If you haven’t been exposed to a toxic relationship with a Narcissist or Sociopath, then you probably have no interest in learning about the conscience deficient, 4% of the population, that Dr. Martha Stout describes in her fascinating book, The Sociopath Next Door. But if you haven’t learned to spot the early warning signs, red flags, and the three distinct stages of a toxic relationship, then you might be at risk of falling into one of these loveless torture traps. According to Dr. Stout, clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, 4% of the population are sociopaths and don’t possess a conscience. According to research studies, 1%-4% of the population meets the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) which is characterized by a lack of empathy.
That may not sound like much, but using the world’s population currently estimated at 7.4 billion, that means that 4 percent equals approximately 385 million people who are without a conscience, not including a large number of people living on the planet who lack empathy. Unless people learn how to spot these personality types, so many will continue to fall prey to the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and sometimes financial destruction they cause. Narcissistic abuse does not usually include forms of physical abuse with physical signs like bruises. The signs of narcissistic abuse are invisible, which makes it much harder to identify. The abuse is more ambiguous and difficult to prove, but it is no less damaging because it’s a form of spiritual rape. Over time, the abuse chips away at the target’s self-confidence and self-esteem. The target isn’t even aware it’s happening until the damage has been done. The abuse is always about control. The narcissist or sociopath sees the target as a means to an end and will seek to control the target and drain them dry emotionally, financially and every which way they can. They gain the targets’ trust and love and then extract all their good qualities, with declarations of ideal and everlasting love, and absolutely no intention of delivering any in return.
Since the abuse is covert, very few outsiders understand, and as a result, are not able to offer support or empathy. Even many therapists aren’t adequately trained or knowledgeable in dealing with the damage and the post-traumatic stress often experienced by narcissistic abuse survivors. This is why it is so important to find out about the early warning signs that you might be dating a predator, and learn about the three distinct stages of the toxic relationship cycle.
Stage 1: The Idealization
“If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. But if it walks like a duck and talks like a swan, it’s a narcissist.” Anonymous
In this stage, the narcissist pours on the charm to lure their target, to emotionally gain his or her trust. He becomes the ideal partner and portrays himself as generous, loving, caring, empathetic, and a romantic person. He will be doting and say and do all the right things to trick his target into falling madly in love with him. He, all without exception, uses a technique called “love bombing” to some degree or another.
This technique is called love bombing because he will literally bombard his target with tons of romantic gestures. Such as adoring texts, phone calls, and Facebook posts professing their love and admiration.
Within the first few weeks or month, he will often claim that no one has ever made him feel this way before and that his target is the “ONE” for him. It can be quite flattering for the target, because the narcissist morphs into the target’s “ideal” love partner, saying all the things the target has ever longed to hear. The narcissist will also claim to share the same interests, values, and dreams as his target de jour.
The narcissist will quickly declare his target his “soulmate, ” and since the target feels like she has finally met her perfect match, it feels true.
But the intoxication from the love bombing is just a ploy. Just as people who drink too much alcohol become intoxicated and lack good judgment, the intoxication of the love bombing also serves to impair the target’s judgment, and hook her into letting her guard down and the narcissist in.
The narcissist is very intense and will romance his target like no other. The honeymoon phase of the relationship will be like a scene from an epic romance movie because that is just what it is, it’s all an act. He will move the relationship at lightning fast speed and use another tactic called “future faking,” where he will talk about future plans, such as moving in together, marriage, children or vacation plans, etc….very early on in the relationship.
One of the reasons the narcissist moves the relationship so quickly is because it’s quite difficult to keep up the façade of being a loving, giving, sensitive, kind and caring individual when he really is not. He also moves the relationship quickly to destabilize his target and get her invested in the relationship before she has a chance to figure out his true character and agenda.
By the time the target does get a clue about the numerous short-lived, intense past romantic relationships with previous “soulmates,” or finds out the real reason the narcissist is staying on his friend’s couch and doesn’t have his own place, or starts to wonder why the narcissist seems to have a ton of acquaintances, but no real close friends, it’s too late, the target has already fallen deeply in love with him.
Stage 2: The Devaluation
The once Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde, who quickly changes the atmosphere to one of confusion, worry, and uncertainty about the relationship. The change can be swift and potent or slow and treacherous.
Once the narcissist is aware of just how much the target has fallen for him, he will become his true self, and the roller coaster ride will begin.
The narcissist, who once loved and admired everything about the target, and showered her with love, adoration, and attention, will begin to criticize and nitpick (a form of abuse much like browbeating) just about everything she does. The displays of love and affection will fade, and he will demand more and more from her while giving less and less.
Confused by his sudden change in behavior, she will instinctively work harder and harder to try to please him, and restore the relationship back to its once perfect beginnings. The narcissist will delight and take satisfaction in seeing the once confident, happy, successful target slowly sinking into despair caused by his intentionally created chaos and confusion. His ability and desire to emotionally control others gives him great pleasure and reinforces his need to feel superior and in control. Depleting a new target, via a relationship, is an excellent source of narcissistic supply that he craves in the same way a drug addict craves drugs. Supply is collected from the target, and it fills the narcissist up like helium and helps sustain, albeit very temporarily, his false sense of himself. He directs his whole behavior in the pursuit of extracting supply from others. It doesn’t matter if the supply is in the form of praise, adoration, attention or control, inflicting pain, or emotional distress. Supply is supply to the narcissist.
During the devaluation stage, no matter how hard the target tries, or what the target does, to attempt to make the narcissist happy, it will never be good enough and will not please him for any length of time.
This is the hallmark of this second stage. The narcissist will run hot and cold, and the target will feel like they are always walking on egg shells. He intuitively knows when to provide glimpses and crumbs of the idealization stage, much like a slot machine, to keep the target hooked and chasing the proverbial carrot, in hopes of recapturing the initial “love” he once provided.
Stage 3: The Discard
Narcissists detach so easily because they were never attached in the first place. The discard is inevitable and will usually blind side the target. This is the narcissist’s coup de grâce.
He will discard his target in the cruelest, most heartless ways, to inflict the greatest amount of suffering because the more the target suffers, the greater the narcissistic supply.
Often they will discard their targets before a holiday or coldly through email or text. The once professed “love of their life” will not even get the courtesy of a face to face breakup and some closure. Sometimes they will discard their target because their target may be getting wise to their games and challenging their control. Narcissists will abandon whoever they can’t control. Or perhaps, the narcissist may have extracted all they could from their target by draining their target emotionally, financially, and spiritually. They will begin to despise the target for not being the confident and happy person they once were and consider the target useless. The target, now thoroughly pillaged, will have nothing left for the narcissist to take, and he will become just plain bored and move on to fresh supply.
The narcissist will act as if you never existed or may attempt to twist the knife a little deeper by publicly flaunting their new “soulmate” within days or weeks of the break-up.
So many victims are left confused and suffer from extreme emotional pain and often descend into a major depression. Many well-intentioned family members and friends may suggest the target “just move on,” or treat the situation as a typical break-up and expect the target to just “get over it,” which only further destroys the target’s sense of self-worth.
If you recognize the early warning signs of love bombing, moving the relationship at a fast pace, future faking, or signs of the devaluation stage, the best remedy is to proceed with extreme caution or just stay single.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.
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