4 stages of a narcissistic relationship - Family Counseling Pathways (2023)

Here we go…the last in a series of 3 blog posts about the monsters that dive too deep into NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder…

Part 2: Narcissistic Coping Mechanisms
Part 3: The 4 Stages of a Narcissistic Relationship

As mentioned in our previous posts, NPD is one of the four Type B personality disorders as described in the DSM, and many parents are responsible for manipulating their children to reject the other parent who has at least some of the symptoms of this disorder.

In the first part of this series, we looked at 9 different types of narcissists, the causes of NPD, and the warning signs that you may have a narcissist. In Part 2, we explored the many coping mechanisms that narcissists use to protect their fragile egos. Today we're going to dig into the ups and downs of what it's like to be in a relationship with a narcissist.

Let's go in a circle!

So… what happens if you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist? There are four distinct stages that this type of relationship typically goes through: idealization, devaluation, rejection, and deletion.

Sometimes it can seem like you're on a not-so-pleasant merry-go-round and you go through these stages multiple times. At the end of it all, you feel like you've just been through the spin of an old-fashioned washing machine.

(Video) 3-Parts of The Narcissistic Relationship Cycle

4 stages of a narcissistic relationship - Family Counseling Pathways (1)


The first stage of a narcissistic relationship is "idealization" and this is perhaps the most dangerous of all. That's how they hook you!

This stage always comes at the beginning of any relationship with a narcissist and will make you feel really special. Here you are showered with love and adoration (remember the love we learnedPart 2 of this blog series?) and present themselves exactly as they think you want them to be... and they're usually very smart, with a sixth sense of knowing what you want.

During this phase, you may find that you just can't get enough of that person. Being with them is intoxicating and you might not think you've found someone so "in tune" with you... there seems to be a perfect synergy between the two of you.

You can win and dine in amazing restaurants, be taken on great adventures, be showered with thoughtful gifts, and receive constant "love messages" telling you how perfect and special you are. They will make you feel so good that you may ignore some of the warning signs.

In a very short time, you might think this person is "the one"! You, on the other hand, lower your guard and relax all your boundaries when you are with that perfect partner.

(Video) 5 Ways to Improve a Narcissistic Relationship

Even if some "red flags" start to appear, you'll be quick to explain away the narcissist's bad behavior because you're under their spell... "he must have had a bad day." Or...wow, that person must have really hurt her. "Or you can take it upon yourself..." I must have misunderstood.

In the mind of a narcissist, they may be playing with you and may not expect to spend the rest of their lives with you, despite their chivalry. However, some narcissists don't know what they're doing and are sincere when they tell you how perfect you are (that's why they're so convincing). The thing is, they don't really love you. You are simply playing a part in a "love scenario" in their mind and they have projected it onto you. (Yes… we know you remember this term from our last post 😉)

At this point, you enter the next stage of the relationship - understatement - and they begin to take off their mask and reveal their true selves to you.


Once you are completely hooked, the narcissist in your life will begin to change her and begin to manipulate her. He will be discreet at first, perhaps focusing first on winning over his closest friends and family. They may even try to isolate you from those closest to you... this allows them to dig their claws in deeper and remove the grounding plate to share their experiences, leaving you to rely on yourself and only yourself for support... share and rule as they say.

Over time, the narcissist will intensify their antics to deceive, twist and distort the facts and lie to you. They will verbally abuse and insult you, accuse, blame, shame, threaten, make you feel guilty and withhold things (like money or love) while demanding things from you.

They may become sarcastic towards you in front of others to "put you in your place", lower your self-esteem and make them appear stronger. They can become aggressive and angry to force you to give up. At worst... they may even physically abuse you.

(Video) The 5 Signs Someone Has Suffered Narcissistic Abuse

During this stage, it is common to constantly excuse and justify the narcissist's behavior. This is partly because you fell hard for him in the first stage, but also because he will drop a few love bombs on him to keep you. on tiptoes, confused and bound. And it usually works! You can even happily sweep all the red flags under the rug. The problem is that not only do we allow the narcissist to devalue us, but we also devalue our own internal GPS that screams "danger!"

The manipulative tactics a narcissist uses as dysfunctional coping mechanisms (more on these later) will make you doubt yourself and your mental health. and you may find yourself in a fog of confusion. Maybe you feel like you're just not good enough and can't do anything right. Your confidence will be stripped bare and you will always be walking on eggshells trying to appease the person who once made you feel incredibly special.


A narcissist is always looking for what's inside him. At the beginning of your relationship, they may have been turned on by your partner's prestige, money, or even just "the pursuit." Once a narcissist sucks you in, you're no longer providing the "delivery" they need, or if you undermine the narcissist's sense of false self in any way, that rug you pushed all those red flags under will be pulled out from under you. You will be discarded like a pair of old punctured socks and replaced with an "improved" model to feed their ego.

If you manage to get out before this stage, it's a bit of a double-edged sword. You can give up on their daily abuse, but you'll probably incur their wrath and you might just become a target they want to destroy at all costs... and it might become their new obsession. You will become the "enemy". As fast as you canvery carefullyget rid of the narcissist in your life the better!

vacuum cleaner

One of two things can happen after you are rejected or manage to leave a relationship with a narcissist...they can leave you alone OR they can try to bring you back into their lives. A narcissist may leave you alone if he knows that you have been deeply hurt and that his actions have caused you intense emotional pain because he feels important and special. For this reason, they will be more than happy to use your children to cause further emotional suffering. Remember... a true narcissist lacks empathy (even for their own children) and needs external recognition to feel worthwhile.

If the narcissist is not satisfied that you are suffering enough to assert his superiority, he may simply use any means necessary to regain the control he once had over you. They will not be ashamed to pray, cry, scream, accuse, blame, threaten, make false promises, and even pretend to reveal their past mistakes. If they can't lure you back into their lives on their own, they might even enlist the help of others.

(Video) Your narcissistic family tells you this...

This stage is very similar to the love bombing stage, but with a story. The cycle of abuse begins all over again, and when the narcissist lures you back with their charm, the narcissist will return to the belittling phase. A narcissist will not change his behavior. They need narcissistic food to exist and will find it any way they can.

If you have children together, the narcissist may not want to bring you fully back into his life, but he'll probably cheer you up when he wants something child-related. They will then belittle you and reject you again when they have achieved their goal. For example, if they're asking for more parenting time with your children, and a court hearing is coming up, you might find them especially friendly, cooperative, and communicative. But guess what happens right after the courthouse? You guessed it... underestimate and dismiss.

Even worse, if you don't actually leave the relationship, the cycle may continue to shorten in duration and increase in frequency. After all, you may be able to recognize a new cycle from day to day and even from one text message to another.


Megan Holgate,4 stages of a relationship with a narcissist, May 2017

Melanie Tonya Evans,A Deeper Look at Idolization, Devaluation, Rejection - The 3 Stages of Narcissistic Abuse, Part 1, melanietoniaevans.com

siva savanna,The three stages of the narcissistic relationship cycle: overvaluation, undervaluation, and rejection, szacunekologia.com

(Video) The progression of recovery from narcissistic relationships

internal integration,Suction | How narcissists try to pull you backmedium.com, 12 August 2018


What are the 4 steps of a narcissistic relationship? ›

It is a pattern of behavior that is often seen in relationships where one person has a narcissistic personality disorder. It typically consists of four phases: idealization, devaluation, discarding, and hoovering.

What are the 4 D's of narcissism? ›

Four Ds of Narcissism: Deny, Dismiss, Devalue & Divorce.

What are the stages of narcissistic abuse in relationships? ›

It's a phenomenon called the narcissistic abuse cycle. This cycle is broken down into three important phases: idealization, devaluation, and rejection. By understanding these key points, people who are struggling with narcissism or those who are in a relationship with a narcissist can get the help they need.

What are the stages of narcissistic treatment? ›

The 10 Stages of Therapy for Narcissistic Disorders
  • Stage 1: Symptom Relief or Appeasement. ...
  • Stage 2: Avoid Future Pain. ...
  • Stage 3: Identify their Coping Mechanisms. ...
  • Stage 4: Create New Coping Mechanisms. ...
  • Stage 5: Form New Habits. ...
  • Stage 6: Impact on Other People. ...
  • Stage 7: Focus on Childhood Pain.
Aug 3, 2019

What are the 5 main habits of a narcissist? ›

Let's take a look at five of the most common characteristics of a narcissist in order to create awareness.
  • Inflated Ego. Those who suffer from narcissism usually seem themselves as superior to others. ...
  • Lack of Empathy. ...
  • Need for Attention. ...
  • Repressed Insecurities. ...
  • Few Boundaries.

What are the three E's of narcissism? ›

Malkin says the key to spotting narcissistic personality disorder is observing the “three Es” — exploitation, entitlement, and empathy impairment.

How do you identify the 4 subtle signs of a narcissist? ›

11 Subtle Signs Of Narcissism
  1. They Constantly Interrupt. ...
  2. They Call You Crazy. ...
  3. They Lose Interest When You Get Real. ...
  4. They're Charming. ...
  5. They Don't Have A Single Bad Picture On Facebook. ...
  6. It's Never Their Fault. ...
  7. They Can't Handle Criticism. ...
  8. You Feel The Need To Constantly Flatter.
May 19, 2016

What are the 4 D's of Gaslighting? ›

There are four primary types of gaslighting behaviors: the straight-up lie, reality manipulation, scapegoating and coercion.

What is the toxic cycle of a narcissist? ›

The narcissistic abuse cycle refers to an abusive pattern of behavior that characterizes the relationships of people with narcissistic traits. It involves first idealizing a person, then devaluing them, repeating the cycle, and eventually discarding them when they are of no further use.

What is the love bombing stage of a narcissist? ›

The love bombing stage involves showering the recipient with gifts, compliments and commitment. This makes the other person feel good and boosts their self esteem as well as making them feel dependent upon and obligated to the narcissist.

What is narcissist hoovering? ›

Hoovering is a manipulation tactic used to “suck” victims back into toxic relationship cycles. Someone who hoovers fears that their target will “get away” from them, so they may engage in love bombing, feigning crises, stalking, or smear campaigns in order to suck up all their target's time, energy, and attention.

How do therapists handle narcissists? ›

The therapist must require two things from the therapeutic relationship with a person who has narcissistic tendencies: respect and collaboration. Respect for and collaboration with others is challenging—some might say impossible—for people with narcissism.

What is the best way to treat a narcissist? ›

If you are dealing with a narcissist, try the following tips:
  1. Try To Avoid Direct Confrontation. ...
  2. Reiterate Your Need For Action Over Promises. ...
  3. Maintain Boundaries. ...
  4. Remind Yourself That You Are Not To Blame. ...
  5. Don't Accept Their Behavior. ...
  6. Acknowledge When You Need Professional Help. ...
  7. Know When You Need To Leave A Relationship.
Dec 8, 2021

How do narcissists treat their victims? ›

A narcissist may gaslight you or contradict you in front of others. Withholding money, silent treatment, isolation, and lying about you to others are other narcissistic manipulative techniques in their toolbox. The end goal of a narcissist is to control their victim's behavior into maintaining their supply.

What is the most important thing to a narcissist? ›

They demand respect, and give none in return. For a narcissist, their needs must always be put first, and they will never reciprocate those feelings for anyone else. The world revolves around them, and everyone who happens to be part of that world should go along with it.

What bothers a narcissist the most? ›

Narcissists love attention, validation, and power. So what drives a narcissist crazy? Simply put, anything that jeopardizes their basic needs for superiority can quickly irritate them. If you want to know how to infuriate a narcissist, you can look no further than giving them nothing.

How narcissists use gaslighting? ›

Signs of Narcissist Gaslighting

They may try to make you feel like you're overreacting or being too sensitive by saying things like, “You're being paranoid,” or “You're imagining things.” They might also try to control what you do and who you see by trying to isolate you from your friends and family.

What is a somatic narcissist? ›

The word “somatic” means “related to the body,” and a somatic narcissist is someone who is preoccupied with their physical appearance and derives much of their self-worth from external validation.

What are the traits of a malignant narcissist? ›

A malignant narcissist will display traits such as arrogance, a need for recognition, and tendencies to use or exploit others for selfish reasons. Malignant narcissism is used to describe those with symptoms of both narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

How do narcissists treat their children? ›

A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.

What is the most overlooked symptom of narcissism? ›

Habitual Non-Listening

Ever spoken with someone who responded dismissively to everything you said? Narcissists brush aside or deprecate what others say instead of truly listening.

What is the one question to identify a narcissist? ›

“To what extent do you agree with this statement: 'I am a narcissist. '” Scientists believe that this question could be all researchers need to make a quick and easy diagnosis of narcissism.

What is an example of a narcissist text message? ›

In this case, you might expect examples of narcissist text messages such as “I'm in the hospital, but I'm ok now,” “I can't feel my arm, but I don't think I should worry, should I?”, “I've had some bad news, but there's nothing you can do about it.”

What is reverse gaslighting? ›

The opposite of gaslighting is critical thinking, not validation or deference or coddling.

What are the two signature moves of gaslighting? ›

If we stick to the clinical definition, gaslighters have two signature moves: They lie with the intent of creating a false reality, and they cut off their victims socially.

What is the root cause of narcissism? ›

It's not known what causes narcissistic personality disorder. The cause is likely complex. Narcissistic personality disorder may be linked to: Environment — parent-child relationships with either too much adoration or too much criticism that don't match the child's actual experiences and achievements.

What is the GREY rock method? ›

The grey rock method is where you deliberately act unresponsive or unengaged so that an abusive person will lose interest in you. Abusive people thrive on emotions and drama. When you act indifferent and don't show your emotions, they may lose interest and stop bothering you. This is known as “grey rocking.”

What does a depressed narcissist look like? ›

They're often introverted, sensitive, and prone to experiencing anxiety and shame. They may also struggle to maintain close friendships as they focus heavily on themselves, require attention, and are hyper-sensitive to perceived criticism.

What weakens a narcissist? ›

A monumental weakness in the narcissist is the failure to look internally and flesh out what needs to be worked on. Then, of course, the next step is to spend time improving. The narcissist sabotages any possibility of looking deep within.

What shuts down a narcissist? ›

The best way to shut down a narcissist is to walk away from them. If all else fails, you can physically remove yourself from the conversation. Even if they keep talking, simply turn around and walk away. If they follow you, close the door.

What is the golden period narcissist? ›

1 Resource About Narcissism. The Golden Period is that period when all is wonderful between us and our victims. This is the illusory mask that is donned in order to draw you in, bind you to us, embed you and then continue to savour the positive fuel that you pump out.

How narcissists lie? ›

Narcissists also lie by withholding and selecting information. They lie as a form of gaslighting to extend their control over targets by making them constantly question and doubt themselves. They often frequently claim that they value and even love their targets. In doing so, they have little to no inhibitions.

Will a narcissist cry in front of you? ›

Someone living with narcissism does cry. They can feel regret, remorse, and sadness. These emotions, however, don't often have roots in empathy. American Psychiatric Association.

What is the honeymoon phase of narcissistic abuse? ›

The honeymoon period occurs right after an instance of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. During this time, an abuser will apologize for their behavior while showing sorrow and promising that the abuse will never happen again.

What is a narcissists flying monkey? ›

Narcissist flying monkeys are individuals recruited by narcissists to actively participate in narcissistic manipulation and abuse. The term “flying monkeys” was inspired by the enchanted flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, who was sent to do the dirty work for the Wicked Witch of the West.

What is baiting narcissist? ›

Baiting is a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist says or does something manipulative such as exploiting your insecurities, being passive-aggressive, or even abusing your loved ones, to get you to engage in a negative interaction with them.

What is the meaning of Flying monkeys? ›

FLYING MONKEY is a popular psychology term that refers to an enabler of a highly narcissistic person or someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). A flying monkey is an agent who acts on their behalf.

Why you shouldn't go to therapy with a narcissist? ›

Manipulative abusers will often put on a charming facade for the therapist, fooling them into thinking they are the true victims. Narcissists will use therapy as a site for further gaslighting their victims, if they even attend at all.

How does a therapist spot a narcissist? ›

Lack of empathy

Narcissists tend to be selfish and self-involved and are usually unable to understand what other people are feeling. They expect others to think and feel the same as they do and seldom give any thought to how others feel. They are also rarely apologetic, remorseful, or guilty.

What words not to say to a narcissist? ›

8 Things You Should Never Say to a Narcissist
  • Don't say, "It's not about you." ...
  • Don't say, "You're not listening." ...
  • Don't say, "Ina Garten did not get her lasagna recipe from you." ...
  • Don't say, "Do you think it might be your fault?" ...
  • Don't say, "You're being a bully." ...
  • Don't say, "Stop playing the victim."
Dec 15, 2017

How do you outwit a narcissist? ›

Eight Ways to Outsmart a Narcissist
  1. Recognize you're dealing with a narcissist.
  2. Understand the behaviors they use to manipulate or control you.
  3. Create boundaries for yourself.
  4. Express those boundaries in advance.
  5. Share when your boundaries have been crossed.
  6. Don't be afraid to have open conversations in front of others.
Oct 18, 2022

What words can destroy a narcissist? ›

Phrases and Words That Destroy Narcissists
  • 'I know the truth about you' or 'I see right through you' ...
  • 'I don't remember that' ...
  • 'I'm busy and don't have time for you right now' ...
  • 'You are a failure' or 'I am so disappointed in you' ...
  • 'It's your fault' ...
  • 'I Don't Believe You' ...
  • 'Goodbye'

How narcissists try to destroy you? ›

Grooming a person, manipulating her into doubting her feelings, generating shame regarding her best qualities, and manipulatively creating dependency are four ways a narcissist destroys a person from the inside out.

How narcissists punish you? ›

Rage: Narcissists are insecure and when there is a narcissistic injury to their sense of self, they will rage. This is often done with yelling and insults hurled at the victim. During these rages, the narcissist can be the most damaging in their words.

How does a narcissist traumatize you? ›

Through ongoing gaslighting and demeaning of the partner, the narcissist undermines the individual's self-worth and self-confidence, creating extreme emotional abuse that is constant and devastating.

What are the 7 points of a narcissist? ›

7 Characteristics of a Narcissist
  • 7 Characteristics of a Narcissist. ...
  • They seem perfect at first. ...
  • They talk about themselves almost all the time. ...
  • They are sensitive to perceived criticism. ...
  • They give backhanded compliments. ...
  • They manipulate your feelings. ...
  • They are arrogant. ...
  • They cannot stand rejection.

What does a narcissist care about the most? ›

Narcissists are motivated by feeling superior and expanding their power, and so the only things that matter when helping others are receiving adulation, fame, influence, opportunities, notoriety, and other resources. They dont actually care about others because to them other people are just things to use.

What is the fastest way to spot a narcissist? ›

They have a sense of entitlement and expect favorable treatment. They take advantage of others to achieve their goals. They lack empathy and don't try to identify with the needs of others. They envy others, or believe others envy them.

What is a typical narcissist pattern? ›

Narcissists tend to be easily jealous and threatened by individuals who have something they lack, such as money or status, or those who challenge them. Their response to threats is to put the other person down, display extreme anger, and employ manipulation tactics, often in a dismissive or condescending way.

What is a narcissist's biggest weakness? ›

A monumental weakness in the narcissist is the failure to look internally and flesh out what needs to be worked on. Then, of course, the next step is to spend time improving. The narcissist sabotages any possibility of looking deep within.

What is the number 1 narcissist trait? ›

Grandiose sense of self-importance

Grandiosity is the defining characteristic of narcissism. More than just arrogance or vanity, grandiosity is an unrealistic sense of superiority. Narcissists believe they are unique or “special” and can only be understood by other special people.

What personality type do narcissists hate? ›

Type As can also be dangerous to narcissists

Although they can be targeted, type A people can also become a narcissist's worst nightmare. One of the most important defenses against dark personalities is having strong boundaries yourself, and type A people are usually aware they have the right to build them.

What upsets a narcissist the most? ›

8 Triggers of a Narcissist's Rage

They don't get their way, even if what they want is unreasonable. They feel that they've been criticized, even if the critique is constructive or said kindly. They're not the center of attention. They're caught breaking rules or not respecting boundaries.

How does a narcissist apologize? ›

In narcissists' efforts to avoid blame, they often combine several fake apologies at once, such as, “I am sorry if I said anything to offend you, but I have strong opinions. Maybe you're too sensitive,” or, “I guess I should tell you I am sorry. But you know I would never deliberately hurt you.

How do narcissists talk? ›

Types of narcissistic manipulative communication include positive manipulation (i.e. insincere flattery, false promises), negative manipulation (i.e. blaming, criticizing, shaming), deception and intrigue (i.e. lying, excuse-making), strategic helplessness (i.e. victimhood, guilt-baiting), and hostility and abuse (i.e. ...

What are the hallmark signs of narcissism? ›

Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements. Make achievements and talents seem bigger than they are. Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate. Believe they are superior to others and can only spend time with or be understood by equally special people.

What is the average length of a relationship with a narcissist? ›

There are anecdotal observations suggesting that the average length of a narcissistic relationship is around six months, but no empirical evidence supports this claim. Some people get married to narcissists and stay with them for years, while others leave or are left after a few weeks or months.

What are the pillars of a narcissist? ›

I often say there are sort of four pillars to narcissism. Lack of empathy, grandiosity, a chronic sense of entitlement and a chronic need to seek out admiration from other people and validation from other people. Those really create the core of that disorder.


1. Regular relationship problems vs. narcissistic relationship problems
2. The Hidden Signs Someone's In a Narcissistic Relationship | MedCircle
3. The insults you hear in a narcissistic relationship
4. HOW TO Work Through The SHAME OF A Narcissistic Relationship
5. The 3 SIGNS You're Dealing With A Narcissist & How To SET BOUNDARIES! | Dr. Ramani & Jay Shetty
(Jay Shetty Podcast)
6. Narcissistic Abuse Documentary
(Aletta Meijer)
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