This is the first time I have written an article specifically about this …
And I know it’s really important that I do, because this is one of those things about narcissists that leave people’s head spinning – as much or probably more than any narcissistic behaviours.
When I put this topic to my Facebook Group many people wrote on the thread about what they wanted to know. What was fascinating was, even people who have been in this Community for a long time and who have worked through many wounds, still had unanswered questions.
This three-part cycle – idolisation, devalue, discard – is very, very painful.
How does one get over a betrayal by someone who seemed to “love you like no other”? How can you reconcile cruel acts inflicted on you by someone who takes no responsibility for their maliciousness and total lack of empathy, and then adds insult to injury by projecting the blame onto you?
Because you were initially idolised by this person they won your heart; you thought you could trust them with your heart. What ends up being horrifying is the person who seemed to be an advocate for your wellbeing, ends up smashing it without any remorse to pieces.
Then you are left feeling like you are dying and may never recover, whilst the narcissist seems totally fine and okay with the demise of the relationship – skipping off into the sunset.
I want to delve into the three narcissist cycles idolisation, devalue and discard deeply; why they happen, and how we end up in the deadly trap that may not just be one series of “stages”; it can be a vicious, ghastly and continual cycle that not only strips us of our life-force, but also dangerously addicts us into even more devastation.
This topic is BIG; there is lots to it, so this is the first of a two part series. In Part 2 I am going to talk about how we can get ourselves out the cycle, and inoculate ourselves against ever getting trapped into it in the future.
What Does Idolisation Look Like?
Idolisation is when the narcissist treats you like “the newest shiniest toy”. And this is probably a really apt way to describe it – because idolisation is infatuation. It can look like love, but it is not love – it is obsession.
Obsession it is not an emotional extension of a stable, mature, loving person … rather it is a response from someone who does not have a whole and stable Inner Identity.
Obsession is all about self-medication to avoid the ever gnawing inner feelings of emptiness, aloneness, and being “defective” or “deficient”.
Narcissists need approval and lots of it. They need attention and lots of it.
This is not a mature person showing up, it’s an adult child presenting with unhealed inner wounds that have prevented the narcissist from having a secure sense of self. Leaving him or her with only one option – get that sense of self from “the outside” to continual feed a highly insecure ego that feels worthless and “dead” without attention.
In an intimate partner sense, what better way to get that than a new love relationship where two people seem to be infatuated by each other?
Because in such a phase there are often the gasps of “Ohhhhs” and “Aaaaahs” about each other. How you (new lover) are so much MORE attractive, clever, nicer, decent, sexier, better in bed, more amazing, successful, connected or whatever it is in comparison to the previous lovers before you.
Narcissists are great at convincing themselves of anything that makes them feel “high”. It’s magical childlike thinking … such as “How amazing, attractive and special I am!” and “How amazing, attractive and special my new partner is!”
Co-dependents who get caught up with narcissists don’t tend to apply the magical thinking to themselves, they are more likely to under-value themselves, but they are certainly very capable of over-valuing as narcissists do, their partners.
Yes, narcissists generally choose people with the goodies for “formal” relationships … looks, sexiness, money, deficient boundaries (aka known as “kind natures and struggle to say ‘No’”, which means easy extractions can take place), or whatever it is that bolsters the narcissist’s ego and makes him or her appear more special, envied, prestigious or powerful to the world.
These things to the narcissist are much more important than the person’s soul, true nature and relationship compatibility. A narcissist generally likes what they like (egoic satisfactions).
It should be noted, sexually a narcissist can be notoriously reckless and “not fussy”, but in a relationship sense there will be an egoic payoff, which the narcissist then boosts further, by telling him or herself over and over how AMAZING this new source of supply is.
The greater the narcissist believes the source of supply – the better the narcissist feels.
And naturally because the concept of the new partner is so magnified, it is not sustainable in any shape of form. It is a teetering pedestal made of cards, which inevitably will topple when the wind starts to blow.
For people who fall into this web of “fantasy idolisation”, it is heady, intoxicating and provides highs that are soaring. Love-bombing is the expression used for the idolisation stage.
It is likely that you will be presented with gifts, trips, special thoughtful acts , intense sex and there will be talk about the future and the permanence of your relationship as if you both feel like you have “known each other forever” and “the relationship will be forever.”
This puts people at ease and grants feeling of comfort and even relief that single life is eternally a thing of the past, because finally I have found “the true love of my life.” The love-bombing stage can last a few weeks, months or even more than a year in some cases.
Not only do people report that they have found their soulmate, they also report that this person reveres them like no other and they feel completely supported, understood, admired and loved in ways that no-one else has ever granted.
And what’s more the narcissist will profess to love every part of who you are, what you do and how you do it … and will usually want to join in and be a part of all of that.
This is not a genuine expression of admiration, it’s really more about the narcissist getting on board with the script in his or her head about how perfect and amazing you are.
How We Believed We Were Genuinely Loveable and Acceptable
What I really, really believe is so thoroughly intoxicating about the idolisation stage is that finally (usually for the first time) we feel like we have been able to fall in love and acceptance with ourselves.
This is what one Facebook Member wrote, “I look forward to it (the article) Melanie, especially about the idolizing stage. When I think back to the beginning I feel like I fell in love with myself. Is this part of the idolizing stage?”
What is so captivating about the idolisation stage is, we finally accept ourselves as who we are. We finally feel attractive regardless of those few extra pounds or wrinkles. We feel so adored through the narcissist’s proclamations of “unconditional love” that we begin to feel “worthy and valuable” just as we are.
We believe the quest of having to be different, better or prove ourselves in order for people to love us, is over.
We are getting from the narcissist all the feedback that we may have missed out on and craved desperately as children, which continued as a pattern for us as adults.
We feel “whole” and “in love” with ourselves.
But … just like obsession is NOT real love, loving ourselves through the proclamations of another … instead of a genuine connection between us and our own Inner Identity is NOT real.
“Unconditional love” from another is not unconditional. It is in fact terrifyingly precarious if we have not as yet established unconditional love within ourselves.
For two reasons … one … because people can only genuinely reflect back to us the level of love that we have for ourselves. So think about what I am about to say … what this means is if we ARE reliant on it, then it isn’t genuine – because we were not whole to begin with.
And … two … the fact that we are reliant on it means that once it is removed we will be hooked onto this person trying to force them to provide it for us again.
Little did we know that the idolisation (obsession) phase is a drug dealer / drug user set-up of co-dependency.
The narcissist needs your attention (any intense energy that allows the narcissist to know he or she “exists” – also known as “narcissist supply”) and you need the narcissist’s love and approval to relieve you from the pain of not having yet anchored inwards as your own source of love and approval.
The identical idolisation set up can happen if the narcissist has realised that the biggie for you is “security”. Maybe you are emotionally terrified about being able to cope and survive on your own, and the narcissist presents as the big strong shoulders, capable and successful provider, generous carer and sharer and “dependable life-long person” that eases and soothes these inner terrors.
That intense “relief” can feel as heady, intoxicating and “needed” as obsessional love.
And when the narcissist, who laid out the red carpet for you, pulls it out from under you – you feel like you are reeling and may even die.
That is what the next stage of the cycle, “devaluation”, is all about.
The Insidious Stage of Devaluation
As a result of the lovebombing phase, you are open and trusting with the narcissist – and even if you don’t realise it yet, your emotional life and wellbeing is in their hands.
The devaluation cycle begins as an over-lap in the idolisation stage, but because you are starry-eyed, loved-up and hooked, the ever so vague initial warning signs may go unnoticed, until they get so big there is no missing them.
And really what it means is that the narcissist’s proclamations of valuing you like no other were not true, and the real evidence of the human value the narcissist really places on you comes forth.
It may be actions or words. It is likely to be both.
Let’s have a look at the actions first …
Actions such as:
- Having no concern whatsoever for you when you are in a potentially threatening situation.
- Being unavailable in times of sickness, need and distress, or angered or playing “tit for tat” when you are “in need”.
- Having a sexual condition (STD), having sex with you and not telling you about it.
There are countless examples, but I think you get the point – the point being your wellbeing and “self” is not valued and revered at all. Your physical health or mortality may even be at risk. These are all big red flags, and after being “so adored” will feel “off”, and “not right”.
And so they should, because people who have the ability to care for and respect others don’t behave this way.
However, because we are hooked on the “person who loves us like no other”, it is usual to make excuses and justifications for the behaviour – or choose to sweep it under the rug. The very rug that is getting ripped out centimetre by centimetre from under you.
What we don’t realise, until we start awakening, is that this deadly game is not just one of deception by the narcissist (which every False Self does by the very nature of being a False Self. Think “crocodile” and expecting it to roll over, wag its tail and play fetch) … because there is another side to the tale.
What we are doing is justifying away the red flags and our huge internal GPS screaming at us “danger danger”, because we are too hooked on the narcotic of “getting love and approval or security” and don’t want to risk losing it.
The facts are, by allowing such behaviour to be in our life, whilst justifying the red flags away, we are devaluing ourselves in the trade-off for our drug.
The Codependency That Makes Us Susceptible to Abuse
Naturally devaluation doesn’t just happen between a narcissist and a co-dependent lover. It can happen between any narcissist and their target, such as a narcissist and their child.
To help you understand the nature of co-dependency (being a target) as an adult and as a child – I want to first of all explain the following …
My definition of co-dependent is someone who is still trying to source self from outside of self. In many ways this is a complete match up with a narcissist, except for these differences:
- The narcissist is taken over by a False Self (ego) that has annihilated the True Self beyond resuscitation.
- Co-dependents can up-level from False Self wounding (ego defences), reinstate their True Self and become whole.
- The narcissist due to such levels of emotional and mental dysfunction has become pathological, malfunctioning and conscienceless in his or her necessary quest for narcissistic supply.
- Co-dependents are only capable of acting out inhumanely under severe emotional survival stress (which the narcissist is emotionally undergoing constantly).
- When a narcissist acts out without consideration for others, he or she will not be capable of comprehending the misdeed, or taking moral responsibility, or being remorseful for the wrong doing (unless feigned).
- If the co-dependent acts out outside their normal functioning of integrity, he or she will tend towards being genuinely deeply disturbed and remorseful about their actions as soon as they are past the chemical unconsciousness of the survival stress.
The reason I am allowing you a deeper understanding of co-dependency is to let you know co-dependents are NOT conscienceless people – they are simply people who are precarious to narcissists because they have not as yet been able to develop a solid enough sense of self to be impervious to them.
This goes for ANY child targeted by a narcissistic family member, because all children are dependent on outside sources to build (program) their Inner Being. The same goes for wounded adult children, who had childhoods that did not allow them to develop a solid sense of self-worth, self-love, self-approval and effective self-soothing.
The narcissist plays on these “gaps” in the devaluation game by offering up all the idolisation necessary to “fill the gaps”. This means you will be hooked to the narcissist in unhealthy ways for the love, approval and / or security that feels missing on the inside, and then the narcissist will attack the very gaps that he or she has seemed to fill.
Most narcissistic devaluation has good smatterings of idolisation thrown in there as well, and this is what is meant by rolling out the red carpet for you, you standing on it feeling like you’re on top of the world, and then getting the rug ripped away leaving you on the ground … broken and devastated.
As one Facebook Member wrote: “I would love to know the subtle process of the devaluing phase as I would like to put words to exactly how my father (sociopath) actually did it. I saw what he did to my mother but he idolized me at the same time as destroying any real self worth … I am just beginning to unravel the devaluing dressed in charm.”
The “devaluing dressed in charm” is not obvious; at first the rug might just get a bit of a “flick” to start unbalancing you.
As another Facebook Member wrote: “I bet you have some insight into how the N devalues in a clandestine way, so that we feel blindsided. I would really appreciate your insight.”
I certainly hope I can explain this … the process of “hook and hurt”. And it is always around your biggest unconscious fears. This is how it goes: give you or tell you what you want to hear, in order to feel bonded to this person in an “I need you in my life” way, and then be so attached that they can hurt you profoundly and control you by using your greatest fears against you.
Devaluing happens through Trauma Bonding. If bonding didn’t happen you wouldn’t hang around for the intensifying punishment. When you understand the phenomenon of trauma bonding you can start to realise why hostages can feel like they have fallen in love with their captors. Because this captor has the power to relieve the terror of “I going to die” with “Yes, you can live today”.
The fact that the captor caused the terror in the first place is irrelevant. When we feel powerless and another adult becomes our source of life-force for good and bad we have unconsciously become a child bonded to a supposed all-supreme role model who we have handed our power over to and assigned as our parent.
The phenomenon that is the spasmodic “relief chemicals” can attach and addict us.
The relief is such a high that it feels like “love”.
The narcissist has identified, targeted and attacked your gaps (greatest insecurities), and then appears to be the saviour of those gaping, bleeding wounds by providing the intense “relief” of giving you what “you need” to feel better.
An example of an adult in an intimate relationship would be something like this: “You are pretty average in physique compared to most people your age. I think you would look younger if you worked out,” (devaluation) and then later saying, “You have a totally hot body, I can’t keep my hands off you” (idolisation).
Someone with body image issues would be very susceptible to these cycles of devaluation and idolisation … losing self-esteem with the devaluing messages and getting more and more dependent on the narcissist for the idolizing that momentarily provides relief from the poor self-image.
What is “clandestine” about it to us, is much more obviously “not okay” to people who didn’t have the wounds (gaps) that the narcissist hooks and hurts us with.
It’s so important to understand that when we are regressing back emotionally into a childhood wound, we are unconscious. We are likely to put up with all sorts of behaviours, because we are totally clueless as to what is really going on. This seems unfathomable to other people as they stand watching from the sidelines, shaking their heads at us.
The only reason that the abuse is obvious to them is because they are not wounded on that topic.
But when we are … we ignore gut feelings because we don’t as yet listen to or trust our Inner Being, and the cognitive comprehension that we have on that topic is likely to be at the age level that the wound was generated at in the first place.
We may literally be in an adult body showing up as the emotional age of a 3 year old – who feels powerless to comprehend how we are being diminished, or be able to pull away and look after ourselves.
We are more likely to do what a 3 year old would do. Take on feeling like we are wrong and to blame for what is happening to us.
Now let’s look at what happens in a “hook and hurt” scenario with a narcissistic parent and a child. An example would be something like this, “Mummy loves you – you are my favourite, special, beautiful child.” (idolisation) and then threatening, “You are such a bad child – I don’t want to be your Mother anymore.”(devaluing).
It’s important to understand that the narcissist is playing on gaps that are already there … as a child these gaps were inherent, we hadn’t yet developed a sense of self, and our wounds are likely to be replays of the insecurities and traumas and unconscious parenting of our earlier generations that have been passed on and played out by our parents, as well as their parents.
Epigenetics now proves that much of this (painful and traumatic self-identity programs) were passed on to us through our DNA and we were born with these traumas which were then amplified with the identical unconscious parenting – which then we continue to play out with others as adults.
But does this mean we are stuck with this trauma being in repeat for the rest of our lives – such as being hooked into “love figures” idolising and then devaluing us?
Or is there a way out?
One Facebook Member wrote this: “My N is enjoying his devaluing so much he’ll never discard – unfortunately! Why am I still here? Melanie, in such weird setups, is there a way to escape from the dungeon? Or is it best to change my name to the Count of Monte Cristo and write a novel after forty years of captivity?”
It is my deepest wish that this Member and others who read this blog realises there is a way out – it takes effort – but it can be done. I will go into more specifics regarding “how to” in Part 2 next week …
But first let me explain the dynamic.
This we need to understand – the child and wounded adult child being devalued by a narcissist have the same problem – a not as yet healed and developed Inner Identity.
As a child, yes we truly are powerless, but as adults we certainly aren’t – and the fact that the origin of the gap is in our body (regardless of who passed it on to us) and non-reliant of what any narcissist is or isn’t doing, is incredibly empowering … because we CAN take our power back by healing it and closing it.
And when we do, there will be NOTHING to hook us, reel us in, diminish our self-esteem, and render us helpless and dependent with anymore … because we are no longer needy for this “thing” (love, approval or security) from outside ourselves.
We have become a source of those previous “gaps” to ourselves.
The words, as well as the actions of the narcissist, are a significant devaluing weapon constructed to make you doubt yourself, strip self-esteem, confuse you and make you more dependent on the narcissist and less capable of standing up to or leaving the narcissist. Therefore not being able to pose as a threat to the narcissist’s precarious emotional inner landscape.
There are so many ways the narcissist can verbally devalue you – in fact the very dis-ease of narcissism provides devaluation as part of the course. A precarious False Self resting on a hairline trigger that could set off a narcissistic injury (a perceived attack to the ego), is always going to lash out and project the pain onto someone else.
This is especially likely and in fact inevitable when the gloss of the over-valuing of you starts to wear out and real life emerges. It is also likely that you have started questioning, speaking up, and trying to assert your rights.
The narcissist perceives this as a literal threat of annihilation to his highly insecure False Self. As far as the narcissist is concerned you are an “all” or “nothing” proposition. You either feed the False Self adequately – or you deserve punishment. Naturally, a trauma bonded and dependent target ensnared by a narcissist is highly susceptible to verbal devaluation.
- Threatening abandonment (verbally or physically)
- Withholding information, affection or sex
- Demanding entitlement to information, affection or sex
- Projecting blame
What is deeply important to understand is that the narcissist will tailor the abuse to your “gaps”.
Different narcissists act out completely different ways to devalue with different people. One narcissist may throw other women in his partner’s face – because that is what her “gap” is about – “I’m not good enough and another woman will replace me”, and yet the same narcissist may just disappear and be out of contact with another woman whose “fear of abandonment” programs run deep.
He would not throw other women in the second woman’s woman’s face because she would never tolerate that and would leave him. Instinctively he knows that is not her “gap” to play with.
Here is a powerful truth: We will never tolerate unwholesome and terrible behaviours in our life that we don’t have unwholesome and terrible wounding on.
And there lies our total key to getting out of the trauma cycles of being devalued – heal the gaps that we are being devalued on.
The Discard Phase
The narcissist discards you when your usefulness has run out. There is only one reason you were ever in the narcissist’s life – which was to provide “attention”. The energy that allows the narcissist to self-regulate his or her fragile and precarious False Self.
And if the “attention” you are providing is not good enough quality for the narcissist anymore, or if you have threatened the False Self in such a way that undermines the narcissist’s fabricated image, he or she may cease all investment in you and begin the quest to secure another source of better grade narcissistic supply.
Or maybe, a better narcissistic supply option has presented, and the narcissist suddenly removed him or herself to enmesh with the “newest shiniest toy”.
If you have incited the narcissist’s wrath (and many people do simply by trying to defend their own rights) the narcissist may discard you, turn you into “the enemy” and set out to tear your life apart piece by piece.
The discard phase is the last part of the cycle – but it may not be the end of the relationship. The narcissist may not discard permanently … in fact many often don’t, and that depends largely on what the person who has been discarded has running as painful insecurities (gaps).
If a narcissist discards you and knows that letting go and abandoning you hurts you intensely, then a narcissist may be very likely to stay away. He or she is getting the narcissistic supply (satisfaction) that this is really hurting you.
A narcissist knowing that someone else is in severe emotional pain over them, gains a great deal of significance. It goes like this, “If I can affect someone powerfully emotionally – it confirms how special I am.”
What it is really doing is confirming to the narcissistic that he or she EXISTS. The narcissist is the walking “empty soul” that is NOT real and full – so temporary highs of feeling “valid” are greatly valued and sought.
So, especially, if the narcissist is receiving feedback that you are severely affected by his or her departure, and you try to contact or make contact with others who know the narcissist, stalk or do the things that the narcissist knows about … he or she will love keeping it up to hear how hurt you are.
And creepily even if you just energetically emotionally hurt without creating any physical evidence … then still at a subconscious level the narcissist feels it, remains “fed” and will keep doing whatever provides “the feed” – which in this case is staying away.
People ask me all the time, “Why is the narcissist not hoovering and staying away from me?”
This is the answer … and the very fact people are asking, means they have not come to terms with it and are playing out their young wounds of feeling unlovable, not important, not valued and abandoned, that are still deep wounds from childhood.
The narcissist, in this case, as an A.I.D in your life (Angel in Disguise as a Narcissist) is smashing your greatest emotional wounds open, so that finally the submerged subconscious can emerge, become conscious and be healed.
And naturally this only happens when we stop trying to force the narcissist to be responsible for healing these wounds, and instead break away from the narcissist, go inwards, self-partner, meet ourselves and heal them ourselves. (More about this in Part 2).
People that DO heal these wounds are relieved (after the self-work) to be left alone by the narcissist, and never want them in their life again. They have evolved beyond whatever wounds it was that was hooking them to the narcissist … and then the narcissist then becomes No Longer Their Reality
This is what the Thriver Recovery Model is all about.
Our Lives Dish Up the Pain Until We Learn What We Need to Learn From it
Why would a narcissist discard, and then start the cycles of idolising again?
At a human level we could think “We were trying again”, “Maybe he or she is coming to his / her senses? But what we experience in toxic relationships is the same issues … and the issues intensifying in drama and frequency.
What is really happening is two wounded children in adult bodies are trying to hold the other person responsible for their wounds. We may think the narcissist is the all-powerful in-charge person (adult) hurting us – but the very opposite is true – the narcissist is never going to face his or her wounds and grow up.
But we can.
And when we do, we evolve ourselves beyond needing to play out these relationships anymore.
When you are still hooked in by your wounds, you are susceptible. The narcissist knows you are available as narcissistic supply and can take up with you again.
Because you became precarious supply or the narcissist had already broken away from you, it is very likely that there are now other sources of supply on the scene. These may be momentarily low or the narcissist like any addict is simply being greedy for supply (more is best), or you may be being used as a tool to punish the current partner.
If you have been discarded by a narcissistic parent (or any other person) you may be recruited again for the agenda of doing some task for this person that they don’t want to do themselves, or used to replace some other person who has walked away, or for some other unwholesome reason – such as: an ego feed to see if you can be drawn back in again.
The cycle of violence and the cycles of idolisation, devalue and discard go hand in hand .
This is the parallel …
Reunite (Cycle of Violence) / Idolisation (Cycle of IDD) – Tension builds (Cycle of Violence) / Devalue (Cycle of IDD) – Act of violence (Cycle of Violence) / Discard (Cycle of IDD).
This cycle can repeat many times – and it is no compliment if it does, because it gets more dangerous and more frequent every time it does.
This is NOT about being “truly loved” or the “narcissist coming to their senses”.
And we get so empty and stripped of self that we may hang on for any crumb from the other person to try to make our terror, anguish, emptiness and panic go away – while the damage and the pain just gets worse and worse.
Life has a way of turning up the volume trying to evict us out of situations that we are not learning our lessons from – so that we can be alone and assimilate and heal those lessons.
If we don’t “get it” the torture intensifies.
In Part 2 we deeply investigate more about the 3 cycles and how that ties in with other sources of narcissistic supply. As well as the true reasons as to why the narcissist does what he or she does and how to heal from being caught up in the 3 cycles.