Desperate. Ferociously desperate.
When my husband said he was leaving me two days before my fortieth birthday, this is how I felt. He ranted around the house in full rage, repeating, “I am going to finally do something for MYSELF, Elyssa!”
(When narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths discard you they will find the most dramatic ways to do it.)
What was my reaction? I got down on my knees and I begged. I begged him not to leave. On my knees, holding our five year old son in my arms, I begged him to stay. Head down in servitude, with tear- filled eyes, promised him that I would be “good.” I would do what he said. I would stay in New Zealand (before we were married, we had agreed that we’d return to the USA, my home country). I would be happy with his terms.
As it turned out, part of those terms would end up being that I not leave the country to return to my birth country, the United States, with our son. My ex, whom I will not specifically name in this work, actually had stolen my passport, and taken our son’s as well, so that my son and I could not leave the country. He also had shut down my access to our accounts–bank, credit cards, etc. These were the ac- counts that held 100 percent of our money, of which I had earned 85 percent.
Now, at the time, in addition to our family home, we had five rental properties and a vacation home.
You see, I was one of those security seeking types, and together my ex and I had a plan. I earned a very good living as a digital consultant and the ex had a painting business. Together (at least I thought) we made a very good team. I would be the main breadwinner and he would use his connections to renovate and build rental properties.
Over the years and unbeknown to me, the ex had placed the majority of these properties in a trust under his name, not mine (more on this later, but suffice to write I didn’t completely realize this situation at the time). This man, whom I had once trusted, stole our life’s work, and I was be destitute.
As the ex walked out the door, suitcase in hand, I wailed loudly. I was reeling from the pain of my broken soul–the soul he broke.
Who would I be without him? Nothing. Or so I thought back then.
That day of desperation marked the beginning of the journey back to me. It marked the beginning of a reawakening, and a radical transformation. It took a lot of hard work, answer-seeking and discarding of old stories, but ultimately I found peace and a greater love of myself than I had ever experienced. That’s how it turned out.
So what are the stages of abuse and why is the discard phase so devastating. I mean if someone is treating you like crap, why would you stay?
Let’s start with phase 1 and then move through the the discard phase.
Narcissist Abuse Cycle Stage 1: Idealization and Love-Bombing
Your flea needs you. It needs you for narcissistic supply. Narcissis-
tic supply is their “fuel.” H.G. Tudor coined actually coined by the self-proclaimed malignant narcissist himself, H. G. Tudor. Accord- ing to H. G Tudor, fuel is attention. It can be negative attention or positive attention. For malignant narcissists, negative attention can be even more satisfying. They use this attention to fill the giant hole in their heart. To self-soothe. Without this “narcissistic supply–their fuel” the flea can’t survive and so, will do ANYTHING to get it. So the first thing on any flea’s agenda is to make sure you fall in love with them so you will supply them with fuel. They need your power. That’s right. You are powerful. That’s why they chose you.
The flea pulls you in through what is called “love-bombing” and creates a level of attachment that is truly storybook. It’s like the ideal relationship out of your favorite romance novel! It’s through this ini- tial whirlwind of supposed love that fleas establish a trusting bond with you so they can drive forward, or induce and maintain, your addiction to them.
During the love-bombing phase, the flea is everything, simply ev- erything you dreamed of finding in a partner as a little boy or girl, mirroring exactly what you, in your heart of hearts, want to see.
Unfortunately, the love-bombing bond sets you up for all kinds of pain: You spend the first part of your relationship telling people what a “wonderful!” flea you have found and that you are truly in love. However, the love and trust that the flea established with you is based on false pretenses; it’s not real. So, when the mind games begin, and begin they will, three things occur:
- You can’t explain the change to those around you. (Remember you used to say to everyone how “wonderful!” the flea was?) You now feel shame as a result of the change;
- You assume that the abuse the flea perpetrates and their malignant behavior is partly your fault. When s/he starts telling you that “you suck” (devaluation), you think it must be true as the flea can be so wonderful at times; and,
- You are hooked in by the trauma bond that has now been created. The trauma bond is formed as you are now yearning for that “other them” you knew in the beginning–the good flea, if there is such a thing–to make another appearance. (But that version of the flea is a fake. They only mirrored exactly what you wanted to hear in order to trap you in their web.)
My experience of Idealization and Love-bombing with the ex went some- thing like this.
We didn’t hit it off right away: He was just too “over-the-top” when we first met through a mutual friend at a barbecue. He literally strut- ted like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, leather jacket includ- ed, plus I had no intention of staying in New Zealand longer than
it took for the 2001 technology crash in the US to heal and jobs to become more available again. At the time, I was earning a very good income as a digital consultant in New Zealand.
But the flea was committed to the goal of winning me over. (After all, I was his future cash cow and power supply!) He showed up everywhere I went. He kept busy asking our mutual friends about my whereabouts. Then he showed up at breakfasts, at lunches, and at parties I attended.
When he doggedly continued his pursuit of me, I began to weaken. I noticed he had the most beautiful blue-green eyes, and his obsession with me made me feel, well, wanted and loved. So when he eventually invited me for a coffee, I accepted. He picked me up in a beaten-up and filthy red painting truck; it stunk of old paint and body odor.
We went to a popular café in Wellington. I had already rehearsed my, “I am not staying in New Zealand, so there is no point in dating,” speech. But his over-the-top positivity was alluring. As I continued speaking, “… and therefore there is no point in dating me, as I don’t want to stay here,” my words went through one of the flea’s small ears and out the other. When he abruptly got up, paid the bill at the register and walked out the door, I followed him.
We walked up to a memorial in Wellington that looked over the
sea on a windy but sunny day. He came up behind me, put his big leather-jacketed arms around me and kissed the side of my head. And that was it: the filthy truck, his amped-up, coffee-overloaded body, his small ears (the true hallmark of a flea?!!)–all warning signs that I ignored.
And so it was: The end of life as I knew it. The end of the “me” that I knew.
Narcissist Abuse Cycle Stage 2: Devaluation
The next phase of abuse is devaluation. This is where the abusers be- gin to use words and various other manipulation tactics to break you down, isolate you and control you.
Devaluation by a narcissist or sociopath takes many forms. And as stated before, at the center of the abuse is their desire to control you and have power over you so they suck their narcissistic supply from you. They will employ any kind of manipulation tactics to control you. The more they know you, the more they know how to push your buttons and the more information they have to use against you. In summary. Devaluation can include a number of activities to gain and maintain power and control over you. For example:
- Physical Violence of the Threat of Physical Violence
- Mind games and Lies
- Martyrdom (poor me)
- Calling you crazy/Making you feel crazy (often referred to as gaslighting) Isolation tactics
- Financial control
- Controlling relationships with your children
Establishing An Abusive System Around You
Next, to lock you into their abusive world and devalue even further, the flea uses these tactics to also create an abusive system. The purpose of this system is, again, to take away your power and firm up their grip on you.
Through the flea’s lies, the people in your immediate circle become, in a sense, the flea’s “puppets.” While s/he’s abusing you, the flea is also spreading false information “in confidence” to those people close to you. In short, the abuse EXTENDS BEYOND the relationship be- tween you and the flea, thus making the abusive situation even harder for you to escape from and/or make sense out of.
His family, your friends, maybe even YOUR FAMILY now are all part of the abusive system the flea has created to keep you trapped
– it’s a flea circus, but it’s neither entertaining nor funny; it’s a horri- ble merry-go-round. It’s a system that leaves you feeling even crazier because the whispers you are hearing around you, about you are real and NOT real.
In my case, it was only after the flea left that I realized the extent of the flea’s system of lies. And do you know how I figured it out? In New Zealand, if you are seeking a divorce, you are required to go to counseling for a period of time after the two of you separate. So there is usually counseling on your own, as well as couple’s counseling. So
the flea and I saw the counselor separately. Well, at one point during this period of counseling, the counselor shared with me her amazement over how “different” my story was compared to the flea’s ver- sion. The flea’s story about what had transpired between us apparently had been totally, dramatically different than my version.
This comment knocked my unconscious intuition straight into my consciousness. What the he#$@ was the ex saying to the counselor? I had no freakin’ clue, but it certainly wasn’t what actually happened!
This unexpected insight made me begin to look at previous experiences with the flea, as well as the flea himself through a totally different lens.
Importantly, no one is safe from a narcissist’s, psychopath’s or socio- path’s negative talk, triangulation tactics and lies, all in the name of boosting their fragile ego and knocking yours down.
Narcissist Abuse Cycle Stage 3: Discard
Now that we’ve covered-off idealization and devaluation, the final stage in the abuse cycle is discard. This is when the flea decides they can no longer get the “narcissistic supply” they require from you (in other words, you aren’t giving them what they need, which is fuel–they need to pursue a more plentiful source), and they discard you–whether that means leaving you, cheating on you, giving you the silent treatment or discarding you in some other different but heart-rending way.
Narcissist Abuse Cycle
Fleas involve you in the abuse cycle on more than one level, too: • On a macro-level, your relationship will follow this overall
pattern of the abuse cycle. The first stage of your relationship is love-bombing or idealization. This is the time when the flea is
“Mr. or Ms. Wonderful.” The next phase is when s/he will devalue you with words and the system of abuse around you. Then at some point, once you stop feeding his/her need for supply, s/he will discard you. This pattern could go on for months or years before the flea finally discards you for good (or you leave the flea).
• On a micro-level, s/he will engage in the abuse cycle on a daily basis. The flea will tell you things like he loves you and will never leave you, and then make you feel like dirt, stop talking to you, then engage with you like nothing happened, in a matter of hours or even minutes.
The covert aggressor’s love-hate game gives them great pleasure, while it leaves you feeling miserable, in a state of high alert, and confused. The end result is you end up feeling crazy. That’s why it’s called “Crazy-Making”
This Crazy Making is how you lose yourself and your sense of right and wrong, what is made up by the flea for manipulation purposes and what is your truth. You become unable to distinguish what is normal behavior and what is not normal behavior.
Addiction to a Narcissist
Finally, The Answer to Why We Stay.
And horribly there in lies the answer to why we stay. The abuse cycle is POWERFUL. Through this abuse cycle, we become addicted to the flea. The addiction looks like this. Through such love-then hate-then love patterns (idealization, devaluation and discard), your flea addicts you to them. Just when you think you’ve had enough, the flea will do something endearing to suck you back into their “story.” As a result you keep frantically pressing the lever for that one jelly bean that only appears some of the time, just like a rat in a cage will do. The resulting hormone “brouhaha” that is created in your body from high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and then the pleasure hormone dopamine (that comes about when the flea does something to redeem themselves) creates an actual physical addiction.
Yes, as disgusting as it is for me to write this, the intermittent re- enforcement of reward and punishment physically, mentally and emotionally addicts you to the flea. This is what is called the “trauma bond,” and it’s one reason why it is so hard to get rid of fleas.
As an example of just how strong the trauma bond is, look at some Facebook groups for people who are experiencing or have left an abu- sive relationship. You will see so many examples of amazing women and men–whether they be doctors, lawyers, or artists—putting up with the most outlandishly cruel behavior and making excuses for their flea. Frequently they post comments like, “S/he says s/he loves me, and s/he has such a good side, so it’s killing me that I called the police when s/he punched me in the face.” In other posts, victims share texts where the flea is begging them to come back using the most desperate of displays of affection and/or cruelly cutting them to pieces. Individuals in the throes of abuse will often ask the group for reassurance as to whether or not the physical abuse and/or emotional abuse is normal behavior.
I can assure you it is not.
You will read about people calling emotional abuse “covert abuse.” By that they mean, abuse that is harder to “see” and/or catch the abuser in committing the act because it takes the form of subtle putdowns, stalking or pursuing and/or there is no physical mark left.
Yes, narcissists can be quite manipulative and cunning in their pursuit for narcissistic supply. True that!
But abuse is multi-layered. Although some actions of abusers may be covert, others are overt, such as draining joint accounts, and/or or sending through raging text and emails to the abused. In my experi- ence, malignant narcissists employ both covert and overt tactics and it only takes an individual educated in these tactics to spot even the more covertly abusive of fleas.
For example, an abuser can simply park their car next to their target in an otherwise empty parking lot just to reinforce they are “there” to the abused. In their pursuit of narcissistic supply, the covert aggressor knows their mere presence will instill angst in their victim.
And the sad fact is, when you are in the throes of abuse, you defend your flea, even in the most unusual of circumstances. I know I did.
By the time it gets that bad, it’s what you are used to. You’ve normal- ized the behavior in your mind in order to survive it.
It’s a defense mechanism. It’s also the trauma bond at work.
Here is a helpful diagram of what abuse looks like. After I spent some time mapping this diagram out, truthfully the answer to my question about why we stay is totally obvious!
These fleas strip you of your sense of self and create a POWERFUL SYSTEM OF ABUSE around you. When you add in a dash of ad- diction and mistaken love, supported by the trauma bond, all based a foundation of trust and locked in by financial control and isolation, you have to then wonder how anyone gets out.
In fact, looking at this diagram should make you realize just how FREAKIN’ AMAZING YOU! You ARE AMAZING!