Covert narcissism: Why do narcissists discard?

Firstly, if you are in this toxic relationship, the discard may begin when you start 'waking up'.


By this, l mean you get a sense that something isn’t quite right. This is an awareness of a pattern that occurs with them and their behaviour and with yourself/your relationship history.

Covert narcissism and the discard phase

This awareness may happen when:

  • You are asking questions. And they sense within these questions that there is an expected mutuality.
  • They take; they don’t give. And if they feel you have expectations of give and take (where your values and needs are to be considered by them), they're unlikely to deliver.
  • If you comment on their behaviour - yes it can be even one single comment.
  • If you are face to face with them or in their company; you may see their true self just for a fleeting moment. When you say something they really don’t like, your gut will register this. It is quite a scary feeling, and thereafter you will be made to pay for that.
  • They will sense they are visible (to you) - that there are cracks in their mask that have been seen. They can’t bear to be rumbled. When l say “can’t bear”, l mean literally it is unbearable for them to be seen without their mask down. And we're not talking about the Covid variety of masks here, but their façade!

If you call them out, it is known as narcissistic injury. They now will have less incentive to 'act nice'. In their eyes, you will deserve to be hurt by them - either by ongoing devaluation or immediate discard. There are also many variants of discard, but they will all contain utter justification for the involved cruelty.

If you are dating, this can also be delivered by blocking you on WhatsApp and all social media - as well as you never hearing from them again! No closure, no conversation, no talking, nothing! An empty space as if they have disappeared from the face of the earth. Or they won’t reply to your messages, but they will open them so you can see they’ve been read or listened to. Still nothing back from them - super ghosting you into a spiral of confusion and hurt. 

If this is the case, and this is sadly very common in the dating arena now (and mostly the reason why l get contacted by people looking for answers and support), getting therapeutic help will be your best way forward. You can be informed and aware that this upsetting scenario has zero to do with you.

For them, this isn’t and was never about what they can do for you. In my professional opinion, their initial help, charm, kindness, and understanding are faux - specifically designed to garner or acquire in some way. This is about what you can do for them - and always was. They pretend to give, but end up only taking. 

This is often with those who are kind and empathetic. They will learn what you want and need, mirror that, and become that in the early doors of the relationship - it is part of the 'homework' they do on you and your suitability.

Mostly, they just know that you will be ideal bait because of your genuine kindness, love, and empathy. That is why l suggest that on your online dating profile, you never put that you are looking for a long-term partner or relationship. It's safer to reveal yourself after knowing more about them. Otherwise, to a covert narcissist (CN), this will be the equivalent of 'here l am!' You are sure bait and not a potential partner. So, wait until you have more information about this potential trap and protect yourself. This will minimise risk until you have learned more about the territory of their terrain, and the red flags to watch out for.

More examples of covert narcissism

Their discard not only feels like you do not matter to them but that you do not matter. They know this. You may not. It is totally understandable that feelings of consummate worthlessness will inevitably follow. Processing and letting go of the shame is helpful. You are not alone. It is as though there is some kind of epidemic out there, which there are many theories about.

None of this has anything to do with your capacity for intelligence. I have coached and treated some incredibly intelligent wonderful people at the top of their game in their careers, who are left in pieces and unable to work or carry on with their daily life. That is why proper information is so important 

It is important also to make a note that the idealisation and devaluation stages can also run hand in hand with each other. An example of this is they might say, "I am so in love with you", but they won’t open your messages for hours, or at all, or they might 'forget' to get you something or do something that they agreed was important to you. My goodness l can think of so many other examples where the bewilderment of your understanding of who they really are, as well as who you are to them, starts to set in. This is called intermittent reinforcement.

If you would like to know more, feel free to read Intermittent reinforcement: A relationship red flag, which deals with the tactics of cognitive dissonance used by cognitive narcissists.

Their covert tactic is employed to ensure that you're likely to provide them with an 'oxygen supply'. No matter how much pain, gaslighting, and disillusionment they dish out, you are 'hooked' on the dopamine hit from their initial faux love and care. It is, however, all counterfeit. This is so hard to take in.

If you continue to believe in the good in them and what they say rather than run for the hills as a knee-jerk response, they know that they can play. 

During this pre-discard stage, they can 'feign' all day long their mimicked empathy, and care, which you will want to believe. Usually, discards take place on days that are of importance to you - anniversaries, birthdays, and events that you have looked forward to. If they have known you long enough, they love sabotaging dates and occasions that mean a lot to you.

The holidays also, like Christmas and Easter, are often ruined. I had a couple of awful Christmases where discard was threatened over absolutely nothing. And yet appearances are massively important to them. So they can switch from nasty to caring in the blink of an eye, so it appears they are making an effort.

Confused and bewildered, you will start looking for answers to this 'all over the place' behaviour. You may be going on YouTube to listen to podcasts, trying frantically to make sense of their coldness, their anger, and worst of all their disinterest in your emotions. Maybe that will be why you are reading this.

It might feel as though you never meant a thing to them. You didn’t - not in the same way as they meant to you. For them, the depth of your relationship never was.

I know this sounds utterly confounding, but l can assure you that not only have l studied this for many years now, as l have written in other articles, but l have lived it. Not only in my romantic relationships but somehow even worse, also in some of my long-term friendships with women friends known for years - one for decades.

I 'normalised' every put-down, unkindness, and every disappointment to such an extent that l never even questioned it, until finally after such an appalling series of discards, l woke up.

I started joining the dots. The biggest of all clues was that l never actually felt comfortable or welcome; l just got so used to feeling like that with them. l thought there must be something wrong with me so l didn’t dare question it, feeling grateful they included or seemed to want me at all!

Narcissism and relationships

Fundamentally, please know that a narcissistic person with either traits or the clinical disorder defined by the DSM (who issues the diagnostic criteria) is someone who is unable to offer the necessary cornerstones of normal relating. These are:

  • empathy
  • bonding 
  • belonging 
  • kindness 
  • nurture
  • genuine care
  • love

All of these are the essence of all relationships - especially the ones that matter and with those that are supposed to love you. Whether they are your friend, your lover, your spouse, your brother or sister, your boss or indeed your parent.

You will exist entirely only 'through them'; your autonomy on any level (whether it be your views and values or your dreams and desires) will be not only superfluous to them but also a threat.

The impact of this on your spirit and your soul can feel crucifying. It also affects your physical health; it certainly did mine.

If you become aware and learn about this you will be able to heal. This is entirely possible but not inevitable.

Narcissism and therapy

Therapy can provide learning, awareness, and tools. And the benefit of 'disclosure'; what l mean by this is someone bearing witness to the heartbreak this has caused you, validating you and your experience. Because you may have hidden this, and pushed it down deep inside you, the reality of how you felt (and how you feel) can have a kindly ear at last.

It is not the passing of time alone that helps distance the trauma and damage this causes, but loving support and kindness, and a re-written reality of what went on, with adequate vocabulary and understanding.

For you reading this, if this has helped you in any way, and you want to get help for all the suffering you have been through, then please remember you are a survivor of it. You are strong - stronger than you might think.

I understand all of this from a personal lived experience. And even though this is sadly prevalent, there is also help out there too - either with the help of someone like myself or by listening, sharing, and reading.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, N8
Written by Gail Berry, Emotional and Relationship Coach
London, N8

Written by Gail Berry Emotional Coach - both a therapist and an alternative medical practitioner who works with healing people’s core wounds and uses Bach Flower Remedies alongside talking and behavioural therapy to make real change and transformation possible.
07771 715072
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