The pain of living in a narcissist relationship goes far beyond wondering what a fulfilled partnership looks like. It eats you up from deep inside until you don’t even know who you are anymore. The destruction of a narcissistic abuse cycle feeds off the very feelings it triggers of guilt, shame, rage, and sadness.
Narcissist or entitled behavior is toxic. It dehumanizes you and brings you down to levels no human should ever endure. Nevertheless, you can discover how to break the cycle of narcissistic abuse and free yourself. There is hope, and healing from narcissistic abuse is possible.
What is the narcissistic cycle of abuse?
We all need a healthy amount of narcissism because otherwise, how would you have the confidence to get through that interview? Nevertheless, there is some concern that narcissism is increasing in this age of instant gratification and self-promotion.
It’s worth noting that narcissism exists on a scale, and we’re all somewhere on that scale.
Nevertheless, toxic people with narcissistic traits are genuine and more common than we would like. Moreover, if your parents were self-absorbed with their own set of narcissistic traits, you’re more likely to end up in a narcissistic abuse cycle.
The cycle of narcissistic abuse entails a pattern of ups and downs or loops of hope and fear. A narcissist will confuse and harm you through manipulation, grandiose gestures, and gaslighting. You’ll be stuck between the need to flee and the desire to stay for more.
The narcissist cycle of abuse covers three stages: idealize, devalue and discard. In the first stage, they’ve targeted because they believe you can serve them and increase their status somehow. They’ll then shower you with praise and elaborate plans for the future.
You won’t even realize you’re blindsided, and you’ll be completely unaware of all your violated boundaries hiding behind the avalanche of gifts.
In the second stage of narcissistic cycles, you are, in their eyes, now worthless. This is when the real emotional damage starts. Finally, if you’re lucky, you’ll get discarded in the final phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle.
5 Ways the narcissist abuse cycle impacts you
The abuse cycle of a narcissist can go round and round in circles which is how it gets so confusing. Imagine being told one minute that you’re the worst thing that happened to someone only to be showered by love-bombing the next? This is a classic example of the narcissistic cycle of emotional abuse.
In her book, Don’t You Know Who I Am, Dr. Durvasala, psychologist and leading expert on narcissism, defines a cycle of narcissistic abuse chart. In that chart, she defines different types of narcissists depending on their behaviors.
Either way, if you’re dealing with an antagonistic or manipulative narcissist, you’ll experience some of all of these effects in your narcissistic abuse cycle:
1. Loss of sense of self and lack of self-worth
You essentially lose yourself when you’re trapped in a narcissist relationship cycle. Narcissists are self-serving with no empathy while demanding constant attention. They’ll get it by manipulating you emotionally such that your needs are either forgotten or become entangled with theirs.
The narcissistic cycle of emotional abuse also crushes your self-worth because you can never be enough for a narcissist. Moreover, you never know what mood you’ll catch them in. They could easily be in their flamboyant, needy, or manipulative state. No one can keep up.
The narcissist abuse cycle can leave you empty inside. After all, narcissists lack empathy and will drive you to avoid personal topics of any sort. As you withdraw and close yourself off from your emotions, the big hole of emptiness takes over.
The cycle of narcissistic abuse chart is an excellent place to start understanding what’s happening to you. Otherwise known as the Power and Control Wheel, the chart shows you the range of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that you could be experiencing.
Understanding abuse is the first step to developing a strategy and healing from it so you can move on. Carrying feelings of emptiness with you isn’t living life to the full.
When living in a narcissistic cycle of abuse, it’s common to be afraid. Although, don’t forget that fear can sometimes feel like anxiety or stress. You might be trying to convince yourself that your situation is normal or that it’s your fault that your partner has flashes of rage.
A narcissist relationship cycle often involves gaslighting such that you don’t know if you imagine your fear. Nevertheless, being criticized and belittled is emotionally draining for anyone. It’s made worse when the abuser suddenly turns victim and blames their anger on you.
This video explains gaslighting in more detail, and you’ll see why it’s terrifying:
4. On the edge
In a narcissist cycle of abuse, your feelings and needs are ignored. You also start to think they don’t matter. So, you might find yourself getting shouted at for being overly emotional when you’re only trying to express your emotions.
This constant shaming of feelings in a narcissistic pattern of abuse will leave you confused. You’ll start being ashamed of your emotions and do anything to avoid an attack. You give up on your values with time, but you also believe you’re flawed, which is not valid.
5. Emotional withdrawal
Enduring the cycle of narcissistic abuse can force you to withdraw emotionally and isolate yourself from others. The shame and guilt of emotional abuse are so damaging that you can’t even face family and friends, the very people who could help you.
So, how long do narcissistic cycles last, and how long can you expect to be in this cycle of suffering? It might sound counterintuitive, but it depends on you. The journey might be challenging, but you can reclaim your power and assertiveness and generally heal from narcissistic abuse.
Breaking free from the abuse cycle of a narcissist
The most challenging part of living in a narcissistic abuse cycle is that it’s very common to love the abuser. How then can you possibly leave them? Add to this that narcissist traits come from someone’s own traumatic experience, and you could almost feel empathy towards them.
That doesn’t mean that it’s your job to fix the narcissist in your life. Instead, it would help if you considered your mental and emotional health. Discovering how to break the cycle of narcissistic abuse will take some effort, but you’ll then be able to focus on finding a satisfying and respectful relationship.
It’s easy to fall into the abuse cycle of a narcissist
The impact of the narcissistic abuse cycle is devastating on your mental health. Let’s not forget that it’s easy to fall into.
After all, narcissists are charming and charismatic, especially in that first phase of idealizing you. They aim to make you feel great to get you to do whatever they want.
Once you’re in the cycle, you quickly lose your self-worth, and you doubt yourself such that you start thinking you are the problem and not them. That’s partly why it’s so hard to leave. Add to that the complications of codependency and having been brought up by narcissist parents. This is a common reason people assume that the narcissistic abuse cycle is the norm.
You can still break the cycle of narcissistic abuse
To break the cycle of narcissistic abuse, you start with managing your expectations and accepting that they will not change, no matter what you do. If you decide to stay for personal reasons, you need to stop refueling the fire.
Complicated as this might sound, that means staying away from conversations about anything meaningful in your life. Instead, stick to neutral topics to avoid elevating emotions in your narcissistic abuse cycle. If you see their emotions rising, walk away and don’t be tempted to fight back. You’ll only give them your power, and they will have won.
Of course, this isn’t what most of us want from a relationship. The other obvious option is breaking it off and walking away entirely from the narcissistic abuse cycle.
Narcissists don’t like people walking away from them, so expect drama, lawyers, and accusations. It’s wise to seek counseling first and to make sure your friends and family are there to support you before you walk away from your malignant narcissist.
Whether you’re dealing with your standard narcissistic abuse cycle where your partner requires validation or facing a malignant narcissist, you’re in for a negative experience. Malignant narcissists lie at the end of the scale because they don’t need validation.
Psychologist Erich Fromm defined the term malignant narcissist in 1964 and described it as part of the fifth essence of human evil. Psychologist Valeria Sabater describes in her article on malignant narcissism that another psychoanalyst, Otto Kernberg, defined the malignant narcissist as paranoid and a sadist.
As you can imagine, the impact of the narcissistic abuse cycle in such cases is extreme. This isn’t to undermine the other types of narcissists who also leave a path of destruction behind them. You’ll suffer from depression, confusion, shame, emotional instability, and extreme anxiety.
Healing from narcissistic abuse is possible, but it starts with awareness. It’s key to find professional help to understand what type of narcissistic abuse cycle you’re living in. A therapist can then guide you to reconnect with yourself to find your assertiveness and see the truth of what’s happening to you.
Understanding the length of narcissist cycles
Every situation is different, and how long do narcissistic cycles last also depends on you and what you do. Of course, being abused is traumatic, and no one should ever experience such things. Nevertheless, if you keep playing the narcissists game, things will never end.
The narcissistic abuse cycle can last several months to years or even a lifetime. Many narcissists partner with codependents who serve the narcissist’s need for adoration. Moreover, if you don’t seek professional help, it’s tough to realize that you’re being gaslighted.
Instead, learn about narcissistic cycles and look for the patterns. Do they have poor boundaries, and are they constantly trying to control you? What about being vindictive or paranoid that people are against them?
You might also experience extreme shifts of emotion from anger to being overly attentive. Perhaps they’re arrogant and love buying expensive things? Whatever it is, listen to your gut instinct telling you that something is wrong and that you’re actually in a narcissistic abuse cycle.
Most people see the signs deep down before their mind accepts them. A therapist can guide you through that self-doubt, though.
The narcissistic pattern of abuse is different for everyone, depending on what type of narcissist you’re dealing with. Regardless, you’ll experience the same range of feelings from guilt to shame, doubt, and emotional insecurity.
The narcissistic abuse cycle goes through three phases repeatedly unless one of you walks away. It’s straightforward to fall in love with the idealization phase but be warned of the devastation when they devalue and discard you.
Instead, work with a therapist to break the cycle of narcissistic abuse. They’ll guide you to reconnect with yourself so you can assert your boundaries confidently and decide what’s best for you.
No one should suffer emotional abuse of any form. So, get the help you need and work towards that fulfilling relationship you deserve.
Anne’s passion and purpose in life are to guide people to find their own path and contentment by learning about themselves. Only then can we build and nurture the deep connections we all deserve to have. With a background in Read more psychology and neuroscience coaching, she has helped countless couples transform their communication from aggression to assertiveness and appreciation.
She is both an ICF certified coach and mindfulness-certified, while being a counselor in training, meaning that she offers a holistic approach. You can expect to transform your view of yourself, your relationship, and the world by better understanding the habits of your mind and letting go of the unhelpful ones. You have power over your mind but you don’t have to do it alone.
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