Loving a narcissist: Prepare for contempt
If you are in a relationship with someone who is narcissistic, you will find that real intimacy will be impossible to achieve and maintain over time.
There is an element of altruism in healthy love that mingles self-centeredness with self-sacrifice, and a genuine concern for the loved one’s feelings and well-being.
For the narcissist, however, there are only two kinds of people: those that can pump them up and those they can put down. The ones who can pump them up will continually admire them. The ones they can put down allow narcissists to feel superior by comparison.
Intimate partners of narcissists often serve both functions. If you’re hooked on a narcissist, prepare to tolerate regular doses of contempt – while offering unending admiration, which the narcissist is far more interested in than your love.
Your intimate partner will somehow communicate that you’re not good enough, but it’s not that you’re not good enough, but rather that you’re too good, too competent, too self-confident, and the narcissist can’t tolerate the feelings of inferiority that your abilities or skills represent. So s/he will need to find fault, criticize, judge or put you down as a way of building him/herself up.
Sandy Hotchkiss, in the book “Why Is It Always About You?” (The Free Press) argues that narcissists feel that making themselves vulnerable is an invitation to be used. Ordinary reciprocity feels to them as if they’re being taken advantage of.
While we all want to be valued by those we love, the narcissist really needs the intimate partner to be a constant mirror of his/her worth.
Any one of us might feel disappointed, hurt or even angry when those we love ignore or criticize us, but the narcissist will become enraged. The loved one is not allowed to express feelings or opinions that contradict the needs or opinions of the narcissist.
Sadly, treatment is often not effective in these cases, because the more narcissistic people are, the more defensive, rigid and resistant they are to recommendations and suggestions from others.
It is the nature of narcissist entitlement to see the situation from only one very subjective point of view that says “My feelings and needs are what matter, and whatever I want, I should get.” Mutuality and reciprocity are entirely alien concepts.
Others exist only to agree, obey, flatter and comfort – in short, to anticipate and meet my every need. And if you defy my will, prepare to feel my wrath.
In personal relationships, their sense of entitlement means that you must attend to your partner’s needs – but your partner is under no obligation to listen to, understand or empathize with you. This tends to make narcissists exploitive of others. The offense can be as mild as a one-sided friendship in which one gives and the other takes, or as commonplace as a selfish lover or a demanding boss.
The narcissistic love match is inherently unstable. As a result, almost anything can destabilize the relationship.
If you are in love with a narcissist, try to engage your partner in an exploration of the problems. The openness to explore these issues together – using respectful, empathic communication – is a good sign.
Set and hold very firm boundaries, and insist on true give-and-take reciprocity. How you resolve your differences – with respect and accommodation, or with manipulation and anger – is very likely a measure of the unhealthy narcissism that drives your relationship.
To be truly successful in an intimate relationship, however, you will need to choose a partner who is not a narcissist.
Neil Rosenthal will be co-facilitating a “Singles River Canoe Adventure” the weekend of June 20-22, and a “Couples River Canoe Adventure” the weekend of August 8-10. For more information, call (303) 449-6578.
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