Most people don’t usually stay friends with their exes. How can you move on and begin something new while clinging to the past?
It often just doesn’t make sense.
Narcissists, however, can’t help but keep every ex on deck – like an aspiring cult leader. Maybe you noticed during your relationship that at least one of their exes was always just a phone call or text away.
Staying Facebook friends with a respectful ex is normal, especially after a long-term relationship. Narcissists, however, need to maintain a specific level of intimacy with their exes – for multiple reasons.
Here’s why narcissists stay friends with their exes, the dark motives behind these “friendships,” and what you can do to break free from the sadistic cycle.
Can Narcissists be Friends with Their Exes?
Yes. Narcissists can and almost always do remain friends with their exes. However, narcissists interpret the term “friend” differently than normal people.
Normal people see a potential friend as someone they connect with based on shared interests, values, life experiences, and hobbies.
To the narcissist, a friend is someone to use either for opportunities, sex, resources, validation, or attention.
Most narcissists are also often sadistic psychopaths. Not only do they require a specific type of attention to maintain their shallow identity, but they also lack the ability to feel remorse when they hurt people and they experience joy while watching people suffer – especially if they’re responsible for a person’s suffering.
This is a dangerous combination of qualities, often found in cult leaders. That’s why many people feel compelled to stay friends with a narcissistic ex as a survival tactic, even at the cost of degrading their own sense of self-worth.
Why are Narcissists Obsessed with Their Exes?
Simply put, a narcissist will become obsessed with an ex when he or she refuses to remain “friends.”
The narcissist may be very open about this obsession, dragging as many people as possible into it. These narcissists always seem to know the details about their ex’s life and play the obsession off as innocent gossiping or concern for the ex’s wellbeing.
In this situation, the ex will always be portrayed negatively as a tactic to discredit them and smear their character.
Of course, the narcissist will lie and say this character smear is coming from a place of empathy: They aren’t obsessively stalking the ex to destroy his or her life. They’re just concerned about their ex’s mental health and safety.
The thing is, being obsessed with an ex’s safety and health is not normal in any way, shape, or form. If someone displays an obsessive “concern” for an ex’s wellbeing, this is a major Red Flag that they are a narcissist with ulterior motives.
8 Dark Reasons Narcissists Stay Friends with Their Exes
1. Collecting Intel and Digging Up Dirt
Sharing details about your life with an ex – such as where you’re working or which city you’re living in – can seem innocent enough. Why shouldn’t you catch up and bury the hatchet?
Sadly, to the narcissist, innocuous statements about your hobbies, workplace, and living situation are valuable pieces of intel.
For example, a narcissist may track down and begin dating your yoga teacher. They also might let someone at your work know that you “tell everyone” you aren’t treated fairly.
2. Multi-Tiered Jealousy
It’s a common misconception that the narcissist only gets jealous once you start dating someone new. The truth is, the narcissist is always jealous.
If you don’t leave them for someone new, the narcissist will become jealous of your strength and confidence once you break up with them.
The narcissist needs you to value their opinion of you, long after you’ve split. That’s why narcissists often do everything they can to remain “friends” with their exes.
3. Consistent Access to Resources
Narcissists are extremely needy and dependent. Your narcissist partner may even have a bizarre relationship with their mother or father, for example, that mainstream society would find shocking.
The narcissist needs to keep an Army of Mommy or Daddies on deck to supply them with resources such as sex, housing, job opportunities, and validation.
Your personal drama is of no issue to the narcissist. In fact, this is also a valuable resource for them to exploit. The narcissist, if able, might offer you shelter, a nice meal, or even just a friendly shoulder to cry on in their effort to:
- Talk themselves up
- Exploit your emotions
- Establish a trauma bond
- Manipulate you down the road
4. Ongoing Supply of Attention and Entertainment
Narcissists require constant attention to validate their entire existence. Negative, positive, neutral – it doesn’t matter. All attention is good attention and a source of entertainment to the narcissist.
Remaining friends with an ex is an excellent way to squeeze attention out of someone since, as a former partner, the narcissist believes they know all your biggest triggers and vulnerabilities.
That’s why an ex’s behavior may suddenly do a 180 once you split. Since you are no longer providing them with a constant supply of positive attention, they must do and say things to pull negative attention out of you.
Plus, anything you say to the narcissist turns into entertainment when they share the details about your life with their circle of exes.
5. Coordinated Gaslighting Attacks
The narcissist spends plenty of time recruiting, training, and deploying their flying monkeys against anyone who acts out of line.
But this type of gaslighting isn’t always done to mess with your interpretation of reality.
The narcissist expects you to know that you are being gaslit. They want you to feel flattered that they talked about you to their exes. They want you to defend yourself against the gaslighting because this would prove that you value their opinion.
6. Maintaining a (Shallow) Superiority Complex
Narcissists exhibit an infantile level of insecurity. They constantly compare themselves to others.
The narcissist must find unique ways to feel superior to others. This often includes staying friends with their exes and driving joy out of their exes’ suffering – a hallmark of sadism.
Why? The narcissist can continue collecting intel on their exes to sabotage job prospects, future relationships, and everything their ex cares about.
7. Constant Source of Distractions
As someone without a real identity or sense of self-worth, the narcissist needs a constant source of distractions to avoid facing themselves in the mirror.
Narcissists are never interested in genuinely improving themselves.
By staying friends with their exes, narcissists maintain an endless stream of drama, problems, and things to complain about. This is perfect for the narcissist because it means they have no time left to focus on themselves.
8. Sabotaging Relationship Prospects
No one wants to begin a relationship with someone who still gives their ex attention on a regular basis.
By staying friends, the narcissist attempts to ensure that you will never begin a relationship with someone respectful. They hope that you will only attract shallow partners who will use you. If they begin to suspect you’ve found someone on the up-and-up, they will begin smearing that person to you in the hopes you’ll end things quickly.
That’s fine for the narcissist because, as their “friend,” you might complain about your new partner to them, providing them with attention, valuable intel, and validation that they were the best you’ll ever have.
How to Avoid Staying Frenemies with a Narcissistic Ex
Recognize the Addictive Qualities of Abuse
While incredibly harmful, abuse is also addictive. The rollercoaster triggers the release of chemicals in your brain like dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol. Normalcy can feel incredibly dull and boring.
It’s important to recognize the addictive qualities of abuse because this might prevent you from replacing one addiction with another, such as drinking or drug use (which the narcissist would love).
Assess Your Own Friendships and Tighten Up Your Circle
Unfortunately, the narcissist preys on your friendships or family, often under the pretext that they are concerned for your wellbeing.
Evaluate your circle of friends. Consider proactively changing your phone number or moving. Practice keeping personal details to yourself. Don’t share details about your mental health or emotional problems online unless you feel safe doing so and you have become acquainted with some of the people on a particular platform.
Create Your Own Distractions
Flip into spy mode. What does a spy do? They drop themselves into a new city, get a new job, and pick up brand new hobbies – and they don’t tell anyone anything.
Not only does this destroy all the intel the narcissist has on you, but it also creates a bunch of healthy distractions for you. Distractions are important because they give you healthy things to focus on, new goals, and fresh opportunities to create new friends.
You Always Deserve Better
Narcissists prey on your positive emotions like empathy, compassion, and remorse – qualities all narcissists and psychopaths lack.
The abusive cycle of being “friends” with a narcissistic ex may feel normal after some time, but it’s not. You always deserve better, no matter what they do or say to convince you otherwise.
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.
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.