7 Steps to Escaping From Narcissistic Abuse

Recognising emotional abuse and planning out how to leave.

Posted May 28, 2020

Many victims of narcissistic abuse are trapped in relationships where their abuser exerts power beyond the usual tools of the narcissist, including emotional bullying, manipulation, and boundary violation. Some of the clients I work with are trapped by cultural rules and expectations, financial dependence, and a fear of losing access to their children if they leave their abuser. These people may be leading miserable lives where they are completely controlled—and, because being on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse is so exhausting, confusing, and destructive, it can be very difficult for people in these situations to see a way out. 

If you’re in this type of situation, it is crucial to have a planned exit strategy.

Realise this is abuse.

This is abuse. You don’t deserve it. Emotional abuse is just as unacceptable as physical or sexual abuse. You may sometimes feel confused and doubt whether you are in an abusive relationship—especially when your partner acts nicely towards you. If you live in a culture where certain behaviours are deemed acceptable, this confuses the matter further. If you are controlled, bullied, silenced, put down, not listened to, and treated as a lesser person, then you are in an abusive relationship. 

Gather information.

Emotional abuse has not always been considered a serious problem, but more and more countries now recognise it as a crime. Keep a record of the abusive behaviour (somewhere where it cannot be found). This record might include things such as having to take time off work or seek medical attention because of the impact the behaviour is having on you. Keep a record of extreme things which were said or done to you, including emotional threats made against you.

Get support.

Contact any charities which work with abused people. If you have a trusted friend or family member, discuss how they could support you if you left. If you have children, discuss with a charity or attorney what your legal rights are with regard to taking your children with you when you leave your abuser. 

Make a copy of any documents.

Particularly if you are living in a foreign culture, ensure you have a copy of your passport and any other documents which prove your identity. Your abuser may have taken control of your documents; in cases where this occurs, if it is possible to find your documents—for instance, while your partner is out of the house—you should take a photo or write down your passport number and other key information. If you have children, make copies of their documents. 

Save up some money.

It’s possible that your abuser is financially controlling—but if it is possible, open up a secret bank account into which you can at least deposit some money.

Don’t announce you’re leaving.

If you tell your abuser that you’re leaving, they will do everything in their power to make you stay. They will lie, beg, promise to change, and threaten—doing anything in their power to make you change your mind. If they have been emotionally abusing you for some time, you need to remember that, no matter what they say as you announce your departure, they’re not going to change. 

Don’t be sucked back in.

Once you have managed to leave, your partner will use every narcissistic technique to get you back. Don’t forget—narcissists are expert manipulators. They are experts in convincing you that they are right and you are wrong. They will flatter you, declare their undying love for you, promise to change and attack your self-esteem by pointing out that you won’t manage without them. If you’re already feeling weakened by years of abuse, it would be easy to give them another chance. You need to remember that, once you’re back, they will return to their old patterns of behaviour.

Remind yourself why you left.

If you are still in contact with your ex-partner—for instance, in a situation where you have children together—you need to remind yourself why you left, particularly if they are trying to convince you to get back together with them. Write a list of all the abusive behaviour you have experienced at their hands and check it whenever you feel your resolve weaken. 

Unless you are in immediate danger—in which case you need to call the police and leave immediately—preparation is key when deciding to leave your narcissistic abuser. You are backed up by the law. There are charities and organisations who will support you. You deserve to build a life where you—and your children, if you have any—are free from controlling, abusive behaviour. And once you’ve left the relationship, you need to create strong boundaries so that you can move on with your life.