Narcissism is a mental health disorder that manifests in complex behaviors in order to control and manipulate other people.
It’s ironic that the confusing nature of the narcissist causes confusion in narcissistic relationships. It’s this confusion that causes people to get “trapped” in the narcissist relationship cycle.
Narcissists aren’t always aware of what they are doing, but the goal is always the same: Hook someone into a relationship, create a sense of dependency, and get attention and adoration from that person for as long as possible.
I was trapped in one of these relationships and only left because I was pregnant with his child. I refused to raise my child in a toxic environment.
What I faced after that was monstrous. I was threatened constantly to the point of police involvement. I was stressed out, anxious, and on anti-depressants – during my pregnancy and while I was trying to take care of a newborn.
I fought back, got drawn into arguments, and experienced a living hell. It wasn’t until I learned about narcissism that I understood what I was dealing with and how to deal with it.
Would things have been different with this knowledge prior to my pregnancy? Maybe, but I wouldn’t change anything.
My point is that it’s important to know what you are dealing with in order to deal with it. By understanding narcissist relationship patterns, you can either recognize if you’re in a relationship with one, avoid getting into a relationship with another one, or simply come to terms with what happened to you.
Not all narcissists are the same but their relationship patterns are pretty similar. Their goal is to gain control over another person in order to feed their sense of superiority. How they do this is clever and frightening:
Narcissist Relationship Patterns
During the first stage of a narcissistic relationship, the narcissist will “idealize” you and hook you into the relationship. This phase of the narcissist relationship cycle happens at the very beginning.
They will make you feel special and shower you with love and adoration. This is known as “love bombing” and they will act romantic and charming and sweep you off your feet by acting like the person they think you want them to be.
You’ll find yourself lapping up the attention and in disbelief that you found someone so “perfect” who gets you. You’ll feel so good about yourself that you’ll likely miss the early warning signs that you are dealing with a narcissist.
During this phase, you’ll probably think you have found “the one” and let your guard down as you relax into the relationship.
Any red flags that do appear will likely be dismissed and chalked up to the narcissist having a bad day or still dealing with deep hurt from a past relationship. You may even internalize their behaviors and think that you did something wrong or have misunderstood them.
The narcissist may or may not be consciously aware of what they are doing but the purpose of idealization is to fit you into the narrative they have written in their minds. Ultimately, narcissists crave control, so they are trying to groom you into being the perfect partner for them – whether or not they intend to keep you around.
Many people who get stuck in relationships with narcissists tend to ask, “Why me?” Narcissists have almost a sixth sense when it comes to recognizing people who are at a low point in their lives. This is why their positive attention is so intoxicating! Finally, you have found someone who makes you feel good.
Or perhaps you are an empathetic person and have developed pity for the narcissist and their “horrible” past. This narcissist-empath relationship is based on your connection to their trauma – either because you have also experienced trauma in your past or simply because you feel that pity for them.
But once they have you hooked, they are going to flip the script and start breaking you down – this is known as devaluation.
So once you’re totally hooked, the narcissist is going to become manipulative. You won’t notice it at first because they will do this in subtle ways.
They typically start by distancing you from your family and friends. They’ll isolate you away from your social group by convincing you that they are no good for you and that they are all you need. This leaves you relying on them for support.
The narcissist will escalate their behaviors and begin to twist and distort facts. Through their lies, they will gaslight you, become verbally abusive, and insult you. They will also blame you for everything and guilt-trip you when you try to stand up for yourself.
They may even begin withholding things from you such as sex and money while making demands from you.
Eventually, these behaviors will spread into other aspects of your life as the narcissist works to lower your self-esteem to make themselves appear more powerful. They may become enraged and aggressive in order to keep you submissive.
When you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you may find yourself making excuses for their behavior and justifying it. At this point, you stay enamored by the narcissist because they will throw in love-bombs when they feel you pulling away.
By mixing love-bombing and abuse tactics, you will become confused. You start to ignore red flags because you won’t be entirely sure what is true and what is not because you’re doubting yourself, your reality, and your sanity.
Eventually, you will feel like you are not good enough and that you can’t do anything right. This is exactly what the narcissist wants! Once you reach this stage of the narcissist relationship cycle, you’re less likely to leave because you’ve become dependent on the narcissist to assure you of what is real and what is not.
Over time, you’ll find yourself walking on eggshells to either please the narcissist or avoid their rage.
Narcissists, by nature, are self-serving and they are always looking at situations to see what is in it for them.
They keep people around to feed their “narcissistic supply”. This supply represents their excessive need for attention and admiration. When the supply runs low, they amp up their behaviors to refill it.
However, if you no longer fulfill that supply because you either have nothing left to give or you have undermined their sense of false self, they will drop you and move on to someone new. That way, they can start fresh and feed that supply until the new partner catches on to their behaviors.
If you proactively leave the narcissist, they will target you and try to “destroy” you. Narcissists view rejection as a huge personal insult and they will fight to “get back to you” to prove to themselves, and the world, that they were wronged. They will never take responsibility for their actions.
This is why when you leave a narcissist it’s important to completely remove them from your life. This means blocking them on social media or, if you have a child with one, keeping your life completely private so they have nothing to use against you.
No matter whether you leave or the narcissist drops you, it’s likely that they will try to stick around to inflict more hurt on you. They will do this by trying to “hoover” you back into their life.
After you’ve escaped the narcissist relationship cycle, they will want to validate their superiority and feel special by making you suffer. If you have a child with the narcissist, they will readily use the child against you.
Narcissists have no sense of empathy. Again, they only focus on what they can get for themselves and view people as a means to an end – even children.
However, there are times when the narcissist may try to hoover you using love-bombing and begging. They may try to guilt-trip you, blame you, make false promises, and try to convince you that they have “changed”.
Overall, they’ll do whatever they think will work to lure you back into their lives in order to fall back into the same abusive narcissist relationship patterns.
Think of hoovering as Idealization Round Two. Once they have you hooked again, they will move on to the devaluation stage and the whole mess repeats itself again.
It’s only when you completely remove them from your life, or as much as possible, that they will move on to someone else in order to fulfill their narcissistic supply or their patterns of abuse will decrease in frequency and intensity.
Narcissist Relationship Patterns
Hopefully, understanding narcissist relationship patterns and cycles will help you come to terms with what you have been, or still are, dealing with.
If you’re still in a relationship with a narcissist, there are ways to get out! Start by learning more about narcissism and getting your supports in place. You can reach out to family, friends, and even therapists to help you out.
For more information, visit the Resources section of this page for numbers you can call and places where you can seek help!