Why do we pick the wrong partners? In my practice as a clinical social worker, I meet many clients, women especially, who settle for less than they deserve because they’re desperate to be in a relationship. What is it that drives some people to believe that having someone (anyone) is better then having no one?
Sometimes people who are bad for us seem exciting in a kind of dangerous way. Sometimes they start out by doting on us, but then change their tune once we’ve been hooked. And sometimes we make ourselves vulnerable because we put up with too much and then stay too long in a relationship, even when things have soured.
All three happen when someone desperate for a partner falls for a narcissist. The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “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.”
To understand a narcissist, you have to understand the roots of their disorder. In early childhood, they were not nurtured in a way that made them feel cared for and safe. They feel so insecure and unworthy that they over-compensate by creating a false persona—one who gets everything they want, the instant they want it. This is the exact opposite of who they really were as children.
Narcissists project a superiority complex, but deep down they actually feel inferior.
They have a huge void, and they must fill it up with adoration, praise, and love from others. But it doesn’t matter how much love and attention you give a narcissist; they will always feel empty. True intimacy is impossible, because that might mean dropping the mask and being seen for the unworthy person that deep down they believe they are.
They are charming, and in the beginning they will dote on you. But when the narcissist has hooked their partner, everything changes. They start blaming their partner for everything that goes wrong in a relationship. They pick fights and create problems. This is how they avoid bonding, which they secretly fear. They build up an emotional wall so no one can get close enough to truly know them.
When you settle for someone who is a narcissist, you end up obsessively giving and giving, desperately trying to get back to that stage when your partner was so charming and attentive. Before long, you’re denying your own needs and want just to make your partner happy. But inevitably, the narcissist leaves anyway. They always do.
If you have a constant need to be adored, you’re an easy target for a narcissist, who has a constant need to be revered. But neither partner will ever get what they need in that kind of a relationship because their needs are, literally, insatiable.
How do you know you're dating a narcissist? Narcissists often compliment you in a way that actually makes them seem more desirable. “You’re so beautiful that all my friends will be jealous,” sounds like it’s about you, but really, it’s about them. They love to dominate a conversation, mostly talking about how great they are. They’ll put others down to make themselves feel better. They’re after instant gratification and react badly when you don't give them what they want. They have a sense of entitlement and believe the rules don't apply to them. They seem charming and make lots of promises, but they don’t follow through and aren’t dependable.
To keep yourself safe from narcissists and make sure you only allow people into your life who are not in the relationship only for themselves, it’s important to create boundaries. Cultivate your self-esteem so you aren’t relying on another person for your own sense of worth and confidence.
Take Sherry's quiz to find out if you are a love addict. You can find her new book, The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking Your Obsession here. To learn more about Sherry Gaba and her work, visit www.sherrygaba.com.