Back to La-la Land: Giving the Narcissist a Second Chance

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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Relationships with narcissists peter out slowly and tortuously. Narcissists do not provide closure. They stalk. They cajole, beg, promise, persuade, and, ultimately, succeed in doing the impossible yet again: sweep you off your feet, though you know better than to succumb to their spurious and superficial charms.

So, you go back to your "relationship" and hope for a better ending. You walk on eggshells. You become the epitome of submissiveness, a perfect Source of Narcissistic Supply, the ideal mate or spouse or partner or colleague. You keep your fingers crossed.

But how does the narcissist react to the resurrection of the bond?

It depends on whether you have re-entered the liaison from a position or strength – or of vulnerability and weakness.

The narcissist casts all interactions with other people in terms of conflicts or competitions to be won. He does not regard you as a partner – but as an adversary to be subjugated and defeated. Thus, as far as he is concerned, your return to the fold is a triumph, proof of his superiority and irresistibility.

If he perceives you as autonomous, dangerously independent, and capable of bailing out and abandoning him – the narcissist acts the part of the sensitive, loving, compassionate, and empathic counterpart. Narcissists respect strength, they are awed by it. As long as you maintain a "no nonsense" attitude, placing the narcissist on probation, he is likely to behave himself.

If, on the other hand, you have resumed contact because you have capitulated to his threats or because you are manifestly dependent on him financially or emotionally – the narcissist will pounce on your frailty and exploit your fragility to the maximum. Following a perfunctory honeymoon, he will immediately seek to control and abuse you.

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In both cases, the narcissist's thespian reserves are exhausted and his true nature and feelings emerge. The facade crumbles and beneath it lurks the same old heartless falsity that is the narcissist. His gleeful smugness at having bent you to his wishes and rules, his all-consuming sense of entitlement, his sexual depravity, his aggression, pathological envy, and rage – all erupt uncontrollably.

The prognosis for the renewed affair is far worse if it follows a lengthy separation in which you have made a life for yourself with your own interests, pursuits, set of friends, needs, wishes, plans, and obligations, independent of your narcissistic ex and unrelated to him.

The narcissist cannot countenance your separateness. To him, you are a mere instrument of gratification or an extension of his bloated False Self. He resents your pecuniary wherewithal, is insanely jealous of your friends, refuses to accept your preferences or compromise his own, in envious and dismissive of your accomplishments.

Ultimately, the very fact that you have survived without his constant presence seems to deny him his much-needed Narcissistic Supply. He rides the inevitable cycle of idealisation and devaluation. He berates you, humiliates you publicly, threatens you, destabilises you by behaving unpredictably, fosters ambient abuse, and uses others to intimidate and humble you ("abuse by proxy").

You are then faced with a tough choice:

To leave again and give up all the emotional and financial investments that went into your attempt to resurrect the relationship – or to go on trying, subject to daily abuse and worse?

It is a well-known landscape. You have been here before. But this familiarity doesn't make it less nightmarish.

Note: Understanding Your Past and Future Relationships

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Romantic relationships with intimate partners (significant others) are comprised of three components:


I.                Mate Selection (Choice)


II.             Relationship Model or Hypothesis


III.          Termination Triggers


Mate selection is critical, of course, but even more important is to ensure compatibility between the mate selected and the model of relationship one has in mind. There are as many types of relationships as there are couples and one would do well to define precisely how one would like to live her life with her spouse. An open marriage calls for one kind of partner and a traditional one calls for another. Mismatches between the personality, character, and temperament of the members of the couple and the relationship model they have adopted are often the main fount of trouble, gnawing at the foundations and leading to the disintegration of the pair.


Yet, even when one’s mate, partner, or spouse has been selected with care to perfectly fit the relationship one has in mind – some relationships crumble. This is because the members of the couple have disparate “termination triggers” and abandonment anxiety thresholds. Insecurities, fears, and codependence often rise to the surface and lead to self-defeating behaviours, such as preemptive abandonment (“I will walk away before he does.”)


Romantic, intimate relationships are comprised of various dimensions, functions, and axes. Deconstruct your past relationships in order to avoid mistakes in future ones.


Ask yourself:


How do you perceive the role of your relationships in fostering your personal growth and in attaining your life's goals? This is known as your Personal Narrative.


Which of these internal and external functions matter to you most in your romantic relationships (use your answers construct a prioritized list)?

Experiencing Love: romantic, "mature" (as distinct from mere and fleeting infatuation)


--- Being desired, chosen, focus of attention/adulation


----Being exclusive/monogamous


--- Excitement, thrill ---> to counter boredom


--- Stability, safety, predictability, reliability ---> to counter anxiety


--- Mirroring (emphasizing and sharing similarities)


--- Personal growth enhancement


--- Giving/Receiving


--- Conformity (enhancing your social acceptability)


--- Conferring social status


--- Sexual Availability


--- Non-sexual intimacy


--- Procreation (having children)


--- Companionship (unrestricted and immediate physical and mental availability of another person with whom one shares the same range of opinions, interests, and pursuits.)


--- Friendship (deep, all-pervasive bonding to another person, involving full, unmitigated trust, a great measure of non-sexual or also sexual intimacy and the pursuit of the mutual well-being and happiness of both parties.)


Then proceed to identify your Commitment Triggers: what is it that determines whether a prospective partner would end up being a one-night stand or your life-long spouse?

What are your
Relationship Predictors? Commit to paper (or screen) everything that your inner voice tells you when it says: "this maybe the one" and when it guesstimates how long the relationship is likely to last.

List your expectations of yourself and of your partner and generate a coherent
Expectations ("what to look for") Profile.

Determine how you
test for reciprocity. Is it a quid pro quo type of ledger or accounting approach? Is it more diffuse, synoptic test?

How do you
build trust in the context of your relationships? Do you share information with your partner? Are you more into "information discovery" (not to put too fine a point on it: spying)? Do you constantly gauge and test his reliability and responsibility? To what extent are you self-aware of your own good and bad qualities, fortes and limitations or shortcomings?

Sexual Trajectory: What is the frequency of sex throughout the life of your typical past relationship? Are you sexually creative, imaginative, and inventive? Do you initiate or merely respond to advances and cues? Do you frequently end up finding yourself in sexless relationships? Are you mostly sexually available - or withdrawn? To what extent do gender roles express themselves in your sex life with your intimate partner? What about social, religious, and cultural strictures and biases?


Relationship Horizon


The partners’ expectations regarding the longevity of the relationship determines the relationship style. Do you expect your relationships to last, or are you doubtful, pessimistic, cynical, and fatalistic from the get-go?

Proximity – Spatial


Are you into cohabitation or otherwise sharing the same premises or area? Or, would you rather live in separate apartments and schedule your encounters? What role does territoriality play in the thriving and survival of your relationships?

Proximity – Temporal


Do you need to do everything together with your partner (clinging) or can you give him/her space? (Synchronous interactivity or time-delayed interaction)

Do you immediately progress from casual acquaintance to full-fledged commitment - or do you give it time and proceed incrementally, carefully, and gradually?

Role Allocation


Who decides on the allocation of roles in the couple and how are they allocated? Do you typically talk over your roles (functions and responsibilities) and reach an agreement (explicit role allocation) or do you leave it to "life" and play it by ear (role allocation by emergence)?

Role Specificity


Once the roles in your relationships are defined are they "cast in stone" (rigid) - or subject to change as circumstances change and both of you grow and develop?


The Two Models of Relationship




Negotiated (matchmaker) love vs. Emergent (romantic)




Partner, companion, friend (active intellect, charm, accomplishments, goal-orientation, self-suffiency) vs. Sexual, adventurer, narcissist




Routines, full disclosure, common activities and hobbies, common growth goals vs. Excitement, thrill, surprise




Demonstrated exclusivity and perceived threat protocols vs. Open relationship




Pre-defined autonomy enclaves vs. Dependence, clinging ("smothering")


Spatial progression to limited cohabitation with private space reserves in-house or outside vs. Full cohabitation


Temporal progression vs. Immediate, full-fledged relationship


Also Read

Rescue Fantasies - Surviving the Narcissist

The Malignant Optimism of the Abused

The Inverted Narcissist - Codependence and Relationships with Abusive Narcissists

Codependence and the Dependent Personality Disorder

The Dependent Patient - A Case Study

Danse Macabre - Trauma bonding and the Stockholm Syndrome

The Cult of the Narcissist

The Narcissist's Victims

Victim Reactions to Abuse by Narcissists and Psychopaths

Mourning the Narcissist

The Three Forms of Closure

Back to La-la Land

The Spouse/Mate/Partner of the Narcissist

Divorcing the Narcissist and the Narcissistic Psychopath - How Do I Get Rid of Him?

Traumas as Social Interactions

How Victims are Affected by Abuse

How Victims are Affected by Abuse - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

How Victims are Affected by Abuse - Recovery and Healing

Narcissists and Personality disordered Mates, Spouses, and Partners

Projection and Projective Identification - Abuser in Denial

Approach-Avoidance Repetition Complex and Fear of Intimacy

Guilt? What guilt?

Narcissists, psychopaths, sex, and marital fidelity

The Narcissist or Psychopath Hates your Independence and Personal Autonomy

I miss him so much - I want him back!

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