Narcissists and borderlines idealize then devalue. So do histrionics and other members of the Cluster B variety pack for that matter. There are three stages in relationships with personality disordered abusers: idealize, devalue and discard. Sometimes these stages end abruptly — or it can seem like it. In reality, it’s usually more a matter of the pot in an incrementally pot of hot water.
Hindsight being 20/20, clients recall a series of gradual boundary tests that escalate in severity. For example, it starts with a case of the “You’re friends are more important than me!” because you want to attend the bimonthly Magic the Gathering night. If you give up your game night, the narcissist, borderline or histrionic then has problems with you going to the gym, traveling for work, your family, your dog or your kids from a previous relationship.
During this time, your responses and reactions (or lack thereof) are being assessed. In high functioning cases, consciously and calculatingly; in mid- to low functioning cases, it’s unconscious survival tactics. In other words, a combination of noticing cause and effect of their boundary test (otherwise known as shit tests” on you.
If you a) aren’t okay with the shit test and b) aren’t conflicted about ending the relationship, they’ll back down. Alternately, okay with the shit test or not, if you’re afraid of losing the NPD/BPD/HPD, the boundary tests and devaluation will continue and worsen. Typically, devaluation continues until you’ve sacrificed everyone and everything that’s important to you.
Your response to shit tests is related to several variables. Specifically:
- Any childhood wounding or trauma that creates codependency.
- Parental modeling of healthy relationships and boundaries.
- Vulnerability to betrayal or trauma bonds.
- Overall health and robustness of your family and friends support system.
Remember, emotionally healthy adults aren’t as susceptible to love bombing and don’t confuse intensity for intimacy. Healthy adults prefer being single to being in an abusive relationship. Furthermore, psychologically healthy adults don’t have a compulsion to rescue or fix their partners. Nor do they believe, “When you love someone, this is what you do . . .” This is an example of codependency and trauma bond thinking.
Narcissists and borderlines idealize then devalue. You’re the best, then the worst.
When we got together, she said I was the most amazing man she’d ever known. That no other man made her feel so loved and special. Now she oozes contempt for me and is cheating on me with the CrossFit gym manager. WTF? How did I go from hero to zero?
He said I wasn’t like any other woman he’d ever been with. He said he found my rationality, lack of neediness and self-sufficiency sexy. Now he’s cheating on me with his sister-in-law’s crazy ass BPD friend and calls me an emotionless robot. I don’t get it!
I’ve got some good news – bad news for you. The good news is you’re not the worst person ever. And the bad news is you’re not the best person ever. Being in a relationship with a personality disordered person can cause self-esteem whiplash due to the alternating intense idealization and devaluation.
Nevertheless, it’s all emotionally manipulative bullshit.
There’s really no difference between the love bombing pedestal (idealization) and the it’s all your fault POS status (devaluation). While one feels better than the other, both are equally meaningless. They’re just different versions of the same manipulation. The carrot and the stick are one and the same to codependent people-pleasers.
Meaning, both conditions can’t simultaneously be true. You can’t be the most amazing, special-est man/woman ever and the most horrible person ever. Especially when a borderline, narcissist or histrionic partner vacillates between the two extremes multiple times within the same week, day, hour or minute. Yes, minute. It can literally be that fast.
But which one is true? Are you the best or the worst? Again, neither.
So many clients are easily manipulated by the mercurial opinion of their BPD, NPD or HPD partner. It’s the reason they walk on eggshells. Cluster B personality disordered people don’t have a cohesive, stable sense of themselves (i.e., construct). Hence their rage and perceived victimhood at the smallest and/or imaginary slight or criticism. As such, their construct of other people – including you — is similarly unstable.
“You bought me a new car!!! Yay!!! I love you!!! Thank you, daddy!!!! Best daddy ever!!!!!”
“You won’t let me have a third cookie!!!! Mean mommy!!! I hate you!!!!!”
Therefore, any approval from a BPD, HPD or NPD person is meaningless if it can change on a dime. This becomes a manipulation tactic once they figure out the power they can wield by alternating withholding love or blowing smoke up your butt (i.e., variable ratio reinforcement schedule). As noted, these individuals are studying you from the moment you meet. What lights you up vs. what brings you down.
It’s all the same to them. Narcissists and borderlines idealize, then devalue.
In my experience, these individuals enjoy being cruel more and resent having to love bomb or Hoover. The overt cruelty is more enjoyable because of the contempt they feel for you for tolerating their abuse. I also suspect it makes them feel more powerful when their victim grovels for love. Contemptuous and powerful.
Furthermore, healthy adults don’t change their opinion of you just because they occasionally feel irritated, hurt or disappointed by you. In fact, healthy adults can still love and respect their partner even when they’re super angry with them. And can do so without engaging in wanton cruelty or childish nonsense. Imagine that!
If you’re still trying to make it work with a disordered partner because you don’t think you can live without their approval, please understand that for which you’re tolerating abuse IS NOT REAL. It’s your codependency and need for external validation from someone who’ll never be capable of giving it to you that’s real. They’ll continue to exploit your vulnerabilities and abuse you for as long as you’re willing to suffer it and them.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals with relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. Since 2009, she’s specialized in helping men and women break free of abusive relationships, cope with the stress of ongoing abuse and heal from the trauma. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. If you’d like to work with Dr. Palmatier, please visit the Schedule a Session page or you can email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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