15 Ways Narcissists Try 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. Calling the Bluff

In poker, a person “bluffs” when they try to get everyone to “fold their cards” or leave the hand by exuding confidence about their cards and betting the maximum amount when it is their turn. Because the bluffed believe the bluffer’s hand is too good to beat and to stay in the game would result in even more losses, they choose to cut their losses and fold. But if one person stays in because he suspects the bluff, he continues the high-stakes betting. Then, at the end of the game, this person “calls the bluff” when he asks the bluffer to show his sub-par hand.

 Narcissists assume the codependent statement about the end of the relationship is a bluff. Not only do they suspect their partner lacks the personal strength to leave them, but they also bet on them not having the resources to make it happen. Hence, they stay in the “hand” until the cards have to be

shown. Then, when they call the suspected bluff and find out they were mistaken, they become enraged and, consequently, motivated to punish the departing codependent.

2. Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology is a method of getting someone to do what one wants by pretending not to want it or by pretending to want something else (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, 2023). For example, pathological narcissists use reverse psychology when they pretend not to care about or even encourage the codependent to end the relationship. By triggering the codependent’s unconscious and conscious fears of abandonment, the narcissist assumes the codependent will reconsider their plans to leave the relationship. In addition, by reversing their vehement opposition to the relationship’s end, aka a surrender, the narcissists hope for a reflexive fear of loneliness, regret, and even long-lost memories of love.

 3. Turning Up the Gaslighting

Narcissists attempt to break the codependent’s resolve by amplifying past implanted gaslit narratives that include but are not limited to: implanted mental illness, weakness, isolation, and dependency-based gaslit narratives. The narcissist’s primary goal is to remind them what was already indoctrinated into them: the futility of escaping and not being lovable, attractive, or desirable. Other “refreshed” indoctrinated narratives include powerlessness, dependency, paranoia, and incapacitation.

4. Increased Verbal and Emotional Abuse 

The amplification of verbal and emotional abuse is used in tandem to break down the codependent’s plans to escape and terminate the relationship. When the pathological narcissist is successful, they re-orientate the escaping codependent 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   

5. Threats of or Actual Physical Aggression/Retaliation

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 codependents’ resolve to flee their prison-like living conditions.

6. Covert and/or 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. 

7.Triangulation/Alienation/Relationships Sabotage

Like a precision military strike on a strategically important bridge, the bonds between the exiting parent and their children, family and/or support systems are strategically weakened. By “poisoning the minds,” the embattled narcissist forms a unified coalition that directly attempts to break the resolve of the escaping parent. “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. 

 In this scenario, relationship sabotage, parental alienation, and triangulation are covertly used to manipulate the couple’s children into believing that the escaping parent is responsible for the marriage problems. At the same time, the desperate narcissist is sympathetically viewed as the unfairly treated innocent victim. The narcissist parent systematically breaks down the children’s loyalty to the true caretaker by pushing a false narrative that casts them as victims in desperate need of their children’s support and sympathy. The narcissist inculcates the children’s sympathy and concern over a dramatized depiction of fear, loneliness, and vulnerability. 

8. Convincing Apologies and Promises

This trick occurs when the narcissist delivers believable and authentic-seeming promises to change. The tactical delivery of apologies dripping in manufactured remorse, empathy, and sensitivity is designed to pull at the heartstrings of the escaping partner, mainly since they have limited experiences with them. Because the narcissist tends to refuse, argue against, or project blame, such a trick packs great power.

9. The Bait and Switch Negotiations

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 codependent. For example, the narcissist may promise to seek employment and contribute to the family if he is allowed to keep drinking with his friends. This trick often works because of the narcissist’s historical unwillingness to compromise or negotiate.

10. The Humanization Trick

Narcissists exploit the codependent’s capacity for empathy and forgiveness by expressing 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. Although the impetus for this trick is based on manipulation, its expression is often sincere.

 Such contrived “humanness” is most impactful when the narcissists express tearful grief and sadness while imploring their partner not to abandon them as their parents did to them. This trick often succeeds because the escaping partner’s empathy is predictably activated when witnessing any child’s authentic pleas not to be traumatically abandoned. Moreover, the expression of the “voice” of their buried, abused, neglected, and abandoned child, who, up until this time, was disassociated, can be quite powerfully persuasive.

11. 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. Unbeknownst to the codependent, the Personality Disordered narcissist is incapable of accepting responsibility for their actions or making any significant and acceptable change in such a therapeutic environment.

 Predictably, the therapy terminates due to a cascade of narcissistic injuries or continues because of the charming, beguiling nature of the narcissist and the clinician’s lack of experience and abilities with such a personality disordered client. In many cases, the couple’s therapist unintentionally sides with the narcissist in their attempts to manage the therapy process. Such a poor response to the narcissist creates dangerous outcomes for the other partner.

 Individual Psychotherapy: The “one more chance” pleading narcissists may finally agree to seek mental health services that, until this moment, were strictly avoided and often ridiculed. Although this is often a patently manipulative agreement, it usually is delivered with believable sincerity. Unfortunately, when the individual therapist does not recognize the personality disorder, and the pathological narcissist successfully portrays themselves as a credible victim, the supportive but naïve partner is in worse shape than before this trick began.

12. 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, they selfishly believe the only way to escape the pain is to kill themselves.

 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 codependent back into the relationship.

13. 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. With nothing to lose, all former impulses to manipulate the partner are abandoned. Because this is highly dangerous, legal and protective services are absolutely required for this stage.

14. 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. The releasing of shame is the incapacitating experience of pathological loneliness, which is the reiteration of the emotional experience of their hellish childhood. Ultimately, the shame, loneliness, and predictable descent into a prolonged bout of severe depression send up the narcissist’s “white flag” of surrender. This is when the fight is over.


The narcissist’s pathological ego cannot live in shame and loneliness for long. This is when they resume the relationship “prowl” that initially 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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