Learning about narcissists and love is vital to recovering from relationships with them.
One of the things that we have the most trouble understanding is, “Did our narcissistic ex ever love us?” It’s hard to reconcile that someone could have loved us and yet treated us as they did.
Some narcissists can fall in love, however, their definition is different from the definition that most of us have. It does not include things such as the mutual caring, compassion, support, honest communication and the provision of emotional and physical needs.
As odd as that may sound, an understanding of this can be one of the first steps toward recognizing that you are not crazy and even toward letting go and moving on.
The narcissist you were with may have actually expressed what looked like love and it may have felt like love as they expressed it to you, however, he or she often treated you in an unloving manner as well. It can be maddening trying to figure out how those two can both be possible.
But if some narcissists can actually feel love, why does it look so much different from our definition of it? Below, I’ll explore ten major questions on narcissists and love to help explain what is happening from their perspective. These questions concern ideas such as devaluation, new supply, narcissists vs. sociopaths and others.
Narcissists and Love: Ten Questions
1. Is This Actually Love?
If by love you mean healthy, mature love, then no. The love bestowed by narcissists will be extremely passionate and idealized, yet immature and always conditional, as explained more below.
They will tell you they have never felt this way about anyone else in their lives. At that moment, that may be what they are feeling. Each time, it’s new and fresh for them. It will be like mainlining a drug and you both will never want to come down. They will do, be, and give you everything you want during this time period.
The problem is that they hope to stay in this phase forever. They want to live in a dreamland with you where real-world problems never interfere.
If you try to have an adult conversation with them to communicate about any issues in the relationship, they take it personally as an attack on their self-esteem. They will start to resent you for making them feel bad about themselves.
2. What is love like for narcissists?
Here is the crux of the problem between the way we view love and the way they view it. Love is utilitarian for them. We believe we are entering a mutually-beneficial relationship with a person who will take care of us in the same way we take care of them. We assume everyone has the same basic definition of a relationship– and why wouldn’t we?
Narcissists, however, will assess what we can do for them, make a rational choice and consider it an exchange if they see what they like. They will learn what it is we want and need and become our heart’s desire so that we then pour into them whatever it is they saw in us that they want.
They expect obedience and compliance in return and have no allegiance to any of the basic underlying parts of our definition of love because that is not what love means to them. Their focus is on getting their own needs met so some of the behaviors they engage in will violate your definition of love, but not their own.
But it is not likely that they are consciously doing this. They target people who have the qualities they want. Then they do fall deeply into that infatuation phase with them. They love this phase of the relationship. But then when the new wears off and the relationship naturally moves into a more settled phase, the love-bombing stops and they may begin to pick you apart for all of your flaws.
Why would they do this? They blame you for the loss of that “high” they’ve been feeling and may start resenting you.
Also, by attacking you and getting a reaction, they may once again heighten their own chemical response. They may be trying to kick their reward system back into gear any way they can, as the lull of a relationship once you have attached to them is not satisfying.
3. What is it the narcissist loves about me?
They do not love us in the same way that we love them. Their catchphrase might as well be, “I love the way you love me,” because that’s what it usually comes down to.
Again, they choose us for some qualities they seek that they believe will make them feel special, adored, and loved and will make them feel elevated. They tend to choose people that they believe to be caring and see the good in people, who they hope will see the good in them.
Their idea of loving us is loving things such as the way they feel when they are with us, the way we may accept them for who they are, or the way we take care of them.
But what happens when you assert your personhood in any way?
Do you have complete control over where you go or how you can spend your time without excessive monitoring or being subjected to verbally abusive comments if you defy his or her wishes or don’t comply with monitoring?
Are you able to speak up about your concerns in the relationship without being subjected to circular conversation tactics that end with the narcissist threatening to leave the relationship?
What makes figuring out whether they love you so confusing is that this does feel like love to them and when you try to explain to them that you don’t feel loved, they may throw their hands in the air and insist they love you.
They don’t know how to love you for yourself; their positive feelings for you are snuffed out if they don’t get from you what they need.
If you need something from them that they think exceeds the value of what they are getting or if the attention is not on them, they don’t have the sustained ability to provide that level of commitment.
4. Why do narcissists start to devalue us if they think they love us so much? Can’t they see that’s not love?
Narcissists live in fantasy worlds where they would love to view themselves and the people around them as perfect and do not have to face their own flaws.
When the two of you have a difference of opinion or when you do something that makes them feel like they do not have control over you and their environments, you start to feel like an enemy to them.
This is an inevitability in a relationship with a narcissist. No one can stay on the pedestal– it is not a pedestal built for a human with flaws and his or her own hopes, needs and desires.
To us, it seems absolutely outrageous. We explain over and over that the narcissist isn’t being fair, and can’t understand how if he or she loves us these things are happening. The narcissist insists that he or she does and gets upset that we don’t see it.
5. Why do narcissists act as if they love us one minute and hate us the next?
Narcissists lack something called “object constancy,” and cannot hold both positive feelings toward you and a negative attitude toward something you did at the same time.
When you have wounded their self-esteem or disappointed them, they will forget they loved you or you have ever done anything good for them. At that moment, all they care about is that you are now an enemy because they feel attacked.
This is called “splitting.” They can only see people as all good or all bad. They also are low on emotional empathy so when they feel this way nothing is holding them back from being vicious and cruel toward you.
When their anger dissipates and they can see you in a positive light again, it can be to them as if none of it ever happened.
The problem is that even the tiniest things we do can feel to them as if we are wounding them–including when we just live our lives independently from them!
They may think they love you, but try saying no to them. Think about how they act when you try to talk to them about how you feel. Do something that they don’t agree with. Have a differing opinion. How do they feel about you now?
6. How do narcissists feel about us when after a break up?
They may either idealize or devalue you, depending on how they saw you at the end of the relationship. They are unable to put the entire relationship, much less you, in a proper perspective. This happens because of their lack of object constancy.
So they may return to idealizing you and how great the relationship was. They may see you as their soulmate again. In their minds, something separated the two of you and kept you apart.
If they are devaluing you, they will imagine that you have broken their heart and betrayed them.
They may even go back and forth between the two. What won’t happen, however, is that they won’t include a realistic assessment of what they did to you in the relationship and why the two of you are not together.
They are unable to see that they soil their relationships with one-sided, double-dealing behavior that can never sustain a healthy, long-term relationship.
7. How are narcissists able to move on so quickly after the break up?
They don’t attach to you personally, they attach to the way that you make them feel or something you do for them, or they were never attached in the first place.
If they find a replacement for that, then there is nothing to miss. They can watch it all fall down around them, and as long as they have others near who can consistently reassure them of their greatness, they don’t truly miss “you” but how you made them feel.
The fault is never theirs in their eyes; it’s yours. They may look back on your relationship, as they did a favorite possession. They may think about how good things were in the beginning when you were new. Yet they may resent you for their perception of why they began to devalue you.
The narcissist cannot be alone. You are broken-hearted missing the connection you had with them. They are busy creating it with someone else because all they need is someone to adore them– or several someones. They have already put you aside because you didn’t function for them in the way they needed you to do anymore.
8. Can narcissists ever appreciate the love I give them and stop devaluing us?
Let’s be honest. The answer is, almost certainly no. Let’s go through the reasons why.
(1) Many of us are already victims of narcissistic abuse. This means we are dealing with those on the end of the spectrum who are some of the most exploitative, deceptive and unempathetic of the group. They tend to see nothing wrong with their behavior. It benefits them and they get what they need. Their very disorder prevents them from recognizing they even have a problem.
(2) If they do become self-aware, some of those who are this manipulative use the information to just become better at either hiding it, hurting people, or both.
(3) If they do decide to try to change, it’s usually only because something crisis-level happens and they have a deathbed-like epiphany, not because we want them to.
(4) They can’t just wake up one day and decide to change and be different. Narcissists need a therapist to help them sort through their own defense mechanisms. They have a deep sense of inadequacy and would have to work on replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones. The ways they use for interacting with people develop over many years and can’t be dismantled overnight. Also, it seems their behaviors can only be managed and not eliminated and this takes a very long period of time.
They aren’t going to suddenly start swapping out their view of people as a means to obtain a narcissistic supply to individuals with our own needs and feelings. The entire foundation is rotten.
This kind of real, lasting, sweeping change takes a very long time for even the most dedicated and motivated of people. Why would a narcissist be motivated to change when their own needs are already met and they don’t believe they are the problem?
9. How can I tell the difference between a narcissist and someone who just doesn’t love me?
What people who have never been in a relationship with a narcissist may fail to understand is that this type of damage goes far beyond merely making mistakes that hurt another person.
We all do things to cause others pain. Sometimes it is unintentional. We don’t know what to say or don’t fully comprehend the situation others are in, so we say something that minimizes their pain. Other times, we do it when we are tired or stressed out and say something uncaring either in tone or with the words we chose. Sometimes we even do things out of character because we don’t have the right coping mechanisms to deal with our own pain. In one example of a worst-case scenario, an unhappy partner may have an affair and regret it.
This is not what a narcissist does.
Their behavior has certain characteristics to it that tell us this is not normal:
- It can cross the line beyond being uncaring into intentional destruction.
- It can happen when they are completely calm and unemotional. This can make it feel calculated or at least that they made a rational choice to do horrible things with impunity.
- They can show no remorse for the behavior and engage in it repeatedly.
- Their behavior stops matching what they say or they may claim it isn’t happening when it is.
- The breadth and number of harmful acts to the partner and the relationship is usually very wide.
- What they do is systematic. There is a recognizable pattern to it that repeats.
- Our reactions to it are outside of how we would normally behave. We have emotions we don’t understand and may undergo a personality change because our environment has become irrational.
In other words, these are not mistakes in judgment. They are not done in the heat of the moment. The narcissist does not make changes when discovered, confronted, or when realizations “sinks in” about the damage. Instead, he or she continues it.
In fact, it may even get worse or the narcissist may engage in new behavior that makes the partner feel crazy.
A narcissist does not “slip up” and do something “out of character.”
This is the narcissist’s character.
The #1 sign that you are in a relationship with a narcissist is confusion over the person’s behavior and in who it is you are actually in a relationship with.
10. How can I tell if my partner is a narcissist and actually does love me or if my partner is a sociopath and is just acting?
As I have stated in another article about whether narcissists can fall in love, sociopaths and most malignant narcissists are very good actors and also get a thrill out of the pain that they cause others. This information on narcissists and love does not apply to them, but to other types of narcissists.
Sociopaths know that they don’t love you. Even if they are unaware they are sociopathic, they are often aware something about them is different. They calculate how to get what they want from you, and they may enjoy your suffering.
It’s very important to remember, however, that the pain they cause doesn’t feel that different even if the reasons they hurt us differ. Depending on their willingness to deceive, manipulate and exploit, the ways in which narcissists can hurt us can be just as devastating as a sociopath.
The purpose of this article is not to try to help you decide whether to stay with a narcissist. In fact, just the opposite. It is to help you to answer certain questions about narcissists so that you can use the information to let go of the narcissist and move on. Having the information may help you:
- Realize you are hanging onto a one-sided relationship;
- Avoid falling prey to hoovers. Narcissists hoover by promising answers or using your definition of love to try to draw you back in;
- Allow you to fill in the missing pieces in what happened in your relationship. This can help you put it in the past and move forward in your recovery;
- Put the narcissist’s own version of love in the proper perspective. Hopefully, it can lead to a realization of what it is we miss about them so we can stop doing it and let go.
- Recognizing what love actually is to narcissists helps drive home that it wasn’t the relationship we thought it was.
Although you can honor the love you had for him or her (it was real to you!), you do not have to remain a slave to loving someone who didn’t love you back in the way that you loved them.
Release yourself so that someday when you are ready, you can be with someone who will love you the way you deserve to be loved.
You might also be interested in Can a Narcissist Fall in Love? Yes, but It’s Complicated
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