Discover the hidden mechanics of the narcissistic relationship cycle and arm yourself with the knowledge to break free.
If you're feeling trapped in a fast-spinning vortex of emotional highs and crushing lows, this in-depth examination pulls back the curtain on the complexities of trauma bonding and manipulation.
We start off exploring the love bombing phase, where the deceptive charm of a narcissist reels you in, setting the stage for a harrowing journey through devaluation and control. I'll guide you through recognizing these patterns and the subtle differences between overt and covert narcissists, providing you a roadmap to healthier, more balanced relationships.
As we move forward, I’ll walk you through the precarious end of the narcissistic dance—the fear, the blame-shifting, and the tug-of-war over personal power. For those entangled in the web of a narcissist, especially within the confines of marriage and parenthood, the path to liberation is fraught with challenges.
But hope is not lost; this conversation is a catalyst for embracing self-love and initiating the essential inner work to reclaim your worth.
I also introduce my brand-new membership, StrongHer - the Narcissistic Trauma Recovery Group, offering a community and practical strategies for those ready to embark on a journey of healing from the deep-seated trauma inflicted by narcissistic abuse. For more info click HERE.
Join us in StrongHER at our incredible Founding Member price as we chart the course towards recovery and the promise of nurturing, loving relationships that you not only desire but truly deserve. Limited spots available.
Join us for our next SoulFire Retreat, Evolve, in Bali from April 22 - 28! Head on over to our website to check out the amazing Agenda and Photos of the luxurious Oasis resort by WhereNext where we will be staying. There are still rooms available and we'd love for you to join us!
Corissa is a Somatic Trauma-Informed Relationship Coach™ & Narcissistic Abuse Specialist ™ who empowers women after they’ve endured narcissist trauma to rediscover who they are, reclaim their power and find the clarity and courage to move forward and live a life they love. Corissa is also a recovering people-pleaser and codependent who has endured way too many narcissistic relationships to count! She coaches not only from her knowledge and training but also from the wisdom she has gained from her own healing journey.
Book a FREE 30-minute Confidential Clarity Call HERE.
Ways to connect with Corissa:
Facebook: Corissa Stepp
We'd love to hear what you think so leave a voice message on our Podcast Website. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, review, or share it so we can reach more people!
Welcome to the Stepping into Meaningful Relationships podcast. I'm your host, carissa Stepp. I'm a somatic, trauma-informed coach and narcissistic abuse specialist. This is a podcast for you if you are looking to improve your most important relationship, the one you have with yourself, so you can more meaningfully and deeply connect with those around you. This podcast will equip you with valuable tools, tips and tricks essential for recovering from toxic relationships and guide you towards cultivating healthy, fulfilling and intimate connections with others. But first, let's start with you. I'm so excited you're here taking this powerful step forward. Thank you for tuning in. Now let's get to today's episode. Hey, hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Stepping into Meaningful Relationships. I'm your host, carissa Stepp, and So you've probably heard the term love bombing. This is the idealization phase, or the first phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle. This is where someone will come in. You'll meet someone new and they really just want to spend a lot of time with you. It can look even like a lot of excessive flattery. It may appear like they're very generous. They might buy you extravagant gifts or just little things, little gifts, to let you know that they're thinking about you. It might be expensive dinners or them taking you on these big, fancy day long dates or something like that Clearly what the intention is that they're trying to make you the center of attention in some way. Now this is going to be a little bit different with a covert narcissist, because a covert narcissist is not going to take a grandiose approach like an overt grandiose narcissist and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I highly encourage you to go back and check out last week's podcast episode where I dove into the 10 different types of narcissists. So it may look a little bit like excessive praise or a lot of validation. It could look like they're trying to express to you how much they really approve of either who you are, or they might express that they are very impressed with how much you've achieved or how far you've come in life. It could translate into them checking in on you often. It could look like them performing little acts of kindness. It can look like for a more grandiose or an overt narcissist it can be more of these excessive expressions of affection where maybe it's like these really beautiful long love notes, text messages or emails or anything like that, where you really feel like you are getting a ton of love and recognition and attention in a way that maybe feels really really good, because perhaps maybe you have experienced a lot of bad relationships, maybe you just got out of one, and so when the narcissist comes in and they start love bombing you like this, it can actually feel like it's filling these holes in your soul and it can become addictive because it feels so good. You may see that the narcissist, very early on in a relationship may say I love you, or they may intonate that you're the one that they've been searching for and how lucky they are to have found the one, or how lucky you both are to have found each other. It's really sort of it can be very much over the top, unless, of course, you are with a covert narcissist, where it's going to be a little bit more subtle, but they're going to find ways to make you feel special. They might compare you a lot to their exes, but essentially the point is that they're trying to create this emotional euphoria that feels really really good, to impress you in some way, right, or they're trying to no-transcript capture your attention. Equally, when you're in this early stage of a relationship what often happens and this is for any relationship, really you're flooded with all of these happy hormones, right that make you crave a connection with this person who's making you feel really, really good. There's gonna be a rush of oxytocin and dopamine and serotonin which keeps you in the relationship until eventually, something happens and the tides turn. That transition in a narcissistic relationship may be that you've set a boundary. You might have called the narcissist out on a behavior that you're upset about or that hurt you. Or maybe you're speaking up for yourself. Or maybe you have just innocently shared an opinion or belief that you have that is different than what the narcissist believes to be true. Or it could just be that you are exerting your power, your sovereignty, in some way. Regardless, the narcissist at that point feels threatened and insecure. Narcissists tend to believe that anyone who thinks differently than them is a threat. Anyone who exerts power is a threat to their power, since they believe that power exists in finite amounts. When narcissists feel insecure or as though they're losing power or control in the relationship, they will do whatever they can to regain that power and control, even if the collateral damage is your self-worth, your sense of self or your well-being. So this next phase that I'm talking about that gets triggered in this transition is the devaluation phase, and this is where, again, their behavior is going to take a really sharp turn, where, instead of being very complimentary and attentive and affectionate, they become actually critical, belittling, undermining and diminishing. During this phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle we start to see a lot of sudden mood swings, emotional dysregulation and manipulation. They will use techniques like gaslighting and triangulation, the silent treatment, or they might just withhold affection. Another tactic might be they might do what they can to deprive you of sleep or other basic needs in order to prove their importance or dominance. We are a lot more submissive and we give in a lot more if we are tired, if we are hungry, if our basic human needs aren't being met. So the motive with these tactics is really to stir up self-doubt and confusion in you, so one moment they might be praising you for something and then the next moment they'll be demeaning you, and so it can leave you really feeling like you have no idea what's going on, like what is happening. We can also see that this transition into the devaluation phase happens, or begins to happen, potentially, when the narcissist has found someone new to provide them with narcissistic supply. During this devaluation phase we actually begin to secrete cortisol, neuro-pinafran and epinafran. These are stress hormones which can cause us to experience fear, especially the fear of abandonment, if that is something that you struggle with, if that's a core wound of yours and we all have abandonment wounds. So, regardless of your attachment type, you are going to have some sort of fear when you feel that the person that you care about most or that you're in a relationship might walk out the door. And this works in favor of the narcissist, because what happens is that you might begin to wonder what you can do to fix the situation to keep them from walking out the door. What is it about yourself that you can change to make them happier and prevent them from leaving? Well, at the same time, likely the narcissist has already done a really good job of convincing you that you are the problem, that it's because of the way that you behave was the reason why they behaved in a certain way. In other words, they're going to make it your fault, or maybe someone else's fault, as to why they're behaving in a certain way, but lead you to believe that you are the solution to fixing the problem by fixing yourself. They make you feel like there's something wrong with you. You maybe led to believe that they are upset because of something you did or because of something you could have prevented or changed. Narcissists are really good at blame shifting and if you have a pattern of people pleasing or taking over responsibility for everyone else's emotions or happiness, then you're feeding into this dynamic and actually hurting yourself more. Now, if we continue to progress through the cycle so we've got through the idealization phase then we're in the devaluation phase. After that transition, one of two things is going to happen. You're either going to enter the discard phase, where the narcissist might abruptly end the relationship out of nowhere, leaving you feeling lost and completely bewildered and devastated, which again will trigger that fear of abandonment which might cause you to do things you wouldn't otherwise do just to keep them. That might be against your values. Or it may cause you to give in on something you felt really strongly about, or it'll potentially allow them to escape without taking any kind of accountability or expressing any type of remorse. Just a side note here this discard phase a lot of people associate it with the narcissist, oftentimes like picking up and leaving and going right Because maybe they cheated or they betrayed you in some way, or whatever it might be. They found new supply. But the discard phase can also look like storming out the door and leaving the house for hours without picking up the phone when you call and letting you know where they are right, without communicating in any kind of way, or taking and leaving with the kids without letting you know where they're going or when they'll be home, which can stimulate a similar type of fear response. I may not indicate the ending of the relationship, but it's how the discard may look, and you may find yourself apologizing when they do finally come back, so that they stay put and they don't leave again once they return. In a dating scenario, this is where ghosting might happen, where all of a sudden they might just disappear and fall off the face of the earth and you never hear from them again. So if the discard phase doesn't happen, where the relationship ends, what you then enter is the hoovering phase, where they essentially just try to suck you right back in, and this might look like shallow apologies or apologies that are not genuine. Remember that a narcissist will never take accountability for their actions. It's never their fault, it's always someone else's fault. So the apology itself, if you get one, may be very manipulative, because they know if they apologize it will at least maybe play key to you, but at most, you'll forgive them, and then they get away with not even having to take accountability for their actions or showing any kind of genuine remorse, and when you apologize without any kind of remorse or taking accountability, it's not truly an apology. They may even try to shift the blame back onto you with an apology that sounds like I wouldn't have done X if you hadn't done or said Y. It may not be as explicit as that, but I think you kind of catch the drift. Narcissists may also make promises to change. This is a big part of the manipulation. They're really good at promising you that they're going to do things to make it better, especially when they're hoovering you back in right, when they want to get you back, because, even if they say they're going to make a change and, deep down, they even believe that they can change the thing is is that it's nearly impossible to make a change if you're unable to self-reflect, acknowledge, accept and take accountability for your actions, and, as we know, most narcissists lack self-awareness and their self-perception is actually distorted. So they know, though, that if they make a promise to change, or they promise that they're going to behave differently in the future, that they get to hold on to you for a little bit longer, because again they're sucking you back in, they're roping you back into the relationship and they're probably, at the same time, like part of the efforts that they're doing here is they're trying to rekindle the romance and they're probably thinking, if I apologize, it'll all get better and then we can get back to making up, which is the fun part. So they might dive right back into that idealization phase again, that love bombing phase. And this cycle continues to repeat over and over and over again, until either they A find a new supply, b you step into your power and begin setting boundaries, or, c you decide to end the relationship. At which point, if you decide to end the relationship and they haven't found your replacement yet, they are going to try their best to Hoover you back in. And when that no longer works because you've done the work on yourself and you know that you deserve better and because you've begun gray rocking them and sticking firm to your decision, they will then cycle back to the devaluation phase. So for a while, until the relationship is like officially over, you're going to cycle back and forth in this relationship between devaluation, discard and hoovering idealization. So I think that's really important to be aware of, because I think a lot of times people think, oh, I'm going to just end this relationship and then I'm done, and then I won't have to deal with this situation anymore. However, a lot of times especially like if this is a marriage with kids there is a propensity towards experiencing post-separation abuse. And even while you're sort of unwinding and unraveling things it's not usually a clear cut where you decide you're ending the relationship, you're getting divorced, that one party moves out right away. There's usually some time lag in between, and it's in that time lag where you're going to experience them trying to hoover you back, but then, when you're not responding to that, they're going to devalue you and discard you again. And it just happens kind of over and over again, and sometimes in shorter undulations, which can feel really intense and very uncomfortable. So now let's talk about how does the trauma bond form that makes it so hard to leave these relationships. Well, first, you likely are addicted to the highs and the lows in the relationship, and this happens on a chemical level, where you are legitimately chasing the next high of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. But in order for that high to continue to feel good, you need to hit the low, where your body is like being flooded with cortisol and norepinephrine, and epinephrine it's said in another way. Basically, you're craving the chaos. It makes you feel alive. When your body is constantly being flooded with cortisol, you're living on high alert, so everything feels more intense. And right before it floods with cortisol, your adrenal glands actually secrete adrenaline which feels thrilling and exhilarating and enlivening. So really what we're addicted to is the cycle of pain and pleasure, and no wonder it takes people seven to eight times to get out of abusive relationships. There's the sense of pleasure and bonding. The heightened stress response during the devaluation phase creates that emotional turmoil and activates that fear of abandonment and so we go chasing after the person that we don't want to lose. And then, when we get reinforced through the hoovering phase, where we start to receive the attention and the affection again and maybe the heartfelt messages and whatnot, it triggers a release of endorphins which provides us with that temporary relief from the emotional pain that we were experiencing during the discard or the devaluation phase. So we literally get stuck in a loop. That pain and pleasure cycle constantly gets reinforced, even though the relationship itself is actually really harmful. So it's important to understand that these pain pleasure cycles are often familiar from childhood. The narcissist reenacts our version of love that love is hard, that love hurts, that we have to work at it, we have to earn it, that love is a transaction that requires blood, sweat and tears. Or, said another way, that it requires us to sacrifice ourselves, our well-being and our health. As children, you may have learned that you can't be loved for who you are, that you have to be something or someone else in order to get validation, love and acceptance. And this dynamic may have been present in your childhood home. It's a pattern that you may have been used to, where maybe you had a really critical parent who constantly criticized and belittled you and, on top of it, maybe they weren't there to meet your emotional needs. So there was emotional neglect happening as well, which is abuse, and that rejection and emotional abuse is familiar. You may have learned that the only way to overcome that rejection and abuse was by being the good child, the good girl, by behaving in a way that met your parents' approval and validation, where you felt loved, when you were recognized for that good behavior, where, essentially, that recognition was misconstrued as love. So the narcissistic relationship and the dynamics in it is really just your version of what love is. So it feels familiar, it feels comfortable, it feels safe, because what we perceive as comfortable we also equate to safety, and so we're constantly trying to get back to feeling safe, especially in a world full of uncertainty. And now some of this also goes into attachment style, but we're not gonna dive into that today because I don't wanna go into too much, so maybe we'll cover that in another episode. But in addition to that addiction to the chemicals, the addiction to the pain pleasure cycle, that feeling of familiarity, the narcissist feels familiar to us. So we might feel automatically when we meet them that they are a safe person, that the dynamics of the relationship might feel safe. It might feel unlike some healthy relationships maybe that you had in the past. Or you might notice that you have attracted this type of person into your life over and over and over again because, again, these patterns are familiar to something that you experienced in childhood. So in a way it's almost like we become a magnet for them. There's a couple of things that are important to note that I want you to understand In order for a trauma bond to form, there needs to be a power imbalance and also the abuse needs to be somewhat sporadic and intermittent, because if the abuse was obvious and was ongoing and escalating and happening for a really long period of time likely, you would recognize that it's abusive and you'd probably get out of the relationship. But the reason why this becomes so addictive and the reason why a lot of people don't even realize that they're in these types of relationships is because it is so infrequent and happening irregularly. It can stimulate that desire to just constantly want to get back to what you once had the good memories, the good times, the person they once were A part of. You might feel like you no longer recognize the person that you're with because they seem so different from who they were in the beginning. Except that, remember, in the beginning of the relationship and during the idealization, slash, hoovering phase, you're being flooded with happy love hormones and so you believe or come to expect to get that back in time. Over and over again, you just expect the next high to come. But what happens is, over time those highs become less and less frequent and the abuse picks up and becomes more frequent and more regular. It is the familiarity that love and abuse or love and rejection go hand in hand, right, that you can't have one without the other. That's the pattern that's familiar and why we'll get into these relationships as adults. There's also a distortion of the truth. The truth is that the narcissist is toxic and abusive. No, I'm just kidding. In all seriousness, the distortion is that this is normal, right? The distortion is that this is the way relationships are. They're chaotic and confusing and require you to give more than you have in order to receive anything back. It's that distortion that you are worthy of the breadcrumbs and not the whole cake. So if you're wondering why you keep attracting these narcissists, it's not because there's anything wrong with you. It's just that they give you love in a way that is familiar to the way you received love as a child. Just imagine this, for example a child experiences some kind of abuse and that could look like emotional neglect, where they're often told that their emotions are too much and they end up getting sent to their room until they calm down. So the child is feeling really alone in their experience of their big emotions and they might internalize that as rejection, that they are too much, that their feelings are too much that it's not safe to express emotions that aren't happy and joyful and loving. The parent might also be criticizing as well, which again reinforces that rejection. But they also have these wonderful moments where the parent might be very affectionate and might be full of praise and attention and recognition for their good behavior, their good marks or their academic achievements or athletic achievements, whatever it might be that the child's experience of love in this scenario is that love plus abuse plus rejection is normal. The child will learn how to shut down those feelings because they're not safe to express or to feel. And the less that the child expresses or feels their emotions, the more that the parent can be happy quote unquote the more there can be peace in the family home if the child is not acting out their emotions. So the child will begin to somewhat internalize and blame themselves when bad things happen. So there might still be moments where the parent is criticizing or belittling them and the child who has been trying so hard to be perfect and to be the amazing athlete or whatever it is that the parent wants them to be, the straight, a student, and yet the child's still getting criticized and rejected for it because it's still not enough right. That's how the child forms that belief of they're not enough. No matter what they do, they're not enough because there's always some sort of criticism that the parent has about what the child could be doing better. So the child blames themselves and they internalize that, oh, I didn't try hard enough, oh I'm not perfect enough, oh I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, whatever it might be. They begin to experience that love hurts, that there's no such thing as unconditional love for this child, because this child only feels their love when they are performing, achieving or being whatever it is that the parent expects them to be. So they grow up and they reenact that in their adult relationships. The child, as an adult, needs to find a partner. Then that's also going to reject and criticize them constantly and abuse them emotionally and psychologically and spiritually. The adult again will shut down their feelings. They'll self-sacrifice their needs and their wants because they've been doing it since they were a child for their parents. The adult will self-blame when things go wrong in the relationship, believing that it's their fault, that they did something wrong, that they could be better, that they need to try harder, that they need to change, they need to fix whatever's wrong, and it's never about what the partner's doing wrong, it's never about how a relationship takes two people who have equal accountability with what they create together. This adult is literally just trying to be good enough in the relationship and live up to the expectations that this narcissistic partner has, which, if you're in a relationship with a narcissist, you'll know that nothing you ever do is good enough. And so it keeps you striving, it keeps you trying to achieve, it keeps you in that chase for love and attention and recognition and validation and approval and that chase for safety that never seems to come. It's like a dog chasing its tail. So the narcissistic partner reinforces what is often an anxious attachment. They reinforce that fear of abandonment by going back and forth between the pain and the pleasure, or the pleasure and the pain, or the kind acts, and then the acts of rejection, the loving, kind behavior and the abusive, manipulative behavior. So the adult then in this relationship might make excuses for the partner, like they've likely made excuses for their parents' bad behavior in the past, believing that their parents just wanted what was best for them, that their parents just could see their potential and they just weren't achieving it, that their parents were just trying to motivate them. So now they end up doing that with their partner. They make excuses for their partner's bad behavior and subconsciously what's happening is this adult is actually trying to feel good enough and to get the approval from their parents. They're still seeking out that validation, recognition and love and approval that they never got from their parents and reenacting that and the relationship with the narcissistic partner. So I hope that helps you understand more about what the abuse cycle looks like and gives you a clear understanding of what a trauma bond is and why it's so hard to get out of a narcissistic relationship. Simply put, the way to break out of a trauma bond is to do the deep inner work on yourself, to learn how to love yourself, how to give yourself that validation and approval so that you're not seeking it and chasing it outside of you. It's also about creating that sense of safety within you, knowing that you are enough. It's about healing those wounds of not enoughness, the wounds of feeling like you're not valuable or lovable, and giving that to yourself by cultivating self-love, by cultivating self-empathy and rebuilding yourself worth. And these are all things that we're going to be doing in my new group program, strong Her, which is a narcissistic trauma recovery group, and for right now and for a very limited time only, I am offering membership to this group program for an astounding price of only $29 a month. Now, don't be fooled by the price. This program is going to be jam-packed full of value because you're going to get access to me twice a week. There will be a group coaching call once a week and the second call is going to be a connection call where it's going to be open for Q&A and hot seat coaching and even sometimes we'll have breakout rooms where you'll be able to connect with one another. We'll also be bringing in guest experts once a month or so. I'm lining up a somatic breath work facilitator to come in and do a session with the group. We'll have a meditation teacher come in. We'll have someone come in to talk about how to prepare yourself adequately for divorce, making sure you have all your ducks in a row. This is really going to be a very valuable trauma recovery group and I am offering it at this low founding member price of only $29 a month because we're just getting this group off the ground. Number one, but number two I have recognized, or I do recognize, that so many of the women that I talk to really need support and they're having a hard time finding it. They'll try therapy and they'll recognize that the therapists oftentimes don't really understand the dynamics in a narcissistic relationship, and so oftentimes they do walk away from sessions still getting reinforced with this idea that they need to do something different, that they need to think about things differently, that their perception is wrong or that what they've experienced might be distorted in some way. And yes, there are distortions of truth. However, if you have been emotionally and psychologically abused, we're not here to invalidate what you've experienced. And when you come together in a community like Strong Her, where you are surrounded by women who get what you have gone through, they understand where you have been, what you have experienced, what you might be feeling and how isolating it can be. It allows you that safety net, a place to land, a place to connect with other women who get it, and when we heal in a group like that, it catalyzes for us a deeper level of growth and healing. And that's why it's so important to me that this membership is built upon a really strong community, which is why the founding member price is only $29 a month and I'm only offering it to people that I really, truly believe are a good fit. So if you think that Strong Her is the place for you, right? If you want my support and this will be a small group to begin with, so you're going to get a lot of access to me then come and join us. I'd love to have you Feel free to reach out to me and we can have a deeper conversation about it, but I'd love to be able to support you in a way that really feels like you are making headway in your recovery and you're not getting stuck back in these old stories and trauma loops. Let's break you free of that so that you can regain your freedom, so that you can rebuild your confidence and your self-esteem and find the courage to pave the path forward. You know where to reach me if you've got any questions, and until next week, be well, if you're hearing this message, that means you've listened all the way to the end, and for that I am truly grateful. If you enjoyed this episode and found it valuable, would you mind leaving us a review wherever you listen to podcasts and sharing it with others? If you'd like to connect with me for one-on-one coaching or human design reading. You can find me on my website or on social media. Also, if you have a topic you'd like me to discuss on a future episode, please DM me. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of Stepping into Meaningful Relationships.