Understanding the Narcissistic cycle of Abuse
The narcissistic cycle of abuse is a confusing phenomenon for victims. Not sure what this cycle is or how it works? Join me for a closer look.
Perhaps the most difficult part of being in an emotionally abusive relationship with a narcissist is the constant back and forth between being idealized and devalued.
The natural inclination for someone who experiences something as strange as being loved one minute and hated the next is to feel confused, isolated, and ultimately question one’s own sanity. Crazy, right?
To help you put that “am I crazy” question in perspective, understand that it is a cycle which explains why there are reasons beyond low self-esteem, isolation, family pressures, and lack of community support that make it very difficult for you to just pack up and leave your abusive narcissistic partner.
With a greater understanding of the narcissistic cycle of abuse, you will be able to recognize if you are in fact in an abusive relationship with a narcissist as you will recognize the predictable patterns and understand your feelings of confusion.
What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a specific type of relationship abuse where one person tries to control another person using psychological and emotional manipulation.
The relationship is initially perfect and then slowly and very subtly the dynamics change. As soon as the narcissist feels secure within the relationship they will begin to show their true colors of manipulation and control which will ultimately break you, their victim, down.
It can take many forms, including excessive criticism, name-calling, withholding, controlling, or even sexual coercion. At its core, narcissistic abuse is all about the narcissist gaining power and control over their victim, that is you.
Common Traits of a Narcissist
Narcissists have many attributes but you usually find:
- That their lives revolve around the need for constant attention and admiration from others which is only one-directional, so don’t expect anything in return.
- That they don’t care about the feelings of others as they will always have a reason that justifies their behavior.
- They take advantage of others to reach their own goals.
- They feel that they are special and others need to treat them as such.
- They have excessively arrogant behaviors and attitudes.
- They are often preoccupied with ideas of success, power, intelligence, or the perfect romance.
- They believe that they are skilled at romance and are a real catch.
- Often unfaithful as they are always on the lookout for a better more attractive partner that will shower them with more attention.
- React to criticism with anger and lash out with insults that are demeaning, belittling, or intimidating as they feel shame and humiliation intensely.
- They have an expectation that others will agree with them and will comply with their demands.
- They are easy to anger and studies have shown that they have a high tendency towards violence and aggression.
They sound like people you would definitely want to avoid. But you fall into their trap because when you first meet them they are super charming, kind, and thoughtful.
The Cycle of Abuse
A healthy relationship will have a natural ebb and flow to it, with times of greater harmony and connection balanced with periods of disagreement or discord. This is normal.
The narcissistic cycle of abuse, however, is much more consistent and relentless, with the victim experiencing a predictable pattern of love-bombing, followed by manipulation, control, and punishment, and then back to love-bombing.
The 3 stage Cycle of Abuse was identified by Lenore Walker in 1979. The three-stage pattern of abusive behavior repeats itself in a cycle that ultimately keeps you trapped feeling unable to leave an abusive relationship.
Recognizing and understanding the narcissistic cycle of abuse will help you to identify the stages of the cycle. These stages are predictable.
Once you understand that the stages of the cycle of narcissistic abuse are predictable you will be more prepared to manage your toxic relationship whilst you formulate a plan to leave.
Phase 1: Idealization
Narcissists, like all humans, have a need for love and affection and want to be admired and idolized. The narcissist, however, has an extreme need for love and affection that goes way above that of other people.
At the beginning of a relationship, narcissists are often eager to find a companion who admires them, and who will help them feel important.
Most narcissists will be drawn to strong, healthy people who are capable of having an independent and confident existence. These are the people the narcissist will want to get close to and ultimately control.
The initial phase of the relationship is one of idealization. The narcissist will say and do all the right things to win the admiration of their partner, and they will be eager to commit to the relationship.
The victim will feel as though they have finally met “the one.” The narcissist will be charming and attentive, showering their partner with love and affection.
A warning sign or a red flag that your new partner is a narcissist is when a relationship initially moves very fast seems too perfect and you have someone idealizing you.
Phase 2: Devaluation and Discard
Once the narcissist has won their victim’s trust and commitment, they will begin to devalue their partner.
In many cases, this process can happen almost immediately, as the narcissist will have become bored with the relationship or with their partner.
The devaluation phase includes the following behavior:
- An explosive and often unexpected form of abuse occurs.
- The abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial.
- You are now in a state of overwhelm, like a deer staring into the headlights.
- You cannot think, your feelings are numbed and you disassociate.
- Disassociation is a process whereby your brain forgets part of what happened as a form of protection.
As the narcissist becomes less interested in the relationship, they will begin to find fault in everything that you do. It is at this point that you will feel confused and start blaming yourself for all the problems in the relationship.
Phase 3: Reconnection and Repayment (also known as “hoovering”)
- Your abusive partner will blame you for provoking the abuse.
- The abuser denies that the abuse ever took place.
- The abuse will be minimized, and your abusive partner may attempt to brush it off saying that it was not as bad as you make it out to be.
- The abuser may apologize for the abuse and promise that it will never happen again.
- There is usually no abuse during this stage and the abusive partner will shower you with kindness, gifts, and sex.
- You will be overwhelmed with a sense of relief that the abuse is over and are overcome by the comfort and kindness shown to you by your abuser.
- You desperately cling to this “kind person” as a way of making the most of every minute of kindness, hoping that time will stand still and ignoring that the abuse ever took place.
- You now begin to believe that the abuse will not happen again, that your abuser has changed and the abusive incident is forgotten.
- You now aim hard to re-establish and maintain this “good” relationship.
This is often referred to as “hoovering,” as the narcissist is effectively “sucking” you back into the relationship and the cycle will start again.
Narcissistic abuse is a very common type of relationship abuse, and it can be very difficult to leave these relationships. The narcissist has a pathological need to control, and because they lack empathy, they are capable of acting cruelly and without remorse — even to the people they claim to love.
The best way to avoid falling for the trap of a narcissist is to be aware of the cycle of narcissistic abuse. If you are in a relationship, pay close attention to the way you are treated, and look for patterns.
If you notice the signs of abuse, take action. If you have been the victim of narcissistic abuse, don’t be ashamed. You did not cause the abuse, and you are not responsible for it, and you are not alone. But you are responsible for taking care of yourself.