Toxic Abuse in Relationships: Inside the Narcissist’s Devalue and Discard Phases

Written by Angela Atkinson

There are three main phases that people who are in relationships with toxic narcissists can expect to experience.  The love-bombing (or idealization) phase, the devalue phase and the discard phase.

The cycle of abuse may also include a “hoovering” phase that follows the discard.Often the narcissistic cycle of abuse is repeated over and over again throughout the relationship.

You might also like to read Take Back Your Life – a guide to overcoming gaslighting and narcissism in relationships.

About the Love Bombing (Idealization) Phase

We discussed love bombing recently. Love bombing is also known as the idealization or courtship phase in a toxic relationship.

Here’s more info about the idealization phase.

Today, we are going to dig into the emotions and specific kinds of behavior that happen inside of the last and most painful part of the cycle: devaluation and discarding.

What is Devaluation in Narcissistic Abuse?

Devaluation is what is happening when a narcissist tears you down emotionally, insults you (outright or covertly), and makes you doubt yourself and your self-worth. This is done as part of the cycle of abuse and when effective, it can cause you to believe you don’t have a chance of finding someone better, or that you’re not worthy of love or consideration.

The malignant narcissist will often use devaluation (as part of the “devalue” phase) to keep you from leaving by implanting negative and false beliefs and ideas about yourself in your head. Some narcissists (those on the “higher” end of the cluster B spectrum of personality disorders who may also be sociopathic or psychopathic) do this on purpose and with full intent and knowledge of their plan to manipulate you.  Those on the “lower-end” of the cluster B spectrum often don’t even recognize they’re doing it since it’s part of the standard cycle of abuse. They’re just behaving in a way that feels natural to them. And sadly, devaluation can happen to a “thing” just as easily as a person when a narcissist is involved.

Devalue and Discard: The Painful Part of the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse

You’ve been walking on eggshells for a while now, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the narcissist. They are no longer even polite to you, much less kind. You often find yourself wondering what happened to the amazing person you first met.

These days, you feel like you can’t do anything right. In fact, literally, nothing you say, do, think, or feel is acceptable to them. And as always, the narcissist makes sure you know it. Everything you do elicits the same kinds of responses: anger, irritation, “justified” rage. At some point, you will have learned the hard way that you need to keep your mouth shut, or that you need to react a certain way to minimize this narcissistic rage.

If you call out the narcissist on this behavior – or, God forbid, you somehow prove them wrong, watch out. That’s when they will go ballistic, pulling no punches, digging deep to find a way to hurt you.

During the devalue and discard phases, the narcissist will painfully insult you, picking at your most profound psychological wounds. They will do everything in the power to make sure you know that not only is it your fault but that you are in fact SO flawed and defective that you obviously DESERVE the treatment they’ve been dishing out.

(For the record, that is completely false.) But either way, the narcissist might even tell you, in no uncertain terms and right to your face, that you are so bad/lazy/fat/whore-like that you deserve the way they’re treating you.

They will make it clear that, as far as they’re concerned, you’re not important, and you’re certainly not worth their time. They will imply and even outright say that they don’t respect you. And in every single case, they will minimize anything that really matters to you.

Can your love help the narcissist change?

Meanwhile, you teeter on a precipice somewhere between emotional numbness, deep-down (actually) righteous anger, and hope. You have by now recognized that this phase might end, at least for a while. You know that there’s a cycle in an abusive relationship, and you know that there are bits and pieces of “good” that come with this person. The unfortunate thing is that you also know that there is far more of the painful stuff than the good stuff (at least sometimes). But maybe the good stuff is SO good that you decide to keep trying. Maybe you think that one day you will help them change – or that “when” something happens (“when” the mortgage is paid off, “when” the kids move out, “when” you finally figure out how to be perfect, etc.), THEN they’ll change.

Maybe you think that if you love them hard enough, they will just choose to change. I wish I could tell you that was true. But unfortunately, the truth is that this is probably not going to happen – because narcissists typically do not change. But either way, this ongoing pattern of intermittent reinforcement keeps you hoping – and it keeps you from moving on, which is exactly what the narcissist wants. You hope that this soul-crushing phase will end soon. But every time you get your hopes up for more than a minute, you’re quickly brought back to reality when he next spits his venom at you.

You Start to Go Numb…

Your mind stops thinking as clearly. You find yourself zoning out when they start winding up to another “episode” of abuse. You’re doing this because, in order to survive without going completely insane (which the narcissist seems to be pushing you toward with all of the gaslighting you’re dealing with), you’re learning to stop being as directly affected by this narcissistic abuse by finding a place to go, in your head at least. You literally zone out and just go numb when they start raging on you. You can’t stand to do anything else.

Related: Understanding narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury

If the threats and fear tactics don’t work the way they hope, the narcissist may shift to behaving like a victim. That’s when he will stop being actively aggressive and switch to a more passive way to manipulate. This is the narcissistic injury tactic.

At this point, life is going to be very difficult for you. You’re likely on your way to being subjected to even more gaslighting and a bunch of other sneaky forms of manipulation.

Related: 44 ways a narcissist might be emotionally abusing you

This often leads to the silent treatment – one of a narcissist’s go-to tools. They will ignore you, withhold affection and call you crazy for desperately trying to fix whatever it is that they’re saying or implying is wrong – even if you have no idea what you’ve done this time.

In the end, the narcissist may leave you, temporarily or permanently. Or, the cycle may begin again – many narcissists go back to the courtship phase following the discard phase.

Related: Portrait of a Codependent

The Abuse Cycle Repeats Before It Ends

If you’re one of the “lucky” ones, the narcissist comes back, or they never actually leave. Even if they do leave you, they might not stop abusing you. In either case, once the devalue and discard phases end, you are left reeling. The first several times you experience this part of the cycle, you’ll come out feeling like you were the one who was wrong. Maybe you WERE expecting too much/overreacting/otherwise wrong. Maybe he DID have a point. Maybe you DO need to become a completely different person.

Related: Top 10 Warning Signs You’re Being Gaslighted 

But over time, as the cycle repeats, again and again, you find yourself doubting everything. You begin to notice that nothing ever changes, you just continue the toxic cycle. The cycle is destroying you, one abuse episode at a time. You feel completely lost and you don’t understand why the narcissist has to hurt you.

Related: Inside a Gaslighting Attack

When You Realize You’re Dealing With a Malignant Narcissist, You Can’t Unsee It.

Now that you know what you’re dealing with, you’ve got things to consider. And you’ve got a choice to make. Do you stick it out, or not? While a lot of people will instantly tell you that you’ve got to leave, there are things you need to consider first. Maybe leaving isn’t an immediate option for you, or maybe you’re just not ready to consider the idea yet.

(For the record, if you are, you should download my free PLANning (Planning to Leave A Narcissist) Toolkit)

Related: Look inside the toxic, twisted mind of the narcissist 

In your head, you know a narcissist can change their ways about as surely as a zebra can change its stripes. (Highly unlikely in both cases.) But your heart may be arguing with you. Because your heart finds something deep within the narcissist that is loveable. And, if we’re being honest, because you are probably dealing with trauma bonding.

Find out if you’re dealing with a trauma bond to the narcissist by taking this trauma bonding self-assessment.

Related: Why you are still in a relationship with a narcissist 

When You Recognize You’re Dealing with Narcissistic Abuse

As you go forward, you need to take time to decide if you want to continue the relationship. If you are relatively sure the person you’re dealing with is a toxic, malignant narcissist, then you know they are unlikely to change. So, again, you have to decide for sure if this is something you can live with forever – because this abuse cycle is going to go on for as long as the narcissist remains capable of it.

But please understand this: you are not obligated to keep this person in your life! You have the right to have a life that doesn’t make you miserable. Truly, the most important thing to remember is that you’ve got every right to be happy. I don’t mean just “okay” or “not being hit” – I mean you have the right to feel SAFE and HAPPY in your home and in your day-to-day life. You deserve to have peace in your home, and you deserve to be able to feel entirely comfortable in the place you spend your time.

In other words, if the narcissist cannot allow you to do that, or if they otherwise negatively affect your ability to find your bliss, you need to decide if their happiness is more important than your own. And then comes the hard part. You’ve got to take action.

Do you recognize yourself or a loved one in the above situations? You might be dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship. Not sure you’re dealing with a narcissist? Take this free self-assessment to find out. 

Get Help WIth Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

These resources will help you with your narcissistic abuse recovery.

These articles might also be of interest if you’re struggling with narcissistic abuse recovery.


  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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