Why covert narcissists idealise, devalue and discard

These three stages are pretty much synonymous in a relationship with a person who has either narcissistic tendencies or the disorder.


This applies not only to romantic relationships but also with work colleagues friendships and neighbours, and sadly, also sometimes with family members.

If the relationship is romantic, there will be a lovely beginning and believed connection followed by changes in their approach which you can’t quite put your finger on. These changes have no order. They are not linear and can chop and change, making them harder to define.

In relationships outside our romantic ones, where there is a lot of history and goes way back into childhood, the idealisation stage, l find, is substituted by your mirroring their values in almost a sycophantic way. For example, liking what they like, thinking how they do, and being on the same page as them. Your autonomy will not be appreciated.

The devaluation kicks in when you express an opinion that they might perceive as a compromise of their reputation, or you call them out over the way they behaved, normally because unless they are known as perfect, this shatters their control. 

Appearances are very important to narcissistic people. 

Narcissists bore easily and they have really strong likes and dislikes. Watch out for this one - sometimes they unknowingly give it away as a clue, and may even enjoy telling you how they bore easily as if it’s a feather in their cap. Not to mention their unabashed sense of entitlement! And, of course, how fascinating you are (currently) to them, not including you in this category of potential banishment by boredom… yet.

Here you will already be making a mental note never to bore them, and be intent on becoming their magic missing jigsaw piece.

You won’t be aware at this stage though, that this warm loving charming individual can turn to ice, in a nanosecond.

Do read on.

People that bore easily have issues, let this be known to you as a red flag.

This is more about their idealisation of the self through the glow of the imagined potential perfect union that you have been cherry-picked for. Devaluation can begin very subtly, through veiled criticism that they can vaporise when questioned about with equal swiftness. 

It can be by turning up late, showing mild disinterest in a conversation - like they are there, but they are not there.

Not getting back to you, either by calls or message exchange. The reciprocity changes and can become scant with long waiting times.

There can be commenting on your clothing, or in your choices, there will be a whisper of general disdain. This, in turn, triggers the empath's strong internal criticism and sense of questioned worthiness, which gets put to one side during the initial love bombing idealisation stage. Even though it is felt and known within their own instinct.

What then begins to happen to the victim - usually a highly empathetic person who also has a hyperactive attachment system of relating - is that they enter a downward spiral of confusion and despair that they can’t name or pinpoint. There will be desperate attempts to claw back what is felt to be a lost paradise, which is in fact false.

For the empath, this will have been a lived experience now being called into question, both by them and the effect of having this perfection readdressed, which is replaced by a crushing sense of their own defectiveness.

The need for answers occupies your every moment: What have l done wrong? What have l said?

The nagging question will be, why has our Eden been lost?

This dynamic is part of the narcissist’s pathological structure. The paradox is that for the empath, it is still a lived experience. It wasn’t theoretical.

Intermittent reinforcement is a powerful tool that is given one minute, and then taken away. This becomes a head-spinning dance.

Always l have found that it can be easily justified by the narcissist, they are gifted at justification. 

They were having a bad day or they were tired, which, of course, can be entirely plausible and true. But somehow, if they were truly sincere in their connection with you, if the value of the connection was important to them, then upholding your belief in the mutual connection would be felt by the continued experience of their real caring. Not one which is intermittent and only appears as love.

Often, people who have BPD (borderline personality disorder) can also display similar behavioural dynamics, but they are more disorganised and less structured. These tactics of behaviour are however both within the Cluster B family.

I feel this is worth mentioning. 

A continuation alongside discontinuation - incongruity - will continue to live upholding the relationship, even long after and when the relationship actually ends, because it lives inside the self-doubt and low self-esteem of the recipient or chosen victim, who is usually an empath.

Perfection, or the definition of it, is both as different for every person as it is elusive, but the mutual bait and sometimes “wound” of origin are similar, allowing the trauma bonding, which is not love but felt as love to take place.

What was experienced during idealisation might even also be secretly longed for even after the overwhelming undeniable evidence of the intended destruction, which was, and is, that the ‘Eden’ was always actually false. The truth is somehow too crushing.

The narcissist’s form of reward and punishment will draw attention away from their wrongdoing and always put focus on the recipient's responsibility. This will be felt as an unresolvable agony and give longevity and power to the “but what if…”.

So during the honeymoon period where the spike of dopamine and oxytocin are felt, followed by the withdrawal symptoms felt during devaluation and discard, we are not dealing with a mild emotional state, but rather one if left unprocessed can create a lasting wound that never quite heals and an experience of a profound version of PTSD. 

So when they say “love can be the deadliest poison of all,” it can.

This is a robbery of peace and of equilibrium, a malevolence that cannot be bridled by the narcissist. Challenge them, and they then go into narcissistic injury. But for this, you will be punished, and you are never likely to know why or what the injury was. You can also be left with a feeling that what was lost will be perpetually irredeemable. But this perfect union was actually a construct and nothing more. 

The good news is that with therapy real recovery is absolutely possible.

Also important to mention here, is that bad behaviour in relationships and their endings does not alone constitute narcissism or any of its various denominations and variants. It is through the traceable identification of continuity. Of idealisation, devaluation and discard that makes it clearly definable. However please note that these three stages are not necessarily linear.

This can make it so much harder to diagnose and call out irrevocably, allowing early recovery as well as exit to take place. The difference between garden variety poor behaviour in a relationship and the trauma of being in a relationship with a narcissist will be defined by the stripping of the other’s dignity.

This can take on multiple forms. But will never be owned by them sincerely, even though they can pretend it is. This is also a differentiation between BPD and narcissism.

The borderlines’ display of devaluation through blame-storming is usually followed by a huge sense of genuine shame and guilt, not the abdication of responsibility. Another clue, as the narcissist is a natural chameleon and can feign guilt… but it is never real. I have not only learnt this, but l have also lived it and l have recovered from it. So l know how it feels, and what the cost was. This is about the rage felt by narcissists, their primary injury and their consequential abandonment of self in order to survive.

They become predators, who live through the reaction of the paradise or hell they create, and the emotional effect on them, it doesn’t matter which.

Your joy or your pain, they will take either one. But post their disillusionment and when their boredom sets in, your pain will be their oxygen. So, recovery from being involved with a narcissist will be similar to grief, whether they be grandiose or covert.

With the covert narcissist, there can be a huge sense of betrayal as they can “share” their feigned vulnerability to gain trust in the idealisation stage. When you have supposedly shared wounds with the covert type and you felt really so understood by them. Once again this for them is part of the construct. 

So why the appeal? What is their attraction and why are you still drawn to them when they hurt and discard you?

They appear motivated, on track and focused, so the faux content of their attention is very seductive and/or in the case of the covert variety, there will be “trauma bonding”. Their homework relies on your disclosure, and they mimic this by appearing vulnerable too, which is entirely relatable. They are also able initially to direct and focus their attention on their chosen person because they have basically far less anxiety around loss.

Everything is brought in by initial contact and their faux interest in your appeal. Giving ephemerally, indeed if at all, their true driver here is exploitation to secure supply. The irony is that they are massively dependent on others to “fill” the well of their own emptiness. 

Where recovery lies

Reduce the need to please and investigate its origin. This is usually fear of being unloved and of no or low significance 

Fear of also being vulnerable. These fears are primal and can feel like a form of death, whereby as an “outcast” you can not survive.

Avoiding your own needs as well as not even knowing or being aware of them. So if you don’t go along with pleasing, you will entirely lose your connection and your position will feel overwhelmingly precarious. Strategies can be put into place in therapy to change this so that reclamation of self replaces the need for obsequious behaviour.

Stop perceiving needs and making the needs of others your focus. Giving is about your innate worth rather than it being about what you gain. This, in therapy, relies on a lot of investigation to trace the underlying themes.

Calm your stress response, and investigate where this lies within you. Identify what sends you into flight/fight response.

Learn about your own attachment type and how to identify others. Examine this by giving it language and vocabulary. This facilitates and aids mentalisation which is about the ‘where’ and the ‘why’ of its origin, and to whom it applies giving light to the possibility that it is not about you.

This also helps lower the flood of adrenaline and combats the negative cycle that perpetuates it, otherwise, our digestive system and our immune system are negatively challenged and our serotonin levels dive. Getting into recovery is also biological, as the need to calm the nervous system is a huge part of this.

What helps aid recovery 

Embracing stillness through meditation

Eating food that supports this, helped by naturopathic advice, massage, acupuncture, and what l use alongside my talking therapy, which is taking Bach flower remedies. These calm and also address the repetition of historical mistakes, as well as the weening of the dynamic of causation. 

l have a combination of flower remedies that l give to reawaken our inner voice, raise and repair our confidence, stop saying yes instead of no, and process the pain and trauma of the damage emotionally. They work. I will say, when we do recover through the benefits of therapeutic help, we no longer attract these predators energetically, and we are no longer attracted to them.

What you awaken inside yourself is the truth, knowledge. Knowledge of both the self, and the wholeness that comes from your own known value, can no longer be compromised or destroyed by anyone ever again.

It is a peaceful place to dwell when you abide once again in your own wholeness, and it is also your right to return from what early trauma left you with.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, N8
Written by Gail Berry, Emotional and Relationship Coach
London, N8

Written by Gail Berry Emotional Coach - both a therapist and an alternative medical practitioner who works with healing people’s core wounds and uses Bach Flower Remedies alongside talking and behavioural therapy to make real change and transformation possible.

07771 715072
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