distressed woman sits next to her partner

Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

Rinse and Repeat Cycles of Narcissistic Relationships: Idealization, Devaluation, Discarding, Breakup & Healing

Many of us have a deep understanding of how toxic relationships function and dissolve. If you’ve been through a narcissistic relationship or a relationship with someone suffering from another Cluster B disorder, like borderline personality disorder, you know how intoxicating, quick, and utterly confusing the first cycle of abuse feels like.

You also know that permanently ending the “breakup and makeup” cycles usually requires you to padlock the door to your heart with several layers of security, permanently sealing all points of entry.

When toxic partners are low on narcissistic supplies or ego fuel, they may come back for another chance to test the waters, provide temporary entertainment (who doesn’t like to feel wanted?) for their never-ending boredom and once again prove how “unworthy” you are to them when they discard you yet again. This will inevitably happen.

The Abuse Cycle of a Narcissist

With this in mind, the narcissistic cycle of abuse consists of 4 main stages that often repeat themselves until you end the relationship and abuse. These 4 stages of the narcissistic cycle of abuse often appear in toxic relationships.

1. Honeymoon/Idealization Stage

At the start of your toxic relationship, you may have experienced a fast-paced timeline that went from casually dating to declarations of “love” and “soul-mates” almost immediately.

As such, your narcissistic partner makes you feel like you’re hooked on a chemical substance while you are bombarded by numerous emails, texts, and pictures from them. It feels as toxic as a drug addiction.

You look forward to the next interaction. Although the toxic person may not consciously express their love, adoration, and hopes for a future together to only “hook” you, the quick pacing and euphoric feelings could be the first signs that you’ve met someone toxic for you.

Healthy relationships take time, meaning honeymoon phases don’t start from pure ecstasy to disappointment as quickly as they do in toxic relationships. Slowly, your partner seems to dislike your great qualities. They ignore some texts, disappear unexpectedly for a while, and emotionally and physically pull away from you, stopping the handholding, kissing, and other acts of intimacy. As a result, you are confused.

This brings us to the second stage of a narcissistic dating cycle.

2. Devaluation Stage

Think of this stage as the “things that bother me and you aren’t who I thought you were” stage.

Your once-charming partner doesn’t like when you question what changed about them when you first met.

Your partner now sees you as fundamentally flawed when they realize you have normal, human weaknesses. If your partner initially perceived you as outgoing and determined, they may twist the narrative to “an annoying manipulator,” for instance, when you ask for help with normal household duties or help with an illness.

As such, you stop devoting your “honeymoon” attention to cater to your partner’s needs. Although normal relationships transition from the honeymoon period to falling in love, you are a real person with real needs and require reciprocity. However, your toxic partner no longer sees you as “perfect” and thus, fails to accommodate your well-deserved needs and wants.

3. High-Conflict Stage

At this point, narcissists and other toxic partners orchestrate drama, leading to heated arguments with no resolution. You’re confused about what your partner is yelling about, and they may threaten abandonment or separation, leave the relationship without any explanation, or give you the silent treatment.

Welcome to the discarding phase.

4. Discarding Stage

At this point, your partner may disappear, ignore you, stonewall you, or end the relationship completely. You are confused.

Your relationship, childhood, or society as a whole conditioned you to believe you are solely at fault for your partner’s abandonment or refusal to talk to you, or acknowledgment of your presence.

"What happened to that prince/princess charming I first met?"

"Is that loving person still there?"

"If only I did this one thing differently, or didn’t say this one thing, my partner would return to their usual, loving self, right?"


Unfortunately, your partner can’t return to that “thoughtful” and romantic person you met in the beginning because feelings are only facts in their view. You may argue that they lack object permanence and consistency because they don’t have a positive view of anyone no matter what.

If your partner feels awful, it must be your fault. For your partner to be accountable for their own behaviors, they should be comfortable with intimacy and dependency. However, your partner’s worldview may have been tainted by emotional or physical abandonment by their caregivers during childhood.

As soon as you start to heal and see your relationship for what it really was, your partner may come back as soon as their abandonment and rejection fears set in. The toxic cycle can repeat numerous times, and only YOU have the power to end the cycle of abuse.

I write these blogs as part of my own healing and goals to help others understand that happiness exists on the other side of divorce. My personal and professional experiences have taught me that the cyclical nature of these relationships is a hallmark of a toxic relationship.

A narcissist’s ego defense mechanisms prevent them from seeing an integrated version of anyone else as deep-rooted fears of intimacy and vulnerability prevent them from trusting others. This means that when a narcissist is highly-triggered by any normal life events, their narcissism prevents them from remembering the good times because emotional dysregulation takes over their worldview, also known as “splitting.”

Summary and Healing

When a narcissist has no viable intimate relationships to fulfill their narcissistic supply tank, they may attempt to come back to you. Again, the honeymoon period is very short-lived.

Know that the person you believe you fell in love with was more concerned about the validation you CANNOT give yourself. Once you stop seeking their approval in your actions and instead, learn about the nature of toxic relationships, you will stop going back for more abuse.

A healthy relationship takes time, and anyone who professes their love to you within days or weeks is probably emotionally damaged. That person will never have the insight or honesty necessary to accept responsibility, causing every relationship they pursue in the future to end the same: Broken.

How Our Fairfax Family Law and Divorce Lawyer Can Help

An attorney with decades of legal experience in high-conflict divorces can help you redirect the blame to the narcissist. They can help you understand that although people fall out of love, it doesn’t happen as abruptly and silently as it does in a narcissistic marriage.

If you’re looking for an experienced Virginia family and divorce law attorney, contact Keithley Law, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. We have decades of legal experience in high-conflict divorces.

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