Potent Sabotaging Tricks Pathological Narcissists Use to Stop a Break Up

Breaking up with a narcissist
Written by Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC
Self-Love Recovery Institute — President/CEO
PsychotherapistEducatorAuthorExpert Witness

How to Neutralize the Sabotage Tricks

Because the escapee has overcome their codependency, they have developed enough emotional fortitude, knowledge, and courage to pull off their meticulously planned escape plan. Additionally, their ability to successfully escape from/terminate their relationship is likely because of their involvement in "Self-Love Recovery Treatment," aka a "Codependency Cure™" program [i].

Should the Self-Love Deficient (SLD)/codependent devise an escape plan and be amply prepared and motivated to act upon it, the pathological narcissist activates their arsenal of laser-guided weapons designed to bring the escaping SLD to their knees. When facing the termination of the relationship from their escaping SLD, pathological narcissists react as if their oxygen supply has been blocked. Their "last gasp" attempts to circumvent, reverse, or sabotage the escaping partner's plans to terminate the relationship take many forms.

All forms of emotional manipulation, sabotage, mind-control, aggression, and passive aggression are considered for returning the "escapee" to the formerly inescapable "prison." Should the SLD make a daring escape, the pathological narcissist will utilize the following potent "tricks" to reel them back into the relationship. Each manipulation method is guided by the pathological narcissist's intricate and multi-layered system of manipulation that can be traced to the earliest days of their life.

The below strategies instill enough doubt, regret, guilt, and manufactured or gaslit sympathy and empathy to entice their "escapees" to return to their "prison cell" voluntarily. Although the below list represents a linear process designed to be highly predictive, it may not be an exact replication of the experience for all escaping SLDs/codependents.


1. Turn Up the Gas – Manipulative Gaslighting

Breaking the resolve of the escaping partner by amplifying a gaslit narrative so that the SLD returns to feelings/beliefs of powerlessness, paranoia, and incapacitation. "Turning up the gas" reactivates semi-extinguished conditioned responses that the SLD had begun to neutralize and sows "seeds" of doubt to break down their resolve to escape

2. Increased Verbal and Emotional Abuse

The amplification of verbal and emotional abuse is used in tandem to break down the SLD's plans to escape and terminate the relationship. When the pathological narcissist is successful, they re-orientate the escaping SLD to their former bully-victim powerless role. Such a strategy is most effective for people living with a pathological narcissist who has a history of violence and abuse. 

3. Threats of or Actual Physical Aggression

Physical aggression is often the most intimidating and harmful of these manipulation strategies. Whether a threat or an act, the resulting physical and emotional harm intends to break the SLD's resolve to flee their prison-like living conditions.

4. Passive Aggression

Passive aggressive harm is covertly and secretly executed to cause maximum harm while escaping responsibility. It is executed with great care to create an impression of innocence. As a covert manipulation and power and control strategy, it relies on misleading or inaccurate evidence to disprove claims of responsibility.

To achieve plausible deniability, the passive-aggressive person may outright deny it or claim it was an accident for which they provide insincere empathy and a fake apology. When the perpetrator is confronted about their duplicity, they cite a lack of evidence while often pushing a gaslit narrative that portrays the accuser as paranoid, overly reactive, delusional, and/or mentally incompetent.

5. Triangulation/Relationship Sabotage

Triangulation, aka relationship sabotage, is a highly manipulative covert strategy designed to humiliate, punish, and control a person perceived as threatening. Like a precision military strike on a strategically important bridge, the triangulator tactically overwhelms and overcomes a perceived threat by poisoning the minds of their support network and allies. "Successful" triangulation requires a believable backstory for the perpetrator and a fictionalized narrative that casts them as the aggrieved party and their victim as the harmful person. With the "burning" of the "support network bridge," the victim is rendered powerless, demoralized, and/or isolated. 

6. Convincing Apologies and Promises

When the narcissist delivers believable and authentic-seeming promises to change. It also takes the form of a tactically insincere apology dripping in manufactured remorse, empathy, and sensitivity.

7. Insincere Willingness to Negotiate

In a desperate attempt to stop the quickly approaching "termination train," the narcissist brokers an agreement in which they dishonestly agree to stop or curtail their most harmful and hurtful activities while seeking a near impossible agreement from the SLD. For example, the narcissist may promise to seek employment and contribute to the family if he is allowed to keep drinking with his friends.

8. The Humanization Trick

Narcissists exploit the SLD's capacity for empathy and forgiveness by the emotional expression of previously undisclosed details about their severe childhood abuse, neglect, or abandonment. In recounting the trauma, they regress to the deeply sad, frightened, anxious, and tearful emotions that, until this tactic, were dissociated from their conscious awareness. Such pseudo-real but completely contrived "humanness" is most impactful when the narcissists cry and beg not to be abandoned as their parents did to them.

9. Agreeing to Couples or Individual Therapy

Couples Counseling: When put into a corner, these narcissists may agree to couples counseling while pretending to be open and willing to discuss the relationship's problems. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the SLD, the personality-disordered narcissist is incapable of accepting responsibility for their actions or making any significant and acceptable change in such a therapeutic environment. It should be noted that this form of therapy rarely delivers tangible positive results.

Individual Psychotherapy: The "one more chance" pleading narcissists may finally agree to seek mental health services that, until this moment, were strictly not considered and often ridiculed. Although this is often a patently manipulative agreement, it may appear sincere. But it could never deliver what the SLD needs, as people with personality disorders rarely respond to individual psychotherapy that addresses their limitations and harmful treatment of their SLD partner.

10. Threats of Self-Harm or Suicide

When the previous manipulation strategies fail, the narcissist becomes incapacitated by fear of abandonment, pathological loneliness, or the shame-based belief that they will be forever alone. With the flooding of formerly repressed/dissociated fears, the narcissist sees no other option than suicide.

The group of Pathological Narcissists diagnosed with either Borderline or Antisocial Personality Disorder may use the real or contrived threat of suicide to lure the SLD back into the relationship.

11. All-Out Attack/Destruction

The last gasp of the soon-to-be terminated narcissist comes as a no holds barred barrage of destruction. This is when the narcissist's rage, hatred, and contempt are focused on the person they believe is trying to harm them. Because this is highly dangerous, legal and protective services are absolutely required for this stage.

12. Acceptance

With no hope for reconciliation, the reality of the termination sinks in. This is when the narcissists experience debilitating core shame, which evokes otherwise deeply buried dissociated memories of abandonment. Then, because of the torrent of shame, loneliness, and depression, the narcissist surrenders openly or secretly. This is when the fight is over.

13. Replacement

The narcissist's pathological ego cannot live in shame and loneliness for a long period. This is when they resume the relationship "prowl" that originally trapped the now departing partner.


Per the Human Magnet Syndrome theory, the SLD/codependent and narcissist are locked together in a break-up resistant dysfunctional relationship held together by interacting experiences of attachment trauma[ii], core shame, pathological loneliness, and an addiction to the relationship[iii]. Suppose one partner attempts to break up or end the relationship; in that case, the other will experience the above debilitating conditions, neutralizing the break-up attempt and re-bond the two "lovers." If the escaping SLD is not in Self-Love Recovery Treatment or something similar, their own experience with these conditions will land them back in the relationship.

However, suppose the SLD successfully participates in treatment designed to neutralize their lifelong struggle with Self-Love Deficit Disorder™/SLDD. In that case, they will likely have the psychotherapeutic support and mental health needed to break free from the narcissist permanently.

The more recovering SLDs know about possible roadblocks, the better they can re-route their path out of the relationship. Even if they are out of order or not all represented, it will help increase what I call "Predictive Awareness©," which is the primary concept mastered in Stage 6 of my Self-Love Recovery Treatment Program/SLRP, "Preparing for the Narcissistic Storm." This stage focuses on a deep dive into the pathological narcissist's manipulation strategies and their historical ability to use them against their SLD prey successfully.

This stage requires an in-depth understanding of the interactional mechanics and consequences of placing boundaries on narcissists. Strategies such as gaslighting, triangulation, parental alienation, and power, control, and domination strategies are deconstructed, analyzed, and critiqued. The impact of each strategy or group of strategies on the beleaguered and powerless SLD is also analyzed.

Because of the SLD partner's success at overcoming the entrapping Human Magnet Syndrome forces responsible for their Self-Love Deficit Disorder/SLDD (codependency), they are adequately supported and prepared to execute a meticulously planned escape plan. With the utilization of "Predictive Awareness[iv]©" and the Observe Don't Absorb Technique©[v], defined below, the escaping SLD will possess the mental health and learned/practiced ability to withstand these thirteen potent manipulation strategies.

Predictive Awareness©: The ability taught in Stage Six of the Self-Love Recovery Treatment Program© enables the SLD to calmly and accurately predict the pathological narcissist's active, passive, and covert resistance to escape attempts. Like master chess players, they cannot only predict their most effective "moves" and the narcissist's reaction to them but also strategize other escape strategies proactively.

By scrubbing away irrational emotions and maintaining a focus on facts, former potent strategies used by the narcissist, ineffective defense strategies, failures, and triumphs, "Predictive Awareness©" is achieved. Such proactive preparation requires knowledge acquisition regarding the pathological narcissist's harmful and entrapment strategies and the SLD's chronic susceptibility to them.

The Observe Don't Absorb Technique© (ODA): Influenced by George Bernard Shaw's quote, "Don't wrestle with pigs, you'll get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." It is the healthy use of affective (emotional) dissociation to withstand the toxic influences of their narcissistically abusive perpetrator. With Predictive Awareness©, the SLD is prepared for the narcissist's manipulative strategy to activate a "False Power Reaction©" that compels them to fight, defend, or retaliate in a manner that lands them in the cunning narcissist's "wrestling ring," where they predictably always lose the "wrestling match."

The success of ODA rests on the SLD's ability to effectively utilize Predictive Awareness©, calmly and emotionlessly observe the narcissist's manipulative strategies, and guard against the activation of false power syndrome. In other words, by observing the narcissist's covert manipulative strategies while not absorbing the toxic emotional trigger that compels an aggressive counterattack, they can neutralize the above fourteen "tricks."

If leaving your abusive narcissist is your goal, then there is no way around the need for preparation, education, practice, and skill mastery. To that end, the below four techniques and their YouTube video links will make an escape possible:  

  1. The Worst-Case Scenario Technique
  2. The Three Strike Boundary Technique
  3. Induced Conversation Defense Technique
  4. The "Of-Course" Response Technique

Through psychotherapeutic services, proactive education, skill mastery, and much practice, the recovering SLD will not be lured back into their former "dungeon," where their pathological narcissist holds the key. With the severing of the invisible tethers bonding them to the harmful and cunningly manipulative pathological narcissist and the learned/practiced ability to resist the above fourteen manipulative strategies, the SLD will begin to experience a life of Self-Love Abundance™, which is the outcome of any successful mental health treatment using my Self-Love Recovery Treatment model.

[i] More information is available at Ross Rosenberg’s Self-Love Recovery Institute. www.SelfLoveRecovery.com

[ii] The highly damaging trauma that occurs in childhood and adolescence. It is caused by abuse, neglect, and/or deprivation from a pathologically narcissistic and SLD parent.

[iii] The core causes of Self-Love Deficit Disorder (and pathological narcissism) are briefly explained in this YouTube video.

[iv] In my 11-Stage Self-Love Recovery Treatment Program, Stage 6, “Preparing for the Narcissistic Storm,” teaches the many elements that when used together account for “Predictive Awareness.”

[v] Observe Don’t Absorb is introduced in this YouTube video.

About Ross

Ross Rosenberg M.Ed., CADC, is Self-Love Recovery Institute’s CEO and primary contributor. His internationally recognized expertise includes pathological narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and attachment trauma. Ross’s “Codependency Cure™ Treatment Program” provides innovative and results-oriented treatment.

Ross’s expert educational and inspirational seminars have earned him international acclaim, including his 23 million YouTube video views and 236K subscribers. In addition to being featured on national TV and radio, his “Human Magnet Syndrome” books sold over 150K copies and are published in 12 languages. Ross provides expert testimony/witness services.

More about Ross and his educational and inspirational work can be found at www.SelfLoveRecovery.com.

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