Empty words.


“I love you.”

Adult children of narcissists hear those words a lot.  But they ring hollow and false to my ears, because words are just words–it’s the actions behind them that give them meaning.  And I haven’t been shown much (if any) love or support by my family or the other narcissists in my life who have have uttered those three words to me so many times.

Anyone can send a Hallmark card or say “I love you” but that’s as close to love as narcissists can get, because they never learned what love really is.

There’s a blogger I read who is a narcissist.   I like his posts because he writes about narcissistic abuse from a narcissist’s point of view (nope, not Sam Vaknin).  Oftentimes you learn more about something when it comes out of the proverbial horse’s mouth.    You get a whole new perspective on things that way.    Usually he writes about the tactics a narcissist uses to prey on others, but sometimes he’s more transparent and and shows some vulnerability–even writing about the abuse that was done to him and turned him into a narcissist.  From one especially gutwrenching post where the blogger, HG Tudor, describes what sort of “love” he was taught as a child:

Love is being told to never trust anybody.

Love is being made to re-write the entire essay because of one spelling mistake.

Love is being sent to stand outside on a cold winter’s day until all three verses of Ode to Autumn are recited correctly.

Love is knowing nothing is ever good enough.

Love is understanding that someone else knows better than you what is best for you.

Love is turning away from the reality.

Love is standing straight against a wall for several hours for speaking out of turn.

Love is for the weak.

Love is being told that when I am gone nobody else will look out for you.

Love is succeeding.

Love is building a wall as high as possible.

Love is trying until it hurts and gaining that final curt nod of approval.

Love is being seen and not heard.

Love is fulfilling your potential and securing that legacy.

Love is hurting you even though it hurts me, but someone in this household has to do it and it won’t be him will it?

Love is reading to yourself than being read to.

Love is living in the shadows and hoping not to be noticed.

Love is being the best.

Love is the preserve of the powerful.

Love is being denied a birthday party because the other children are too stupid.

Love is being undermined in order to prevent conceit.

Love is a begrudged recognition and the injunction to try harder, go further, climb higher, run faster, study longer.

Love is burning your hand but not crying.

Love is a righteous beating.

Love is being distant and pretending things never happened.

Love is being sent away.

Love is not being told.

Love is splendid isolation. 


He has it right.   He knows this is not what love is, even if he has no idea what real love is.    There’s a lot of anger in his post.  What he may not realize is this list could apply to ALL children of narcissistic families, not just people like him who have NPD.

There’s one difference though.   For those of us who didn’t become narcissists, we somehow learned what love is.   Real love is unconditional love: love that is unearned, love that is given just because you’re who you are, regardless of your flaws and shortcomings. You are not shamed for being who you are, at any point, ever.  You are cherished for your soul, not your appearance, income, intelligence, or achievements.   You are not judged for being in a bad mood or for not being happy all the time.  Someone who truly loves you will still love you even when you’re sad, mad or afraid.  They will offer support in some way, not turn their back on you or blame you or kick you while you’re on the ground.

Those of us with C-PTSD and other trauma based disorders didn’t get unconditional love from our immediate families.   But if we didn’t become narcissists we might have had a taste of enough of it to make a model of it for ourselves.  Maybe a loving relative outside of our immediate family–a  grandfather or aunt perhaps–showed us this kind of unconditional unearned love.  Maybe we were “adopted” by the loving parents of a friend (not literally adopted, just treated like a member of that family).   Perhaps we were fortunate enough not to marry an abuser (unfortunately, that’s not the case for most of us, since we were programmed to attract and be attracted to abusers) who showed us what real love is all about.   Maybe we had a compassionate teacher when we were young.  It’s even possible that one or both of our narcissist parents (if they weren’t malignant or sociopathic) had occasional moments of lucidity when their false self was temporarily down for whatever reason, and during those rare moments were able to see and love us for who we really were, not for what they wanted us to be or what we could give them.

My point here is that love was somehow modeled for us by somebody before the critical period for being able to accept–and give–love came to a close.   Probably not enough to heal our wounds; the damage done to us was severe and complete healing may not be possible.   The scars will always remain, no matter how much work we do on ourselves.   We may be compromised in our ability to give and receive love, but we can still learn.    Even if we’ve been shown very little love throughout our lives, by the grace of God, our souls, though damaged, somehow remained intact.    For a narcissist, there’s no inkling of what actual love might feel like, even if, as with the blogger quoted above, they want to know.


I’m so starved for unconditional love that when it is given to me, I want to cry in gratitude and some emotion that feels very close to relief.   Occasionally I have.    I can tell you what that kind of love feels like:  a sincere hug when you’re depressed; concerned ears that listen without judgment even if they disagree with you;  someone who isn’t a fair weather friend and is still your friend even when you’re going through a rough time or aren’t at your best; a real family that always welcomes and supports you no matter how old you are or how many problems you’ve faced and doesn’t disown you, judge you, shun you, talk badly about you behind your back, or tell you everything’s your own fault.   Love is like a respite from pain after an excruciating illness; it’s reassurance that the thing you dreaded the most did not come to pass, that in fact, the outcome was wonderful instead.    That’s what love feels like, and it’s everyone’s birthright.  That some of us received so little of it–or none at all–is appalling to me.     The injustice of it makes feel rage.

I received just enough of this kind of love, and at an early enough age, that it was modeled for me.  I received just enough that my soul escaped relatively intact, even if my mind did not.    I can feel unconditional love for others, but I’m still afraid to reach out to them, because I learned that people can’t be trusted.  So many people in my life have shown me their “love” has no real meaning and is just three pretty words with nothing inside but betrayal and hurt.    The terrible irony of having received enough of a “taste” to know what real love is  like is that you constantly crave more of it, like a drowning person gasping for air.  You haven’t received enough to feel confident that it will last or that anyone in the world really cares about you, so you either clutch onto it for dear life or avoid relationships altogether.


10 thoughts on “Empty words.

  1. You are spot on about unconditional love being something we want so badly. I never was told much that I was loved. And grew up feeling I wasn’t worthy of love. You are so right love is just a word if actions don’t back it up. I was given much insight about Tudor’s definition of love and what can create a N. You helped me see why I feel so hard for my N in the beginning it is all about making us who crave unconditional love, feel loved and when they have us hooked they snatch it all away. I have felt so stupid for being so gullible and putting trust in someone who used me so much. It is good to understand more about what makes a N the way they are.

    Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome. 🙂

        Regarding the “love” word, I’ve often felt when my covertly narcissistic mother says how much she loves me, (typically after a disguised or overt put down of some sort) that what she’s really boldly proclaiming is that she’s a good & noble person with an expansive heart. She is what can be called a “communal narcissist”- she operates on a pretense of being a do-gooder / martyr / servant of humanity, and a lot of people think “she’s such a good person”, though not as many as she thinks probably.

        On a superficial view of things, my heart is not nearly so great as hers, because I don’t say “I love you” as much- because the whole thing usually feels aggressive, untrue and phony to me. When I do say it back, I often feel like I’m lying just to try not to look bad / unloving.

        Here’s a long story about (mis)using the word love. Sorry it’s so long, but I think it will help me to put it in writing.

        I remember once my mother wrote me an email containing gaslighting, overt abuse, mind-screwery, and threats, and ended it with “Love, Mom”.

        Here’s the background to that email:

        My mother had several months ago (supposedly) become a Christian or had a re-awakening as a Christian or something, and had been talking to me behind my Dad’s back about she wished he would convert, etc.

        So I was at a restaurant at lunch with my wife, father and mother. My mother calmly announced to everybody that I had advised her to divorce my father (he was sitting right there) in order to get him to convert to Christianity.

        She said that I had told her that this is what the Bible recommends you should do if you have a non-Christian spouse.

        Then she said she WOULD do it (divorce him) if she thought it would make him convert, but she knew it wouldn’t work, so she was not going to do that. “I would do it, but I know it wouldn’t work.”

        At the time, I was very naive & knew nothing of narcissism, projection, scapegoating, baiting, etc… so I thought she had somehow misinterpreted something somewhere and innocently attributed it to me by mistake. At the same time I was appalled and embarrassed.

        I indignantly protested and said I would never say such a thing (nor would the bible for that matter).

        She looked calmly at me, and said “Didn’t you send me an email saying that’s what I should do?”

        “No I would never do that.” I replied.

        “I remember you sent me an email saying that’s what the bible says I should do.”

        I replied: “I’ll give you a billion dollars if you can produce that email.”

        I just couldn’t imagine why she would say such a thing and angrily protested more.

        My father deflected / blew the whole thing off with a joke. Let’s just say he’s indifferent, except when he explodes with rage and blame on me when things reach a fever pitch between me and my mother after she baits me, or when she cries.

        Somehow, we finished our lunch, went to the airport and returned to our respective home cities.

        About a week after that lunch, after much thought, I left a sincere voicemail urging her to learn more accurate information about the Bible, because it would never advise such behavior. I said she might make a really bad decision if she had inaccurate information about really important things such as this. I was sincere about this and kind of worried about her.

        She fired off an email an hour later which said:

        “Don’t you even get it, Jim- what’s going on? I only said those things at lunch to shock you into silence, because you were acting so inappropriately. Now, I will never speak to you of this incident again, and if that means that YOU will never speak to ME again then so be it. Of course I’m not going to divorce your father!! What’s wrong with you?? I’m your mother and I will always love you- but this ends now: enough is enough already- just stop!!! Love, Mom”

        2 uses of the word love. Yet inexplicably I don’t feel warm & fuzzy. I’m probably too sensitive; I’ve been told I am by people who ought to know. (sarcasm)

        My head spun while reading and re-reading this email. I showed the email to my wife. Her head spun. I later checked with my father and wife, and they both agreed I had not said or done anything inappropriate at lunch. Even my mother later admitted I did nothing inappropriate. Back then, I was still trying to justify myself to her and I wrenched this concession out of her eventually. No corresponding apology of course- after all, who really cares about how I’m treated?

        This email turned out to be a Godsend, because I couldn’t track how she operated verbally in the moment back then, but when she put into writing I was able to see immediately that something was way off, and it wasn’t all just in my dysfunctional head. I began to learn about projection, scapegoating, gaslighting, baiting, narcissism and more. It all fit.

        I still don’t totally get what would motivate somebody to say what she said at lunch, but my current understanding is this:

        It is amusing for a narcissistic abuser to bait, slander, and gaslight someone in public, especially in front of family. They like to watch you get confused and emotional and they like to watch you squirm. This is a power trip, and functions in and of itself as narcissistic supply. As an added bonus, you get discredited in front of people who are important to you, so you are separated from them, but they look better in comparison. More narcissistic supply. Also, by distancing you from your loved ones, they increasingly become the point of triangular contact between you and them, and as such they can separate you further and increase their narcissistic supply even more. Also in this case, maybe she was initially projecting some of her anger / manipulativeness towards my father onto me. I’ll probably never know.

        My current understanding of the email is that she was saying:

        “Hey dumbass / clueless, allow me to clue you in: you have no grasp on reality, as the rest of us do, and you don’t even know what really happened. Any normal person could see that I slandered you in front of your wife and father because I wanted to confuse you and shut you up. You deserved this, cause you suck. Everybody appreciated it. And it’s my prerogative to do that to you anytime I feel like it, since you’re so bad and your feelings don’t matter. Now hear this: If you breathe one more word about this to me or anybody else, I will never talk to you and again, and I’ll make it look like YOU’RE refusing to talk to ME. Now I’m a great long-suffering mother (“I’ll always love you”), but you’re behavior is so bad that you’re now on the verge of being abandoned forever. And I’ll make sure it looks like you abandoned me, so that out of pity for me you’ll lose everybody else whom we both know as well. Love, Mom”

        Some of that is me reading between the lines, but I know how she operates.

        So yes, the mere use of the word love does not impress me either, and it often makes me want to barf.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hi Jim, your Momster sounds like a real winner. Good example not only of the mindfucking they do (the coverts are especially bad because you don’t see it coming and they seem so “nice”) , but also a great example of what I call the “narcissist word salad.” They twist facts around and make shit up until you feel like you’re going mad, but when you go back and analyze what they actually said, it makes about as much sense as random words typed by a chimpanzee. In a nutshell, they are batshit insane.

          Liked by 1 person

          • LOL!

            Well said.

            Thanks for the validation. I haven’t talked about this stuff much, so believe it or not, I actually need to hear that what she did is beyond crazy and very nasty.

            That’s sad considering how transparently bad her behavior was.

            Unfortunately, it’s not too far from the norm. And the family script is that it’s not her fault. Mom is just imprecise with her language but let’s not quibble about foibles. It actually ends up being my fault because I protest it and cause a ruckus.


            I’ve been low contact for a while now, but I may have to go no contact, as she continues to be hurtful when she gets a chance. It throws me for a loop each time (I guess because I wasn’t designed to be treated that way).

            And there has never been a meaningful apology and there is no sign of repentance.

            And the thing is, I just don’t have the time or energy to be triggered by this garbage. I’m too old and life is too short.

            I would feel guilty about no contact, or maybe more accurately, I would be afraid people wouldn’t understand and I’d lose more relationships, as people would pity her poor selfless self, and she’d innocently plant a low view of me in them. This is no doubt realistic and would happen. That’s how she operates, and she has many people fooled that she’s selfless, and she manipulates others by other means.

            Oh well, who needs friends and family, they are probably over rated, right?

            Actually I don’t have much going on with anyone who knows her, so who cares i guess?

            I’m glad you made this blog. For people who’ve been through this stuff and can relate, it’s an oasis in this dry and weary desert of a world.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’m glad you’re thinking about making some changes regarding your relationship with her. Don’t feel too guilty, your only use to her is to keep feeding her with supply, think of it as tough love. :mrgreen:
              She doesn’t deserve the title of “family.” Maybe it will be a wakeup call she needs, but dont count on it.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing post. Very touching. Believe every day that there will be umconditional love for you and you will attract it. Talk yourself out of the comtrary, talk to God for help..just believe evem if it takes time

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You deserve lots of unconditional love Lauren 💝💝💝. Have faith that it will come. Actually the song from yesterdsy was more for this post..
    Have a very nice day ☀️☀️


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