The end of a relationship is often difficult, but breaking up with a narcissist is a whole new level of confusion and heartbreak.

Narcissistic relationships generally follow predictable patterns, and the breakup is referred to as the “discard,” the dictionary definition of which is “getting rid of someone or something no longer useful or desirable.”

The difference between a typical breakup and a discard is that during a normal split, both parties are generally sad. The initiator is usually able to recognize that the other person’s feelings are hurt, and will have some sense of guilt.

However, narcissists lack empathy. They are unable to recognize another person’s feelings or needs. During a discard, while you may be at your emotional lowest, they appear to move on without a care in the world, and may exhibit absolute disregard for you, whether you’ve been together for weeks or decades.

One very common behavior that occurs during the discard is a distortion of the truth. Narcissists will make up their own versions of reality regarding the details of the breakup. Why? Mainly, to preserve their ego. Whatever the reason for the relationship’s end, it will always be your fault.

In the world of narcissism, the discard follows a predictable abusive pattern in what many refer to as a “manipulationship.”

Its first stage is idealization, where you were probably placed on a pedestal in order to build trust and remove your boundaries. This “love-bombing” phase pulled you deeper and deeper into the relationship.

Later on, the narcissist realizes that you are an actual human being with flaws, and you don’t fit their perfection fantasy. Or, you start resisting his/her attempts to control you. Either way, thus begins the next phase, “devaluation.”

Devaluation often will involve more intense efforts at manipulation and abuse. In her article, “3 Signs the Narcissist is Preparing to Discard You,“ author Narcwise Maggie claims that during this time, “intentionally exploiting your vulnerabilities and hitting your trigger points is now the primary form of interaction with you.”

Remember that in order to survive narcissists need you to believe their false, constructed reality, and offer your full admiration and attention. If you don’t, their subconscious fear of abandonment may start creeping in. Sensing your exit, and as a defense mechanism, a narcissist may then start going on the hunt for new “supply,” meaning anyone else who can provide a sense of desirability for them.

So what are the warning signs? How will a narcissist act while getting ready to discard you?

According to Narcwise Maggie, look for the following clues:

  • Sudden, intense involvement with a “friend” or a “business associate”
  • Secrecy surrounding phone, email, and social media accounts
  • Changes to routine, including frequent lateness, cancellations and unavailability. This can also include disappearing for days without contact or explanation.
  • Overly detailed storytelling
  • Your discovery of suspicious objects in the home or car which don’t belong to you or your partner

Also, pay attention to how narcissists may suddenly change appearance, including new clothes, haircuts, and scent. They might even start displaying bizarre new speech patterns, mannerisms, and hobbies. This may occur because they are mirroring the interests of their potential new supply.

Your brain is working so hard to make sense of what’s going on that you may become completely exhausted on many levels. Even knowing the warning signs may not stop a feeling of being completely blindsided. The consequences will be not only psychological, but physical, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, isolation, rashes, and stomach problems, just to start.

According to Melanie Tonia Evans, an expert on narcissism, it is important that you protect yourself if you sense that a discard is coming, because a narcissist’s main goal will be to punish you, and he/she will often go after what you value the most in order to do so.

If you have children together, they may launch a major custody battle for spite. They commonly go after money and property as well – anything they feel they can physically take away from you.

Evans recommends that you get out when the narcissist is not around and get hold of whatever belongs to you while you still have access to it. If you plan to leave the house, take whatever belongings you can, as you probably will not be able to get back in.

Finally, if possible, create a bank account in your own name, and speak to a solicitor or lawyer as soon as possible to understand more specifically how you can protect yourself.

Most importantly, do not let anyone who might possibly relay the information back to the narcissist know your plans.

For further resources on personal safety during a discard, or ending a relationship with a toxic partner, we recommend getting in touch with the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org, or calling them at 1-800-799-7233.

And if you think you or someone you care about may be in a relationship with a narcissist, take our free Toxic Relationship quiz, which provides more specific examples of domestic abuse and can help you assess your own situation.