The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Let us preface this by saying that "relationship" means all relationships. Parents, adult children, friends, spouse, siblings... they are all pretty much the same when it comes to how they function and how people are treated.
You'll also notice that this is about your choice, not what the narcissistic person chooses. That is because you have the power here. You can make a choice. You are making a choice every day, whether you realize that or not. You are either choosing to stay or choosing to leave.
Many people say unequivocally to leave. Leave, leave, leave. And that is good advice, but some people are not ready to do that. They may never be. While it would be nice if everyone in an abusive relationship got out of it, that's just not reality. The reality is that many people choose to stay. There are different reasons for this. Sometimes they're not ready. Sometimes they don't have the money to leave. It just depends. So, for people who cannot or will not leave at this point in time, it's important that they understand why they are choosing to stay and what they are staying in.
If You Choose to Stay
Staying in the narcissistic relationship may seem like the lesser of two evils. The abuse is horrible but it's familiar. It's a known evil. Familiar pain is easier than the fear of change. If you are choosing to stay, be sure you understand what you are staying in. This person is probably not going to change. They are still going to be a liar and a cheater and an abuser and a manipulator or whatever else they are. If it's worth it to you, then it is. Just make sure you are going into it with your eyes fully open. Staying in a relationship with a liar hoping they stop being a liar one day is a recipe for disappointment. It's torture, in fact.
You have to accept things the way that they actually are, not as you hope they will be or wish they were. If you are staying in a relationship with a narcissist, it is probably going to be abusive. At the very least, it will be manipulative, transactional and unstable. That absolutely must be accepted if someone wants to survive the relationship. Otherwise, the constantly-dashed hopes, betrayal and callousness could literally destroy you. The truth is, no one has any right to expect another person to change for them - even if that person's behavior is wrong or abusive. And more importantly, people are not going to change. Not unless and until they want - or need - to do so.
If you choose to handle cobras, you must respect and understand what the cobra is. If you don't, it could mean your life. You cannot drop your guard. You cannot become comfortable or complacent. You cannot trust the cobra not to bite you. This is what cobras do. It is up to you to protect yourself, and part of the way you do that is by understanding and accepting what you are dealing with. There is no way around this. If you put your trust in a person or situation that has proven to be untrustworthy, then you will get what you paid for. That's just how it works. Remember that old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." You can only claim ignorance once.
You also need to prepare for the fact that many times, friends or family refuse to be a part of someone's life when they are choosing to be in an unhealthy situation. People can end up with no one left but the narcissist, and this can make it much harder to get away later. It is also really difficult to deal with abuse if you have no one to talk to about it.
Staying in the relationship is usually an emotional decision made out of fear or sympathy. Not always, but it's very common. Because of this, people often end up regretting it enormously. Remember to make decisions based on logic and reason, rather than emotions. Emotions are often irrational and unstable.
If You Choose to Leave
Leaving the relationship with a narcissistic person is often the scariest decision people have ever made. They are going against years of conditioning into an unknown future. They may face repercussions, such as smear campaigns, harassment, court battles, being cut off by family or other support networks and many other things. If this happens, remember that it probably would have been just as abusive had you stayed, only in a different way.
Unless you have been detached from the narcissistic person emotionally already, you are probably going to feel a lot of different emotions. You may be in shock, especially at first and it's important to take that seriously. Let yourself adjust to things before you make any decisions. You may need to fight the urge to get in touch with the narcissistic person or to go back to the relationship, especially if they are a family member. You may deal with extreme guilt for leaving, especially if the narcissistic person has a bad reaction to your actions - and they often do. You may have rage that you cannot seem to get rid of. You might be really, really sad. Some days you might feel up, some days you might feel down. Other days, you might feel numb. All of these things are normal. Healing is not linear. It's not a straight line from A to B. It can go all over the place. One day you feel like you took ten steps forward, the next like you took 50 back. Some days it might feel like you are just treading water and going nowhere. But you are healing, so remember that.
It's important to remember that even if the relationship ending was mutual, even if they seem to have moved on, even if they are ignoring you or refusing to speak with you, there is always the possibility of a hoover, which is when the narcissistic person comes back around and tries to suck someone back into the relationship. This must be understood so that you can prepare accordingly if you truly do not want this person in your life anymore. Once again, a cobra is a cobra. Narcissists may hoover months or even years later. Trust the situation at your own peril.
Another thing to consider is that many times, people are emotionally and psychologically enmeshed with narcissists and when that happens, ending the relationship is not only extremely painful, it can leave a person feeling like they don't know who they are or what they are supposed to do with themselves now that the narcissistic person is gone. Just remember that you can re-discover who you are. This is scary but it's not permanent.
Leaving the relationship with a narcissistic person is something that requires a lot of adjustment. You may need therapy or other help to deal with the things you've been through, or to focus on the issues that led you to be vulnerable to this relationship in the first place. You may find that you've picked up behaviors from the narcissistic person that you don't like, or that you cannot trust in people. You may be suffering from PTSD or other stress- and trauma-related problems. Your health may have suffered.
The important thing in either of these situations, no matter what you decide to do is not to get overwhelmed and to handle one thing at a time. That's all you can do. Educate yourself and make decisions that are as informed as possible. We all just do the best we can, and we all do what we have to.
There is no easy solution here. We are talking about difficult choices that need to be made in impossible, sometimes unbelievable situations. There is no way to end the relationship easily or heal quickly. There's no magic pill. But at least understanding the situation can help you make an informed decision and deal with the aftermath.