To discard is to get rid of something that is useless and unwanted. In the context of a relationship, it is the ultimate form of degradation. A break-up with a malignant narcissist is characterized as a discard, because like a piece of unwanted garbage the victim of narcissistic abuse has lost their value, and the narcissist with absolutely no compunction will simply ditch the relationship like expendable trash. It’s at this point the horrifying truth that the victim has denied, minimized, rationalized or bargained with, reveals itself with full devastating force.
Indeed, at the discard stage of the relationship any illusions that one mattered in any real significant way beyond being a source of sadistic gratification and supply, are shattered.
This traumatic finale with a narcissist is inevitable.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating complex trauma and narcissistic abuse syndrome I often encounter men and women struggling to make sense out of what is referred to as the degrade and discard.
The one discarded is challenged to accept that they were nothing more than supply. Supply, a term coined in 1938 by psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel is descriptive of the narcissistic objectification of a designated target. As primary supply, the insatiable needs of the narcissist are expected to be fulfilled and uncompromising compliance and worship are demanded. Reciprocity and mutuality are prohibited. The narc views the needs of their target as a threat as they are a chosen object who is to exist solely for the narcissist’s parasitic predilections.
Of course, if this agenda was made clear from the onset few would sign up for this arrangement. The narcissist knows this. So instead, at the speed of light love bombing is executed.
The target is idealized, understood and adored like never before. The sex is incredible. The narc is charming and is such a good listener. They want to know everything about their target. Although this appears to be indicative of sincere interest, the narc is actually extracting information and figuring out what the target’s vulnerabilities are. This informs the narc who they need to be to seal the deal. Emailing, texting, video chatting, and phone calls offer constant reassurance. The compliments are effusive. Everyone from the narc’s past was crazy or disappointing, but the new supply is different. They’re special. The commitment feels solid and the bond enchanting.
Sure, the victim may have reservations, but the captivation is potent. Hence, red flags are discredited. With encouragement, the supply begins to engage in ‘future faking.’ Within weeks a life together is planned. They have names for their unborn kids. The narc and the supply du jour are ‘soul-mates’.
This stage of idealization is short lived.
Requiring constant attention and energy to relieve them from their emptiness and to procure a fleeting sense of worth, the narcissist will love bomb, manipulate, lie and abuse to ensure a steadfast, obedient continuous source of supply from primary and peripheral relationships. Unable to emotionally bond, the narcissist seeks a never-ending supply of external validation to compensate for what they lack. Relationally stuck in an infantile stage of development and mired in primitive psychological defenses (Kernberg, Kohut) the narcissist is not equipped to co-create adult love. Any digression from perfect mirroring triggers the narcissist’s depths of emptiness, primal rage and torment.
Given that narcissists are developmentally stunted, are devoid of empathy and are insatiably empty, their fragile selves cannot tolerate human flaws. Often referred to as energy vampires, narcs seek idealization in order to feed their grandiosity and illusions of control. When the narcissist experiences any perceived slight, criticism or deviation from perfection it is regarded as an unforgivable humiliating ‘injury.’ Hence, when fantasies of perfection and idealization are tainted by the inevitability of human fallibility, unbridled rage is ignited culminating in an elaborate form of retaliation. At this stage devaluation ensues.
When devaluation occurs the narcissist is on a mission to punish, control and disorient their supply for disrupting their mythic garden of Eden with human imperfection. Perhaps the supply detected red flags or voiced standard relational concerns. When this occurs the narcissists grandiose false self (Masterson) is threatened. Gaslighting ensues in an attempt to maintain control, to punish and to disorient the supply. Stonewalling, character assassination, lies, false promises and blame is interspersed with overtures of love.
By blaming, debasing, lying and cheating the narc is driven to pummel the supply into submission so as to ensure compliance by establishing a trauma bond, also known as Stockholm Syndrome.
Trauma bonding is brought about through a combination of cyclical love-bombing and abuse. These unpredictable machinations heighten sympathetic arousal, causing the victim to experience responses of fight, flight, freeze and fawning. These responses are the hallmark of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Pathological attachment takes hold as a survival strategy which enables the victim to dissociate from pain. By disowning the horror of this traumatic reality and taking on the abuser’s perspective, the victim wards off the threat of helplessness and terror actually experienced. One’s tormentor is perceived as one’s redeemer. The victim is holding on by a thread.
Often when the supply reaches a saturation point and is no longer amenable to this dynamic the narc will look elsewhere. It may actually be the consciousness of the supply that compels the narc to find ‘better’ supply. Yet it’s important to note that the narcissist will always have a ‘harem’ of supply and enablers handy. However, when the primary source of supply loses its value or purpose and becomes an unwanted primary extension she or he will be thrown away and a new replacement will be quickly procured.
This brings us to the discard.
Narcissists don’t break up. They are not capable of discussing or honoring what was shared. Hence, there is no closure. When the narc is finished with their supply they abandon and devastate. The mask completely falls and the target is left emotionally shattered and flummoxed.
Should a relationship meets its end, people with empathy leave. They don’t discard. As a result, the discarded victim is left to grapple with the crushing reality that they were never truly loved, valued or respected by the narc. It is a shocking revelation that this was how the relationship had always been and is the truth of what the relationship had always been about. It was never about sustaining ‘love.’ It was only about gratifying the insatiable needs of the narcissist.
After a period of separation the narcissist’s fear of abandonment will fuel hoovering, a term which describes ploys and strategies employed to reignite a connection. The seemingly benign resurfacing of the narc offers momentary respite from the pain of knowing it was all a complete and utter charade. This can set the discarded supply up for another tragic fall.
When the narcissist hoovers their intention is simple. They are returning to reassert possession. The supply is merely an object to cater to the narcissist’s whims. Re-establishing control and the latitude to exploit and diminish another with impunity is the narcissist’s calling card. Although the former supply has likely been replaced, the narcissist will maneuver to keep them lingering as a rain check to toy with and extract material, financial and emotional gains.
In The Pain of Accepting Love Was Not Real With a Narcissist I emphasized that, “somehow the victim of narc abuse has to accept that they were the only one in the relationship who was emotionally invested and capable of genuine compassion and love. They were alone in a fictitious fantasy, caught up in a perfidious trauma bond. Shattering these illusions amidst relentless hoovering is not an easy task.”
Keeping this in mind is essential to remembering that returning to a narcissist is to be degraded and discarded time and time again. Yet as I conveyed in Why Victims Reunite with their Narcissistic Abuser, victims often reunite with the source of their pain in order to cease the jarring sense of derealization, the humiliation, and the circuitous debilitating obsessions. Tragically most victims of narcissistic abuse are seeking that redemptive gesture of mattering to the narcissist that keeps that door slightly ajar just in case. Capitulating to the narcissist’s efforts to re-engage will lead to worse abuse as this further enhances the narcissist’s disdain and feelings of superiority.
In truth, the final discard necessitates the former supply having a plan of attack. Temptation does not mean opportunity. As with any drug, in order to establish recovery the target needs to refuse to participate in this toxic relationally addictive pattern. This means preparing for a period of detox and regulation and keeping in mind that reclaiming one’s essential worth and sanity depends on detaching with an ax and never going back. Maintaining this conviction may require taking legal action, seeing a therapist who specializes in narc abuse and having daily contact with survivors through web forums. Whatever is necessary, it is critical to accept that making the discard one’s last is a life changing and pivotal step towards ever salvaging a future of happiness and stability.