By Chris Seiter

Published on October 3rd, 2023

Today I want to take a look at what happens when a narcissist ex sees you happy.

In short, they absolutely hate it because it’s often something that makes them feel like they are losing control or worse, a direct assault on their self conceived image.

So, usually when you look incredibly happy after a breakup it’ll bring out twelve different behavior’s from a narcissist

  1. Denial: They may convince themselves that you’re only pretending to be happy or that it’s just a phase.
  2. Devaluation: They might belittle or trivialize your sources of happiness, suggesting that what you’re enjoying now is trivial or “beneath them.”
  3. Hoovering: They may try to re-enter your life, suggesting that they’ve changed or attempting to reignite old memories to see if they can regain control over you.
  4. Jealousy & Envy: Outward expressions of jealousy or making negative comments about your newfound joy or the people/sources causing it.
  5. Competitiveness: They might go out of their way to show they are happier or more successful than you, engaging in one-upmanship.
  6. Gossip & Smearing: Spreading rumors or half-truths about you to mutual acquaintances to tarnish your image.
  7. Projection: Accusing you of being the narcissistic one or saying that you’re showing off your happiness to hurt them.
  8. Reactive Anger: They might express unprovoked anger or frustration, especially if they believe your happiness is a result of someone else (a new partner, for instance).
  9. Stalking: Obsessively checking your social media, asking mutual friends about you, or even physically following you.
  10. Isolation: Some narcissists might withdraw entirely, avoiding mutual friends or places where they might see you happy.
  11. Victim Playing: Trying to gain sympathy from mutual friends or acquaintances by painting themselves as the victim and you as the one who’s flaunting your happiness.
  12. Dismissal: On the opposite end, some might feign indifference, acting as though they don’t notice or care about your happiness, even if internally they’re seething.

There’s a lot to talk about today so lets get to it!

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1. Denial

Denial is one of the most primal defense mechanisms. At its core, it’s a refusal to accept reality or the truth of an actual situation.

For a narcissist, denial isn’t just about evading the truth; it’s about maintaining their self-conceived image and narrative, which often places them at the center or in control.

Facing a Dissonant Reality:

When a narcissistic ex-partner sees you genuinely happy without them, it poses a direct challenge to their self-worth and their previous assumptions about your dependency on them for happiness. They might’ve believed that you couldn’t possibly be content, let alone happier, without them in your life. Witnessing your happiness disrupts this narrative.

The Illusion of Pretense:

To preserve their sense of superiority and control, the narcissist might convince themselves that your happiness is merely a facade. They may tell themselves things like:

  • “They’re just trying to make me jealous.”
  • “They want to show off to make me regret the breakup.”
  • “This is just a temporary distraction. They’ll soon realize their mistake.”

By framing it this way, the narcissist doesn’t have to confront the possibility that you’ve moved on and are genuinely happy. They can remain in a state of denial, where they believe you’re still emotionally entangled with them or that their absence still significantly impacts your life.

2. Devaluation:

Devaluation is a key mechanism employed by narcissists to maintain their sense of superiority and diminish anything that challenges their self-worth or perceived dominance.

We can see it plain as day here on the narcissistic abuse cycle,

But I’m actually more interested in the “why.”

Well, in my opinion I think it boils down to six core reasons for why narcissist are likely to devalue you if they see you happy.

  1. Ego Protection: Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance, but beneath this veneer often lies a fragile ego that’s vulnerable to any perceived slight or challenge. When they see you happy, especially after ending a relationship with them, it directly challenges their self-conception. Your happiness can be interpreted as them not being as indispensable or as impactful as they believed. To protect their ego, they might belittle the sources of your happiness to keep their self-worth intact.
  2. Shift of Power Dynamics: In many relationships with narcissists, there’s a power dynamic at play. The narcissist often wants to be the dominant figure, controlling the narrative and being the central focus. When they see you deriving happiness from sources other than them, it signals a shift in this power dynamic. By devaluing these sources, they attempt to reassert their dominance and control.
  3. Avoiding Accountability: Devaluation can also be a method to avoid facing their own shortcomings or the reality that the breakup might have been beneficial for you. By trivializing what makes you happy, they can convince themselves and others that they were never the issue, to begin with.
  4. Projection of Insecurities: Deep down, many narcissists harbor insecurities, which they cover up with a mask of confidence and arrogance. When they see you thriving, it can bring these insecurities to the surface. Devaluing your happiness is a way of projecting their insecurities onto you, making them feel better about themselves in the process.
  5. Competitive Nature: Narcissists tend to be inherently competitive. They always want to be the best or the most important in any setting. Witnessing your happiness can be seen as a competition where they feel they’re losing. By devaluing your sources of joy, they’re attempting to “win” by portraying their choices or lifestyle as superior.
  6. Validation Through External Agreement: Narcissists might not only belittle your happiness privately but might also do so publicly, seeking validation from mutual friends or acquaintances. If others agree with their devaluation, even tacitly, it reinforces their belief and gives them a sense of communal validation.

3. Hoovering:

If you’re familiar with the narcissistic abuse cycle (as illustrated in the graphic above and reiterated here), you’d recognize its four main stages.

  1. Idealization: In this phase, the narcissist showers you with affection, praises, and promises, making you feel like the center of their world. You’re led to believe you’ve found the perfect partner. Blinded by their charm, you provide what they’re ultimately after—narcissistic supply. This supply can take various forms, be it admiration, emotional support, physical intimacy, or other benefits.
  2. Devaluation: Once they’ve secured their supply from you, their demeanor shifts. The same person who once put you on a pedestal now starts to belittle and devalue you, making you question your worth.
  3. Discard: The devaluation culminates in a discard, where they push you away, often without any closure or explanation, leaving you emotionally devastated.
  4. Hoovering: Just when you believe it’s over, like a vacuum, they attempt to pull you back in, initiating the cycle anew.

When a narcissist ex perceives you as happy and content without them, it often triggers an urge in them to re-enter your life. They might charm you with claims of having changed or reminisce about old times, attempting to reestablish their control.

But what drives this hoovering behavior? The key lies in understanding the concept of narcissistic supply.

Narcissists constantly seek validation—this craving for attention, admiration, and validation is their lifeblood, akin to how a drug addict craves their next fix. When their source of narcissistic supply runs low, they become desperate to replenish it.

That’s where the hoovering comes in.

After the discard, when they sense vulnerability or detect that their hold over you is waning, they may resort to hoovering. The sweet words and gestures during this stage aren’t genuine expressions of love or remorse.

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Instead, they’re calculated maneuvers to manipulate you into becoming their supply source once again. By luring you back into the idealization phase, they aim to extract whatever they need from you, be it emotional support, physical intimacy, or simply the thrill of control.

In essence, the hoovering stage, masked by deceit and faux affection, is driven by the narcissist’s insatiable need to refill their dwindling narcissistic supply. Recognizing this tactic can be a step towards breaking free from their manipulative cycle.

4. Jealousy & Envy:

For narcissists, seeing an ex-partner find joy and fulfillment outside of their influence can be a profound source of discomfort.

This discomfort often manifests as jealousy and envy. Unlike a simple pang of post-relationship nostalgia, a narcissist’s jealousy is deeply rooted in their bruised ego and threatened sense of superiority.

They might make snide remarks about your newfound sources of happiness, be it a hobby, a new relationship, or a personal achievement, attempting to diminish its value. Such outward expressions often betray their inner turmoil.

They envy not just the happiness itself, but the implication that they are no longer essential to it. This realization can be deeply unsettling for someone who thrives on feeling indispensable and superior. Their envy, while toxic, underscores their own inner void and the fragility of their self-worth.

5. Competitiveness:

In the mind of a narcissist, life is often a zero-sum game where someone’s gain is perceived as their loss.

When they see you thriving post-breakup, they might interpret it as a direct challenge to their own status and happiness. This perceived challenge triggers their innate competitiveness.

Suddenly, they feel compelled to display their own successes, achievements, or joy, not necessarily because they feel them genuinely, but because they seek to “outdo” you.

This behavior is emblematic of one-upmanship.

Every positive event in your life might be met with a supposedly bigger or better event in theirs. Their desperate need to always “win” reveals a deep-seated insecurity: the fear of being overshadowed or deemed less valuable.

This relentless competition isn’t truly about besting you, but about assuaging their own fears and maintaining their self-conceived pedestal.

6. Gossip & Smearing:

When a narcissist resorts to gossip and smearing, it often reveals their deep-seated need to regain control and protect their self-image.

Witnessing an ex-partner flourish post-breakup can be a bitter pill for a narcissist to swallow.

Rather than introspecting or genuinely wishing well, they might employ a more sinister tactic: launching a campaign of defamation.

By spreading rumors or embellishing half-truths about you, they aim to tarnish your reputation among mutual acquaintances.

This serves multiple purposes.

  1. Firstly, it attempts to delegitimize your happiness, implying it’s built on false pretenses or unethical actions.
  2. Secondly, it redirects the narrative focus back onto them, painting them as the wronged or more righteous party.
  3. Lastly, by garnering sympathy or outrage from mutual acquaintances, they seek validation and an echo chamber for their distorted perceptions.

This malicious strategy, while hurtful, underscores the narcissist’s profound insecurity and desperation to always be seen in the right.

7. Projection:

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where individuals attribute their own unwanted feelings, motives, or insecurities to someone else. In the context of narcissism, projection serves as a way for narcissists to deflect blame and avoid accountability.

Reversing the Roles:

When a narcissist sees you happy, it challenges their self-conception and might evoke feelings of inadequacy or envy. Instead of confronting these feelings, they might accuse you of being narcissistic, effectively reversing the roles. By doing so, they can portray themselves as the “victim” and divert attention from their own behavior.

Avoidance of Accountability:

Accusing you of showing off or using your happiness to hurt them serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it reframes the situation so that you appear to be the aggressor, and they, the wronged party. This means they don’t have to acknowledge any harm or neglect they might have inflicted upon you during the relationship. Secondly, it places them back at the center of your narrative, suggesting that your actions (even if they’re just about seeking personal happiness) are directly influenced by them.

Deflecting from Internal Discomfort:

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Projection is also a tool to manage internal discomfort. By suggesting that you’re the one “showing off,” they can avoid confronting feelings of inferiority or the idea that they might not be as central to your life as they once believed.

Seeking Validation:

By vocalizing these projections to mutual friends or acquaintances, they might be seeking external validation. If others agree or even just listen without challenging the narrative, it can reinforce the narcissist’s distorted perception, giving them a sense of righteousness.

8. Reactive Anger:

For a narcissist, your happiness—particularly if they perceive it as a result of someone else’s influence—can be seen as a direct affront.

This perception can trigger reactive anger, an intense and often disproportionate emotional response.

This anger isn’t merely a byproduct of lingering romantic jealousy; it’s a complex emotional cocktail arising from wounded pride, a sense of betrayal, and a bruised ego.

When they see you thriving with a new partner or even just relishing in newfound independence, they might interpret it as a personal slight: a suggestion that they were the problem, or that they’ve been easily replaced or surpassed.

Their subsequent outbursts, even if unprovoked, are less about the specifics of what you’re doing and more about their feelings of inadequacy and loss of control. It’s as if your happiness casts a spotlight on their own shortcomings or the voids in their life.

Reactive anger, in this context, is a defensive mechanism, a way for the narcissist to lash out and divert attention from their internal tumult by placing blame or negativity onto you.

9. Stalking:

When a narcissist perceives you as happy, it often threatens their self-identity.

Their response? An obsessive need to monitor your every move.

They might frequently check your social media profiles, incessantly question mutual friends about your activities, or in extreme cases, physically follow you.

This stalking behavior often manifests during the hoover phase.

If you recall our discussion on this stage, it’s primarily driven by the narcissist’s insatiable quest for narcissistic supply. This supply is their emotional lifeblood; without it, they feel diminished or inadequate.

Narcissists often maintain a mental catalog of individuals they can tap into when their supply wanes. You might have noticed, during your time with the narcissist, their tendency to keep others on a string—not just romantic interests, but anyone they could exploit.

Their interactions with others aren’t always romantically inclined.

They might manipulate someone into assisting them at work, dominate them in a gym setting, or even control a friendship, turning the other person into a mere vessel for their emotional drainage.

It’s essential to demystify the stalking behavior.

Some might misinterpret the narcissist’s obsessive tracking as a sign of genuine affection or remorse. They might believe that such intense focus can only come from real emotions. However, the truth is more pragmatic: the narcissist is in the throes of the hoovering and idealization stage.

Their reservoir of narcissistic supply is running dry, and they are in desperate need of a refill.

So, when deciphering their stalking antics, remember: it’s not about you as an individual. It’s about the supply they can extract from you. Their fixation isn’t rooted in genuine longing for you, but rather in their relentless need to feed their ego and maintain their self-worth.

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10. Isolation:

While narcissists are often characterized by their aggressive or overt tactics to maintain a sense of superiority, they are not immune to feelings of vulnerability or shame, especially when confronted with situations that challenge their self-worth or dominant narratives.

Is it true that narcissists might withdraw? Yes, in certain situations. Here’s why:

Ego Preservation:

Narcissists depend heavily on external validation for their self-worth. When faced with clear evidence that contradicts their self-concept (like seeing an ex-partner thriving without them), some narcissists might find it too painful to confront directly. Avoiding mutual friends or familiar places becomes a way to avoid this “evidence,” allowing them to remain in denial and preserve their ego.

Avoiding Perceived Inferiority:

For a narcissist, appearing less successful, less happy, or, in essence, “less than” in any way is a distressing prospect. If they feel they can’t “compete” with your happiness or success, they might retreat rather than face a situation where they feel overshadowed.

Reframing the Narrative:

By isolating themselves, narcissists can also control the narrative. They might tell themselves (and a select group of listeners) that they’re the bigger person for “stepping away” or that they’re too busy with their own (presumably superior) engagements to be involved in familiar circles.

How Likely Is This To Happen Though?

The likelihood of a narcissist choosing isolation varies. Some narcissists will double down on aggressive tactics (like smearing or reactive anger) to combat feelings of inferiority.

Others, especially covert narcissists or those who are more introspective, might indeed choose isolation as a way to cope. Factors like the individual’s specific personality traits, the depth of their insecurities, the intensity of their feelings towards the breakup, and their current life circumstances can all influence this decision.

11. Victim Playing:

This is a common tactic used by many narcissists when confronted with situations that challenge their dominant narrative or self-image.

When an ex-partner displays happiness post-breakup, it can be a direct threat to the narcissist’s self-worth, especially if they had always considered themselves the superior or indispensable one in the relationship.

Why Play the Victim?

  • Shift in Narrative: Narcissists have a profound need to control the narrative. By casting themselves as the victim, they shift focus from your happiness (and their potential inadequacies) to their alleged sufferings. This reframing allows them to regain a sense of control over the situation and diverts attention away from the positive changes in your life.
  • Seeking Validation: Narcissists thrive on external validation. By sharing tales of woe and painting themselves as the wronged party, they seek to garner sympathy and support from mutual friends or acquaintances. Each word of consolation or shared indignation they receive acts as a salve to their bruised ego.
  • Avoidance of Accountability: Positioning themselves as the victim enables the narcissist to evade any accountability for past wrongs or the end of the relationship. It’s a way to sidestep introspection and any genuine acknowledgment of their actions or behaviors. Instead, they can conveniently blame the other party (you) for any perceived hardships they’re facing.
  • Manipulation & Control: By playing the victim, narcissists can also exert a form of passive control over mutual acquaintances. Those who believe the narcissist’s narrative might distance themselves from you, believing they’re siding with the “injured” party. This division can further isolate you and give the narcissist a sense of triumph.
  • Undermining Your Joy: There’s also an insidious motive behind this tactic: to subtly devalue or taint your sources of happiness. If mutual friends believe you’re “flaunting” your joy just to hurt the narcissist, they might view your actions with skepticism or even disdain. This skepticism, in turn, could make you second-guess your genuine feelings or achievements.

12. Dismissal:

The world of a narcissist often revolves around power dynamics and control. When they’re confronted with situations that challenge their self-concept or authority—like seeing an ex-partner find happiness after a breakup—they might employ a range of tactics. Dismissal, or feigned indifference, stands as one such strategic move in their playbook.

The Facade of Nonchalance:

On the surface, by dismissing or acting indifferent to your happiness, the narcissist sends a clear message: “You don’t affect me. Your life and choices are inconsequential.” This projected nonchalance, however, is often just that—a facade. Beneath this mask of indifference, there could be a torrent of emotions: envy, anger, or even regret.

Why Opt for Dismissal?

  • Retaining Power: Acknowledging your happiness or showing any hint of being affected by it would be admitting, even if just to themselves, that they’ve lost some control or influence over you. By dismissing it, they maintain a semblance of power, continuing to place themselves on a perceived pedestal.
  • Mental Self-Preservation: Admitting to themselves that you’re genuinely happy might force the narcissist to confront uncomfortable truths about the relationship or their own shortcomings. Dismissal serves as a protective barrier against such introspection.
  • A Silent Weapon: Knowing that their indifference can be unsettling or hurtful to you, especially if you were accustomed to their constant need for control or attention during the relationship, gives the narcissist a silent weapon. It’s a form of passive-aggressive behavior, where they wield silence or indifference as tools to elicit a reaction or instill doubt.
  • Control Through Uncertainty: This feigned indifference can sow seeds of doubt in your mind: “Do they genuinely not care? Was our time together meaningless?” These questions, borne from their dismissive attitude, can make you second-guess your worth or the authenticity of your feelings and experiences. This uncertainty gives the narcissist a subtle form of control, even post-breakup.

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