Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Aftermath of a Narcissistic Relationship

How avoidance behaviours can sabotage our chance for happiness

One of the negative outcomes of a relationship with a narcissist or any kind of uncaring person is the effect it has on our ability to find a new and healthy relationship. All too often, we come away from hurtful experiences feeling not only angry and betrayed, but afraid to get involved again. This lack of trust, of both others and ourselves, can keep us from finding the love we want.

While taking a break from relationships is often a good way of getting back in touch with your own needs, desires and values, it can become all too easy to simply avoid relationships altogether under the guise of any number of self-deluding excuses. You can tell yourself you’re too busy, you need some time to yourself or that you are sick of dating. But what often lies beneath those stories is a genuine fear of intimacy. After all, getting close to someone means we run the risk of getting hurt again.

There aren’t any statistics on this, but it seems likely that highly sensitive people would be particularly vulnerable to avoidance behaviour. We already feel overwhelmed by everyday life and need to retreat to recharge our batteries. And as we are often the targets of narcissists, getting involved with someone new can be a daunting and frightening prospect.

This decision to avoid rather than face issues is often an unconscious choice. And it can manifest itself in a variety of self-defeating ways, including procrastination, denial, blaming others, criticising, keeping constantly busy, as well as maintaining physical distance from others. All of these behaviours are defence mechanisms that are intended to protect us from getting hurt, whether from being with someone who is selfish or being rejected by someone we care about. While it feels like the right thing to do at the time and usually reduces our anxiety at first, repeating these patterns only makes our anxiety worse. Trying to avoid something you fear doesn’t make the fear go away. It only makes you more fearful. It’s like believing that there’s a ghost in your closet. If you don’t open the door and look, you’ll always believe it’s there and spend your nights cowering under the covers.

Fear also causes us to push away even those people who care about us and avoid relationships that would ultimately bring us safety, love and happiness. So instead of avoiding, blaming, and living in denial of our fears, we have to face them. And we do that by becoming aware of our attempts to avoid getting hurt and by learning how to trust.

Trust comes with experience and knowledge. You wouldn’t automatically trust someone you just met. Or at least you shouldn’t. You need to get to know them and discover what they’re like over time. Consistent behaviour will tell you what kind of person they are. You also have to trust yourself. Trust that whatever happens, you will be okay. That’s the key. If someone does reject you, that doesn’t mean you are a bad person or that there is anything wrong with you. It means that person wasn’t right for you. And if you are willing to take that chance, you might find someone who really does care.

Break the cycle of fear and anxiety and avoidance by facing your fears and accepting that while some people may have hurt you in the past, that does not have to be the pattern of your future. Trust that you can look after yourself, and when someone caring comes along, you will be ready to accept their love with open arms.

More from Deborah Ward
More from Psychology Today