Can a Narcissist Love?

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Anyone who’s loved a narcissist wonders, “Does he really love me?” “Does she appreciate me?” They’re torn between their love and their pain, between staying and leaving, but can’t seem to do either. Some swear they’re loved; others are convinced they’re not. It’s confusing because sometimes they experience the caring person they love, whose company is a pleasure, only to be followed by behavior that makes them feel unimportant or inadequate.

Narcissists claim to love their family and partners, but do they?

Romance vs. Love

Narcissists may show passion in the early stages of dating. But that sort of passion, according to Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, “is always directed at our own projections, our own expectations, our own fantasies … It is a love not of another person, but of ourselves.” Such relationships provide positive attention and sexual satisfaction to support a narcissist’s ego and self-esteem.

For most narcissists, their relationships are transactional. Their objective is to enjoy uncommitted pleasure (Campbell et al., 2002). They’re playing a game, and winning is the goal. They’re engaging and energetic and possess emotional intelligence that helps them perceive, express, understand, and manage emotions (Dellic et al., 2011). This helps them manipulate people to win their love and admiration. They brag to be respected, loved, and gratified. Additionally, their good social skills allow them to make a good initial first impression.

They can show great interest in romantic prospects and seduce with generosity, expressions of love, flattery, sex, romance, and promises of commitment. Amorous narcissists (Don Juan and Mata Hari types) are adept and persuasive lovers and may have many conquests, yet remain single. Some narcissists lie and/or practice love-bombing by overwhelming their prey with verbal, physical, and material expressions of love.

Narcissists lose interest as the expectation of intimacy increases or when they’ve won at their game. Many have trouble sustaining a relationship more than six months to a few years. They prioritize power over intimacy and loathe vulnerability, which they consider weak (Lancer, 2014). To maintain control, they avoid closeness and prefer dominance and superiority over others. Game-playing thus strikes the perfect balance to both get their needs met and keep their options open to flirt or date multiple partners (Campbell et al., 2002).

A sudden breakup can be traumatic to their ex, who is bewildered by their unexpected change of heart — proposing one minute, and then exiting the next. They feel confused, crushed, discarded, and betrayed. If the relationship had continued, eventually they would have seen through the narcissist’s seductive veneer.

Some narcissists are pragmatic in their approach to relationships, focusing on their goals. They may also develop positive feelings toward their partner, but more based on friendship and shared interests. If they marry, they lack the motivation to maintain their romantic façade, and employ defenses to avoid closeness. They become cold, critical and angry, especially when they’re challenged or don’t get their way. They’re likely to support their spouse’s needs and wants only when it’s inconvenient and their ego is satisfied. After devaluing their partner, they need to look elsewhere to prop up their inflated ego.

How is love defined?

Real love is not romance, and it’s not codependency. For Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, it’s “to will the good of another.” In The Psychology of Romantic Love (1980), Nathaniel Branden states that “To love a human being is to know and love his or her person.” It’s a union of two individuals, which requires that we see another person as separate from ourselves. Further, in The Art of Loving (1945), Erich Fromm emphasizes that love entails effort to develop knowledge, responsibility, and commitment. We must be motivated to know another’s wants, needs, and feelings and provide encouragement and support. We take pleasure in their happiness and try not to hurt them.

When we love, we show active concern for their life and growth. We try to understand their experience and worldview, though it may differ from ours. Caring involves offering attention, respect, support, compassion, and acceptance. We must devote the necessary time and discipline. Romantic love can evolve into love, but narcissists aren’t motivated to really know and understand others (Ritter et al., 2010).

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, narcissists “lack empathy and have difficulty recognizing desires, subjective experiences, and feelings of others” (p. 670). Research shows that they have structural abnormalities in brain regions associated with emotional empathy (Schulze et al., 2013). Hence, their ability to appropriately respond emotionally and express care and concern is significantly impaired.

Narcissists have s several hurdles to loving. First, they neither see themselves nor others clearly. First, they experience people as extensions of themselves, rather than separate individuals with differing needs, desires, and feelings. Second, they overestimate their own emotional empathy (Ritter et al., 2010). Third, their defenses distort their perceptions and interactions with others. They brag and withdraw to control closeness and vulnerability, project onto others unwanted, negative aspects of themselves, and they use denial, entitlement, and narcissistic abuse, including blame, contempt, criticism, and aggression, to ward off shame. Perfectionistic narcissists callously put down others and may attempt to destroy adversaries in order to sustain their illusion of perfection (Lancer, 2017). All these issues impair narcissists’ capacity to accurately take in another person’s reality, including that person’s love for them. In fact, narcissists emotional intelligence helps them manipulate and exploit others to get what they want, while their impaired emotional empathy desensitizes them to the pain they inflict.

Can we measure love?

Love is difficult to measure, but research shows that people feel love expressed by: 1) words of affirmation, 2) spending quality time, 3) giving gifts, 4) acts of service, and 5) physical touch (Goff, et al. 2007). Another study revealed that participants also felt loved by a partner who: 1) showed interest in their affairs; 2) gave them emotional and moral support; (3) disclosed intimate facts; 4) expressed feelings for them, such as “I’m happier when I’m near you”; and 5) tolerated their demands and flaws in order to maintain the relationship (Swenson, 1992, p. 92).

Conclusion

People who love narcissists are starved for many of these expressions of love. Sometimes, narcissists are remote, dismissive, or aggressive; other times, they show care and concern and are helpful. It’s not that narcissists are incapable of feeling or even intellectually understanding someone’s feelings. The problem appears to be rooted in childhood trauma and physiological deficits that impact emotional assessment, mirroring, and appropriate empathic expression. (Unconscious or unexpressed: “I love you, but”); Expressed: “I’m too busy to come to the hospital,” sounds pretty cold, but may not reflect the narcissist’s love for the person hospitalized. When the importance of a visit is explained to them, they might make the trip.

They may show love when they’re motivated. Their love is conditional, depending upon impact on the narcissist. My book Dealing with a Narcissist explains in detail how to navigate and beneficially use this in relationships with narcissists, addicts, or anyone highly defensive. Because narcissism exists on a continuum from mild to malignant, when it’s severe, selfishness and inability to express love become more apparent when greater demands are placed on a narcissist. Dating or long-distance relationships that have fewer expectations are easier.

Bottom line: Wondering whether a narcissist loves you is the wrong question. Although it’s wise to understand a narcissist’s mind, like Echo in the myth of Narcissus, partners overly focus on the narcissist to their detriment. Instead, ask yourself whether you feel valued, respected, and cared about. Are you getting your needs met? If not, how is that affecting you and your self-esteem and what can you do about that?

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Branden, N. (1980). The Psychology of Romantic Love.  Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, Inc.

Campbell, W.K, Finkel, E.J., & Foster, C.A. (2002). Does self-love lead to love for others? A story of narcissistic game playing, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 340-354. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5a8d/b3534f5398d42cfd0160ca14f92fd6bf05e5.pdf

Delic, A., Novak, P., Kovacic, J., & Avsec, A. (2011). Self-reported emotional and social intelligence and empathy as distinctive predictors of narcissism” Psychological Topics 20(3), 477-488.  Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0fe0/2aba217382005c8289b4607dc721a16e11e7.pdf

Fromm, E., (1956). The Art of Loving. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

Goff, B. G., Goddard, H. W., Pointer, L., & Jackson, G. B. (2007). Measures of expressions of love. Psychological Reports, 101, 357-360. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.101.2.357-360

Johnson, R. A. (1945). We, Understanding the psychology of Romantic Love. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers.

Lancer, D.A. (2017). “I’m Not Perfect, I’m Only Human” – How to Beat Perfectionism. Los Angeles: Carousel Books.

Lancer, D.A. (2014). Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You. Center City: Hazelden Foundation.

Ritter, K., et al. (2010). Lack of empathy in patients with narcissistic personality disorder, Psychiatry Research. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/2fe3/32940c369886baccadb14fd5dfcbc5f5625f.pdf.

Schultze, L., et al. (2013) Gray matter abnormalities in patients with narcissistic personality disorder. Psychiatric Research, 47(10), 1363–1369. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2013.05.017

Swenson, C. (1972). The Behavior of Love. In H.A. Otto (Ed.) Love Today (pp. 86-101). New York: Dell Publishing.

© Darlene Lancer 2018

 

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Five Ways to Boost Your Concentration

Concentration is the ability or power of directing one’s attention to something. But we live in a world full of distractions, where we often feel overwhelmed by the ever-increasing demands from our personal and professional front. These distractions may or may not be paltry but they tend to make it difficult for us to maintain and improve concentration and do the things that really matter. Here are five ways that can help you overcome distractions and concentrate better:

1. Establish a daily routine: Creating a daily routine and sticking to it, is a great strategy to improve your concentration. Having a random routine wastes a lot of your time in just deciding upon what to do and when. But once you establish your routine, you will start doing the day’s tasks automatically. Creating a routine would save your time and energy that goes into thinking about what to do and in what order and thus helps you focus your energy and increase productivity.

2. Rank your tasks: You can improve your concentration by prioritizing your tasks and attempting the most important tasks first and leaving the smaller or comparatively less important tasks for later. While performing all the tasks together is neither realistic nor possible, thinking about all of those pending tasks can be daunting as well as overwhelming. Ranking tasks in order of merit, on the other hand, can prove to be an effective tactic for staying focused on the tasks at hand.

3. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness: Many studies have demonstrated that meditation helps reduce stress and anxiety, and improve focus. Practising meditation and mindfulness makes you aware of when your mind wanders off track and aids in bringing it back to the desired point of attention. Both meditation and mindfulness train your brain to stay attentive for longer periods of time.

4. Listen to Music: Music has a profound effect on not just your mood, but blood pressure and heart rate as well. According to a study conducted at the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Laboratory, listening to short symphonies engages the parts of the brain that controls an individual’s attention span, ability to make predictions, and update the event in memory. Though music boosts these brain functions and improves concentration, it’s the short period of silence between musical movements that maximizes brain activities.

5. Turn off notifications: Last but not least, the best way to improve concentration is to turn off the notifications of your personal devices. Research has shown that although a notification appears to only briefly divert your attention, it disrupts your thoughts for much longer, making it harder to bring them back on track. Irrespective of whether you interact with your cell-phone or not, checking out notifications in between can significantly impact your attention. Therefore, you should use your cell-phone judiciously and schedule some time away from the screen to be able to devote yourself single-mindedly to the tasks you do.

Also read:
Researchers Explain Neurophysiological Link Between Breathing and Attention
Step-by-Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing

The Cocktail Party Effect

The COCKTAIL PARTY EFFECT is the phenomenon of being able to focus one’s auditory attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out other simultaneous stimuli. Due to this effect an individual can concentrate on a single source of auditory stimuli among the multiple sources of noise. The cocktail party effect was defined by Colin Cherry, a British scientist, in 1953. This effect enables people to converse in noisy settings such as in a cocktail party or a musical concert.

The phenomenon is related to our perception, attention, and consciousness and it indicates that there can be different levels of consciousness which makes it possible for an individual to be more or less aware of sensory inputs even when he/she is not paying attention to them.

This is due to cocktail party effect that when someone hears a word or phrase important to him/her, such as one’s name, it immediately catches his/her attention and shifts the focus even when he or she has not been paying attention to that auditory stimuli.