The 4 Phases of a Narcissistic Relationship

Monique MasonNarcissism, Personality Disorders

Here we go…the last in a series of 3 monster blog posts that dive super deep into NPD, or narcissistic personality disorder…

Part 1:  The 10 Types of Narcissists, Causes & Warning Signs
Part 2:  Narcissistic Coping Mechanisms
Part 3:  The 4 Phases of a Narcissistic Relationship

As mentioned in our previous posts, NPD is one of four cluster B personality disorders, as outlined in the DSM, and many parents responsible for manipulating their children into rejecting the other parent present with at least some of the symptoms of this disorder.

In Part 1 of this series, we reviewed the 9 different types of narcissists, the causes of NPD and warning signs that you may be dealing with a narcissist.  In Part 2, we delved into the many coping mechanisms that narcissists utilize to protect their fragile egos. Today, we’re going to sink our teeth into the ups and downs of what it’s like to be in a relationship with a narcissist.

Round and Round We Go!

So…what happens if you find yourself caught in a relationship with a narcissist? There are four distinct phases that these types of relationships typically go through: idealization, devaluation, discard, and hoover.

And at times, it may feel like you are on a not-so-merry-go-round going round-and-round through these phases many times over. At the end of it all, you’re left feeling like you’ve just gone through the wringer of an old-fashioned washing machine.

Idealization

The first stage in a narcissistic relationship is “idealization” and is perhaps the most dangerous of them all. This is how they hook you!

This phase always occurs right at the beginning of any relationship with a narcissist, and is where they will make you feel truly special. This is where they shower you with love and adoration (remember the love-bombing we learned about in part 2 of this blog series?), and present themselves to be exactly who they think you want them to be…and they are typically very clever, with a sixth sense of knowing what it is you want.

During this phase, you may find that you just can’t get enough of this person. Being around them is intoxicating, and you may not believe that you have found someone that is so “in tune” with you…there seems to be a perfect synergy between the two of you.

You may be wined and dined at amazing restaurants, taken on great adventures, showered with thoughtful gifts, and receive constant “love notes” telling you how perfect and special you are. They will make you feel so good that you may just ignore some of the warning signs.

Within a very short period of time, you may find yourself thinking that this person is “the one”! You, in turn, let your guard down and relax all your boundaries when you are with this perfect mate.

And even if a few “red flags” start to appear, you quickly explain away the narcissist’s poor behavior because you are under their spell…”he must have just had a bad day.”  Or…”wow, that person must have really hurt her.”  Or you may even take it on yourself…”I must have misunderstood.”

In the narcissist’s mind, they may be playing you and may not be expecting to spend the rest of their lives with you, despite all their chivalry. However, some narcissists are not consciously aware of what they are really doing, and are sincere when they tell you how perfect you are (thus, why they are so convincing). Here’s the thing…it is not truly you they adore. You are merely playing out a role in the “love script” in their mind and they have projected onto you. (Yeah…we know you remember that term from our last post, too 😉 )

It is at this point when you enter the next phase of the relationship – devaluation – and they begin to lift the mask and reveal their true self to you.

Devaluation

After you’re completely drawn in, the narcissist in your life is going to start changing it up and become manipulative.  It will be subtle at first, perhaps focusing first on running down your closest friends and family. They may even try to isolate you from those that are closest to you…this allows them to dig their claws in deeper, and removes a grounded sounding board for you to share your experiences, which leaves you relying on you and only you for support…divide and conquer, as they say.

Over time, the narcissist will amp up their antics to deceive, twist and distort facts, and lie to you.  They will become verbally abusive and insult you, accuse you, blame you, shame you, threaten you, guilt-trip you and withhold things from you (such as money or love) while making demands from you. 

They may become sarcastic about you in front of others to “put you in your place”, lower your self-esteem and make themselves appear more powerful.  They may become aggressive and rage to shock you into submission.  At the worst…they may even become physically abusive.

During this phase, it is common to continue making excuses and justifying the narcissist’s behavior.  This is partially because you have become so enamored with them in the first phase, but also because they will keep throwing a little love-bombing into the mix of abusive tactics to keep you on your toes, confused, and engaged.  And it usually works!  You may even find yourself continuing to happily sweep any red flags under the rug.  The problem here is that, not only are we allowing the narcissist to devalue us, we are also devaluing our own internal GPS that is screaming “danger!”

The manipulative tactics that the narcissist uses as dysfunctional coping mechanisms (more about these later), will cause you to start doubting yourself and your sanity; and you may even find yourself living in a fog of confusion.  You may feel like you just aren’t good enough and can’t do anything right.  Your self-esteem will be stripped away and you will be forever walking on eggshells trying to appease the person who once made you feel incredibly special.

Discard

The narcissist is always looking for what’s in it for them.  At the beginning of your relationship, it may have been the prestige of dating you, money, or even just the “chase” that excited them.  Once the narcissist has sucked you dry, you are no longer providing the “supply” they need, or if you have undermined the narcissist’s sense of false self in any way, that rug you swept all those red flags under will be ripped right out from under you.  You will be discarded like an old pair of holey socks and replaced with an “upgraded” model they can use to feed their ego.

If you do manage to get out before this phase, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.  You may become freed from their everyday abuse, but you will likely incite their wrath and may just end up becoming a target that they want to destroy at all costs…and this may become their new obsession.  You will have become the “enemy”. The earlier you can very carefully back away from the narcissist in your life, the better!

Hoover

One of two things may happen after you have been discarded by, or you have managed to leave a relationship with a narcissist…they may leave you alone OR they may try to hoover you back into their lives.  The narcissist may leave you alone if they know that you have been deeply hurt and their actions have caused you severe emotional pain because they feel validated and special.  This is also why they will very readily use your children to inflict more emotional suffering.  Remember…a true narcissist lacks all empathy (even for their own children) and requires outside recognition to feel worthy.

If the narcissist is not satisfied that you are suffering enough to validate their superiority, they may just use any means necessary to hoover you back in to recover the control over you they once had.  They will have no shame in begging, crying, yelling, guilt-tripping, blame-shifting, threatening, making false promises, or even feigning revelations of their former wrongdoings.  If they cannot lure you back into their lives themselves, they may even recruit others to help.

This stage is really akin to the love-bombing stage, but with history together.  The cycle of abuse starts all over again, and once they’ve lured you back in with their charms, the narcissist will fall right back into the devaluation phase.  A narcissist will not change their ways.  They need narcissistic supply to exist and will find that supply in any way they can.

If you have children together, the narcissist may not necessarily intend to lure you back into their life completely, but rather butter you up whenever they want something with regards to the kids.  They will then devalue and discard you once again after they achieve their goal.  For example, if they are seeking more parenting time with your children and a court date is approaching, you may find that they are especially polite, cooperative and communicative.  But guess what happens immediately after court?  You guessed it…devalue and discard.

Worse yet, unless you truly free yourself from this relationship, the cycle may continue to decrease in duration and escalate in frequency.  Eventually, you may be able to identify a new cycle day-to-day, or even from one text message to the next.

Resources

Megan Holgate, 4 Phases of a Relationship with a Narcissist, May 2017

Melanie Tonia Evans, A Deeper Look At Idolise, Devalue, Discard – The 3 Phases Of Narcissistic Abuse Part 1, melanietoniaevans.com

Savannah Grey, The Three Phases of A Narcissistic Relationship Cycle: Over-Evaluation, Devaluation, Discard, esteemology.com

Inner Integration, Hoovering | How Narcissists Try to Suck You Back In, medium.com, August 12, 2018

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