The narcissistic abuse cycle is an extremely complex form of abuse. It has a surplus of abusive behaviors that could single handedly decimate the emotional stability of any human being. But there’s one abusive behavior that acts as the centerpiece of the narcissistic abuse cycle, and that is narcissistic mirroring. It is arguably the narcissist’s most prolific form of manipulation so it is really important to understand how narcissists use mirroring. 

Narcissists use mirroring to absorb critical information about their victim’s identity to create a falsified identity designed to fill a void in their victim’s life. This enables the narcissist to bully their victim into a state of cognitive dissonance and solidify the trauma bond that their abuse has created between the narcissist and their victim.

Narcissistic mirroring is a very powerful form of manipulating that gives the narcissist a library of information about their victim’s identity that they can use to reinforce many different forms of manipulation that are designed to invalidate, devalue, and dehumanize their victim every single chance that they get.

A victim of narcissistic abuse being devalued and invalidated by the narcissist in her life

This article focuses on the correlation narcissistic mirroring has with cognitive dissonance and trauma bonding because they are by far the two most common reasons that victims of narcissistic abuse remain trapped within the abuse cycle for months, years, and even decades. 

How Do Narcissists Use Narcissistic Mirroring to Cause Cognitive Dissonance and Strengthen the Trauma Bond?

An important piece of information about narcissistic mirroring that readers must have before we dive into the complexity of it all is that narcissistic mirroring can manifest in any type of narcissistic relationship, not just romantic ones. You see, narcissistic mirroring is all about the narcissist learning the ins and outs of the victim’s identity so they can be the person that the victim needs. 

For example, a narcissistic boss might ask a new hire a tremendous amount of questions about their goals, past, ideas for the future, personal life, etc., just so they know exactly what to say and/or do in the future to keep the new hire under their manipulative spell.

A victim of narcissistic abuse being manipulated by a narcissistic boss

The power of narcissistic mirroring comes from its ability to convince the victim that the narcissist knows and understands them better than anyone else in their life. It leaves the victim of abuse feeling as if the narcissist in their life is their soulmate, best friend, close family member, or perfect colleague. 

In a very subtle way, narcissistic mirroring bullies victims of narcissistic abuse into placing their trust and sense of self within the narcissist. It’s more than understandable because as humans when we meet that one person who can help us reach our full potential, we naturally trust that they want what is best for us and that is a very difficult feeling to let go of. 

What Is Cognitive Dissonance and Trauma Bonding?

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests that when we experience an inconsistency among beliefs, information, and behavior, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension we will change one or more of the elements causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent. In abusive relationships, cognitive dissonance manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and normalization of abuse. 

A trauma bond is an emotional attachment that is created by an abusive cycle that consists of narcissistic mirroring, inconsistency, devaluation, invalidation, dehumanization, and chaos that manipulates victims of abuse into accidentally equating the abuse that they’re experiencing with genuine love, compassion, and/or empathy.

The Cycle Narcissistic Mirroring Creates That Induces Cognitive Dissonance and Creates Powerful Trauma Bonds 

The first checkpoint in this cycle is narcissistic mirroring. The narcissist is going to absorb as much information as humanly possible about the victim’s identity to identify the void in the victim’s life and create a falsified identity to fill it. 

The second checkpoint in this manipulative cycle is future faking, a form of manipulation where the narcissist makes false promises for the future to get what they want in the present. There are two things that are important to remember about future faking. 

First, a narcissist uses the information they gathered about the victim from narcissistic mirroring to create an enticing future fake. Second, future faking can manifest in a verbal and non-verbal form. 

How? 

A verbal form of future faking could be a narcissist making a false promise to move to a specific area so the victim could finish school and still be in a relationship with the narcissist. A non-verbal form of future faking is simply a narcissist’s demeanor in the beginning stages of the relationship. 

Their ability to fill the void in the victim’s life is a form of future faking because it gives the victim the false assumption that there’s a healthy, happy, and secure relationship ahead of them. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse explaining how wonderful her narcissistic boss is because she doesn't know he is an abuser

The third checkpoint is the devaluation and discard phase. This phase can be characterized as invalidating, dehumanizing, devaluing, and chaotic. 

In our article What Comes After Love Bombing With a Narcissist we covered this much more thoroughly but it is important to understand that this phase is comprised of nearly every single narcissistic behavior pattern imaginable and it’s also where cognitive dissonance kicks in. 

In the first and second checkpoint, the narcissistic mirroring and future faking placed the victim up on an emotional pedestal where they envisioned a healthy, happy, and secure future with the narcissist. For the most part the beliefs, information, and behavior in their life was consistent meaning that there wasn’t that much psychological tension. 

However, the moment that the narcissist senses that they’ve got the victim hooked on a false sense of a healthy, happy, and secure future, they kick the pedestal out from under them to begin the devaluation and discard phase. 

As you can imagine, this causes an insane amount of psychological tension as the person that the victim placed their trust in has been replaced by a terrifying abuser. The victim has to choose to acknowledge that they’ve been manipulated by an abuser or hold onto the healthy, happy, and secure future they’ve envisioned hoping that one day that version of the narcissist will return. 

Unfortunately, narcissists are masterful at manipulating the victim into a state of cognitive dissonance where the abuse is justified, rationalized, and ultimately normalized so a majority of the time victims of narcissistic abuse are bullied into choosing to hold onto the healthy, happy, and secure version of their abuser with a false sense of hope that they’ll return. 

The third and final checkpoint of this manipulative cycle is intermittent reinforcement, a delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. In narcissistic relationships, narcissists use the information they gathered through narcissistic mirroring in intermittent reinforcement to trigger the victims’ false sense of hope about the healthy, happy, and secure version of the narcissist to remain in power and control. 

This is where the strength of the trauma bond is created. When a victim of narcissistic abuse goes through the high and low points of this dysfunctional manipulative cycle, the “reward” they get in the intermittent reinforcement becomes their only known source of happiness. 

In fact, they’re so emotionally starved that the “reward” triggers their brain’s reward sector and floods their body with dopamine. That’s right, the same ​​neurotransmitter that those who abuse substances feel. What ends up happening is that the victim’s sense of self becomes so dependent on the “reward” that the narcissist gives them that they remain in the relationship because they’re essentially addicted to the “reward” they get from intermittent reinforcement. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse being seduced by intermittent reinforcement

Victims of narcissistic abuse who’ve gone through this manipulative cycle have an intense craving for the “reward”, they lose sight of themselves in pursuit of it, and they remain in the relationship despite the negative consequences it has on their well being. It creates a very powerful trauma bond that takes the guidance of a qualified professional, time, courage, self-love, and self-reflection to break. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

The information about the victim that narcissists get from using narcissistic mirroring is the superglue that holds many narcissistic relationships together. Grasping a comprehensive understanding of mirroring and all of the other narcissistic behavior patterns that plague abusive relationships is one of the best things victims of abuse can do if they want to physically or emotionally escape the abuse cycle that they’re trapped in.

For some more information about about narcissistic mirroring, check out our article Are Narcissists Good at Mirroring to hear the stories of three women with different backgrounds, characteristics, and personality traits that we interviewed who unknowingly dated the same narcissist at the same time!


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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THIS INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL CARE. 

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