If you’ve been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, then you’re well aware of how invalidating and toxic the relationship cycle can be. But, you might also be hearing from people who seem to think it seems impossible that a narcissist could trick an intelligent person into staying in such an abusive relationship. It would be easy to worry if this has happened to you, but don’t doubt yourself. You aren’t stupid, and you’re not weak. Unfortunately, many people simply don’t understand the tremendous amount of manipulation involved in narcissistic abuse – not to mention that it doesn’t just start happening but is a sneaky, pervasive process.
Inside the Narcissist’s Idealize, Devalue, and Discard Cycle
From idealization (focusing on your strengths) to devaluation (zeroing in on your weaknesses and perceived threats) to discarding (the discovery that they are no longer needed or wanted), you may endure years of abuse from a single narcissist. That cycle of abuse is a perfect storm of intermittent reinforcement and psychological manipulation, the likes of which can affect almost anyone.
What is the cycle of narcissistic abuse?
The cycle of narcissistic abuse is a pattern used by a narcissistic personality disorder, psychopathic, or sociopathic person to entrap their victims. For the most part, victims will experience four main phases, including the idealization phase, also known as love bombing, followed by the devaluation and discard degrees. Thus, this cycle of abuse is a pervasive pattern of alternating idealization and devaluation.
Phase 1: Love bombing and idealization
The narcissist uses switching tactics to “hook” you into falling in love with them, or at least into really liking them and wanting their approval. As a result, you’ll be idealized and put on a pedestal. You’ll be compared (positively) to former sources of narcissistic supply, and you’ll think you’ve found your true soulmate.
Phase 2: Devaluation
You’ll experience a period of “devaluation,” during which the narcissist will actively seek out and pick on any perceived flaws you have. They will be heartlessly vicious during this phase. You’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure out what you did wrong and desperately searching for a single glimpse of the person you thought was your soulmate. You might even blame yourself if the narcissist is effective in their gaslighting and manipulation.
Phase 3: Discard
Whether they choose to discard you permanently, or they choose to give you the silent treatment for a while, or even if they’re threatening you often that they’re going to leave, the discard phase is devastating. By this point, you’ve become fully enmeshed with the narcissist and formed a trauma bond.
Trauma bonding affects the same part of your brain as drug addiction. In other words, you are addicted to the narcissist just like you could be addicted to alcohol, drugs, or even gambling or sex. That’s why it’s difficult to leave the narcissist on your own.
Phase 4: Hoovering
After that, the narcissist will often try to bring you back into the relationship, or at least into their “circle of supply,” through a tactic we call the hoover maneuver. The hoover maneuver can involve several different manipulative behaviors designed to get your attention. This cycle will repeat throughout the relationship, whether or not it’s ever officially ended. In many cases, the “final discard” only happens when you choose to end it yourself. This is because the narcissist will continue to use you for narcissistic supply as long as you allow it in most cases. Otherwise, the cycle will inevitably continue, in one way or another.
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse. Here are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.
- Sign up for our free email newsletter service that includes a free guided recovery experience via your inbox.
- Start your narcissistic abuse recovery here with our free narcissistic abuse recovery support system and program.
- Think you might have C-PTSD, but you’re not sure? Then, take our free C-PTSD Self-Assessment.
- Join one of our free online narcissistic abuse recovery support groups!
- Join one of our private small coaching groups!
- Get private, one-on-one narcissistic abuse recovery coaching or counseling.
- Get a therapist who will work with you online. Check out our guide to finding a therapist or psychologist who understands narcissism and narcissistic abuse.