This is a very common problem for people who’ve been in relationships with narcissists. They may have broken off with them months or years ago, but suddenly then contact you again out the blue. What do we do if this happens?
In this guide, we’ll answer this question thoroughly, going through why narcissists can do this, what drives their behavior, and how to handle it.
Here is a summary answer:
Narcissists often re-contact ex partners after a long time because they are idealizing and seeking to re-connect with old sources of “narcissistic supply”. The fundamentally broken and manipulative nature of the narcissistic personality means that these attempts to re-contact you should be ignored or rebuffed.
Understanding how narcissists are essentially desperate attention and supply addicts, as well as the fundamentally incurable nature of NPD, allows us to quickly see through these attempts to re-kindle that narcissist ex partners often make, and we can quickly dismiss them and move on with our lives.
Let’s run through the what, and the why of this common pattern with narc ex’s, as well as some background theory on the narcissistic personality, so that we can better understand and handle this when it happens (for the related concept of bumping into a narc ex unexpectedly in public, see our separate guide on this).
Why Do Narcissists Do This?
One of the things that often puzzles many ex’s of narcs when this happens is the weird timing of the contact – we’ll cover this below. But another question people ask is simply why do narcs do this? Why do they suddenly appear out of nowhere again?
Some people in the recovery space think the reasons for this are unimportant, but I disagree. To permanently rid our lives of these disordered people, we need to understand how they think, and how their mind works. With the narcissist, it’s actually not that hard, because it’s a peculiarly broken type of personality that operates out a predictable series of cravings and defense mechanisms.
The supply model of NPD is the best way to understand the disorder. It basically states that narcissists are constantly looking for some form of supply from other people, which confirms one of two things:
- How they’re so beautiful, clever, bright, funny, exceptional and special. Some kind of admiration/adoration/attention.
- How other people (or one target scapegoat individual or group in particular) is stupid and dumb, which makes them feel superior and “full” by comparison
This can take many different forms; here are just some of them (list is not exhaustive):
- Being feared
- Control or power over others.
- Constantly being validated and affirmed in their twisted worldview 100% of the time.
- Sexual attention.
- A sense of special-ness, uniqueness and perfection.
- A sense of being the best/number 1/top dog in some field or environment
- A sense of being the smart, enlightened one, while everyone around them is a stupid, inferior servant.
- Constant silly-ness and back and forth humor, jokes, memes, and being fed constant entertainment, as long as they’re the center of attention.
- A back and forth implicit arrangement where you’ll always agree on stuff and never disagree or challenge any of his obvious character deficits.
Narcissists are literally addicts in this sense; they need topping up with constant new supply, or else they start falling into depletion, which is when the more fragile ones can appear depressed, low, moody and start attacking and provoking others as a secondary backup to inflate themselves.
So here is the bottom line on why the narc ex is suddenly contacting you again:
- They’re re-idealizing their old source of supply they got from you. There was something about it that they liked, and they want to see if they can get it again.
- Their current source of supply from the people around them at the moment is low, or has gone. Perhaps someone else has seen through their BS and discarded them as well, so now they’re addicts again in need of a fix.
- A combination of the above two factors.
“The narcissist drank all your “milkshake” and then moved onto someone else to drink their “milkshake”. But after a while they remember what your “milkshake” was like and they want to come back and try it again”
Narcissists & Supply in 2 minutes
Moreover, this can vary, and there isn’t a one size fits all answer. Some narcissists you will literally never hear from again after the discard or after you drop them. It’s like you’re dead to them, and it’s best to return the favor by also pretending they never existed.
However, some narcissists will circle back after months or years and see if they can top up their supply. It all depends on how much they liked the supply they got from you, and still want it from time to time, plus how much or little supply they’re managing to leech of the people currently in their midst.
Pay Attention to The Timing of the Contact
The supply model is all well and good, and is definitely PART of the explanation as to why narcs can re-contact you after a long time. But in many cases, there’s something even deeper going on, as evidenced by the weird timing of the contact that so many ex’s of narcissists report.
It’s so often that this contact happens right at the point where the victim has made a major breakthrough in recovering from the narc and moving on with their lives.
Pay close attention to this; it could be one of these things:
- You’ve made a major breakthrough in therapy and feel you now “get” something about their behavior or the relationship you had with them. You feel more in control and detached.
- You’re just about the start a new job
- You’ve just started a new relationship.
- You’re about the move to a new country.
- You’ve just woken up one day, and thought to yourself “do you know what, I’m over this person now. I don’t care about them one way or the other. I’m in a good place”, or something similar.
- In general, you’ve made a major mental breakthrough that’s further detached you from them, or you’re about to start a positive new chapter in your life that represents another level of moving on.
If this applies to your situation, you are not alone. It is so often at these positive points of change that the narcissist ex will contact you out the blue again and try and draw you back in. I’ve seen this myself and in others too often for it to be a coincidence.
It can be very strange to experience, but is indicative of a deeper connection between disordered people and those they’ve manipulated and abused, to the point where they can almost seem to sense when you’ve taken a step forward in moving on from them.
Richard Grannon sums up this phenomenon very well:
“(Someone) is in a relationship with a narcissist, and at the moment when they start to recover, the narcissist crawls out of the woodwork and sends them an email or calls them. The day, the morning, the afternoon. They’re getting on with their life, something great happens, they just got a new job, they’re about to move to a new country, life’s moving forward finally.
BOOM! In (the narcissist) comes. How does he know? How does she know? It’s almost like there’s a web, a connection there….The point that I’m making here is, you’re conveying more about your emotional state than you realize. You might even be conveying it without being in contact at all. So be happy, that tortures them…Get to the point where they are not on your mind”
Another way he puts it is that your state transmits, to the point where it often appears that the narcissist can tell what state you’re in, even when you’re not in contact with them at all. Conversely, many of them can also seem to sense when you’ve made a major leap forward in detaching from them and moving on.
This is why detachment, indifference, and staying in as good a state as possible as so important, since it is the best thing for you, but also the best way to annoy and torture the narcissist, who much prefers that you’re miserable and under their control psychologically.
“The best revenge is a life well lived”
Narcissists love using social media to stay in contact, which is why total no contact/blocking is so important
Tips For Managing Attempts to Re-Contact You
Given all we’ve gone over so far, the answer to dealing with unexpected contact from a narcissist ex after a long time should be clear – don’t get drawn back in and ignore or dismiss them.
However, precisely the fact that it happens out the blue after months or years can shock and unsettle us. Here are some tips to handle this:
- Stay calm. If it’s an email/text/social media message, and you’re taken by surprise because it’s been so long, your heart may jump and you may be flooded with adrenaline again (plus other psycho-somatic reactions) once you realize it’s them. Do not react when still in this state. Take time to calm yourself down:
- Go for a walk or do some exercise
- Try meditation if you can
- Try relaxing music
- Try any kind of pattern interrupt, like self administered bilateral stimulation, which can calm racing thoughts and neutralize your emotional connect to events.
- Do any or all of these things until you return to a baseline state of calm where you can see things clearly.
- Once you’ve calmed down, then handle it in a way that keeps you in control. Do NOT respond right away if it triggers you, as you’re not in control.
- If you are recovered to the point where you stay calm even when the unexpected contact comes through, then great! It’ll make brushing them off even easier.
- Do NOT be drawn back into long discussions about anything.
- In fact, you don’t need to respond at all. You can just ignore them and block their number (best approach if you’re perfectly happy doing this). If it’s a phone call, just put the phone down. Also consider changing your number, email, social media etc. since the best approach is to block off any avenues they can contact you anyway (full-on no contact).
- It can also be satisfying however to brush them off in a briefly dismissive way. Say you’re not interested, and imply they’re boring, dull, uninteresting and unexceptional, and put the phone down and block their number, as a final parting shot to irritate them.
- Be aware that even in the briefest communications, they’ll probably be trying to provoke or annoy you, or make you jealous again.
- Be especially aware of hoovering, where they’ll pretend they’ve changed to try and draw you back in. See next section. Don’t fall for it.
- Bottom line – Ignore or quickly dismiss. Don’t waste your time on them. Move on with your life.
- See Richard Grannon’s excellent course on managing contact with a narcissist, NOT for re-opening up permanent contact again, but for better understanding the narcissistic personality, and for handling even brief contact in a way that keeps you in control.
Beware of Hoovering From The Narcissist
This is another crucial tactic of manipulative people like narcissists that you must be aware of. As part of the attempt to re-kindle with you, they’ll often bombard you with promises of how they’ve worked on themselves and have truly changed, are ready to be a better partner. It’s often called hoovering in the recovery space, because they’re trying to suck (hoover) you back in.
Do not be taken in by any of this glib nonsense. It’s just more game and manipulation.
Here are some examples of it:
- They’ll contact you again out the blue on social media or by text, email or some other means. This is why no contact is important to stop them doing this.
- They’ll go back to the seemingly innocent, sweet, caring image if this is what they initially reeled you in with.
- They may issue seemingly heartfelt apologies about how sorry they are about how they hurt you.
- There will be promises that the cheating, gas-lighting, projection, lying etc. won’t happen again.
- If you had been trying to get them to go to therapy because of their toxic behavior, they’ll promise to get help if you take them back.
- Any other changes in their behavior that you wanted them to make first time but they never did, they’ll latch onto these and promise to do them now, or claim they are “growing/changing/evolving/self aware” now when they haven’t changed at all.
- The general message they’ll try to hoover you back in with is “I’ll be the person you always wanted me to be”.
- If you do take them back, they’ll keep up these apparent changes for a while, then drop them and go straight back to the old, abusive patterns.
Hoovering From The Psychopath/Narcissist:
When you see through the cheap trickery of an NPD, it’s almost comical. Don’t fall for any of their nonsense. Drop them cold and move on.
Do Not Let The Narcissist Back In
The bottom line on all of this is that if narcissist ex partner contact you again after a long time, just ignore or dismiss them. Don’t be drawn back into their drama and toxicity, and don’t fall for their trickery trying to convince you it’ll be different this time.
Whatever abusive behaviors they did before; they’ll do again. Full blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a completely un-treatable and incurable condition. There’s nothing that anyone else can do to make a narcissist change; see our lengthy article which examines this issue in detail.
Here’s a simple criteria that we put in this article to assess the narcissist’s claims of change:
- Foundational question – has the narcissist ever sincerely apologized for their abusive/exploitative behavior? You’ll be surprised how often they actually don’t do this, even when trying to hoover you back in. They will often use clever word trickery that may sound conciliatory but avoids them actually ever taking any ownership and blame for their toxic behavior. See the hoovering video above.
- Have they undergone several years at least of intensive psychotherapy, with a skilled therapist well trained in personality disorders?
- Additionally, or alternatively, have they “hit rock bottom” in their lives – reached a low point where they have lost everyone and everything, and undergone a process of several years of fully rebuilding themselves from the ground up, which will also likely include the intensive, prolonged therapy mentioned in point #2?
9,999 times out of 10,000, the answer to all 3 of these questions will be no, and you can brush them off accordingly and move on with your life.