The Hidden Trauma Of The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

Learn how to recognize the stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle and break free from this damaging pattern of narcissistic cruelty. Get insights to heal from emotional harm.

The narcissistic abuse cycle is a recurring pattern of behavior that is common among narcissists and those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

It can cause serious and lasting emotional damage to those in a relationship with a narcissist.

It can leave the abuse survivor with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness long after the narcissistic relationship has ended.

Let’s find out how to recognize the stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle, and break free from its damaging claws.


Stages of the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

The narcissistic abuse cycle typically consists of four stages:

  1. Idealization,
  2. Devaluation,
  3. Discard, and
  4. Hoovering.

Understanding these stages can help you identify when you are in an abusive relationship and provide you with the tools to leave the narcissist, even when you have no money.

Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

1. Idealization

The first stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is idealization.

This is the stage where the narcissist puts their partner on a pedestal, showering them with compliments, love, and attention. This stage is often called the love-bombing phase.

They may seem like the perfect partner, and the victim may feel like they have finally found true love.

If you look closely, during this stage, narcissists may make you feel guilty for spending time with other people in your social circle, and will often violate your boundaries and personal space.

2. Devaluation

The second stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is devaluation.

This is the stage where the narcissist begins to tear their partner down, criticizing their behavior, appearance, and opinions.

The victim may feel confused and hurt by this sudden change in behavior, and may try to win the narcissist’s affection by changing themselves.

A narcissist can falsely pin actions on you and then force you to accept that you did them until you begin to question your own recollection of events. This form of psychological manipulation is called narcissistic gaslighting.

Gaslighting can make you start to doubt your own memory and question your sanity.

Some of the ways that narcissists devalue their victims are:

  • Stonewalling
  • Name-calling
  • Veiled criticism
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • Ridicule and humiliation
  • Comparisons with others
  • Backhanded compliments
  • Excuses for their bad behavior
  • Lack of empathy and validation
  • Mind games that seem harmless
  • Zero-Sum or Zero-Win situations

Some narcissists are extremely cruel and physically violent during the devaluation stage.

3. Discard

The third stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is the discard.

The narcissist may simply end the relationship without any explanation, leaving the victim feeling discarded and abandoned.

Another way the narcissist behaves in this stage is by ghosting, when they simply disappear without any explanation and become incommunicado.

The victim may feel like they were not good enough and question their own worth.

According to a 2017 study, people with narcissistic personality disorder are successful in short-term relationships, but have difficulties maintaining long-term partnerships.

Narcissists are driven by Admiration in short-term relationships (dating and early-stage partnerships). But in long-term ones, they are driven by Rivalry.

Narcissistic Rivalry is defined as the tendency to protect themselves from a negative self-view by disparaging others (antagonistic self-protection).

4. Hoovering

The final stage of the narcissistic abuse cycle is hoovering.

The narcissist may try to return you into the relationship, promising to change and promising to never hurt their partner again.

They might put up a sad figure of themselves missing you. You may take their promises as genuine and consider going back to them.

They may move you by their pitiful state and push you into deciding to return. To sway your opinion further, they will start their love-bombing and idealization.

Then, when you begin to feel secure in the relationship, they will start to devalue you again, and you will find yourself caught in the painful phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle once again.

Breaking Free From The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

Breaking free from the narcissistic abuse cycle can be a difficult and challenging process, but it is possible.

Here are some tips for escaping this damaging pattern:

  • Seek the help of a professional therapist or counselor.
  • Seek support from trusted friends and family members.
  • Create a safety plan, including a plan for leaving the relationship.
  • Educate yourself about narcissistic personality disorder and the narcissistic abuse cycle.
  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who believe in your worth and value.

Final Words

The narcissistic abuse cycle is a destructive pattern of behavior that can have lasting impacts on those who are in a relationship with a narcissist.

Understanding the stages of the cycle, and seeking help and support, are key to breaking free and moving forward in a healthy and positive direction.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, know that there is hope and support available.

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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