It’s normal if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist or a psychopath to try to read the signs and figure out how to know if a narcissist is finished with you. You may feel obsessed with the idea that by going back over every word and action that took place between you, you can see into the future.
Relationships with narcissists have a cycle to them that plays out again and again. The narcissist draws you in close, then does an about-face, and begins to withdraw and verbally abuse you. Finally, they discard you for some reason that usually seems inexplicable.
But it’s only temporary because they soon return to start the cycle all over again. With all of their comings and goings, it’s natural to wonder if this time, when they leave, it’s the final time. [Read: What is Hoovering? 23 Narcissist Hoovering Tactics to Watch Out For]
I’m here to tell you the one way how to know if a narcissist is finished with you.
This relationship pattern I described above is known as the idealize-devalue-discard-hoover cycle. Many of us found ourselves caught in it for years. It’s the reason why we are left in limbo. [Read: The Real Narcissistic Abuse Cycle: Why You Can’t Go No Contact]
We constantly re-work our definition of what a relationship really is as they drift in and out, all around us, ghost-like. Narcissists keep us tethered to them by something we can’t explain–until either they or we cut the cord for good.
Or is it for good?
Want to learn about the five stages of leaving a narcissist? See the end of this post for information about how to read a free preview of my book, which including the first chapter and the pathological love relationship checklist.
Why We Wonder If the Narcissist is Finished With Us
The narcissist manufactures emotions that serve our own interests and slowly teach us to ignore our own needs. Many things keep us bound to narcissists far longer than they should. [Read: 6 Things That Explain Narcissistic Abuse in Relationships]
First, it can be almost as if our lives are on hold, awaiting this conditioning we have been subjected to over the years. Make no mistake; they have conditioned us to expect it.
When the narcissist leaves and then returns, it dysregulates neurotransmitters in our brains. One such neurotransmitter is dopamine, a chemical responsible for making us feel pleasurable sensations throughout our bodies. It drives humans to seek rewards and motivates them to act and live their lives in productive ways.
The problem is that it can get synced up with the narcissistic abuse cycle so that the level of dopamine in the brain drops when we are not in contact with the narcissist. We can actually crave contact with them. This can happen until the passage of time breaks the chemical bond to them.
Second, psychologically, there is a constant tension inside us due to desiring someone who causes us such pain and yet periodically comes back to rescue us from it. The narcissist has returned so many times before that it feels natural to anticipate it again. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
There is also a fear of what comes next when they aren’t returning as expected because we don’t know who we are anymore without the narcissist in our lives. At least if the cycle continues, there is comfort in its familiarity.
Third, the lack of control over what the narcissist can do may cause us to feel insecure about our own actions. Even if we found the strength to leave, we could feel a lack of resolve because they have had so much control in the past, we don’t trust ourselves anymore.
Narcissists Will Never Give You Closure
Finally, a fourth reason that we care so much about if the narcissist is finished with us is that the narcissist did not give us closure. [Read: 7 Reasons Why Narcissists Won’t Give You Closure]
The end of our relationship with them was likely horrific in some way. Perhaps we were the ones to try to end it and attempted to explain why. Of course, the narcissist refused to accept our reasons or acknowledge what happened.
They may even have tried to use manipulative techniques to keep us in the relationship, such as threatening to hurt themselves or to hurt us. Perhaps we had to cut off all communication without any conversation at all.
If the narcissist was the one to end it, he or she might have cut us off, as if we never existed or mattered. Or maybe the narcissist humiliated or degraded us even further or rubbed new relationships in our face.
Regardless of how it happened, this exit is a destructive question that leaves a black hole in the foundation of our lives. It can be an opening for the narcissist to hoover. Perhaps the narcissist will come back down the road with an apology for bad behavior or promises to answer outstanding questions–the closure we never got.
In normal relationships, breakups are not always mutual. Yet, at least both parties generally have an agreed-upon narrative about what happened.
If narcissists don’t give us closure, then even their absence can cause us pain.
And if they can’t be guaranteed to stay away, we can stay on a roller coaster of emotion, wondering if and will they will return, and that gives them a considerable amount of control over us.
How Many Times Will a Narcissist Come Back?
I receive questions all the time from people who were in relationships with narcissists, and they are the same questions I used to have.
My narcissist didn’t ever hoover. Does that mean he wasn’t a narcissist?
It’s been six months. Will my narcissist hoover?
We left without saying goodbye. Is that the final discard?
She said never to contact her again. Will she change her mind and get in touch with me?
He started putting “likes” on my posts on Instagram. Does that mean he’s getting ready to hoover me?
I don’t know whether your ex-partner will ever hoover you again. Your ex-partner may not even know. Why?
The answer lies in how narcissists apparently view relationships. Narcissists never really break up with you in the traditional sense.
They apparently return to any relationship if they think there is something to gain from it. This seems to be true no matter what has happened before.
This seems to hold even after years or decades. It’s also true no matter how the relationship ended. Even if they treated you horrifically at the end or you told them never to contact you, there is a possibility they might return.
From the perspective of a narcissist, it makes sense.
When Narcissists Tell You They’re Finished With Someone Else
Did the narcissist ever tell you about exes in their past that they wanted nothing to do with? And then you later found out that they were, in fact, in contact?
Narcissists seem to change the rules on any given day based on how they interact with people–only they don’t give you all of the information.
For example, perhaps they really aren’t interacting with a particular ex at a particular time. Narcissists, however, in theory, keep everyone with whom they have ever interacted in a web of potential sources of narcissistic supply.
If they happen to run into or see an ex somewhere that they haven’t thought about in a while, they may do some reconnaissance. They’re looking to see how easy it is to reach out, how likely it is that person would respond if they did reach out, and the quality of narcissistic supply they would get based on the level of effort they’d have to put in.
Many factors might go into the decision, but those factors all play a role in whether they will try to hoover someone else or not. They may initiate contact again with that person, almost as if no time has passed. What they won’t do is tell you about it. [Read: 12 Ways Narcissists Narcissists Use Social Media]
If you get suspicious, they may cut off that contact again, at least temporarily. That person may reach out to the narcissist, puzzled, to find out what happened. The narcissist will tell you they don’t know why the person is contacting them. They’re leaving out half the story.
It’s a familiar trick, isn’t it?
Someday, it may be you on the other end of that hoover calculation they’re making. Meanwhile, they tell everyone around them that you’re the one who won’t leave them alone–they want nothing to do with you.
Is this the “Final Discard?”
In short, they never really let their exes go.
They merely put their partners in a figurative storage locker–on an indefinite silent treatment, if you will. They leave you spinning, wondering what happened, without a period to the end of that sentence.
While they have moved on to someone new, they may reach out to see how receptive you are if they see something that reminds them of you. They always have to keep that web in the background intact, and you’re a part of it now.
Because of this, I like to think of the “final discard” on the part of the narcissist as a myth, a hypothetical idea. It’s only a theory, as no one can predict the future. This thought helps me in my recovery because it gives me all the answers I need.
How to Know if a Narcissist is Finished with You
There’s really only one way to know when a narcissist is finished with you: when you decide they are.
You can’t control the narcissist or know what he or she is thinking. You can only control yourself.
Narcissists don’t engage the final discard. They want to think they have the option, even if only in their own minds, to come back someday.
We engage it.
It’s important to make yourself difficult to contact.
The next best thing is to create a scenario in which the narcissist would never want to contact you because they would have nothing to gain.
Yet because the narcissist will never know that for sure, the absolute best thing you can do is work on ceasing to care. Once you have stopped caring what the narcissist is doing or thinking or will do in the future, you’ve already won back control of your life.
At that point, that’s the one thing the narcissist can never take from you again–no matter what he or she decides to do after that.
Want to read more?
Why Can’t I Just Leave? takes you step-by-step through the five stages of leaving a narcissist and helps lead you straight to the exit.
Click here to read a free preview
This isn’t your typical survivor recovery book. When you read it, you’ll learn about:
- What over 600 survivors said about their experiences and how they left their relationships
- 75 signs that you’re in a pathological love relationship
- What makes narcissistic abuse unique
- The most damaging effect of narcissistic abuse
- Why we change while we’re in the relationship
- The five stages of breaking up with a pathological partner
- Pop culture and celebrity examples of narcissistic abuse
- My personal story
Years in the making, this book creates a bridge between the first-hand knowledge of narcissistic abuse by survivors with lived experience and the social psychological research on the interpersonal and group dynamics of high-control relationships.
The heart of the book is explaining why we do things in these relationships we don’t understand and how we can stop.
Available in ebook, paperback, and hardback!
If you’d like to read a free preview, which includes the first chapter and the pathological love relationship checklist, click on this link.
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Your article helped me tremendously understand exactly what is happening to me and every word you said is exactly what I’m going through. I know I have to end it although it is easier said than done. You mentioned a narcissist long lists of supply and he has that. No wonder why everyone seemed to be going in circles including myself. Now everything is a lot clearer to me.
I grew weary waiting to see what my married narcissist might do. I renewed my revulsion to being “the other woman” then wrote the narcissist a polite note saying I was getting busy elsewhere, and thought a clean break was the best idea for me. Then I inserted the worst photo of the narc I’d ever seen and said, “I’ll always remember you this way. Goodbye and all the best.”
Haven’t heard a peep, which suits me fine. Indifference is all I can muster now, and that beats anger, resentment and sadness any day.
Karen!!! We are in the same situation!! My narc actually made up a lot and told everyone I was cheating on him.. Come to find out that his wife found out about us and told him she was done lol lol lol!! He then had to find something wrong with me and started to turn my like upside down, I am angry but I am healing
I have spent my whole life with narcissistic men beginning with my father. I have just left another narcissistic man after putting myself through 4 1/2 yrs of love and then abuse only to continue on the same hamster wheel again and again. I am now 53, please god let him be the final one. I have gone no contact but he always seems to find a way, I am strong and have no intentions of ever letting him gas light or hoover me back to his destructive way of contorting the truth and blaming me for everything and then in the next breath telling me how much he loves me and misses me and can we please go on holiday together when this pandemic is over…. totally mental, but I am not mental even though he’s tried his hardest to convince me that I am. I am sane enough to get away from him and no longer put up with his narcissistic, messed up personality.
After reading articles to discover the reasons for my disastrous past actions, I discovered, both I and my wife are narcissistic sociopaths. Until then I never knew that such a disorder even existed, let alone the effects on my thought and actions. It is a shock to one to realize that you were not in the real world at age 60. You cannot hide or change if you do not know that the disorder exists. I take responsibility of this mess, as I should have understood my actions and those of my wife. Thought of ruining and losing my family and friends, makes me strongly to desire to change my behaviour. The emotionally and financially damage is done and cannot be corrected, as one cannot travel back in time. I am like the walking dead at the thought that I have destroyed me, my family, relatives, and friends. I have lost everything; family, health, pension, processions, heirlooms, the house, car, reputation, love, and trust. I like the emotional feeling resulting from helping others. I was highly driven to obtain research results not for my gain, but for society in a highly competitive field. Often my thoughts and actions at home and work do not make sense now; and some are illegal, unethical, and stupid. The narcissistic sociopathic traits are from genetic factors, as I never was devoid of attention, had a happy life, and no trauma. I will never see my loving daughter again from this mess, as she is studying in France. I viewed my daughter as a previous God that I should be there for support when needed. I can vision the tears and terror when the mess erupts. Remember in my mind, I was conducting appropriate research and providing a home for family; not inappropriate actions and thoughts. Even if I do not go to prison or die, there is nothing to support my family and that nothing can be changed. No matter what direction or action I take, someone will get hurt. Donald Trump, Roger Stone, and Associates have a better chance of success. I want just to correct things and ease my memory of those wronged, then disappeared. Since this hell and the one in the after life will be, I would not wish on my worse enemy. So how do you explain to the ones that you love that they the have no future because of a mental disorder starting grade one that was not recognised until a year ago?
I exhibited classic behaviour traits of the disorder, such as high ergo, irrational thoughts, anger at some issues, believing I was competitive while it relay was insecurity, believing that I was correct which was wrong c, poor listening skills, went from one unfinished project to another, disregard for some of the rules, poorly designed projects, stealing even if I did not want the object, was a hoarder, addictions to food and went from one research group to another when a project needed skills (opportunity to myself). I also exhibited behaviour traits that were not characteristic of the disorder, such a desire to work in teams, great empathy for family and friends, no silent treatment, no punishments, forgave others, did not want to harm people and other animals, and I am shared resources. So, if I was not a narcissistic sociopath, then what am I?
If some of my friends and colleagues were in the mental health profession, then why was my disorder not detected? Similarly, why wife was not diagnosed when she attended for counselling to over come childhood trauma?
Since I feel like the walking dead and a non-functional parasite to society, any suggestions on what can I do? At times the situation appears to so bizarre that it does not seem real. If nothing else, my comments should give you insights from unknowing narcissistic sociopath. be glad that you are a survivor and not the one destroying future and wasting of lives to those you dearly love.
Hello: Thank you for your comment. I find it really interesting and insightful. What I know is that narcissism really exists on a spectrum, although it’s easier and useful to think of narcissism as “categories” of individuals. There are many professionals who do treat narcissists successfully. Some cannot be treated. I don’t know if you are one of them who can be treated, but perhaps you are. I don’t even know if you desire to change–but I brought it up because often when people are in emotional turmoil, that’s what drives them to try to make these kinds of major changes in their lives about how they are interacting with the world. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you find peace and the strength to forgive yourself for the things you have done and to move forward with this new insight into yourself so that you begin to recognize that it’s never too late to strive to be your best self. -Kristen
My ex has gone so far as to contact my son, who is a grown man, because I have gone no contact. He has been blocked on fb, my home phone, my cell phone and messenger. I have gone so far as to delete his name and all pictures from my iPad. I feel so much more calm and serene with him out of my life. Your articles give me the strength to keep going. I read them when I feel weak and vulnerable. Thank you.
Thank you. I so desperately needed this. You perfectly described my last ”relationship” of the past 4 years. I had been convinced that so many things I saw, felt, or perceived were ”in my head,” or, ”[me] digging for answers instead of leaving things alone.” Odd, isn’t it? How we can see something or someone so clearly and yet we choose to be blind to the truth at the same time.
Talk about great timing – like having you visit to answer my questions and fears –
Thank you – you are inspiring and reassuring
Great article, Kristen. Your writings have helped me so much, and I am grateful
These two paragraphs resonated with me:
“There’s really only one way to know when a narcissist is finished with you: when you decide they are.”
“The next best thing is to make it so there’s no reason for him or her to ever contact you because there wouldn’t ever be anything to gain.”
I went no contact, although not right away. In a futile attempt to get closure, I engaged with my ex-narcissist. In hindsight, I realize it was a mistake. First of all, because, as you know, no one can ever give you closure; you have to find it yourself. Even in relationships with normal, mentally healthy individuals, that is the case. What is worse, however, when dealing with narcissists, is feeling the effect of their lack of empathy and cruelty.
I also ensured there my ex-narcissist would ever contact me again when I removed his mask and caused a major narcissistic injury. I often wonder if I did it consciously. I tend to think it was an act of self-preservation. He was trying to destroy me, and I fought back. While I have engaged with him a few times on social media in the last year since that happened, he hasn’t made any serious attempt to get back together with me, although he’s alluded to being friends. I have no interest. know who and what he is, and he knows I know the truth about him. So, I’m fairly certain he’s done with me. And that’s a good thing.
Married 20 plus years thought of his ongoing personality blips were due to his addiction s and chronic pain ( he had back surgery in his 30’s) I left many many times and finally had to have him removed from our home via the law.
Yes ! It got that bad . We had been to many counselling sessions I alone went. No one mention Narissism. I just started reading an article one day about Narcissism and felt like I was reading my life. They never accept blame , they control your world ( or try), projection .
I even ready an article where it asked the partner of a narcissist, Are you sleep deprived?
He started so many arguments before bed and then would just roll over and sleep while I lay there in complete anxiety. I can’t believe this is my life ! I cannot believe I just am getting it now . They the narcissist do not change ! We need to change ….. I’m exhausted . Yet so ready to embrace a new lease on life .
That’s exactly how my knowing of his NPD surfaced. I spent so much money on marriage counseling only for me to look like the crazy one while he played the victim dealing with my erratic outbursts. Mind u I was not shy to express my erratic side in therapy so we can be given the help we needed while being our selves and not some fake person who will gain nothing from therapy. Therspist didn’t mention anything about narcissism but one Christmas eve my ex narc left mw stranded. I turned to Pintrest for inspirational quotes to occupy my time and uplift me, when all of a sudden I start seeing articles about narcissism and I too felt like I was reading my life. Once I tore off his mask, the abuse got worse. I take one day at a time. Congrats on ur joirney to recovery