It’s Narcissist Friday!
What is it about narcissists that attract us and hold us? How do they burrow so deeply into our heads? I hear so often from people who have been in intimate relationships with narcissists and have found their way out of the abuse—but it is all they can do to stop themselves from jumping right back in. In fact, if the narcissist didn’t close the door so easily and permanently, these folks would never really leave at all. This phenomenon is seen in family and friend relationships as well, even in organizational relationships. There is something about how narcissists weave their webs that goes beyond the normal connections between people.
It has been helpful to me to talk about a narcissistic addiction. I recently wrote to someone that the feelings created by the narcissist are much like those produced by drugs or obsessive behavior. In order to understand this, we have to realize that addictions can come from chemicals within our own systems. We can be hooked on adrenalin, for example. I suspect that it is also possible to be hooked on whatever hormones or chemicals are created in experiences that make us feel good about ourselves.
Narcissists watch for people who project feelings of need. Whether it is low self-esteem, vulnerability from abuse, or pain from a broken relationship, narcissists know quickly when a person is susceptible to their charms. They are usually very good at reading people and understanding opportunities. (This makes some people believe that narcissists are empathic, that they can feel what you feel. But they only know when those feelings are present and when a person can be used, they do not feel what you feel or connect with your feelings.)
Think of it as a drug dealer who knows which drug will make you feel what you really want to feel. Somehow he gives you just the right one and makes you feel happy, or strong, or loved, or important, or whatever. When you were sitting by yourself, feeling low, he found you and gave you the way to happiness.
This is what narcissists do in so many cases. They are the friend who comes right when you need a friend. They are the lover who makes you feel so special. They are the teacher with all the right words to make you feel like life can be good. Narcissists are what you need them to be.
But, of course, these things all come with a price. Just like the drug dealer who gives you the first few hits for free, payment is expected later. By the time payment is demanded, you are hooked. You have felt the wonderful good the narcissist has given and you have felt the incredible pain of having that good taken away. Now you will do just about anything to get the good back and keep it going. The narcissist will threaten, tease, taunt, even withdraw—just to make you need him even more. Eventually, he will give you only a little, just enough to keep you under his control. Narcissists get bored and want more than any one person can give. The more you need, the less you have; and the less you have, the less the narcissist wants you. Just like any drug.
Then it ends. Maybe it was your decision. But you feel like you are in withdrawal. You have to keep reminding yourself of the pain to stop yourself from calling her. You have to be so strong to ignore his call. You want to drive by the house, peek in at his work, send an affectionate text—even though you know the pain you suffered. This unreasonable urge to do what you don’t want to do is evidence of something wrong, some kind of addiction. It may be common in narcissistic relationships, but it isn’t normal. You need to push through it.
So treat it like an addiction. Take it seriously. This is not a game and it will not be fun. Find some strong support. Get people praying. Admit the need and let others help. Listen to their cautions. Find a good counselor. Set up some reasonable boundaries that you believe in and will keep. Don’t answer the calls. Don’t agree to meet. If you have to see or deal with the narcissist, have someone else along. Eventually, the feelings go away. It may take some time. We have a tendency to remember the good things and forget the bad, at least when we want to. So maybe you should write down what happened. Let a supporter read what you wrote and add whatever is necessary. There are reasons you wanted out.
You do not need the narcissist. You only think you do. You want the feelings he produced, not him.