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How do I break my addiction to the narcissist?

Narcissists are addictive. They offer up salient brain chemicals that are hard to overcome. When people get involved in an intimate relationship with a narcissist they become hooked on the experiences the narcissist brings into their lives. Breaking an addiction to strong brain chemistry created by powerful emotional experiences is hard to do.

It involves a trauma bond. Trauma bonds with other people are stronger than typical human bonds.  Trauma bonds are created in narcissistic relationship because of the good-bad inconsistent reinforcement. When a person ends a relationship that was bonded without the added component of trauma, the pain of the separation is much less intense. Breaking a traumatic bond requires much more work.

Here are some practical steps to begin the process of breaking an addiction to a person:

  • Identify your feelings regarding your addictive relationship.
  • Identify the relationship “crazy cycle;” for instance: anticipation – encounter – momentary bliss – confusion – departure – longing – despair. Note: This is just an example; identify your own cycle within the relationship.
  • Write down what is being fulfilled in your addictive relationship (a sense of belonging, feeling wanted, etc.) Notice the temporary “fix” you encounter when you are with your person; identify the “promise” or “hope” you are temporarily fulfilling.
  • Write down the common obsessive thoughts you have regarding your person.
  • Commit to yourself to live in the truth. Addictive relationships are fantasies. You are in love with what you wish the person was.

You are addicted to the brain chemistry attached to the anticipation and traumatic bonding surrounding the relationship.  Because the relationship is so utterly unfulfilling you are left with a constant state of emptiness, which is temporarily assuaged with each encounter with your object of obsession (him or her.)

You must abstain from your addiction.

(1) Abstain from the relationship completely (no contact); this includes texts and all social media.

(2) Abstain from and emotional entanglements; this requires detachment.

This will be a very difficult part of your journey. The brain chemicals released when trying to detach are vastly different from the neurotransmitters and hormones released when you are with your loved one.

The main chemical released during times of stress (including emotional stress) is Cortisol. Any trigger (such as the loss of a loved one) releases chemicals from the noradrenergic system (which includes the release of Cortisol and norepinephrine.)

As you face another emotionally dysregulating departure from your loved one your stress system goes in to high gear, releasing stress chemicals in your body, which motivates you “to do something about this!”  As you anticipate the relief from the stress your brain releases chemicals such as Dopamine, which offer that positive feeling of anticipation.  You have entered the craving part of your addiction.

In order to break an addiction, one thing you need to realize is that you are fighting these chemical responses. This means, you will not feel very good for a while. But, rest assured, if you can abstain from responding to your brain chemistry, you can get through these tough times and your neurotransmitter system will eventually come to rest at a state of equilibrium.

Some suggestions for what to do while you are in this “craving cycle.”

  • Find a positive diversion or distraction; something to do with your craving energy – gardening, walking, meditating, or any other healthy activity.
  • Do something non-aggressively physical, such as hiking, biking, jogging, weight-lifting, etc.
  • Connect with someone healthy. Talk to a close friend and let him or her know how you really feel.
  • Write in your journal. Journaling is very effective for releasing uncomfortable emotions. Write how you feel and what you want. Encourage yourself in your journal.
  • Create positive mantras to help you get through the craving cycle. Encourage yourself and don’t allow yourself to obsess on self-defeating thoughts.
  • Write a list of all the reasons your addictive relationship/person is bad for you. It is so easy to focus on what you miss when you are experiencing feelings of emptiness; but, if you can focus on the negative aspects of your relationship you can gird yourself up with reality.

Understand that you cannot change anyone but yourself.

The best thing you can do to help yourself on your journey of healing is to be proactive and set up a plan of emotional health “bottom line behaviors” for yourself.

Here are some suggestions to help you do just that:

  • I will trust my intuition.
  • I will no longer participate in “no win” conversations.
  • I will no longer participate in “impossible situations.”
  • If I feel bad around someone I will remove myself.
  • I will no longer make every decision a crisis.
  • I will live one day at a time.
  • I will learn to “reframe” negative experiences. In other words, I will look for the “silver lining” in all situations.
  • I will learn how to manage my emotions, rather than have them control me.
  • I will take my power back.
  • I resolve to believe in myself.
  • If I feel emotionally unstable, I will connect with a safe person, not the object of my obsession.
  • I will have compassion for myself.
  • I will honor and pay attention to my feelings.

These coping methods will help you break through the addiction. In addition to developing coping skills, you also need to fill the empty space created by the lack of the narcissist in your life. Remember, narcissists bring a lot of noise, drama, and chaos. Without all that going on in your life you may feel bored and empty. To counteract this situation you must do a few things for yourself:

  1. Journal your feelings during these times. Write anything that comes up, particularly your feelings. Identifying your feelings will help you process through them and resolve them.
  2. Build a new “narc free” life. Do things for yourself that were once done by the narcissist. If he/she was exciting, then do exciting (yet safe) things for yourself. Be the person for yourself that you needed him/her to be.
  3. Avoid substance use/abuse.
  4. Get those endorphins flowing through your blood stream.
  5. Seek out a therapist, support group, and/or church group. Start working on yourself by healing the trauma you’ve undergone while in the relationship. Remind yourself that you probably have complex post-traumatic stress disorder from your unhealthy relationship.
  6. Enjoy the rest of your life. Remind yourself that you are free and life is good.


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How do I break my addiction to the narcissist?

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California (www.lifelinecounselingservices.org). Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach - therecoveryexpert.com


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2018). How do I break my addiction to the narcissist?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 18, 2018, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2018/03/how-do-i-break-my-addiction-to-the-narcissist/