In the complex world of human relationships, there exists a dynamic that is as destructive as it is captivating: the toxic dance of narcissistically abusive relationships. This perilous journey often unfolds like a tragic love story, where an unsuspecting victim becomes ensnared in the web of the narcissist’s manipulation and self-absorption.
Meet Sarah and Alex: Sarah is a warm-hearted, empathetic, and agreeable woman, known for making everyone around her happy. Alex is a good-looking, charming, charismatic man who wants what he wants when he wants it and hides a mean dark side, though Sarah has no idea. Their journey illustrates the intricate dynamics of the dance in a narcissistic relationship.
The Phases of Narcissistically Abusive Relationships
Phase 1: The Attraction
Sarah, who has always put others’ needs before her own, is drawn to Alex’s confidence and charisma. He appears to be the answer to her loneliness, and she feels a sense of purpose in trying to make him happy. Alex feeds off this attention and becomes her emotional parasite. He wants to spend 24/7 with her and when he’s not with her he calls or texts her constantly. He gets jealous if he thinks she looks at another man or one looks at her. She is flattered that he is so protective of her. He tells her that she is his soul mate and he has been waiting all his life to find her. He constantly said his ex-wife was crazy. She felt sorry for him that he had to endure so much with her. She knew in her soul that she could show him the love he never got from his ex-wife.
Phase 2: The Erosion of Self
As their relationship deepens, Sarah finds herself constantly trying to please Alex. He seems to get upset easily and she doesn’t understand what she does to set him off. It seems like no matter what she talks about he finds something she says frustrating and the fight begins. Alex recently told her he thinks she might need to lose a few pounds for him to stay attracted to her so she has been working extra hard to slim down. She suppresses her own desires, opinions, and feelings to ensure his comfort though she doesn’t realize that’s what she’s doing. She becomes so obsessed with trying to keep up with his demands that she loses sight of her own identity. Meanwhile, Alex revels in this newfound power, using it to further his own interests. He told Sarah he was exclusive with her but he gets so bored, he doesn’t see what it hurts to continue looking at dating apps and meeting other women for a little fun. He also hasn’t bothered to tell her about the STD he got because of his Playboy lifestyle. He’s already decided if she gets one and confronts him, he will tell her she probably already had it before him. She’s already shown him that he can turn anything around to be her fault and she will agree. He enjoys watching her confusion and has zero empathy for how she feels about anything.
Phase 3: The Gaslighting and Devaluing Game
Alex, an expert in manipulation, begins gaslighting Sarah fairly early in the relationship. He tells her he wasn’t on the dating app her friend saw him on. He says her friend has always hated him anyway and she’s just trying to break them up. The fact that she even considers that her friend is telling her the truth is highly insulting to Alex and he makes sure she knows it. She immediately wonders if her friend really does hate Alex and has made up the story about seeing him on the dating app. He makes her question her own sanity, constantly shifting the blame for his bad behavior onto her. Sarah’s self-esteem crumbles and she becomes increasingly dependent on Alex for validation and a sense of reality. What she doesn’t know is that validation will never come. She will never get the loving kind relationship from Alex she craves. That is because Alex has narcissistic personality disorder among other personality disorders. This means he has no empathy for how he hurts Sarah and he could care less if the relationship lasts or not because he will simply replace her if it fails. Relationships in Alex’s mind are disposable.
Phase 4: The Cycle of Abuse
Their relationship becomes a vicious cycle of emotional highs and lows. He’s mean for a day, a week, or a month, then he’s nice if he sees Sarah start to pull away or shut down. The typical narcissistic mean/nice cocktail. Alex intermittently showers Sarah with affection to keep her hooked, only to withdraw it abruptly and go back to all of his litany of bad behavior. Sarah clings to the brief moments of happiness, believing she can fix their problems, while Alex continues to exploit her. Her brain wants to believe he will change because of the moments of nice she gets from him. It also wants to believe the love bombing predator who she thought was her knight in shining armor will reappear. Her brain attached to the moments of nice wants to believe if she just tries harder things will be different, but it won’t. It will only get worse.
Phase 5: The Awakening
One day, someone tells Sarah about a book on narcissistic abuse. As she reads about the traits of narcissists, she begins to see her relationship in a new light. She realizes she must break free from the toxic abuse she has been enduring with Alex. Her brain keeps going back to the nice. She keeps hoping he will change but she is starting to see the patterns of behavior that have been there from almost the beginning…if only her brain would stop remembering the nice guy. She doesn’t realize that her brain is in what’s called Cognitive Dissonance so it switches between he’s good or he’s bad. She can’t always tell which one it is.
Act 6: Breaking Free
With newfound strength, Sarah seeks therapy and support from a trusted friend. She learns that her dependent behavior wasn’t because of codependency but because she had been too agreeable when Alex bulldozed over her feeble attempts at boundaries. Her therapist showed her how predatory a personality-disordered individual is and how she can protect herself in the future. She learned how to start prioritizing her self-care. Alex, sensing his control slipping away, ramps up his manipulation tactics, but the knowledge Sarah gained through therapy helped her develop an exit strategy. It really hurt when she finally executed the plan. In her Cognitive Dissonance, her brain kept trying to tell her he could change but she now knew he couldn’t and wouldn’t. His promises of change had no actions to support them and she had learned in therapy that actions and words had to match for someone to have true integrity. Looking back, Alex’s actions had never matched his words.
Phase 7: The Transformation
Over time, Sarah rebuilt her self-esteem and discovered her true life passions and interests that had long been buried. She and her therapist did true trauma treatment to reduce the traumatic harm and PTSD caused by Alex’s abuse. She actually started truly living again.
Phase 8: The Road to Healing
Sarah’s story shows the painful journey of a kind and loving person in a relationship with a narcissist. While it may seem like an insurmountable challenge, it’s crucial to remember that healing is possible. Through therapy, self-discovery, and support, individuals who struggle with agreeableness and dependency can break free from the clutches of narcissistic abuse and learn to prioritize their own well-being.
Sarah’s story is a reminder that recognizing the toxic dynamics and predatory behaviors of someone is critical to notice at the beginning of a relationship. If you find yourself in a narcissistically abusive relationship it is important to seek help as a first step towards a healthier and happier future.