Whether you’re an adult child, partner/spouse, or other family member of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), perhaps the most difficult aspect of the relationship is coming to grips with the fact that this person does not and will never love you.

Narcissists may say they love you, and even believe it. They may for a time put you on a pedestal and treat you like royalty. After they have shown their cruelty, they may at times appear remorseful and make promises to change. They may under certain circumstances behave benignly, even benevolently and generously.

But none of what appears fleetingly to be love is real. It is at best idealization, which will always crash and burn into disappointment, mounting criticism and rage, serial abuse, and possible abandonment, no matter how high you were elevated and how special you felt.

Why Narcissists Will Never Love You

People with NPD can’t love. They are developmentally arrested at a formative age, probably somewhere around 2-4 years old. Traumatically deprived of adequate attunement with their primary caregivers, which may trigger a genetic predisposition, the very young person who compensates with narcissistic adaptations can never truly make up for early developmental deficiencies. He fails to integrate a stable sense of identity and self-esteem, and he does not learn empathy for others, remaining primitively ego-centric throughout his life no matter how sophisticated he may become in other areas.

In place of a normative resilient selfhood, narcissists adopt a mask of arrogant entitlement to hide their feelings of inferiority and self-doubt and banish the possibility that others may see their weakness and fear.

The narcissist’s pernicious combination of dysregulated self-concept and lack of empathy leads her to continuously use and abuse others to obtain external validation and fight against persistent feelings of vulnerability and threat.

Narcissists can’t love because they

  1. are developmentally stunted young children;
  2. never learned to love themselves;
  3. don’t care what others feel;
  4. are consumed by their own needs and always see them as paramount;
  5. project their lack of empathy onto others;
  6. lack self-awareness;
  7. don’t understand emotional nuance;
  8. view others as either inferiors to be humiliated, competitors to be defeated, or superiors to be won over;
  9. see life as a war zone; and
  10. ultimately despise any club that would have them as a member.

Why It’s Dangerous to Love a Narcissist

"me" sign will never love you

As pitiable as it may seem, by its nature NPD is an abusive disorder. To varying degrees, most of us try to live by The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do onto you. Narcissists violate that code as a matter of course, viewing it with cynical contempt. Their mantra is, “It’s all about me.” And their “code” is to do virtually whatever it takes to get what they believe is theirs no matter the cost to others. Particularly malignant narcissists walk through life crushing everyone in their path, dominating “the pack” ruthlessly and often sadistically.

Loving a narcissist means a world of hurt for you because s/he will never love you back and it opens you up to potentially devastating harm.

People with NPD never learn to play nice. They

  1. manipulate,
  2. exploit,
  3. lie,
  4. project,
  5. betray,
  6. hold grudges,
  7. deny,
  8. shame,
  9. blame,
  10. mock,
  11. bait,
  12. belittle,
  13. neglect,
  14. deflect,
  15. scapegoat,
  16. play favorites,
  17. take revenge,
  18. terrorize,
  19. torture, and
  20. punish in myriad ways.

They will isolate you from support, destroy your things, kill what you love, blame you for their behavior, and abuse you emotionally, psychologically, physically, and/or sexually. You are an object to them, not a someone. And they feel justified in treating you with scorn and bringing you to your knees.

Think you can change them? Tame their defenses and rage? Re-parent and heal them? Finally win their love with your devotion, kindness, and self-sacrifice? Then you are exactly who they are looking for.

Julie L. Hall writes about narcissism for HuffPost and PsychCentral. She is the author of two forthcoming books: a memoir (read excerpts) and a book on narcissistic family dynamics.

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Image courtesy of ToppazziniPierre-Olivier CarlesCreative Commons.