21 Stages of A Narcissistic Relationship
Narcissistic relationships follow a predictable pattern that repeats in a vicious cycle over time. Victims go through distinct emotional stages as the narcissist alternates between exaggerated affection and cruel rejection. In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the 21 narcissistic relationship stages victims experience in depth.
Recognizing these stages can help victims understand they are not alone. It also reveals that narcissists use a playbook of manipulation tactics. Awareness is power. Understanding the narcissist’s game plan is the first step to escaping this toxic relationship cycle for good.
Stage 1: The Love Bombing Phase
In the very beginning, the narcissist showers the victim with extreme displays of affection, attention, gifts, and compliments. They make the victim feel like the most important person in the world. This is known as love bombing. It is designed to build trust and emotional dependence very quickly.
During this idealization phase, the narcissist seems too good to be true. They mirror the victim’s interests, finish their sentences, and claim they share a deep soul connection.
Stage 2: The Hook Phase
The exaggerated displays of love feel highly addictive to the victim. This cements an emotional attachment and “hooks” them into the relationship.
The victim becomes conditioned through intermittent reinforcement. The highs are euphoric, but the lows are agonizing. Like gamblers chasing a win, victims are driven to keep chasing the idealization phase.
Stage 3: The Emotional Regulation Phase
Once hooked, the narcissist begins controlling the victim’s emotions. They determine when the victim feels happiness, excitement, anger, or fear.
The narcissist keeps the victim on an emotional rollercoaster with drastic highs and lows. This conditioning trains the victim to regulate their emotions based on the narcissist’s desires.
Stage 4: The Devaluation Phase
Once the narcissist feels in control, they start criticizing and belittling the victim. The idealization disappears as quickly as it began. The victim is picked apart, devalued, and made to feel worthless.
The narcissist projects their own toxic shame onto the victim. They insult, demean, withhold affection, and engage in emotional abuse. The victim is left disoriented by the sudden cruelty.
Stage 5: The Discard Phase
Inevitably, the narcissist becomes bored and discards the victim like trash. They abruptly abandon the relationship without remorse.
This can be an intensely traumatic experience for the victim, as they are left in shock with no closure. They may try desperately to cling to the idealization phase by pursuing the narcissist.
Stage 6: The Hoovering Phase
When the victim stops paying attention to them, the narcissist often returns to “hoover” them back into the relationship. They may feign remorse, make empty promises, or suddenly be loving again.
This is not a real reconnection attempt. It is merely a ploy to re-hook the victim and ensure they remain an obedient source of supply and attention.
Stage 7: The Return to Idealization Phase
If the victim allows the narcissist back in, the narcissist briefly returns to the love bombing idealization phase again. They promise change, shower the victim with affection, and make them feel special.
The victim wants to believe the narcissist has seen the error of their ways. But this honeymoon period is fleeting. It quickly gives way again to the devaluation phase.
Stage 8: The Resumed Devaluation Phase
The resumed devaluation phase after hoovering is even more cruel. The narcissist lashes out in anger if the victim expresses skepticism or resists their control.
They cannot stand losing their emotional grip over the victim. So they try to break them down with escalating abuse, threats, intimidation, or violence.
Stage 9: The Resumed Discard Phase
The narcissist inevitably loses patience and discards the victim again. This time, they make the abandonment as swift and heartless as possible. They may spread nasty rumors or publicly embarrass the victim on the way out.
Their message is clear – the victim is worthless and undeserving of love or compassion. This amplifies the trauma and lowers the victim’s self-esteem even further.
Stage 10: The Silent Treatment Phase
Narcissists use the silent treatment to punish victims who refuse to give them supply. They give the victim zero affection, acknowledgement, or access.
This deprives the victim of the emotional manipulation they have grown dependent on. It is meant to break them down over time until they are begging for the narcissist’s attention again.
Stage 11: The Resumed Hoovering Phase
Just when the extended silent treatment becomes unbearable, the narcissist will reappear as if nothing happened. They will pretend to have remorse and shower the victim with love again.
This is intended to toy with the victim’s emotions. It provides intermittent reinforcement and keeps the victim trapped in the abuse cycle chasing the idealization high.
Stage 12: The Projection Phase
Narcissists constantly project their own shame, insecurities, and fears onto their victims as emotional warfare. For example, a narcissist who is unfaithful may accuse their partner of cheating.
This is done to relieve their own sense of internal defectiveness and instability. By externalizing their flaws, they escape accountability for their harmful actions.
Stage 13: The Smear Campaign Phase
Narcissists do not handle rejection gracefully. If the victim leaves or attempts to go no contact, the narcissist may launch a full smear campaign to destroy their reputation.
The narcissist spreads lies and misinformation designed to make the victim look crazy, abusive, dangerous, or toxic. The goal is to isolate them and sabotage any future connections.
Stage 14: The Stalking and Harassment Phase
Refusing to accept that the victim has moved on, the narcissist may begin a harassment campaign. They incessantly call, text, email, and contact the victim trying to force a response.
The narcissist may also stalk the victim in person, follow them, damage their property, trespass, or show up without warning. This dangerous phase requires firm boundaries and possible legal action.
Stage 15: The No Contact Phase
For the victim, the only way to escape this narcissistic pattern is to go completely no contact with the abuser. This means blocking them on all channels, moving residences if needed, and limiting contact with shared connections.
No contact denies the narcissist access to their former source of supply and control. It also protects the victim from continued abuse.
Stage 16: The Moving Forward Phase
Once secure in the knowledge the narcissist has no more avenues for abuse, the victim can start focusing fully on themselves.
This phase involves building a support system, engaging in therapy, pursuing hobbies, journaling, exercising self-care, and discovering life outside the toxicity of the relationship.
Stage 17: The Transformation Phase
With consistent no contact and an emphasis on healing, the victim begins transforming their trauma into wisdom. They recognize their inherent worth.
They take back control of their life, make more authentic connections, set boundaries, and reclaim joy and freedom. This leads to tremendous personal growth.
Stage 18: The Random Hoover Attempt Phase
Even after months or years of no contact, the narcissist may still periodically attempt hoovering by trying to contact the victim out of the blue.
These intrusions try to disrupt the victim’s progress and regain access. But the victim now recognizes these ploys and refuses to be hooked. They maintain no contact.
Stage 19: The Moving On Phase
By refusing to take the narcissist’s bait and re-engage, the victim denies them the satisfaction of response. The narcissist gradually gives up and loses interest when they see they have permanently lost their grip.
The victim feels increasingly indifferent towards the narcissist, focusing their energy on the present. Their life flourishes without the emotional rollercoaster.
Stage 20: The Occasional Setback Phase
Healing from narcissistic abuse has its ups and downs. Occasional setbacks may include nightmares, emotional flashbacks, anger, or missing what the idealization phase felt like.
But these setbacks become less intense over time. The victim has developed resilience and coping strategies to work through them.
Stage 21: The Freedom Phase
In the final stage, the victim feels fully healed, grounded in themselves, and free to live authentically. The narcissist no longer occupies any space in their mind.
They embrace inner peace, contentment, self-acceptance, and healthy relationships. Though scars remain, the victim transforms their pain into the motivation to help others.
The narcissistic relationship cycle is a toxic merry-go-round that keeps the victim hooked into the ups and downs of the narcissist’s cruel manipulation. Awareness of the stages is critical to jump off safely.
With a support system, no contact, and an emphasis on healing and self-care, victims can break free of the narcissist’s hold and begin writing their own future. There is light at the end of the tunnel.