People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) tend to have an exaggerated sense of self, irrational expectations of favorable treatment, and a pronounced lack of empathy for others. In this blog, we will talk about the narcissistic abuse cycle.
Narcissists frequently struggle to uphold interpersonal relationships in all spheres of life, including at work, at home, and in the community. Sometimes, their interactions with others can be emotionally abusive.
There is a spectrum of severity for narcissistic traits – people can engage in a cycle of narcissistic abuse with someone who exhibits NPD traits but does not fully meet the criteria for the disorder.
This article discusses the narcissistic abuse cycle, its stages, and impacts, and how you can cope with it.
What Is Narcissistic Abuse Cycle?
The narcissistic abuse cycle is the abusive pattern of behavior that characterizes the relationships of people with narcissistic traits. Narcissists subject their victims to a narcissist abuse cycle by idealizing them at first, devaluing them later, and repeating the cycle until they are eventually rejected when narcissists don’t find them useful any longer.
People with narcissistic personality disorder and those who exhibit strong narcissistic tendencies tend to be very manipulating and controlling. It is clinically uncommon to have narcissistic traits and not have a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder.
High levels of narcissism often find it difficult to maintain the facade for very long in any kind of relationship that calls for openness, honesty, and genuine feeling. The narcissistic cycle of abuse typically begins with this weariness of acting like an equal partner.
A relationship with the narcissist only pleases the narcissistic person and keeps them in the entitled role they think they deserve, complete with the admiration and benefits that come with it. They might struggle or appear to be completely incapable of feeling another person’s pain unless that pain directly affects them. They might also hold the belief that they are never to blame for things going wrong. The more they have—or are thought to have—equates to their self-worth for narcissists, who typically have a weak ego that depends on external factors.
Stage Of Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
Lenore E. Walker gave the cycle of abuse theory in 1979.
The steps of the original cycle of abuse can be modified to fit narcissistic relationships. Narcissistic abuse is unisex, just as physical violence is not only committed by one gender. Someone with high levels of narcissism is more likely to use lies and slander to harm someone than to punch them or break bottles. To maintain control over the narrative and to keep their partner in line, the narcissist will resort to any necessary measures. The narcissist may claim that the victim deserved it, even if their lies and smear campaign are exposed.
The narcissistic abuse cycle causes the victim to doubt their reality and makes them stay in an abusive relationship with a narcissist. Each stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle works together to keep their victim caught in the narcissist’s web.
Narcissists frequently project all of their emotions onto others because of the pain they feel regarding their feelings. They probably grew up with a narcissistic parent or witnessed a traumatic event that affected them deeply. However, it does not justify the verbal and physical abuse perpetrated upon their victims.
Narcissists act in certain ways because they don’t consider their behavior problematic. The narcissist won’t change until they can reflect on their actions and emotions, and continue to make their victim feel devalued once they are caught in the narcissistic abuse cycle.
This stage involves the narcissist subjecting their victim to love bombing. The narcissist will initially put their victim on a pedestal, making them feel a sense of exclusivity and greatness. No matter the nature of the relationship—romantic, friendly, professional, or anything else—it is enthusiastic and moves quickly.
In a romantic relationship, the narcissist will impress their partner with gifts and compliments. They’ll seem intensely attracted to them and make them feel special. It will appear as though they fell in love with them as soon as they met them and that their relationship was fated.
They might display some controlling behaviors early on in the relationship, despite them seeming innocent or even endearing. For instance, they might make you feel guilty or shamed for socializing with people outside of the relationship or crossing previously agreed-upon boundaries.
As a friend, the narcissist will compliment their friend, spend a lot of time with them, and rely on them in various ways.
In a professional setting, your narcissistic boss will make them feel like they are their ideal worker and that no one else can do the job as well as them. There will be hints of pay increases and promotions, but nothing will come of them.
It is also called the depreciation stage. It begins slowly with the narcissist conveying subliminal cues that their partner did something wrong, that they forgot something crucial, or that they did something to offend them. They’ll start to experience unease. Several signs include:
- Backhanded compliments
- Justifications for bad behavior
- Subtle reproach
- Seemingly harmless mind tricks
- No win-win scenarios
- Lack of validation and empathy
- Comparative evaluations
- Mockery and humiliation
The narcissist will pressure their victim and accuse them of things they didn’t do until they begin to doubt whether they did it. This practice is called gaslighting. Their victim starts doubting their memory and sanity.
The victim might experience depression, anxiety, confusion, and fear of breaking up with the narcissist during the devaluation stage. The victim may try to put in more effort to win the narcissist’s favor or distance themselves from them to protect themself. Their attempts to distance themself from the narcissist will make them angry and hurt.
After that, the process of idealization and devaluation will repeat itself. They’ll suddenly treat their victim incredibly nicely, compliment them profusely, and restore their sense of value. However, they will begin to devalue their victim again as soon as they begin to feel secure in the relationship.
The rejection comes quickly and harshly. The narcissist may decide that their relationship with their victim is over and that they no longer need them. The narcissist will often be upset with them for irrational reasons. They will gaslight and manipulate their victim.
If you think you are in a narcissistic abuse cycle, you can always choose to leave this unhealthy spouse, friend, coworker, or acquaintance. But once you’ll try to leave them, the narcissist might start love-bombing you again to change your mind and make you stay with them. Until you finally free yourself, the cycle of idealization, devaluation, and rejection will continue.
Effects of Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
Narcissist tries to keep their victim in a cycle of emotional and physical abuse, continues to demoralize them, and uses them as a scapegoat for their own unhealthy emotions. People who are close to a narcissist often internalize their emotions and accept responsibility for the narcissist’s actions. After that, narcissists present themselves as a victim.
The victim can either leave the narcissist or continue to remain in a relationship with them. If it is the latter, the victim may have developed a trauma bond with the narcissist that can be challenging to escape or even recognize. It can further the destructive abusive cycle through love bombing and subsequent devaluation.
If the victim decides to leave or distance themselves from the narcissist, the narcissist will try to either hurt or immediately discard the victim. The victim may suffer severe emotional, psychological, and occasionally physical injuries leading to the development of narcissistic abuse syndrome.
Many people who have survived narcissist abuse go through the following:
- Sleep problems
- Eating problems
- Hygiene concerns
How To Cope With Narcissistic Abuse Cycle?
It is challenging to deal with and free yourself from a narcissist in life. Fortunately, there are some measures you can take to cope with the narcissistic abuse cycle:
Before you start a new relationship, let them know of your boundaries and how you want them to treat you. Be ready to end the relationship if they continue to disrespect your boundaries.
A narcissist will always try to push past them. Setting boundaries early on may sound a little harsh to people with a sense of self and empathy, but keep in mind that the narcissist will only take as much as you give, with no reciprocation. The narcissist will not notice your effort. Seek a therapist’s guidance to determine how the relationship appears from the outside to feel confident using this coping mechanism.
Don’t Give Them Second Chances
Allowing the narcissist to sit in their discomfort will help you to break the cycle of narcissistic abuse even more. Comforting their wounded ego or feelings may worsen the cycle, especially if you do so at the expense of your feelings. Additionally, you won’t receive any recognition for your efforts, and the narcissist will leave with nothing in exchange. Tending to their feelings might open up yet another door for a cycle to continue rather than come to an end.
It is best to not give them any chance. These never really work. The narcissist will take any necessary measures to ensure you stick around and start love-bombing you again if they believe they are about to lose you from their lives. They’ll put on a show for a little while until you decide that taking a chance on them again is worthwhile, but you’ll soon relapse into the same pattern of psychological abuse.
Take Some Time When Forming New Relationships
Remember that a real relationship, whether romantic, sexual, friendly, professional or otherwise, typically starts slowly. Give them some time. Such relationships progress, over time, from having an interest in one another to having a deeper, more sincere connection. Steer clear of instantaneous love.
Keep a Record
Keep a record of your communications if you believe someone is trying to manipulate you. Put things in writing. Use any justification to complete tasks via text or email. This can be useful if the other person tries to gaslight you by giving a different account of what happened.
Keep Your Family and Friends Informed
Keep your close friends close because the narcissist might try to put distance between you and your family. Make an effort to prevent it. They can assist you in determining reality when you begin to doubt it.
Stay Financially Independent
Avoid relying on the narcissist financially. It might not be possible for you when you work for them. Having your own money, however, can be useful when you’re preparing to end a relationship in another type of relationships, such as a friendship or romantic one.
How Can You Heal From Narcissistic Abuse?
Recovering from narcissistic abuse is a gradual process, so be patient and kind to yourself as you go through the process of healing. In addition to going to therapy, make sure you have a safe, encouraging environment and a support system around you. Talking about your experience can be difficult, but doing so can be safe and speed up your recovery process.
Given how emotionally unstable and abusive these relationships can be with a narcissist, it’s imperative to get assistance as soon as you believe you are in danger of any kind. You are not required to stay in an abusive relationship or to make an effort to make things work.
The Ending Note
Narcissists have a deep-seated sense of insecurity despite their apparent confidence in themselves. They attempt to project their insecurities onto other people in an effort to make up for their feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Not everyone who demonstrates narcissistic traits will actually have a narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissists, whether they are an employer, coworker, friend, or romantic partner, subject their victims by idealizing them, devaluing them, and eventually rejecting them when they are no longer useful.
Get out of the relationship with the narcissist as soon as you can. A relationship with a narcissist only benefits the narcissist while leaving you emotionally, mentally, and even physically exhausted. The narcissist will try to make your stay by idealizing and love-bombing you again, but you must remain firm in your decision to leave them.