Narcissists are notorious for “recycling” their relationships. So, how can you tell when a relationship with a narcissist is really over? WHEN do you know for sure that you’re experiencing the “final discard” at the hands of a narcissist?
What is it like to be in a relationship with a narcissist?
If you’ve been in a relationship with a pathological narcissist, you know what it feels like to feel crazy. You’ve found yourself riddled with anxiety, emotionally destroyed. While you might not like to admit it, you’ve probably doubted your sanity as you attempted to figure out what was going on. Maybe you even felt like the relationship was doomed but didn’t know why or what the narcissist would do next.
Unfortunately, the most confusing part of becoming enmeshed in a toxic relationship like this is that not only can narcissists seem to be exciting and delightful, but they are also highly confusing, incredibly superficial, and they can be outrageously deceptive. Worse, regardless of its nature, nearly any long-term relationship with a narcissist can lead to long-term traumatic effects.
What is the narcissistic abuse cycle?
Most malignant narcissists have a particular cycle of abuse that they repeat throughout their lives with every relationship they experience, regardless of the type of relationship. The cycle includes an initial period of idealization, or love bombing, followed by a process of devaluing and emotionally destroying you. After that, you’ll experience a discard phase, which could be the actual end of the relationship, or just a temporary breakup or even a period of passive-aggression, emotional abuse, and/or silent treatment within the relationship. After that, there’s a common thing that happens – and it’s the very reason it’s so difficult to know for sure when the narcissist is done with you and your relationship.
Why is it so hard to tell when it’s over with a narcissist?
The problem for most survivors of narcissistic abuse is the fourth phase of a narcissist’s abuse cycle – the part where they try to suck you back into the relationship. We call that the “hoover maneuver,” which can involve repeating the love-bombing phase, but not always. Sometimes, the narcissist will create drama or feign illness or injury to get your attention. Other times, the hoover can begin with a simple “butt-dial” or “accidental text.” Anything it takes to get your attention back. And since this is such a common occurrence in toxic relationships, you often feel like you can never be entirely free of the narcissist – even when you don’t want them to come back.
How do you know when you’ve experienced the narcissist’s final discard?
How can you tell it’s over with a narcissist? There is no way to hide the fact that a narcissist discards people in their life. The warning signs are unmistakable. What is so difficult is that the final discard often happens after a period during which you think everything will be okay. It might even appear to be a reconciliation between the two of you. This is why, so often, when a narcissist has discarded you, you’re left confused and reeling.
So what are the criteria for a relationship with a narcissist to end? How do you know it’s really over?
Consider your position in the ‘circle of narcissistic supply.’
You aren’t the primary source of narcissistic supply.
While this is not always a sign that the narcissist won’t come back, there’s a greater chance that the narcissist will permanently move on if you aren’t the “primary” source of narcissistic supply. In other words, you’re someone they’re not married to or someone with whom they do not have a public relationship. If you’ve had an affair with the narcissist, they’re more likely, though not entirely guaranteed, to walk away permanently.
You are the primary source of narcissistic supply, but another supply has stepped into your place.
Remember: once the novelty of the relationship has passed, the narcissist only cares about what you can do for them. So, if another person has started taking care of the things that you used to do for the narcissist, there is a far greater chance that they will stay away, at least for a while.
Consider the narcissist’s behavior and patterns.
While there does seem to be a playbook for narcissistic abuse, every narcissist is still an individual who may have their own patterns and behaviors separate from their personality disorder. Still, certain signs of the final discard are common among narcissists and people with narcissistic personality disorder (as well as other abusers with narcissistic traits who haven’t been diagnosed) – and they are likely to stand out if you’re looking for them.
Typically, the discard is part of the cycle of abuse, and it follows the devaluation period. The narcissist will start picking you apart, and if this is the first time it happens, it can feel devastating and confusing. On the other hand, if you’ve been in the relationship long enough to know the cycle, you might be prepared to hunker down and get through it as you wait for the next “good” part.
- The narcissist will stop being nice to you altogether before the final discard. While they will repeatedly abandon you throughout the relationship with little discards, the final discard will feel slightly different. The narcissist might cross a line they never have before. For example, they might become physically aggressive when they haven’t before. As always, they will blame you for their behavior – but please note: no matter how “terrible” they claim you’ve been, there is never an excuse for physical abuse or aggression in any relationship.
- When the narcissist realizes and accepts that they cannot own you, that they can no longer dominate you, and that you will not allow them to drain you any longer, they will walk away and stay away. But truthfully, that kind of awareness is quite rare for someone who has NPD.
The bottom line? A narcissist is finished with a relationship when they no longer need you. Still, while the final discard is a reality in many situations, there’s never a guarantee the narcissist won’t return to hoover you back into the relationship on some level or to secure you as a backup form of narcissistic supply at the very least.
With all of that being said, there’s only really one way to ensure that you’re done with the narcissist for good.
How can I be sure that the narcissist will leave me alone?
If you want to end it once and for all, you’ve got to take your power back and fast! The truth is that the discard is final when you decide that you are done with the toxic relationship and done with the narcissist.
If you want the narcissist out and want it to be over, you have to be the one to put an end to it. You can go no contact with them and never consider going back. Of course, you’ll need to go low contact and use the gray rock method when you must communicate with them. This is only applicable if you have children or other legal reasons, you must remain in contact. Otherwise, don’t bother! Now, you can block them on social media and block their calls to safeguard yourself from feeling triggered to return to the abusive relationship.
And, remember that no matter what they say, you cannot be friends with a narcissistic ex. They will continue to use you as a source of narcissistic supply, and you’ll find yourself feeling even more miserable than you did when you were with them.
But when you take control, you won’t need to worry about what happens if the narcissist wants you back. If the narcissist discards you, my suggestion is to do whatever grieving you need to do (and you WILL need to grieve the relationship, regardless of how toxic it has been), and then consider the discard a blessing in disguise. Then, when you can discover or rediscover your power and value, you can heal yourself and begin to choose what comes next in your life.
Are you dealing with being discarded by a narcissist?
If you feel you need additional help and support in your narcissistic abuse recovery, look for a trauma-informed professional trained in helping people who are dealing with overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships. Depending on your particular situation, you might benefit from Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching, or you might do better with a therapist. But, first, you have to decide what to do from here – if you’re unsure, start with my free Narcissistic Abuse Recovery quiz. With your results will come recommended resources for your situation. It’s totally free.
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- Get a therapist who will work with you online. Check out our guide to finding a therapist or psychologist who understands narcissism and narcissistic abuse.