In the narcissistic abuse cycle, discard represents the final phase. When a narcissist discards someone, they have chosen to fully end their relationship.
You’re basically dead to them, no matter how connected you two were. All narcissistic behaviors are painful, but the discard can be one of the most debilitating. It can truly feel like you were completely used.
The narcissistic discard phase begins when the narcissist stops receiving as much validation as they’d like from someone.
This can happen after you start setting boundaries in the relationship or even start taking better care of yourself.
Discard can also occur once the narcissist has replaced their supply, either with another relationship or another meaningful hobby to them.
Suddenly, you no longer hold as much value as you once did (even though you likely did nothing wrong).
13 Signs of Narcissistic Discard
Narcissist discard signs aren’t always obvious. In fact, many people feel totally blindsided after the narcissist cuts off all contact.
But, if you pay close attention, you’ll note that narcissists generally follow predictable patterns. Recognizing these behavioral patterns can help you determine if discard might be coming.
Here are some ways you can tell narcissistic discard is coming:
#1 They Become Even Meaner
Criticism tends to peak just before the final discard. Suddenly, it feels like you can’t do anything right. You’re overly sensitive. You cause all the problems. You’re the issue in the relationship.
This behavior is a way to erode your self-esteem and make you question your own feelings (also known as narcissistic gaslighting).
The narcissist still wants to maintain control over the relationship, and they want you to feel as bad about yourself as possible before they leave you.
#2 They Deliberately Break Your Boundaries
It’s typical for narcissists to double down on their problematic behavior just before the discard phase.
Usually, this is a way for them to get under your skin. Sometimes they want you to get so fed up that you ultimately end the relationship.
Then, they can look like the good guy and gain sympathy from others because you were the one who walked away.
Even if you have set reasonable healthy boundaries, a narcissist will generally act as if they’re entirely restrictive.
Once the discard is close, the narcissist has stopped respecting you altogether.
Therefore, they have no interest in caring about your limits. They may even get a thrill from getting such a negative reaction from you.
#3 They Pull Away From You
Dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder can often feel like a push-pull dynamic.
In one moment, they love you and smother you with affection. Then, all of a sudden, they’re aloof, distant, and cold. The timing is inconsistent, and you never know what will really set them off.
But as the discard phase comes closer, there’s far more pull than push. They stop engaging with you.
They no longer ask about your day or feelings. If you live together, it can seem like you’re residing with a distant roommate.
#4 They Don’t Even Try to Pretend to Care
Some narcissists lack empathy, but many narcissists can exhibit cognitive empathy where they generally will also try to pretend to be interested in your life.
This empathy becomes especially important if they want to maintain the image of having a good relationship.
But as they inch closer to the final discard, they stop putting any effort into the relationship.
They won’t even pretend they care about what you’re doing or how you’re feeling.
This usually means that you’ve already been replaced by a new relationship or new source of narcissistic supply.
If they used to get jealous, you can expect that also to change. If a typically-jealous narcissist no longer seems worried about your whereabouts, it could mean they’ve already emotionally moved on.
#5 They Deny What’s Happening
Narcissists always want to be one step ahead of everyone else. Once they know you’re onto them, they’ll likely switch tactics and try to gaslight your reality.
So, if you confront them about their changed behavior, they’ll likely deny it. Or they’ll blame you for doing something wrong or changing yourself.
#6 They No Longer Control You As Much
Narcissists often rely on controlling behaviors to feel a sense of power in their romantic relationships.
But that’s only applicable when they want to stay connected to their partner. They no longer care as much if they’re already on their way out.
As a result, you might suddenly feel this new sense of freedom.
This doesn’t mean the narcissist is being kinder to you. It means they’re focusing on controlling something else.
#7 They Talk About Ending the Relationship
Narcissistic relationships tend to be volatile but pay attention if the narcissist starts candidly talking about ending the relationship.
This can sound like, I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to put up with this, or, I can’t believe I tolerate this relationship- it won’t be this way forever.
These represent signs that the narcissist may be preparing for final discard. They’re essentially rehearsing their next steps directly with you. They might also be gauging to see how you will react.
#8 They Pit People Against You
Narcissists want to protect themselves during the discard phase. They sometimes will engage in a smear campaign to solicit empathy and support from others.
Don’t be surprised if they go to the people closest to you- narcissists thrive on causing drama between family members and friends.
Unfortunately, this strategy can work in their favor. They might convince people that they were the real victims in the dynamic.
This is why breaking up with a narcissist sometimes results in losing other meaningful relationships.
#9 They’re Spending a Lot of Time With Someone Else
When a narcissist starts losing interest in someone, they don’t necessarily try to revitalize that love.
Instead, they often seek support and comfort in a new relationship. This sets off the love bombing stage with someone new, temporarily fulfilling their need for ongoing narcissistic admiration.
#10 Their True Narcissistic Colors Come Out
Most narcissists wear some mask even in their closest relationship. They want to preserve their self-image and ensure that others think highly of them.
But as you reach the final stage, all masking often ends. Narcissistic abuse tends to peak at this point, as the narcissist stops with all facades and truly reveals their deepest and truest self.
This can, of course, be terrifying for loved ones to experience.
#11 They Have Made Other Changes
Even if you can’t tell if a narcissist is with someone else, they might be preparing to discard if they’re suddenly changing their appearance or personality.
They might, for example, start going to the gym more often. Or they might begin spending a lot of money without telling you why.
#12 They Become Even More Passive-Aggressive
If you’re dealing with a covert narcissist, you can expect them to become even more manipulative and passive-aggressive as they reach the discard phase.
They sometimes act like nothing is wrong despite being cruel or indifferent.
At this point, the devaluing is so strong that they no longer really care about the relationship at all. With that, they also no longer care about your needs or feelings.
#13 They Undermine Your Positive Emotions
In healthy relationships, both people can experience genuine happiness for one another.
That isn’t the case with narcissists. They often feel threatened when others are happy, and they especially loathe when others are succeeding when they aren’t.
As they prepare for final discard, you can expect them to be completely disinterested in your well-being. Or, they will become malicious and critical when something good happens in your life.
What Triggers the Narcissist Discard Phase?
The discard phase can sometimes happen quickly but is often a gradual progression.
Narcissists fall in love with projected fantasies, which speaks to why the love bombing phase is so intense. They literally think they’ve found someone who can perfectly fit all their needs.
Over time, however, when someone’s true humanness emerges, they become angry instead of appreciating that vulnerability.
They don’t like that their “perfect” person has flaws. This initiates the devaluing process, which can be one of the most painful realities of narcissistic abuse.
How Should You Respond to Narcissism Discard?
Even if you recognize your narcissistic relationship as dysfunctional, it’s normal to feel still confused or hurt by the narcissistic discard phase.
There’s a strong chance that you were hoping things would work out. Perhaps you held onto hope that the narcissist could change their ways or grow to respect you more.
With that said, someone with narcissistic tendencies tends to be overwhelmingly focused on themselves.
They prioritize their self-esteem and values above all else. Feeding their ego only reinforces their behavior.
Is Narcissist Discard Final?
Sometimes, but not always.
Narcissists tend to hoover people for many weeks or months after the discard phase.
They still want to know your whereabouts, even if they’re “done” with you. That’s because they still think they’re entitled to you (and they might want to have a backup in case their new relationship fails).
However, some discards are absolutely final. This happens when the narcissist no longer benefits from your relationship.
You no longer fuel their self-worth or self-esteem. At that point, they need to meet those critical needs elsewhere.
Do All Narcissists Discard People?
Although most narcissists discard people, it’s not always the automatic response. If you provide ongoing narcissistic supply, they’ll probably keep you close (until something better comes along).
That said, some narcissists stay married or remain in certain relationships indefinitely.
Unfortunately, this tends to set the stage for an abusive relationship, and while they may be perfectly happy, it doesn’t mean you will be.
How Do Narcissists React When You Accept Their Final Discard?
Even if a narcissist is finished with you, that doesn’t mean they want you to be finished with them.
They thrive on their partners having low self-esteem or having an intense emotional reaction to them ending the relationship.
Having no response is one of the best ways to disarm a narcissist. It throws them off their tracks and generally triggers temporary narcissistic rage.
To them, negative attention is better than no attention, so your apathy will make them feel unnerved.