Understanding the Three Stages of THE Narcissistic Abuse Cycle


First, they come on strong, make grand promises of the future, and shower you with gifts and compliments.

You feel special. You feel chosen. Their attention is like the  soothing balm to your wounds you never knew you needed. 

But then, right when they’ve ‘got you,’ something changes. They start to criticize you, make passive-aggressive remarks, turn cold, withdraw, and even disappear. You start to question yourself: “What did I do wrong? How can I make it right again?” You feel desperate to get things back to the good times. But no matter what you do, how much you give or chase, they pull away even more.

You give up, stop trying, and right when you do, something switches. They come back with full force, apologize, promise things will be different, and tell you everything you want to hear. The good times are back!

Until the cycle repeats. Again and again.

Has this ever happened to you? If so, welcome to the narcissistic abuse cycle. It can happen in romantic and business relationships. There are three stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle: idealization, devaluation, and discard.

Idealization: The Honeymoon Phase

In the beginning, a narcissist will often idealize their romantic partner or colleague, putting them on a pedestal and showering them with attention and affection. They may seem charming, charismatic, and almost too good to be true. 

In a romantic relationship, this can manifest as love bombing, where the narcissist overwhelms their partner with grand gestures, expensive gifts, and declarations of undying love. They may tell their partner how they ‘just know’ they’re the one, how lucky the narcissist feels to have found them, and how they’re the only one who truly understands them.

In a business context, the narcissist may flatter and praise their colleagues or employees excessively, making them feel valued and appreciated. They may promise big rewards or promotions, and even involve their colleagues in exciting new projects or initiatives.

Devaluation: The Tipping Point

The idealization phase then moves into the devaluation stage. They may become more critical, controlling, and cold.

In a romantic relationship, the narcissist may start to criticize their partner’s appearance, behavior, or interests. They may become jealous and possessive, trying to isolate their partner from friends and family. They may also gaslight their partner, making them doubt their own perceptions and memories.

In a business context, the narcissist may start to micromanage their colleagues or employees, criticizing their work and demanding constant updates. They may take credit for their colleagues’ ideas or achievements, and blame them for all mistakes.

Discard: The Final Blow

The final stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is discard, where the narcissist either abandons or discards their partner altogether. This can be one of the most painful and confusing phases, as the victim is left wondering what went wrong and what they could have done differently.

In a romantic relationship, the narcissist may suddenly ghost their partner, leaving them without any explanation or closure. They may also engage in “hoovering,” a cycle of disappearing and suddenly reappearing. 

In a business context, the narcissist may fire or demote their employees without warning, blaming them for the failure of a project or the company’s overall performance. They may also try to sabotage their colleagues’ careers or reputations, spreading rumors or lies about them.

Breaking up with a Narcissist

Breaking up with a narcissist can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do because of the manipulation and control tactics they use. These tactics can make you doubt yourself and erode your self-esteem, making it difficult to break free from the cycle.

If you’re in a romantic relationship with a narcissist, seeking therapy or counseling can help you process your emotions and develop a plan for leaving. Additionally, you can go to a breakup retreat, or create a support network of friends and family who can offer you emotional support and practical help can be crucial.

If you’re dealing with a narcissistic boss or colleague in a business context, consider speaking to HR or a supervisor about the situation. You may also want to start looking for a new job or exploring other career opportunities.

It’s important to note that everyone has narcissistic traits and the severity of those traits can run on a spectrum. It’s possible to be in the narcissistic abuse cycle with someone who doesn’t meet the full criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It’s also important to remember that not everyone is a narcissist and should not be pathologized without the input of a mental health professional.

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