Unmasking Narcissistic Relationships -A Psychological Guide

The longevity of relationships with narcissists can vary greatly. My research has uncovered stories of individuals enduring narcissistic abuse for periods ranging from a few months to several years.

The duration of a relationship involving a narcissist is highly individual and depends on numerous factors, making it difficult to provide a definitive answer to the question, “how long do narcissistic relationships last?” That said, various circumstances can influence the length of such relationships.

The Erosion of Self-Esteem

Narcissists are known for their behavioral patterns that subtly undermine the emotional well-being and self-esteem of their victims.

The Phenomenon of Gaslighting

Recognized as a common form of narcissistic abuse, gaslighting involves the narcissist manipulating and denying the victim’s reality until the victim starts questioning their own perception.

A Simple Illustration:

Consider Simon and Cindy, who have been frequenting the same restaurant and ordering the same meals for three years. One day, Simon changes his order and denies their routine when Cindy points it out, leading her to question her memory.

The Continuation of Gaslighting

After dinner, Simon deviates from their usual ice cream choice, again making Cindy doubt her recollection. This manipulation leaves Cindy feeling disoriented and full of self-doubt, unable to trust her own perceptions.

The Role of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Relationships

Gaslighting plays a significant role in perpetuating many narcissistic relationships, often encompassing both physical and emotional abuse and being employed by both narcissists and their enablers.

Common Gaslighting Phrases Used by Narcissists

Phrases like “This is why nobody likes you!” or “You’re too sensitive!” are often used by narcissists to manipulate and control.

Enablers’ Contributions to Gaslighting

Even those who enable narcissists may contribute to gaslighting, often dismissing the victim’s concerns or downplaying the seriousness of the situation.

The Impact of Gaslighting on Emotional Stability

Gaslighting can have harmful effects on an individual’s emotional health. Many victims interviewed weren’t even sure they were being abused due to the extent of the gaslighting they experienced.

Family of Origin

Origins of Familial Conditioning

For some, growing up in an abusive environment can distort their understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship. Tragically, these individuals may mistakenly associate love with abuse.

Without proper therapeutic intervention, these individuals may find themselves attracted to abusive relationships in their adult life due to the familiarity of such dynamics.

Predicting the duration of such relationships can be challenging. In most cases, the narcissist will exploit their partner for narcissistic supply until they decide to end the relationship.

The Dynamics of Narcissistic Supply Extraction

There are multiple factors that might lead a narcissist to terminate a relationship before their partner becomes aware of the abusive dynamics and chooses to leave.

Firstly, those who have experienced abuse during their formative years often become skilled at normalizing, rationalizing, and excusing maltreatment. Without appropriate intervention, these tendencies can persist into their adult relationships.

Secondly, these individuals often grapple with deep-seated self-blame and doubt. If a person truly believes they are deserving of the maltreatment they receive and feels helpless to prevent it, summoning the bravery to take charge of their life can be an immense challenge, especially without external guidance.

Lastly, having been subjected to abuse throughout their lives and the trauma of a narcissistic relationship in adulthood, the concept of a healthy relationship may feel foreign, almost unattainable to the individual.


Rumination, the act of persistently dwelling on the same thoughts, can often lead to feelings of depression, a misguided yearning for justice, and anger within the context of narcissistic relationships.

Understanding the extent of the manipulation they’ve been subjected to can be challenging for victims of narcissistic abuse, given the high levels of guilt, shame, and projection that characterize such relationships. As a result, self-blame becomes a prevalent form of rumination.

Consider this example:

Susie recently ended a tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, Jack. Throughout their time together, Jack was unemployed, leaving Susie shouldering the financial responsibilities. With money being tight, Susie couldn’t always meet Jack’s demands, leading him to blame her for nearly everything.

Despite her love for Jack, Susie reached a point where she could no longer bear the financial, emotional, and occasional physical abuse. She made the firm decision to leave.

However, their relationship wasn’t always fraught with trouble. They had a passionate beginning, typical of most narcissistic relationships, leaving Susie constantly questioning whether she could have done more, whether she was to blame, and whether she made the correct decision.

This form of rumination makes victims of narcissistic abuse highly vulnerable to ‘hoovering.’

Hoovering is a manipulative strategy employed by narcissists to draw their victims back into the relationship, typically post-breakup, separation, or divorce, using guilt, shame, and/or hope.

10 Statements an Abuser May Make During the Hoovering Phase

  1. “I miss you terribly.”
  2. “I can’t imagine life without you.”
  3. “I’ve begun therapy for your sake, and now you’re abandoning me?”
  4. “After all I’ve sacrificed for you…”
  5. “This breakup made me recognize your worth. I can’t afford to lose you.”
  6. “I’m in need of you.”
  7. “You’re the ideal partner for me.”
  8. “I’m watching our favorite show and reminiscing about us.”
  9. “Could we meet and have a conversation?”
  10. “You appeared in my dream.”

3 Statements Narcissists Might Make to Others During the Hoovering Phase

  1. They might tell common friends about how much they miss you and can’t let go
  2. They may stay in contact with your parents, expressing their longing for you
  3. If you’re co-parenting with a narcissist, they might use your child to guilt-trip you into communicating with them.

Remember, these are just a few examples. Narcissists might also resort to creating emergencies where they require the victim’s assistance, inflict self-harm, pretend as if nothing transpired and resume shared routines, or even level outrageous accusations to provoke an argument, further enabling their gaslighting tendencies.

Angry And Vengeful Rumination

Angry and vengeful rumination is a psychological state in which a person constantly revisits thoughts of anger and retribution. Such rumination typically stems from experiences of perceived injustices or mistreatment, resulting in a lasting state of anger and a longing for revenge.

Research has shown that this type of thinking is associated with numerous cognitive and emotional factors related to aggression. It impedes the shift towards a less angry state and heightens the risk of aggressive conduct. Moreover, such rumination serves as a mediator between the trait of forgiveness and traits related to anger, as well as motivations for revenge.

For instance, imagine a situation where someone feels betrayed by a trusted friend. Rather than articulating their feelings or striving to forgive, they might immerse themselves in angry and vengeful rumination. They may continuously replay the incident in their mind, intensifying feelings of anger and thoughts of vengeance. This repetitive pattern of thinking can lead to escalated aggression, diminished life satisfaction, and damaged relationships.

Trauma Bonds Explained

To understand trauma bonds in their entirety, refer to the guide titled “How to Break a Trauma Bond With a Narcissist”. This section will specifically delve into one facet of trauma bonds.

A trauma bond refers to an individual’s inability to exit an abusive relationship. As alluded to earlier, numerous situations can foster trauma bonds.

The focus here is on intermittent reinforcement, defined as the sporadic delivery of rewards.

Victims of narcissistic abuse often experience severe emotional deprivation, making even the smallest display of empathy feel extraordinarily rewarding and fostering a hormonal attachment.

The malicious cycle between abuse and empathy triggers extremely high levels of dopamine within the victim’s body, leading to an addiction-like response to the feeling experienced when they are “rewarded” with empathy.

Intermittent Reinforcement The addiction victims of narcissistic abuse develop towards their abusers’ occasional kindness is strikingly similar to drug addiction. Much like drugs, intermittent reinforcement stimulates the brain’s reward center, resulting in a dopamine rush.

The sensation victims experience during these episodes of intermittent reinforcement is something they incessantly pursue, making it nearly impossible for them to leave the relationship.

Final Thought

The length of a narcissistic relationship is often dictated by the narcissist’s level of interest or when the victim decides to leave. Regardless of their duration, these relationships can cause significant emotional harm to the victims involved.

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