The beginning of many narcissistic relationships feel amazing. This is typically because the narcissist is love bombing and a survey we conducted in our article How Long Does the Love Bombing Phase Last? revealed that this phase can last anywhere between three-and-a-half months to five-and-a-half months.

Narcissists begin devaluing you when you become attached to them. Depending on the nature of the relationship (i.e. a family member, friend, colleague, or romantic partner) this can happen at different times. But as a general rule, once a narcissist sees that you’re emotionally invested, they will begin to devalue you.

This article is going to help you grasp a comprehensive understanding of the reason that narcissists initiate the devaluation phase so you can better protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from the narcissist in your life.

Narcissists Start Devaluing You When You Become Attached to Them

The two manipulation tactics that narcissists use to manipulate you into becoming attached to them are mirroring and future faking.

In the narcissistic realm, the term “mirroring” refers to a manipulative process that narcissists use to absorb information about the identity of others so they can use that information to create a falsified identity that portrays them as “perfect.”

 A simple example of this would be a man/woman is on a date with a narcissist and reveals that their sibling died in a car crash 20 years ago. The narcissist says, “I don’t want to take away from what you just said, but my mother died in a motorcycle accident a few years ago so I just wanted you to know that I understand what you are going through.”

a narcissistic woman mirroring her date

The tricky thing about mirroring is that it is designed to fill a void in your life. Narcissists use mirroring to make you feel seen, heard, and understood. 

In romantic relationships, mirroring is usually going to fill your desire for true love. In a narcissistic family setting, mirroring is going to target your desire for an available, responsive, and consistent family member. In a narcissistic workplace, mirroring is likely to be centered around the betterment of your career. In a narcissistic friendship, mirroring is going to target your desire for a best friend.

Suggested Reading

If you’re interested in learning about how good narcissists are at mirroring, check out our article Are Narcissists Good at Mirroring?. To create that article we interviewed three women who unknowingly dated the same narcissist at the same time. These women were very different from one another but the narcissist was still able to mirror them all!

In the narcissistic realm, the term “future faking” refers to a narcissist making false promises for the future to get what they want in the present.

For example, imagine that you are trying to save money for college so you decide to stay home and work instead of going on a family vacation. Your narcissistic parent could future fake you by saying, “Oh don’t worry, I would be more than happy to pay for your tuition. This trip will be good for you. It will help you clear your mind and focus on writing that book you were telling me about.”

A narcissist using future faking

What makes future faking so dangerous is that narcissists know exactly what they need to say and/or do to manipulate you into believing their future fakes because of all the information that they gathered about you during the mirroring phase. In the example above, the narcissist knows that you want to finish writing your book so they use that to coax you into going on a vacation.

The reason that narcissists begin to devalue you once they sense that you are attached is because they believe that they are so special, unique, and important that no matter what they do, you won’t leave them. Sadly, they are often right, but only because they take control of your mind with an insane amount of manipulation that we will talk about in the next section.

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When narcissists manipulate you into staying in a relationship with them, despite all of the abuse and manipulation, it allows them to achieve two huge things that we talk about thoroughly in our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship?.

Narcissists Use Manipulation to Force You to Accept Their Devaluations

When a narcissist uses mirroring and future faking in the beginning stages of the relationship, they are giving you the information and showing you the behavior that you need to have and see in order to develop the belief that they (the narcissist) is someone you can safely attach yourself to.

The second that the narcissist in your life senses this attachment, they will begin to devalue you on a regular basis. This will give them the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control, which is also known as narcissistic supply, that they need to regulate their emotions.

Suggested Reading

Understanding narcissistic supply gives you a much better chance of protecting yourself and healing from narcissistic abuse. Our articles What Is Narcissistic Supply?” and “What Happens When a Narcissist Runs Out of Narcissistic Supply? have a ton of information that can help you have a successful healing journey.

This is where many people who haven’t experienced narcissistic abuse get confused. It’s very common for them to ask, “Why didn’t you just leave once they started to be abusive?”. In fact, you might even ask yourself the same question, but the answer is cognitive dissonance.

A woman questioning the reason her friend stayed in an abusive relationship

The term “cognitive dissonance” refers to a theory developed by ​​Leon Festinger in 1957. This theory suggests that when we experience an inconsistency among information, behavior, and belief it causes us to experience a tremendous amount of psychological tension. 

In an attempt to ease this tension we will change one or more of the elements that are causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent. In narcissistic relationships, cognitive dissonance manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and normalization of the abuse.

If you remember correctly, in the beginning of this article we stated, “when a narcissist uses mirroring and future faking in the beginning of the relationship, they give you the information and show you the behavior that you need have and see in order to develop the belief that they (the narcissist) is someone you can safely attach yourself to.”

A teacher explaining cognitive dissonance

Well, when the narcissist senses that you have attached yourself to them and begins the devaluation phase, their sudden shift in behavior changes the information that you have and the behavior that you see, leaving you with only the belief that the narcissist is someone who you can safely attach yourself to.

This is what creates cognitive dissonance… but the narcissist doesn’t stop there. To ensure that you justify, rationalize, and normalize all the abuse/manipulation in the devaluation phase, narcissists use a manipulation tactic called breadcrumbing, which is also known as intermittent reinforcement.

Breadcrumbing is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. You see, once the narcissist drags you through mirroring, future faking, and then the devaluation phase, the relationship is so emotionally starved that the slightest amounts of empathy, compassion, thoughtfulness, etc., act as the “reward” of breadcrumbing.

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It is important to not underestimate how powerful this “reward” is. In fact, this reward is so powerful that it triggers the reward center in your brain and floods your body with dopamine1. Our article “Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?” has a lot more important information about this.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when we abuse drugs like opiates, alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, etc. In narcissistic relationships, when your body being flooded with dopamine because of the breadcrumbing, it turns the “reward” of breadcrumbing into your only known source of happiness.

A Harvard health article about the three Cs of addiction

The “reward” of breadcrumbing causes you to crave the reward, lose sight/control of yourself in pursuit of the reward, and continue to be in the narcissistic relationship in spite of the harmful consequences. 

This is the reason so many of us stay in these toxic/abusive relationships. We have so much invested into the narcissist that we can’t picture our lives without them in it.

Suggested Reading

Mirroring, future faking, the devaluation phase, and breadcrumbing creates incredibly powerful trauma bonds that keep you trapped in the narcissistic abuse cycle for years. Our article “How Do You Break a Trauma Bond With a Narcissist?” has a ton of helpful information from our survey of 431 people who have successfully broken a trauma bond with a narcissist.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Generally speaking, a narcissist will start to devalue you when they see that you have attached yourself to them.

Of course, there are some narcissistic relationships where the devaluation starts from the very beginning and there will be others where one might believe that the devaluation never started because it came in the form of backhanded comments and other passive aggressive behavior that is hard to spot.

However, once the narcissist sees that they have you hooked on the person they pretended to be, they will begin to devalue you because they are so arrogant that they truly believe they are too special, unique, and important to be held accountable for their abusive behavior.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

[1] Reinforcing behavioral variability: An analysis of dopamine-receptor subtypes and intermittent reinforcement

Levin, Lana. “Understanding narcissistic abuse.” Mental Health Matters 8.3 (2021): 32-33.