A lot of the calls that I receive are from individuals who are in love with someone who frustrates them and they just want to know if things will ever change. Other calls are from individuals who have lost a love and they want to know if it can be rekindled or retrieved. Some are individuals in a relationship with someone who just can’t make an emotional commitment. However some individuals may be with a partner who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NDP). Such love interests, even if they are charming and pursue you very ardently, may be completely unable to give or show love in a genuine way.
Why Doesn’t S/He Love Me
I learned about NPD after being told by a professional that it was what my mother suffered from. A short time later, I started looking up websites and reading books on the subject in an effort to come to terms with this diagnosis. Most of it was trying to understand why I could never feel loved.
While everyone can be narcissistic at times, there are traits that distinguish this type of narcissism from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The main trait of NDP is a marked lack of empathy. Thus, the person with NPD cannot feel for you. This is not out of excessive cruelty. It is because somewhere in life it became dangerous or not worth it to really tune into others and care. Their lack of empathy is a self-defense mechanism.
I’ve had so many clients ask, “When is he going to understand?” Many want to know if their love interest will ever start to “care.” They feel that if they just hang in long enough, things will change. What they don’t always understand is that often those with NPD do feel they are caring. If you ask them why they care they might not always have an answer. All they know is that they don’t want to lose you and they tolerate all the things about you that bug them. To them this is being caring. They don’t always understand they are not “feeling” nor being sensitive to your wants, needs and thoughts. They might not even know how to have this kind of sensitivity.
As stated earlier, their self-defense mechanism makes it safer for them not to feel anything for others. Though it might not seem rational to many of us, it is also safer for them to receive than to give. Thus, it may seem at times that everything has to revolve around their wants, needs and feelings. They have a sense of entitlement and a need to feel superior to others; which, because those with NPD can suffer from black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking, letting go of this stance may trigger the polar opposite feelings of being ‘less than’ or ‘not good enough.’
Expecting a shift with this and for your love interest to one day start caring about you (or blaming yourself thinking that they don’t “love” you) is unrealistic and not truly understanding the situation. A narcissist’s love for themselves is not really love but a fear of their own humanness. They are in love with an ideal self that they create. To love someone else truly, they would have to break down their own defenses, let go of their idealized personality and open their hearts. That risks too much vulnerability.
How To Identify Someone With Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The DSM-IV-TR Criteria for Diagnosing NDP:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by other special people
- Requires excessive admiration
- Strong sense of entitlement
- Takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy
- Is often envious or believes others are envious of him or her
- Arrogant effect
- They may not be very good givers. They may wish to give you things you ‘should’ want (according to them) or what they would want, rather than what you asked for.
- They can be a bit dry and lacking in a sense of humor.
- They may not be good at apologizing or admitting they were wrong when caught in lies, deceptions or after another person has expressed that they were really hurt by them. They may leave a discussion and later expect the issue dropped. Alternatively, they may turn things around to put the blame or responsibility on the other person.
- They are into name brands and appearances.
- They may not ask how you feel and instead they tell you how to feel. They may tend to keep conversations superficial. They may not be comfortable discussing their dreams, emotions or deep issues.
- Discussions of what is wrong in a relationship revolve around the partner and what the partner needs to change in themselves rather than any improvement the individual with NDP could make.
- Narcissists may be afraid of emotional closeness, of intimacy, confrontation, of needing help, of abandonment, or of not being in control.
- The may be better at dishing it out but than taking it. They may be blaming, easily offended and need to be right. But it’s all so that they don’t feel or internalize hurt or rejection.
- They tend to project their own negative thoughts or behaviors onto others. ie, such as seeing others as hurtful, dishonest or envious of them when it’s really themselves that are being hurtful, dishonest or envious.
Can You Help A Partner with NPD?
NDP sufferers will rarely seek treatment. Instead, they may imply others need treatment if they feel others are not identifying enough with their wants and needs. If you have a partner with NDP, they may, in fact, expect you to drop your own needs or feelings in order that everything continues to revolve around theirs. Even in the case that you should seek help in order to deal with the narcissist in your life, the narcissist may try to sabotage treatment. Therapy may not be supported unless the therapist is someone the narcissist has talked to and feels in control of.
Often those with NDP have a hard time respecting other people in authority; be they doctors, therapists, etc. This is because they have such a strong need to be dominant due to a feeling of vulnerability within. This can make them emotionally intolerant of others views.
What Causes NDP?
NDP is largely a defense mechanism. It can result from any trauma in life that is enough to cause the individual with NDP to shut down. Support and true nurturing may not have been counted on in others. Some narcissists may have been excessively spoiled as children. Casanova narcissists were sometimes sexually abused or had non-nurturing mothers or mothers who were overly timid. Either way, the narcissist never learned how to form an empathic bond. Thus, the person with NDP may decide not to feel for others anymore. The may decide to focus solely upon the survival of the self. In their own self-defence, other people are not really to be admired or respected but used.
It is hypothesized that narcissists have a core subconscious belief that they are flawed in ways that makes them unacceptable to others (though they might deny this is true). Thus, their narcissistic behavior may be something they set up within themselves to protect them from painful feelings of rejection and isolation that could occur if they opened their hearts, let others in, or lowered their defenses so that others could really see them as they are with all their defects. They internally believe weakness is not tolerated, first and foremost in themselves; which, because they possess an “all good” vs. “all bad” stance, this causes them to ‘split’ or dissociate.
NDP and Splitting
Splitting is a behavior which those with NDP may suffer from which results in seeing the world in terms of black and white, positive and negative. People and situations become all good or all bad; there is lack of grey areas. It is part of their perfectionism. This is also part of why those with NDP hold onto their defense mechanisms so strongly. To not see themselves as “all superior” or “all good,” would mean they were instead “all inferior” or “all bad.” Because they lack an ability to see the shades of grey, they may develop issues with avoidance, splitting, denial and projection; projecting all that they see as “all bad” onto other people around them or seeing others in terms of “all good” at times, as well. Sometimes what attracts people to the narcissist is initially being put on a pedestal. Much pain can arise when a person finds that they have suddenly fallen off of a narcissists pedestal only to be seen in a degraded way.
NDP and Raising Children
Unfortunately, children of narcissists can be set up to become objects or little extensions of their parents. The narcissist may have a hard time allowing their children to have their own identity, hopes and dreams. Children may also become little servants to take care of the emotional and other needs of the parent with NDP. I really suggest not having a child with a narcissist unless you are not codependent, can emotionally nurture the child properly, and will not leave the child to the whims of a narcissistic partner’s agenda or needs.
NDP and Romantic Love
Individuals with NDP often pick mates who are ‘codependent.’ Codependents will be more likely to enable a narcissist’s behavior or to be afraid of confrontation. If with a stronger partner, it may be traumatic for the person with NDP to be taken off their pedestal. This may only serve to drive them further into their behavior.
Often, if you try to talk to a narcissistic partner about what they are looking for in a relationship with you, you will hear superficial things. They rarely say emotional things such as that they want a partner to share and grow with. To give from the heart requires becoming vulnerable; a quality those with NDP have a hard time cultivating.
Only with the Casanova type of narcissists may some effort be made to please the partner. However, a lot of this effort could be out of ego gratification or to feel the “best” lover. Such individuals often end up manipulating and exploiting the opposite sex. They may like the excessive admiration that they receive from all the partners they seduce.
What To Do If You Are In Love With A Narcissist
While I have seen and known cases where two narcissists form a relationship with one another (one may be more overt and the other may be a covert or have a martyr complex), many people who are attracted to narcissists may have issues with codependency (especially those who will endure abuse without leaving). Thus, I highly recommend that partners of narcissists learn about codependency. Codependents often feel over-responsible and organize themselves around the needs and feelings of others. Codependents will readily accept blame or seek to make amends to be in good graces again. They are afraid of being considered selfish and are generally eager to please. They have a hard time setting boundaries so that they know where they stop and the narcissist begins. Unlike those with NDP, they are often highly empathic. If this sounds like you, try not to feel that if you could be perfect or loving enough that the narcissist would change. This attitude only results in reinforcing the narcissistic traits within the narcissist.
If you are with a narcissist, try also not to fix them. Unless you are a therapist and detached enough you will be unable to offer the right support and may end up hurting yourself. At times partners of narcissists who have overcome their fears of confrontation can become so frustrated that they resort to verbal attacks. Resorting to a verbal attack may not even appear to move a narcissist emotionally. You may end up feeling defeated when the narcissist stoically turns the blame onto you or accuses you of being crazy, emotional or paranoid. Because codependents will readily accept blame, they can end up feeling conflicted and guilty.
I am not a professional psychologist and what I write comes from what I learned from various books, internet sites, and working with clients who were dealing with what appear to me to be partners with the disorder (or at least some of the symptoms). For information on NPD or diagnosis, please seek the evaluation of a qualified profession.