Warning Signs & Stages of Toxic Relationships


If you haven’t been exposed to a toxic relationship with a Narcissist or Sociopath, then you probably have no interest in learning about the conscience deficient 4 percent of the population that Dr. Martha Stout describes in her fascinating book, The Sociopath Next Door. But f you haven’t learned to spot the early warning signs, red flags and the three distinct stages of a toxic relationship, then you might be at risk of falling into one of these loveless torture traps. According to Dr. Stout, clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, 4% of the population are sociopaths and don’t possess a conscience. According to research studies, 1%-4% of the population meets the criteria for Narcissistic Personality disorder with is characterized by a lack of empathy.

That may not sound like much, but using the world’s population currently estimated at 7.4 billion, that means that 4 percent equals approximately 385 million people who are without a conscience, not including a large number of people living on the planet who lack empathy. Unless people learn how to spot these personality types, so many will continue to fall prey to the emotional, psychological, spiritual and sometimes financial destruction they cause. Narcissistic abuse does not usually include forms of physical abuse with physical signs like bruises. The signs of narcissistic abuse are invisible, which makes it much harder to identify. The abuse is more ambiguous and difficult to prove, but it is no less damaging because it’s a form of spiritual rape. Over time, the abuse chips away at the target’s self-confidence and self-esteem. The target isn’t even aware it’s happening until the damage has been done. The abuse is always about control. The narcissist or sociopath sees the target as a means to an end and will seek to control the target and drain them dry emotionally, financially and every which way they can. They gain the targets trust and love and then extract all their good qualities with declarations of ideal and everlasting love with absolutely no intention of delivering any in return.

Since the abuse is covert, very few outsiders understand and as a result are not able to offer support or empathy. Even many therapists aren’t adequately trained or knowledgeable in dealing with the damage and the post-traumatic stress often experienced by narcissistic abuse survivors. This is why is it is so important to find out about the early warning signs that you might be dating a predator and learn about the three distinct stages of the toxic relationship cycle.

Stage 1: The Idealization

“If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. But if it walks like a duck and talks like a swan, it’s a Narcopath.” Anonymous

In this stage, the narcissist pours on the charm to lure their target to emotionally gain his or her trust. He becomes the ideal partner and portrays himself as generous, loving, caring, empathetic and a romantic person.  He will be doting and say and do all the right things to trick his target into falling madly in love with him. He all without exception use a technique called “love bombing” to some degree or another.

This technique is called love bombing because he will literally bombard his target with tons of romantic gestures. Such as; adoring texts, phone calls and Facebook posts professing their love and admiration.

Within the first few weeks or month, he will often claim that no one has ever made them feel this way before and that his target is the “ONE” for him. It can be quite flattering for the target because the narcissist morphs into the target’s “ideal” love partner, saying all the things the target has ever longed to hear. The Narcissist will also claim to share the same interests, values and dreams as his target de jour.

The narcissist will quickly declare his target his “soulmate, ” and since the target feels like she has finally met her perfect match, it feels true.

But the intoxication from the love bombing is just a ploy. Just as people who drink too much alcohol become intoxicated and lack good judgment, the intoxication of the love bombing also serves to impair the target’s judgment and hook her into letting her guard down and the narcissist in.

The narcissist is very intense and will romance his target like no other. The honeymoon phase of the relationship will be like a scene from an epic romance movie, because that is just what it is, it’s all an act. He will move the relationship at lightning fast speed and use another tactic called “future faking” where he will talk about future plans such as moving in together, marriage, children or vacation plans, etc….very early on in the relationship.

One of the reasons the narcissists moves the relationship so quickly is because it’s quite difficult to keep up the façade of being a loving, giving, sensitive, kind and caring individual when he really is not. He also moves the relationship quickly to destabilize his target and get her invested in the relationship before she has a chance to figure out his true character and agenda.

By the time the target does get a clue about the numerous short-lived, intense past romantic relationships with previous “soulmates” or finds out the real reason the narcissist  is staying on his  friend’s couch and doesn’t have his own place, or starts to wonder why the narcissist seems to have a ton of acquaintances but no real close friends, it’s too late, the target has already fallen deeply in love with him.

Stage 2: The Devaluation

The once Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde who quickly changes the atmosphere to one of confusion, worry, uncertainty about the relationship. The change can be swift and potent or slow and treacherous.

Once the narcissist is aware of just how much the target has fallen for him, he will become his true self, and the roller coaster ride will begin.

The narcissists who once loved and admired everything about the target and showered her love, adoration and attention will begin to criticize and nitpick (a form of abuse much like browbeating) just about everything she does. The displays of love and affection will fade, and he will demand more and more from her while giving less and less.

Confused by his sudden change in behavior, she will instinctively work harder and harder to try to please the him and restore the relationship back to its once perfect beginnings. The narcissist will delight and take satisfaction in seeing the once confident, happy, successful target slowly sinking into despair caused by his intentionally created chaos and confusion. His ability and desire to emotionally control others gives him great pleasure and reinforces his need to feel superior and in control. breakup an excellent source of narcissistic supply that he craves in the same way a drug addict craves drugs. Supply is collected from the target, and it fills the narcissist up like helium and helps sustain, albeit very temporarily, his false sense of himself. He directs his whole behavior in the pursuit of extracting supply from others. It doesn’t matter if the supply is in the form of praise, adoration, attention or control, inflicting pain, or emotional distress. Supply is supply to the narcissist.

During the devaluation stage, no matter how hard the target tries or what the target does to attempt to make the narcissist happy, it will never be good enough and will not please him for any length of time.

This is the hallmark of this stage. The narcissist will run hot and cold, and the target will feel like they are always walking on egg shells. He intuitively knows when to provide glimpses and crumbs of the idealization stage, much like a slot machine, to keep the target hooked and chasing the proverbial carrot in hopes of recapturing the initial “love” he once provided.

Stage 3: The Discard

Narcissists detach so easily because they were never attached in the first place. The discard is inevitable and will usually blind side the target. This is the narcissist’s coup de grace.

He will discard his target in the cruelest most heartless ways to inflict the greatest amount of suffering because the more the target suffers, the greater the narcissistic supply.

Often they will discard their targets before a holiday or coldly through email or text. The once professed “love of their life” will not even get the courtesy of a face to face break-up and some closure. Sometimes they will discard their target because their target may be getting wise to their games and challenging their control. Narcissists will abandon whoever they can’t control. Or perhaps, the narcissist may have extracted all they could from their target by draining their target emotionally, financially and spiritually. They will begin to despise the target for not being the confident and happy person they once were and consider the target useless. The target now thoroughly pillaged will have nothing left for the narcissist to take and he will become just plain bored and move on to fresh supply.

The narcissist will act as if you never existed or may attempt to twist the knife a little deeper by publicly flaunting their new “soulmate” within days or weeks of the break-up.

So many victims are left confused and suffer from extreme emotional pain and often descend into a major depression. Many well-intentioned family members and friends may suggest the target “just move on” or treat the situation as a typical break-up and expect the target to just “get over it” which only further destroys the target’s sense of self-worth.

If you recognize the early warning signs of love bombing, moving the relationship at a fast pace, future faking, or signs of the devaluation stage, the best remedy is to proceed with extreme caution or just stay single.


img_9351Bree Bonchay is a Los Angeles based licensed psychotherapist who believes relationships are the currency of life. She’s dedicated to helping people heal from break-ups, recover from toxic relationships with narcissists and sociopaths and never to settle for a life less than the one they dreamed of. She is a Blogger, Advocate, Facebook Toxic Relationship Recovery Forum Administrator, Radio Guest Expert and is the Author of the book, “I Am Free.”

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Suffering from Narcissistic Abuse? Join Narcissistic Abuse & Toxic Relationship Recovery & Support Forum on Facebook by clicking the link.

Copyright © 2015 Bree Bonchay. All Rights Reserved


92 thoughts on “Warning Signs & Stages of Toxic Relationships

  1. I am thankful to have stumbled upon this website. After a ten year marriage derailed (four years ago), I have just recently gotten my life back on track. I had no idea that true medical terms existed for people such as my ex-husband. I have said for years if there was a scrap yard for conscience free men, I’d be rich. I wasn’t crazy, I am worthy of being truly loved and no, he did not damage me permanently. I have journal after journal full of the many ways this man tortured me. It is only by the grace of God that I did not do the unthinkable. I forgave him about ten months ago, I just now forgave the other two. Dr. Bonchay, I am forever grateful to you and the answering of your calling. It is more than mind blowing how accurate these articles are in comparrison to my real life story of being traumatized and tortured. Thank you for putting words and definitions in the many blank spaces of my past. I literally feel free.


  2. Hi Miss Bonchay,

    This was an amazing article. My last relationship fits perfectly with the whole article. I’m from Mexico and I spent a year and 4 months with a girl that has the behaviour that you described. She started all the flattering, she wanted to go to bed with me pretty soon, she said I was the love of her life, that she wouldn’t know what to do without me, that she wanted moving soon with me, that I was perfect and beyond better that her exe’s, that all men treated her very poorly in the past, like cheating on her, leaving her for another woman, etc.

    I started to notice certain things with her that I found uncomfortable and rude, like the fact that she didn’t care about me, she never listened to me, she used to belittle my feelings, but, if something happened to her, my duty was to be there for her. She once told that I was dispensable, but that she had to be the first priority in my life. One of the curious patterns that she had, was that when we had a disagreement, she used to say to herself that she was nothing but shit, the worst person in the world, the worst partner, a bad person, that she didn’t deserve to be with me, that it would be better if I go out and search for other women, etc. That was very confusing and suddenly, my gut started to tell me that something was really off. I began doing my research because all this traits and little by little, paying close attention to her behaviour, her comments, plus all the stuff that I was reading, everything started to make sense.

    It was very painful and hard to notice that all the nice things that this girl told me, were just lies, that she never loved me, that I was an attention and financially supply, that she only saw me as some kind of thing to fill a void in her life.
    When I was finally aware of the whole situiation, the manipulation, the mind games, I started to say NO MORE and, as you described in your article:

    “Often they will discard their targets before a holiday or coldly through email or text. The once professed “love of their life” will not even get the courtesy of a face to face break-up and some closure. Sometimes they will discard their target because their target may be getting wise to their games and challenging their control. Narcissists will abandon whoever they can’t control.”

    That was exactly what happened.

    Thank you so much for such an amazing article. Now I’m wiser and that’s the good thing that I take from this experience.

    All the best,


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