ass, etc. He buys flowers for every ex, yet not once for me, would not come to see me after surgery, even though he works at my hospital. He does computer stuff, yet loves to speed to 150 miles hour, then tells the police he is in healthcare, to get out of a ticket. His claim is that he is from Paris, and can do what the fssx he wants, despite the fact that he has lived in Canada, for 30 years. Even when he went to France, they call him the Canadian. He would pull my hair, wake me up or not even, and attempt sex. He is an alcoholic, and went to therapy, but she fell under his spell. I am almost 50,more educated and make more money than him. I was never good enough for him. Even as a FWB, he would break his own rules. No attachment, but if l ignore d him for too long, then he would get mad and insulting. He humiliated me at parties,pulling up my dress to show my body. In my city, it is brutal to find men,the sex was the best l ever had, that is why l kept going back.abd l had gone through almost a decade of no sex.L had a sexless marriage and did IVF for my daughter. So I guess 2 days before Christmas, l need to break free. For myself and my daughter. Thanks for listening.
    Anonymous commented on 05-Jan-2017 03:06 PM
    I broke up with my Narc after 5 years...I have a baby with him and I realized that if I stayed, he would have verbally abused both of us. He rarely wanted sex and he hated to hold hands. I knew in my heart that he wasn't in love with me but I stayed because I was lonely and insecure. He had a terrible anger problem that was totally not in proportion to the situation. What was I thinking to stay with him? He had a charming side that he would use to manipulate me. I should have known he was bad when I first met him and all he did was insult his mom and his sisters, blaming them for his failures in life. He insulted my looks, my body and he used me to have a child. My baby is one year old and I am so relieved I got out. My Narc lives in another country and I want to change my child's last name to mine. He verbally abused me, insulted me and screamed at me for 5 years and I feel like a woke up from a bad dream. I think the birth of my child changed me. My Narc had an explosion of anger in front of my child and something in my mind snapped. I knew I never wanted to marry him much less be with with him ever again.
    Anonymous commented on 08-Feb-2017 11:17 AM
    I just started divorce proceedings with my narc husband of 31 years. He charmed me like no other during courtship phase and put me on a pedestal. Three months into marriage things took a drastic turn and I did not recognize this man at all.Everything became my fault, he cheated on me and lied. If I brought up any of his transgressions he flipped it around on me.I was " overreacting "or "negative" or "imagining things". I had no clue what narcissism was and just recently connected the dots. It has left me confused, numb, afraid and feeling used and worthless. I am so stupid, I have been left so vulnerable with no self esteem and fell for a coworker's act of caring and concern. He seemed genuinely concerned about me when I lost 65 lbs from stress. Flattered me and made me feel safe and cared for. I never in a million years thought I'd find someone who loved me for me. I'm crying as I write this now because I entered into a relationship with him against my better judgment. I have never cheated on my husband or even entertained the thought of it in the 31 years we were together despite his abuse. I am very ashamed of myself and just realized this new man has all the red flags too. He is telling me he wants to marry me after only 3 months. I am so scared right now because I am dealing with two at the same time. I need to break up with my coworker right away. My heart is absolutely crushed right now at the realization that I was never loved by either and that I must now wait in fear at what each will do to me to pay me back. If anyone reads this I could sure use some advice. Please don't judge me.......
    Anonymous Too commented on 26-Feb-2017 02:00 PM
    To the last anonymous....I'm sorry and I have no advice, but I also would never judge. I am trying to deal with my own mistake from over 20 years ago as well. I was seeing someone who was genuinely kind and sweet, which I am a good judge of character, and when we broke up I was in a depressed and low place. My sister's then boyfriend introduced me to someone good looking who I ended up trying to ditch the same night I met him (after messing around some). The thought now sickens me. My better judgement already told me to get away from him that night. As soon as he met me he latched on and never stopped since. I never married him and our relationship is more of door mat and abuser than anything else. He has "borrowed" nearly all my life savings and still continues to do so even after I went back to work to save up more. Even today he has called reminding me that he asked for more "help" because he has spent all his money. When I point out how he is in the wrong then he starts flaring his anger and raising his voice to get his way. He turns everything around, as they all do, and makes irrational rationalizations to explain how he is the injured person, not me. I have no idea what to do to get rid of him either. The only thing is I was thinking he might find someone "better" and leave me alone, but now he is now longer young and good looking, but a pasty, fat loudmouth. Don't call yourself stupid. We all feel that way but it isn't us, it is "them". I know you probably pray, because I do, so why don't we agree in prayer for each other. And all of you reading this, who pray, agree with us in prayer as well for our abusive narcissists to wander out of our lives and that God will block them from further abusing. I can't move and go into hiding. That is the only way I think I could loose him, but I am afraid he would harass/threaten my whole family to find me. Another thing is he is still friends with my sister's (now ex), the guy who introduced us. That guy was a jerk too, and I am pretty sure he knew the Narc was a loser when he purposefully introduced me to him. My sister's ex never liked me either. So you see if I were to go into hiding he still has a way to get at my family and someone who would be more than willing to help him cause my family grief. I really see no way out either except a miracle. I was crying about this today. So "last anonymous" if you are still reading this post, which I hope you are, just join me in prayer for the both of us and for anyone else here who wants to agree with us.
    Anonymous commented on 20-Jun-2017 12:39 PM
    This so arrived at the right time... I have been so miserable and so in love and didn't see what this man was doing to me. I am going to have to stick to plan to mak a change or my life will be a total ruin...I deserve better! Thank you!
    Anonymous commented on 26-Jun-2017 12:01 AM
    Dr. Orloff, I heard you on a Dr. Michael Savage program in Oct. of 2014, giving the 5 signs of a Narcissist. The guy I share the office space with had all 5. It all made sense the behaviors I saw. The emotions of a 5 year old and on and on. As for myself, I was sucked into trying to solve all his problems, which was on my mind continually. To make a clean break I decided to treat him the same as he treated me, which was difficult for me. To totally ignor the presence of someone else. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done. I went through a withdrawal period while assailing everything on Youtube about narc's. I wanted to know everything about them. At first I was angry with the constant put downs I had put up with for 13 years. In reality I was giving him his favorite weapon he used upon others, the 'silent treatment'. On the surface he 'acted' like he respected me more, but it was all an 'act' because he covertly was still doing the little mean things against me that he'd always done. Calling him out on these things is helping me...because we all 'hate' confrontation, sometimes its needed. That and then finding another job with another company would be good. I do feel sorry for his method of dealing with others. Sad life. But I'm not responsible for fixing him.
    Anon commented on 26-Jun-2017 12:18 AM
    My sister was married for 2 years to a narcissist. To break free you have to have NO communication, no texts, nothing. Also change the locks on your doors. If they attempt to break in or stand outside shouting, you can get a restraining order. Now you have a legal record.
    You cannot reason with someone who has no empathy for anyone but themselves. Most Christian church's have counselors to work with you ProBono and can be a real asset.
    The narcissist's only power is in getting you hooked into giving them another chance. Don't fall for it. You are son or daughter of God, and God doesn't make junk. He loves you. Breaking away will give you strength like you've never felt before, and you deserve being free from abuse. If you're here on this website, you are already on your way to being healed. Dr. Orloff is a wonderful person and has great insights into how each of us can heal.
    She's healed me through this website...my sincere thanks.
    Wounded warrior commented on 04-Sep-2017 10:44 PM
    I had been dating this guy for 7 months. He slipped in at a weaker time in my life like he was there to rescue me from myself. We instantly clicked and I never thought I could open a portal of myself to anyone, which I did for him. It was only recently I discovered I was an empath, I knew I was all my life, but finally embraced it. He used to call on me as very sensitive person, I was. He would be irritable at times and I would tiptoe around and bite my tongue, which is completely out of character for me. One day we got into a normal fight like any couple and later that day I came home from work to find he had taken all his belongings and said it was over, just like that. We go from a high moment of love to a normal disagreement then "poof" nothing. I had never experienced such polarity. Not knowing what to do, I retreated to other behaviors I have never been known to do, tried reasoning with and even beg. The circumstances led us back in each other's lives, only with a bandaid covering a lot of unresolved issues. I didn't understand. I tried loving him back to life and gave so much. Just recently we had been experiencing hurricane Harvey and I had been working 14 hr shifts at a local university and I realized the less attention I gave him things quickly unfolded again. Like that, "poof!" I had began reading the empaths survivial guide and when I got to the chapter about energy vampires and narcissists are to be avoided, it was an aha moment that put all this into prescriptive. Because up to that point, I was blaming myself for things I shouldn't have. I had not up to this point defined him as a narcissist. He was so charismatic and caring, which I fell in love with. Then the suttlties of comments he would make and how he pulling the strings.. I wanted to alter parts of myself in hopes to have my love reciprocated. He has done and said things I would never allow in any relationship. I have to accept I made that choice. I feel bamboozled in some ways. But as described on empath sites and readings, we can't quit get a finger on who this person is, so it intrigues us. I used to say to him you cut me off like a telemarketer, I never put it to the understanding he is a narcissist and everything is on his terms. I decided I was done and did it cold turkey, haven't talked to him in days. I was doing fine reflecting and coming to the understanding of what happened here. He finally reached out from over a week of silence to once again put all blame on me and he had NO empathy for anything I had to say. It opened up that portal where I thought I had closed it. I never been so wounded and hurt by anyone. This has caught me by surprise. Knowing what I know now I will never let this happen to again. I still need any advice because as I am trying to cut cord, it becomes unpredictably tortureous. I have dated people in the past for years and never experienced this in such a short amount of time. It comes from a deeper place and it is because I let the narcissist rule me and take over my self worth. I know time will heal me. Do I block him from my phone to stop temptation of a response? What methods have been most successful for you all as you work through painful process of discovery and acceptance for the part you played, as the torturer persists? I told myself to stop not communicate, but it is not that easy. In some ways I am looking for answers from the wrong source, him! I know he will never accept any fault or blame. This is so hard. I am hoping for wisdom to get me over the jump! Thanks for listening .
    Anonymous commented on 05-Sep-2017 12:21 PM
    I've been in a relationship with a Narc for 4 years. We've been living together for 3 of those years. I didn't accept he was a Narc until I started therapy several months ago. Now, I'm intent on leaving and moving on with my life, but of course he's not going to make it easy. This might be the hardest thing I've done in my life yet, but I'm determined to break free. My empathic abilities are not disciplined and so in the past I'd let him talk me into giving him another chance because he "loved" me.

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