And why we sometimes let them.
It’s not because they love you.
They can’t love you. They can’t even love themselves. All narcissistic activity is designed to make up for their inability to love, and to substitute for love.
“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism,” Mayo Clinic.
That fragile self-esteem and the deep need for excessive attention, combined with a lack of empathy, is exactly why they have “troubled relationships.” Like the ones they have with us.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), or narcissist in the vernacular, then you know how much it hurts when they leave. How about what it’s like when they return? And why do they do it?
They come back, if they do, because they are in need of a fix. A narcissistic fix. If you left them, they have to win you back, even as a “friend,” or they feel they have lost. And narcissists, especially malignant narcissists, hate to lose.
If they left you, they still need you as part of their admirers or harem. If they left you, it was most likely because you began to see through them, and they had to move on to find someone more vulnerable and naive. The reflection of themselves they see in your eyes became too real and painful for them.However, they may never give up the fantasy of fooling and reeling you in again, which would put them back in power and control.
This is seen especially in malignant narcissists. While not a DSM diagnosis, malignant narcissism, also known as morbid narcissism, is recognized in the field as NPD combined with elements of sociopathy. I deal with this type in another article.
My narcissist, not a malignant one, but a narcissist nonetheless, came back, briefly a year or so after he left. After he and the woman he left me, and two other women, for, broke up. Why me? Maybe the other two wouldn’t have him. Smart women.
To be fair to me, I didn’t welcome him with open arms. He needed a place to stay and I was leaving the country and needed a house and pet sitter. It was transactional. The silver lining is I realized I didn’t love him anymore.
So why did I let him back in, even briefly and transactionally? There is a dark side to those of us who do that. We like the brief thrill of “victory.” Even though it’s a hollow victory. We were never in competition with other people. The narcissist doesn’t care about any of us enough for there to be a competition. They see us as objects.
Narcissists have difficulty with Object Constancy. That means to them you are an object, not a person. It also means they can substitute one person for another with few, if any, qualms.
One of them told me after he left me, that it felt like his left arm had been cut off. I was a part of his body to him, not a whole person in my own right.That’s another shadow reason we let them back in. Being an object is demeaning. We continue to hope they will finally see us for who we are.
If you love or have loved a narcissist, then your first internal reaction, when they try to come back is likely to be, “Run!” That’s good advice, but easier said than done. There is a charisma and charm the narcissist possesses, that when turned on their object of interest is nearly irresistible. Again, if you’ve been on the receiving end, you know exactly what I mean.
Narcissists “love bomb,” at the beginning of relationships. Sometimes they do the same when they contact you after a break-up. Even when we know that’s what they’re doing, it can be hard to resist. Who doesn’t want to feel loved and appreciated?
There is simply something mesmerizing about being “the chosen one,” even for a moment. Until we finally realize there is no winning with a narcissist.In fact, the minute you feel comfortable or “victorious” with one, that’s the moment they will cut you down to size. The payoff isn’t worth your self-esteem.
In my case, not only did he leave again, but his cousin, who stayed in my house with him, filled me in on what went on while I was gone. When someone asked him why he was staying at his ex’s house, and driving her car, he said, “Because I’ve got it like that.” Of course, he brought another woman to my home and my bed. I can’t say the news surprised me.
The well of need is bottomless for narcissists. As described by the Mayo clinic, They actually have a very fragile sense of self and self-esteem. They are devastated by rejection, and highly sensitive to any type of criticism. As you can imagine, this causes them issues in relationships of all kinds, including school and work. Every criticism or rejection is the other person’s fault. They will blame you when they leave you, but they will claim you are the best relationship they ever had when they come back. Until you aren’t.
You, alone, can never be enough for them. Because they can’t truly, deeply love: not you, themselves, or anyone. They constantly feel a need for validation, acceptance, loyalty. They don’t feel they exist without those things. They don’t offer that, although it may feel like it to you when they are “love bombing.”
Your admiration, though, is actually a hollow victory for them as well. A bottomless well of need, remember? That’s why narcissists will often have a stable of lovers. If they don’t have that, then they surround themselves with admirers. Malignant narcissists develop cult-like followings or actual cults.
When they’re successful enough to surround themselves with admirers, they may not return to you in the romantic sense. Yet they still reach out. It’s difficult for a narcissist to let go of someone who once loved or admired them. Letting go makes their bottomless well of need feel deeper.
Remember the dark side of those who fall for narcissists and then “lose” them? Maybe we’re the ones who reach out. Maybe we even hold out hope that they will finally reveal a true, caring side, along with our own need for validation. When we do that, it’s because we still can’t conceive, even after being their victims, that anybody can be so self-centered and callous.
On the flip side, you may be healed enough from your dark journey with a narcissist that you can have some sort of contact. I’m not saying you should, just that you might be able to if you choose.
I’ve never had any more contact with the narcissist who brought another woman to my home while I was out of the country. And that’s been a healing and freeing situation.
In contrast, one of my exes is extremely entertaining. We make each other laugh. As long as I confine it to that, occasional interaction via text can work for us. But how can you be sure you are healed enough and strong enough to draw boundaries around the interaction? (I’ve had a lot of therapy).
You can only really know when they reject you again, and you don’t take it personally. Or, when they make a run at you again, you don’t take it seriously. Then you know you’re healed.
Don’t, however, use wanting to find out if you are healed as a reason to contact your narcissistic ex. If your first instinct is to run if they try to come back in any way, then do that. It’s by far the safest response. It also shows you have conquered your own need to “win,” which means you’ve healed on a much deeper level. Remember, there is no winning with a narcissist.
Their well of bottomless need will never be filled by you alone. And a well is an apt metaphor for narcissism. In the original fable, Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in the water. Echo saw him looking at his reflection and fell in love with him. However, she could only repeat what he said. So when he said, “I love you,” to his own reflection, she could only echo it back, as if from the bottom of a well. Thinking his own reflection was answering, he became more and more infatuated, until he fell into his own reflection and drowned.
Don’t continue to shout your love into the abyss. Don’t drown alongside your narcissist ex.