signs it's time to leave

5 Compelling Signs That Scream It’s Time to Leave

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Letting go of a relationship can be the most difficult thing you will do in your life, even if you know it’s the right thing to do.  This is especially true of relationships with toxic individuals, such as narcissists.

Despite all the crying, begging, conforming, and compromising that those who’ve traveled this courageous passage have engaged in, once they made the final leap and left, they discovered that their relationship was over long before it ended.

When life is telling you you’re in a relationship that’s no good for you, it’s in your best interest to notice the signs and plan accordingly.  Following are five compelling signs it’s time to leave:

1 – Your partner constantly points out things they “don’t like” about you

Oddly, they may be the very things they loved about you in the beginning.  Narcissists groom their targets by claiming to love everything about them…the way they dress, their hairstyle, their interests, their taste in music, their love of the arts.

Then shockingly, the things they once loved about you became the reasons they were ‘forced’ to cheat, stop having sex with you, or start a new relationship with someone else.

The reason this manipulative tactic has such a profound effect on your self-esteem is that you’ve spent a good portion of your life developing your preferences, interests, personality, and personal style.  Along the way, you became comfortable in your own skin.  Then, along came someone who appeared to love every little thing about you.  In fact, it seemed the two of you shared many things in common.

Then slowly, like dismantling a jigsaw puzzle, they began taking little parts of you away by claiming they were intolerable.  Things that meant the most to you:  your family, your friends, your appearance, your relationship with your children, the love you have for your pets, your charity involvements, your violin lessons.

Until you didn’t know who you were anymore.

Narcissists strive to keep people small and “well-disciplined”. This will play out through criticizing everything about you so that you end up changing yourself to fit inside the small box they’ve designed for you. 

True love doesn’t take away the things that make up who you are.  It doesn’t diminish you.  If you feel like you can’t do anything right, that you couldn’t possibly attract someone else, that you’re “too old”, too needy, too sensitive to be in a relationship with anyone else, these are signs that scream it’s time to leave. 

2 – Their words don’t match their actions

Narcissists are absolute geniuses at telling you what you want to hear at just the right moment to keep you hooked in the relationship.

Think back to the last time you caught them cheating or they suddenly materialized after disappearing off the face of the earth for two weeks.  Regardless of the dialogue that played out, I would imagine they successfully rationalized and minimized their relationship crimes.  In the moment, you may have even felt like you could sympathize with what they were saying.  They promised they would try to do better, that they love only you, that the two of you belong together (and should get engaged), they’ll get that house the two of you looked at, that they will break it off with the new person.

And you bought into it.

Alternately, they may have come back saying they met someone new and now can’t decide between you or the other person.  This is the initial step in their plan to triangulate between the two of you

This is precisely what they do to people who are over-conscientious (willing to give the narcissist the benefit of the doubt) and who tend to over-intellectualization (tries hard to empathize and believe the narcissist has some understandable reason to be hurtful).  It also plays into the fairytale you have in your mind about their finally having The Epiphany and renouncing their awful behaviors for the sake of true love.

This typically plays out in their depicting their horrible childhood, their crippling family-of-origin wounds, their Ex who cheated on them all the time – and now they have some unconscious and uncontrollable agenda to sleep with everyone they can…

Before you know it, you’re accepting things you never thought you would in your relationship, vowing to stick by their side, and feeling like a fool because of it. That’s because on a subconscious and intuitive level, you know the narcissist is a liar who has absolutely no plans to change.

That’s not to say that you should stop being compassionate and understanding with the people you care about, only that if your toxic partner constantly has “reasons” they behave the way they do and is perpetually explaining away their unacceptable behaviors and you feel like an idiot because of it, it’s another sign that shouts it’s time to leave.

3 – You constantly obsess about your toxic partner and feel insecure about yourself

Do you obsess for hours, wondering what you’ve done wrong and what precisely changed about you that caused your relationship to be sucked into a spiraling eddy of despair?

Are you barely able to function at work or, worse, barely able to function as a parent because you’re immobilized by feelings of powerlessness and fear of what your partner is up to?

Do you constantly feel the awful knot of abandonment fear in your stomach, terrified that your relationship is on thin ice and in danger of falling into the subzero, deadly waters below?

Sure, maybe you’ve dealt with insecurity or struggled with low self-esteem before, but it was always a passing moment that you talked yourself out of.  Now, after meeting the narcissist, you feel like you’re among the dregs of society, despite your success and accomplishments. 

What does this mean?  Your whole state of emotional brokenness has been manufactured by the narcissist.  Your life may not have been perfect before meeting them, but you were generally happy and satisfied with life, right?

The only independent variable here is the narcissist.  See screaming sign #1. 

Narcissists tend to choose open, kind people with compassionate hearts because they are more likely to fight for the relationship and less likely to leave when the going gets tough.  These empathic individuals never stop trying to fix the relationship and narcissists are keenly aware of this…and they will manipulate you until the end of time based on your compassionate tendencies.

If you feel worthless, depressed, crazy, suspicious, and are unable to function in your daily life, it’s a screaming sign that you have Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome and need to leave.

4 – They make you choose between them or your children

Narcissists are jealous of anything or anyone that takes your attention away from them.  Your children are no exception.

One of the most heartbreaking elements of narcissistic abuse is the disconnect that happens between abuse victims and their children.  There are few things that make the narcissist feel more powerful than having so much influence over you that you are willing to obey their commands and interact with your children according to what the narcissist deems fit.  I’ve even seen parents kicking their older children out of the house because the narcissist said it was time for them to go.

There are two common and unfortunate scenarios that typically play out when one is involved with a narcissist in regards to their children.  First, abuse victims are so consumed with the narcissist due to crippling self-esteem issues, trauma-bonding and PTSD symptoms, they have little attention or energy to give to their children.  Many times, all they can do is clothe and feed them, but have very little capacity to be truly present with them.  This often results in children feeling unseen, neglected, and unloved.

Second, because parents who are targets of narcissistic abuse often develop such extreme levels of anxiety, depression, and hypersensitivity, they can become impatient with their children, or find themselves resenting their children for behaving in ways that upset the narcissist. This leads to a further disconnect, with the children feeling unloved and unworthy, which may lead to their developing either codependent or narcissistic traits as a defense mechanism. 

If either of the above scenarios describes your relationship with your children, it’s a sign that thunders it’s time to leave.

5 – You’re constantly trying to change or “improve” yourself

Because narcissistic abuse victims are often “fixer” types, they tend to believe the narcissist when he or she blames them for the cavernous cracks in the relationship.  This leads to the non-narcissist trying to “be flexible and compromising”.  This may play out in the form of changing their appearance, behaviors, habits, or even relationships with other people (including family members!)

The reason this never results in an improved relationship with the narcissist is that their whole agenda consists of never allowing you to feel a shred of emotional security.  This is how they control you.  When you are focused on changing things about yourself, you are less focused on what they are up to behind the scenes.  Additionally, if they can make you feel like your relationship problems are all your fault, they feel justified in continuing their hurtful behaviors, i.e., cheating, lying, and disappearing for days on end. 

This is typically referred to as the narcissist “changing the goal posts”, and it’s a hallmark behavior trait of manipulative people whose intention is to exploit your willingness to try harder.  If this sounds like your relationship, it’s a screaming sign that it’s time to leave.

Leaving a toxic relationship is never easy, but it’s always the right thing to do.  There is nothing you can do to change a toxic, narcissistic individual.  You can’t pretend their behavior away or love it away or deny it away.  You can’t change it by drinking, drugging, shopping, or self-sabotaging it away. 

You can’t avoid their negative influence by being more submissive.  Devotion is never about being submissive.  Devotion never requires that you feel small to make another person feel big. 

However, you can change your life’s course by changing your circumstances.  If you decide to stay, it’s certainly your prerogative, but you must acknowledge that doing so will not result in any improved behaviors on the narcissist’s part. 

How Do You Stop The Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse?

Now that you have identified some key patterns, what do you do next? How do you change the cycle in your life? 

First, learning how to recognize narcissistic patterns is essential. 

Even if you feel tempted to “move on,”  you probably haven’t developed a strong radar for detecting narcissism. Insight is the best step for moving forward. Are you truly aware of your triggers? Do you recognize yourself in any of the reasons mentioned above? If so, spend some time reflecting on how you can improve those pain points. 

Personally, when I left my last toxic relationship several years ago, I forced myself to be alone for a long time.  During this period, I did lots of healing work that I outline in The Break Free Program.  I surrendered and accepted that I hadn’t been willing to walk away when red flags began popping up.  I learned my coping schemas and discovered how to overcome my triggers.  I did energy healing, both alone at home and also through energy healing practitioners.  I overcame the financial PTSD that I’d developed from losing my finances and being forced to start over.

These are the same steps you can take.

Then, once I’d integrated all the initial healing work, I went further into rebuilding my inner identity, learned how to be comfortable setting boundaries and saying ‘no’, and finally began to honor myself enough so that if red flags were to pop up in the future, I could walk away and mean it.  (This is how the THRIVE program was born).  

With this work, I watched old beliefs and negative energies melt away as I witnessed all my deepest wishes manifest into real life.  I finally felt motivated to embark on new adventures, allowing my story to unfold instead of just dreaming about it.  I learned to love who I am, allowing myself to attract the most caring people into my life while walking away from drama lovers – and feeling quite alright about it.

And I promise you that even if you’ve experienced horrific trauma and abuse, you can still heal your life.  You can learn to stop betraying yourself and acting out of alignment with your own integrity.  You can learn to get comfortable setting boundaries without feeling guilty.  Like you, I once felt hopeless and afraid that I was doomed, but once I did the inner work and implemented everything I’d learned, my life began to transform in ways I never thought possible.  

This can happen for you, too.  

As always, I truly look forward to answering your questions and comments below.

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Sarah Spitzer says April 27, 2024

I just realized that after 44 yrs this is all my life The past 4 -7 yrs it’s been really bad on me especially me It’s so much to tell u about I don’t think anyone would believe but I’m gone from there now see what I can alone

treasa hall says April 24, 2023 seems you always hit it on target …its hard getting him out of my head…but i know he is wrong for me…he lies..takes my money and cheats and called me names…its been awful…especially on valentines day…i did everything for him…i remember once i went to the store and bought him 200 worth of groceries..he remained in the car until i came out..he put the groceries in the car..once we got back to his house we put the groceries in his fridge…when it was done he looked at me with a look that i didnt recognize and he said either you leave or im calling the cops…he took all the groceries and made me leave…i have such a hard time uunderstanding this …what is this behavior…please tell me

Yannis says April 24, 2023

Dear Kim, I have been receiving your e-mails for quite a while, and although you have been spot on in regards to everything this is the first time that actually every thing sinks in. Thank you with all my heart and soul for all the Work of Love that you have and are providing fellow sufferers of toxic entanglement. You truly are a genuine friend and an absolutely amazing Human Being. Hope all you’re days in this life and beyond will be blessed the way I feel I was blessed finding you!

Alexis says March 1, 2020

It is sad isn’t it? When you know you should leave but something inside you wants to cling on to this image that will never be. The father my son and I met in our early 20s when we always partied and shortly after I fell pregnant. When we agreed to have the child I of course was ready to close the chapter on the drug and alcohol days for good. My son is now almost three and his Dad has been on and out of Jail for drugs. He is on probation yet still can’t help himself. Our relationship spiraled because of his marijuana habit after we had our son, I thought it was time to give it a rest and that infuriated him. So I have said multiple times I want to live a sober lifestyle and he agrees and then boom, back in jail. All lovely little lies right to my face. Then when I say enough is enough it is well why can’t I see my son, I am going to kill myself. You are a terrible Mom. You are with selse

Patty says September 27, 2019

After the first year he showed his true colors. My daughter was 12 and he treated her terribly. I always stood up for her – when she graduated from HS, a I told her I didn’t want her to live under the roof with him and to move in with a girlfriend.
She said, Mom, I am afraid he is going to treat you like he has me and she was right.
She is happily married to a kind, generous, helpful man. She said she would never ever put up with what I did.

Patty says September 27, 2019

My Narc is also an alcoholic and had his third DUI that we are being sued for $300,000. I should have left before that happened. Then in jail for DUI for 6 months, home for a month and arrested for Domestic Violence and in jail again. Girls, Ladies – Get out before this happens to you! My life is a nightmare. Just hope I can get rid of him and get through this, DIVORCE IN PROCESS.

The Scary Truth Between Toxic Home Environments and Adverse Childhood Experiences - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says July 7, 2019

[…] what we now know, we can almost predict that children who grow up in toxic home environments where one parent is narcissistic and emotionally abusive will develop narcissistic or codependent […]

Can a narcissist can change? - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says April 21, 2019

[…] Before you know it, years will have passed and everything will be exactly the same as it’s always been. Often much worse because you’ll have developed chronic illnesses, lost your career and any future employment opportunities, and your relationship with your children will be down the drain. […]

sylvie says March 2, 2017

Wow…this was the closest article I have read that hits exactly what is going on. And I sure do need the strength to leave. An odd thing, he always said he loved my children like his own until we moved in. Then one day talking to my sister she said oh my you never noticed how he was always jealous of your kids? Now I see it here.

Laurie says November 25, 2016

This was an extremely enlightening article. Particularly appropriate for me
My narcesist has been giving me the silent treatment for a week or so for no reason. I’m sure he will try to resurface. Totally acting like nothing has happened. Just like u said.
Amazing how he can do this over and over again

    Kim Saeed says November 26, 2016

    Hi Laurie,

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I am a connoisseur of sorts when it comes to hoovering after the silent treatment (having been the target of it for over eight years). Yes, they will do it over and over again and each time it deepens our emotional trauma enough to cause physical manifestations of illness and even certain types of cancer. These people cause approximately ten times more damage to our nation’s health than depression alone. Wishing you all the best in going No Contact!

Bette says November 22, 2016

Recently my estranged older (by 3 years) sister sent me a tm “Happy Birthday, Dad. Rest in peace.”
I’ve struggled for years with my father’s abandoning me (I never knew if he had emotionally abandoned my older sister and brother) when I was seven years old; the year he married what I recognized as a woman suffering from NPD (thanks to your articles; which gave me the wisdom and strength to leave my NPD husband over a year ago).

I tm’d my sister back asking her what she loved about dad (hoping for my own paradigm shift). She responded with: always there for us, put us first, very caring, never lifted a hand to us, talked to us when we did wrong to teach us to understand, had the courage to raise 4 kids on his own (this last one was an obvious denial of our step-mother’s participation).
I was stunned. This was NOT the man/father I experienced.
Now, today, I read about my dad’s actions in your article and realize he had changed to comply with SM’s overly controlling ways and I being so young and so dependent upon him (our mother left us when I was six), that I experienced a completely different dad in the formidable years than my elder siblings. And, she did force my oldest brother, who was then 17, to leave home….
I understand, now, things I didn’t before this article. Thank you. You have helped me to forgive and empathize with him.

Daffi says November 22, 2016

I thought i was the crazy one..8years of relationship gone just like that, she has her eldest soster wjos having depression toi ..and that goes to me too..but i dont find myself toxic according to your way of saying it..alwalys remember it take two hands to clap, ,to be honest im emotionallyvabuse., by her confused and ever she did scream at me in front of morecthan 200 atudents saying im the crazy one ..rejecting me for marriage even ask me again how it feels being rejected. .it hurts me so much that i decided to end my life by taking weedicide. .coma for five hours ..wake up fresh. That was 3arly this the nerves between my prostate and kidney is paying the price..every afternoon the pain comes ..sometimes my left leg just cant walk ..its like partial paralysed. .till now..i just want to know answers, cause this eight years everytime theirs a big argument shectakes my weakness that is my anger as an outrage of her modesty. .so tell me what am i toxic people, it is a sensitive issue..u just dun leave and come back and do the same think over and over again..3-7 months gone replies..block me on all again please rephrase. . Because i think sge is the crazy one …and in crazy too…for loving her. ..and it was taken fr granted

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