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Can Narcissists Love Others? [REVISITED]

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

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The short answer to this question is, "The probability of this is so low that it is not worth wondering about." But why? Why are people asking this question and why is this the answer? The truth is, even the question itself assumes things that shouldn't be assumed. When someone asks if a narcissist loves them, what they are truly asking is, "Does this person experience love the way I do, do they even understand what love is, do they agree with me about what love is and do they feel the same way about me that I feel about them?"

These are actually fundamental assumptions, but everyone takes the answers for granted. When we are asking this question about narcissists, we have to understand that they likely do not experience emotions the way non-pathologically narcissistic people do, that they likely do not understand what love really is, that they probably do not agree with your definition of love in any event, and because of this, realistically do not and probably cannot feel the same way about you that you feel about them.

In all likelihood, narcissistic people probably do believe they love others. If you ask narcissists if they love any other people or ever have, the majority of them will say "yes." But what they mean by that, how they define and experience love and what they realistically think love looks like in relationships with other people is usually very, very different than what others think. It's probably a mistake to assume we understand what anyone other than ourselves means by words they use - especially words like "love," but with narcissistic people it is perhaps even more of a mistake, because there is no way to know if they even have context for the experiences or feelings that these words describe at all.

People understand things based on their experiences and their information. For example, narcissists and psychopaths objectify people, meaning they view and experience people as objects. If you ask them whether they see other people as people, most (if not all) will say yes, of course they do. But even when they are being sincere, what does this actually mean? What is their baseline for understanding how they experience and understand other human beings, compared to how others view them? If you ask a person with abnormal or severely affected experiences about normal experiences, do they have the appropriate context to even answer that question?

For example, if a person with a severe psychotic disorder is experiencing daily delusions and hallucinations, but when you point it out they say, "My perception is not as distorted as you say it is," what real ability do they have to actually make that assessment? They don't have an understanding of what "normal" perception would be, because to them, this is normal. It is the same problem with narcissists. They can only understand or gauge things through their own perception, which is likely extremely different from yours. Even if they sincerely think they do love someone, what does that actually mean in reality?

With narcissists, it means "I love the way you help me feel about myself. I love the things you do for me. I love the reflection of myself that you show me through your expressed perception of me." When they stop believing they love you - or believing that you love them - it's because they believe these things have changed. Things don't have to have actually changed; all that has to happen is that the narcissist believes they have changed, and since their perception is severely affected and their identity, self-worth and self-image are very unstable, they can come to believe this for very small or even nonsensical reasons.

You didn't buy the kind of butter they asked for at the store,. To the narcissist this can mean that you do not consider them important enough to matter and you don't care how they feel. Maybe you corrected them about something. To the narcissist, this means you are trying to embarrass or harm them. You are ridiculing or attacking them and you no longer see them as perfect. These kinds of things cause the reflected image they see of themselves through your perception to become tainted. You no longer see them as good or perfect and consequently, they can no longer see themselves that way.

This is a much bigger deal to narcissists than many people realize. This must be rectified, because a loss of esteem on this level is literally life-threatening. It usually takes the form of devaluing the person or the relationship in an attempt to deny and distance themselves from the threat or injury: "I don't have to believe this because this person is not important, they don't like me and are just being mean, they are wrong, they are stupid, etc." And attacking the person, their words, their character, their perception or whatever else - defending themselves, in other words - puts them in a position of strength instead of vulnerability. And sometimes there is a discard, where instead of bothering to defend themselves, they simply abandon the relationship or situation. This is easier than facing whatever unpleasant feelings were stirred up by their perception that the relationship has somehow changed.

Because the aforementioned things are what they actually care about in relationships: how they feel about themselves, experiencing the reality of themselves through the perceptions and actions of others - and because they can get these things from literally anybody under the correctly-managed circumstances, we often see a discard when the fall from grace happens and we almost always see devaluation of the relationship and/or the other person.

Narcissists value utility over identity in people, kind of like not caring what kind of vehicle you have as long as it gets good gas mileage. There is no real love in this situation, because love for others is not about how we feel about ourselves. You are the mirror in a narcissistic relationship and when we look into a mirror, we don't see the mirror. We see ourselves reflected back to us. In this same way, the narcissist does not see other people. They see and become infatuated with the perfect reflection of themselves that the other person is showing them. This is not love. If they think it is - and many of them do - it is only because this is the sum of their experience with situations where people use that word. As soon as the reflection changes, their feelings do, too.

Narcissism was named for Narcissus, a figure in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection in the water. Key to understanding narcissists is the understanding that Narcissus did not fall in love with himself. He fell in love with his reflection. In this same way, narcissists are not in love with themselves. Most are actually consumed with fear, envy and self-loathing. Those that are not are simply empty. They are infatuated with the reflections of themselves that they experience through other people's perception of them. It sounds complicated but only to explain. In practice, it's really very simple:

How others see me is how I see myself. When others see me as good, smart, attractive, important and other positive things, I can see myself that way and I like that a lot. I also need these reflections because I have no ability to create a stable self-image, so if I can't find anyone to reflect a positive image of myself back to me, my self-worth crashes and I have no way to do anything about it. I literally live on the opinions of others. If others do not verify my existence through giving me some kind of attention, I do not exist.

And remember, "positive" in this context doesn't necessarily mean "good." That is ideal and would probably always be the preferred situation, but many, many narcissistic people can survive on mostly negative attention, too. As long as their existence can be verified through attention and they can experience themselves as important in some way - even if it's by making other people angry or upset at them, or through hurting others - that is enough. Some masochistic or sadistic narcissists may have even learned to thrive on negative attention and may gear their efforts toward doing things that constantly result in them being punished or in punishing others.

The narcissist loves the attention they receive, they love the verification of their reality and importance as a person, they love the reflection they are being shown of themselves, but they do not love the other person or people in the relationship because, like the mirror, they don't see the other person or people in the relationship. This is a person completely and totally fixated on themselves to the exclusion of everything else. One of the reasons people ask if the narcissist loved them is because they want to believe that the fixation the narcissist seemed to have on them and the importance the narcissist attached to them was real. It is, but not for the reasons people think.

What appears to be a fixation on someone else is still a fixation with the self. The narcissist does not want to be around someone constantly because they like them. They want to be around someone constantly because they become infatuated with the way they feel about themselves when this person is around. They will often even say exactly that, or something along the same lines. During the love-bombing or idealization stage of the relationship many things are said and lots of times if we examine them, we will realize they are self-serving statements revolving around the narcissist, not the other person. They believe they are talking about the other person, but this is because they are so self-centered that they don't see the difference between saying, for example:

I love you because you're so smart.

and

I love you because you make me feel so smart.

These may or may not be sincere statements, but there is a difference between saying "I love you" and "I love the way you make me feel." One is expressing love for someone else and the other is not. It's important to truly listen to what other people are saying and not assume they understand the way we understand or mean what we mean. Narcissists are mimics and they can be good at creating the appearance of something, but they are usually not that good at it because they don't really understand the things they are mimicking. They usually get a lot of assistance from the other person or people in the relationship simply because the others want to believe in it so badly.

The simple, unvarnished truth is that it really doesn't matter if someone loves you or not if they are treating you badly, if they are not respecting you and if the way they love you makes you feel bad. So many times, people are willing to accept these things and more if they can believe the person loves them. But if someone is doing these things, they don't love you in any healthy way and maybe not even at all. A person can need you, want you, use you, live with you, have sex with you, give birth to you, raise you, support you, buy you presents, give you money, feed you and more, all without ever loving you. These things are not love. They are not like love. They are what they are and that's all they are.

We sometimes hear people say, "You don't hurt the ones you love." Of course we hurt the ones we love sometimes. It's part of being human. But if someone loves you, they don't excuse, justify or defend hurting you, and they don't keep hurting you because they believe you deserve it or because their own stuff is more important. That's not love.

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