I’ve blogged about narcissists before, but just to get us all on the same page, 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.” In other words, a narcissist is a person who cares only about themselves.
There are three stages to most narcissistic relationships. In the first stage, the narcissist chooses someone to pursue. That decision is based on what the person can do for them. Narcissists sometimes choose very successful and/or very attractive people, because that makes them look good. They’re looking for a kind of “arm candy.” Or they might choose someone with poor self-esteem who doesn’t know how to set boundaries, because that person will do whatever the narcissist wants.
In that first stage, the chase, a narcissist can be extremely charming and attentive. They become the kind of person anyone might fall for. But relationship addicts are especially vulnerable here, because all that lavish attention meets their insatiable need for acceptance and validation.
But when the narcissist has conquered the object of their affection, the second stage begins. Narcissists are actually terrified of real emotional involvement—all they care about is the chase and the triumph. So as soon as they are in a relationship, they start sabotaging it. They become moody and unpredictable. They are unreasonably critical. They pick fights and always blame the other person.
Their partner, the one they treated with such loving adoration, is now dazed and confused. They’re wondering what just happened and how they can get back to the stage where they were being worshipped and adored. It’s easy for a relationship junkie to become addicted to the highs of this kind of relationship, and just deny the lows. They believe if they just try a little harder, act a little better, things will change.
Finally, during the third stage, the relationship junkie keeps obsessively giving, demeaning, and denying themselves. They’re desperately trying reclaim the positive attention they once got. But this is the last stage of a relationship with a narcissist; they don’t bond with people—they just move on.
This is a dangerous dance for the relationship addict—who already feels empty inside. They will do anything to get love. But for the narcissist, their partners are only objects who exist to gratify their needs. Ironically, these are two sides of the same coin: Each needs the other to fill them up. The relationship junkie has a constant need to be adored and the narcissist has a constant need to be revered. But neither will ever get what they need, because their needs are, literally, insatiable.
This situation is more dangerous for the relationship junkie than it is for the narcissist, because the relationship addict gives their partner the power to determine their worth. The narcissist ends up attacking, demeaning, and criticizing the relationship addict—throwing onto their partner all the negative qualities they are unwilling to acknowledge in themselves.
Meanwhile, the relationship addict, with their weak boundaries, will tolerate behaviors they never thought they would—lying, cheating, stealing. Again and again they will try to prove their love and devotion to the narcissist. The narcissist knows the more the relationship addict focuses on them, the more dependent and powerless that person will become. And the more they can be manipulated.
The relationship addict doesn’t know how to set limits—or to distinguish between what they are responsible for and what their partner is responsible for. The narcissist says, “I cheat on you because you drive me to it.” And so often, the relationship junkie believes it.
But the truth is, we are responsible only for ourselves. You are not responsible for the behavior of others. Everyone must own their actions. A narcissist will try to convince you otherwise. But their problems are their own. Don’t let a narcissist project their problems onto you.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Marriage Junkie: Kicking your Obsession on Amazon. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.