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How Narcissists Use Micro-Abandonment to Win Emotional Control

Love bombing, then sudden devaluation.

Key points

  • A narcissist may utilize the defense mechanisms of idealization and devaluation to gain emotional control.
  • Idealization occurs when a narcissist love-bombs a partner at the start of the relationship.
  • Devaluation occurs when the narcissist suddenly "drops" the person without an explanation or care.
Nataliya Turpitko Shutterstock
Source: Nataliya Turpitko Shutterstock

Interpersonally, a narcissist often prioritizes control over closeness. Although manipulative, maintaining the emotional control of a partner is a powerful way to dominate a relationship. Difficult to detect because of the narcissist’s ability to convince the person that the fault is theirs, this tactic slowly erodes a person’s self-esteem.

Although some narcissistic traits are universal and fairly human, a partner who is staunchly and robustly defensive may lack empathy, emotional attunement, and the ability to consider a loved one’s perspective. Subconsciously, he or she may wish to camouflage these relational deficits by utilizing a series of micro-abandonments.

Using the two unconscious defense mechanisms of idealization and devaluation, in tandem, a narcissist can gain an inordinate amount of control over a partner. Idealization is a defense mechanism that keeps a partner at a distance—on a pedestal. Love-bombing and agreeing with everything the person thinks and says are ways a narcissist idealizes a person. Devaluation, or treating the person as if she means nothing to the narcissist and deserves to be corrected, is a way a narcissist devalues a person.

Initially, the person may feel safe with the narcissist, trusting the narcissist more than anyone else in her life. However, one day, the narcissist devalues the person by suddenly withdrawing his or her love. He or she becomes unresponsive and unavailable. The person feels invisible and emotionally abandoned. She may clamor to locate the problem and fix the issue to re-establish the bond.

Typically, the narcissist responds with indifference and then communicates disapproval regarding essential aspects of the person. For example, “I didn’t want to tell you this because I was afraid it would hurt your feelings, but you talk to your mom a lot. You tell her everything. It’s weird.” Now, the person feels like the closeness with her mom is immature, and she longs to recover the romantic bond, so she talks to her mom less and less.

Next, the narcissist rewards the person for doing what he or she wants by lavishing her with attention and affection. Ecstatic and relieved that she has recovered her partner’s fading love, the person trusts the narcissist again.

As soon as the narcissist “reels the person in” and she trusts again, the narcissist repeats the same pattern to gain additional control. Panicked and devastated by every micro-abandonment, the person strives to do everything she can to please the narcissist, including relinquishing important aspects of herself.

The pattern of idealization and devaluation slowly gives the narcissist a massive amount of influence over the person. She may find herself more distant from loved ones. In addition, her mental health suffers tremendously. Desperate to avoid another heartbreaking abandonment, she is hypervigilant about appeasing the narcissist. The constant emotional abandonments strip her of her sense of self, and she grows increasingly insecure.

Instead of focusing on the activities and responsibilities she enjoys, her mission becomes placating the narcissistic partner. At this point, she makes substantial sacrifices to be with the narcissist and recognizes if she left him or her, she may not have much of a life to return to. This also provides the narcissist with a level of control.

The continual micro-abandonments in conjunction with other manipulations may create feelings of inadequacy and insecurity in a person. Unfortunately, the narcissist also utilizes this to his or her advantage. Blaming the person for being “insecure and clingy” may cause a person to feel like she is the real issue.

Although this situation is tough, it may help a person to be aware of the narcissist’s use of micro-abandonments to create insecurity and garner control. Difficult to see when a person is entrenched in this dynamic, she may try to trust the people around her who can verify. The best remedy may be to get emotional space from the narcissist. A person may try and flip the script and become the less available party. This may provide her with an opportunity to gain perspective without the narcissist imposing his or her alternate viewpoint. This break may allow her to hear her own voice and listen to her instincts.

Facebook image: Phovoir/Shutterstock

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