How to spot a narcissist ex, according to a psychologist

Got an ex who won’t leave you alone? Psychologist Nancy Sokarno explains why they could be a narcissist.

The idea of keeping in touch with an ex or even becoming friends, is a personal decision. For some, it’s completely off the cards. For others, it takes months – even years – for all romantic relations and bad blood to dissolve. While for some, they realise they can easily transition into a platonic relationship without any hesitation or issues.

But if you happen to have an ex in your life who, well, simply won’t leave you alone, they might be a narcissist. What’s worse is that they’re purely staying in contact with you simply for their own needs.

Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno lays out everything you need to know about narcissists, the traits to look out for, and what to do if you’re dealing with one.

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What’s the central motivator for narcissists to stay in touch with their exes?

There could be a few factors for narcissists wanting to stay in touch with an ex, however their reasons are typically for their own self needs.

Understanding the central motivation for the situation can be nuanced because a true narcissist has a personality disorder that is rather complex.

However, looking at the situation from a broader perspective, the motivation for a narcissist to want to stay in touch with an ex can stem back to having paved the existing relationship in which they have crushed the ex-partner’s sense of self, devalued and then discarded of them so they can then “hoover” them, a term used to explain how Narcissists suck back in their previous partners.

Narcissist often display traits that link back to their own sense of self-worth and importance also, such as having tremendous amount of pride and not wanting their ex to move on. By keeping in touch with an ex, they can maintain a sense of control over the situation, perhaps even exploit the relationship, or manipulate the person, thus feeding that craving for validation. Narcissist also crave constant praise and admiration so can use their relationship with an ex to keep the flow of these validating responses coming, the “blood supply” to their self absorbed identity.

Typical narcissist traits…

A typical trait for a person with Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) is the exaggerated need for, or chase of ‘narcissistic supply’ of external validation. This refers to their constant need for others to fill this craving. It’s likely that a narcissist knows their ex really well and so then knows how to easily get validation from them, regardless of how they might get it.

A narcissist will often prop themselves up artificially rather than knowing how to internally support their own self-esteem (in their mind, validation only counts if it comes from others). It’s likely they’ve set a standard of behaviour in the relationship, as well as cultivated a sense of self from their ex, so it’s familiar ground that they can turn to that validates them.

Narcissist also don’t like rejection, so if they were the one that was dumped, they could be keeping in touch with an ex to build a fantasy in their heads where they are still in control or where their ex still wants them/wants them back.

5 signs you’re dealing with a narcissist

There are a few signs that you could be dealing with a narcissist, however it’s important not to confuse narcissist with a vain or selfish person. Traits of a narcissist are a lot more nuanced than someone who just likes taking selfies.

1. A need to feed their narcissistic supply

A narcissist displays a reliance on others for their self-esteem and defining their sense of self. They constantly need praise, admiration and can be manipulative and exploitative in their efforts to get their ‘narcissist supply’.

2. Higher sense of self-entitlement

They have a higher sense of self-entitlement and over-exaggerated sense of self-importance. It most cases, they believe they deserve a certain level of special treatment and put themselves on a pedestal above others.

3. They display delusions of grandeur

Narcissists will often lie or exaggerate to bolster themselves up or glorify themselves in front of others, in their attempt to portray an unrealistic sense of superiority or creating an idealised version of themselves. They like to be associated with a higher status and have fantasies of this kind of lifestyle (even if they aren’t already living it).

4. Lack of empathy

A narcissist will often display a lack of empathy for others and in inability to relate to others, or to put themselves in other people’s shoes. For a narcissist, they often view other people as transactional, or as objects that can fill their desires. These behaviour traits can also often be masked by their charming personality, which can attract others into their world of fantasy.

5. Deep sense of insecurity

Whilst many traits of a narcissist can seem like they are full of self-confidence and have a strong sense of self-worth, they are actually extremely insecure. It may not look that way on the surface, but they do often have a deep sense of insecurity which is why they are always searching for validation. In any case, a narcissist may not be willing to admit they are low on self-esteem or be change these kinds of behaviours.

4 ways to deal with a narcissist ex who won’t leave you alone

Unfortunately, narcissists can be relentless in their pursuits because they don’t like to lose their narcissistic supply. Some ways to deal with a narcissist ex can be:

1. Recognise their behaviour

Recognising the kinds of behaviour you’re dealing with can help for you to know how to respond. This doesn’t mean you need to tell your ex they are a narcissist, it just means you can start to become aware of their behaviours and when they try to manipulate you, or a situation. Also understand that much of their behaviour comes from their own insecurity.

2. Don’t fall for their pleading

If it’s you that has broken up the relationship, it’s likely your ex will promise to change, or start trying to prove to you that they have changed. Chances are they haven’t changed, but they just don’t want to lose their narcissist supply. It’s a trick to try and get you to come back to them – don’t fall for it.

3. Minimise or cut off their supply

Once you recognise that they are coming from a place of insecurity, you can try to minimise or gently cut off their supply. Learn to respond to them differently and they may soon realise that you’re not going to be the person that will feed their needs anymore. You don’t need to be harsh or abrupt, simply begin to respond differently to them.

4. Cut off contact

If they are relentless in their behaviour and continue to pursue the contact, you may need to cut them off completely. This is especially true if their behaviour is hurting or manipulating you – whilst it is wise to consider their needs, it is not fair to consider them at the detriment to your own needs. Establishing no contact can mean not answering their calls, not responding to texts or completely blocking their number. In this scenario my advice would be to firstly try the above tactics – that is, recognising their behaviour and responding different, then minimising contact. This could mean they get the message over time without the need for you to be abrupt.

Nancy Sokarno is a psychologist from Lysn – a digital mental health company with world-class wellbeing technology, which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.