the cycle of narcissism

The Cycle of Narcissism: Why Do They Teeter Between Love and Hate?

Most people seem to understand that being in a relationship with a narcissist isn’t a pleasant experience.

They know narcissists use inflated egos to mask their insecurities. At the same time, however, most people aren’t aware of the degrading, abusive, and dehumanizing effects that the cycle of narcissism casts upon its targets.

Narcissism isn’t a funny personality quirk or movie trope: it’s a personality disorder. In fact, narcissists lack a comprehensive knowledge of emotions – particularly when it comes to whole object relations and object constancy.

That’s exactly why being in a relationship with a narcissist is so confusing – they’re constantly teetering between loving you wholeheartedly and hating your guts.

Understanding the Love Cycle of Narcissism

By the time you realize you’re involved with a narcissist, it’s often far too late to make a clean break.

In some cases, you have developed strong roots with the narcissist through marriage, children, or cohabitation. In others, you may have experienced deep trauma and subsequent bonding with the narcissist which only prolongs your toxic attachment and love addiction.

Or maybe the narcissist has just spent so long devaluing you that you truly believe you don’t deserve anything better. (You do!)

Regardless of the situation, narcissists tend to follow a similar scheme as they rope victims into relationships.

Counterfeit Love in the Cycle of Narcissism

Chances are, you look back on the beginning of the relationship very fondly. It might have even seemed too good to be real – true love at last!

Maybe the narcissist showered you with dinners, appreciation, validation, gifts, and affection like you’ve never experienced. This is called “Love Bombing” and it’s the first stage in the love cycle of narcissism when the narcissist wants you to believe that this expression of love is genuine.

But just like a drug dealer who passes out first fixes for free, the narcissist has a plan for their Love Bombing: they want to get you hooked before limiting your supply.

Slowly but surely, these blissful moments of love are replaced by fights filled with degradation, dehumanization, and devaluation. Of course, they say it’s your fault: you didn’t live up to their unrealistic expectations and fabricated idea of who you are or what you should be.

Then, finally, the good times turn into a distant memory.

A brief glimmer of hope will poke through every so often: the narcissist might bless you with a hug and a “you know I love you” after an intense fight. Maybe you’ll have a quiet evening with Netflix and some pizza that reminds you of the good times you used to have.

Maybe they really have changed – or at least you’ll be able to work it out, right?

This little taste of air – while you’re gasping for breath – is how the narcissist keeps you hanging on, longing for the times that once were.

But before you know it, the good time has passed and you’re onto the next fight, feeling worthless again.

Why Narcissists Rarely Truly Leave

Well, specifically, how you can make their life easier while improving their status.

A narcissist will never have a genuinely loving and fulfilling relationship with anyone because that’s not what they want when they take on a partner. (Remember this when you finally split and later see them “happy” with someone new.)

The narcissist needs someone in their life to function like a proverbial punching bag: someone to validate their own self-worth. That’s why the narcissist will always turn into the victim during every fight – even when you rightfully bring up something hurtful they’ve done or said.

You might wonder, why doesn’t the narcissist just leave you if they hate you so much? Doesn’t the cycle of narcissism ever end? Aren’t they sick of this torment yet?

They’ve spent so long drilling home the idea that you’re worthless and undeserving of love or support – so why do they stick around?

There are a few reasons for this:

  • You’re functioning as their assistant. You clean up their messes, shop for food, cover their rent, manage the family, and oversee all their adult responsibilities. Who would leave that behind?
  • They’re comfortable unleashing their deepest abuse on you. Their casual friends or coworkers certainly wouldn’t put up with the degrading words you hear every day. In fact, others may not even realize or believe that your partner is an abusive narcissist. Some narcissists hide their intentions very well.
  • They can’t admit failure. Leaving you would mean they’ve made *gasp* a mistake. This is far too much reality for any narcissist to handle. Plus, they wouldn’t be able to use their resentment against you later when you don’t live up to their expectations.

How the Cycle of Narcissism Leads to Abuse: Their Lack of Whole Object Relations and Object Constancy

Unlike many other mental health conditions, people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) leave victims in their wake.

In fact, recovering from narcissistic abuse involves reshaping your entire identity – which the narcissist has replaced with their own. It can sometimes take years to fully recover.

If a narcissist enters your life, especially in the form of a romantic partner, they will completely drain you of your entire sense of self. When you finally break free, you’ll find yourself starting over from scratch – questioning everything you thought you knew about yourself.

This is because narcissists don’t experience or process emotions as you or I do. To the narcissist, emotions like love, sadness, or remorse are vulnerabilities to be exploited – not normal elements of the human experience.

See, the narcissist’s dangerous lack of social and emotional development stems from their nonexistent comprehension of two key concepts: whole object relations and object constancy.

They can’t comprehend that good people aren’t perfect. To the narcissist, you’re part of their mental hierarchy: you’re either above their status and should be envied or you’re below their status and worthy of chronic disrespect.

This poor emotional development drives narcissists to use emotions as tools to manipulate everyone around them: coworkers, friends, family members, and especially their intimate partners.

Whole Object Relations

This is our ability to see the “oneness” that brings us all together – it’s what drives our sense of humanity.

Whole object relations allow us to see another person’s qualities in an integrated way: we accept that people can be generally good, yet still sometimes do rude or hurtful things. We forgive people we care about who make mistakes because we know that everyone is human and, therefore, will act out on occasion.  (This is one reason non-disordered people so easily forgive narcissists for their cruel behaviors).

Narcissists don’t understand this concept. Instead, narcissists view people as either all good or all bad. To the narcissist, if you are no longer special in their mind, you have fallen to a low status.  Quite literally, they’ll categorize you as being among the dregs of society. 

This is why they can go from making you feel special, to making you feel like dirt underneath their shoes.  By the time you’ve fallen from grace, they feel that you have no redeeming qualities and believe you deserve to be mistreated.

Object Constancy

This is where universal unconditional love comes from. For most of us, we recognize that we can still have a positive relationship with someone even if they make mistakes or occasionally hurt us – because chances are, they really didn’t mean to cause harm.

Narcissists don’t possess the capacity for object constancy.  Therefore, when it comes to the broadly known ‘devalue and discard’ phases, they feel such dislike for you, they have no problem treating you with cold indifference and loathing.

The narcissist understands that you, on the other hand, have object constancy and they’re keen on exploiting this trait.

 The narcissist knows you’ll stick around through all the abuse because you’ve experienced their good side and how well they can treat you – when they believe you deserve it, of course.

But this “good side” is all a façade and part of the cycle to keep you hooked and begging for that next fix.  In fact, when the narcissist is being kind, it’s an integrated part of the abuse.

Why the Cycle of Narcissism Continues Indefinitely

This cycle between very real abuse and phony affection is the narcissist’s ideal relationship.

No matter how many times they promise to change and offer you brief moments of appreciation, this is just all part of the cycle of narcissism to keep you around.

It’s just maintenance work to them: these promises are never genuine because they have no intention of changing anything.

In fact, the narcissist is incapable of ever seeing themselves as anything other than the victim. It is impossible for them to see things your way. The narcissist will always see you as competition that must be kept below their status.

Breaking Free from the Cycle of Narcissism – for Good

Leaving a narcissist for good is far from easy – especially if you’ve already built a life with them.

But remember, it is entirely possible.

No matter how long the narcissist has beaten you down and told you otherwise, you really do deserve a better life. You deserve the respect, admiration, and appreciation that the narcissist dangled over you with their carrot and stick approach for so long.

Rebuilding your sense of self-worth and very identity will take a lot of work, but you’ll come out stronger and more dignified than ever.

Recovery from narcissistic abuse is worth it and going “No Contact” is the only way out.

Life on the other side is beautiful. Just imagine what you could accomplish and how you could experience life without the cycle of narcissism dragging you down.


  1. Yasemin Selek

    Indeed! That is the best piece of information describing and revealing the narcissist.
    Dear people, believe me, it is such a great feeling to find this out at the end of everything. The sad thing is we feel it through out the relationship with the narcissist. Funny enough, that they can make us wonder if we are the guilty ones…But feelings never lie! (very very deep inside). Listen to yourself and let them go the first time things feel loose.

  2. Carroll laneulie

    An amazing truth/insight into the truth of a narcissist..
    Thankyou Kim from the bottom of my heart… I am now in the South of France trying so very hard to separate myself from the man I love with all my heart that isn’t really there…so amazingly hard to do…

  3. Susannah

    I recently saw my ex at a wedding. For the first time, seeing him did not make me feel angry or sad. I felt almost nothing. I didn’t mind meeting his girlfriend at all. I didn’t even feel tempted to warn her because I knew it’d be pointless. Seeing him did not make me remember all of our years together. In fact, he did not seem familiar at all. When I first met him he had brown curly hair but now he’s bald and without the fake look of love on his face, he really isn’t the same person. I think of all the time grieving our past and our expected future together has finally come to an end. Yes, I am much happier now.

  4. Maureen

    I was with a Vancouver Police officer here in b.c. Canada for 22 plus years. You live a life which is dictated by his job his shifts his time off. You don’t get holidays like Xmas or thanksgiving because he is working. Your entire life is sacrifice after sacrifice. Then he bhomes abusive. Then he insults your family and friends.

    1. Laura

      That’s how I feel 25 years on and off with the same man I can’t get rid of them and now we have a grandbaby and it’s sacrifice after sacrifice he insults my friends or my family I can’t talk about anything really at all unless it’s about in and do I dare say anything my kids are insulted every time they do something and takes potshots at them indirectly putting me down but also to thank you for posting and sharing

  5. Kathy

    Hi Kim,
    I have been reading your inspiring advice every day for basically forever or so it feels. I left “HIM” at the beginning of January 2016. It was the most frightening experience of my life. I ran as far as I could as fast as I could. I wanted to write in your comments box so often but just didn’t feel like it. Maybe I don’t want everyone to know my story because it’s like a horror movie. So maybe I’ll comment again sometime.

    Love Kathy

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Kathy, I am glad you did the brave thing and left. You deserve to be happy…you can comment here anytime you wish. Sometimes, sharing your story helps you release it so you can move forward.

      Kim XoXo

  6. Anonymous

    There was a so called astrologer who did negative and dangerous futurepredictions. I had the idea that it was fake. It was only for their image to abuse me and other people as an object to prove themselves. What only serves their purpose. I”ve been warned that it would be a bad boyish person with bad boyisch pranks. It would also be wild west and tumoli and it would be erhical and technical irrisponsible and there was somebody who said that that person would be lifethreatened. He is does future predictions with a fatalistic outcome with dramatic circumstances such as moneyloss and that you can”t pay the bills anymore and chases people in narcissistic realtionships. In stead to prevent this they make it happen that people are getting envolved in this reationships and in the beginning they are putting themsvelves on a pedestal and do as if they think and feel the same but after a while when you give them the benefit of the doubt and trust them they begin to devaluate you and say that you could use your senses and brains better. That you should use your brainpen better and tear you down on your apperance and make up and that you should be unrepresenative. And I had to cope with healthy people and it is as you are deberately seeking unhealthy people which is i think an unconcious process when you attracht unhealthy people. You are not aware where you are dealing with and become a peoplemagnet for abusive and unhealthy persons but did this not intentionally. I can not understand that people are intentionallyseeking for unhealthy people. In the beginning it is invisible and i think selftrust and trust your gut. When it does n”t feel good it is a lie and does it feel good it is the truth. And this was happened repeatedly that i came in hands of an abusive person and also with who are working in professions like a G.P. and therapist and you don”t trust many people anymore. Ans it is as if they feel that and also your weaknesses and when they know and feel that they can take advantage of that. Firm boundaries it”s said but some narcissists have a good insight of the human nature and can take advantage of that. Lonely people and too idealistic people selfsacrificing people people who are too good of trust or whe are naive can be a good candidate for an narcissistic abuser. I wish nobody such a relationship such as the narcissist. People who do that are wrongdoing criminals and can be held responsible for a wrongful act or even maybe a wrongful death. Narcissism is not a joke and everybody deserves protection against dangerous persons like a narcissist can and may even be. They can play their role like a Hollywood actor without to mean it and only what serves their purpose and can be very seducive all the time and after yours they can still hoover to create havoc

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Anon…this guy sounds exactly like a cult leader.


  7. Marie

    I feel like this article was written about my ex partner. I wasted 10 years of my life going through this cycle. I’ve been free for 3 years although he has still tried. Sending me flowers… I refused to take them from the lovely florist 3 times. It can be done but I know I’m still recovering. But I am free…

  8. Anonymous

    I feel like this article was written about my ex partner. I wasted 10 years of my life going through this cycle. I’ve been free for 3 years although he has still tried. Sending me flowers… I refused to take them from the lovely florist 3 times. It can be done but I know I’m still recovering. But I am free…

    1. Kim Saeed

      You are a strong, courageous soul. Glad to know you are free now.

      Kim XoXo

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Barbara,

      It depends on her level of narcissist traits. Many people do low- to no contact with their family members. A tough choice, but sometimes a necessary one.


  9. Leo

    This never ending seems to me like the worst nightmare. I have learned all about narcissism. I stay away from him for a while but he always returns. I never got a propose for a relationship, for about six years he has been around, coming and going as he pleases leaving me grieving until the next time she shows up. I miss him so much some times. Other times I feel like I am letting it go. I feel trapped.

    1. Kim Saeed

      Hi Leo,

      Sounds like it’s time to let go. One day, you’ll look back on all the time you’ve wasted on this relationship with deep regret. If you start letting go today, you will thank yourself in three months…and for the rest of your life.

      Kim XoXo

    1. Corinna

      Congratulations, Carol! That first month is the hardest. It takes so much strength and every day you maintain NC you prove your worth and strength to yourself. You can do this! You are worth it!! I went NC at the end of January after 26 years living an idealized life, thinking I was adored and in an amazing marriage. When I got sick what followed was 3 years of such intense abuse and insanity I didn’t think I’d survive the shock, loss and grief. This month I turned 55, sold my home and signed the final divorce papers. I have lost everything I knew, had and thought I was, but in it all I am finding me again. I had no idea how much I ignored, explained away and tolerated over the decades until I was nothing but a puddle of worthlessness at the end, sorry to even be alive. What they do is soul murder and we have to save ourselves. I wish you all the very best and hope your journey is as gentle as possible. xox

      1. Donna

        Sounds exactly like me. My ex was having a 5 year affair but would not admit it to me. Finally when I filed he said he would destroy me and I should think long and hard before making that decision. Now my son is acting like him. So sad but happy to be free of the abuse. Keep moving forward and think of you.

    2. Kim Saeed

      Yay! So happy for you, Carol. Stay the course. You CAN do this!

      Kim XoXo

  10. Babs

    If a co-worker constantly undermines and/or verbally abuses you, please write it down in your personal diary. Submit it to the supervisor/boss as soon as possible to let him/her know what you are being subjected to. I did not and deeply regret it. Of course…the supervisor may also be part of the problem, so in that case write a ‘pre-script’ before talking to them.

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