Being in a relationship with a narcissist is an emotional rollercoaster ride: at first, they idealise you, then they devalue you, then they drop you; and they may do it over and over again, says Elinor Greenberg, PhD, author of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations. "Narcissists are extremely status-oriented, and if they have chosen you to be by their side, it's because they think you will add to their status and enhance their self-esteem," Greenberg says.
When a narcissist says, "I love you," really what they're saying is, "I love how you make me feel about myself right now," she says. Eventually they decide there's a flaw that doesn't enhance their status, then move on to find something new. And they don't have any qualms about moving on to the next one once they're over you, because narcissists can easily ignore their past history with a person when it benefits them, she says.
This doesn't necessarily mean this person never truly cared or felt connected to you, though, says Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist. "The problem is, they get bored or antsy in relationships, because it's so difficult for them to remain vulnerable," she says. This vicious rollercoaster can cycle and loops indefinitely, even after you've broken up. Here's what that can look like...
They talk about how amazing your relationship was.
To a narcissist, your old relationship is just a reflection of how amazing they are, so why would they want to make themselves look bad? "They treasure the good times they had with you, and talk to people about how wonderful the relationship was," Greenberg says. Even after they've cruelly discarded you, some will rewrite the story to make it sound wonderful, she says. They also romanticise how things ended, and often re-tell the story with an emphasis on doomed love, Greenberg says. Behary says narcissists can get haughty or arrogant when they talk about failed relationships. "They'll say, 'I was a great partner and nothing I did satisfied her or was ever good enough,'" she says. They might tell people, "We were so perfect together, and I pictured us getting married and named our babies," to romanticise how things actually ended — which in reality could have been really messy.
They move through people quickly.
Many narcissists are actually really lonely, and they always have a back-up plan ready if they decide to end the relationship, Behary says. "They don't typically leave the relationship unless they have an entourage of friends or groupies waiting in the wings," she says. If they break up with you, it's a self-righteous move, as if to say, "I'm bored and not getting what I deserve." But if you break up with them, it's an injury to their ego, so they'll feel compelled to punish you in some way by getting together with another person. "People are interchangeable to a narcissist and they can go around in circles depending on their personality type," Greenberg says.
They find ways to creep back into your social media.
Once there's been some distance between you and your ex, they might sneak back into your life (or attempt to) in discreet ways: think liking an Instagram or sending you a text on your birthday, Greenberg says. "They're romanticising the relationship after there's been distance, and they can no longer see your flaws," she says. They might also want to convince you into thinking you gave up a good thing, so they'll praise you to "mesmerise you" so that you hold them in a positive light, Behary says. "They take no responsibility for the fact that they might be feeling desperately sad when the relationship ends, because they don't like failure," she says. "Only after the breakup do they realise they’ve been well loved by someone, that they gave up something good that was right in front of them."