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Pain Shopping & Narcissistic Relationships: Going No Contact (Almost)

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

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If you've been researching narcissistic pathology at all, you've probably come across the phrase "NO CONTACT." NO CONTACT is the usual recommendation for people trying to end relationships with pathologically narcissistic people. It means, as you would assume, to stop having contact with the narcissistic person. This is recommended for several reasons, the most important being that if you are in a trauma bond and due to the addictive component in trauma bonds, contact with the narcissist can re-traumatize and re-bond you to the narcissist and to the relationship. It keeps you in the cycle, making it even harder to get out.

It isn't always possible to go NO CONTACT with a narcissist; they may be someone at a job that you can't leave right now, or maybe you have a child with them and cannot simply refuse to deal with them. However, it's important to remember that outside of a relatively few circumstances, NO CONTACT is usually possible. It isn't always easy, but it's usually possible.

What a lot of people don't realize is that NO CONTACT is not just about not physically touching or being around somebody. It also means not talking to them in any way - including texting or email, it includes not driving by their house or job, not looking at their social media... NO CONTACT means NO CONTACT at all. If you are doing any of these things, you're not NO CONTACT.

It can be difficult not to drive by the narcissist's house or scroll through their social media, and sometimes there may be a legitimate reason for doing this but most of the time, this falls under the category of what we call pain shopping. Pain shopping is when you are looking for (or at) things that you know will do nothing but hurt you. It serves no other purpose, except to upset you. It's not information you need for some reason; in many cases it's people continually searching out evidence to prove or reconfirm things they already know or have already proven. It's engaging in behavior that hurts you over and over again for no other purpose or reason.

Because of the addiction element of these relationships, pain shopping in this way often serves the purpose of getting an emotional "fix;" it causes emotional upset and triggers negative feelings. Or conversely, people experience the negative feelings first, like anxiety, and looking at the person's social media or driving by their house provides the "fix" which relieves the negative feeling. Either way, it's an attempt to self-regulate, like any other addiction and it's an unhealthy cycle, like any other addiction. Most people don't know this is what is going on, of course; they may not even realize why they are doing it - especially when they don't even want to do so. They just feel this compulsion to do it, even though it always feels bad overall and is serving no other actual purpose.

Sometimes when we talk about the addiction of these relationships, people say things like, "But I can't be addicted to this because I hate it! I hate the way I feel! I hate the cycle! I hate the whole thing!" It's really important to remember that addiction has nothing to do with liking something. Addiction is about believing you need something. It is not about liking it. Many, many people are addicted to things they hate. It doesn't mean you like it, it doesn't mean that you are somehow to blame and it doesn't mean you have some terrible flaw that is beyond redemption. It means you have a challenge that you've got to address, and you're certainly not alone in it.

If you are planning to go NO CONTACT, be sure you understand what NO CONTACT really means. When you are NO CONTACT with someone, you do not:

  • talk to them in any way, either on the phone, in person or in text
  • purposely see them in any way, even if they don't see you
  • follow their activities online, including through others
  • follow their activities in real life, including through others
  • ask other people about them or fish for information

Re-reading old texts or emails is often included here as well. There may be some value in doing this, but it can also keep people stuck. Only you can decide whether doing this is helpful in your processing or if it is doing more harm than good. The general rule of thumb is that in order to break an addiction, a person must stop using. Because the narcissist is the trigger to "use" in this situation, not using involves having no contact of any kind with this person.

This is not easy. It's the hardest part of ending these relationships and detox can make everything feel 10x more difficult. Just remember two things: this does not last forever and the voice of addiction is sneaky. It magnifies your pain and makes it worse in an attempt to get you to use again. For example, if someone becomes addicted to pain pills due to a back injury, when they try to break the addiction, their mind will try to convince them that their back hurts, even though there's nothing wrong with their back at all. Remember that this is not reality and it is not forever. It does get better.

If you are struggling with this, you can download Dealing with Detox and other tools for free in the "Free Tools" section on littleshaman.org.

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