When we get out of relationships with narcissists, we are sometimes hard on ourselves about how we could have let ourselves get involved in the relationships or why we stayed for so long.
In addition, others outside the relationship who have never been involved with a narcissist may believe that there was something about us that attracted the narcissist.
It turns out that they are right. It may not be quite what they expect, however.
Narcissists have a strong need for admiration and adoration. They also have fragile egos and when the people around them have differing opinions, they often view this as criticism and seek to punish those who dare to disagree. In addition, they value appearances and boast about success, even riding on the coattails of the successes of others. Their self-perceived superiority makes them feel entitled to associate with anyone and anything that makes them appear to be the most important person in the room because they feel they must have the best of everything.
As a result, there are certain qualities that are highly desirable to narcissists in their partners.
Many of those qualities are probably the same ones that our friends and family members value in us. Narcissists, however, unfortunately knew exactly how to exploit those qualities to their advantage.
- We tend to be caretakers. Narcissists seek out people who are known as “givers.” If the relationship is not quite 50/50, the narcissist is betting that partners who have a natural tendency to take care of others will not complain, as they get pleasure out of being naturally self-sacrificing. He used to tell me all the time what a “caring” person he thought I was and how he loved me “because you take care of me.” Yet narcissists don’t view this behavior as a special gift to treasure and be thankful for. They feel entitled to it because of how “exceptional” they are. In fact, as far as they are concerned, it is a 50/50 relationship because their partner is lucky to be in a relationship with them. What is there to feel grateful about?
- We tend to be empathetic and forgiving. Narcissists lack emotional empathy, however, they seek out people who have a higher degree of it than normal, sometimes referred to as empaths. Narcissists often relay sob stories about how their exes cheated on them or otherwise mistreated them, or they have other tales of woe about things that have happened to them in their past. There is nothing wrong with sharing information about yourself as you get to know someone, however, narcissists do this strategically or even make these things up to get empaths to drop their guards early. Then when the narcissist blames his or her bad behavior on things that have happened in the past– unfaithful exes, horrible childhoods, lost jobs– we are likely to excuse the behavior and give them another chance.
- We tend to have a lot going for us. Narcissists are big on status. They want to look good in front of others at all times. Therefore, the people they bring into their social circles to represent them must make them look good in some way. Somatic narcissists are obsessed with their bodies, youth and external appearance, spending a lot of time at the gym and in front of mirrors. They tend to focus on how their partner looks physically and how the two of them will be seen out and about as a “sexy couple.” Cerebral narcissists are the know-it-alls and think of themselves as the most intelligent ones in the room, trying to impress people with their accomplishments and positions of power. They would be interested in their partner’s social and educational status. Neither wants to be outshined by their partner, but they do want someone around who enhances their status because, to them, their partners are objects they can show off as if to say, “look what I just obtained for my collection.”
- We are generally easygoing. Narcissists have a strong need to “win” and be right. They expect and feel entitled to “obedience” from the people around them, regarding their wishes and rigid views. They may use coercion, cajoling, or any number of tactics to get their way, but we are more interested in harmony than in making sure our opinion comes out on top or that our will is done. We will drop a subject or go with the flow and can be the natural peacemakers of any group. For narcissists, we offer the perfect opportunity to reign supreme, as we will rarely challenge his or her worldview. When the gaslighting begins, it goes against our nature to start asking questions because it will cause conflict.
- We have good hearts and are always looking for the best in other people. Narcissists need to target people who believe others are essentially good. This makes it very difficult for us to leave when the narcissists say they can change, because we project our goodness onto them. Accepting what really happened in the relationship essentially means that we have to reject our own worldview and replace it with a new one in which not everyone has the same heart that we do. It can be a painful and difficult realization to have to face that some people deliberately set out to harm and exploit others.
Narcissists do also take advantage of our individual weaknesses as well, and that’s definitely something we need to think more about to make sure we don’t get in this situation again.
What gets lost in all the aftermath, however, is that this unique blend of positive traits was just as attractive to the narcissist, if not more so, than any individual weakness we may have had. These strengths were manipulated just as heavily as any of our shortcomings. We need to learn how to protect these positive qualities, not change them.
And we’ve got to stop beating ourselves up and believing we are flawed people. That’s just the narcissist talking. Blah blah blah.
Remember– if we were as flawed as they tried to make us believe, we wouldn’t have been chosen in the first place. Narcissists only want the best.
A version of this article also published on Thought Catalog.