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Should I Stay Or Should I Go?: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist

Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D.


When you are in the midst of a relationship with a narcissist, it can be difficult to get an objective view of what is happening – that's part of the abuse. Gaslighting is a term derived from the 1944 film, Gaslight, that depicts a husband who manipulates small elements of his rich wife's environment, including their gas lights (it's an old movie!), to trick her into thinking she is crazy so he can have her committed and steal her money. Gaslighting, as the term is now used, refers to using misdirection and deception to create cognitive dissonance in another person with the purpose, consciously or unconsciously, of destabilizing them, leaving them with no one to trust but the very person who is hurting them. Gaslighting is a hallmark of narcissistic abuse and can leave a romantic partner disoriented, dependent on their abuser, and struggling with low self-esteem.


If you are suspicious that you might be in a relationship with a narcissist, or someone with highly narcissistic tendencies, Should I Stay Or Should I Go? can offer that objective view that can help combat the gaslighting and guide you to explore the best path to take care of yourself. Dr. Durvasula also writes about next steps, if this situation rings true for you, highlighting important things to keep in mind if your separation also involves a divorce and/or a custody situation with children involved.


If you have escaped a relationship with a narcissist, this book can provide validation for your painful experience and help reverse the damage of the gaslighting – "yes that really happened to me; and, no, it was NOT ok." One of my favorite aspects of this survival guide are the highlighted sections called "Red Flags." In these sections, important qualities are highlighted to be on the lookout for in any future relationships.


Relationally, we often gravitate toward the most familiar, rather than necessarily the safest and healthiest choice. This is why it is so easy to find ourselves stuck in patterns that don't feel good. Exploring those patterns is the first step to breaking free and making choices that are more in line with your personal goals for health and happiness. Seeking out therapeutic assistance with a practitioner familiar with this area of abuse is also very helpful. The important message of this book is that you CAN survive a relationship with a narcissist, and, even thrive, if you are able to reflect on the experience and grow from it.


TRIGGER WARNING: If you are early on in your recovery process, it could be triggering to read some of the stories included of others suffering through narcissistic relationships. Though I think the book can be very helpful, I invite you to notice where you are in your healing before diving in.



"Narcissists are not going to change. That simple premise, I hope, will be a lifechanger, because for many readers, it may pull their attention off of blaming themselves, frustrating themselves by working on communication and reading piles of relationship advice (that presumes that the other person is actually listening), or waiting for a bus that is never going to appear."


"Narcissists fall in love (and quite often), however it is often a rather superficial experience, focused on variables such as excitement, validation, appearance, and success … It is often a rather grandiose experience, with numerous references to 'falling in love at first sight,' and a 'once-ina-lifetime' love story."


"…narcissists never quite learn how to regulate their moods, so they are inconsistent, can have strong sudden shifts and rages, tend to project their emotions onto other people, behave badly, and find external ways to numb their emotions (drugs, alcohol, and sex are among the most classic ways.)


"Rage gives pathological narcissists two payoffs: the opportunity to rapidly vent extreme and disproportionate anger and a means of controlling the world, since most people are often very 'careful' with them. It is not unusual to hear people talk about narcissists as people who need to be 'handled' a certain way."


"Narcissistic parents are not above using their children as pawns, manipulating them with money or information, or sharing highly inappropriate details with them. Your role is to protect your children, and working with a skilled therapist in managing divorce transitions with children … can help with this process."


On ending the relationship: "Sadly, this can also be a frightening time. Not just in situations that are violent and require restraining orders and the justice system. The threatening e-mails, text messages, and calls, the threats of legal action, the sense of being followed and of having your name besmirched to family members, friends, and anyone else who will listen are extremely upsetting. Many people who endure a narcissistic breakup will say they had to start anew – and learned who their real friends were."

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