“I never want to see you again,” Marie shouted to her husband as she slammed the door on the way out. Adam stood still wondering if she would immediately turn around as she had so many times before or if she would dramatically wait. Either way, he was no longer going to nervously run after her, text her obsessively begging for her return or call her mother crying about her departure.
This time was going to be different. It had been a steep learning curve for Adam over the last few years. First, he discovered that she was a narcissist, allowing him to recognize and unveil her abusive tactics, and now he was no longer responding to her out of a state of desperation. He had finally realized that he was not responsible for her behavior – no matter how many times or ways she blamed him.
It had taken a while to discover her cycle of manipulatively abandoning him. Marie usually did this as a last resort to generate intense anxiety, panic, and fear in Adam – making him believe that she would actually leave him. Once she had him wound up, she knew that Adam would do, say or admit to just about anything to get her to come back. This way Marie would not have to reflect on her own insecurities and instead generated self-doubt in Adam. This is called the narcissistic abandonment cycle, and here are the cycle’s stages:
- Feels shame. It begins with the narcissist feeling shame. It could be shame about childhood abuse, the socioeconomic state of their family, an embarrassing moment, or being exposed as a failure, incompetent, unintelligent, or a fraud. Either way, the shame hits them to the core of their deep-rooted insecurity and they have to immediately cover it up.
- Avoids & leaves. Instead of turning to a person they love in such moments for comfort or compassion, the narcissist avoids any intimacy for fear of further exposure. Instead, they verbally lash out at the person who is most likely to be supportive. When the narcissist receives any resistance or discomfort, they leave.
- Fears abandonment. Even if the departure is for a few minutes, the narcissist suddenly realizes that their exit means further complications. Now, they won’t get their daily need for attention, affirmation, affection, and appreciation from the other person. This is worse than shame. Their fear of abandonment by the other person causes the narcissist to overlook any embarrassment.
- Returns & promises. When the narcissist returns, there is a grand entrance of sorts. It usually begins with, “I hope you are sorry for what you did (said).” The focus of the conversation is not about the narcissist’s behavior, fears, or insecurities; rather it is redirected to focus on the other person’s behavior. After soliciting an apology from the other person, the narcissist half-heartedly expresses a minor amount of regret and makes grandiose promises for the future.
- Spouse hopeful. Unfortunately, the other person usually swallows the insignificant apology when it is served with lavish gifts, magnificent dreams, and impressive statements. This elaborate expression causes the spouse to overlook the previously abusive behavior as they wrongfully believe this pattern won’t repeat.
- Pattern repeats. It is only a matter of time before the cycle repeats. Some narcissists almost accidentally fall into this cycle while others use it manipulatively. Even when it is done without intent, the positive outcome of the narcissist looking great after hiding their shame becomes a useful tool. Naturally, they will do it again and again because it feeds their ego.
Marie returned to Adam within a few hours. She was expecting him to offer an apology, but he didn’t. Instead, he sat in silence until Marie could no longer take it and she exploded again. He still said nothing. Knowing that things were different, and her tactics were no longer working, Marie exited the room. The next day, she acted as if nothing had happened.