The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
If you've been trying to learn about narcissism, you've probably already heard about the dreaded discard. You may have even experienced it. "Discard" means to throw something away and it is usually the final stage of the relationship with a pathologically narcissistic person. There are three stages.
The first stage is idealization, where the other person is idealized by the narcissist as perfect and amazing and wonderful, a soulmate, a kindred spirit, the only one who understands. This lasts for varying periods of time and is usually characterized by love-bombing, which is exactly what it sounds like: the victim is bombarded with affection, concern and all of the things that they believe they are looking for in a relationship. It's usually intense and moves very quickly. People feel swept off their feet and though they may notice red flags in this stage of the relationship, they are more likely to ignore them or try to explain them away.
The second stage of the relationship is the devaluation stage. This is when the honeymoon is over. No longer perfect in the eyes of the narcissist, the other person now finds themselves to be the target of the narcissist's rage, condescension, frustration, fear, hysteria or abuse. The devaluation stage often starts slowly, getting worse and worse over time until the person finds they can now do nothing right. Everything they say is wrong. Everything they do is bad. All of their motives are evil. All of their feelings are hateful - when they matter at all. The perfect partner has now become a perfect nightmare and they cannot figure out what has gone wrong.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that most relationships with pathologically narcissistic people swing back and forth between idealization and devaluation. One minute you are the greatest thing that ever happened to them and the next minute, you've ruined their life. Throw in a few epiphanies, which is where the narcissist seems to suddenly see the light and realize everything they've done wrong and it's no wonder people are so confused and unsettled by these relationships.
Alternating between idealization and devaluation can go on for years, often with the idealization stage becoming shorter and shorter, until the relationship is nothing but nonstop abuse and problems almost every day. The narcissist is combative all the time, accusatory, aggressive, provocative and nasty, or maybe they are silent and cold, ignoring the other person completely except when they need something. There may be a break in the devaluation when the narcissist feels insecure or when they want something, but mostly the relationship is abusive and invalidating.
There is no set time limit for how long this will go on. In some situations it ends in discard within six months, and in some it goes on for 30 years. When discard does occur, it is usually for one of three reasons.
1. The cycles (and the victim) have ultimately become so boring or redundant to the narcissist that they don't care to bother anymore
2. The victim is so exhausted and emotionally depleted that they no longer react to the narcissist, which results in the narcissist losing interest
3. The narcissist has found a new source of supply that isn't on to their game yet
When the cycles or the victim have become boring, narcissists will likely look for something else to stimulate them. This could be new people, new situations, or anything else that will light up their dials. The same old arguments or control with the same old person or people just isn't satisfying anymore. It may be that they've broken the person down so completely there is no challenge anymore, or conversely, that they have never been able to assert control over the person and have decided it's not worth bothering. Many narcissists are a paradox in that way; they would like someone to be submissive and easy to control, yet they often lose interest when that happens. In the same way, if a person will not knuckle under at all, they can lose interest in that as well because they are not getting what they want.
If the person becomes so burned out that they are no longer able to react the way the narcissistic person wants them to, this can also result in the narcissist losing interest. This happens all the time. You can only listen to the same hysteria and threats for so long before it just stops upsetting you. Your body cannot stay in such a heightened state. It gets burned out and stops reacting. When this happens, it is often taken by the narcissist as a sign that someone no longer cares for them, and that they are not important to the person any longer. They want people to react to them, to their tantrums, their provocations, their silent treatments, their nasty remarks. They use this to gauge how much they matter. If someone stops reacting, a pathologically narcissistic person will often take that to mean that they no longer have any power or control in this situation and are no longer important. They will then be more likely to seek out a situation where they can feel those things again.
Regardless of how bored or unimportant the narcissist feels in their current situation, they are unlikely to leave it if they don't have a new one lined up. Narcissists use other people as resources, to obtain attention or energy from them - what is often called supply - that they can then process into self-worth because they have no way to create or sustain it on their own. This is absolutely vital to their survival. Narcissists that are cut off from supply bottom out and decompensate, often becoming suicidal or breaking from reality and becoming psychotic. Because of this, bad or weak supply is better than none at all, so they are unlikely to leave without a new resource.
Sometimes, even if the relationship has not gotten boring, a narcissist will jump ship for a new source of supply because the new one is not "tainted" by imperfect opinions of them. Once the initial perfect idealization stage of the relationship has ended and devaluation has begun - when the honeymoon is over, in other words - narcissists may jump at the chance to gain supply from a new perfect source. Not only does the old source of supply see the narcissist as flawed and no longer perfect, the narcissist sees the source of supply as flawed as well. In a relationship with someone other than a narcissist, this would be fine. But for narcissistic people, it's intolerable. A new person or people who have no previous experience with the narcissist and therefore no negative ideas about the narcissist is seen as ideal - just as the victim was initially seen.
The narcissist will likely eventually destroy this new relationship or situation, too, as they do all the others in their life. But until that happens, they would prefer untainted, perfect supply over any others. That's why the supply of strangers is often more important than the supply of their families. Those strangers know nothing of the narcissistic person and therefore, they have no bad ideas about the narcissist. The supply that comes from strangers is purer than the supply coming from people that know who and what the narcissist really is. It supports the false self they project on to the world, because these people have no way to know the truth.
The Bottom Line
Regardless of the reasons they give, the truth is that pathologically narcissistic people only have relationships in order to gain this attention or energy they can process into self-worth. There is no other reason. They are not interested in companionship or friendship for it's own sake, and they could care less about the needs of other people. Therefore, if the supply runs out, their interest in the relationship does, too. Sometimes people try to be the perfect supply in the hopes of keeping the relationship, but they soon find that there is no such thing. Part of the reason you are in the relationship is so that you can be the scapegoat for everything the narcissist needs to blame on others so that they can still keep believing in the false persona they project onto the world. They're not mistaken or wrong or incorrect or abusive or stupid. You are. Because of this, you cannot be seen as perfect. Ever.
If you've been discarded, remember that it has nothing to do with you or who you are and everything to do with who the narcissist wishes they could be.