How Do Narcissists Treat Their Exes (With Expert Insights)

Breaking up is hard enough, but dealing with a narcissistic ex can make it even tougher. It’s completely normal to feel confused, hurt, and unsure about why certain things are happening.

This is what this article is all about. I’ll guide you through how narcissists commonly treat their exes so that you can feel more prepared and less alone in your experience. After all, knowing what to expect can make a huge difference.

Ready to gain some clarity on what to expect?

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional or legal advice. If you are experiencing difficulties with a narcissistic ex, please consult a licensed mental health professional or legal advisor for personalized support.

They Often Try to Maintain Control

Narcissists love being in the driver’s seat, even after the relationship ends. They might keep trying to control your life in various ways—like insisting on having a say in your plans or who you spend time with.

This need for control can make moving on feel nearly impossible because they constantly insert themselves into your life.

For instance, you’re excited about a new job, but your narcissistic ex suddenly demands to know all the details and criticizes your decision. It’s not really about concern; it’s about keeping you within their influence. This control can extend to finances, friendships, and even your social media activity.

Related: 25+ Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner

"A narcissist has a strong desire for control, so they will continue to try to manipulate and control their ex... A narcissist will profess just how much they care about you in order to try to maintain a friendship with you, only to continue the same cycle of narcissistic abuse that ended your romantic relationship. The so-called friendship will be filled with gaslighting, manipulation, and emotional abuse."

Amber Lee | Relationship Expert | Co-Founder, Select Date Society

They Use Emotional Manipulation

Emotional manipulation is like a narcissist’s secret weapon. They’ll use guilt, shame, and flattery to mess with your feelings. One moment they might shower you with praise, telling you how much they miss you. The next moment, they’re blaming you for everything that went wrong.

What this looks like: You get a late-night text from your ex, full of compliments and nostalgia. Your heart might skip a beat, but soon, the conversation shifts to how terrible you supposedly were in the relationship.

They play the victim or the hero, whichever suits their agenda to get you back into an emotional dependency. They might even say, “Remember all the good times we had? You won’t find that with anyone else,” just to mess with your vulnerabilities.

"No matter the reason for the narcissist and their ex’s split, the narcissist will likely blame everything on their ex. If this is effective, their ex may believe that they are the ones to blame, satisfying the narcissist’s goal of getting them to stick around."

Dr. Bryan Bruno | Founder and Medical Director, Mid City TMS

They Might Ignore Boundaries

Narcissists are not fans of boundaries. They might ignore your requests to keep your distance and continue to invade your personal space. If you ask them to stop calling or texting, they might just ramp it up.

Here’s what this looks like:

  • Ignoring No-Contact Requests: Even after you’ve made it clear you need space, they continue to call or text.
  • Showing Up Uninvited: They appear at events or places you frequent, catching you off guard.
  • Crossing Online Boundaries: They might keep tagging you in posts or commenting on your social media despite being asked not to.

They don’t see your boundaries as walls; they see them as challenges to overcome. It’s maddening and exhausting, and it makes moving on that much harder.

"A narcissist hates boundaries. If you put up a boundary with a narcissist, they will fight against it. For this reason, a narcissist will continue to try to have sex with their ex as a way of plowing through the boundary that was put up."

Amber Lee | Relationship Expert | Co-Founder, Select Date Society

They Can Spread False Narratives

Narcissists often twist the truth to suit their narrative, especially when it comes to exes. They might tell mutual friends, family members, or even strangers distorted stories where they’re the victim or the abandoned hero, often leaving out important details or outright lying to gain sympathy.

For example, you hear from a friend that your ex has been spreading rumors about you being the one who was controlling or unfaithful. It’s an outright lie, but it can create a ripple effect, making others view you differently.

Their goal? To make themselves look better by making you look worse. This tactic is hurtful and leaves you questioning who you can trust.

They Frequently Display Anger or Resentment

Narcissists don’t handle breakups well. They might lash out at you with harsh words or actions, blaming you for the end of the relationship. This anger can be unpredictable, making it challenging to have any peace.

You might receive an angry text out of the blue, accusing you of ridiculous things. Or maybe they post negative comments about you online, hoping to provoke a reaction. This constant cloud of resentment can feel suffocating and leave you on edge, never knowing when the next outburst will come.

They Will Bombard Their Exes With Affection and Attention

On the flip side, narcissists can suddenly switch gears and flood you with affection and attention. This tactic is designed to lure you back into their web. They might send sweet messages, surprise you with gifts, or declare their undying love, making you question if the breakup was a mistake.

What this looks like:

  • Love Bombing: Sending texts saying they miss you and want you back.
  • Unexpected Gifts: Leaving flowers or gifts at your doorstep.
  • Grand Gestures: Showing up outside your house with a declaration of love.

These actions can make you feel special and wanted, but they’re usually just a strategy to regain control and pull you back into the relationship. It’s essential to recognize these tactics for what they are: attempts to manipulate your emotions.

"When a victim of narcissism is broken up with, the emotional abuse that person endured may leave them attached to their ex, regardless of how harmful or toxic the relationship was for them. Some narcissists understand this and may seek to use their ex’s attachment to satisfy their need for validation. To this end, narcissists often bombard their exes with high amounts of affection and attention at once to reel the ex back in."

Dr. Bryan Bruno | Founder and Medical Director, Mid City TMS

They May Seek to Purposefully Lower Their Ex’s Self-Esteem

Narcissists have a knack for chipping away at your self-esteem. They might throw subtle insults or make you question your worth. You might start to hear small digs about your appearance, your career, or your abilities, all designed to chip away at your confidence.

The goal? To make you feel like you can’t do any better than them, keeping you tethered to their influence even after the relationship ends. You might hear things like:

  • No one else would put up with you like I do.”
  • You’re lucky I’m still around.”

They might even greet you with a backhanded compliment like, You look good… for someone who’s been through a lot.” These underhanded remarks can start to make you doubt yourself. Or they might point out your flaws in front of others, aiming to embarrass you and undermine your confidence.

They Could Stalk or Monitor Exes

Unfortunately, narcissists can take things to an extreme by stalking or monitoring you. They might keep tabs on your whereabouts, who you’re with, what you’re doing, and even show up at places you frequent, often without your knowledge. It’s their way of maintaining control even when the relationship is over.

What this looks like:

  • They watch your online activity closely, reacting to or commenting on your posts.
  • They might drive by your house or appear at places they know you’ll be, like your favorite coffee shop or gym.
  • Asking mutual friends or acquaintances for updates on your life, or about your whereabouts.

These actions can make you feel like you’re always under watch, adding a layer of stress and anxiety to your life post-breakup. Recognizing these behaviors is crucial to setting up stronger boundaries and protecting your own peace of mind.

They Might Use Children as Leverage

When children are involved, narcissists can take manipulation to a whole new level. They might use your kids as leverage to hurt you or to maintain control over your decisions. This means they could make co-parenting a nightmare, constantly changing plans just to mess with you or saying negative things about you to the children.

For example: Your ex tells the kids that any new relationship you start is a threat, making them wary of any new potential step-parent figures. Or, they may refuse to stick to agreed-upon schedules, causing constant chaos and disrupting your plans.

This manipulation can be subtle or direct, but either way, it’s about using the children to maintain control over you and the situation.

Related: How a Narcissistic Parent Affects a Child

"...In the case of exes where children are involved, the narcissist knows that the number one way to hurt the healthy parent is to target the children even though they never had a relationship with the children, to begin with.

Even more devastating is that the narcissist typically presents very well in family court or when family court professionals are watching. This individual thrives during times of conflict.

The soon-to-be ex-partner has been subjected to years of trauma and abuse and is likely conflict-avoidant by nature. Often, this person presents as unstable in a quart system that does not understand trauma. It is a very uneven playing field and power dynamic."

Tina Swithin | Divorce Coach | Founder, One Mom's Battle | Author, "Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom's Battle"

They May Attempt Reconciliation When Beneficial

Sometimes, a narcissist will circle back, attempting to reconcile—but usually, there’s a catch. They come back not necessarily because they miss the relationship but because they miss the control they had over you. This is especially likely if they sense that you’re moving on or becoming happier without them.

What this looks like:

  • They might show up at your doorstep after you’ve had a major personal success, claiming they want to get back together.
  • They could suddenly become interested in your life, asking about your day and how you’re doing, only when it seems you’re gaining independence and they’re losing their grip on you.

Their attempts at reconciliation often aren’t about mutual respect or love, but about reclaiming their position of influence in your life. It’s important to stay grounded and remember why the relationship ended in the first place.

They Play Nice (at First) to Get Their Exes to Engage With Them

At first glance, it might seem like your narcissistic ex has turned a new leaf. They come off as charming, agreeable, and considerate, seemingly interested in making amends. They might send friendly messages or act like the perfect co-parent, making you think they’ve changed.

This can be a tactical move; they do this to lure you back into communication or to get what they want from you.

Imagine this scenario: They send you a message out of the blue, apologizing for their past mistakes, or perhaps they bring up a happy memory from your time together. It feels good, right? But remember, their ultimate goal isn’t reconciliation; it’s engagement. They’re testing the waters to see how much influence they still hold over you.

Once you’re drawn back in, the niceness often fades, and the same old patterns of control and manipulation re-emerge. It’s their way of getting a foot back in the door.

"They play nice to get you to engage with them—at least at first. They know when you aren’t required to talk to them, so they must try harder. But as soon as they get you talking to them again, they can feel when you are hooked. They will eventually start putting you down, blaming you, and generally being mean.

They may even make promises or apologize for past behavior. But if they didn’t change when you were together the first time, what makes you think they will change this time?"

Christy Piper | Relationship Coach | Author, Girl, You Deserve More: How to Break His Spell over You, Escape Your Toxic Partner, and Become Independent

They May Wreak Havoc on Your Future Relationships

Narcissists often can’t stand the idea of their ex moving on happily. They might make it difficult for you to start new relationships by:

  • Spreading rumors.
  • Creating drama.
  • Directly contacting your new partner with lies about your past.

They could even try to insert themselves back into your life just to complicate things!

For instance, you start dating someone new, and your ex suddenly reaches out more often or spreads false stories about why your relationship ended. Or, they might show up in places where they know you and your new partner will be, causing uncomfortable situations.

Their goal is to disrupt your peace and make your new relationship as rocky as possible, keeping you from fully moving on and being happy without them.

"They will intrude on your time and lack respect for any budding romance you try to form with someone else. Their behavior may include:
- Telling your new love interest false or negative stories about you.
- Calling or texting you excessively when they know you’re on a date.
- Bad-mouthing your new relationship with your friends and family.

When you confront the narcissist about their behavior, they may gaslight you and deny that they’ve done anything wrong. They may also try to gain sympathy from you, reminding you that you left them hurt and alone."

Amber Lee | Relationship Expert | Co-Founder, Select Date Society

They Will Label Their Ex as the ‘Crazy One’

A common tactic narcissists use is to paint their ex as the unstable or ‘crazy’ one. This is their way of deflecting blame and making themselves look like the victim. They might tell mutual friends, family, or even strangers about your supposed irrational behavior, all to make themselves appear more reasonable and victimized.

You might hear through mutual friends that your ex has been telling everyone how ‘crazy’ you were during the relationship. They might share exaggerated or completely false stories to damage your reputation.

This tactic not only affects how others see you but can also make you question your own reality.

"The narcissist will (behind your back) label you as the 'crazy one' that caused the breakup. The narcissist ex is not capable of seeing their part in your breakup. They will sell the breakup to others as they were a victim, and people should feel sorry for what they went through..."

Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP | Psychologist and Researcher | Founder, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California | Author, "The Other Woman's affair"

They Weaponize the Legal System and Often Drag Out a Case for Years

Narcissists are notorious for using the legal system to extend their control over you long after the relationship has ended. They might drag you into prolonged custody battles, unnecessarily complicated divorces, or baseless lawsuits. This not only drains your financial resources but also saps your emotional energy.

What this looks like:

  • Constantly altering custody agreements or making baseless claims to make the process as grueling as possible.
  • Filing frivolous claims just to keep you tied up in court and stressed out.
  • Delaying the finalization of a divorce by contesting every minor detail.

Their goal is to exhaust you mentally, emotionally, and financially, ensuring that you remain entangled with them.

"...They weaponize the legal system and often drag out a case for years, decimating the finances of both parties towards no constructive purpose.

This is part of what’s called legal abuse, or “post-separation abuse.” They will not care about the effects on the children either, and horrific custody battles in court are their signature. For toxic people, it’s all about power and control."

Lisa Johnson and Chris Barry | Founders, Been There Got Out | High Conflict Divorce Coaches and Domestic Violence Advocates | Authors, "Been There Got Out"

They Often Refuse to Admit Fault

One of the hallmarks of narcissistic behavior is an inability to admit fault. Even when they are clearly in the wrong, they’ll twist the story, blame you, or create excuses for their behavior.

For example, if you confront them about their manipulative actions, they might say things like, You’re just too sensitive,” or You misunderstood what I meant.” This consistent denial of fault is a defense mechanism that preserves their self-image and allows them to continue justifying their behavior without remorse.

Or, if you confront them about something hurtful they did, they might respond with, If you hadn’t made me so angry, I wouldn’t have said that.” This shifts the blame onto you, making you feel like you’re the one at fault.

By understanding these patterns, you can better protect yourself and manage your expectations when dealing with a narcissistic ex. It’s crucial to hold firm in your truth and seek support from friends, family, or professionals who understand the dynamics at play.

More Insights from the Experts

If your ex has narcissistic traits, you can often begin to predict what they’ll do next. Hint: It will typically be whatever action can achieve, both:

  1. Boosting their public image.
  2. Using what you love most to hurt you.

There are four tools and four elements to be on the alert for. A relationship with a narcissistic individual will have these embedded in the dynamic prior to the breakup, but they may be harder to spot at first. However, these tactics are typically on full display during and after a breakup. These tactics are not merely evidence of a narcissistic former partner; they are actually the foundation of an abusive relationship.

The four tools are:

  • Isolation – your ex will do whatever they can to cut you off from supportive friends, family, or resources.
  • Deflection – your ex will shift blame to anyone and anything else to avoid taking responsibility for their role in the demise of the relationship.
  • Manipulation – your ex will claim credit for all the good that happened, even if they weren’t the reason for it. They’ll also make sure the limelight stays on them, and the benefits/perks end up being theirs.
  • Intimidation – your ex will bluster, threaten, and try to scare you into doing things their way or keeping their secrets.

There are also four elements of a destructive relationship (or former relationship) that can be easily identified once you know what to look for. These are:

  • Entitlement – Your ex believes they are entitled to privileges, freedoms, publicity, possessions, etc., that you are not equally entitled to have.
  • Control – Your ex believes it’s their right to tell you what to do, when/where/how to do it – even after you break up. They may seek to keep you from dating others (even if they were cheating or are already dating again) and otherwise prevent you from moving on.
  • Coercion – If you don’t give them what they want, or if you speak the truth about your experience together, they are likely to up the ante on their controlling patterns and turn to force.
  • Compliance – This is the only element that you have total control over. You can choose to comply with their demands (in an attempt to keep the peace), or you can remove compliance and insist on your own autonomy and voice. Be careful when removing compliance — this is when things can turn dangerous with a narcissistic ex-partner.

Knowing these tactics in advance can help you anticipate the next steps that your destructive ex-partner may take. This can help you be prepared for what they may do…”

Sarah McDugal | Abuse Recovery Coach | Founder, Wilderness to WILD

“…A narcissist also sees having sex with an ex as a way to maintain control over you.

  • A narcissist will play games with you and manipulate you.
  • A narcissistic ex will continue to harass you.
  • They will threaten to tell your secrets.
  • They will call your friends and family spreading lies.
  • In some cases, they may even threaten to kill you or kill themselves.

For this reason, maintaining any type of relationship with a narcissistic ex is not a good idea. It may be difficult to completely break free of their grasp at first, but once you do, move on and don’t look back!

Amber Lee | Relationship Expert | Co-Founder, Select Date Society

“…They may call you a bad parent, irresponsible, or other names, or draw out the divorce proceedings as long as possible. In this case, it’s best to not respond to any of these insults.

You are only required to discuss the legal matters that bind you two. Keeping the messages neutral and objective helps. Don’t reveal any personal information you don’t have to. The shorter the messages and more infrequently you contact them, the better.

Sometimes you can go through the attorney instead of dealing directly with them. You can also screenshot inappropriate or insulting messages to bring to court. It can help prove they are an unfit parent or mentally abusive towards you. In this case, you may get a more favorable judgment.”

Christy Piper | Relationship Coach | Author, Girl, You Deserve More: How to Break His Spell over You, Escape Your Toxic Partner, and Become Independent

“Narcissists might think that they are exceptional, but in truth, they are quite predictable. This is particularly the case when it comes to the trajectory of their intimate relationships, which usually follow a three-stage cycle:

  1. Idealization
  2. Devaluation
  3. Discard

When a narcissist wants to ensnare a new victim, they will kick off what is known as the “love-bombing” phase. This is when they will shower their target with excessive praise, attention, gifts, and promises of a future together.

Once the victim falls head over heels in love, the narcissist moves on to the next stage of the cycle – devaluation. They will start to nit-pick and criticize their partner, often in front of other people, in order to make them feel small and insignificant.

The final stage is known as discard, when the narcissist casts their victim aside, often without any warning or explanation. They are known to break up via text or even to ghost their partners completely. They will move on to the next person without any second thoughts or regrets, leaving their ex totally heartbroken and traumatized.

[…] So, if you find yourself wondering how a narcissist treats their exes, the answer is: It depends on what stage of the cycle they are in.

  • If they are in the idealization or devaluation stages – They will probably be quite loving and attentive.
  • If they are in the discard stage – They will likely be cold, dismissive, and completely unavailable.

Understanding this cycle is key to understanding the narcissistic mind, and it is also the best way to protect yourself from their toxic behavior.

Carla Corelli | Narcissistic Abuse Survivor | Mental Health Blogger

“To a narcissist (or someone with a related toxic personality disorder), the end of an intimate relationship, no matter how it happened or who caused it, triggers their greatest core fear: abandonment. Their “perfect image” of a happy home, beautiful partner and children, and life of success has now been shattered… and everyone’s going to know.

Because they don’t want to face the shame that accompanies the end of what appeared to be a successful marriage, along with the fact that they have failed as a partner or spouse, these uncomfortable feelings often transform into “narcissistic rage.”

The narcissist blames his or her ex for the demise of the relationship, along with everything else, positioning themselves instead as the innocent victim. They will often conduct smear campaigns with the ex’s friends, family, and especially on social media in attempts to destroy their ex’s reputation and other relationships. They’ll also enlist anyone who’ll buy their story to help them attack their former partner.

[…] Once the target (we don’t like to say “victim”) has taken steps to get out of the relationship, and (hopefully) established healthy boundaries, the toxic person’s avenues to control the target are reduced to (usually) just three options: the legal system, money, and (most insidiously) the children. So, they concentrate their efforts on these areas.”

Lisa Johnson and Chris Barry | Founders, Been There Got Out | High Conflict Divorce Coaches and Domestic Violence Advocates | Authors, “Been There Got Out”

“When a narcissist encounters criticism, rejection, humiliation, or abandonment, whether perceived or real, it causes a wound to their ego, which is also known as a narcissistic injury.

While outwardly, they do not appear vulnerable, underneath their public persona is a fragile individual who is riddled with shame.

In my case and for many others, the narcissist is very tied to their public image, so the loss of a relationship or marriage can be devastating for them. This is where we see smear campaigns as they have a deep-seated need to be seen as the victim, and their ex-partner becomes the villain.

The narcissist is desperate to retain or regain power and control, so they often use the children as pawns and weapons.

Because they thrive in the spotlight, the family court system becomes their stage, and when we are dealing with a family court system that is uneducated on these dynamics, it becomes a recipe for disaster.”

Tina Swithin | Divorce Coach | Founder, One Mom’s Battle | Author, “Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle

“Narcissists will come back to whoever they have successfully manipulated, especially if they’re having trouble manipulating anyone new. They want their egos stroked and their self-confidence back – so they will come knocking on the door of someone in their past in the hopes they can fill their confidence tank again.

One broken heart is bad enough. Two is worse — and a narcissist is likely to break that same heart again whenever they get bored or feel ready to go out and meet someone new. That can happen at any time — without warning.”

Alan Ahdoot | Legal Specialist, Adamson Ahdoot LLP

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible for a narcissist to change after a breakup?

Change is challenging for narcissists because they typically lack self-awareness and the motivation to alter their behavior. While it’s not impossible, it usually requires long-term therapy and a true willingness to change, which most narcissists don’t pursue.

Will a narcissist ever stop trying to contact me?

A narcissist might stop contact if they find a new source of validation or if you consistently ignore their attempts. However, they could return at any time, especially during moments of personal weakness or stress, to try and re-establish control.

How can I protect myself emotionally after ending a relationship with a narcissist?

Establishing firm boundaries is crucial. Limit contact as much as possible and avoid engaging in arguments or emotional exchanges. Consider seeking support from a therapist to help you process your experience and rebuild your self-esteem.

What legal steps can I take if my narcissistic ex is harassing me?

Document all instances of harassment and seek legal advice. You might need to obtain a restraining order or involve law enforcement, especially if the harassment escalates to stalking or threats. It’s important to protect your safety and well-being.

Can co-parenting with a narcissistic ex ever be peaceful?

Co-parenting with a narcissist is challenging. The key is to keep communications strictly about the children and avoid emotional exchanges. Using a third-party mediator or parenting app can help maintain clear and respectful communication.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with a narcissistic ex is never easy, but understanding their behaviors can make a big difference. By recognizing tactics like manipulation, boundary-pushing, or using children as leverage, you can better prepare yourself and protect your well-being.

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Reach out for support from friends, family, or professionals who can offer guidance and a listening ear. Take it one step at a time, and focus on rebuilding your sense of self and your happiness.

You’ve got the tools and knowledge to handle this situation. Keep your head up, trust yourself, and move forward with confidence.

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Leah is a creative soul with a passion for telling stories that matter. As an editor and writer at UpJourney, she channels her natural curiosity and imagination into thought-provoking articles and inspiring content. She is also a registered nurse dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact.

In her free time, she indulges her artistic side as a hobbyist photographer, capturing the world's beauty one shot at a time. You can also find her in a poor-lit room playing her favorite video games or in a corner somewhere, reading and immersing herself in the rich worlds of fantasy and dark academia.

At home, Leah is surrounded by love and laughter, living peacefully with her partner and their three adorable shih tzus.