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  • Lynn Catalano

Do Narcissists Get a Guidebook to the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle?

It definitely feels that way.

People who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) give us (their victims) a gift and we need to think of it as a gift. Their behaviors are incredibly consistent whether your narcissist is your parent, your spouse or significant other, your sibling, your friend, or your boss. They all seem to follow the same guidebook.


What if we had a copy of this guidebook?

Then we would see the stages of the narcissistic abuse cycle. It is a cycle; it circles around and repeats itself. This cycle is a pattern of abusive behavior. It’s never a one-off with a narcissist. There are 3 main stages of this cycle with a last gasp maneuver from the narcissist.  First, the narcissist idealizes you, putting you on a pedestal. Then they very subtly begin to devalue and criticize you. Eventually, they discard you when you no longer serve them. Then they try to suck you back in and begin the cycle all over again.


The Stage of the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle


1.    Idealization Stage


This is the beginning of the cycle and is also known as the appreciation stage. You will feel like you have an instant, intense connection with the narcissist. They will make you feel amazing and incredible. While it seems like moonlight and roses, there will be clues. For example, they may guilt or shame you for spending time with others outside of the relationship like friends or family, or breaking boundaries you've previously communicated as they do not care about your boundaries. This stage moves fast so be aware.


Even in a work relationship, there is the narcissistic abuse cycle. If you have a toxic or narcissistic boss, in this stage you will feel like the ideal employee who can do no wrong. There will be promises of raises and promotions that will never actually occur.




This is when “love-bombing” occurs. Love-bombing is a definitive sign of this stage, when the narcissist showers you with affection, attention, gifts, encounters, putting you on a pedestal. This is also known as the honeymoon phase. The goal of love-bombing is to lower your defenses, get you to trust them, and create a very intense connection.


I wrote about this in my book Wrecking Ball Relationships: How to Identify, Live With or Leave the Narcissist in Your Life.”  


“Beth believed her compassion and strong sense of empathy attracted him. He had a story of woe and she bought into it – hook, line, and sinker. She wanted to help him and be his friend. He continued his mission of love bombing, purchasing gifts for Beth, and providing special things well beyond her budget. He made her feel like a princess. She felt his adoration. He even accompanied her to a work event where he obsessively watched her the entire time. Beth found his behavior kind of cute. Never before had a guy paid so much attention to her. Beth bought into the whole package.”


Future Faking


Another trademark behavior of narcissists during this stage is known as “future faking.”

This is all part of their very fast, intense full-court press to get you to engage in the cycle. They will paint a picture of your future together detailing where you will live, how many children you’ll have, and promises of a lavish lifestyle. This is another effort to manipulate you to gain their trust. Narcissists have no intention of following through on these promises.



2.    Devaluation Stage


This is also known as the depreciation stage and it moves very slowly. The changes are so subtle you may not even notice them.


The narcissist will begin to make you feel insecure by bringing up ways you’ve hurt them, forgotten something or done something wrong.


The narcissist will use projection as a defense and accuse you of things you haven’t done exerting such pressure for you to accept this projection. This is when they begin to use their favorite tactics to punish you. Their 3 favorites are: gaslighting, triangulation, and the silent treatment.


You question your own sanity and wonder why the narcissist stays with you. This is the worst feeling. This stage leaves you feeling depressed, anxious, confused, and scared of losing your relationship. You may begin to beg them to stay or attempt to do everything to please them. This will only enrage the narcissist.


Intermittent Reinforcement


This stage features something known as “intermittent reinforcement.” I learned this concept in college in Experimental Psychology where we did experiments on rats to analyze their behaviors. The rat was conditioned to tap the lever in the hopes of receiving a food pellet. However, sometimes the rat received a shock when they tapped the lever instead. The food pellet was the intermittent reinforcement. When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you are looking for your food pellet which is a compliment, a kindness, or the lack of a cruelty. This hope of intermittent reinforcement keeps us coming back to the narcissist. We long to see the person we fell in love with or thought they were in the Idealization Stage. During this phase, intermittent reinforcement is used to condition the victim to accept their abuse and create and foster trauma bonds.


3.    Discard Stage


The narcissist has decided, swiftly and brutally, that you no longer serve their purpose. They are done with you. This is where I bet you’re a bit like me and you realize that your trust is completely broken. It’s like a china plate that has broken into pieces and has been glued back together. It doesn’t look quite the same. This feels like the worst betrayal. The person you loved never really existed. Their promises were never fulfilled.


However, if you decide that you need to leave this relationship, be prepared for the narcissist to begin the cycle all over again with love-bombing. This cycle will continue to repeat itself until you break the trauma bonds with the narcissist.



4.    Hoover Maneuver


This sounds like a made-up concept, but it’s not. Once you finally break the trauma bonds with the narcissist and leave the relationship, they will try to get you back. The name of this maneuver comes from the vacuum cleaner as narcissists will try to “suck” you back into the relationship.


The hoover maneuver is another manipulation. The narcissist will likely engage in love-bombing, guilt-tripping, or gaslighting to suck you back in.


If you’ve been in a relationship like this and experienced these stages, please talk to someone. Make sure it’s someone who understands what you’ve been through. You need to address this hurt before it bleeds into other aspects of your life. I get it.

You see, I didn’t get here by accident. I didn't set out to become a narcissistic abuse recovery coach. But after I’d suffered this kind of abuse, I realized that my story and my experience could help so many people who’ve suffered similarly. 


Often, we stay in these cycles of abuse because we don’t believe we deserve something better. I kept trying to make our relationship work, but he didn’t want me in his life. It took me a long time to understand that I deserved better.


You deserve better, too.


If you are the victim of physical abuse please contact In the U.S., you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 for confidential help: call 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTY), or text “START” to 88788. 


If you’re ready to change how you think,

If you’re ready to change how you feel,

If you’re ready to change your path,

message me.


Check out The Narcissist Slayers podcast


You can find my book “Wrecking Ball Relationships” on Amazon,, and







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