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Darlene Lancer, JD, MFTDarlene Lancer, JD, MFT
A blog about Women’s Issues, Self-esteem and Relationships

Do You Love a Narcissist?

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Updated: Sep 21st 2011

It's easy to fall in love with narcissists. Their charm, talent, success, beauty, and charisma cast a spell, along with compliments, scintillating conversation, and even apparent interest in you. Perhaps you were embarrassed when your mate cut in front of the line or shuddered at the dismissive way he or she treated a waitress. Once hooked, you have to contend with their demands, criticisms, and self-centeredness. The relationship revolves around them, and you're expected to meet their needs when needed, and are dismissed when not.

red heartWhat it's Like. In the beginning, you were delighted to be in the narcissist's aura. Now you're tense and drained from unpredictable tantrums, attacks, and unjustified indignation at imaginary slights. You begin to doubt yourself, worry what he or she will think, and become as pre-occupied with the narcissist, as he or she is with him or herself.

After a while, you start to lose self-confidence. Your self-esteem may have been intact when you met, but your partner finds you coming up short, and doesn't fail to point it out. Most narcissists are perfectionists, and nothing you or others do is right or appreciated. Talking about your disappointment or hurt gets turned into your fault or another opportunity to put you down. They can dish it, but not take it, being highly sensitive to any perceived judgment.

Narcissists have no boundaries and see you as an extension of themselves, requiring that you're on call to meet their needs - regardless of whether you're ill or in pain. You might get caught-up in trying to please them. This is like trying to fill a bottomless pit. Their needs, whether for admiration, service, love, or purchases, are endless. You might go out of your way to fill their request only to have your efforts devalued because you didn't read their mind. They expect you to know without having to ask. You end up in a double-blind - damned if you displease them and damned when you do. Narcissists don't like to hear "No." Setting boundaries threatens them. They'll manipulate to get their way make sure you feel guilty if you're bold enough to risk turning them down. You become afraid that if you don't please them, you risk an onslaught of blame and punishment, love being withheld, and a rupture in the relationship. All too possible, because the narcissist's relationship is with him or herself. You just have to fit in. Nevertheless, you stay in the relationship, because periodically the charm, excitement, and loving gestures that first enchanted you return.

Do Narcissists love? In public, narcissists switch on the charm that first drew you in. People gravitate towards them and are enlivened by their energy. You're proud to bask in their glow, but at home, they're totally different. They may privately denigrate the person they were just entertaining. You begin to wonder if they have an outward "as if" personality. Maybe you're reassured of their love when they bestow complimentary and caring words and gestures, are madly possessive, or buy you expensive gifts, then doubt their sincerity and question whether they're being manipulative or saying what's appropriate.

Sometimes, you might think they love only themselves. That's a common misconception. Actually, they dislike themselves immensely. Their inflated self-flattery, perfectionism, and arrogance are merely covers for the self-loathing they don't admit - usually even to themselves. Instead, it's projected outwards in their disdain for and criticism of others. This is why they don't want to look at themselves. They're too afraid, because they believe that the truth would be devastating. Actually, they don't have much of a Self at all. Emotionally, they're dead inside. (See Someone with NPD is grandiose (sometimes only in fantasy), lacks empathy, and needs admiration from others, as indicated by five of these characteristics:

1. A grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents
2. Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Believes he or she is special and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or of high-status people (or institutions)
6. Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
7. Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
8. Envies others or believes they're envious of him or her
9. Has "an attitude" of arrogance or acts that way

Of all the narcissists, beware of malignant narcissists, who are the most pernicious, hostile, and destructive. They take traits 6 & 7 to an extreme, and are vindictive and malicious. Avoid them before they destroy you.

Codependency. People with codependence lack a core Self, and define themselves based on others. This is true for all narcissists, whose Self is so weak and insecure, they need constant validation. Stereotypically, they're not interested in taking care of others - but some narcissists are caretakers. Some narcissistic men do this with money, because it boosts their self-esteem.

When two narcissists get together, they're miserable needing each other, yet fighting over whose needs come first and pushing away. On the other hand, it can be a perfect fit, albeit painful, for ordinary codependents, because their low self-esteem, is boosted by the narcissist's attributes and aura of success. It also allows them to tolerate the narcissist's emotional abuse. They feel needless and guilty asserting their needs and caring for a narcissist makes them feel valued. Because they feel undeserving of receiving love, they don't expect to be loved for who they are - only for what they give or do.

Treatment. Narcissists don't usually seek help unless a major loss shatters their illusions. But both narcissism and codependency can be healed with courage, time, and a commitment to yourself. Recovery entails improving boundaries and self-acceptance based upon real self-knowledge. Psychotherapy and joining a 12-Step program are beneficial ways to start.

 

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for 27 years and coaches internationally and is the author of two books: Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies. Her ebooks include: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps and Codependency Recovery Daily Reflections. Ms. Lancer is a sought after speaker at national conferences, on radio, and to professional groups and institutions. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.darlenelancer.com and www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on www.youtube.com, Twitter @darlenelancer, and Facebook.

    Reader Comments
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    Narcissists and Codependency - Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT - Dec 1st 2011

    Good for you Cathy! I didn't intend to convey that all partners of narcissists are codependent, only that narcississts usually prefer them, because, as you say, your husband was used to submissive women. Generally, narcissists don't go to therapy, because they don't think they need it, and they don't want to tarnish their self-image. I knew one who claimed he had to have a drink after every session because therapy was ruining his self-esteem. This is because underneath all that inflation is unconscious shame - they never admit it, but which accounts for their having to be right and degrade their detractors. Also, know that narcissism exists on  scale, so some are more extreme than others.

    Traditional therapy wasn't very useful to help heal, however, self-psychology and the newer trauma therapies can be very effective - if the narcissist will stay. Sometimes a major loss or unexpected turnaround can bring them into treatment. Hope this is helpful.

    Won't Convince Me - Cathy - Sep 21st 2011

    You won't convince me or a few others married to a narcissist that they are not indeed just overwhelmed by their own self love which has no boundaries or very few.  Having that personality to begin with is going to bring some self doubt, etc. as people get fed up and sick of them.  So, I believe that the narcissism comes first and any ills after that are a result of what their self-centered love brings to them.  My husband is narcissist and has and even he agrees, 7 or maybe 8 of the 9 characteristics.  His narcissism has been kept in check since he made one very big mistake.  He had shown interest in women who were submissive and had low self-esteem but then, he got involved with me thinking that I was like that.  She found me when I was a single mother, going to school and working.  I did not have low self-esteem, I was exhausted.  So, he gets hooked in thinking he had someone submissive.  Well, we call the therapy he has gotten even before I had a name for his issue, "pull your head out of your butt" therapy and when that doesn't work "your butt is going to hit the curb" therapy.  I am very much into at home cures:  herbs, homeopathy, butt hit the curb and they can be very effective.  I get really tired of everyone assuming that you have to be "co-dependent" and somehow have low self-esteem because of an issue your partner has.  You just have to take the bull by the horns and establish balance! 

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