Narcissists, Love and Healing
Frequently Asked Question # 74
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
The narcissist hates to be loved because he hates women (is a misogynist); because he fears intimacy (which would render him less unique and less mysterious); and because he cannot believe that an intelligent, perceptive mate would find him loveable.
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Why do narcissists react with rage to gestures or statements of love?
Nothing is more hated by the narcissist than the sentence "I Love You". It evokes in him almost primordial reactions. It provokes him to uncontrollable rage. Why is that?
a. The narcissist hates women virulently and vehemently. A misogynist, he identifies being loved with being possessed, encroached upon, shackled, transformed, reduced, exploited, weakened, engulfed, digested and excreted. To him love is a dangerous pursuit, fickle and labile. He believes in fear and hate as immutable, reliable motivations, not in love. He gets married only so as to secure the services of his “partner” as homemaker, audience, personal assistant, and companion. He, therefore, is rarely possessive and jealous: he doesn’t care what she does, when, and with whom, as long as his needs and expectations are impeccably met. He avoids intimacy also because it demands reciprocity and, thus, a waste of his scarce and precious resources on the tedious chore of maintaining a relationship when all he wants is a business-like, contractual arrangement.
When a woman tries to pick up a narcissist, flirt with him, or court him, he is likely to react by subjecting her to humiliating and cool disdain (if he is a cerebral narcissist) or by dumping her after having sex with her (somatic narcissist). In both cases the abusive message is: you have no power over me because I am unique, omnipotent, not your typical run-of-the-mill sap; you are nothing to me but a pitiful parasite or an object to be violated. Your very approach and attempt to seduce me is proof of your imbecility, blindness, or maliciousness for how could you not have noticed that I am different and superior?
b. Being loved means being known intimately. The narcissist likes to think that he is so unique and deep that he can never be fathomed. The narcissist believes that he is above mere human understanding and empathy, that he is one of a kind (sui generis). To say to him "I love you", means to negate this feeling, to try to drag him to the lowest common denominator, to threaten his sense of uniqueness. After all, everyone is capable of loving and everyone, even the basest human beings, fall in love. To the narcissist loving is an animalistic and pathological behaviour – exactly like sex.
c. The narcissist knows that he is a con artist, a fraud, an elaborate hoax, a script, hollow and really non-existent. The person who claims to love him is either lying (what is there to love in a narcissist?), or a self-deceiving, clinging, and immature codependent. The narcissist cannot tolerate the thought that he has chosen a liar or an idiot for a mate. Indirectly, her declaration of love is a devastating critique of the narcissist's own powers of judgement.
The narcissist hates love – however and wherever it is manifested.
Thus, for instance, when his spouse demonstrates her love to their children, he wishes them all ill. He is so pathologically envious of his spouse that he wishes she never existed. Being a tad paranoid, he also nurtures the growing conviction that she is showing love to her children demonstrably and on purpose, to remind him how miserable he is, how deficient, how deprived and discriminated against.
He regards her interaction with their children to be a provocation, an assault on his emotional welfare and balance. Seething envy, boiling rage and violent thoughts form the flammable concoction in the narcissist's mind whenever he sees other people happy.
Many people naively believe that they can cure the narcissist by engulfing him with love, acceptance, compassion and empathy. This is not so. The only time a transformative healing process occurs is when the narcissist experiences a severe narcissistic injury, a life crisis.
Forced to shed his malfunctioning defences, an ephemeral window of vulnerability is formed through which therapeutic intervention can try and sneak in.
The narcissist is susceptible to treatment only when his defences are down because they had failed to secure a steady stream of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist's therapy aims to wean him off Narcissistic Supply.
But the narcissist perceives other people's love and compassion as forms of Narcissistic Supply!
This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
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It is a lose-lose proposition:
If therapy is successful and the narcissist is rid of his addiction to narcissistic supply - he is rendered incapable of giving and receiving love, which he regards as a variety of said supply.
The roles of Narcissistic Supply should be clearly distinguished from those of an emotional bond (such as love), though.
Narcissistic Supply has to do with the functioning of the narcissist's primitive defence mechanisms. The emotional component in the narcissist's psyche is repressed, dysfunctional, and deformed. It is subconscious - the narcissist is not aware of his own emotions and is out of touch with his feelings.
The narcissist pursues Narcissistic Supply as a junkie seeks drugs. Junkies can forms emotional "bonds" but these are always subordinate to their habit. Their emotional interactions are the victims of their habits, as their children and spouses can attest.
It is impossible to have any real, meaningful, or lasting emotional relationship with the narcissist until his primitive defence mechanisms crumble and are discarded. Dysfunctional interpersonal relationships are one of the hallmarks of other personality disorders aswell.
To help the narcissist:
1. Cut him from his Sources of Supply and thus precipitate a narcissistic crisis or injury;
2. Use this window of opportunity and convince the narcissist to attend structured therapy in order to help him mature emotionally;
3. Encourage him in his emotional, self-forming baby steps.
"Emotional" liaisons which co-exist with the narcissist's narcissistic defence mechanisms are part of the narcissistic theatrical repertoire, fake and doomed. The narcissist's defence mechanisms render him a serial monogamist or a non-committal playboy.
The narcissist is unlikely to get rid of his defence mechanisms on his own. He does not employ them because he needs them – but because he knows no different. They proved useful in his infancy. They were adaptive in an abusive environment. Old tricks and old habits die hard.
The narcissist has a disorganised personality [Kernberg]. He may improve and emotionally mature in order to avoid the pain of certain or recurrent narcissistic injuries.
When narcissists do come to therapy, it is to try and alleviate some of what has become an intolerable pain. None of them goes to therapy because he wants to better interact with others. Love is important – but to fully enjoy its emotional benefits, first the narcissist must heal.
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