Why is it so Difficult to Stay Away from the Narcissist?

Many of us don’t understand why it's so hard to stay away from the Narcissist even after we learn how toxic they are to us. Aside from their obvious charm, it's important to recognize how the Narcissist brainwashes us. I know it sounds dramatic, but it's true. Narcissists literally brainwash us. They know exactly how to keep us coming back with the lure, the promise and the hook. Understanding how they do this is helpful to your recovery.

Narcissists are master manipulators. They know how to make us feel guilty, so we will come back for absolution. They know how to make us feel sorry for them, so we will offer to help them. They know how to promise great things, so we will return in hopes that it will be different this time. They know how to make us doubt ourselves, so we will seek validation from them. Ultimately, they have trained us to return to them over and over again.

There is a principle in behaviorism called Random Reinforcement, which explains how inconsistent responses to identical behavior can lead to addiction. This same principle is precisely why slot machines and gambling are dangerously addictive. You get a big reward for a certain behavior on one occasion; other times that same behavior leads to a huge loss or punishment.

The thrill that the next go-around might be the big pay-off or reward for a certain behavior keeps us coming back for more. We chase that high from the last time we were rewarded. Being in a relationship with a Narcissist is like a roller-coaster ride with incredible highs and unbelievable lows. It is exhilarating and exciting one moment, and demoralizing and demeaning the next.

We get caught in a cycle of chasing that next high, hoping that if we weather the storm, the next moment will bring the return of the good again. Unfortunately, the good never returns permanently. The Narcissist knows by rewarding us intermittently, we remain hooked. They keep us on our toes guessing and always ensure we are left wanting more from them.

Narcissists are brilliant manipulators and know what they’re doing every step of the way. They enjoy punishing us more than they enjoy rewarding us. It is all part of a master plan to keep us under their control. It is part of the lure (the hook) and they use it to play us like pawns.

After spending years with a Narcissist, we begin to doubt our ability to make decisions. The Narcissist has controlled and directed our every move for years. They train and condition us to look to them for answers, which ultimately strips us of our ability to make any choices for ourselves. As a result, we become terrified of being alone and don't trust our own instincts. Narcissists also isolate us from our family and friends so we become dependent on them and have lost our support system.

Stockholm Syndrome is a term used to describe a psychological phenomenon where hostages bond with their captors. The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm where bank robbers held bank employees hostage from August 23 to August 28, 1973.

In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors and even defended them after they were released. The term Stockholm Syndrome was coined by the criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot who assisted the police during the robbery. Frank Ochberg originally defined it to aid in the management of hostage situations and describes it as: “A primitive gratitude for the gift of life.”

There is still debate as to what specific factors contribute to the development of Stockholm Syndrome, but the goal of every abuser is the same – to ensure the victim becomes reliant and dependent on him for survival. Continued contact between the perpetrator and the hostage, a long duration before resolution and emotional abuse vs. physical abuse are key components. These are the very components at play when in a long-term relationship with a Narcissist, which helps explain why it is so difficult for us to stay away.

This dynamic is also often referred to as "Trauma Bonding" because the Narcissist has conditioned us to believe we can’t live without him. He wants to keep us confused and coming back to him so he can keep using us forever. Here, on The Path Forward, we were refer to it as "Crazy-Making." Bottom line, because of this phenomenon, it takes a lot of time and effort for us to finally realize we are actually better off on our own.

It is precisely why "No Contact" is the only way to break free from the hold the Narcissist has over us. No one understands like those who have been through it themselves and the support we give one another here is essential to our recovery. We must deprogram from the Narcissist in order to move forward and No Contact is the only way to do this.

Celebrate every moment, hour, day and week you maintain No Contact from your ExNarc because it brings you one step further to the freedom you deserve. Do not punish yourself for setbacks as you are only human. Recovery is not perfect. It's about progress, not perfection. If you step off course, do not dwell on it, but instead be honest about why you think it happened, forgive yourself and quickly get yourself back on track.

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
― C.S. Lewis


I just recently got accepted into nursing school (on my second semester at the moment) and things have been much more difficult since I became "friends" with a girl who after a while began draining me in ways I have never experienced before. Unfortunately, it took a whole semester for me to realize something wasn't right. She would give me expensive gifts for no reason and would call/text at all hours of the night to tell me how much she loved me and how much she wanted me in her life, and I thought "wow she's amazing and I'm lucky she's my friend" yet other times she would say things that made me feel small and not very smart. I'd spent many hours of my days and nights explaining to her how she needed to be more careful on what she said and what she did because she had hurt me and could potentially hurt others as well, things would go back to normal and we'd be the best of friends again. She would thank me for being so honest and promise to never do it again. This went on for a while. And then one day I got a picture from her where she was crying in her car with the caption "how I feel when my real friends don't care about me" I felt terrible so I called her and apologized for whatever I had done, she told me it was only because she was feeling left out by me and that she forgave me. I sat at my desk and pondered on what had just happened. I knew that feeling I had was on the money, the friendship wasn't right, and I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. The same texts kept happening and I continued on feeling bad for being a bad friend to her, to the point where I began to lose sleep and my grades started to hurt. Things only got worse once I made another friend, a girl she was friends with as well. She became extremely clingy and got upset if she wasn't invited for coffee or to study. It got so bad that I'd have to hide from her in a hidden corner I found in the school. My new friend confessed to me she had been feeling overwhelmed by her fro a while now. I became a bit uncomfortable and suggested they talk it out between themselves. Long story short they went at it, I was left with a choice of staying away from one of them or both of them together. As I waited to make a decision it came to my attention (I saw with my own eyes) that the girl who I trusted the most and considered my true friend, was sending my text messages out to the entire school while only copying and pasting certain parts of the texts that made me sound mean to her, when I was only being honest on questions she would ask by saying "please be honest like you have always been, I need someone honest in my life." In one of them in particular (the one that finally made me reach my limit) read: "I think they hate me because I'm pretty." It was hurtful to read and I finally understood what was going in so I decided to end the friendship. I sat her down and told her I no longer wanted to be her friend or have anything to do with her. She cried (and I cried too) she denied everything I knew she had done, between sobs and tears she said she had never sent my texts to anyone, that she had only done that to others, that she loved me and would miss having someone telling her what she was doing wrong. I knew then, 100%, that I could never trust her again, and honestly I was somewhat afraid of her at this point. I finally saw how good she had manipulated me that entire semester. I was able to stay strong and walked away. I thought everything was good for me until she tried, in a very subtle way, to get me kick out of the program. I was able to explain what had happened to the higher ups, they understood and only advised me to keep on staying away from her. While this is good news, things have become unbearable. Half the school believes I am a terrible person. I have seen her cry to people about how badly I hurt her when I "left her crying in that diner by herself" I don't know what else to do. I want to stay in this program but I am not sure I can handle an entire year of this unnecessary drama. I just want peace. I want to do good in school but she somehow stirs the pot again, and for some reason she only starts something new a week or two before an exam. I almost feel a if she knows she throws me off my game so that I won't do so well. I know it's a horrible thing to think of someone but I have gotten to the point where I don't put anything past her anymore. PLEASE HELP ME DEAL WITH THIS PERSON. I have recently (after some research) come to the realization that she is one good narcissist. She is my first and even though I am staying away from her she is still getting to me in other ways.