Malignant Narcissists and Their Relationship Patterns

Written by Angela Atkinson


We all know the standard toxic relationship pattern that narcissists use. First, they love bomb and idealize you. Then they devalue and discard you. Then they hoover you back in – right?

This happens in varying iterations and it happens often inside the same relationship over and over for decades sometimes. But outside of that basic skeleton, are narcissists all the same? Are there other identifiable relationship patterns with narcissists?

That’s what we’re discussing today – do narcissists follow the same relationship patterns in every relationship?  Narcissists and people with NPD tend to develop their favorite strategies for getting what they want from other people – and yeah, they do tend to repeat them over and over again, especially if the other person cooperates on any level.

What do I mean? Let’s look at some different toxic relationship patterns that you’ll often see with malignant narcissists.

Narcissistic Relationship Patterns

Repeat Rom-Com Narcissism

“Repeat Rom-Com narcissism” is an interesting one, and it can really fly under your radar. They love a good romance flick, and the way they see it, their lives should look just like one! These narcissists are so wrapped up in the “pretty” part of the relationship that they believe the whole thing should look that way. See, just like anyone else, narcissists can have some pretty big romantic fantasies.

  • The Rom-Com romantic type will do the candlelight dinner and flowers thing early in the relationship.
  • Note about these types – they often repeat the same romantic gestures in each relationship. They may even use the same pet names, frequent the same restaurants, and repeat the same experiences with each supply. It’s like for them, the romantic comedy of it all is that the story doesn’t change while the source of supply (aka the “significant other”) is interchangeable.

Controlling Everything

The controlling narcissist needs to be in control and gradually they will start to take over in all kinds of areas of your life.

  • During love bombing/idealization, they pretend that they are doing it to be nice to you or to protect or take care of you.
  • During devalue and discard, they tell you it’s because you aren’t capable of doing it yourself. In reality, it’s because they want to be in control of every single aspect of your life. This is true no matter your actual level of competency.

Emotional Bullying

Even the most covert narcissist tends to engage in some emotional bullying and emotional terrorism. Emotional bullies tend to manage their fragile egos by devaluing other people. This is true for anyone they are in a relationship with – parents, children, significant others, colleagues, neighbors, and even friends.

  • They do it by projecting their own issues onto you and they try and convince you that you are the one who has the problem, not them.
  • They never praise you, preferring to only point out your flaws. But since no one is perfect and everyone has flaws, you could find yourself reluctantly seeing a bit of truth in their opinion, which can lead to more self-doubt on your part. You start to wonder: maybe you are a bit clumsy or thoughtless or….whatever.
  • They chip away your self-esteem and, like a bloodsucking vampire, as you grow weaker, they get stronger.

Always ISO The Perfect Supply

The “ISO” narcissistic relationship pattern is painful, especially given the fact that so many narcissists end up with codependents, who often have a debilitating fear of abandonment. Early in the relationship, the narcissist seems nearly perfect: they put you up on a pedestal worthy of royalty, and they treat you in kind. The narcissist needs to know that you are far too good for them, a God or Goddess worthy of their awe. (Later, of course, all they want to do is have you put them up on a pedestal so you can properly worship them.)

  • Of course, the first time they discover that you are only human and not some perfect and special being, they quickly lose their enthusiasm for you and go in search of a newer and shinier model, which of course launches the same process all over again.
  • The only way to keep their attention is to play hard to get and maintain a certain amount of emotional distance.

The Miserable Long-Haul

The miserable long haul is where the narcissist almost refuses to leave you alone. In fact, you might even end up spending a lifetime with, with or without your consent at times.

  • They will marry you (or at least offer a long-term commitment to you) pretty quickly, and unless you leave them, they’ll stick with you forever. Of course, you must have low standards and not require them to be emotionally and/or sexually faithful to them, and you must be prepared to accept whatever crumbs they can offer you.
  • The indifference that will become part of the rotating cycle is alternated with mild to extreme contempt and occasionally, love bombing and hoovering.

Question of the day: do you recognize your narcissist in any of these patterns, or a combination of the toxic relationship patterns I described here, maybe? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below if so – if not, what would you add to this list?

Resources for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse

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