When you start to devalue me. A short diary entry of the transition between idealisation phase to being devalued.
A narcissistic relationship consists of three phases: idealisation, devalue, discard. I’m not always keen on referring to an abusive relationship as narcissistic because for me, it hindered my recovery for a while. I was so insecure about what I had experienced – so afraid I was the problem like my (now) ex had told me so many times – that unless he was a clinically diagnosed narcissist, which he is not, I almost found it invalidating. My relationship can’t have been abusive, because he isn’t a ‘narcissist’. I don’t have that piece of paper to prove it. I don’t have a clinical diagnosis to confirm it.
What I have learnt over time is: it doesn’t matter. He may not be a confirmed narcissist. Even if he were assessed, he may or may not be clinically considered one. That doesn’t change the fact that he exhibits a high level of narcissistic traits in a relationship dynamic. And that is the key point. I would go as far to say that all abuser’s do. Machiavellian too. The manipulation of others and the importance of personal gain put above all else is a machiavellian quality (well, they would consider it a quality in the least). And it is these character traits and abusive behaviours that warrant them being described under the term narcissistic abuse. Survivors of abuse can gain so much understanding and awareness of their relationship dynamic through gaining knowledge of narcissistic abuse, as well as a sense of community, and that is fundamental to the recovery process.
I want to share with you a diary entry that I wrote within the first six months of my relationship with my ex. At the time I had no idea what I was experiencing, and somehow, still I knew. I think it sums up quite well the confusion we experience when we are moving from the idealisation phase into the devaluing phase of the relationship. We are confused; baffled. We can’t make sense of what’s going on, and so we start to look to ourselves… is it me? I remember thinking at the time that my ex thinks I’m clingy and needy but I’ve always been told the exact opposite – that I tend not to be a ‘cuddly’ person – and that’s where it begins; where your self-identity starts to become blurred. Robbing you of your self-identity is such a masterful tactic, because how can you really hold them accountable for anything if you aren’t even sure of who you are anymore… you can’t say with certainty that you aren’t the things they say you are or that you aren’t the cause of the tension because you can’t identify YOU.
The other point is how quickly the idealisation phase can be over. It doesn’t take long to make that strong connection and get you hooked. For many, the devaluing stage starts once you are somehow ‘trapped’ in the relationship. When you have made a decision or a commitment that would be difficult to back out of. For some, this takes a little longer, but for many, the idealisation phase is a whirlwind, because abusive people like to move fast. I had moved in with my ex after three months. I had expressed apprehension, but there was already the subtle threat that if I wasn’t as serious about the relationship as he was, he would leave – a subtle level of coercion – and the connection had already been built up that I didn’t want to lose him because I couldn’t commit (see how the blame would already be on me). If only I had listened to my gut!
Also, I just want to let you in a little on my mental state at the time, because I think it is important. I say I wrote the entry within six months, because I didn’t write the exact date on the page; I only wrote the year. Why? I specifically remember that I didn’t write the exact date because I was afraid. I was afraid that he would find my diary, that he would know when I wrote it and I might be in trouble. Nothing was happening at the time that would make it particularly bad to write it then compared to some other time. But still, I was afraid. So I wrote just the year. I was in the relationship for a number of years, and throughout that time, I only wrote three diary entries; all in different books, all on random pages within the books, all hidden in different places in the house. I was scared. And this is important because, even at this early stage, we have already begun to regulate ourselves in order to not inflame the behaviours of the abuser. We are already being oppressed and controlled, maybe in the subtlest of ways.
I wonder what someone would see if they looked at me. Would they think I’m a happy person, or that I should be but I’m just ungrateful? Maybe I’m never satisfied. I think I am, but maybe I just want to be? Maybe this is all wrong; maybe he knows this.
I feel like I’m being shut out. He is so stubborn. I feel like I’m trying so hard to keep some fire and he is resisting with all he has – I’m fighting a losing battle. It feels like I’m walking on eggshells. I’m constantly trying to think of what’s going to make him happy. It’s like he never notices any of the good things I do but as soon as something wrong is done he can’t tell me fast enough.
He never says I’m pretty, he doesn’t really compliment me – I usually just get teased. I do love him, it just feels like he doesn’t think he has to try anymore.