Have you recently left an affair with a narcissist or are you still in one? Dealing with narcissism can be one of the hardest types of relationships to be in, but having an affair with a narcissist takes it up to a whole new level. Join me and Psychotherapist Babita Spinelli as we chat about what it means to be in an affair with a narcissist and ways to work through getting over your affair once it’s ended.
Let’s chat about narcissism and what it means to be a narcissist.
What is a narcissist?
A narcissist is someone who expresses an inflated sense of their own importance. This comes with a deep need for excessive attention and admiration. They often come across as grandiose, charismatic, and self-focused to the point of ignoring the needs of those around them.
Narcissists tend to be very controlling, and emotionally manipulative, and they need to be idealised to be fulfilled.
Underneath this facade of confidence and self-assuredness actually lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to others around them expressing and setting boundaries, or even the slightest criticism.
A narcissist is always looking for supply. So, back to their need for being idealised—if they are married and their partner isn’t idealising them, they will search for it elsewhere.
Who do narcissists attract/target?
In order to fully heal, it’s important to take personal responsibility for where you play a role in this experience. If we only look at the narcissist then we cut ourselves off from the deep healing we can achieve that comes from introspection.
Narcissists will target people who:
- are agreeable or compliant. You listen to the needs of others and don’t have (or voice) your own opinions.
- naturally hold a lot of space for others’ feelings, needs, and opinions.
- have trouble making decisions.
- validate the feelings of others.
- display codependency characteristics and people-pleasing patterns.
- lift others up through compliments or gestures.
- would make a narcissist look good in the eyes of the public. This could be someone with money, or someone more youthful, or someone older and established, or someone with a successful career, or with special talents, influential friendships and circles, etc.
- overlook the narcissist’s flaws by not speaking up, setting boundaries, expressing needs, etc.
- constantly see the best in others or put people on pedestals.
- have a lot of generosity.
- could be very strong as individuals but may be seeking connection.
Because narcissists want to be idealised, they naturally feel drawn to people with the qualities above because it will ensure the focus is always on them.
But if you are not tuned into these behaviours, narcissists can catch you off guard.
The reason it can be so incredibly hard to end it with a narcissist is that – in the early days – you experience a “love” that you have never felt before. They make you feel on top of the world like you are the greatest woman (or man) in the world.
However, instead of that “love” being an authentic genuine love for you (which takes time to build), it’s a self-focused obsession with meeting their needs to get control over you.
Becoming aware of narcissistic patterns so you can begin to break ties with your affair partner
PHASE 1 of a narcissistic pattern: Idealise Phase
Affair fog is the honeymoon phase of an affair.
This is where you see the best parts of a narcissist before their mask comes down. In the affair fog, you will experience a lot of grandiose gestures, extreme highs and a feeling like you have never experienced a love like this before. This affair fog often comes because of the narcissist love bombing you.
Love bombing is a form of emotional manipulation used to gain power over a person by showering the target with over-the-top displays of attention and affection.
This can look like excessive compliments, or gifts, using terms and phrases like “soulmate” or, “I have never felt like this with anyone.” They mirror all your interests, making you feel like you have ultimate compatibility. They’ll want to spend too much time together too soon and want to progress the relationship really quickly, messaging or calling many times a day, etc.
What’s the difference between the way a narcissist will approach someone who is married versus how they would approach a single woman?
A narcissist will prey upon different aspects depending on the relationship status.
A married narcissist preying upon a married woman might look like this:
“If you are married, narcissists can be tremendous listeners in order to meet the needs that may not be getting met by your spouse because they are aware that this is usually something that tends to happen—where the prey doesn’t feel heard, doesn’t really feel seen, or needs to feel that someone is listening or understanding when someone is unhappily married.
The second part is they will also operate in a way that they will treat the person with a nomenclature around “twin flames” or “soulmates” or “you are my forever person” because they are understanding that—clearly—this person who is married has something going on that is not quite right in their marriage.
And so, the narcissist knows that the way that they are going to operate is to fill the space that the prey’s spouse can’t. They will draw upon that and will end up doing all the things that the married prey is seeking. Everything from, “Hey, you love rock climbing? I love rock climbing!” to anything else that their prey wants to do and can’t do in the marriage.”
A married narcissist preying upon a single woman might look like this:
The cheating person (aka the narcissist) will talk about his unmet needs and he will curate a place where the single person ends up feeling really good because they are meeting all the needs of this narcissist (where the wife isn’t and he doesn’t feel good about that). When you feel like you are being told how great you are, how unhappy the married narcissist is, and how everything you do is so wonderful, and you are the one person who understands them—that is a very human, core heart peace that people feel good about.
PHASE 2 of a narcissistic pattern: Devaluing Phase
The Devaluing Phase is what happens when the love bombing, the honeymoon phase, or the excessive support stage ends. What starts to happen next is the narcissist’s mask comes down and the devaluing stage begins. Your narcissistic affair partner may begin to criticise and blame you for things, causing you to lose self-confidence and self-worth.
Talking around in circles with no solution
In her blog 20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths And Psychopaths Use To Silence You, Shahida Arabi talks about one of the tactics narcissists use as manipulation:
Blanket statements and generalizations.
“Rather than taking the time to carefully consider a different perspective, they generalize anything and everything you say, making blanket statements that don’t acknowledge the nuances in your argument or take into account the multiple perspectives you’ve paid homage to.”
Conversations with a narcissist often go like this:
John: Undresses and leaves clothes on the floor
Sally: Hey, the dirty laundry basket is right over there.
John: Are you saying I’m messy?
Sally: What? No. But I’d really like for you to put your dirty clothes in the basket.
John: So you’re saying it’s my fault for the house being a mess?
Sally: No. But I am saying I want you to put your dirty clothes away so I don’t have to pick up after you.
John: Are you saying I’m a burden to you? You are not always tidy. When I went into the kitchen there were dishes on the bench that weren’t mine. That was your mess.
Sally: Sighs and picks up the clothes off the floor and puts them in the basket
John: Now you’re trying to make me feel bad.
Sally: I just want the dirty clothes in the dirty laundry basket.
John: So you care more about washing than you care about the health of our relationship?
Sally: Look, the washing basket is right beside where you left the clothes. I was just sharing that it would make things easier if it was put straight in the basket instead of leaving it for me to pick up.
John: Now you are making me feel bad. You’re acting just like my mum, and you know how controlling she was to me.
Sally: Okay, this is obviously upsetting you. What can I do?
John: Well, an apology for making me feel bad for something so little would be a good start.
Sally: I’m sorry for hurting you. I didn’t mean to make you feel this way.
John: Thank you. Seriously, all that unnecessary drama has now ruined our night.
Narcissistic patterns include NOT respecting boundaries
The narcissist will tend to have a pattern of invading your personal boundaries, which feeds their need for control. Ask yourself, Have my basic personal standards and values changed as a result of being around my affair partner? Narcissists will often even admit they like to push you through your wall of comfort.
Phase 3 of the narcissist’s patterns: Gaslighting
Gaslighting is often a narcissist’s favourite tool for manipulation. You might notice gaslighting when you express feelings or observations and your narcissistic partner might dismiss your feelings or they might say that your observations didn’t happen.
Narcissistic gaslighting could be something as small as the narcissist being repeatedly late and then trying to convince you that they aren’t late and that you mixed up the times. Or, when you try to express your feelings about their constant lateness, they dismiss them and tell you you’re being ridiculous to feel that way.
Phase 4 in the pattern of narcissism: Isolation
When it comes to an affair, isolation is already an immediate factor (because of the secrecy and shame component); However, the difference between an affair with a narcissist and a non-narcissist is that a narcissist will draw you away from your friendship circles and connections with family.
This can come in the form of criticism or devaluing the relationship you have with your family members or friends. Or painting it in a positive light like those friends aren’t there for you as a friend should be so he will “look after you and provide what you really deserve.”
When having an affair with a non-narcissist, you will notice they will be supportive of you seeking external help to try and navigate this confusing and emotionally challenging situation. They will be curious and seek to learn how others suggest you navigate this and will generally be supportive of you taking actions that are going to serve your highest good. Whereas the narcissist will begin to get more controlling when they see you going outward for support, so they will consistently work on isolating you away from that.
Why is it so hard to end an affair with a narcissist?
Trauma bonds make it really hard to leave an affair with a narcissist.
The reason it can become very hard to disengage from an affair is that in relationships that are toxic, or in a relationship with a narcissist, we form what’s called a trauma bond. We get used to emotionally manipulative, abusive behaviour and we start to get conditioned to it. So we end up drawn to it because we are so connected to this person that we also cannot believe that they are not the person that we met earlier on and we talk ourselves out of believing that they are mistreating us. And so, the trauma bond is that we are always searching for that love we felt at the beginning and we keep seeking it, which is what makes it so difficult to leave and so deeply painful.
Here are 11 common signs that you are trauma bonded with your affair partner:
- The affair started with intense pursuit and strong emotion.
- You feel the affair partner “needs you” with everything they are going through.
- You do everything to please them, even if they have hurt you.
- You experience a rollercoaster of emotions about them.
- You go out of your way to protect them.
- You only tell people about the good behaviours of your affair partner.
- You sacrifice your own wants and needs to please them.
- You lack self-confidence in the relationship.
- You keep the abuse/affair a secret.
- You can’t break it off, yet you are losing yourself in the affair relationship.
- Desiring their love and affection despite the affair partner hurting you.
If we have broken off the affair, how can we detach from the trauma bond?
We repeat what we don’t repair. So, you need to do the work and get the support and really dive in to look at this—even like, “What was it about this person that I was drawn to?”—and not to blame yourself, but to understand yourself better so that you can break certain cycles, and that pattern, and that trauma bond. So be compassionate with yourself and be on the journey and realise that it is eventually going to lead you to greener pastures.
Ending Your Affair With a Narcissistic Affair Partner
The difference between ending an affair with a narcissist VS with a non-narcissist
Ending an affair with a narcissist often looks like this:
- “Nobody will get the situation like we do.”
- “Don’t bring on a therapist. They don’t know our whole history and will give you advise that isn’t sound.”
- May disrespect no contact by writing “miss you” messages and contacting you.
- May go completely cold, making you question if they ever really loved you.
Ending an affair with a non-narcissist will look like:
- Supportive in you ending the relationship and respectful of your reasons.
- Supportive in no contact boundaries to help detach emotional ties.
- Comfortable with you seeking help about the affair outside the affair.
- Appreciates the love you shared and knows that, regardless, the chapter needs to close.
Going no contact – How to end an affair with your boss or in the workplace.
“It does depend on the situation, but it is very difficult, for example, if you’re having an affair with your boss or someone in a leadership position. You need to be careful if they are a narcissist because they can be very cruel and punishing when you do cut ties.
It’s a narcissistic injury (aka a wounded ego)—that’s where that phrase comes from—and they will begin to get angry and might find a way to get you out of your job, so I recommend setting boundaries. Switch to a different department or try to figure out if there might be other opportunities elsewhere in another department. Try not to be in a space where you have a lot of contact with that person because it will be difficult and, in the workplace, we want to be empowered to do our job. Narcissists like to pick apart someone’s self-esteem, so they will find ways to do that and, if you are trying to heal, you’re going to be vulnerable around this person so I would say switch out the department.”
How to end an affair with a narcissist if you fear they will get abusive?
“The fear is attached to shame—to even say we are afraid of this happening—so we are ashamed to reach out for help. So the first thing I would say is this feeling is understandable and, if you are afraid of their reactions, please do reach out for help because there are people out there who can help to support you if it’s a domestic violence situation. Go to that organization to help you get out and go to a safe space.”
Have people around you who you trust and slowly, strategically, try to extricate yourself. You may not be able to say, “Hey! I am leaving.” You may need to do this one step at a time. For example, if you’re living with the person (or if they come over all the time), think about what is it that ties you to this person and how can you try to cut those slowly, but surely. Do you need to say, instead of, “I’m leaving.” something like, “Look, it’s clear we’re not working out.” or do you gather everything you need, if you’re over at their place all the time, and then, once you’ve got everything, go no contact?
Or do you need a spokesperson—someone to actually say, “She is not coming back”? You may not be able to just do it yourself. Know that it might take some time. Know that it is a legitimate fear but, if you continue to stay, you’re going to be imprisoned by this person. It’s important to know that you are not alone (and many people have sought help and broken free from domestic violence situations with the help of qualified professionals) so it’s important to find the courage and recognise that you are loved and will be supported.”
Unhealthy Relationship Patterns to Pay Attention to
Why Do I keep going back to an unavailable man / unhealthy relationship?
It takes 5-7 attempts to successfully end an abusive relationship. Often in an affair, after every breakdown comes a make-up honeymoon phase. Be easy on yourself and give yourself the grace to understand that it’s a process and you will get out of it, with the right help.
How to be ok with the mess that has unfolded?
“It’s important to first remember the story and do it with compassion. Realise that when you went in, you were looking for love, for companionship. You were wanting to fill a hole in your life and you met this person and this person had all these colours and the things that you thought you were looking for. Forgive yourself for that because it’s easy to want connection and want love and to get connected to someone.”
Are you ready to get over your affair with a narcissist?
If you’re ready to let go and leave for good, it’s time to seek help and I’ve helped many people exit their affairs and get their lives back.
For more information about affair relationships with narcissists and trauma bonds, check out some of these other resources below or get in touch and we can chat about where you can go from here.