In an earlier article, I described the red flags that I had ignored during the pedestal phase of a relationship with a covert narcissist. The pedestal phase is the time when it all feels sooo good. The best relationship ever. The guy is the soul mate. He is so compassionate and understanding of you on all levels. He gets you in a way no one has done before – until he suddenly changes. You have entered the devaluation phase.
Most likely you are trying to figure out how the person that loved you adored you and worshipped you just a few weeks ago so suddenly lost all interest in you. Most likely you blame yourself.
The devaluation phase is a confusing time. The narcissist is on and off with his interest in you. Your insecurities are being triggered big time but you cling to the memory of the pedestal phase. You are in denial and think that it all will come back. A love like this will withstand it all – you just need to give him a little bit of time and space, you need to work on yourself, fix your anxieties, fix your insecurities, be less clingy, be more supportive…. That’s what you think and you are very wrong.
It’s natural to think like this because you sincerely believe that the person’s feelings were real. You have no clue that you have been taken and infected by a narcissist. You have no clue about the narcissistic relationship cycle and the fact that narcs can’t bond and therefore once past the infatuation phase, they lose all interest in the relationship.
So how can you figure out you are being devalued (and heading towards the ultimate discard)? Many narcs are very subtle in their manipulations and psychological abuse. You don’t see clearly that they are playing you. You don’t understand that him being able to get away with his behaviour is giving him a massive ego boost. It’s more difficult to cut yourself away from these types. The memory of the good times is strong.
Here is my honest recollection of the devaluation period. I don’t posses all the answers but I want to contribute my bit to the growing body of online resources about narcissists so we all can stop being their prey.
Hitting the devaluation phase with a narcissist is very different from a normal relationship crisis. It frequently comes when you think that everything is going swimmingly, you are expecting a proposal, resting on your cloud nine and absolutely in a million years don’t expect that you are actually heading towards a discard.
There are no arguments. It’s all rosy. Perhaps you notice that the guy is a bit withdrawn lately. You ask him what’s going on – and bang! The narc announces that he is not so sure whether he wants to be with you. Quite a shocker – just a month ago he was telling you that you two were a ‘brangelina’, a super couple, better than any other couple.
Some people say that narcs wait for the moment when they truly secure you. When you make that inner commitment. The moment that you tell yourself in your mind: this is real, this is serious, my future is with this man. This is when they strike.
I have to say that my experience does confirm this presumption. For me, the commitment was a decision to properly learn his language so that I could properly communicate with his family (my future in-laws, I thought, ehm…). So I paid for classes, spent all my weekends revising Greek vocabulary… and two months down the line – it happened – he was not so sure he wanted to be with me…
He wants to break-up almost immediately
That was really confusing for me. It wasn’t just – I am confused, I am not sure whether this is going to last. He was kind of immediately – yeah, let’s break up. The man who just a month ago had been professing his undying love for me was suddenly very eager for me to move out of our shared flat. There was really zero interest in working on the relationship and he really wasn’t at all emotional about the situation.
The narcissist’s idea of working on a relationship is gauging how much supply there is in you to squeeze out and comparing you with other sources of supply (other women that are now in his sphere of interest). As long as he thinks that there is supply to squeeze out of you, he keeps you around but will degrade you from a serious partner to someone in consideration with no right to expect anything from him.
For the rest of the devaluation phase, you will be the one allowing the narc to breach one boundary after the other, showing him how little you value yourself. You are still subconsciously hooked to the persona from the pedestal phase and clinging to the hope that this awesome guy will come back
But if you pull yourself together and withdraw… he changes his mind
This is the funny thing. Once I finally decided to move out of our shared house (he essentially manipulated me to do it. He knew how to behave so that I myself offered to move out), I sort of magically managed to pull myself together. Somehow, for a limited period of time, I was able to control (or perhaps supress) my emotions. I managed to be composed. That in the eyes of the narc increased my value so when I was moving out, he asked me to treat the break up as a break – he would sort himself out, he claimed, and we would be back together.
In fact, after my first night in the new place, he would call me to reassure me about his intentions because “he doesn’t like sleeping alone.” Notice the choice of words. He does not miss me. He doesn’t like sleeping alone. It’s all about him but obviously I interpret it that he is serious about sorting out the relationship.
This sort of behaviour is a narcissistic trap. He doesn’t want you to move on and out of his sphere of influence so he starts playing this little nasty game with you. Throwing you crumbs of hope for you to cling to. But that’s all it is – crumbs. It’s called intermittent reinforcement and it’s the most dangerous technique of psychological manipulation. These crumbs are in line with what you believed the person was in the pedestal phase, so you choose to cling to those crumbs, instead of looking at the person’s behaviour as a whole and judge his character based on his actions rather than his words.
Because the reality is this – the narc doesn’t want to commit to the relationship. He is already grooming new sources of supply but he doesn’t want you to break it off on your terms. To extract maximum supply, he needs to break it off (understand discard you) on his terms. He wants to do it when you are at your lowest, most desperate point.
After I moved out of the home I shared with the narc, he would be constantly on and off. Every time I tried to assert myself and said that the relationship was either over or we should commit to it, he would start persuading me to just give him time. I even joked that I was offering him a Grexit, so why doesn’t he take it?
I learned later. Eventually, my rejection and abandonment fears would take over. I would become truly clingy and needy and that’s when he kicked me in the ass mercilessly.
Random acquaintances are more important than you
During the devaluation phase, you will notice that you are suddenly the last person on the narc’s list of priorities (you used to be the perfect little goddess on a pedestal and now you are essentially a worthless piece of garbage). Everyone, and I mean absolutely everyone, is more significant. Not just his friends and family. Also all the random acquaintances he sees once in a year are getting a better treatment. The reason for that is that he is shifting towards other sources of supply, since your supply is not good enough anymore. You are destined for a discard and not worth any energy.
I remember when the devaluation was switching towards the discards (I had no clue he was a narc at that time), I asked him to meet me for lunch so that we could talk about what’s going on. He was only willing to meet me for a quick coffee, because he was lately having too many friends over and spent too much money on eating out with them.
The two faces
During the devaluation phase, you will start suffering from cognitive disonance because the narc’s two faces – the false self, which the narc created to lure you in – and the stunted emotionally unevolved true self – become apparent.
The false self is the one you were in love with but you don’t see it anymore, except for those little glimpses he uses for intermittent reinforcement. You may, however, notice, that he is showing this false – kind, loving, considerate – self, to everyone else. For other people (the secondary, tertiary and other sources), he is still that kind, awesome loving guy. To you he is an indifferent, cold and even psychologically cruel jerk.
How long it takes you to realise that the neglectful mean immature person is the real thing will determine how long you stay stuck. It did take me a very long time.
Refuses to talk about the relationship
Since the onset of the devaluation phase (at that time I used to call it a relationship crisis), the narc would dodge any conversation about what was going on in the relationship.
In hindsight, I feel like it was a sort of his strategy. He was refusing to talk about it when I was still living with him. When I moved out, when he asked me to consider it a break rather than a break-up, he would avoid talking about it during our occasional meetings. The way he would go about it was by talking about all sorts of things that interested him – his family, his friends, his dog, his work, his colleagues. (And when he would run out of topics, he would propose we played some game such as who can name more cities starting with the letter R – you can imagine the frustration, a relationship falling apart and you are asked to name the most cities starting with the letter R).
Generally, he expected me to pretend that nothing is going on and just be giving him whatever positive supply I may have left in me while he was considering whether to keep me or not (or rather when to discard me).
Eventually, the narc exited a four-year relationship without as much as a word for explanation by gradually cutting all contact with me.
You feel like you are in a casting for a girlfriend
Not so long ago, you were a perfect little goddess, now the narc aloud ponders whether to keep you or not. You may hear some weird remarks coming out of his month, such as “If I didn’t respect you so much I would have kept this going because you are so beautiful and that makes me look good in front of my friends.” Or “where am I going to find another beautiful girl like you?” This is the narc considering your positive attributes – your looks, which in his eyes enhance his social status. He is measuring those positive attributes against your drawbacks.
During the devaluation phase you have most likely stopped the constant praising of the narc. Obviously, the perfect boyfriend mask is slipping, you are noticing weird behaviours and being vocal about it. That means you are providing less supply. You are now the ‘nagging bitch’ girlfriend and the narc doesn’t like that.
The narc obviously puts this ‘nagging’ on the other side of the scale than your positive attributes (your looks for example). “Will you ever be able not to complain when I watch TV?” That’s an example of a remark that speaks about your negative points. The narc I was with was a serious TV addict. He was watching about a tonne of TV series. He would put something on as soon as he came home without even saying hi and wouldn’t turn it off until he went to bed at 5 am. Obviously, I was concerned since there was no room for me in the relationship. The narc didn’t like me criticising his TV addiction. I was too much work. I didn’t want to stay quiet on a shelf like a proper accessory. So eventually, I had to be discarded.
He is condescending
The narc I was with sort of pretended that he ‘doesn’t want to hurt me’ and that was his excuse for not talking to me. Despite me asking him the exact opposite. He gave the impression that he knows better what is right for me. I didn’t understand. Only much later did I realise that he was condescending because he was enjoying my confusion and all the stories and excuses I was coming up with to make sense out of his behaviour.
He was condescending because he was playing and manipulating me and was having fun because I obviously fell for it and was blaming myself for the failure of the once seemingly perfect relationship.
I dare to say that what I was seeing in his eyes those days was a good example of the duper’s delight.
He says one thing but does another
The narc may be full of promises of what the two of you are going to do about ‘the relationship crisis’, what are you going to do together, what is he going to do about himself but then he does neither. It’s part of the game of future faking, which is designed to confuse you and keep your expectations up. As an honest person, you believe that the narc means what he says because that’s how you go about in life. You are not getting that he is just having fun playing with your emotions and expectations. The more he raises your expectations, the more you will suffer when he eventually pulls the rug from under you.
Criticises your emotionality
So the man who once loved you, adored you and worshipped you like no other is kind of indifferent to you and chances are you are quite emotional. You thought this relationship was your future and now it’s collapsing like a house of cards. But guess what? The narc has no time for your emotions and he feels utterly annoyed by your crying. He will let you know that.
Once, I met the narc to talk and I started crying even before he arrived. He was like “I can’t believe you are already crying, this is obviously not good for you to be meeting me, because you cry and that’s why it’s better if I don’t talk to you and don’t meet you.”
As simple as that.
Not listening to you but claiming he listens
I noticed this in the narc that I was with even before the full onset of the devaluation phase. I would try to share something with him and he would have this absent blank expression on his face (read more about the narcissist’s empty stare here). “You are not listening to me,” I would say. “Of course I am listening to you,” he would retort.
He is trying to confuse you. Trust your gut. We as humans can sense when someone is not giving us attention when we are trying to share something.
One of my strongest recollections is the narc falling asleep when I was trying to share with him a major professional success that happened on that day. He fell asleep. I felt alone. He would wake up five minutes later to watch one of his billion favourite TV shows.
You go out with the narc but he spends all the time on his phone. There is no meaningful conversation.
The narc comes from work and goes directly to his computer, barely says hi to you and spends the rest of the evening talking to his friends on Skype or watching TV. He still expects you to listen to him and be excited about his stuff but he does not reciprocate.
You ask something from the narc, he doesn’t do it and then blames you for being unreasonable when you express disappointment about his behaviour.
He keeps you waiting and waiting and waiting every time you are supposed to meet somewhere out. When you turn up late, then you ‘stood him up’ and he is pissed.
On one occasion, I would spend an evening with the narc and his Greek friends. They would just talk in Greek, probably making some rude jokes or whatever and laughing. I was just sitting there for a few hours staring into the wall. On our way home, the narc would in all seriousness ask me if I had fun and whether I enjoyed myself…
Needs to be the centre of attention
At some point you may realise that all your conversations with the narc are about him. He only talks about himself, his friends (other sources of supply), his family. He is absolutely not interested in you. I realised at some point that after a four-year relationship, the narc wouldn’t be able to answer some basic questions about me. What he learned very well though, were my triggers. He also very well memorised everything I had said that he could use against me in the future (which he obviously did).
Some of the explanations the narc gives you as to what went wrong in the relationship
I don’t know – vagueness is king when it comes to narcs. They really want you to put all the effort and energy into trying to figure out what happened.
I changed – the translation of this is “I don’t feel the highs anymore and since I am not capable of bonding and am generally a flat two dimensional person, I have no interest whatsoever in maintaining this relationship since you no longer appear to be the perfect little goddess I once used to think you were.” The truth is that the narc hasn’t really changed. Now you see him for what he is. The awesome kind loving exciting person you fell for was a fraud.
I am suffering from a depression – depression in the narc’s world means lack of narcissistic supply and boredom. The narc is no longer satisfied with the fuel that you provide and whilst he is looking to secure new sources, he might seriously feel depressed. The difference between a normal person’s depression and the narc’s depression is that the narc’s depression miraculously disappears once he secures new supply (being it through a new intimate object or some secondary sources).
I remember the narc I was involved with telling me a story how he felt terribly depressed in his early twenties and was even contemplating suicide. Then he met a new girl and the depression went away. Real depression doesn’t disappear this way.
You will also have this feeling that the narc is sort of enjoying this ‘playing a victim of the depression.’ He loves to feel existential. He thinks he is deep while he is in fact utterly shallow.
Accusing you of things you have not done, indicating you have done something wrong
This one was especially confusing for me. Something would happen in the house or elsewhere and the narc’s reaction would be “what did you do?” Once I remember he called me while on his way to the airport just to tell me off for misplacing some of his documents, which I haven’t even touched. This is the narc trying to make you feel guilty and question yourself.
I want to clearly state that this is by no means a comprehensive account. It’s just my little contribution to the growing amount of online resources about narcissism and how it manifests in relationships. It is my wish in life that people learn how to detect these toxic individuals early so that no one needs to get hurt and we can all move on towards healthy relationships as fast as possible. Narcs are not worth wasting a minute of our lives on. Once we spot them, we need to put all our focus on our psychological healing to completely disconnect from them. In the next post, I will focus on the discard.