The Narcissist Abuse Cycle is a hamster wheel, and the wheel is why so many men and women stay trapped in toxic relationships. I have been asked so many times, “Why didn’t you just leave?” It’s not an easy question to answer unless you have been in a relationship with a narcissist. The relationship pattern is addictive, heartbreaking, thrilling and painful, often at the same time. However, if you understand how the narcissist abuse cycle works, you can learn to do what’s necessary to protect yourself.

There are four stages in the Narcissist Abuse Cycle:

Narcissist Abuse Cycle

 1. Love Bombing and Adoration

The first stage of the narcissist abuse cycle is what hooks us.  It draws us in because it blows our minds. The narcissist overwhelms us with love and adoration, often holding little back. We think we’ve found our soulmates! We have discovered true love!

The narcissist may say things like, “You’re everything I’ve dreamed of,” or tell you that, “You are my everything.”  They may tell you he or she loves you after just a few dates, or push for intimacy quickly, so you fall in love before seeing the truth and running the other way.

2. Control and Abuse

The second stage of the narcissist abuse cycle is where the narcissist inflicts the most damage to our emotional health. We lose self-confidence and self-esteem. Most of all, we lose our sense of reality. Our world begins to be defined by the narcissist in every way.

The narcissist uses manipulation tools like gaslighting, which is an emotional and mental assault on our intuition, used to alter our sense of reality. For example, your partner may say something that hurts you, so you call him out on it. The narcissist replies with, “I didn’t say that,” or “You must have misheard me.” You begin to believe that you are losing your mind.  You begin to rely even more on the narcissist, which is what the manipulator wants you to do.

The narcissist will also use tactics to devalue you, such as the silent treatment. When someone doesn’t speak to you, you feel like you aren’t worthy or valuable enough to be heard. The narcissist may also be passive-aggressive or use subtle putdowns, all to destroy your self-image and self-respect. When this happens, the narcissist has done what he set out to do: exert full control.

3. Rage

The terrifying part of the narcissist abuse cycle is the rage portion. Many survivors report they can feel the tension building in the previous stage until the narcissist erupts, although the outburst’s timing is unpredictable.

In most cases, the narcissist becomes very angry, taking his frustration out on you and anyone else. The narcissist may scream, yell obscenities, throw things, physically hurt you or emotionally tear you down.  It’s as if the narcissist can’t hold in how she feels. The toxic person may tell you that it’s your fault because “you’ve pushed my buttons.” That’s a measly excuse for someone to unload all her pain and anger on you. 

The narcissist may also use the silent treatment to shut you down and leave you out of the narcissist’s inner circle. You beg for communication, yet the narcissist speaks to everyone but you.

This stage of the narcissist abuse cycle can last a few minutes or a few months. However, no matter the length of the rage, this stage is damaging.

4. Calm/Hearts and Flowers

This is the stage of the narcissist abuse cycle that keeps us stuck. We live for the few minutes of peace and contrived love that the narcissist doles out. During the calm portion of the cycle, the narcissist typically apologizes and begs for forgiveness.  The apologies, however, aren’t genuine but sound something like these:  “I am sorry I hurt your feelings, but you push my buttons,” or “You know how much I love you, and sometimes I just get so upset when you don’t do what I say.”

We are so injured that we will take any kind words as a promise that the narcissist will change.  We feel relieved that the relationship isn’t over, and we don’t have to say goodbye just yet. After all, we don’t know how we would survive without this person.  We will wait for years for change that never comes.

Breaking the Cycle

The narcissist abuse cycle will go on forever until we refuse to cooperate or leave the relationship. There are some key questions to ask yourself when you want to break the abuse cycle:

 1. What do I need?  Did I not receive enough unconditional love or attention as a child?

For many survivors, the lack of unconditional love from a parent is why we are drawn to a narcissist. It’s what we know.  It is our “normal,” although it’s not our “healthy.”

2. Have I expressed my needs to my partner?

There are no right or wrong needs. Your needs are not black or white or good or bad. Express your needs to your partner and gauge the reaction.  A healthy, loving partner will meet your requirements or at least acknowledge them and try to help. If your partner scoffs or laughs at your desires, then it is time to reevaluate who you are allowing in your life.

 3. Are you being yourself?

The phrase “you do you” sums this up perfectly. You must remind yourself that you are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions. Stop trying to constantly make things work by keeping the narcissist happy or calming his anger. It is not your responsibility. The only person you can control is you.

If you are interested in online counseling, Dr. Carter has a sponsor who can assist.  As the need is there, please seek the help you deserve:
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