When you’re with a narcissist, you’re typically in limbo where either you leave and then they draw you back in once again, or they give you a silent treatment or discard you, leaving you baffled over what has just taken place, often only to return after a period of days or weeks to tell you that they can’t live without you.
You feel inexplicably tied to them. It is clearly a relationship, although it is like no other you have ever experienced. You are bound to them in ways you can’t explain to anyone else. Things would be perfect… if only they would stop psychologically and/or physically harming you, if only they would stop triangulating you with others, accusing you of cheating or of not loving them, then threatening to leave you for someone who will love them better. When did things get so confusing, so backward?
It is hope, both lost and found.
And yet it is despair.
It is slow death by a poisoned will to act.
All this because you already know the truth but they won’t let you have it.
How Narcissists Trap You In the Abuse Cycle
In my last article, I illuminated exactly how narcissists pull this off by describing the narcissistic abuse cycle and combining it with a model for their motivations and our reactions.
Because narcissists split people into “good” and “bad” they are constantly fluctuating between feeling victimized and feeling emboldened by what other people do. They do not take into account the effect of their own actions because they feel entitled to do whatever they want to do to get their own needs met. If there is a problem, because they cannot accept that what they do might be wrong, the problem must exist because of what the partner is doing.
Here is how it all works:
If they love how you treat them, they will idealize you. If they perceive you have slighted them, they feel victimized by what you have done and will tear you down– and lack the emotional empathy to see how they have hurt you.
Then if you give in to what they want and work harder to show them how much you love them, you provide them with the ego boost they need to make them feel like they are in control once again and they may start to shower you with praise and love because you’ve put them in that position of strength.
But it’s not an equal relationship. They don’t provide a foundation of respect, honesty and their “love” is conditional, based on your one-down position of not challenging them or demanding these things.
What they will never do is see how they are the problem, how they are the cause of this harmful and abusive dynamic. They do not believe there is anything wrong with them. They cannot bear to be criticized for any of their wrongs and view you as the problem for pointing out what they did.
Ultimately, it is a self-reinforcing model from hell where the relationship deteriorates to the point to where you will be so ill there is little value left for them to extract, and as that happens, their abuse gets worse, which in turn breaks you down further.
Outsmarting the Narcissist
Recognizing this pattern is the first step, because spiraling downward is going to make it harder to both leave and recover.
In each of the four stages– idealize, devalue, discard, and hoover– they have woven a tapestry in which they can dominate you into providing them with what they need while giving as little in return as possible to get it from you. You are reacting to what the narcissist does in the way you have been conditioned to do so at each stage.
That means, however, that you have four chances to react differently. With even a few minor tweaks in what you do in one or more of the stages, you can start to pull some threads in this entire cycle until it falls apart. Although doing it once or twice may not get you where you need to go at first, each act is a step in the direction of no-contact and this is how you build up your strength to leave.
- In the IDEALIZATION PHASE, when they’ve put you back on the pedestal again, you know you have to jump through all those hoops to stay there. What if you do the opposite of walking on eggshells?
- Example: My ex texted me nonstop when I was out with my friends. Once the devaluation period of the relationship started, if I took longer than an hour or so to respond, I was subjected to accusations and name-calling. Yet, at some point, I stopped caring how long it took to respond. Why? Some part of me had started to see the pattern. No matter what I did, he was always going to find a reason to be upset with me. What difference did it make if he got upset about how long it took me to text back? What was the worst he was going to do? He’d already subjected me to his rage over it multiple times. I’d become numb to it, so I called his bluff.
- You: What if you tried something like this instead of trying to avoid the devaluation phase altogether or one of the predictable issues you know is coming?
- Realize that the devaluation is an inevitability. Your partner will always find something to become threatened about or offended by. Avoiding the walk on eggshells, even if you start with just one or two actions, helps you to accept this fact that there is no different outcome.
- DEVALUATION PHASE: So they’ve started in on the verbal abuse, the accusations, the gaslighting and the lies, the cheating. You’re back to the same old pattern. Don’t try to hold back. They want you to remain silent but avoid the urge to give into the conditioning. Keep calling them out. The difference now is that you should try to do it from a more empowered position, if possible.
- Examples: “I don’t put up with that type of behavior anymore” and leave the room . “Your attempt to paint me in a negative light is noted.” “I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work.” Stay calm.
- If you respond from a position of power, they have nothing to smear about you to others. What are they going to say– claim that you have done something you didn’t actually do by twisting your lack of reaction or avoidance of a real response to their baiting questions or statements as an “admission of guilt?” (My ex was a master of this). If they do, note it silently to yourself. You’re sticking up for yourself and they’re not letting you have boundaries and self-respect.
- DISCARD PHASE: If they discard you or give you a silent treatment because you’re not putting up with their abuse or giving them the reaction they need to feel validated, be mindful of what that tells you. If he or she loves you so much, wouldn’t they want you to feel respected and wouldn’t they want to be with you?
- Don’t placate their twisted victimization. Remember: you were just sticking up for yourself. You remained calm and asked to be respected. Now they’re rejecting or ignoring you for it? Let that sink in.
- When they aren’t around, this is a period of self-reflection and self-care. Use it and avoid reaching out to them.
- HOOVER PHASE: If they come back, don’t excuse what they did and don’t forget. Note this pattern to yourself and how it repeats.
- Ask them about what they are doing and why. Listen carefully for their answers. Note the inconsistency– because there will be some and it likely won’t sit well. If they want to come back so badly, why start arguments over ridiculous topics? Why treat you so badly? Pay attention.
Repeat all of this as many time as it takes. Yes, it may be mixed in with moments of weakness where you give in to what they want as well. But there will be times when you won’t.
And sometimes the pattern will look something like this:
The Narcissistic Abuse Dynamic Is Not Your Destiny
The difference between you and your narcissist partner is that the narcissist is doomed to repeat the pattern they started with you.
You are not. You can change it.
You can use the knowledge of exactly what is happening to outsmart the narcissist and stop this painful nightmare. You can make different choices!
I know, because I did it, and I’m not special. It isn’t easy, but the good news is that any choice to make one small change in what you do, in how you react or process what is happening, or even challenge how you think about what is happening makes it easier to make other changes.
When you start to do these things, you are doing is the following:
- Making yourself such a nuisance to the narcissist that they will stay gone for longer periods of time, giving yourself time to reduce or eliminate your chemical addiction to the relationship.
- Making yourself so uncomfortable with this pattern consciously that it is more uncomfortable for you to be in the relationship that any comfort they can offer you by their presence when they are there cannot overcome the anxiety and discomfort you feel by the relationship overall.
This is why even starting with small actions helps. The actions accumulate and increase your ability to perform more of them and think about the relationship with a clearer frame of mind, ultimately leading to the strength you need to overcome and overpower the dynamic of the relationship entirely and get out.
You don’t have to start at or wait for the idealization stage to do it. Start anywhere. Start where you are now.
If you are in the devaluation stage with them, start reacting calmly or walking away to what they do. If you are in the discard phase, stop trying to contact them. Ponder why they discarded you and take note of how they trap you in this pattern.
I promise you that it may not happen right away, but the day will come that you will start to see them in a different light as you begin to develop new neural pathways in your brain in how you are thinking about the relationship and change the pattern in how you are responding to it.
Your partner will become less and less appealing.
One day, you will find your way to saying, “No more” and it will be your the truth that was waiting for you all along, and they won’t be able to keep it from you anymore.
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