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Does the Narcissist Really Love You?

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It was the question that I could not answer:  Did he ever care about me? Can narcissists love you? 

I would lie awake at night and wonder how he could have looked at me the way he had if he did not love me. 

When love is a lie, can people fake enlarged pupils and do they look at you with their lips slightly parted, as if they are dying of thirst and you are a pool of endless water? 

Do you look into their eyes and see yourself reflected back like rays of gold illuminating a forgotten darkness? 

Do you catch them staring at you like maybe you are made of magic?

Could I really have been so wrong?  Could I have misread him so completely?  Was it all just a game to him then, and was he just pretending?

And yet if he loved me that much, how could he have betrayed me so deeply and on so many levels, again and again. 

And how could he, when I confronted him, say the cold, cruel things to me about his betrayals? 

How could he shut me out so many times as if I meant nothing and discard me to be with someone else, when all I ever wanted to do was be his girlfriend?

I spent hours out of evenings, that amounted first to days, and then, ultimately, weeks, turning this question over again and again in my mind. 

For two years, I went over the details, putting each one I could recall in an imaginary “yes” or a “no” column.  Where does this incident go?  What about this one? 

I’d have myself convinced that he did love me. I’d remember things I’d discovered by accident that he’d never intended me to know that seemed to indicate that he did– text conversations he’d had with other people, pictures of him wearing my bracelet on his wedding day. [Read: 5 Reasons Lovebombing is a Stealth Danger]

Why would he have taken these actions or had these conversations unless he loved me?  He couldn’t use them to impress me if he had not intended for me to find out about them.

Then I’d also remember the secret things he had done to betray me that he’d also never intended me to find out about, the things he’d never meant to show me because they would have tampered with the image he wanted to present to me: all the other women he’d said he loved, all the horrible things he’d said about me to them.

None of it made any sense.

While we were still together, I asked him if he loved me dozens of times, waiting to hear something that would make the world he had called love when he constructed it stop circling me so I could stop feeling crazy. 

His responses ranged from loving (“Of course I did. You’re the love of my life”) to enraged (“If you can’t see my love for you, then nothing I did was ever good enough for you”). Neither of those responses, nor anything else he ever said that fell in between those extremes, put the pieces in place. [Read: Things Narcissists Say to Give Themselves Away]

Did he or didn’t he?

Settling on love/not love as the final answer was the puzzle I could never solve.

In all honesty, I know that he is the only one who will ever really know whether he loved me or not. No one can read his mind, and no matter what he says, no one will ever know whether it is the truth when so much of what he does and says is a lie.

Yet, it’s not normal to come away from a relationship unclear about whether or not you were even loved. What I wanted was a way to reasonably reconcile his contradictory behaviors in a way that made sense in the way that I had experienced them.

There had to be a way to explain how it was possible that he could engage in acts of love and acts of betrayal nearly simultaneously. Even if I didn’t like the answer, I needed to understand how that was possible in order to make sense of my past.

Reading most books and articles on narcissists were no help. 

Almost everything I read said that narcissists were incapable of love. In other words, he meant only the acts of betrayal and his acts of love were false– meant to elicit what he could get from me. 

This explanation seemed incomplete and incompatible with what I’d experienced, however.  It also seemed like a blanket statement, given that the literature does not even agree on what causes narcissism. [Read: The Unlucky 13 Different Types of Narcissism]

I continued to research to find out whether it was even possible for narcissists to love, which would indicate an experience more in line with the one I had had. 

I did indeed find some research to support this idea.  It all stated, however, that there are limitations on that love. [Read: Can a Narcissist Love? It’s Complicated]

They can love you as long as you do not criticize them– and they perceive bringing up any of their wrongdoing, no matter how gently– as criticism.

They can love you as long as you keep supplying whatever it is that brings them happiness.

They can love you as long as you are happy and as long as the focus of attention is primarily on them.

They can love you as long as you let them control enough aspects of your life so that they do not feel threatened.

If you do bring up how you have been hurt or do not provide them with enough attention or do anything that feels threatening, they feel wounded, as if you are the one who doesn’t love them, and can engage in horrendous acts of “revenge.”

They lack something called “object constancy,” and are unable to remain a consistent, trustworthy person when you have an argument or do something they don’t like. You cease to be “good” in their eyes. [See: The Ultimate Narcissistic Abuse Dictionary]

I kept searching for more answers. One of the primary underpinnings of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is that two seemingly contradictory ideas can be true at the same time.

For example, I can accept myself the way I am at this moment and I can also know I need to change something about myself. Through acceptance of these ideas, we can validate where we are now and also empower ourselves to do something differently.

Could this idea be applied to a narcissistic relationship? Did he have to love me or hate me? 

With this idea in mind, over time, my question changed. 

I no longer wanted to know if he loved me or not. I began to think philosophically about what love really is and who gets to define it. Is this really love?  If I am not allowed to be a whole person with my own concerns and desires and still have him love me, is it love?  If he felt it as love, does that make it love? [Read: Getting Over a Narcissist Means Reflecting on Love]

“I never lied to you about my love for you,” he said to me many times.

I believe that he believes that.  And yet the strength of that love could only ever be as powerful as the worst of the things he ever did to me all those times he couldn’t pretend to be blind anymore, and, still, he did them anyway.

His inability to understand this is what so clearly illuminates him as a narcissist. [Read: When Did I Realize He Was a Narcissist?]


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Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.


  1. I read the article and I have to say this is tougher than I ever expected. Realizing I’ve been with a Narcissist and still having her hold on me and still feeling those emotions I had for her. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
    We we’re living together and she wanted to have her alone time before she went to work. She wanted me to get up at 4am and leave the house for at least 90 minutes or more. I went to a Denny’s and stayed till I knew she was leaving for work. Then the times we’d make love and after there was no hugging afterwards. Even when we went to sleep there was never any cuddling or kissing. If I needed to talk about something that bothered me it was always wait till she was ready but that never happened. When she wanted to talk about something it wasn’t talking it was this is the way it is and that’s it. We were together on again off again for 4 years. Then I was in Florida for awhile visiting my Grandchildren and I started dating. She found out and wanted me to break it off, fly home and marry her. I flew home and we went and I bought the marriage license and then bought rings. They had to be sized so we couldn’t take them right away. The next night she stated a conversation about waiting. She wanted to wait to get married. When she called she said she’d marry me right when I got off the plane. Then she backpedaled. When she brought up about waiting it was as if I was taking to a computer generated voice. No emotions at all. It was then I finally realized that she did this because I was dating someone else. There were times she broke up with me and dated others then called me to come back to her. So many times. It wasn’t until reading this article that I finally decided to stop having contact with her and realizing what she is, a Narcissist and a codependent. I was always the giver and she is the taker. I have to say it is so very difficult.
    She still has her claws in me and it hurts.
    Thanks for the article as it was well written.

  2. excellent.

    insightful and honest.

    and dead-on accurate.

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