Do narcissists fall in love?

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Narcissists can’t love but they can and do fall in love. All the time. What they feel is a state Dorothy Tennov has called “limerence,” more commonly known as infatuation or colloquially known as a crush.

According to Wikipedia,

Limerence (also infatuated love) is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person typically including compulsive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship and have one’s feelings reciprocated. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” for her 1979 book “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love” to describe the concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love.

Limerence has been defined by one writer as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves intrusive, obsessive, and compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation from the object of interest”. Limerence has also been defined in terms of the potentially inspirational effects and the relationship to attachment theory, which is not exclusively sexual, as being “an involuntary potentially inspiring state of adoration and attachment to a limerent object involving intrusive and obsessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors from euphoria to despair, contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation”.

In other words, the state of limerence is much like being high on a drug. The “LO” (limerent object) is the person fixated on, and this person is a mirror for the infatuated narcissist. When a narcissist falls in love with you, they can be the most romantic people you could ever imagine. They’ll gaze longingly into your eyes, bring you flowers, want to spend every moment with you, tell you they want to be with you forever.

But it’s not you they are seeing. What they are seeing is a reflection of themselves that you are showing them by reciprocating. You make them feel good about themselves because you are giving them supply and attention, and letting them know how wonderful you think they are. You’re basically nothing more than a mirror, and your narcissist, when he gazes into your eyes, is really gazing at his own false self you are feeding.

This doesn’t mean that only narcissists experience limerence or infatuation. Most people do at some point in their lives. It’s much more common for teenagers and young adults to have a “crush,” but it’s a temporary state. I think it’s more common in young people because they are still rather narcissistic and trying to find out who they are. Mature adults can “fall in love” too, but will normally move from the initial state of limerence with all its heady excitement and intensity, into a more stable state of deep love, which is less emotionally intense but much more rewarding for both partners.

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Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Antonio Canova (Italian, 1757–1822) – Eric Pouhier (May 2007)

Limerence only lasts an average of 1-2 years (in evolutionary terms, this is just enough time for a relationship to result in the birth of offspring, and is also about the length of time of an average engagement). But limerence isn’t love. It’s what Tennov calls a state of “cognitive obsession.” You can be “in love” with someone you don’t even know or have never met (like a celebrity for example), so how can that be real love? It isn’t. It’s obsession. You may be projecting what you want to see onto the limerent object, rather than seeing what’s actually there. That’s why later, after you’re “over” the object of your infatuation, it’s common to wonder, “what did I ever see in her?”

A narcissist can certainly fall in love (unless they’re the commitment-phobic type), but once you begin to express your own needs, and begin to show cracks in your armor that mean you’re only an imperfect human, you are no longer mirroring the narcissist as they want to be mirrored, and that’s when the abuse and manipulations will begin–or in some cases they will begin to devalue you before the final discard.

A narcissist cannot move from a limerent state into real love, as a normal adult can. Real, lasting love requires mutual give-and-take, empathy, sacrifice, compromise, and a lot of hard work–all things that narcissists simply can’t handle. That’s why their marriages and relationships usually don’t last that long–or if they do, become such hotbeds of misery and discord.

If you’ve been discarded by a narc and they’ve moved onto someone else, don’t feel too bad. Before you know it, that new “perfect” lover will seem not so perfect to them anymore, and they will be abused or discarded too, joining their long list of conquests.

A Beachside Affair (guest post).

Here is another guest post by the same writer who contributed “The Narc from Costa Rica.” Again she has asked to remain anonymous, but I think this story does a better job of describing the narcissism of a man who seemed to be extremely romantic. Talk about a whirlwind romance!

It’s common for narcissists (especially somatic ones) to act very romantic in the beginning of relationships. But the problem is, it’s an ACT. They can sweep you off your feet with their charm, declarations of undying love (which are lies), seemingly endless desire to make love to you, and gifts of wine, candy and roses. They also can move in very fast, and it’s not uncommon for one to propose marriage very soon into the relationship. (There are other narcs who are relationship-phobic, usually the cerebral type.). My ex proposed only three months after we met. He was cerebral though, so not all “romantic,” fast-moving narcissists are somatics.

The man in this story, Michael, seems to be a covert or “vulnerable” narcissist. They can seem to have very deep emotions and be quick to express their insecurities and vulnerabilities, but they’re still dishonest and manipulative, and they still have no empathy and will leave you in a heartbeat if a better source of supply comes along. Covert narcissists can be more dangerous than aggressive (classic) narcissists because you never see what’s coming. They can completely fool you because they seem to need you so much.

A Beachside Affair
By Anonymous

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My whirlwind relationship with Michael lasted for only 3 months. It was a summer love, like something out of the movies. Our affair ended abruptly, leaving me completely gutted emotionally and even physically. It was as if he’d ripped my heart out and taken it with him, leaving me with a huge hole inside my soul.

I met Michael on the beach. We quickly became obsessed with each other. He was like an addiction to me. I went to work during the day and all I could think about was Michael. I’d go home and polish myself from head to toe, making sure I looked and felt as beautiful as possible. Before I met Michael I just didn’t feel good. I was in a failing marriage to another narcissist. My husband ignored me. He never talked to me and I was dying inside. I remember that I’d go home and get drunk on wine, just to blur out the feelings of emptiness I felt from my husband’s coldness, on top of having suffered an empty childhood and adolescence due to having been raised by a narcissistic father and a borderline mother who wasn’t much better.

I knew having an affair was wrong, but at that point I no longer cared. I needed to feel loved and needed. Michael fit the bill perfectly, at first. I remember the day I met Michael. He was beautiful, his tanned muscles shimmering and rippling in the sun. We talked for a little while and before long he started to kiss me and held me for 4 hours straight, as the sun went down over the ocean.

After that heady experience I made a decision to leave my husband because I no longer could stand being with him. There was just no comparison.

I’m not sure why Michael had me under such a powerful spell. I’m not sure if it was inverted or covert narcissism or codependency on my part that made me so attracted to him. I know he mirrored my own narcissism and I think that was part of the attraction. Or (in my thinking at the time) maybe it was just that we were both artists that craved something more and we needed attention and had a burning desire to express our vision of life through our art. All I know is that when the two of us got together we melted together like butter. All the love that I never got, all the love I craved and all my neediness was being filled by Michael and I couldn’t get enough of him. He was everything to me.

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Michael had an apartment in a very famous town in coastal New Jersey that was known for its rock n roll legacy, especially Bruce Springsteen. Famous bands played in a place called The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Back then, over 30 years ago, the town was run down and almost abandoned. The Stone Pony was the only thing that held the weak fabric of this town together. But I loved it there. This run down seaside town was always beautiful to me because I always felt like this was my home. I still do. I knew that one day I’d play up on the same stage where other famous artists had played. There was fire in my belly. A void that needed to be filled with a whole lot more than a man’s love. If there was an Angel on Ocean Avenue, she was certainly watching over me.

Micheal was an art student who had nude sketches of himself all over his wall. He played the guitar too and we often played music together and I would sing. I use to stay at Michael’s house every night. We went to parties at the homes of mutual friends we had met out on the beach. The bonfires were wonderful and we would all sit around and sing songs. We sang Beatles songs and Bowie songs and I felt like a reincarnated hippie. My favorite song we sang was David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

“Tell my wife I love her very much…she knows.
I’m here and I’m floating in my tin can.
Far above the world. Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.”

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There was magic and presence and energy and the love in all the people we met at these parties and on the beach. People liked to watch Michael and I, because they were intrigued by our obsession and need for each other. We vicariously fulfilled their need for romance. I felt so validated, loved, sexy and happy. It seemed too good to be true and it was. This couldn’t be real life. It was too perfect.

We were a study in contrasts physically, and I think that’s another reason for the fascination our friends had for us. Michael had beautiful blue eyes and long blonde silky hair, and a great body. I had long black hair and lots of curves. People liked to photograph us together. We use to sit down in front of a long mirror in his room and stare at the contrast. We made each other feel beautiful. And together, we were. At that time it seemed we were good for each other’s self-esteem. At the county college Michael was studying for an Associates degree in graphic arts we were both asked to pose nude for $10 dollars an hour for the students who sketched still lifes in the human anatomy drawing class.

Michael’s background was sad. He told me that he was beaten by his father with a belt consistently during his infancy and his dad was also an alcoholic. Michael was depressed and he had to take psychiatric medication to fight his depression from the abuse he endured as a child. I remember watching him go into this weird state where sometimes seemed almost frozen and off in some other universe (dissociation is a common symptom in people with NPD and BPD). When in these near-catatonic states, he’d punch the floor or the wall over and over again, sometimes lasting for up to 20 minutes. It was sad and very scary. He was not mean or malignant though. He seemed like a gentle, artistic soul who just couldn’t take care of himself. He was never controlling, but seemed very needy for my constant attention and love. I think he was a covert narcissist.

Our affair came to an abrupt end at the end of that summer, because Michael left me for another women who said she was in love with him. She was willing to pay the rent on his apartment. So in the end, he chose money and security over me. I was devastated because the drug of my addiction to him filled me all summer and was suddenly ripped out of my heart in an instant and the devastation and grief was almost too much to bear.

But if I’d known about narcissism, I would have known Idealize and Devalue is all part of their game. They can’t help it. Even covert narcissists are at heart predators out to use you and throw you away when you’re no longer of use to them.

My next phantom lover was a drummer named Karl. I was so needy that I of course fell into the hands of another narcissistic man. And so it goes on…

“Splitting” and idealization/devaluation.

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Splitting–more commonly known as black and white or all or nothing thinking–is a primitive defense mechanism used by both narcissists and borderlines when they observe a threat–that someone doesn’t agree with them or is challenging them in some way, or when they fear abandonment (borderlines) or exposure/loss of supply (narcissists). In narcissism, splitting is usually referred to as idealization/devaluation, but other than the unconscious motive (fear of abandonment for borderlines, fear of losing a source of supply for narcissists), the phenomenon is really the same thing.

Splitting is normal in a very young child. When Mommy is present and hugging the child, Mommy is perceived as “good.” When she denies the child another cookie or she goes to work, the child throws a tantrum, and Mommy is now “bad.” Because the child still doesn’t see himself as a completely separate person from Mommy, when Mommy does something that makes the child unhappy or fearful, the child rejects her and thinks of HER as all-bad. The child is not yet capable of the concept that Mommy is an individual who can be both good and bad at different times and to different degrees depending on the situation.

The fairy tales we read to young children engage them at a level they can understand: fairy tale characters are all-good or all-bad, heroes or villains, with no in between. Only an older child can fully understand that people come in varying shades of grey, and pure black or pure white in one person is exceedingly rare. Realizing that most people are both evil and good at the same time is a sign of maturity and indicates the child has come to see himself as a completely separate person with his or her own identity who can afford to see others as individuals too, rather than one-dimensional cardboard cartoon characters.

Narcissists and borderlines never make that transition. Due to early attachment issues arising from neglect, abuse, or sometimes maternal smothering, they continue to see others as extensions of themselves, not separate people with their own identities, interest and opinions. If someone is an extension of yourself, of course the other person must be seen as “all good.” If the other person fails to provide adequate supply (for the narcissist) or disagrees with them or has differing opinions, they are perceived as a threat and must be rejected, devalued, and demonized as “other.” The only way a narcissist or borderline can see another person as a separate entity is when they have become “other” and are demonized and seen as “all bad.”

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Splitting is common in today’s political landscape. Candidate A believes in health care reform, the legalization of marijuana, the cessation of the outsourcing of jobs, raising taxes on the wealthy–and that a woman has the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Candidate B believes in health care reform, the legalization of marijuana, the cessation of outsourcing of jobs, raising taxes on the wealthy–and that abortion should be outlawed. Candidates A and B, rather than focusing on what they have in common and using that to help improve people’s lives, instead go on smear campaigns against each other focusing on the only thing they don’t agree on: abortion. Candidate A accuses Candidate B of being a throwback to the “unenlightened” 1950s, while Candidate B accuses Candidate A of wanting to legalize murder. Neither acknowledges the many things they agree on–all either can see is that the other is a “murderer” or a “throwback troglodyte.” (Notice too how the accusing labels have become exaggerated and more abusive). That many politicians are narcissistic by nature makes splitting come second nature to most of them. Unfortunately, splitting has become standard in political campaigning and is intended to garner more votes (narcissistic supply) for the accuser while taking them away from the opposing party.

Robin and Tim are madly in love with each other. Robin idealizes Tim–she thinks he is the most perfect man she ever met, and she can’t imagine a life without him. He is the most handsome, smart, funny, sexy, and interesting man in the world, and she can’t believe her luck in having met him. Recently they have started talking about getting engaged. Tim thinks Robin’s wild mood swings are rather charming–but he hasn’t been the target of them yet.

On Tim’s birthday, Robin cooks him a lavish dinner and has a bottle of champagne ready to pop open and enjoy. He is supposed to be home by seven. Eight o’clock comes, and he isn’t home yet. At eight-fifteen, Tim calls and says he got held up. He is in the door by nine, apologizing profusely about his lateness–he was called into an emergency meeting by his boss and couldn’t get out of it. Rather than accepting his apology at face value and proceed to have a nice dinner together, Robin goes on a rampage. She accuses Tim of having a lover and never having loved her. The champagne bottle gets smashed against the wall and the dinner thrown in the trash. After fighting for hours, Robin tells Tim to leave and that she never wants to see him again and that he’d make a terrible husband to any woman who would have him anyway.

In the course of two hours, Robin has turned Tim, a normal man who really did love her but couldn’t get out of a meeting, from “the most perfect man in the world” into an unfeeling monster who is cheating on her and would “make any woman miserable.” Because he disappointed her and she couldn’t handle it or see him as a separate person with his own life and his own needs, she must demonize him and make wild accusations against him, accusing him of doing things he never did and saying things he never said. She has turned the good into the evil, and rejected Tim because he is “all bad” now. Both the “angelic” Tim and the “evil” Tim are creations of Robin’s all-or-nothing, black or white, thinking. Both are fiction.

Splitting is really a kind of blindness–the failure to be able to see any shades of grey in an individual, situation, religion, ideology, belief system, or really, anything at all. It destroys relationships, creates hate and discord, kills community spirit, leads to war and killing, and ruins lives.