Flowers, poetry, moonlight serenade outside the bedroom window. Ah, new love. It’s fun. It’s exhilarating. Your heart pounds every time the phone rings. Your partner does everything within his power to get you to notice him and you reciprocate, engaging in a courtship dance like two exotic birds. You make your friends nauseous. We’ve all been there. Then things sort of slow down and you may wonder where the romance has gone. But, things are still good. You fall into a routine. You fit your lives together. You are happy. You and your partner grow together and grow closer to one another and you carry on together in your shared life, continuing to grow, your love getting stronger. It’s love. It’s life. Happily ever after, ‘til death do you part.
If your partner is a narcissist, you certainly know the first phase well. You remember it at times when your partner is berating you, and you wonder how you ended up this way, and what happened to that loving guy. Something happened and the happily ever after went awry. At some point, the criticizing began. The jealous accusations started. Suddenly, you could do no right. You watched your partner rend your love asunder and you didn’t know why.
This is the first of the three phases of your relationship with a narcissist, known as idealization. Idealization, devaluation, and discarding - the construction, the demolition, and the abandonment.
My first “date” with my narcissistic ex was like something I’d never experienced before. It was an absolutely gorgeous spring day and he had just had his motorcycle shipped to New York from its home in storage in California. It also happened to be a day when the NYC taxi drivers had gone on strike so the otherwise dangerous streets of Manhattan were ours almost completely. It was a dream. We went places I’d been a million times, but going there with him, having him hold the door open for me, hanging on my every word, climbing on the back of his bike, wrapping my arms around his waist while the breeze wafted the scent of his cologne back into my helmet -- it was pretty fantastic. I didn’t go home that night and, if my memory serves me, from that day, we were pretty much inseparable.
I thought he was perfect. I had never met anyone who cared about my needs the way he did. We went out to dinner one night, and there was only one set of chopsticks on the table. Don’t you know, he fed me sushi, smiling that it was more romantic than asking the waitress to bring another set.
My friends thought he was amazing. If I got up to step out to the ladies room, he spent the whole time talking about how fantastic he thought I was, asking questions about what kind of things I like, and how I felt about surprises. He was everything I wanted and needed. He was completely devoted to me and making me happy. I could do no wrong. He thought all my friends were great. He never wanted to be without me. And that is why, less than six months later, we were engaged and, a mere thirteen days after we picked out the engagement ring, we were married.
While no one is entirely certain why or how a person develops narcissistic personality disorder, it is thought that people who suffer with it have a deep lack of self-esteem. Children of parents who are overly permissive, unreliable, or absent may develop narcissistic traits in order to compensate for the lack of structure in their environment. They develop a sense of entitlement, a need for power, and are extremely charming and manipulative.
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The narcissist engages in this idealization or “pedestal” phase, not because he thinks you’re so fabulous, but in order to bring attention and adoration to himself. He draws you in and manipulates you into loving him. He tries his hardest to be the best partner he can so you will fall for him head over heels. It may seem like he’s loving you, but he is actually shining the light upon himself. In public, the narcissist will seem like the most devoted of partners. Your friends will be envious of how attentive he is to you. That is all part of the manipulation. He is drawing you in. He likes the reaction he gets from you when he does something nice. It is not about making you feel good. It is about him getting praise, having his ego stroked. Being successful is important tod the narcissist and relationships are no different. He will do what he has to in order to get you hooked.
Cut and Run - Don’t Make Excuses
If you think he’s the greatest thing ever, if you are blissfully happy in your relationship, you will be more likely to make excuses for him when his behavior takes a turn for the worst. And his behavior will turn and you will make excuses for him. This is where the foundation laid during the idealization phase comes into play. You may be living together. If you’re at all like I was, your whirlwind romance quickly escalated into marriage and things became more complicated than a normal break-up. Still, you want to feel that excitement again. You haven’t done anything wrong and you want him to know that. You want to have your old partner back. But that partner was never really there to begin with. It was all smoke and mirrors. Don’t excuse his bad behavior. No matter how well you were treated in the past by your partner, he is no longer treating you nicely. It may have happened quickly or you may have realized one day that the honeymoon was over.
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A narcissist won’t change just because you want him to. He is probably not even aware that he is the one who has changed. He thinks it’s you. His issues go way back, long before you came into the picture. Narcissists lack empathy, so your tears and your pleading and your factually-based arguments don’t mean anything to him. If you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist, or someone who acts like one, it is important to cut your losses and run far away while the relationship is new. It will be difficult. Your partner will fight you tooth and nail because his hold on you is important to his ego. Nevertheless, you must take steps not to lose your own self-esteem and preserve your sanity before the devaluation and discarding phases.