Couple-relationship

Can a Narcissist Love?

Source Link: https://psychcentral.com/lib/can-a-narcissist-love/?li_source=LI&li_medium=popular17

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

 

man and woman romantic

The Psychology of Romantic Love

Most everyone wants to fall in love, especially codependents. To us, love is perhaps the highest ideal, and relationships give our lives meaning and purpose. They enliven and motivate us. A partner provides a companion when we have difficulty initiating action on our own. Being loved also validates our sense of self-esteem, overcomes shame-based doubts about our lovability, and soothes our fears of loneliness. But too often a beautiful romance turns sour. What was a wonderful dream becomes a painful nightmare. Ms. Perfect or Mr. Right becomes Ms. or Mr. Wrong. The unconscious is a mighty force. Reason doesn’t seem to stop us from falling in love, nor make it any easier to leave! Even when the relationship turns out to be toxic, once attached, ending the relationship is as hard as falling in love was easy!

The Chemistry of Romance and Falling in Love

Our brains are wired to fall in love—to feel the bliss and euphoria of romance, to enjoy pleasure, and to bond and procreate. Feel-good neurochemicals flood the brain at each stage of lust, attraction, and attachment.  Particularly dopamine provides natural high and ecstatic feelings that can be as addictive as cocaine. Deeper feelings are assisted by oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” released during orgasm. It’s directly linked to bonding and increases trust and loyalty in romantic attachments.

The Psychology of Romantic Love—Whom We Find Attractive

Psychology plays a role, too. Our self-esteem, mental and emotional health, life experiences, and family relations all influence whom we’re attracted to. Experiences, both positive and negative, impact our choices and make someone appear more or less attractive. For example, we might find commonality attractive, but avoid someone who cheated on an ex if that has happened to us before. We’re attracted to subtle physical attributes, albeit unconsciously, that remind us of a family member. More mysterious, we can be attracted to someone who shares emotional and behavioral patterns with a member of our family even before they become apparent.

The Ideal Stage of Romance

It’s true that we’re blinded by love. Healthy idealization is normal and helps us fall in love. We admire our beloved, are willing to explore our partner’s interests, and accept his or her idiosyncrasies. Love also brings out parts of our personality that were dormant. We might feel manlier or more womanly, more empathic, generous, hopeful, and more willing to take risks and try new things. In this way, we feel more alive, because we have access to other aspects of our ordinary or constricted personality. Additionally, in early dating, we’re usually more honest than down the road when we become invested in the relationship and fear speaking our truth might precipitate a breakup.

Although, healthy idealization doesn’t blind us to serious warning signs of problems, if we’re depressed or have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to idealize a prospective partner and overlook signs of trouble, such as unreliability or addiction, or accept behavior that is disrespectful or abusive. The neurochemicals of romance can lift our depressed mood and fuel codependency and love addiction when we seek a relationship in order to put an end to our loneliness or emptiness. When we lack a support system or are unhappy, we might rush into a relationship and become attached quickly before really knowing our partner.  This is also referred to as “love on the rebound” or a “transitional relationship” following a breakup or divorce. It’s far better to first recover from a breakup.

The Ordeal Stage of Romantic Love

After the initial ideal stage, usually starting after six months, we enter the ordeal stage as we learn more things about our partner that displease us. We discover habits and flaws we dislike and attitudes we believe to be ignorant or distasteful. In fact, some of the same traits that attracted us now annoy us. We liked that our mate was warm and friendly, but now feel ignored at social gatherings. We admired his bold and decisive, but learn he’s rude and close-minded. We were enchanted by her carefree spirit, but are now appalled by her unrealistic spending. We were captivated by his unfettered expressions of love and a promised future, but discover he’s loose with the truth.

Additionally, as the high wears off, we start to revert to our ordinary personality, and so has our partner. We don’t feel as expansive, loving, and unselfish. In the beginning, we may have gone out of our way to accommodate him or her, now we complain that our needs aren’t being met. We’ve changed, and we don’t feel as wonderful, but we want those blissful feelings back.

Two things happen next that can damage relationships. First, now that we’re attached and fear losing or upsetting our partner, we hold back feelings, wants, and needs. This puts up walls to intimacy, the secret sauce that keeps love alive. In its place we withdraw and breed resentments. Our feelings can come out sideways with sarcasm or passive-aggression. As romance and idealization fade, the second fatal mistake is to complain and try to turn our partner into who we first idealized him or her to be.  We feel cheated and disillusioned that our partner is now behaving differently than in the beginning of the relationship. He or she, too, is reverting to their ordinary personality that may include less effort made to win you and accommodate your needs. Our partner will feel controlled and resentful and may pull away.

In some cases, we might discover serious problems—that our partner has an addiction, mental illness, or his abusive or dishonest. These are issues that require a serious commitment to change and often years of therapy to overcome. Many codependents, who get quickly involved for the reasons stated above, will sacrifice their own happiness and continue in a relationship for years trying to change, help, and fix their partner. The dysfunctional family dynamics of their childhood often get repeated in their marriages and relationships. They may unconsciously be contributing to the problem, because they’re reacting to an abusive or controlling parent. Change requires healing our past and overcoming shame and low self-esteem to feel entitled to love and appreciation.

Getting to the Real Deal

We might not want to continue a relationship that involves addiction or abuse or has other serious problems. Lacking major obstacles, getting past the ordeal to the real deal requires self-esteem, courage, acceptance, and assertiveness skills. It necessitates the ability to honestly speak up about our needs and wants, to share feelings, compromise, and resolve conflict. Rather than try to change our partner, our efforts are better placed on learning to accept him or her. (This doesn’t mean accepting abuse.) This is the struggle for intimacy, and requires a commitment by both partners to get through the ordeal stage with mutual respect and a desire to make the relationship work.

Source link: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-psychology-of-romantic-love/