6 Ways To Stop The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

The cycle of abuse follows a familiar pattern: tension, an abusive incident, reconciliation, and a period of calm. Abuse, followed by remorse, followed by things feeling okay is part of what makes people feel like they can get through an abusive relationship, thinking it will eventually get better.

The narcissistic cycle of abuse is a bit different though, with the cyclical nature played out with subsequent partners. First comes love, then comes abuse, and finally a breakup before the narcissist moves on to their next victim.

The old adage “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme” is particularly true when it comes to narcissists.

While the cycle of abuse may not follow the exact same trajectory for every relationship, there are a few steps that people with narcissistic personality disorder have in common.

What is the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse?

When you’re in the circle of abuse with a narcissist, their brand of emotional terror can feel very unique and personally damning, but the strategy they follow is fairly similar with each partner.

It typically comes in three stages, though a narcissist’s need for emotional supply creates a natural ebb and flow from one stage to the next. 

Idealization

This is the stage in the narcissistic relationship cycle that initially hooks the victim and it’s often what makes them return to the narcissist after things get bad. In the beginning, narcissists shower their victims with praise and admiration, a technique known as “love bombing”. 

A telltale sign of love bombing is that you feel the relationship progressing too fast. Narcissists have a grandiose sense of themselves, and that translates to how they feel about their relationship.

They might declare you soulmates after the first date. You’re being put on a pedestal from the beginning, which means you have nowhere to go but down in the eyes of your narcissistic partner.

Narcissists make their partner feel like the center of the universe, but all that praise has little to do with their partner’s value as a person and everything to do with how the new relationship makes the narcissist feel; they are reflecting the positive emotions that they feel about themselves.

Unfortunately, the immediate bond and heaping helpings of praise can be addictive to the victim too, which is one reason so many people return to toxic relationships with a narcissistic partner. 

Devaluing

All good things must come to end, and with a narcissist, it all comes crashing down in a relatively short period of time.

While narcissists idealize their partner in the early stages of the relationship, they start seeing the cracks in a matter of months, after which this is all they can focus on. 

The devaluing phase is a reflection of how the narcissist is feeling about themselves. They’re no longer riding the high of a new relationship, and the disappointment over that is taken out on their partner.

To regain their ego, they lash out at the partner and belittle them until they feel strong again.

Depending on the narcissist’s emotional state, they can vacillate between the idealization and devaluation stage.

One minute they’re madly in love, and in the next their partner can’t do anything right. This back and forth is incredibly damaging to their partner’s psyche and makes them much easier for the narcissist to control.

Discard

While the devaluation phase is no picnic, it’s the discard that partners of narcissists fear most. During this stage, the narcissist seems to just walk away.

Sometimes they will speak out against their former partners to any mutual friends that will listen, but most of the time they simply leave with barely a word of explanation. 

When a narcissist discards the partner it’s because they are no longer getting what they need out of the relationship.

Their partner isn’t providing the ego-boosting supply they desperately crave, even when they’ve trained their partner to provide it during the devaluation stage. Sometimes only a new partner will do.

The discard phase isn’t necessarily final though. Many narcissists return to a former relationship when they need an extra bit of supply.

Sometimes this will be short-lived, but other times they’ll fall back into familiar habits and the cycle of abuse starts all over again. Many narcissistic relationships go through several discard phases before a final discard actually occurs.

Sometimes this is a relief for the abused partner, but more often it leaves them confused and distressed.

How Does the Cycle of Abuse Work?

While narcissistic abuse might seem fairly linear, it’s actually a cyclical process, and most victims encounter each state a number of times before they leave the relationship.

For example, the narcissistic discard phase appears final, but many narcissists utilize it as part of a hoovering technique. After the devalue and discard phases, the narcissist moves on to another partner or at least tries to.

Once they become bored of this situation, they will often return to their previous partner, showering them in praise and talking about why they should have never left. 

This is all part of the narcissist mean/nice cycle though, and it won’t be long before they begin devaluing their partner again.

The idealization and devaluation phases can flip flop many times throughout a relationship, with the narcissist abusing their victims, but then apologizing for their behavior and then expressing admiration for their partner.

Before long though, they’ll be criticizing and putting their partner down until they are completely broken and powerless, but even this isn’t enough to satisfy the narcissist. 

The partner has stopped fulfilling their need for supply and they carry out the same narcissistic discard as before – walking away with seemingly no regret or emotion of any kind.

Whether this happens again depends on whether the narcissist sees more supply to be squeezed out and whether their partner is willing to tolerate further cycles of abuse.

How Do I Stop the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse?

Halting the cycle of abuse is no easy task; it’s why many victims of narcissistic abuse stay in these relationships for months or years after the devaluation stage begins.

The first step in getting away from an abuser is understanding what constitutes abuse and how it affects you.

Why is Narcissistic Abuse so Damaging?

Narcissists leave many scars on their victims, specifically in how they perceive relationships, trust other people, and even how they experience the world. 

What Does Narcissistic Abuse Do to You? Recent research using brain imaging technology has found that narcissistic abuse causes many of the same problems as traumatic events like war and natural disasters.

Many victims of narcissistic abuse develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and have the symptoms to match it. 

Narcissistic abuse has a negative effect on the hippocampus region of the brain. This is where memories are converted from short-term to long-term storage.

Thus, abuse survivors have more trouble with recall and sometimes have difficulty learning new subjects. The prefrontal cortex is where decision-making occurs, and those who have spent months or years inside a relationship with a narcissist often cannot make plans or focus their attention.

Then there’s the amygdala, which is thought to be one of the major controllers of our emotional reactions. Those experiencing abuse have a harder time regulating their feelings, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.  

What is Narcissistic Emotional Abuse and What Does It Look Like?

Abuse can come in many flavors, and a narcissist is likely to try a few to figure out what works – what takes your power away and leaves you under their spell.

At its core, narcissistic emotional abuse is about the narcissist controlling their partner’s behavior. To do this, they need to break them down to the point that they look to the narcissist for all of their validation and worth.

These are some of the most common forms of narcissistic abuse. 

  • Gaslighting – narcissists like to control the narrative and will tell you things happened differently from reality.
  • Withholding Love – a narcissist needs your attention to thrive, but they know holding back affection and love is one of the surest ways to keep a hold on you.
  • Telling Lies – nothing is more important to a narcissist than their ego. Manipulating the truth protects that ego and eliminates accountability.
  • Insults – it’s much easier to control you once you feel like you deserve to be treated poorly. You’ll be told that you’re worthless and should feel lucky to have the narcissist in your life.
  • Exerting Control – narcissists want you to know that they are in control of your life. You can only make decisions with their permission.

How Do Victims of Narcissists Feel?

Everyone who’s experienced the pain of narcissistic abuse feels differently, but there are some feelings that are fairly common for all victims. 

  • Isolated – narcissists do what they can to separate you from your loved ones.
  • Indecisive – every decision is criticized, making the right choice feels impossible.
  • Physically Unwell – narcissistic abuse can cause upset stomachs, insomnia, and fatigue.
  • Dissociated – your body no longer feels like your own, a natural reaction to prevent you from feeling the sting of abuse so acutely.
  • Depressed – it feels like there’s no way out of this cycle of abuse.

6 Ways to Stop the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

Escaping the cycle of emotional abuse is never easy, but it is possible and absolutely necessary if you want to maintain your own mental health. These are some of the key steps in leaving someone with narcissistic personality disorder.

1. Understand that you’re being abused

Narcissists have a knack for blaming their victims, telling them that they’re too sensitive, they’ll never find anyone that will treat them better, and gaslighting them into believing the abuse didn’t happen in the first place.

You should write down abusive actions so you don’t forget them or become convinced that things unfolded differently.

Once you see that all the love bombing and instant emotional connection is just a front for the devaluation and discard stages down the road, you can start your journey away from this relationship. 

2. Set boundaries.

Narcissists are incredibly self-absorbed and have no trouble violating your personal space.

Sometimes this is intentional, but at least in the initial stages, the narcissist is simply incapable of understanding your needs or boundaries.

Lay some ground rules for your interactions with them; this may lead to some narcissistic rage, but letting them know you expect boundaries should make for better interactions in the future.

3. Get your guard up.

Narcissists fight dirty when they’re hurt and you need to go in expecting that. They may start a smear campaign, attempting to set your friends, family, and even coworkers against you.

Narcissists are always trying to get others on their side, but if you’re prepared for the campaign, you can counter it.

4. Don’t accept promises, demand action.

Narcissists are great at telling you what they’ll do in the future. Unfortunately, they rarely follow through.

If you’re going to stay in a relationship with a narcissist, but want the abuse cycle to stop, demanding immediate change is a must. Set concrete steps for what they need to do if you’re to continue this relationship

5. Get help.

Walking away from an abusive relationship is incredibly difficult and you’ll need some support. Friends and family can be helpful, but they’re not always equipped to deal with a complicated situation like this.

Fortunately, there are resources out there – therapists, lawyers, and nonprofits focused on abusive relationships. They’ve seen what narcissistic abusers are capable of and know-how to get you out as quickly as possible.

6. Walk away unannounced.

A confrontation with your abuser is never going to have a good outcome. They could become rageful, but more likely, they’ll try to suck you back into the cycle.

The narcissist might act remorseful, tell you they can change, and then go back to their old ways a week or two later. 

Many survivors of narcissistic abuse will try to make it work, and it is possible that the narcissist can change with proper boundaries and expectations.

However, most narcissists will not want to stay in a relationship with these restrictions because it won’t be fulfilling their needs.

In that case, it’s better for both sides to walk away instead of going through another round of abuse.

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Written by Alexander Burgemeester on

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. He devotes himself to writing important information about certain mental health topics like Narcissism and Relationship problems. He is the main author of all content on Thenarcissisticlife.com Want to know more? Read by author bio page.

11 thoughts on “6 Ways To Stop The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse”

  1. Thank you so much for enlightening on this topic. My husband goes through this cycle almost exactly word for word how you explained it. It’s nice to know where it comes from and how to cope with it.

    Reply
  2. Thank you I just finished my relationship with my boyfriend because of this, the information is a weapon in these cases, it is not easy to accept nothing was real, we were 2 years and a half in a relationship and the last 7 months we had 2 cycles but I decided to leave now rejecting even his over charming phase, I readed complete books about Narcissism during his silent treatment and it was enough to know it was exactly him.

    Is there any way to test it to be sure? I feel sometimes insecure sometimes I think maybe he was just deressed, but I dont think so because he was going out all the time with his friends.

    And is there any connection with the memory? or is just that they lie? Because mine he could not remember his passwords, my birthday, songs that he dedicated me :'( and I find it interesting.

    I am studying neurosciences how can you work with persoality disorders?

    Thank you for your time and help 🙂

    Reply
  3. I have had the D&D experience 5 or 6 times with my husband of 40 yrs. Just horrible to experience. Til 6 years ago he and my family had me convinced I was a bad person deserving this treatment. I know better now.
    You feel worthless because you were groomed to accept this treatment. The N can do no wrong. He is perfection. He tolerates you and your issues, punishing to get his fix.
    The punishing rips you apart. Because its from your cherished partner who kicks you to the curb and you are too brainwashed to see it when it happens.

    Reply
  4. I’ve read your artilcles on NPD (I’m positive my partner is one) and whilst I can confirm that your description fits her to a tee so much that it’s as if you were writing from my personal experiences – something bother me.

    The issue is it makes them out to be premeditated, cold-blooded parasities; knowingly manipulating you, using you and looking for other supply sources if you pull back. How they operate with stealth and deception, “preying” on “victims” etc. It makes them sound sociopathic, even sociopathic but as troubled as my partner is I’m positive they’re not doing any of this intentionally – that they’re not aware of their actions. Am I wrong? Am I just not wanting to see them for who they are – inhumane, incapable of feeling and insidious – or are they genuinely trying their best to live an honest life and unaware of themselves?

    Reply
  5. @ Justin,

    Narcissism is a spectrum. All NPDs try to mask their own insecurity both to others and themselves and they do so by projecting their failures and faults on to others. But to what degree varies. Some are mostly selfish and unconcerned with your welfare. Thus sounds like your wife.

    But some (but not al)l NPDs have actual malice because their need to dissemble is so severe that they need a hate object to distract themselves from their own misery. Some of these are actually sadistic not just selfishly indifferent. Many of those with maluce are sadly NPD parents or stepparents who systematically hurt (whether physically or psychically) often over decades, a “scapegoat” child.

    Reply
  6. This article is rather offensive. “As difficult as it might be, be grateful this toxic man is out of your life.”

    Well, unless my ex girlfriend was secretly a guy who is the cause of my suffering every day now, then I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t write this as if it’s only guys who are like this.

    Actually, considering the way that the world ticks nowadays, wouldn’t it be a more realistic conclusion that girls are more likely to suffer from NPD than guys? See social media and dating apps to confirm. Oh, so sorry, forgot for a second that women have “value” and that men are just disposable…carry on…

    Reply
  7. This article is rather offensive. “As difficult as it might be, be grateful this toxic man is out of your life.”

    Well, unless my ex girlfriend was secretly a guy who is the cause of my suffering every day now, then I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t write this as if it’s only guys who are like this.

    Actually, considering the way that the world ticks nowadays, wouldn’t it be a more realistic conclusion that girls are more likely to suffer from NPD than guys? See social media and dating apps to confirm. Oh, so sorry, forgot for a second that women have “value” and that men are just disposable…carry on….

    Reply
  8. My husband fits in almost all descriptions of NPD BUT he love our children, he doesn’t treat them harsh lie he treats me. He pays for the family everything we need but he doesn’t take the time to play with the kids. He is on his phone the entire time he is not in the office. Playing games, listening to world conspiracy and bellitling everything on Facebook that does not agree with him. So, he prefer all this activity rather spending time with the kids but doesn’t putt them down. The rest : mirroring, gaslithing, narcissistic cycles, devaluation, cheating, lyes, bellitling, silent treatment are all there.
    Could he be narcissist and still treat nice the children??? ( sorry for my English, as is not my mother language)

    Reply
    • They can see children as objects. Things to own. This is why he’s not playing with them. They are extensions of himself which is why he feels he owns them and so provides for them. They are incapable of love as we see it. It’s all about narcissistic supply – of attention, praise, adulation.

      Reply
  9. I think I may have gotten involved with one and need to keep reading things like this to help me get through it. It wasn’t normal at all as far as a breakup. This was really traumatic for me. He returned a few times but it seemed like just to see if he could get to me still. I was holding out hope he regretted the way he treated me or realized maybe he made a mistake. Guilt even, any type of human feeling but it doesn’t seem to be there. I sent him my goodbyes in a text asking him if he was sorry at all that I got hurt but received no response. I felt I had every right to ask him that since he was coming around me again. But he doesn’t seem to be normal so I am trying to shut this door

    Reply
  10. I am going through something like this with my dad. I am so broken. How can I heal? How can I escape? I have 3 children, and my husband is away for work alot. We are living in my dad’s property. I am a stay at home mom. Help!

    Reply

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