The 10 things you learn after ending a relationship with a narcissist
Everyone has moments of narcissism now and then, and they're not always a bad thing: having self-confidence can help you enjoy professional success, for instance. But, when that narcissism turns extreme, it can lead to very unhealthy relationship behaviours.
The first step in getting over a relationship with a genuine narcissist is to realize that they have a personality disorder that leaves them incapable of being a supportive partner.1 The second is to understand that this isn’t your problem to fix. Not only that, you can’t fix it: putting up with their tantrums, manipulations, and emotional unavailability only indulges them. This is an issue that needs professional help, and fixing it is the narcissist’s hill to climb.
Your job is to heal, move on, and, when you’re ready, find the healthy relationship you're worthy of. And, in a weird way, this is where dating a narcissist can help. By showing you what you shouldn't be putting up with, a relationship with a narcissist can teach you what it is you really want, need, and deserve from love:
10 things you learn after dating a narcissist
1. You learn to see past empty flattery
Narcissists can be absurdly flattering, making grand gestures right from the start. The thing is, it's not because they want you to be happy but rather because they want you to adore them.2 They’d promise you the moon if they thought it would make you admire them – but it’s not something they can deliver. Dating a narcissist wises you up to this empty flattery, meaning you’ll only believe kind words that are followed through with kind actions and kept promises.
- Read more: real affection involves deeds as well as words. We've found the actions that really say 'I love you'
2. You appreciate the slow ride over the fast track
Another intoxicating part of a relationship with a narcissist is how quickly they profess love-at-first-sight adoration. Being wanted feels great so it's easy to be swept along, but you soon learn that a narcissist’s attention is easily lost, often due to something innocuous like you voicing alternate opinions to theirs.3 It makes you see how insubstantial this lightning-fast love really is, and you'll find new appreciation for more slow-and-steady, solidly-built affection.
3. You value people who can admit when they are wrong
Many true narcissists cannot stand to be wrong. Rather than accept fault, they lay it at the feet of others; blaming everyone from their parents to their partner for their own poor behaviour.4 If there’s one thing dating a narcissist teaches you, it’s that this infuriating, childish tactic isn’t healthy for any relationship: there’s much more room for mutual growth and happiness when you date someone who has the maturity to admit (and fix) their own mistakes.
- Read more: knowing how to own your mistakes helps your partnership get stronger. Learn 6 more signs of a healthy relationship here!
4. You rediscover the importance of a life outside your relationship
Narcissists are the hothouse flowers of the dating world; beautiful, showy, and always in need of attention. They use tactics like guilt-tripping to keep this attention and stop those they date from having their own hobbies and friends.5 After you’ve moved on from them, however, you rediscover just how necessary it is to fulfill your own needs too, and you see the value of those who encourage you to be a happy, well-rounded partner rather than a one-track devotee.
5. You find new appreciation for vulnerability
For a classic narcissist, emotional vulnerability is akin to weakness, meaning that they suppress it in themselves and make their partners feel needy for not doing the same.6 Yet, dating a narcissist shows you that this sort of thinking is a roadblock for relationship progression: if you can’t be vulnerable with someone (and accept their vulnerabilities in turn), you can never achieve emotional intimacy and the trust, love, and security that come with it.
- Read more: ready to be vulnerable and accepting with someone? Here's how to encourage emotional intimacy in your relationship
6. You understand that you can’t please everyone
It is very hard to please a narcissist. They feel that they deserve perfection, and demand it from their partners, not showing pleasure unless things are done the right way – which, of course, is their way.7 Here’s what you learn, though: if you can never reach their impossibly high standards, why try? Why not please yourself instead? And, if that feels good, then why not reject the one who only wants an ego-prop and find a partner who likes your version of you?
7. You teach yourself how to set firm boundaries
If you date a narcissist, you find that they try and shape people to make themselves look better. For instance, narcissists who think that their partner’s looks reflect their own dating success will show annoyance if that partner dresses in a way the narcissist doesn't approve of. Moving on from this means becoming aware of how their tactics can push you where you don't want to be and so you become vigilant about setting (and sticking to) your boundaries.8
- Read more: sometimes being single can help you know your own mind. Here are the other love lessons that being single teaches you!
8. You look for a partner who wants you to be successful too
Narcissists might like the high-status of having a successful partner – but only as long as you keep your hands off their spotlight. If you start to eclipse it, you’ll soon be subject to putdowns and doubt; anything to stop you becoming better than them.9 Breaking free opens your eyes to how much this attitude was holding you back, and you learn to look for a partner who not only won’t be threatened by your successes, they’ll encourage you to aim even higher.
9. You know that the relationship wasn’t due to your weaknesses
They’re egotistic and controlling. If you’ve never had a relationship with a narcissist, you may wonder, just why would you date one in the first place? But if you've been there and moved on, you know that it’s easy to get hooked: narcissists are master manipulators, whose false charm is artfully designed to strike right where it will be the most effective. You also discover that falling for one doesn’t make you weak – in fact it wasn’t your weaknesses that they exploited, but rather your strengths: the kindness and compassion that make you a wonderful partner.10
Read more: struggling to leave the past behind? Mary Lamia. Ph.D. gave us expert tips about how to move on
10. You end up stronger than ever
Loving a narcissist is hard. Moving on and rediscovering yourself is even harder. But, in that process you get to find out just how strong you are. You learn that you weren’t a fool for being sucked in. You learn that even the smartest, kindest people are susceptible to a narcissist’s charming lies. Most of all, you learn that one bad relationship doesn’t doom you forever; in fact it teaches you how to spot the most subtle red flags and instead seek the mutually beneficial, supportive love that you really do deserve. And that’s a lesson worth learning.