Abusive narcissists follow a predictable pattern of emotional states. Understanding these ups and downs is key to overcoming narcissistic abuse and short circuiting thee the narcissistic abuse cycle.
The four stages of narcissistic abuse are when the narcissist — feels empowered, feels threatened, abuses others, becomes the victim. This cycle of abuse is a progression of emotional states experienced by narcissists that leads to manipulative behavior.
Here are the four stages of narcissistic abuse in detail —
Feels Threatened (Tension Building)
This is the first stage of the circular process of narcissistic abuse. In this phase, the narcissist begins to feel they are “under attack” and unable to cope with the events of their lives. This feeling may or may not be justified to a neutral observable.
Narcissists suffer from a deep seated sense of inferiority, that they sooth and mask through self-centered behavior. Ultimately, a narcissist cannot accept criticism or evidence that they might not be “good enough,” because it wounds them too deeply.
The narcissist also seeks for external evidence, primarily through the admiration of other people, that they are worth while. If they don’t get enough praise, then they feel they are being slighted or even attacked by people around them.
For more more signs and details on how narcissists work, check out these three articles about the different types of narcissists —
- Signs of a Narcissist | 21 Behaviors of the Classical Narcissist
- How to Recognize a Malignant Narcissist | In Plain English
- Tell-Tale Signs of a Covert Narcissist | A Fool Proof Test
Abuses Others (Incident)
Eventually, a narcissist will need to act out in order to get the recognition and praise they crave from people around them. This is the abuse segment of the abuse cycle
Forms of narcissistic include —
- Finding dirt on someone / black mail
- Starting gossip and character assassination
- Praise used as a weapon, to cultivate dependence
- Emotional manipulation
- Giving people the cold shoulder
- Sudden, unpredictable mood swings to make people “walk on eggshells” around
Narcissistic abuse doesn’t necessarily include any form of physical violence, although physical violence is a possibility. Narcissists tend to prefer psychological manipulation because they are invested in maintain a positive vision of themselves.
More information on narcissistic abuse available here —
- Uncovering Abusive Narcissists | Signs & Symptoms of Toxic Love
- Recognizing Narcissistic Behavior | Unexpected Signs of a Narcissist
Becomes the Victim (Reconciliation)
After the climax of abusive incidents, the narcissist will move to return the relationship to normalcy. But, unlike other abusers narcissist will generally not apologize or acknowledge their wrong doings.
The narcissist’s preferred method of reconciling events will be to point out why they were justified in what they were doing. They will extremely emphasize or fabricate wrong doings in their intimate partners, family members, or coworkers and recast themselves as victims in this situation.
A narcissist may “reconcile” with others by —
- Asking their you for an apology
- Bringing up past wrongs you supposedly perpetrated
- Lies, story telling, and gaslighting
- Triangulation (recruiting third parties to convince you that you are in the wrong)
- Generating false evidence that you are wrong and the narcissist is under attack
These behaviors allow the narcissist to feel justified in their behavior and return to a sense of normalcy.
Feels Empowered (Calm)
When a narcissist feels in control, the relationship situation will return to a state or normalcy. Thus beginning a new cycle.
Narcissists are constantly seeking a feeling of power. And, because they are vulnerable to external disapproval while being psychologically dependent on external praise, they achieve power by manipulating and controlling other.
A narcissist only feels safe when they are dominant and the center of attention
This time is a lull in their manipulative behavior, although narcissistic abuse is not likely to complexly stop, as narcissists lie and manipulate impulsively through habit.
Eventually, this phase will end when the narcissist feels threatend by events out side their control, and they revert to phase one.
What is the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse
The narcissistic cycle of abuse is a derivative of the “Cycle of Abuse” developed by Lenore E Walker, though her work with female victims of domestic violence in the late 60s. While her initial application of the findings largely focused on violence against women men perpetrated by their male partners, the general framework has found a wider range of applications.
The cycle of abuse does not seem to be confined to abuse of women, and also applies to male victims. As Dr. Dutton notes —
“The prevalence of violence in homosexual relationships, which also appear to go through abuse cycles is hard to explain in terms of men dominating women.”
When this cycle applied to narcissistic behaviors, there is no need for physical violence to take place. Nor is any form of intimate relationship a prerequisite for becoming a victim in the cycle.
Narcissistic abuse cycles happen between — parent and children, spouses, bosses and coworkers, and friends to name a few.
How Long Does the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle Last
A trip around the narcissistic abuse cycle can take any where from several weeks to several hours. There is no defined minimum or maximum amount of time it can take, as the cycle is generally driven by external events or the mood of the narcissist.
In very trying or stressful circumstances, the cycle of abuse is likely to accelerate. While, in more relaxed times the period calm may lost indefinitely.
Additionally, as your relationship with a narcissist progresses, the more likely the narcissist is able to get what they want from you, the faster the cycle will progress.
In any particular relationship, the narcissistic abuse cycle can recur hundreds or thousands of times.
How to Break the Chain of Narcissistic Abuse
Here is how you prevent narcissistic abuses before it happens —
- Identify where your are in the cycle
- Notice what things trigger an abuse cycle
- Spot abuse as it happens and write it down
- Plan out strategies to un-trigger the narcissist when they begin a new cycle, based on these observations
- Choose the right tactics to counter narcissistic abuse, if it happens again
- Build a support network
- Establish healthy boundaries with the narcissist
I document how to overcome specific forms of narcissistic abuse in these articles —
- Help! My Mother is a Narcissist | Surviving a Narcissistic Caregiver
- How to Overcome a Narcissistic Boss
- How to Deal with a Narcissistic Parent | Healing When There Is No love
- Narcissism in Relationships | What it Means to Love a Narcissist
If you would like personal coaching and advice from experienced experts in overcoming narcissism, contact us —
What is the cycle of narcissistic abuse?
The cycle of narcissistic abuse is a four step emotional process that individuals with narcissistic personality disorder progress through as they oscillate between emotional abuse and reconciliation with their victims. This cycle is based on the work of Lenore E Walker and her “cycle of abuse.”
What are the 4 stages in the cycle of abuse?
The four stages of the cycle of abuse are — Tension Building, Incident, Reconciliation, Calm. These stages represent a common pattern of events uncovered by Lenore E Walker through interviews with 1,500 female victims of domestic violence.