Understanding Narcissistic Discard

Have you ever felt like a mere plaything in the hands of a narcissist? Do you feel like they used you for a while and then discarded you as if you meant nothing to them? There's a name for this behavior. You can find out about it here.
Understanding Narcissistic Discard
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 23 May, 2024

An unwritten rule says that about 60 percent of people will suffer narcissistic discard at some point in their lives. It’s the moment when the narcissist rejects and abandons them, like someone discarding an object that’s no longer of any interest or use to them. Maybe you recognize this experience?

In fact, many people seek psychological help after being abandoned by a narcissist. They do it because they feel like they were manipulated and used as the narcissist’s puppet. Indeed, the emotional trauma left by this type of relationship is deep and painful. If you’ve been a victim, no doubt you’ll be interested in learning some more about narcissistic discard.

People with narcissistic personality disorder don’t usually have long-term relationships.

Narcissistic discard

Some people only possess certain narcissistic traits, like egoism and feelings of superiority. On the other hand, there are those who are defined by full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. It’s these individuals who cause more harmful interpersonal damage. They’re characterized by the ability to build relationships that hardly ever last.

This is highlighted in an investigation published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Many of us will have suffered from these experiences. Not only do narcissists have doctorates in boycotting and manipulating relationships, but these harmful dynamics are also frequent in the family, work, and friendship spheres.

This explains why psychology coined the term narcissistic discard. It refers to when narcissists abruptly cut off their relationships with us, leaving us with the feeling that we’ve been used.

What remains is the conviction of having merely been a means to an end, a hobby, or a disposable object to be replaced by another. But, why does it happen?

Man ignoring a woman due to narcissistic dismissal
Narcissists often see others as objects to be thrown away when they’re no longer interested in them.

The cause of narcissistic discard

When you’re discarded by a narcissist, the first thing you tend to think about is what you did wrong for it to happen. This is a really common feeling. But, it isn’t correct, because a victim is never guilty of causing their own pain. It’s the one who harms that’s to blame. In this case, the narcissist.

So, why do narcissists discard others so quickly and disrespectfully? Why are they apparently unable to maintain long-term relationships?

  • The moment someone no longer validates or nurtures a narcissist’s ego, they’re no longer useful to them.
  • If an individual stops being submissive and easy to handle, the narcissist loses interest in them.
  • Narcissists lack emotional responsibility. Consequently, they can’t take care of long-term relationships.
  • These personalities only act for their own ends. Therefore, if someone no longer fulfills a purpose, they leave them by the wayside.
  • Their empathy is instrumental. This means they connect with other people’s emotions to manipulate them. They never feel another’s pain.
  • Discarding is also explained by the desire to find ‘something better’ as soon as possible. For example, people who are more stimulating or who are of benefit to the narcissist.
  • Research conducted by the Queensland University of Technology (Australia) claims that many narcissists suffered emotional deficiencies in their childhood. Although this doesn’t justify their treatment of their relationships in adulthood, it helps to understand the complex effects of parenting based on distant or insecure attachment styles.

If a narcissist writes you off, it’s never final. They usually come back. This is defined as ‘hoovering’.

Narcissistic discard is part of a cycle

Narcissistic discard forms part of a cycle of abuse by these figures. Moreover, it’s not the last stage. In fact, narcissists believe that anyone might prove to be useful in the near future. Therefore, they never completely abandon anyone. As such, they leave the door ajar, configuring a sophisticated technique of emotional abuse.

Now, take a look at the cycle of narcissistic abuse and how you can identify each of these phases.

1. Idealization

Narcissists have an innate ability to dazzle, cajole, and make you believe that you’ve found your ideal partner. But, be careful, because, in the circuit of their abuse technique, the most important stage is to captivate their victims. These are people who, for whatever reason, arouse their interest. Here’s what they do:

  • They’ll get to know things about you.
  • They won’t hesitate to tell you that you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to them.
  • They’ll be friendly, caring, and interested in everything that you’re passionate about.
  • They’ll make you believe that there’s a magical kind of harmony between you.
  • They have a chameleonic personality. Therefore, it’s not difficult for them to convey to you the idea they have the same interests as you.

Victims of narcissists often experience psychological trauma. They feel angry about what happened and shame for not reacting sooner.

2. Devaluation

Before the narcissistic discard, there’s a winding path. To your surprise, they suddenly start to criticize and humiliate you. You stop being their ideal and they start to attack you. This reinforces their ego. Devaluations give them power and become constant. They’ll also tend to:

  • Infantilize you.
  • Make you believe that there’s something wrong with you.
  • Compare you with others.
  • Devalue your tastes, virtues, and strengths.
  • Convince you that you’re dependent on them.
  • Make you the main supply for their ego and self-esteem.
  • Isolate you from your friends and family.

3. Narcissistic discard

Narcissistic discard is the third stage of the abuse cycle. It’s the moment when, after a period of mistreatment and contempt, they suddenly discard you with no word of explanation.

The most complex thing is that you experience narcissistic discard in a traumatic way because you’ve become dependent on them and are no longer capable of looking out for yourself. The following are important aspects of this phase:

  • Abandonment happens hastily and even violently.
  • Often, narcissistic discard occurs because they’ve already found another person who’s more interesting to them.
  • Your identity depended on them, along with your self-esteem, which is now broken. This makes you experience their abandonment as really disturbing.

4. Hoovering, the return

The narcissist, like the protagonist in a bad horror movie, always comes back. When they return, they feed emotionally on you, because they’re alone and have no one to polish their rusty ego. In this part of the cycle the narcissist will:

  • Return and asks for forgiveness for what happened.
  • Promise to change, only to usher in a new series of abusive behaviors.
  • Lavish attention on you once more, if you let them
  • Say how unwise they were to leave you and how bad things have been for them ever since.

You might also be interested in Do Narcissists Make You Sick?

Woman doing psychological therapy due to narcissistic discard
Therapy helps heal the wound caused by narcissistic discard.

How to heal narcissistic discard

If you’ve suffered narcissistic discard, you need to know how to heal the wound of this traumatic relationship. Usually, these harmful links leave countless psychological injuries behind. Guilt and shame weigh heavily. You might ask yourself how you could’ve fallen into the trap and why you miss them so much when they treated you so badly.

After any experience of psychological abuse, it’s advisable to start therapy with a professional. They can help you repair your self-esteem, strengthen your identity, and recover your strength. Finally, it’s worth remembering that anyone, regardless of gender, social status, or life history, can fall victim to a narcissist. So, if you’ve been abandoned, work on yourself so you don’t get caught again in this harmful trap.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.