The devaluation state of the Malignant Narcissistic (MN) Relationship is most notable in committed/long term relationships. Partners of MNs spend the most amount of time with them and as the old saying goes: Familiarity breeds contempt.
Devaluation is the complete opposite of the Idealization Phase (where the sun rises and sets on the victim). This is also the most confusing stage of the relationship because the victim has no clue why things are going wrong. While there is no set time when the devaluation kicks in, it seems things fall apart rather quickly; anywhere from two months to a year wouldn’t be unusual. (I also know of one relationship where there was no discernable devaluation).
This phase seemingly comes out of nowhere. The victim may say or do something that is not out of the ordinary, but is now met with anger, hostility or disrespect; responses never before seen in the MN. Gone is the cheerful, loving and supportive demeanor. The relationship has a new normal.
The victim now struggles to figure out what he/she is doing wrong and it feels like the more effort expended to restore balance, the more narcissistic abuse is heaped on the victim. There can be physical abuse as well, but generally psychological abuse is the hallmark of narcissistic abuse.
The abuse comes in many forms; silent treatment, anger, impatience, snarky comments, insults, impatience … there is now NO doubt in the victim’s mind that he/she has created a rift in the relationship, but the victim has no idea what it was or how to fix it. Nor will the MN say.
Joslyn can pinpoint the moment Tony began devaluing her; it was shortly after they moved in together (about 3 months after they met). While she could no longer recall what exactly they were disagreeing or arguing about, Tony hissed at her “There’s reality and there’s YOUR reality, Joslyn.” Shs says she felt like she had been kicked in the gut. From then on, nothing went right. No matter what Joslyn said, did, or tried she was met with belligerence and disdain. Tony now seemed to delight in talking down to her, invalidating her opinions, beliefs, and ideas. When she would break down in tears, he would accuse her of being too sensitive. When she accused him of being mean, he would laugh and say he’d just been kidding.
The Devaluation Phase leaves the victim feeling like crap. So why don’t they all just leave? Most victims hold on to the good feelings they received during the Idealization Phase. Being treated like you are the center of someone’s universe feels wonderful and they feel if they can just figure out what is wrong they can get the relationship back to that place. They may also see the MN in other relationships which sail along smoothly. Remember, these are the superficial relationships, where the new victims see only the good (Idealization) side of the MN. The majority of victims I have talked to say they felt they were to blame in part because the MN didn’t react to other people with hostility and anger. Clearly if the victim is the one displeasing the MN, then they believe the problem lies within them.
Often during this phase, the MN will begin confiding in new (and existing) victims about the problems with their partner. This is often referred to as a Smear Campaign and there doesn’t have to be a shred of truth in what they tell others. It seems the worse light they can paint their victim, the better. Especially when they are able to convince people THEY being victimized and mistreated! Besides the Smear Campaign, this would also be the time when the MN engages in Triangulation, often with a new or now favored person.
Leaving a MN during this phase can be difficult to impossible. It seems that the longer they stick it out, the worse the abuse gets. Many victims don’t even seem to realize how bad things have become. It’s not unusual for victims to become somewhat withdrawn, or even reclusive. As the relationship continues to deteriorate, the MN may gravitate to other interests and people, leaving the victim alone more and more. It would be fair to say the only time the MN pays attention to the victim is when the MN has something demeaning or humiliating to say to the victim.
If the victim decides to leave, assuming the MN has not yet found a replacement person, the MN will switch back into the Idealization Phase, which leads the victim to believe the relationship can be saved and can revert to what it had been in the beginning. The “honeymoon” lasts until the MN sees the victim is hooked and Devaluation is not far behind.
Written by: Joy Dalcoste