(Read time: 1-2 mins)
One of the most detrimental, and toxic impacts of being involved with a narcissist is the destruction of the partner’s personal boundaries which leads to the dismantling and crumbling of the victim’s identity/personhood. This is a pernicious, and calculated process that occurs gradually over time.
The beginning of a relationship is always an exciting time, and narcissists take advantage of this to test your boundaries. It begins with love-bombing, which is a covert phase of boundary violations at the start of the relationship, when it is the most critical time to establish, and maintain boundaries.
Unfortunately, the narcissist’s love-bombing makes is so easy to get swept away in a flood of endorphins and adulation, that many confuse love-bombing boundary violations with being in love, and ignore the red flags that are starting to wave. For instance, the narcissist will call, email, and text multiple times in a day, and want dominate his partner’s time. He many declare his love within weeks. It feels overwhelming, and gut instincts say it’s too much. But, narcissists appear to be so loving, sincere, and wonderful that it’s easy to disregard gut instincts, and ignore your own boundaries, because the process of falling in love with a narcissist seems like a dream come true.
This stage of a relationship with a narcissist is intoxicating. The narcissist idealizes, adores, compliments, gives gifts, and makes promises of a beautiful shared future. The partner feels loved, valued, appreciated, and understood. Many partners say they feel they have met their soulmate, and have never felt to connected to anyone before in their lives. It’s a heady time. It seems like it will last forever. It won’t.
Devaluation and Dismantling
The love-bombing phase is always followed by the devaluation and dismantling phase, which is an aggressive, hostile and overt phase of deeper boundary violations, and abuse. Devaluation may happen a few months into the relationship, sometimes earlier, or sometimes later. But it always happens. This is a painful and very confusing time for the partner. Up to this point, the partner has been loved, admired, appreciated, and adored. And now, inexplicably, is the object of the narcissist’s contempt.
As the devaluation phase proceeds, the narcissist escalates his criticism and negativity. Often, he will criticize his partner’s qualities and attributes, the same ones that he was attracted to, and claimed to admire at the beginning of the relationship. This is a betrayal. It is also dangerous. Devaluation dismantles, and disintegrates the partner’s sense of self.
Self-integration is the organization of the psychological or social traits and tendencies of a personality into a harmonious whole. Victims of narcissists, subjected to ongoing devaluation, become disorganized and dis-harmonized internally. The narcissist takes advantage of the partner’s weakened, fractured sense of self to gain more and more control over the partner.
As the narcissist becomes increasingly controlling, he becomes hot and cold in his attention and affection, argumentative, punitive, incessantly points out his partner’s flaws, and engages in gaslighting. He starts to criticize, mock, behave with hostility, get easily irritated, become verbally and emotionally abusive, and some become physically abusive.
Nothing the partner does is right, or good enough. This results in increasing stress, confusion, anxiety, insecurity, approval-seeking, and walking on eggshells. When the partner tries to stand up to the narcissist, she is called hypersensitive/too dramatic/and/or too emotional. Every time the partner attempts to defend and maintain personal boundaries, the narcissist responds by criticizing her feelings, telling her why her feelings are wrong, making her feel guilty for even having her feelings, and thus, invalidating his partner at her core.
The partner will typically back down in order to preserve the peace. This is followed by a period of calm. The narcissist will convince the partner he still loves and values her. Everything seems “back to normal, how it was at the beginning.” Just as the partner starts to feel emotionally safe, stable, comfortable and secure again, the narcissist will manipulate and twist his partner’s feelings and perceptions again, and provoke another round of chaos.
Over time, if the partner does not leave this toxic dynamic, the narcissist will continually and intentionally provoke conflict, aggressively use emotional, verbal, and even physical abuse, manipulate and invalidate his partner to try to establish complete and utter control. Over time, this will dismantle the partner’s identity, and she will become a just a fractured shell of her former self.
The good news is, this is not permanent.
Healing begins as soon as the partner leaves the narcissist. Leaving is the catalyst. It may not feel like healing, at first. But it is, and it just takes time.
3 Key takeaways:
1. Know your boundaries, establish, and maintain them – at all costs
2. Listen to, and follow your gut instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, sound right, feel right, or look right; it’s not right. So cut it off, and cut off contact. And don’t look back.
3. Love-bombing, now matter how genuine and wonderful it seems, is a boundary violation and major red flag. Healthy relationships do not start this way. Toxic relationships always start this way.