Narcissists need to devalue others to protect their grandiose sense of self-importance, to support their belief that they are special and unique, to gain power and control, to soothe their envy of others and validate their belief that others are envious of them, and to suppress all of their negative emotions. In fact, they have an entire phase dedicated to this called the devaluation phase.
The devaluation phase is when a narcissist stops portraying themselves as perfect, healthy, admirable, and desirable and begins to show their true self through a variety of pervasive narcissistic behavior patterns that are designed to invalidate, devalue, degrade, dehumanize, minimize, and manipulate their victims.
This article is going to guide you through all of the different narcissistic behavior patterns that you should expect to experience in the devaluation phase. We have also created a short video to help you stop a narcissist form devaluing you and added in 12 affirmations that you can use on a daily basis to help get your abuser’s condescending voice out of your head.
A Short Video That Helps You Stop a Narcissist From Devaluing You
Intimacy, a feeling of being close, and emotionally connected and supported, is one of the first things to go when the devaluation phase begins. The reason for this is that the vulnerability, trust, emotional stability, and emotional closeness that one is required to have to be truly intimate with another represents everything that a narcissist is fearful of. To understand this fully, you need to know the origin of narcissism.
We’ve covered this thoroughly in our article How Are Narcissists Made but narcissism is believed to originate from an abusive upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers who were unable to mirror their child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. This means that the narcissist never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to have a healthy cognitive development and realistic sense of self.
This forces them to construct a sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they can get from their external environment. A simple example of this would be a child of unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers constructing their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance they get from being rich instead of something more meaningful like the relationship that they have with their children.
What this does is it causes the child of the unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers to develop a deeply rooted hatred for their true identity because they believe that it makes them inadequate, unloveable, unwanted, abandonable, and weak.
But because they didn’t have a healthy cognitive development, narcissists are too emotionally inadequate and immature to use healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage the negative emotions that they have about themselves. One of the unhealthy forms of emotional regulation that they use is called compartmentalization, a defense mechanism that the American Psychological Association (APA) defines as thoughts and feelings that seem to conflict or to be incompatible are isolated from each other in separate and apparently impermeable psychic compartments.
The reason that intimacy anorexia is a huge part of the devaluation phase is because in the beginning stages of the relationship the narcissist is using their falsified identity to suppress all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves deep within their psyche. They are able to pretend to be intimate and emotionally close but it is all just one big hoax.
But as the relationship progresses and they are required to be truly intimate or emotionally close with their partner it contradicts their falsified identity and triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions. So, they try to avoid emotional closeness at all costs.
The work that Dr. Douglass Weiss has done with intimacy anorexia, a relationship disorder where one partner will withhold emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy from the other, has a lot of similarities with narcissism.
It is for this reason that we’ve conducted a survey among 300 survivors of narcissistic abuse to prove it! We’ve created a short video below that outlines the survey and gives you more signs of intimacy anorexia so you can get as much information as possible about this aspect of narcissistic that plays such a big role in the devaluation phase.
A Short Video About Intimacy Anorexia In Narcissistic Relationships
Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals and it is a very common form of manipulation to see in the devaluation phase. Intermittent reinforcement keeps victims of narcissistic abuse trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle because it causes the victim rely on cognitive dissonance and to develop an addiction for the relationship.
Cognitive dissonance is a theory that states when we experience an inconsistency among beliefs, behavior, and information, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension that we ease by changing one or more of the elements causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent.
In narcissistic relationships, cognitive dissonance manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and normalization of abuse. The reason that this happens is because in the beginning stages of a narcissistic relationship narcissists give their victims the information and show them the behavior that causes them to develop a belief that they are in a happy, healthy, and secure relationship.
When the narcissist stops portraying themselves as perfect, healthy, admirable, and desirable and begins to show their true self through a variety of pervasive narcissistic behavior patterns, they change the information that they give and the behavior that they show, leaving the victim with only the belief that they’re in a happy, healthy, and secure relationship.
This causes a lot of psychological tension for victims of narcissistic abuse and forces them to choose between letting go of the wish for things to be different by acknowledging that the person they thought was the perfect person for them is actually an abuser or finding some way to justify, rationalize, and normalize the abuse so they can hold onto the happy, healthy, and secure belief that they have.
Narcissists will use intermittent reinforcement to manipulate their victim into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse. We spoke more about this in our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction but at this point in the narcissistic relationship, victims of narcissistic abuse are so emotionally starved that the “reward” that narcissists give them during intermittent reinforcement is simply the slightest amounts of empathy or compassion.
Even though these are very small amounts of empathy and compassion, they actually trigger the reward center in the victim’s brain and floods their body with dopamine. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter that is released when we abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine.
This causes victims of narcissistic abuse to develop an addiction for the relationship because it is their only known source of happiness. They will have a craving for the high points, also known as the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement, of the relationship and the manipulative nature of the devaluation phase will cause them to lose control of themselves and remain in the relationship despite the negative impact it has on their health.
Projection is a defense mechanism that everyone uses. It occurs when we take aspects of our own identity that we find unacceptable and project them onto someone else. A simple example of this in a narcissistic relationship would be a narcissist devaluing and degrading their partner because they themselves feel inadequate and worthless.
While we all use projection from time to time, narcissists are over reliant on it because of the emotional inadequacy and immaturity that they have from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing. It’s believed that this upbringing was with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers who were unable to mirror their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs.
As we mentioned in the intimacy anorexia section, a narcissist’s upbringing has left them so emotionally inadequate and immature that they’re incapable of regulating their suppressed negative emotions. To avoid imploding on themselves, narcissists rely on narcissistic supply and projection to help them manage their emotions and sense of self.
Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment. You can think of it as a first line defense. They use the false sense of self that they construct out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance they get from their external environment to suppress all of the negative emotions that they have about their true identity.
However, a narcissist’s sense of self is extremely fragile and is often vulnerable to contradiction by any form of authenticity. For example, if someone were to set a boundary with a narcissist, it would contradict their false sense of self by challenging their grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and uniqueness.
When this happens it triggers all of the narcissist’s suppressed negative emotions and their false sense of self is no longer strong enough to keep them suppressed. This is when a narcissist will resort to projection to manage their suppressed negative emotions.
To do this a narcissist takes the parts of their identity that they find unacceptable, the negative emotions, and place them on to others by invalidating, devaluing, degrading, dehumanizing, minimizing, and abusing others.
We spoke about this a lot in our article Why Do Narcissists Devalue Others but by making others feel as badly as they do, narcissists are able to protect their emotional stability by projecting their emotional instability onto others, making projection a huge part of the devaluation phase.
When a narcissist experiences a contradiction to their false sense of self and either explodes into a rage or clams up into a silence, it is known as narcissistic rage. A very common example of this would be a narcissistic man exploding into a rage because their victim forgot to record his favorite television show. Or a narcissistic woman giving her friend the silent treatment because she wanted to study for her final exam instead of going to her birthday party.
Narcissistic rage is a terrifying and manipulative technique that is designed to force their victim under their power and control. It manipulates the victim into feeling like they have to constantly be walking on eggshells around the narcissist in order to stay emotionally and physically safe in the relationship. But in a very subtle way, narcissistic rage is also a form of projection.
The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury – these other features which are characteristics for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which sets it apart from other kinds of aggression – Heinz Kohut
When a narcissist experiences something that contradicts their sense of self and triggers all of their negative emotions, they get furious because it makes them feel vulnerable, weak, and inadequate.
Again, their emotional immaturity and inadequacy makes them incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation but through narcissistic rage they are able to make others feel as weak, inadequate, and vulnerable as they do. This allows them to “forget” about their emotional instability and patch their fragmented sense of self back up with as much narcissistic supply that they can find.
Narcissistic rage is a core aspect of narcissistic abuse so it is really important for victims of narcissistic abuse to be knowledgeable about it. In our articles What Happens During Narcissistic Rage (Survey With 100 Survivors) and 15 of the Best Examples of Narcissistic Rage there is a lot more information about narcissistic rage that we highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with because narcissistic rage is yet another huge dynamic in the devaluation phase.
When a narcissist makes a one-on-one situation into a two or more-on-one situation by bringing a third party into the mix, it is called triangulation and it gives them a ton of power and control over both the victim and the victim’s environment.
3 Common Reasons that Narcissists Use Triangulation
- To Make Their Victim Jealous
- It is funny that you mention that because my ex was super fit and attractive. For a while I was scared that I wasn’t going to find someone like him but then I let go of my fears and settled for you.
- To Invalidate, Devalue, and Degrade Their Victim’s Thoughts, Feelings, Emotions, and Needs
- I don’t understand why you feel entitled to being treated with respect when you’ve only been here a week. My last employee did that and they didn’t last here long.
- To Manipulate Their Victim Into Having a Negative Response That Gives Them Narcissistic Supply
- Listen, I want to go to this place for vacation because it reminds me of your brother. I wish you could be more like him. All I wanted was two sons to be proud of… It is really special to me and you are being selfish for having a problem with it.
Triangulation causes a lot of self-doubt, self-blame, anxiety, trust issues, rivalry, unhealthy competitiveness, and it makes people want to fight to stay in the narcissist’s good graces.
Triangulation is a powerful form of manipulation but once you learn about triangulation, it is really easy to spot.
In our article 6 Insightful Examples of Triangulation we created some really helpful examples that you can use to spot in your own relationship, but we’ve also created a short video down below that outlines the hidden forms of triangulation that you need to be aware of because triangulation in the devaluation phase can help the narcissist keep vicitms trapped for years to come.
A Short Video About the Hidden Forms of Triangulation
Flying Monkeys & Narcissist Enablers
Two of the most challenging parts of narcissistic abuse that victims have to go through are flying monkeys and narcissist enablers. A flying monkey is someone that the narcissist manipulates into participating in the smear campaign of the victim.
This could be done through lies and gossip, like a narcissist telling the victim’s family and friends that the victim was unfaithful and abusive. It could be done through power and control, like a narcissistic parent’s power and control over the family bullying other family members into participating in the abuse. Or it could happen simply because the flying monkey is narcissistic themselves and drawn to toxic, abusive, and unhealthy environments.
Flying monkeys are really dangerous because they are often the friends and family members of the victim that they once confided in. The reason for this is because narcissists purposely target those close to the victim when recruiting flying monkeys so that they can isolate the victim and prevent them from exposing the narcissist to others.
You see, victims of narcissistic abuse are often the only ones who know how abusive the narcissist is. Everyone else sees the narcissist’s false sense of self that often portrays them as a charming, charismatic, intelligent, well put together, and overall good person but the victim is the one who knows their true identity.
Narcissists know this so when they sense that they are losing power and control over their victim, they will enlist flying monkeys to publicly devalue, degrade, and invalidate the victims voice before they can tell everyone the truth. We highly recommend that you check out our Flying Monkey Content Hub for a ton of information about this important aspect of narcissistic abuse.
A narcissist enabler is someone who doesn’t understand narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse, so when confided in by a victim of narcissistic abuse they approach the situation with a lot of ignorance.
A simple example of this would be a victim of narcissistic abuse accidently confiding in a narcissist enabler by telling them, “I’m not sure what I should do. He makes me feel like I’m insane. I don’t know what is real and what isn’t real.” and the narcissist enabler responds with, “Well maybe the two of you have a communication issue. You know, relationships aren’t meant to be easy. I think you should just try a little bit harder to make things work.”
Their ignorance is so dangerous because victims of narcissistic abuse often have so much self-doubt and self-blame swirling around their head that they don’t confide in others because they are certain that what they are experiencing is abuse, they confide in others because they need another person to help them validate their reality.
When they cross paths with a narcissist enabler whose ignorance gaslights them into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the narcissist’s abuse, they could find themselves trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle for years to come. Flying monkeys and narcissist enablers are big parts of the devaluation phase, especially when the victim begins to regain some power and control over themselves.
Gaslighting is one of the most powerful forms of manipulation in the narcissistic realm. It is a repeated pattern of a narcissist doubting or denying reality. When it is combined with all of the other invalidating, devaluing, degrading, and dehumanizing forms of manipulations that narcissists use, it can cause the victim to question their own sanity, lose their ability to conceptualize an accurate version of reality, and become dependent on the narcissist to construct a sense of self.
We created a complete guide to this in our article Why Do Narcissists Gaslight but they do it to remain in control of the relationship, to destroy the victim’s perception of themselves, and to protect their own sense of self from being contradicted. When a narcissist gaslights they are able to control the victim’s reality. This allows them to manipulate the victim into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse.
In our article What Does Gaslighting Do to the Victim we took a deeper dive into the fallout of gaslighting but what makes it so powerful is its versatility. It can manifest in nearly every single narcissistic behavior pattern imaginable and there are five different types of it that we’ve outlined in a short video down below.
A Short Video About the Different Types of Gaslighting
Our articles 6 Powerful Examples of Gaslighting In Narcissistic Relationships and 119 of the Most Common Gaslighting Phrases That You Should Know are really good resources that you should use to learn more about gaslighting and what it looks/sounds like. One thing that we do want you to understand is that gaslighting is a pattern of invalidation, devaluing, dehumanization, and manipulation that maliciously targets the victim’s reality.
Meaning that just because you say something invalidating doesn’t mean that you are gaslighting someone else. This is really important to remember because narcissists are masterful at portraying others in a negative light.
So good in fact that they’re able to manipulate their victims into believing that they are gaslighting the narcissist simply by standing up for themselves. So remember, gaslighting is a pattern of abuse that is malicious and intentional.
Gaslighting is a huge part of the devaluation phase and can leave vicitms of narcissistic abuse broken, lost, and confused. If you have experienced gaslighting and looking for ways to start rebuilding yourself, our article How to Regain Your Sanity After Being Gaslighted (Helpful Tips From Survivors) is a fantastic place to start.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
The devaluation phase is a very invalidating, devaluing, dehumanizing, degrading, and manipulative phase in narcissistic relationships. If left unchecked, victims of narcissistic abuse could become depended on the narcissist to construct a sense of self and to conceptualize their own version of reality.
Learning as much as possible about the narcissistic behavior patterns that plague abusive relationships so that you can better protect themselves and seek out the guidance of a qualified professional is the best thing that you can do to survive the devaluation phase.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care. Please consult a health care provider for guidance specific to your case.