As you’ll most likely know if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, they are characterized by certain traits such as self-entitlement, grandiose views of superiority, lack of empathy, and threatened egotism (2). They have also been shown to have a poorly developed sense of self and chronically unstable self-esteem (1).
In 1978, Kohut (4) observed that narcissists see others as extensions of the self. They expect others to ‘mirror’ their highly inflated opinions of themselves and then rely heavily on these people to regulate their self-esteem and anxieties. This is about getting other people to reinforce their beliefs (on the surface) that they are superior (3). And this is exactly how narcissists tend to enter into romantic relationships.
How to know the narcissist is finished with you? Let’s explore how Narcissists look at relationships and how the Narcissist experiences love.
The Narcissist Relationship Pattern
The Narcissist Cycle: Idealize-Devalue-Discard-Hoover
Relationships with narcissists tend to follow a cycle that plays out again and again and…again. They draw you in close, then when you least expect it, do a complete 180-degree turn and abruptly withdraw. Finally, when they’re done with you, they’ll discard you. Usually, for some reason that seems due to no fault of your own.
But the thing with cycles is they don’t stop, they keep repeating. So the narcissist will soon return to start the cycle all over again. They’ll revert back to how they were at the start of the relationship and lure you back in.
We know this as the idealize-devalue-discard-hoover cycle for how narcissists approach relationships. Some say it’s based on the traditional cycle of abuse in domestic situations, developed by Lenore Walker (6), although not all narcissists are necessarily domestic abusers. Often narcissists will use more verbal and emotional abuse, rather than physical abuse. Although, they may not even be aware that they are actually ‘abusing’ their partner.
In the idealization stage at the beginning of the relationship, the narcissist will shower their partner with praise and attention. The relationship will often be very intense and move very quickly, creating an emotional bond that will be difficult to break (5). We also describe this as ‘love bombing’ the narcissist will smother their target with affection.
At some point, the narcissist’s partner will displease them in some way, usually not on purpose. The narcissist will analyze every move, and often take any unusual actions as criticism. They may also jump to conclusions and react in a more exaggerated way to these perceived criticisms than non-narcissists would do.
The narcissist will begin to see their partner as flawed and grow bored and frustrated. The devaluation phase then begins. This is characterized by verbal abuse, withholding, humiliation, smearing and various forms of betrayal. Meanwhile, the partner is left wondering what they did to deserve such behaviour (they didn’t do anything to deserve this).
Eventually, the narcissist will see no value in the partner and will discard them for a ‘new’ partner they can idealize. However, often the discard is temporary and the narcissist will eventually return to ‘hoover’ their partners back into a relationship with them if they become convinced there is still something to be gained.
Read more about the discard phase in the following article: “What is Narcissist Discard? What are the Signs a Final Discard is Coming?”
This may even happen while the narcissist is involved with someone new and relationships can often overlap, so the narcissist is never completely alone. This cycle can continue indefinitely until the narcissist is finally done, the partner breaks it off or the narcissist seeks help.
So how do we know if this is the last time a narcissist is finished with you?
7 Signs A Narcissist Is Done With You
There are some signs to look out for that signal a narcissist is coming to the ‘discard’ phase in the relationship. These can include:
1. They become overly critical of you
Everything your narcissist loved about you at the start of the relationship will now become a major turn-off to them, and they’ll let you know. They may even find fault where there is none and accuse you of lying or being dishonest, even if they have no reason to believe this is true. They may also accuse you of being envious of them.
2. Your success becomes a threat
While at the start of the relationship they were your very own personal cheerleader, now every time you succeed at something they’ll find a way to tear you down. Your accomplishments will be deemed as threats, so they definitely won’t be the one celebrating with you anymore. Instead, they’ll find ways to make your successes seem small and insignificant.
3. You begin to see two very different sides to their personality
Narcissists are often described by some as charming and charismatic. They can be extremely good at putting on an act in order to get people to like them (and do what they want). You’ll begin to see the way your narcissist can quickly switch from this happy-go-lucky character to a moody and sullen one once the doors are closed.
4. Your approval of them no longer matters
While your opinion used to be the only one that mattered, now a compliment goes unnoticed. They may even seem disgusted by you and see your compliments as needy and desperate. They will pay more attention to opinions from others who haven’t seen their narcissistic side yet. If even flattery isn’t getting their attention anymore, this is a sign that they’re really done with you.
5. They completely ignore you and often give you the ‘silent treatment’
This can also be called ‘stonewalling’ and involves complete withdrawal or withholding of information, emotions, or physical resources.
They no longer have the energy to hold you in contempt, anger or lust, or simply look right through you and don’t show you any strong emotion. This strategy is applied to elicit feelings of rejection or abandonment to reinforce your feelings of dependence on them (7).
They are showing you that your value is so insignificant to them that response and engagement is not necessary from their perspective. They are invalidating you and expressing contempt (8). They want to have you desperately trying to get back in their ‘good book’.
Examples of stonewalling could be: they stop texting back, avoiding eye contact with you, or ignoring you in a group.
6. Their empathy turns to apathy
While they used to empathize when you were sick or down, now, no matter how hard you have it, they’ll remind you that they have it worse (whether that’s true or not). And the more you try to get their empathy, the more they will respond with apathy.
The Narcissist may try to replace you with another partner they deem superficially better than you. They may even be unfaithful but will deny this until they really can’t hide the truth any longer.
What A Narcissist Does At The End Of A Relationship
At the end of a relationship, narcissists will deliberately not give partners any closure, leaving them wondering if the relationship is really over and making it hard for them to move on.
They may even use manipulative techniques to try and keep the partner involved in the relationship, such as threatening to hurt themselves, to make it seem like they are the victim. Or, they may try to humiliate and degrade the partner by flaunting a new relationship.
However they go about it, they will make their exit a destructive one that always leaves a question. This can be an opening for them to ‘hoover’ the partner back up in the future. If there is still a question over whether the relationship is really over, they can return with an apology or promises of more when they think there might still be something for them to gain from returning to the relationship.
So, it can be really difficult to tell whether this time really is the last time, as the narcissist themselves might not know either! But they would rather leave their options open to cover their backs.
For narcissists, it’s all about control and if they don’t officially end a relationship, they still have some control over it. They might reach out to you months, or even years, after the relationship is finished, just to see how responsive you still are to them.
Can Narcissists Love?
There is a theory that because narcissists are incapable of loving themselves, they have contempt for people who do love them and this is why they often end up treating their romantic partners in this seemingly unloving way.
Fear of Abandonment
Narcissists are often motivated by a deep fear of abandonment and they punish the rest of the world for it. This is especially true when it comes to close personal relationships.
They can be very good at cutting off from feelings to protect themselves from hurt and pushing away feelings of love they may feel for someone. Although, it has been suggested that narcissists actually struggle to let go of relationships and that’s why they tend to keep coming back. But they don’t know how to show love because it hurts them to be so vulnerable.
The worst thing for them is revealing their real self, as it makes them more susceptible to feeling hurt and inadequate, so they run away from their feelings and push love away.
The narcissist will usually show feelings of love at the beginning of a relationship, when they are idealized by their partner and not so vulnerable. But as soon as they feel inadequate for some reason, they will push their partner away, preventing them from forming a loving connection.
Afraid Of Intimacy
Intimacy causes them to close up and become guarded, as they don’t want their partner to uncover they are not perfect. This process basically goes as follows:
- They are constantly protecting their grandiosity and feel disappointment when others do not hold them in high regard.
- They blame the relationship for their insecurities, not realizing these feelings are deeply rooted inside of them
- What follows is they protect themselves by finding fault in their partner, so they can escape these feelings.
In actual fact, although they may not seem or act like it, narcissists tend to be so vulnerable and afraid of being hurt, that they develop a defensive armor to protect them from their feelings, which gets in the way of developing intimacy.
Narcissists Are Capable of Love
However, it wouldn’t be fair to say that narcissists aren’t capable of feeling love. If you can reach a narcissist through their vulnerability, and make them feel safe so they can communicate how they feel, they can access their real feelings, and become more emotionally available for others. Narcissists can start to form empathy by being more honest about their feelings, instead of reacting to protect themselves.
So, some narcissists definitely can feel love, but in order to have a functional relationship, it may take therapy to break down their walls and defenses, so they can form empathy towards their partner and open up. The narcissist also needs to understand his or her own narcissistic tendencies in order to be in a successful love relationship.
You can read my article Can a Narcissist Fall in Love if you want to read more about this topic.
How Long Do Narcissistic Relationships Last?
Narcissistic relationships frequently do not last very long, as the narcissist will soon become insecure and reactive if they feel they aren’t getting enough adoration from their partner.
Relationships may last a few months or years but if the narcissistic tendencies aren’t healed, eventually these relationships will break down. However, if the narcissist continuously has their ego stroked, enough to keep their self-esteem fed, they can maintain a long-term relationship with one partner.
So How Do We Know The Narcissist is Done With You?
What can we say after reading all this? Because there often is no final discard, it is hard to say if and when the Narcissist is “done” with you. As long as there is some supply left for the Narcissist to gain, waiting for them to be finished with you could be a long and painful wait.
Don’t wait for the Narcissist to end the relationship if it is toxic and you are suffering. Take matters into your own hands. You are the one to decide if this should continue or if this is the last of it.
The Narcissist rarely breaks contact for good. They may ignore you for a while and try to punish you and hurt you or come back in your life when it suits them. It is up to you if you let them play their Narcissistic cycle or if you decide to stop it.
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References Used for this Article
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- (2) Exline, J. J., Baumeister, R. F., Bushman, B. J., Campbell, W. K., & Finkel, E. J. (2004). Too proud to let go: narcissistic entitlement as a barrier to forgiveness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 87(6), 894.
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- (4) Kohut, H., & Wolf, E. S. (1978). The disorders of the self and their treatment: An outline. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 59, 413-425.
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- (8) Keller, P. S., Blincoe, S., Gilbert, L. R., Dewall, C. N., Haak, E. A., & Widiger, T. (2014). Narcissism in romantic relationships: A dyadic perspective. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(1), 25-50.