Relationships with narcissists follow a familiar pattern that begins the moment you meet them. Most often they will attempt to charm you and shower you with flattery. These traits make the narcissist popular, as they boost the ego of their target. This early stage is called the idealization phase, when they are deeply in love with you and how you make them feel.
Don’t assume that praise will last though, as the narcissist slowly introduces slights and insults into the relationship that are intended to devalue you and your self-worth. In this stage, the narcissist shows their true self, one which is no longer enamored with you but desires to control you. This is a desperate attempt to boost their ego, to regain the feelings they felt earlier in the relationship.
Once the narcissist has completely broken you down and you can no longer fuel their ego, they will discard you. This phase leaves the partner feeling worthless and confused, wondering what they could have done differently to salvage the relationship. In reality, no amount of effort would have changed the relationship’s outcome, as the narcissist is always looking for new victims to pad their ego.
This kind of love, as Jungian analyst Robert Johnson once said, “is always directed at our own projections, our own expectations, our own fantasies . . . It is a love not of another person, but of ourselves.”
What is the Narcissist Discard Phase?
Narcissist discard can take many forms and happens at varying times for different narcissists, but it is inevitable for those in a relationship with a narcissist. Let’s start from the beginning to see how we reach the discard phase.
As mentioned before, the initial phase of a relationship with a narcissistic feels wonderful – some describe it as intoxicating. You’re showered with praise, gifts, and affection (known as love-bombing); this is when the narcissist is at their best and they appear to be forming a genuine connection with you. Unfortunately, the love-bombing has little to do with you and a lot to do with exhilaration the narcissist is feeling about themselves.
Joy never lasts for the narcissist though, and the only way for them to retain that initial pleasure is by exerting power over you. They will belittle, criticize, and control you as a way to enhance their self-image. They can only feel good by cutting others down.
Like an addict that builds up a tolerance, even this level of control can no longer boost the narcissist’s ego in the way they so desperately need. This is when the discard happens – you’re tossed aside in favor of someone new, someone who can provide that initial high they desperately need.
The Narcissistic Discard Signs
For those unfamiliar with narcissists and their ways, the discard phase might seem like the inevitable end to a failed relationship. After weeks, months, or even years of being devalued, victims of narcissistic abuse often believe that they deserve to be left. In this emotional and mental state, the victim may not even notice that the discard is just over the horizon. These are some of the most common signs that a discard is in the near future.
They Look for Someone New
Narcissists require praise and ego-boosting, so they’re not likely to discard you before finding a new person that can provide those things. If your partner is preoccupied with texts and calls from friends or coworkers you weren’t previously aware of, this is likely the first sign of an upcoming discard.
Affection Comes to a Screeching Halt
Even when the narcissist is belittling and controlling your every move, they’re sure to provide you with the occasional compliment or affectionate gesture just to keep you on the hook. When they’re ready to discard you, these positive actions are completely absent. You no longer serve a purpose to them.
They Stop Trying
Narcissists are experts at controlling their world, but that control takes a serious amount of effort. The lies they tell you about themselves and yourself need consistency to remain believable. When the discard phase comes around they don’t even attempt to keep their lies straight. Time is short for this relationship and controlling you isn’t even worth the effort anymore.
What does a narcissist do when he is ready to discard you?
The build-up to a discard can last weeks or even months as the narcissist preps you for the final phase. The way this phase plays out is largely determined by how far along you are in your relationship with the narcissist.
If you’re not living together, there’s a good chance they’ll simply pick a fight, blame you for the relationship’s failure, and then say something to make you feel awful about yourself. Then they’ll cut off all contact (if you’re lucky).
Things get a lot more complicated if you share finances, children, or a home with the narcissist. The discard phase will be a drawn-out process where you’re made to feel worthless and undeserving of any of the things you shared. When they finally do leave, by moving out or divorcing you, they’ll be in a better position to take everything, leaving you with only feelings of self-doubt.
What Happens in the Discard Phase?
The narcissist final discard occurs when they finally have squeezed every last ounce of joy and self-worth from you. They’ve grown bored of the relationship and you serve no further purpose.
One of the initial symptoms of an impending discard is the silent treatment. Narcissists thrive on attention and when someone goes silent on us, our first instinct is to ask them what’s wrong. Many take this time to apologize for perceived slights, anything to get the narcissist to open up and have a dialogue. Unfortunately, those are things a narcissist can never do, and won’t even attempt to fake during a discard. The silent treatment is just the first step though.
In the next step, the narcissist severs any bonds that might remain. They will pin blame on you, explaining in detail how you failed them as a partner. At no point will they take any responsibility for their role in ending their relationship. Instead, they highlight how they were the victim and how you’ll fail in every subsequent relationship.
This last past is important as they need you to see yourself as unlovable. This leaves the door open just a crack, so they might return at a later date once they’ve completely drained another partner or just need a momentary self-esteem boost.
Will a Narcissist Return After a Discard?
The sad truth is they almost certainly will return. The discard, especially the first one, is just a way of devaluing you as a person and exerting further control. Their hope is that once you realize how little you mean to them, you will work even harder to please them.
Recognizing the narcissist discard phase and its meaning allows you an opportunity to break the cycle before the relationship gets even worse. You can call the narcissist’s bluff and accept the end of the relationship. When the narcissist comes back believing they can reel you in again, let them know they are no longer welcome in your life.
The negative words they devalued you with can be used to justify why the relationship is no longer viable. This will undoubtedly anger the narcissist, but in the long run, it will save you considerable heartache.
Why Does a Narcissist Discard?
To those who have experienced it, the discard feels incredibly cold and makes little sense. To the narcissist though, the discard is a necessary component to preserving their self image.
This idealized version of themselves is only possible in the initial stages of the relationship when you’re only aware of the side of them that they’ve chosen to share. Moving into a more intimate phase of the relationship is painful for narcissists as it requires them to reveal their faults and accept that their idealized self is a false perception.
Narcissists devalue their partner as a short-term coping mechanism; their flaws feel less visible when they’re constantly reminding you of yours. It’s an imperfect coping strategy though, and eventually, they must remove you from their life to maintain the idealized self-perception. Now that you know some of their flaws though, they must discredit you and prevent you from informing others of their weaknesses.
How the Narcissist Justifies Discard
Narcissists will often justify their departure from the relationship by saying that you have changed. In all likelihood, this is untrue, but it may feel true to the narcissist as they aren’t feeling the same high they initially got from the relationship.
Narcissists are incapable of developing a deeper relationship through intimacy, a necessary component to a sustainable connection. Every new relationship is a countdown to zero, at which point they become bored and unsatisfied, longing for a new partner to enhance their self-worth.
How to Cope with a Narcissist Discard
Assuming the narcissist is actually done with you, the narcissist discard phase can be a blessing in disguise. You can finally be free of their controlling behaviors and hurtful words, but in the moment, a discard feels pretty awful. These are some of the most effective coping strategies for getting through this difficult time.
Feel Your Feelings
The narcissist discard phase is so painful and confusing because it seems easy for the narcissist to toss you aside; they appear totally lacking in emotion. You don’t have to be though. Your pain is real and you have a right to experience your feelings. Just don’t dwell on why this discard occurred.
Recognize That It’s Not Your Fault
Narcissists are experts at deflecting blame, making you feel like the failure of the relationship is entirely your fault. There’s nothing you could do to save it though, as the failure comes from the narcissist’s inability to care about anyone besides themselves.
Learn from It
Being in a relationship with a narcissist is a traumatic experience, one that you don’t want to repeat. Fortunately, having known a narcissist, you should be better able to spot one in the future and avoid a similar experience.
What Happens When You Discard the Narcissist First?
Narcissists, by definition, have a need to control people, which means breaking it off with them before they’re ready will almost certainly turn out ugly. As they haven’t reached the narcissist discard phase, your presence (and submission to them) is a major source of self-worth for them.
Discarding them first is a major blow to their self-esteem; to counteract this loss of face, they will do whatever they can to devalue you. This can take the form of:
- Boasting about a new relationship and how well their life is going with the intent of showing how little you meant to them. However, this is also common when the narcissist discards first.
- Gaslighting, which is where the narcissist twists the situation to make themselves look like the victim and you’re left confused about what is real and what isn’t.
- Threats and insults that let the victim know they will suffer greatly by leaving the narcissist. Many victims of narcissistic abuse are afraid of losing friends and family members when the narcissist claims they can be turned against them.
- Relaying messages through friends. While this might seem innocuous, such roundabout communication makes their victim feel like everyone around them is repeating the words of their abuser. This leaves them feeling lonely and disconnected.
Leaving a narcissist is never easy, but in the long run, it’s probably for the best. The narcissist will eventually leave you alone as they move on to their next victim who will provide them with a newfound well of ego-boosting attention.