Survivor’s Log: Stardate 73838.6. It’s been well over a year since I walked away from my narcissist. If I’d had any idea meeting her would have resulted in the 4-½ year trek through hell I was about to undertake, I would’ve turned and warped into a different star system. But I didn’t. Damn me, I didn’t.”
Unfortunately, that’s the thing about falling for a narcissist – you have absolutely no idea what’s standing in front of you could very well be your destruction, that this is going to be the most grueling, exhausting, and toxic relationship of your life. But how can an intelligent, emotionally and psychologically sound person fall prey to someone who is so obviously inherently bad for them? Well, in a nutshell, it isn’t obvious, at least not to the victim because, when dealing with a narcissist, you’re dealing with a consummate thief, liar, deceiver, and manipulator. Prepare yourself. This is your Kobayashi Maru, your unwinnable scenario. As such, you don’t stand a chance. But maybe, just maybe, forewarned is forearmed. Maybe, if you would have known then what I’m about to share with you now, you would have stood at least some vestige of a chance to come out of this close encounter partially intact.
A fact many people are not the least bit privy to, a narcissistic relationship, any narcissistic relationship, is simply comprised of a single cycle of abuse composed of four phases, with each phase, in essence, designed to do one thing: keep their empath constantly confused and perpetually perplexed. The intent is to leave us with a head that’s reeling, thoughts that are continually spinning and spiraling out of control, and emotions that are in a state of constant flux. The result is an empath who is incessantly stunned, intellectually off-balance, and ever-questioning their perception of reality and the dynamic of the relationship. This opens the door wide for our narcissist to become our interpreter of what is real and what is not, regardless of what we have just witnessed with our own eyes and ears. But what are these phases and how would an unsuspecting victim recognize they’re walking into the narcissist’s trap…assuming they haven’t unwittingly stepped into it already?
Phases of Loving a Narcissist
Love bombing – The initial phase, love bombing, will never be repeated again. This is executed once the narcissist has zeroed in on their target and decided you’re it! It is the most surreal and wonderful of any and all of the phases when becoming involved with a narcissist and will also be the shortest-lived with a period lasting anywhere from a few weeks to, perhaps, a few months…if you’re lucky. During this time, the narcissist is “buttering you up,” as it were, in an effort to get you to lower your defenses and establish (at least in your mind) how fortunate you are to have them in your life and how absolutely lost you would be without them. During this short-lived phase, you’ll hear sweet, sonorous words effortlessly falling from your narcissist’s lips. Phrases such as,
“We’re soul mates.”
“You are my everything.”
“You’re nothing like my ex.”
“We have so much in common!”
“I can’t imagine my life without you in it.”
“I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“You’re the most amazing lover I’ve ever had. I could never tell you, ‘No,’ .”
“You’re the most beautiful / smart / funny / sexy / [insert false compliment here] person I’ve ever met!”
“I can’t believe you and I have so many of the same goals / aspirations / fears / dreams / hopes / insecurities.”
Do any of those phrases sound familiar? If you’ve been involved with a narcissist, I’m quite certain they do. Now, to be fair, just because someone might say these very beautiful and sweet things to you does not necessarily indicate that they are a narcissist. And, let’s be honest, anyone who has ever found another person with whom they genuinely and sincerely “click,” is not only going to hear these words, they’re probably going to at least think several of these phrases, if not utter a few, themselves. So how do we know with any certainty if the person we’ve found is a narcissist or that other half of ourselves which we have so desperately sought? Well, because if you do decide to pursue a relationship with this person, and they are indeed a narcissist, detailed below is exactly how the relationship cycle is going to play out repeatedly and in perpetuity.
Idealize – This is the first of the four cyclic phases which will follow the inaugural love bombing phase and will be nothing more than a sickly, pale reflection of the wonders and joy you experienced when you were being love bombed. And while the idealize phase is composed of several key components from the love bombing phase, it’s not the love bombing phase per se. Even though it falls directly on the heels of the initial love bombing phase, in the future, it will always follow a hoovering phase which is designed to suck you back into the relationship, hence the term hoovering (covered below). The main goal of the idealize phase is to do nothing more than perpetuate a shadowy reflection of the initial love bombing phase. These reflections will be used later to remind you of, “…how great things once were,” between you and your narcissist. Bear in mind, each subsequent repetition of the idealize phase will generally become shorter and shorter, although there will be those few rare times where the idealize phase will last as long as one to two weeks before the devalue phase begins to rear its ugly head.
Devalue – This is the second stage of the cycle where the sting of loving a narcissist really hits home for the first time. But don’t delude yourself into believing it’ll be the last time you’ll be here. If you do fall victim to your narcissist’s initial hoovering efforts once the first discard phase ends, you will be back here again…and again and again and again.
Initially, the devalue phase begins with seemingly insignificant, perhaps even “playful” remarks from your narcissist that are, at their core, critical, condescending, belittling, and denigrating. But how could our narcissist be privy to so many 0f the fears and insecurities which we secretly harbor? Because we trustingly shared all of those secrets with them between the love bombing and idealize phases. Remember? We trusted them with our wants, desires, fears, insecurities – in essence, we armed our narcissist with kryptonite. They are as Delilah to our Samson, or the Stefan to our Maleficent. And all of our narcissist’s playful and seemingly innocuous and insignificant berating remarks are designed to do one thing: plant the seeds of self-doubt that will soon take root and begin to surreptitiously undermine our self-esteem and self-worth over time.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, sorry to break it to you Romeo (or Juliet), but the great sex also comes to a steadfast halt or, at the very least, the sexual aspect of the relationship is now in Famine Mode and what was once a voluminous fountain from which you drank so deeply, becomes nothing more than a slow trickle at best. Where you used to enjoy your lover’s embraces once or twice a day (or night), it’s now once every couple of weeks – perhaps once a week if you’re lucky – that is if you’re not cut-off completely. But don’t be surprised if you’re magnanimously granted a cup of your lover’s sweet ambrosia once every month or two. After all, it’s all about controlling another person, and withholding sex is a tried and true form of both punishment and control. And when you ask the love of your life what’s going on, why the sudden change in them and the intimacy, you find you’ve suddenly stepped into what feels like an endless episode of the Blame Game where everything bad or detrimental to the relationship is your fault. Your mind begins to reel, trying to figure out what you’ve done to necessitate such a polar shift in your partner, their affection, and attention. “Why does s/he seem to hate me all of a sudden?” Beautiful, it isn’t you. It truly is them.
No amount of kindness or loving on your part is enough to placate them. In fact, it seems that every single thing you say or do, or don’t say and don’t do, exacts the same reaction: disdain from someone who, just a few short days or weeks ago, acted as though they thought you hung the moon. It feels as though they can’t remove themselves from your life and you from their presence fast enough. This unprecedented alienation snowballs into you suddenly and inexplicably being uninvited to events that you and your narcissist had either planned together or your narcissist had enthusiastically proposed you attend with them weeks or even months earlier. They have become cold, distant, unloving, inattentive, and not the least bit affectionate. Sounds pretty miserable, doesn’t it? Well, prepare yourself, this is just the appetizer for the main course – the discard phase.
Discard – This is the worst of all the phases. Just like its namesake, you are being thrown away, discarded, as though you no longer have any quantifiable value to your narcissist or to the relationship. In fact, it feels as if you never had any true value to your narcissist in the first place. In this phase, you’ll find your narcissist lying about such things as having a new romantic interest/relationship. They’ll defend this new relationship, or relationships, with proclamations such as, “You’re being ridiculous / insecure / jealous for no reason. S/He’s just a friend!” And yet, you find your narcissist spending more and more time interfacing and conversing with their new “friend,” perhaps even sharing an uncomfortably substantial amount of alone time with them and progressively less and less quality time with you. (This is called triangulation, by the way, and it’s a deplorable method of manipulating someone by making them feel unwanted and unloved through jealousy and insecurities.)
So how will you know when the end is nigh? When you’re about to be discarded? Just before you are cast aside, you’ll find your narcissist will start having and keeping even more secrets from you. For example, where they once happily gave you their phone to look something up or get directions, they suddenly, “…have a low battery,” or their “…maps app isn’t working right.” This is nothing more than the narcissist’s manifestation of fear that you will discover their infidelities and indiscretions if a phone call, text, or eMail pops up from the other him or her – their new “friend.” They’re also afraid that you might stumble across something questionable in your innocent perusals for which they’ll be confronted and have to answer. But if you are graced with the honor and privilege of the use of your narcissist’s electronic device/s, albeit computer, tablet, or phone, you’ll find you will also generally be under very close scrutinizing supervision, most usually in the form of feigned interest as they look over your shoulder, and you’re only allowed access for a very, very short time.
As if all this isn’t bad enough, now the plans you and your narcissist gleefully made earlier for the day, evening, or weekend are suddenly canceled without much, if any notice. The narcissist hollowly apologizes and innocently asks you to “…please understand,” with little to no explanation. And when you call your narcissist later to see if they’re okay (and, let’s be honest, to see if the relationship is okay), they generally won’t answer. In fact, your call will most likely go straight to voice mail on the first ring, which is what happens when someone hits IGNORE or DECLINE for a call. This means their phone is in their hand and they don’t want to talk to you, the love of their life. You’ll also find that text messages go ignored for hours at a time. And now there’s an endless parade of bogus excuses from your narcissist in an attempt to justify their sudden onset of secrecy. Take solace, beautiful. Despite what your narcissist claims, it’s nothing that you have or haven’t done. And it’s at about this point the narcissist’s mask finally comes off and they show you who they truly are. Brace yourself, you’re about to be thrown away with all the pomp and circumstance of that empty Starbucks cup they ever so effortlessly tossed into the trash this morning. And do you know what the worst part of all this is? The discard phase can last anywhere from a few days or weeks, to even months. Yes, you read that right. Months! And although rare, it’s not unheard of for a narcissist to reach out to a previous source years after a discard phase.
Hoover(ing) – It’s been days, weeks, months, and in some cases, even years, and suddenly, your narcissist returns. And, with them, all the affection and adulation they once expressed for you. You find yourself thinking, “S/He’s realized how much I mean to them and just how much they truly love me. I knew it wasn’t over. S/He really loves me!” Sound familiar? I can’t even begin to count the number of times I thought very similar words with my narcissist. I wish I could tell you otherwise but no, beautiful, this isn’t love. This is abuse masquerading as love.
Welcome to the hoovering phase. Of all the phases of the cycle of abuse in loving a narcissist, this is the second-most wonderful because it’s so eerily reminiscent of the initial love bombing and subsequent idealization phases that were so ineffably amazing. And, although things aren’t as magnificent as they were when the initial love bombing phase began, they’re pretty bloody close. Close enough that you soon find yourself forgetting all the wrongs your narcissist authored against you – all the lies, manipulation, infidelities, triangulation, and gaslighting, as they “suck” you back into the vortex that is loving a narcissist; hence the term, hoovering. This is the phase where your narcissist will say and do so many of the same amazing and loving things s/he did when you first met. They’ll even remind you that, “This is how it used to be,” and pepper conversations with the occasional, “I’ve missed you so much,” betwixt carefully rehearsed words of adulation and adoration. Don’t believe a word of their balderdash.
The hoovering phase is nothing more than the proverbial carrot that the narcissist is merely dangling in front of your heart in an effort to get you to return to them so they can once again begin feeding off of your love. The hoovering phase is a tool, just as was the idealization phase, that reseats the hook and continues to ensure that you are the property of your narcissist. And as if it couldn’t get any worse, here’s the worst part of all – these four phases will repeat over and over and over and over again, literally without end and without fail until one of two things transpires:
- The narcissist finds someone else to take your place as their primary source of narcissistic supply.
- You walk away and stay away
Believe me, if you do indeed return as a result of the hoovering phase, this perverted, cyclic dynamic could very well become your life for the rest of your life. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to become involved with a narcissist before, you know this to be true just as you know this dynamic all too dishearteningly well. Either way, there is only one legitimate option for you if you have any hope of retaining any part of you that is the beautiful you; leave. Leave before your narcissist turns the once indomitable beauty and goodness within you, into a vile antithesis of the gracious and beguiling you who once was; the you who they met and deceived into loving them. Trust me. It could very well happen. It almost happened to me. For months after it ended with my narcissist, I was so jaded, so angry, so bitter, so hurt, I shut everyone and everything out of my life. It wasn’t fair to me and it sure as hell wasn’t fair to them. Don’t allow your narcissist the opportunity to turn your life into a testimony of their torture, a tapestry of their reprehensible repulsivity, by remaining where you’re being tolerated instead of going where you’re celebrated.
If the relationship with your narcissist has ended, and you’re toying with the idea of going back to them – don’t. You’ve seen, first hand, the above cycle play out ad nauseum, verbatim, and without fail. Because if you do go back, trust me, it will only end just as it has every single time before – with you being discarded, feeling absolutely worthless and unwanted, while your narcissist is off with someone else, someone new, frolicking, laughing, cavorting, having forgotten about you and about all of those promises you made to and with each other of a life and love shared. But if you’ve had both the fortitude to leave and the strength to stay gone, kudos to you! Keep up the fantastic work. I know it hurts. I know it’s hard. I know that, at times, you miss them more than you have ever missed anyone you have ever known. The pain isn’t just emotional, its physical; I get it. I truly do. At times it’s terrifying just how deep your sobs can reach, as though someone was pulling sorrow from your bones. But it will get better. You will get better. You’re going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay.