Starting a new relationship is exciting. You’re having fun and getting to know each other, and everything feels shiny and bright. You feel special with your new girlfriend or boyfriend; they shower you with compliments and every day is an adventure.
When your partner criticizes you once, you don’t think of it as a big deal. They’ve been nothing but sweet so far. Besides, it’s normal for relationships to change as they progress, right? But it doesn’t stop at small reprimands – suddenly everything is your fault. Your partner tells you about their difficult childhood, so even if they sometimes overreact, you can’t blame them.
Then self-doubt sets in. What if you really aren’t any good, as they said? You should be lucky you’re together; who else would ever choose you? You must do everything you can to keep them close.
If you’re in a relationship that looks like this, you might be caught in a narcissistic relationship cycle. It’s an abusive relationship with a narcissistic partner who only takes what they need to feel better about themselves without regarding the other person’s feelings.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the narcissistic relationship pattern, as well as how to recognize that you’re dealing with a narcissist and what you can do to break the cycle.
3 Stages Of A Narcissistic Relationship Pattern
Narcissists hide their low self-worth behind a wall of superiority. To maintain their self-image, they use emotional manipulation and abuse people without care for their feelings and well-being. Narcissistic relationship pattern is based on manipulation and abusive behaviors meant to confuse you and make you question yourself.
The purpose of relationships is to give the narcissist what they believe they deserve: attention, praise and power. Their self-worth is entirely dependent on gaining what they feel entitled to, which can include things like influence, money, fame, respect, being feared, being envied, etc.
The victim of a narcissist is the source of narcissistic supply: they only care about you when they can use you to fulfill their needs. Narcissists see relationships as a way of meeting their own needs. A narcissist demands special treatment and admiration and uses other people to supply what they need.
When you’re used as a narcissistic supply, you feel like your partner is in control and you have to do whatever they want. They demand attention, praise and compliments, making you feel like they see you as an object, and not as a human being.
You’re only there to keep them happy, and not in a healthy relationship between two people who love each other. When narcissistic supply stops – when something they expect doesn’t come – the issues they’re hiding with narcissism threaten to come out.
They increase their narcissistic behavior and look for someone to blame, acting like a victim to get more narcissistic supply: validation, sense of importance, and approval.
There are three phases of the narcissistic relationship cycle: idealization, devaluation, and rejection. The purpose of each is to keep the narcissist’s victim trapped, providing the necessary narcissistic supply.
Stage 1: Idealization
At the beginning of the relationship, a narcissist idealizes you and makes you feel special by being attentive, loving and devoted. They treat you like you‘re precious and your time together feels like a fairy tale. This is the stage where the narcissist bewitches you.
The relationship moves quickly: soon after you’ve met, they tell you that they love you. You’re the one they’ve been looking for their whole life, their soulmate – making you believe that you‘ve met the love of your life.
The narcissist presents themselves as the ideal partner. They figure out what you want and become that person. The passion and affection they give you is intoxicating, so you let your guard down. You notice some red flags, but you’re able to justify them.
Healthy relationships change into something more stable after the honeymoon stage; in a relationship with a narcissist, this is where the abuse begins.
The Idealization stage might include narcissistic love patterns like:
• Love bombing. This is a romantic manipulation tactic of extremely intense displays of love and affection meant to get you to trust them.
• Professing love to the victim.
• Grand romantic gestures.
• Always saying the right thing.
• Extravagant gifts.
• Elaborate dates.
• Acting like you’re the center of their world.
• Grand statements about your love.
• Discussing marriage; pressuring you to commit.
• Always being around.
• Constantly keeping in touch.
• Ignoring boundaries.
• Demanding you spend all your time together.
Stage 2: Devaluation
When the honeymoon stage wears off, a narcissist reveals their true face. Instead of growing closer like in a healthy relationship, narcissists begin to put their partner down. Instead of intimacy and growth, they start showing examples of narcissistic abuse.
Devaluation stage is when the narcissist realizes their partner isn’t perfect, knocking you off the pedestal. Now their victim has no value and they think of you as worthless. You’re not enough to fuel their self-importance, so they take away all the displays of affection they used to give you.
Abusive behavior starts slowly and subtly. The narcissist uses manipulation tactics to distort your reality and make you question yourself, until you feel ashamed, alone or like you’re a bad person.
They use numerous emotional abuse strategies to control you: they invalidate you, withhold affection, criticize, belittle, use sex as a weapon, put you down, and anything else they can think of to ruin your self-confidence and punish you for not giving them what they need.
If you push back or confront them, they turn things around and present themselves as the victim and you as the abuser.
Some examples of narcissistic behavior in the devaluation stage include:
• Isolating you from your loved ones.
• Threatening you with physical violence, leaving you or harming themselves.
• Complete disregard of boundaries.
• Withholding affection or sex.
• Insults, blaming, put-downs and mocking.
• Unwillingness to communicate.
Stage 3: Rejection
Narcissists end romantic relationships when their victim isn’t providing them with narcissistic supply anymore.
When a narcissist can no longer use you to fuel their sense of importance and ego, the abuse intensifies. It might be triggered by your attempts to stand up for yourself or solve your relationship problems, but the narcissist’s ego is the cause.
At this point, the narcissist is preparing to break up with you, but in their insatiable need to feel superior, they want to first make sure they “win” before they discard you. In case it’s you who tries to end the relationship, a narcissist will use manipulation tactics and emotional abuse and give you a fight, because they want to be the one who has the last laugh.
Arguments in healthy relationships are problem-solving tools – a narcissist uses them to hurt you and blame you for ruining your relationship. There is no regret about ending your relationship: the narcissist was never looking for love and companionship, only an ego boost and attention.
Examples of narcissistic behavior in the rejection stage include:
• Inalidating your feelings.
• Blaming you for all the problems in your relationship.
• Presenting themselves as the victim.
• Showing disgust and contempt.
• Dismissing your arguments.
• Using you as the scapegoat for their own feelings.
• Anger and rage.
Dealing With Narcissistic Relationship Patterns
Narcissists don’t really love themselves, so they can’t really love someone else or feel empathy for their partner’s feelings. They see other people in terms of what they can do for them – give them attention and feed their ego.
In the beginning, a narcissist can appear to be very attractive because they do whatever it takes to hook you. They fall in love quickly and turn around just as quickly.
A narcissist is the kind of person who becomes less attractive the more you get to know them. They’re easily slighted, dramatic and attention-seeking, and make you feel like your needs are unimportant.
A narcissist becomes controlling, jealous and disparaging, leaving you with a bad self-image and a crushed sense of self-worth as soon as they decide you’re useless when you’re not acting the way they want you to.
Effects of narcissistic abuse
Every kind of abuse leaves negative effects on your mental health. Being in a relationship with a narcissist changes you. After being a victim of a narcissist, you’re left feeling powerless and hopeless. Throughout the relationship, you were manipulated and your needs were ignored.
To keep your relationship stable, you were focusing on doing the things the narcissist demanded, damaging your self-esteem. Your feelings were invalidated and your thoughts were disregarded. The impact of narcissistic abuse can have serious consequences, such as:
• Lack of self-esteem
• Being timid and obedient
• Blaming yourself for what you’ve been through
• Sleeping or eating problems
If you feel like these effects are severe, your first step should be getting professional help. A counselor or a support group can help you deal with your feelings and unlearn behaviors you were made to adopt by your abuser.
Healing from narcissistic abuse
Dealing with narcissist abuse isn’t easy, especially after they have done their damage. You’re left with self-doubt and insecurity, so you might not even try. Making you question yourself and your feelings is a tactic the narcissist uses to keep you tied down.
If you’ve recognized the signs that you’re in a narcissistic relationship pattern, it’s the perfect time to get out of this toxic relationship and start recovering from narcissistic abuse.
1. See the narcissist as they are, not what you want them to be
It’s easy to fall for the narcissist’s charm in the beginning, but like everything in life, if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Stop looking for excuses for their issues and justifying their behaior.
2. Recognize the red flags
Pay attention to the warning signs of narcissistic abuse. The sooner you spot them, the sooner you can get out.
• Crossing boundaries. Doing things like not accepting your refusal or invading your privacy, such as looking at your social media.
• Isolating you from family and friends.
• Controlling behavior. Trying to make decisions for you and control your behavior and even your words.
• Gaslighting. Doing things to make you question yourself, such as turning your words against you or twisting the facts to confuse you.
• Punishing you for ‘misbehaving’.
• Verbal abuse, such as lying, silent treatment or name-calling.
Be very firm about your boundaries. A narcissist will try to break them in many attempts because they only see you in terms of what they can get from you. Your feelings and needs are unimportant to them, so it’s up to you to protect yourself. Make it clear what’s okay and what isn’t and don’t budge.
Don’t get carried away with the initial stage of the relationship with a narcissist – their behavior is just a tactic to get you to break. By setting and enforcing your boundaries, you’re making yourself and your wellness a priority instead of the narcissist‘s ego.
4. Surround yourself with support
Narcissists often isolate their victims from their family and friends. They do this to control you, to make you feel alone and to make you depend on them. If you have become distant from people close to you, reconnect with them and share your feelings and thoughts.
People who love you will help you recognize when the narcissist is trying to manipulate you even when you’re unable to see it yourself because of the abuse, as well as provide support when you need it.
5. Focus on yourself
Learn to identify your needs and express them. After dealing with a narcissist as you get used to neglecting yourself, this might become a challenge. Spending too much time with a narcissist makes it easy for them to make you believe in their manipulative words. Find a way to spend time away from the narcissist and socialize with other people.
6. Let the narcissist deal with their own issues
A relationship with a narcissist can’t be healthy. Their desperate need for admiration and approval will drain all your energy. A narcissist is incapable of loving others, and all they want from you is narcissistic supply.
Don’t be the one to stroke their ego – let the narcissist meet their own needs. Even if you go out of your way and neglect your own needs and feelings, they won’t show you any appreciation. Instead, they will only expect more from you the next time.
7. Be resolute
A narcissist won’t change. No matter how many chances you give them, you can never have a healthy relationship with this person. They’ll make promises and use love bombing, but they’ll never be with you for the right reasons.
Narcissists only use other people, and no matter how hard they try to convince you, they’ll never really love you, so the best course of action is to ignore them.
Don’t be tempted – think of all the abuse you’ve suffered so far. Things will never get better in a relationship with a narcissist. You deserve better, and as long as this person is in your life, they’ll keep holding you back.
Signs Of Narcissism In A Partner
Narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a medical condition, so only a doctor can really diagnose someone as a narcissist. However, in everyday communication, the term ’narcissist’ is also used to mean someone who is self-obsessed without consideration for others, without necessarily being diagnosed with a mental disorder.
Knowing the definition of a narcissist can help you recognize narcissistic tendencies in someone with whom you have a relationship. Narcissistic abuse is real, and officially diagnosed or not, mental health problems don’t give a person an excuse for abuse.
The American Psychiatric Association defines narcissism as “a pattern of need for admiration and lack of empathy for others. A person with narcissistic personality disorder may have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, take advantage of others or lack empathy”.
It’s interesting to note that a 2015 study has shown that men are more likely to be narcissistic, “driven by men’s heightened sense of entitlement and authority”.
Characteristics of a narcissist
• Grandiose sense of self-importance.
• Expects to be recognized as superior.
• Fantasizes of success, power or superiority.
• Beliefs that they are special.
• Needs admiration, attention and affirmation.
• A sense of entitlement.
• Expects special treatment.
• Takes advantage of other people.
• Lack of empathy.
• Can’t handle any comments about their behavior.
• Focuses only on their own needs; has no interest in the needs of others.
• Envious of other people and believes that others envy them.
• Arrogant behavior and attitudes.
All narcissists have certain things in common. Their beliefs and behavior are completely self-centered – they’re only focused on their own needs and don’t care what happens to other people in the pursuit of what they want.
Narcissism is a defense mechanism. It has its source in insecurity and low self-esteem, covered by a thin layer of superiority. A narcissist never digs deep into their own psyche – they wear masks of self-importance and entitlement and believe in it, but don’t want to look underneath.
All they know is that they must get the admiration and acknowledgment they need at any cost. They demand special treatment, loyalty, adoration and validation of their fragile egos. A narcissist is easily offended and overreacts to criticism.
In relationships with other people they’re manipulative and they play games. A narcissist has no self-esteem, so they need it from others. The only thing they really love is being admired. They can’t love other people and they don’t care about their partner’s emotions.
One of the most toxic narcissist traits is that they view relationships as transactional: in terms of what they can get from others. This is why they look at human interactions as win/lose situations.
A narcissist needs to feel that they are above others and that they’re always right. They’re never wrong, so they never apologize and they’re often condescending. Manipulation is second nature to them, easily used in their relentless pursuit of what they can gain.
Lack of empathy is one of the better known traits of a narcissist. They have no self-awareness and project their feelings onto their victims. When there’s a problem, they blame others.
How to spot a narcissist?
• They only talk about themselves.
• They brag about real and imaginary accomplishments.
• They’re superficial and can’t achieve true intimacy.
• Their behavior is based on getting approval from others.
• They relate to people as objects who can do something for them.
• They become enraged at the smallest criticism.
• They believe they’re more important than others and entitled to special treatment.
• They look for status, be it objects or people.
• They have no close friends.
• They ignore boundaries.
• They can’t understand how other people feel because of their lack of empathy.
• They don’t know how to cooperate with others.
• They blame other people for everything.
• They believe they’re above the rules.
• They’re highly sensitive to criticism.
• They’re constantly looking for validation.
Types of narcissism
Even though all narcissists share the same traits, they can be divided into three sub-types in accordance with their approach.
This type of narcissist first and foremost expects to be treated as superior. They want special treatment and sing their own praises, expecting you to do the same. A grandiose narcissist is more confident and less sensitive and their main traits are grandiosity, aggression and dominance.
The vulnerable narcissist craves validation above all. They’re emotionally sensitive and their sense of grandiosity is fragile. They feel inadequate and incompetent and protect these feelings of inferiority with narcissism. When a vulnerable narcissist is not getting special treatment, they feel victimized.
Because of their feelings of worthlessness and shame, they worry about how you see them. This kind of narcissist switches between feeling superior and inferior. They’re often possessive, jealous and paranoid.
A malignant narcissist is the most toxic type. They’re highly manipulative and exploit others for pleasure. All they want is to control and dominate others and feel no remorse for their actions. This type of narcissist is deceitful, aggressive and antisocial.
If you believe that you might be caught in a narcissistic relationship pattern, try to get out. It can be very difficult, so you’re going to need help.
Surrounding yourself with a strong support system makes a difference. Seeing a therapist can be very useful in changing your point of view which has been influenced by the narcissist, giving you a sense of determination to stay away.
Narcissists love nothing and no one, their ego is the only thing that matters. The sooner you realize that and decide that you’re more important than their feelings of superiority, the sooner you can move on and start healing.