Updated: May 24
The Devaluation Phase
In Part 1 of this 5 part blog, we focused on the first phase of a narcissistic relationship, known as Idealization, as experienced by the victim. By breaking phase 1 down into the 6 Stage Process, we were better able to understand how the narcissist is able to reel their victim in.
The victim; oblivious to what is happening throughout the entire process, doesn't suspect a thing, and is likely to describe Phase 1 as a mostly pleasant experience. Often believing they have found their ideal match, they may feel loved up, happy and pampered. The abuser on the other hand, who is pulling the strings throughout, is easily bored, so it doesn't take them very long, usually just a matter of weeks or months before moving on to phase 2; the Devaluation phase.
Without warning, in phase 2, the narcissist suddenly withdraws all interest and affection, which may leave the victim wondering what on earth they have done wrong. From the victims point of view, everything appears to be wonderful one minute, and terrible the next; the difference is described as being like night and day. The victim is often understandably confused and hurt by this sudden change of attitude in their lover, and will usually attempt to appease them. The more the victim appeases, the more distant the narcissist becomes - a Pull>Push situation plays out; the more the victim tries to pull back their lovers affections, the harder the narcissist withdraws; pushing the victim away.
During phase 1, the narcissist has been full on, focusing all of their time and attention on the victim. Suddenly they are disengaged. At this stage they may become underhand and secretive; For example; Spending hours on their phones/computers - they may shield their activities; which suggests to the victim they have something to hide. No longer interested in spending time with the victim, the narcissist spends more and more time away, which they are unwilling to explain; they do not feel it is any of the victims business, even though they fully expect to be kept informed when the shoe is on the other foot. The victim is made to feel needy and clingy, simply for wanting to be equally informed. The narcissist is planting seeds of doubt in the victims mind - taking great pleasure in watching the victim agonize over whether their 'seemingly ideal lover' is now being intimate outside their relationship. The narcissist denies any wrong doing, accusing the victim of controlling & jealous behaviour.
This often causes confusion for the victim, who may now feel unable to trust their partner under the circumstances. The narcissist, having deliberately planted the seeds of doubt, snubs the victims affections while being openly flirtatious outside the relationship. This is intended to undermine the victims confidence and self esteem; the impact of negative emotions like humiliation and/or betrayal, further devaluing the victim.
Conversations that previously interested the narcissist may now be considered tedious. Jokes previously shared and enjoyed by the couple; now considered stupid; attract eye-rolls, disapproving glances and disparaging comments. The victim; suddenly made to feel stupid and embarrassed by things that were previously acceptable and enjoyable, often becomes cautious - 'navigating eggshells', so to speak - desperate not to antagonize their partner any further. There is no respect, sense of equality or compromise with a narcissist in phase 2. This sudden shift in behaviours can be bewildering for the uniformed victim, who may still be searching for the attentive, affectionate, and kind lover that was present throughout phase 1. What the victim does not yet know, and may never know, is that the person they fell in love with does not exist and never did. It was a facade; a skilled actor, temporarily boosting their ego; feeding off the adoration and esteem of their victim, picking up the victims signals, mimicking, and reflecting the signals back at the victim. The facade now over, the mask has dropped and the true identity of the narcissist is just being revealed. The victim may attempt to discuss the increasingly problematic situation, hoping to recover the relationship, much to the annoyance of the narcissist who couldn't be less interested. The narcissist demeans the victims attempts to understand; is gas-lighting the victim, whenever they attempt to address the situation.
More often than not, throughout phase 1, the victim has openly defended the narcissist from the disapproval and criticism of close family and friends, who - having had a clearer view of the situation from the sidelines, have suspected all along that something is ‘not quite right’. Troubled and unable to understand why the people they are closest to are not happy for them and their seemingly perfect love mate, the victim may reluctantly sever all ties with those friends and family members who appear disapproving - unwittingly isolating themselves. The narcissist will point out to the victim, how the victim is blaming them for their loss of support, when in fact the victim themselves severed the ties - another twisted truth expertly delivered by the narcissist, who controls the game, creates the situations and accurately predicts the outcomes.
The victim has been completely convinced that their loved ones have got it wrong, and fully intend proving it. The narcissist knows this, and exploits the situation, reinforcing this belief throughout phase 1, convincing the victim that the critics have their own agenda for not wanting to see the couple happy. As a result, the victim often finds themselves alone; isolated in this unfamiliar and distressing setting, too ashamed to call on former supporters for help. Embarrassed and keen to avoid the 'I told you so's; the victim is left feeling stupid because they have gotten things so wrong, when it appeared to be obvious to ’everyone’ else.
We are aware that it wasn’t obvious to everyone else, on the contrary, most people buy into the narcissists image of a upstanding, decent person, and many more by-standers find it impossible to believe it of them - Jimmy Savile being a prime example.
It was only obvious to the select few - the victims family and friends, who had front row seats to the victims down fall but, who due to the nature of the game - were powerless to do anything about it. If the victim has previously encountered difficulties in their relationships, this further reinforces the belief that the victim is to blame.
Even when the victim is struggling with the negative emotions brought on by the narcissists change of demeanor and continuous devaluation, the victim genuinely believes that their lover still exists, and the current situation is but a temporary glitch which can be rectified if only they 'the victim', try that bit harder. The victim is convinced that happiness will return, they just need to be stronger, more tolerant, less needy, less selfish, less....the list goes on. The victim is convinced that if they learn to understand and work with their partner, the situation will improve and the original adoring lover will return. What the victim fails to realise is the problem is not with them - but is a reflection of the narcissist. Any changes of behaviour made by the victim - cannot and will never alter the responses in the narcissist! That's like consuming alcohol and expecting the other person to get drunk; it simply doesn't work that way.The only person who can change their behaviour, is the person themselves.
Having been privy to the narcissists game plan, unlike the victim, we are aware that the victim is on a hiding to nothing, as the cruel narcissist takes great pleasure in watching the victim slowly fall apart. As confusion and emotional disturbance continue for the victim, caused by the narcissists relentless manipulating and devaluing; the victim is doing everything they can to stay afloat. People who are unfamiliar with the victim, assume it is the victim who has the issues; controlling, jealous, nagging, paranoid... - the victim is unable to disprove any of this, as in this current situation, this is exactly how it appears to the outside world, the victim is acutely aware of this. The narcissist takes every opportunity to reinforce this image of the victim. The victim recognizes that for all intents and purposes, they appear to be going crazy, but unable to understand why and not knowing what to do about it, the victim soldiers on.
The narcissist is a skilled performer and puppeteer, managing to convince the majority of the people they come into contact with; including some law enforcement and other professionals tasked with supporting victims - that they are a decent, respectable person, innocent of any wrong doing. Few people, other than the victims nearest and dearest are likely to suspect the narcissist of being responsible. Having witnessed the victims changes in health and behaviour since the relationship began; changes that the victim themselves are unaware of, they realise something is wrong, but are powerless to intervene as the victim does not want them to. A Pull>Push situation starts to play out between the victims wannabe protectors, and the victim themselves, who is unable to understand the problem. This is confusing for all concerned; relationships are often damaged and friendships lost, as a direct result of these polarized views.
People unrelated to the victim, who have only ever witnessed the narcissistic persona as described in phase 1, do not suspect the narcissist is play acting, because they have had no reason to. As explained in part 1. - we tend to see with our eyes and believe what we see! Seeing the narcissist as they present in phase 1, prevents us from looking any deeper. This admiration for the narcissist from outsiders, further supports the victims unfounded beliefs, that both they and narcissists naive following, are more enlightened than the family of critics; a notion that is entirely incorrect, but this is how it appears!
By now the narcissist is indifferent to the feelings of the victim, which the victim often finds difficult to process. Where the narcissist previously appeared kind and tolerant, their actions often become aggressive and cruel; kicking the dog; for example, shouting at children, being rude and aggressive to shop assistants or restaurant staff, disrespectful to the victims family and friends etc., becoming outraged over what may appear to the victim to be trivial, as the narcissist blows everything out of proportion.
This kind of aggressive and abusive behaviour from the narcissist appears to be out of character to the confused victim, who would have thought it highly unlikely just a few weeks ago.This Jekyll & Hyde type ’switcheroo‘ often causes alarm, concern and fear in the victim. Not all narcissistic relationships are violent; both physical and emotional abuse is extremely painful for the victim. For those that do become violent; the violent behaviour presents in phase 2, which tends to escalate over time.
Even when the victim is struggling with the negative emotions brought on by the narcissists change of demeanor and continuous devaluation, the victim genuinely believes that their lover still exists and the current situation is but a temporary glitch which will be rectified if only they will try harder. The victim is convinced that happiness will return, they just need to be stronger, and learn to understand and work with their partner better. If the narcissist has become violent towards the victim, the narcissist will initially cry, sob and act as if they are truly sorry 'while at the same time offering excuses like; "Why did YOU make ME do that; You shouldn't have Said, Done, X,Y or Z. The violent narcissist, having completely shocked and humiliated the victim, now makes the victim responsible for their violent behaviour - further devaluing the victim.
Having eventually concluded the narcissist is either no longer interested in them, is involved intimately with someone else, or as in my case, becomes so violent that the victims life is in serious danger; the victim attempts to end the relationship. Regardless of what has happened within the relationship, or how badly the victim has been treated, the victim is grieving for a romance that never really existed in the first place - which can be difficult for both the victim and people outside the relationship to comprehend.
This decision to move on brings about a sudden charge of heart in the narcissist, who appears injured and hurt by the victims suggestions, and a paler version of Idealization comes into play. Initially the victim breathes a sigh or relief, believing their lover has returned, and could explain why so many victims return to unhealthy and violent relationships. The victim has experience what appeared to be 'true love' in phase 1, and are reluctant to give up on it. In reality however, this is just more game play by the narcissist, throwing the victim crumbs of attention, just enough to keep them interested; a manipulative behaviour in which the victim is being drip-fed attention; also known as Bread-crumbing.
This On - Off/ Pull - Push, twist to the now baron and joyless relationship, is particularly damaging to the victim, who is dizzy in the emotional spin. The narcissist relishes the drama and chaos, as the altercations gain intensity and the narcissists behaviour becomes more and more theatrical, to the point of disturbing and seemingly out of control, which the narcissist blames the victim for creating. Of course, the narcissist is always in control - this is all part of the production. Distressed and exhausted, the victim will try again and again to escape, but there is no let up from the narcissist who will go to any lengths to keep the victim tied in.
By the time phase 3 - Discarding comes into play, the victim is often a shadow of their former selves. Confused, Anxious and Frightened. Phase 2 has been a traumatic experience for the victim, who is now isolated from family and friends, having earned themselves a reputation of being something of an 'Ask-Hole' - seeking advice but not taking it because they are still clinging onto the hope that Mr/Mrs Right that they met just weeks/months ago in phase 1, still exists.
If you have never experienced narcissistic abuse, I imagine it must seem highly ridiculous and unlikely. One persons biased account cannot provide an accurate view. I would undoubtedly say the same if I hadn't experienced this first hand. People who haven't experienced it, find it almost as difficult to comprehend as those who have. This may go some way to explaining why victims struggle to obtain any kind of justice. Victims appear hysterical, where narcissists - having controlled and manipulated from the outset, appear, cool calm, collected and are often highly respected and professional individuals, who have manipulated those around them, having taken them through their 6 stage process.
I've often heard it said; - "If things were really that bad, why did you stay? - you always have the option to leave"!
There is a gross lack of understanding surrounding trauma and abuse among professionals who allege, and are paid to know better which further damages the victim who having experienced trauma, are now judged, labelled and humiliated, leaving them further traumatized, vulnerable and voiceless.
Please join me tomorrow for Breaking The Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse Part 3.
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Copyright ©2014 Deborah J Crozier Breaking the Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse/S.T.A.N.D