Narcissists are everywhere. Whether the narcissist in your life is the colleague who takes credit for work you did, the friend who always needs to be the centre of attention, the significant other you have REALLY good and REALLY bad times with, the family member who’s never wrong, or the parent who expects you to be an unlimited source of supply for them, the same cycle of abuse and manipulation tactics are happening behind different situations. If you’re dealing with a narcissist, you may feel confused and wonder what’s REALLY going on when things are going well. Is this person actually a narcissist if they can be normal sometimes? After all, narcissists are known for being unstable, self-centered, and manipulative. This blog post will break down what’s really happening when things seem to be going well with the narcissistic abuser in your life.
The cycle of abuse: how it works
Before we get into this, we need to first talk about the cycle of abuse that narcissists perpetuate onto their targets; love bomb, devalue, discard. You may have learned other variations of this cycle, different vocabulary for each stage, or even with additional sub-stages between each stage. Here’s the thing about me: I’m here to provide clarity as efficiently as possible, and not further confuse you! So we are going to stick to the basics: love bomb, devalue, discard. If you want to invest your time into a more unnecessarily complicated breakdown of the cycle of abuse, this might not be the right blog for you!
In the love bomb phase, the narcissistic abuser can do any of the following; showers the victim with attention and affection, compliments them, agrees with them, apologizes, starts to finally make sense when they talk. Basically, it’s whatever their target wants to hear. Narcissists will love bomb to appear likeable, and then gain their target’s trust. Think about it-you’re not gonna trust someone you don’t like! This love bombing phase can last for weeks, months, days, minutes, years – it really depends on the relationship dynamic, and whether you’re their main target or a target they keep around to gain supply every now and then. Be mindful that narcissists don’t treat every single person in their life in exactly the same way – and this is on purpose! They want most people to think they’re this amazing person so when their target starts to open up to anyone about the abuse, they’ll be seen as crazy because no one could ever imagine this person behaving this way. This is how victims of this type of abuse stay stuck in the cycle for so long – they genuinely believe they are the issue. This in turn provides the narcissist with some high-quality supply feeling all mighty and powerful that they’ve destroyed their target’s self esteem. Totally messed up life goal to have but to each their own, I guess.
Guess what? When things are going well in the relationship with the narcissist in your life, you’re in the love bomb phase of the cycle of abuse. How can you tell? Well, the devalue phase is going to happen again soon enough. Usually as soon as they’re satisfied they’ve re-gained your trust in the love bomb stage you’ll start to experience devaluation.
In the devalue phase, the narcissistic abuser starts to criticize and put down their target. It can be in an underhanded way so it’s not totally obvious at first but it gets worse and worse. This is where it actually starts to look like abuse. Keep in mind, love-bombing, while it feels good, it’s still abusive because it’s done for the purpose to continue abusing you. They may call their target names, accuse them of things they didn’t do, gaslighting and crazy-making behaviour where they make you question your reality, and essentially try to control your every move so you’re in a constant state of distress just feeding them with supply. This is all done at the cost of your self-esteem and your mental and emotional health – but as long as the narcissist is supplied by your bamboozlement, that’s what matters to them! They do not care about the level of distress this causes you as their target – they’re enjoying the supply show way too much.
In the discard phase, the narcissistic abuser pretty much drops their target altogether. Not every dynamic has a discard phase, and sometimes it can be a subtle discard phase! For example, they may not respond to any messages and essentially disappear off the face of the earth for a period of time, and then out of nowhere when they need something they reach out as if nothing happened. That reach out is right back into the love bomb phase.
Another thing I’ll mention is that after the devalue stage, sometimes they go to discard sometimes they go back to love bomb and skip discard. Any variation of this doesn’t make the person not a narcissist. Don’t distract yourself with the small details that don’t matter – the main thing that matters here is you coming to terms with the truth and starting your healing journey. This is ultimately what will make you narcissist-proof. Regardless, it doesn’t matter what the situation is, all you need to realize is that this cycle of nonsense is going to continue over and over and over again. It’s been the pattern the whole time. It’s not a pattern that’s going to change anytime soon. If someone’s going to change, they need to decide to do that on their own and they need to want to do that. Narcissists don’t want to change, they don’t think anything is wrong with them! Plus they usually have a whole crew of enablers, so why would they change if their goal of getting supply is working out for them?
When things are going well with the narcissist, you are in the love bomb stage.
Now we’re going to dig into love bombing some more, since now we’ve covered the cycle of abuse. When things are going well with the narcissistic abuser in your life, you may think to yourself, “okay, this is great, and maybe they changed and that was just a little blip in their behaviour… This is this is what I’ve been waiting for, and this person is finally treating me with basic human decency! So this must mean they changed for real this time!” The thing is, the narcissist knows you’ve been really hoping for that love bomb stage the entire time that you’ve been through the devalue and or discard stages. Now they’re saying the things you want to hear, so you start to believe they changed and they’ll keep treating you with this little breadcrumb of respect consistently moving forward. This is the trap they wanted you to be in. When we’re bamboozled neck-deep in that trauma bond, we don’t even realize what’s actually happening yet… until we end up in some kind of rabbit hole learning about narcissistic abuse and their manipulation tactics!
Don’t be fooled by the enablers out there – the narcissist does this on purpose!
All these manipulation tactics are calculated and intentional. The purpose of love bombing is to gain your trust again after they devalued and/or discarded you.
Love bombing isn’t just reserved for romantic relationships with a narcissist
Of course a narcissist pursuing a romantic partner will need to initially love bomb their target. This is done initially in order to hook you in, because let’s be realistic: if they introduce themselves to you as the piece of shit that they are, you would not give them the time of day! So this is why they seem to be so charismatic and all-around such a great person. They need to be likeable, especially at first, because you are not going to trust somebody you don’t like.
Obviously, if you’re an adult child of a narcissistic parent or caregiver, they didn’t really need to go through that initial love bombing stage because… you’re pretty much kinda there already. It’s not like you had a choice in who your parents were, you know? You just end up there and they won’t really have to do that initial “grand gesture” that a narcissistic romantic partner would have to do. Narcissistic parents have conditioned you since before you’re even born to be a good little source of supply for their entitled behinds. And so, if you’re in a dynamic with a narcissistic parent and you’re an adult child love bombing will look a lot different than in a relationship. The love bombing could be your narcissistic mother being reasonable for once, making promises to take care of the grandkids, or to go on that family vacation and be one big happy family and put all the past in the past and be happy again and everything is gonna be great. They might say they’re going to buy you a house. Blah blah blah you know the whole song and dance – it’s basically whatever you want to hear, they will say! Saying things doesn’t take much effort.
Keep a realistic mindset
It can be shocking to realize all of this, and so tempting to pretend it’s not real. I get it – I’ve been there! At some point though, you have to be realistic about this person who’s on a mission to destroy you. They’re definitely not going to explain to you what their manipulation tactics are as they’re doing them! You’re dealing with a manipulative person, honesty would get in the way of their end goal! This “nice” act that they put on when they need to is usually short lived. It really only lasts until they are satisfied that you have trusted them again. They can tell when you have re-invested your trust in them and you’re hooked back in, and then right back into devaluation you will go.
And it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on again!
And they’re not going to change this very predictable pattern. This cycle that has continued to play out over and over again is what you can expect to continue happening over and over and over again. There is no parallel universe where they’re going to permanently change. That mask is going to come off at some point. This doesn’t mean they won’t try very hard to keep messing with your mind. They might stay in that love bombing stage for a very long time and they’ll frame it as “I gave you so much time and space to start trusting me again so you should give me another chance” and then obviously the same cycle will repeat either way. They might make some really great points and they might incorporate nuggets of truth in whatever they’re saying, in order to continue confusing you. But what you have to be hyper aware of is that this person is just saying things. Trust the patterns, not the words.
How can you protect yourself?
Stop giving the narcissist supply. Any time you engage with them, you are giving them supply. You can feel it, because you’ll be exhausted! If you respond to their love bombing, whether it’s a positive or negative response, you are actually giving them supply! When you’re favourably responding to it you’re eating up all of their compliments, you’re so happy that they’re finally behaving like a normal, rational human being (that you keep projecting on to them and hoping that they will be) and they’re being nice in this moment because they know that’s what you want. If you’re continuing to communicate with them, they think that there’s hope that you will drink the Kool Aid and that you will start trusting them again and they’ll go right back into devaluation. Even if you’re low contact, but giving them supply here and there, just to sort of “shut them up and keep the peace” this will still backfire on you. The goal and the best way to protect yourself is to give them zero supply! No emotion, as few words as possible, minimal engagement in any sort of conversation, about any topic. Give them nothing, but if you must communicate, give them as little as possible.
The more energy you give a narcissist, the more words you use, any ounce of emotion in your interactions can and will be weaponized against you.
Narcissists will continue their cycle of abuse whether you like it or not. They will always use your emotions against you. They love bomb you on purpose to induce the happy feelings within you which ultimately indicates to them that they’ve gained your trust. Then they’ll shatter everything they built up during the devalue and/or discard stage and it just keeps happening over and over and over again.
Radical acceptance that the narc will keep narc-ing
The sooner you accept that this dynamic is how it’s always going to be, the sooner you will stop supplying the narcissist with that emotional reaction, engagement, resources, energy, attention, supply they’re seeking. Once you reach that point of radical acceptance, you will realize that this exhausting, ridiculous game is never going to end. The sooner that you stop supplying the narcissist, the sooner you will actually have the energy to focus on your healing journey – which is what matters way more than the words the narcissist says.
I know it sucks that you have to go on this whole healing journey because you’re not the one who traumatized yourself! But we need to stay grounded in reality; you can’t wait around and expect the narcissist to fix all of that for you because they are committed to not doing anything like that to help you in any way shape or form. They’re committed to continuing to abuse and manipulate you so they can continue gaining supply. They don’t care how you feel, long as however you feel is resulting in them getting supply from you. That’s all that matters to them.
Once you start focusing on your healing journey, your inner work, your inner emotional world, the sooner you will actually start being able to live life on your own terms without caring what the narcissist thinks or what they have to say.
At the end of the day, we have a limited amount of time on this planet. Life is short and nothing is guaranteed. I’m not trying to be morbid, but you don’t know what the next day brings. With a narcissist, you do know what the next day brings; chaos, nonsense, abuse, more digs at your self esteem, more damage to your mental health, more damage to your emotional health. This is not what you are on this planet for, you don’t have to deal with all of this shit because another person gets their jollies from seeing you in a state of distress. There’s a lot more to life than dealing with someone who’s intentionally doing this.
You deserve to prioritize the most important relationship that you will ever have: the relationship you have with yourself. No other relationship is going to be more important than your relationship with yourself. That’s why it’s so important to do that inner work because the more you connect to yourself, and your own inner emotional world, the more you will understand if someone’s manipulating you. You’re gonna become the human bullshit detector! When you’re emotionally regulated, you’ll be more clear-minded and aware when someone’s trying to manipulate you.
If you are in touch with your emotions, and how your emotions work, what messages those emotions are giving you, you will be much more able to recognize manipulation tactics as they’re happening. You taking the time to focus on yourself is your best defence against a narcissist. It’s so easy to fall for their love bombing when it’s happening, because all that false hope that’s repressed is kind of being validated.
You can do the inner work however you see fit; whether that’s working with a therapist who’s educated on narcissism (hard to find them, but they’re out there apparently… good luck!), a life coach with lived experience, or even sticking to a regular journaling practice on your own to start the process of untangling your thoughts.
An option I offer is a community membership. There are courses, coaching exercises, several live events each month, and so much more. This is a very efficient and effective way to heal. When you are surrounded by other people who actually understand what you’ve gone through, when you have access to a growing resource library of tools, coaching exercises, and even more resources, when you have other people validating your experience rather than gaslighting it, and when you’re being mentored by someone who has lived experience and has helped hundreds of fellow survivors get to the other side of narcissistic abuse – healing is way more effective! The best part about this membership is it’s very affordable, there are affordable 1:1 offerings in Tier 2, and you’re not locked in to any commitment – you can cancel any time when you go month by month. If this is something you’d be interested in, click here to learn more and to sign up and get instant access to all the resources!