Some of you may have dated or are currently dating a narcissist. And relationships with narcissists are anything but fluid; one moment they will give you attention, but the next moment they will focus entirely on themselves, leaving you in emotional turmoil every day.
So, naturally, you must have wondered, “Can a narcissist fall in love?” Are they even able to express feelings like everyone else? Well, you don’t need to wonder anymore – there is finally an answer.
In this article, I will go into detail about whether a narcissist can fall in love. However, before moving on to the dilemma itself, I must first establish a few things. Mainly, there has to be a delineation between love in general (as the rest of the world sees it) and what love is to a narcissist.
What is love?
The subject of what love really is has been covered by various thinkers over the centuries, from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas to Erich Fromm (and, to some extent, Haddaway). It’s a fascinating topic for anyone who enjoys deep thinking, but it gets tricky when you try to define it in practical terms.
So before moving forward you will need a clear example of what love is not.
1. Romance is not love
It may seem contradictory until you realize one simple fact. Romance, as a concept, is just one important segment of love. If you have nothing but romance, you’re not doing the work necessary to turn that feeling into something tangible; instead, you’re stuck at the basic high school “love” level that disappears after the first major hurdle in your relationship.
2. Lust is not love
Again, having strong feelings of sexual attraction is an important part of what love is, but on its own, it’s simply a physical and physiological need that you need to meet. In short, there is virtually no emotional fulfillment between partners.
3. Codependency is not love
Staying in a relationship with someone just to validate your sense of identity is far from healthy. It’s safe to say that there isn’t even an ounce of healthy love there.
When you talk about love, you have to keep in mind that it is a complex feeling, which involves both thought and action, as well as long-term commitment and many sacrifices. So let’s get to the high points.
As stated earlier, sexual attraction and romance are definitely two important segments of love. To love and be loved, you have to be physically attracted to someone. In addition, an emotional connection is essential (kisses, hugs, romantic conversation, etc.).
However, there are more components to love, arguably more important than romance and sexual attraction. When you love someone, you have to feel the motivation to know all about them. You must cater to their wants, needs, and desires; moreover, you must be ready to share some of your own.
On top of all that, true love requires endurance. When you argue with your lover, both of you will need the maturity to move past the argument and settle it like adults. You have to realize that you’re not always right, but you’re not always wrong either. Healthy love needs input from both lovers, because that’s how you grow and form strong, lasting bonds.
Most importantly, a lover must feel empathy for their partner. When they feel unlucky, depressed, sad or angry, they need someone to lean on, someone who can help them cope and move on. Understanding another individual on this deep level is the very essence of love.
Can you measure love?
Ask yourself, can a narcissist fall in love? is easy. Finding a definitive way to measure someone else’s love for their partner is quite another matter.
Two studies, in particular, have focused on how some people measure the love in their lives. The first of the two studies, published under the title The Behavior of Love, came out in 1972. The second study was carried out 15 years later under the name Measures of expressions of love.
In the first study, participants expressed that they felt loved by their partner who did one of the following acts:
• Show interest in their daily affairs
• Provide emotional and moral support in difficult times
• Share intimate facts about themselves
• Verbally express feelings for the participant regularly
• Tolerate flaws and bad behavior for the sake of the relationship
The second study showed similar results. Subjects who participated in the study expressed that they feel love when it is expressed by the following:
• Words of affirmation
• Spend quality time with the partner
• Give presents
• Perform acts of service
• Physical touch
Of course, these results do not represent love at all levels. However, they are a good indicator when looking at the nature of narcissists and how they express love (if at all).
Can a narcissist fall in love, then?
Well, it really depends on the context. More importantly, it depends on who you ask.
If you were to ask the average narcissist, they would more than likely say, “Yes, I can fall in love.” In fact, they might even show it directly; Narcissists often have no trouble finding a partner. And at first glance, it could certainly look like a healthy and loving relationship.
However, if you ask someone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist, you might get a completely different answer. Despised partners will call a narcissist cold, distant, unable to open up, unable to empathize, etc. In extreme cases, partners of narcissists have experienced extreme emotional abuse. Simply put, their response will rarely be positive.
So why do narcissists act this way, and is there a way for them to love like you and me?
What’s stopping a narcissist from liking you?
Narcissism is a severe personality disorder, caused by past trauma that gives the person a biased view of the world. They don’t see the world like you do. And, more importantly, they don’t see themselves as the world sees them.
With that in mind, there are several key obstacles that prevent a narcissist from falling in love like everyone else.
The first is how they see others. A typical person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD will not look at you as an individual. Rather, they will see you as an “extension” of themselves. To put it bluntly, you are a useful tool for them; your wants, needs and desires are not even considered in their lives, and when they interact with you, they only see what is useful to them.
Emotional empathy is the second major obstacle. Usually, a person with NPD will overestimate their level of empathy. They will act like they care about your problems on a surface level, but that won’t “look like” what they do. More often than not, this will feel like an afterthought rather than genuine empathy.
The third and final obstacle is their defenses. A narcissist will constantly brag, but shut down emotionally when feeling vulnerable. Moreover, they will use various abusive tactics to go after the person who is in love with them.
Paradoxically, a person with NPD has strong cognitive empathy. They are emotionally quite intelligent which makes them extremely dangerous. A narcissist can easily manipulate their partner into giving them what they want without realizing how emotionally they are destroying them.
How do narcissists show their love?
As stated, a narcissist sees everyone as an extension of themselves. So when interacting with a partner, they are not trying to make the partner feel wanted. Instead, they do everything for their own emotional satisfaction.
Of course, people with NPD can and do express both sexual and romantic attraction. If you’re dating a narcissist, they’ll shower you with gifts, kind words, and immense physical contact. And on the surface, it will look like love to you. More importantly, it will look like love to them.
However, someone with NPD doesn’t like to share their feelings, nor can they sympathize with yours. So if you try to make your relationship serious, they become defensive, abusive, and cold. This is when they are able to tell you some of the most hurtful things. And what is worse, they will say it deliberately, fully aware of their words.
As horrible as it sounds, you’re almost like a puppet to a narcissist. They will play with you and take care of you until you start to annoy them. That’s when they go back to square one and become infatuated with another person, seeing you as a burden.
But can a narcissist fall in love like me, despite all this?
So far, everything in this article has been somewhat lackluster. It’s not easy when you know your partner is someone who may never love you the way you love them.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. A narcissist, despite their problems, can certainly succeed in returning your love. However, it will take a lot of hard work.
Your first step is to try couples therapy; be sure to find a therapist who specializes in NDP. Therapy will help you both break down your defenses and open up to each other. Over time, your partner will begin to discuss their vulnerabilities and understand your feelings.
In addition, your partner will need to undergo individual therapy. In this way, a specialist can help them reduce their narcissistic behavior. More importantly, your partner will learn to open up to people other than you.
If you have been emotionally abused in your relationship, seek therapy immediately. It will help you come to terms with what happened and you will become a much healthier and happier person.
Can a Narcissist Fall in Love: Final Thoughts
Having an NPD is crippling, both for the narcissist and for the person they are seeing. But can a narcissist fall in love and overcome their destructive behavior? The answer is “yes,” but only if you’re both willing to work together to achieve that goal. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it in the end.