The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse


The cycle of abuse is a concept conceptualized in 1979 by Lenore Walker, which identifies continuous, repeated occasions in an abusive relationship. It was initially established as a method of contextualizing violent incidents towards ladies in romantic relationships (Serrata, 2017).

The cycle of abuse contains 4 phases, or steps (Bottaro, 2022):

  1. Rigidity
  2. Incident
  3. Reconciliation/Honeymoon
  4. Calm

The cycle of abuse coincides with intimate accomplice violence (IPV). Since its conception, researchers have tailored the unique cycle of abuse concept to develop to all genders, ages, relationships, and types of abuse.

A relationship doesn’t have to be bodily violent to be thought of abusive or dangerous. Emotional, religious, and psychological abuse is simply as damaging to the human psyche as bodily abuse. IPV has been linked to narcissistic relationships within the sides of emotional and psychological abuse in addition to bodily abuse. Moreover, analysis has discovered that covert narcissists and feminine narcissists usually tend to make the most of a cycle of abuse in an effort to keep in management.

Manipulation, Management, and Relationships

Narcissists and people with narcissistic tendencies might be very manipulating and controlling people. Remember the fact that whereas clinically recognized narcissism is a uncommon incidence, it’s doable to have narcissistic traits and never be thought of a real narcissist. In relation to any kind of relationship requiring honesty, transparency, and real emotion, narcissistic people are unable to maintain up the charade for very lengthy. This exhaustion of pretending to be an equal accomplice is what precedes the narcissistic cycle of abuse.

Oleg Magni/Pexels

Supply: Oleg Magni/Pexels

All relationships are supposed to serve the aim of pleasing the narcissist and conserving them within the entitled function they consider they deserve with the admiration and perks that go together with the function. They are going to by no means be chargeable for issues going flawed and can by no means be capable of empathize with one other particular person’s ache until that ache is affecting them immediately. Narcissists have a fragile ego that’s reliant on exterior influences; the extra they’ve—or the extra they’re perceived to have—equates to their self-worth.

Narcissistic people typically have a picture-perfect life: an enormous home, blissful household portraits, a shiny new automotive, enviable holidays. Past these social media postings is a quiet, hidden sample of emotional abuse that by no means stops biking. This fixed push-and-pull dynamic can finally trigger the sufferer to develop discovered helplessness during which they really feel trapped and unable to depart the connection. Some research have proven that weak narcissists are extra liable to using the cycle of emotional abuse somewhat than bodily abuse or coercion (Inexperienced et al., 2019).

The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

The unique cycle of abuse’s 4 steps might be tailored to suit narcissistic relationships. Simply as bodily violence just isn’t reserved for one gender to be the abuser, narcissistic abuse is unisex. As an alternative of utilizing fists or smashing bottles to harm somebody, a narcissist makes use of gossip and lies to mar the sufferer’s repute. A narcissist will use no matter means essential to preserve their accomplice in line and themselves in charge of the narrative. Even when they’re referred to as out on their lies and smear marketing campaign, the narcissist will state that the sufferer deserved it.

The narcissistic cycle of abuse (Fig.1) illustrates the 4 components of the cycle. You will need to perceive that there isn’t a “first” or “final” step of the cycle, as it’s a steady sample with no clear starting or finish. Slightly, the narcissistic cycle of abuse is how narcissistic people exploit their companions into doing something they demand and forces them to ebb and circulation based on the narcissist’s whims.

Dr. Kristy Lee Hochenberger

Supply: Dr. Kristy Lee Hochenberger

The 4 phases of the narcissistic cycle of abuse are primarily based on Walker’s phases. Like Walker’s cycle of abuse, the narcissistic cycle can start or finish with any stage and proceed on.

Stage 1: Defining Occasion. The “defining occasion” just isn’t a lot the disaster, however somewhat refers back to the outburst of the narcissist. That is the precise battle, argument, and even only a easy miscommunication. The disaster might be actual or imagined. It doesn’t matter what the reason being for the drama—even a minuscule inconvenience—the narcissist finds a purpose to blow up. The narcissist might have began to really feel as in the event that they had been shedding management of a scenario or an individual and thus has to trigger a difficulty to convey consideration again to themselves.

Stage 2: Regaining Management. Even when the narcissist is responsible for the disaster or drawback, the sufferer finally ends up being apologetic. The Defining Occasion shifts the facility again to the narcissist and locations the blame squarely on the sufferer. The sufferer might find yourself apologizing because of both discovered helplessness or just to maintain the peace. Realized helplessness is a serious purpose behind the continuation of the cycle of narcissistic abuse. The companions of narcissists confuse worry with love and thus will do something to maintain the peace. Worry, abuse, intimidation, and exploitation are usually not love and will by no means be confused with affection.

Stage 3: Peace and Quiet. The cooling-down interval appears peaceable on the surface, however on the within, the sufferer is continually scrambling to “make it up” to the narcissist. The narcissist manipulates the scenario to replicate positively on them and negatively on the sufferer. Gaslighting can be extraordinarily widespread throughout this era and the narcissist will assemble a wholly new narrative about the issue. Life is peaceable so long as the narcissist has their approach and is the focus.

Anete Lusina/Pexels

Supply: Anete Lusina/Pexels

Stage 4: Rigidity Buildup. Over time, the narcissist will start to lose management of a story, one other particular person, or a scenario. Life has been persevering with quietly and usually, however even the sufferer begins to get uncomfortable with the peace. Rigidity begins to construct out of the sufferer’s worry of the narcissist and the narcissist’s worry of shedding management. It’s solely a matter of time earlier than the narcissist explodes by creating drama and exploiting a minor challenge; then begins one other cycle of the push-pull relationship dynamic and imbalance of energy.

Wholesome vs. Poisonous Relationships

All relationships undergo pure cycles of peace and battle. It’s inevitable {that a} couple must face main life disasters past their management in addition to interpersonal crises. Nonetheless, the distinction between regular and abuse cycles is the extent of respect for one another and the stability of energy. It’s totally doable to face a disaster collectively and never destroy one another within the technique of rebuilding and therapeutic. One other distinction between regular cycles of relationships and abusive cycles is definitely fixing the issue and dealing collectively to keep away from pitfalls sooner or later.

Rodnae Productions/Pexels

Supply: Rodnae Productions/Pexels

Getting Assist

If you’re caught in a cycle of abuse, assist is offered. Contact the Nationwide Home Violence Hotline at or

To discover a therapist, please go to the Psychology Right now Remedy Listing.


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