Understanding The Narcissist Relationship Cycle

Understanding The Narcissist Relationship Cycle

Curious about the narcissist relationship cycle? Whether you just got out of a tumultuous experience or you’re dating someone new but feeling like something is off, keep reading. You’re definitely not alone and knowledge is power.

Many of us with the anxious attachment style, C/PTSD, codependents, or empaths have encountered a narcissist or two in their dating life. The narcissist simply seems attracted to this type of person. Consequently, it can leave us feeling like the world is full of narcissists.

A relationship with a narcissist is a confusing and traumatizing experience, which might leave you wondering: what exactly went wrong here?

Most romantic relationships with narcissists follow a distinct pattern. Understanding this pattern can help you better understand your past relationships and also help you to avoid falling into this trap in the future.

How A Narcissistic Relationship Impacts You

The emotional rollercoaster of narcissistic abuse can leave you with lasting scars. You might experience:

  • Low self-worth/inability to trust yourself
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Unhealthy relationship patterns
  • Physical health problems

The Narcissist Relationship Abuse Cycle

Imagine a love story gone wrong. This isn’t your typical break-up; it’s the narcissistic abuse cycle, a pattern of manipulation that leaves victims feeling confused and emotionally drained. But the pattern starts long before the painful breakup.

Stage 1: Idealization / Lovebombing

It usually starts with a whirlwind romance. The narcissist showers you with affection, making you feel like the center of their universe. It all looks great from the outside and often feels great even better.

I remember thinking “This is what I always wanted…right?” Because even though it was good, I knew something was off.

This “honeymoon phase” is intoxicating, but unlike a healthy relationship, it’s an exaggeration of reality.

Here are some signs from this phase:

  • They exude charm, charisma & confidence
  • They have all the same interests, hobbies, and world views etc. as you
  • You felt an instant, strong connection even though sometimes you felt things were off
  • They shower you with compliments, gifts, take you extravagant dates, or even on trips
  • The pace of the relationship is very quick, they’re texting you all day, seeing you every day, etc.
  • They start talking about the future very quickly (getting married, kids, etc.)
  • They are extremely interested in you, your past, your previous relationships, etc.
  • They seem very empathetic and attentive to your needs
  • They are very persistent and won’t take no for an answer
  • They want to make it official very quickly
  • You meet their friends and family very quickly
  • They also love bomb your friends, family, etc. showering them with attention, compliments, gifts, etc.
  • They say “I love you” after only days or weeks
  • They tell you “It’s never been like this before”, “You’re different than everyone else”, or that you’re way more unique, special, etc. than everyone else
  • They say or imply that all their exes are crazy
  • They trauma dumped about their childhood etc. very early on
  • They ignored your boundaries or ignored you when you said no
  • They began to get jealous or possessive about you
  • They started to get upset about your hobbies or spending time with other people (My ex would get upset about me going jogging in the mornings!)
  • They pressure you into sex or sex happened very quickly. Sex is either mindblowing or mechanical and robot like
  • They want to know where you are all the time
  • They might show signs of a fragile ego, get too defensive, or even paranoid
  • They might lose their temper quickly or get angry but recover and repair quickly
  • You have a gut feeling that something is off

Stage 2: Devaluation

After the narcissist has won you over, they soon get tired of the act and all the effort they put into their fake facade. You start to feel like a burden to them and they start to criticize and belittle you, chipping away at your self-esteem. They might twist your words, making you question your own sanity.

  • While you once thought you had the same interests, now it seems like you have nothing in common
  • They go from being your biggest supporter to your worst hater, criticizing everything you do
  • Good times are fewer and farther between
  • They pick fights and create drama, then blame you for it
  • They trap you in arguments where the goal posts keep changing, keeping you confused and on edge
  • They start to tell you what to wear, how to do your makeup, hair, etc. (Mine always wanted me to chop my hair off, which I never did.)
  • They begin to withdraw their love, approval and even sex, leaving you feeling confused or alone
  • All their empathy seems to disappear
  • Now nothing you do is (or was) ever good enough and the goal posts of the relationship keep changing
  • You start catching them in lies (even if those lies have nothing to do with you)
  • They start accusing you of cheating (or other things you’d never do)
  • Sex becomes weird or objectifying, or they suddenly want something more extreme. They coerce you into sexual acts that you didn’t want (& perhaps shaming you for it)
  • They talk about being attracted to other people or make a point of saying someone is better looking than you
  • They might disappear for hours or days, only to come back with a lukewarm explanation
  • They start triangulating with their friends, family, therapist, etc. about how unhappy they are in the relationship with you
  • You are now responsible for their behavior, moods, needs, etc. and they blame you when they feel upset
  • They are even more controlling or jealous, wanting to know where you are all the time
  • They demand one set of standards for you, but don’t apply those standards to themselves
  • They start isolating you from your friends and family or sabotage your relationships with other people by making it seem like you’re crazy, etc.
  • They have bouts of extreme rage
  • Sometimes they seem like an empty shell, ignoring you while on their phone, computer, TV, etc.
  • They have one face for how they act in public and a very different one for you
  • They become paranoid and act like you’re criticizing them, even when you weren’t
  • You highly suspect they’re cheating or you find them cheating
  • They start patronizing you or talking down to you
  • Everything in the relationship is now your fault and won’t take accountability for anything

Stage 3: The Discard

Once your self-worth is depleted and you no longer supply them with the ego boost they need, the narcissist discards you. Then they move on to a new target, repeating the cycle all over again.

  • They completely withdraw love, attention, approval, sex, etc.
  • The person you loved is gone and they now seem like a stranger
  • While they used to be obsessed with you, now they’re going out of their way to put you down or tell you that you’re boring
  • They can’t keep lies/stories straight
  • They begin to treat you worse than they had ever treated you: with no empathy, compassion
  • They spend a lot of time on their phone/computer/”working late” etc.
  • Their behavior flip flops from loving to cruel
  • They become incredibly critical & blame you for everything
  • They are no longer jealous or possessive
  • They tell everyone they’re the victim/heartbroken even though they were the one hurting you/breaking up with you
  • They instantly jump into a new relationship (new narcissistic supply)
  • They parade the relationship around everywhere, IRL, on social media, and tell everyone how much happier they are now
  • They discard you in a cold/cruel way (Or they do something so heinous you’re forced to dump them)
  • They wage a massive smear campaign against you, not even wanting people to stay friends with you
  • They have strange or irrational reasons for ending it but are still angry at you
  • They are callous and impervious to your pain/tears etc.
  • After discarding you/disrespecting you, they suggest you stay friends (because they still thing of themselves as such a good person)
  • While they don’t want to date you, they try to make it hard for you to move on, either sabotaging anything new in your world or pretending to want to get back together
  • They pretend they want to get back together, only to make you work for it
  • They get back together with you, only now you’re at a new demoted position (side piece, secondary girlfriend, etc.)
  • If you have kids, they will rarely see them but when they do, there will be a lot of photos and social media posts to make it look like they’re “such a good dad”.
  • They tell people that you were doing the things they were doing
  • They block you everywhere except one place. Or they leave you unblocked but leave you on read.
  • They blame you for the breakup/discard
  • They try to get back together only to dump you immediately again
  • They still watch all your Instagram stories, keep track of you, even stalk you

How To Break The Narcissist Relationship Cycle

Being trapped in a narcissistic abuse cycle is painful, but it’s possible to break free. Here’s how to take back control:

1. Recognize the Pattern

The first step is awareness. Realizing you’re in a narcissistic abuse cycle is empowering.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about talking about narcissism. I couldn’t recognize this pattern when I was in it because I had no education about it at all! Simply being able to see this pattern will help me avoid it in the future.

2. Leave The Relationship

I know that some people are able to continue relationships with narcissists. Some are able to stay with their narcissist for years.

Of course, every situation is different and I can’t tell you what’s right for you. But with that said, my best advice is to get out of the relationship, before they can cause you more damage and waste more of your time and energy. Most of the time the emotional damage is just not worth the cost.

3. Set (and Enforce) Boundaries

Narcissists looove to push boundaries. They want to get under your skin and this is one of the quicket ways to do that. That’s because their world is all about them, never about you.

Establish clear limits on their behavior and stick to them, even if it means walking away.

These days, if I say no or set a boundary early on and the other person doesn’t respond well, I take it as a big red flag. At the very least, it shows that this person doesn’t respect me or have my best interests at heart.

4. Remember It’s About Them Not You

Narcissists rarely change and their attacks can be painful. But remember it’s not about you and it never ways. Always focus on what you can control: your response to their behavior.

5. Use The Grey Rock Method

One way of coping with narcissists is the Grey Rock Method: basically, becoming emotionally blank around them, so they can no longer get a rush out of provoking you. Whatever they say or do, just stay neutral. Eventually, they will get bored and move onto a different target.

6. Do Emotional Healing Work

The emotional wounds you experience in a narcissistic relationship can carry on long after the relationship is over. Personally, I felt empty and like I had lost who I was somewhere along the way.

You might experience sadness, anger, or even PTSD symptoms. Don’t blame yourself! It’s a process to learn how to trust yourself again.

7. Lean on Your Support System

Friends, family, and support groups can provide invaluable validation and encouragement. Make an effort to reach out, even if you’ve been isolated or if the narcissist tried to turn them against you. Most people will be happy to listen to your side of the story and offer moral support.

8. Seek Professional Help

Therapy can be a lifesaver. A therapist can help you heal from the trauma, develop coping mechanisms, and rebuild your self-esteem.

If you’re ready to deal with the emotional pain following a narcissistic relationship, but can’t pay for a therapist, here’s your solution. BetterHelp is perfect for convenient, affordable therapy you can start at home. Click below to get matched with the right therapist for you.

So tell me: are you dealing with a narcissistic relationship or breakup? Which part are you struggling with the most?

Please remember, you did nothing to deserve this experience! The way you were treated is all about the narcissist, not a reflection of who you are. Even when they blame you directly for it, don’t take the blame and make a commitment to healing. You don’t have to live with this trauma forever!

Breaking the cycle takes courage, as does any emotional healing work. But with the right support, you can reclaim your self-worth, and build healthy relationships in the future.

Jenn Stevens The Self-Worth Project

PS Looking for more? You might also want to check out this post about 10 ways to stop anxiety fast, or 20 signs of an avoidant attachment style.

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Understanding The Narcissist Relationship Cycle

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