Are narcissists capable of love?
Are narcissists capable of love? I hear many who feel that narcissists are incapable of love. What does love look like to them? Can a narcissist form a loving relationship? What is the actual truth about being in a relationship with a narcissistic person? As a relationship therapist, I would like to provide some insight into these questions.
At the beginning of a relationship, many can be captivated by the luring charm of a narcissistic person, when they are being enticed into a relationship. During the love bombing phase, a narcissist can portray the perfect partner, when in actual fact, they’re looking for a perfect supply, to fill the emptiness they feel inside.
Those with narcissistic personality disorder presents a ‘false façade that portrays whatever the other desires, in order to win them over. They are addicted to the thrill of the chase, the excitement of obtaining a new supply, who will admire them and overcompensate for a fragile self. However, the relationship quickly shifts from idealisation to devaluation, stonewalling, abuse or discarding. Once the partner is hooked into the relationship, the narcissist reveals their controlling behavior, causing the partner to see the cracks. The partner is then unable to provide them with admiration, in order to keep their self esteem intact. Here is how the relationship changes:
- Many say that the narcissistic partner has no empathy for their feelings, and makes the relationship all about them.
- Conversations get turned around, so the partner feels sorry for them or thinks that they’re wrong.
- Narcissists cannot hear constructive criticism and withdraw, devalue or attack to avoid narcissistic injury or feelings of deflation. Often turning the problem around, so the partner is at fault. So raising issues is pointless. They cannot own their problems or take responsibility for them. It will be the partner’s fault.
- When injured or feeling inadequate, they will quickly discharge their feelings of inadequacy and put them onto their partner, so their partner doubts themselves and backs down from their point of view.
- Gaslighting is used to make the partner question themselves or doubt their own reality, so their partner backs down from questioning them or having a mind of their own.
- Partners walk on egg shells, feeling scared to speak their own minds, to avoid causing injury or narcissistic rage.
- Eventually, the partner will give themselves up in order to appease the narcissist, going against themselves. Often many take on the narcissist’s views, losing themselves entirely.
- The partner can feel like an empty shell of a person, like the life-force has been sucked out of them.
- The narcissist gets wounded when others do not agree or understand them, so they convince others to do so, without considering how others feel. The arguments become all about them.
- Narcissists feel unable to tolerate when their partner has a different view or opinion from their own.
- They expect others to read their minds, or to automatically know how they feel, in a state of one-mindedness. They think that others see things the same way they do, and are unable to appreciate that others have a separate self and mind of their own. They often pressure for others to be on the same page as them, to agree with them or they force their view to be heard, and are unable to listen to others or consider other point of view.
- They feel bitterly disappointed when their partner stops giving them supplies, or stops attending to their needs.
- When others do not prop them up, they are left with their impaired self that feels empty inside, so they attempt to re-fuse with them by trying to get supplies, so that the partner meets their needs or expectations.
With all the points, it seems impossible for the narcissist to feel genuine love for someone, that is not based on serving their needs. In actual fact, I have seen many narcissists that feel deeply hurt when they feel rejected or unimportant by their partner, but they hide their feelings and cover them up, by devaluing the relationship, so that they do not feel the pain.
I often hear that intimacy is withheld by the narcissist, when the partner stops meeting their needs. This is because there is a break in fusion with the partner, who once idealised them or put them on a pedestal. When they fall off of the pedestal, and their true colours appear, this causes the narcissist to feel shame, pain and deflation in their grandiosity. They rely on the judgments of how their partner see’s them, to hold up their fragile self esteem, despite the fact that they appear unaffected by them.
The narcissist falls apart when others stop seeing how perfect they are, so they devalue the relationship as a way to cope, often withholding from emotional intimacy, and so someone who is narcissistic can seem incapable of love.
Can someone who is narcissistic really be capable of love?
Are Narcissists capable of love? In actual fact, the truth is that the narcissist can cut off from painful feelings and self soothe to protect themselves from the hurt, pushing away feelings of love that they may feel for someone. In actual fact many narcissists struggle to let go of the relationship, and leave to recover from a wound, and then come back, but do not know how to show love because it hurts to make them so vulnerable, when their partner is so outraged by them. The worst thing for them is revealing their real vulnerable self, which makes them more susceptible to feeling hurt and inadequate, so they can easily run away from their feelings and push love away, so that they do not feel so fragile.
The narcissist usually shows feelings of love at the beginning of a relationship when they are not so vulnerable, when fused with an idealised partner, who looks up to them. When the idealised fusion is broken, they feel empty or inadequate in the relationship, and these feelings prevent them from forming a loving connection. Having intimate conversations causes them to close up and become guarded, so that their partner doesn’t uncover that they are not perfect. They are constantly protecting their grandiosity and feel disappointment when others do not treat them with high regard. They actually believe that others are wrong and believe it is the relationship that makes them feel inadequate or flawed, not realising that these feelings are inside of them. So they protect themselves by finding fault in their partner, so that they can escape these feelings. They feel the victim of others mistreatment, believing their own illusions and often pushing loved ones away.
The narcissist seems incapable of love, and withholds emotional intimacy by covering their vulnerabilities with a façade of invulnerability to protect themselves from feeling hurt in relationships. When wounded or hurt, they feel that others do not understand their pain. They will withdraw or attack to deflect the pain, unable to hear their partner or provide empathy for them, because they are protecting themselves from being judged. Underneath they cannot tolerate the pain of hearing how bad they are, because deep down they are so self-critical. They end up running away from themselves and escaping their feelings. Therefore they can be emotionally unavailable to the needs of others and so a relationship with them can feel very damaging to the partner who does not know how to deal with them.
The narcissist expects that their partner will mirror their grandiosity and reflect how perfect they are, otherwise they devalue the relationship or find no need for it. Whenever partners do not meet their needs, the narcissist feels disappointment in their partner. They react in the following ways. They inflate their self or grandiosity so they feel better and escape the empty or inadequate feelings. At Counselling in Melbourne, often the narcissist can use addictions, sexual acting out, affairs, and try to be to be the best or aspire to wealth or beauty to give them the ego boost.
Deflation of narcissists grandiose self causes them to be incapable of love
When injured by their partner or when their partner disapproves of their behavior, the narcissistic partner will prove how good they are by defending themselves to avoid judgement, and prove that that others are wrong. They honestly do not understand how others do not see how perfect they are, because of their grandiose self. Often, they believe they are right and their partner is wrong, they are very convincing and seem to draw people into being on their side, vilifying the partner. They can be very persuasive and attempt to present a perfect picture of themselves, which does not fit with reality. The therapist has to be careful not to get drawn into psychic fusion with them, when treating narcissism.
Narcissist can feel bored and empty in relationships, due to the empty self, so they’re looking for ways to satisfy themselves. Yet, they feel that the partner is boring or not compatible, when they are not fulfilling their empty self, feeling deprived and feeling deserving of a more exciting partner. The grandiose narcissist seeks constant supplies (beauty, money approval, admiration).
Eventually, they will discard partners who do not fulfil their needs or who exposes them for not being perfect. They cut off from their emotions, and cannot get close to anyone. To them love is about mirroring them as perfect and attuning to all their needs, which is unrealistic and cannot sustain the longevity of a real relationship. Love is about making them feel important, not about the partner. Love is a one-way relationship for them.
In actual fact, behind the aloof wall of the narcissist lies a person who is so vulnerable and afraid of being hurt, that they develop defensive armour to protect them from their feelings, which gets in the way of developing intimacy and real love. Love and intimacy exposes them to feelings of vulnerability, if they let down their emotional walls to be open with their inner thoughts and feelings. When narcissistically wounded and feeling criticised by their partner, they protect their vulnerably by pushing away love. If one can reach the narcissist through their vulnerability, it provides in roads to reaching their real self, so they can communicate how they really feel, and not defend or attack to protect themselves. Once they can access their real feelings underneath, they can be more emotionally available for others. I have seen narcissists start to form empathy by being more in touch with their feelings, instead of reacting to protect their feelings.
What does it take for narcissists to be capable of love?
Sometimes partners want to try working on the relationship when they have children. It takes the skills of narcissist trained therapist to provide couples therapy to breakdown their walls and defences, so they can foster empathy for their partner, while open up about their vulnerabilities in order to foster a more intimate connection. A strong foundations in a relationship is built when each partner can be more in touch with how they feel and are able to communicate their feelings; when this is achieved each person is able to hear each other, as oppose to being reactive towards each other. However, usually the narcissist should engage in individual therapy to work through their feelings, so that they do not remain destructive to others. If the relationship is too destructive the partner may need therapy to recover from narcissistic abuse and explore why they stay stuck in abusive relationships
Nancy Carbone provides relationship counselling, as well as couples therapy. She specialises in the treatment of personality disorders at Counselling Melbourne from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York.Back to Blog Home