Loving a Narcissist: Is It Worth It?
We sometimes see stories from people who feel they are able to love the narcissist in their life unconditionally and without expectation, as a parent to a child. They often seem to see the narcissist as a child rather than an adult partner. This type of dynamic is not really healthy or normal in a relationship between two grown people. It casts the narcissist into the role of a child, which absolves them of any wrongdoing or responsibility for anything, and it reduces the partner to the role of caretaker or nursemaid who assumes all responsibility in the relationship, both for their own actions and the narcissist's actions. This also creates an additional sense of responsibility in the partner that they don't deserve to be saddled with. The narcissist is not your child or your responsibility. It is not your responsibility to control their behavior, teach them how to be a human being or anything else.
These relationships almost invariably turn into one adult parenting another adult. Many people find themselves doing this unwillingly, at least at first. And not only is the partner generally unwilling to have that kind of relationship, the narcissist often is, too. They feel smothered and threatened by your attempts to control them. They feel dominated and oppressed by your constant imposing of rules onto their life. They don't want to be told or taught what to do. They aren't interested in how you think they should behave or what you think is appropriate or acceptable. They simply want you to be on stand by in case they need you, and until they do, you should stay in your place, which is quietly out of their business. They will continue to behave recklessly and without consideration for others while you run behind them endlessly trying to clean up their messes. If you try to correct or prevent their destructive behavior, it will be WWIII.
It's a constant power struggle, like dealing with an abusive, rebellious teenager - or maybe a two year old - 24 hours a day. That is not a fair relationship for anybody involved. It's exhausting and more than that, it's pointless. The narcissist will not learn anything, and will continue to try and get away with things over and over again. They're not interested in the well-being or advancement of anyone else but themselves. If you try to do more than be available when they need you for something, you will face abuse and tantrums from the narcissist until you back off. Your job or role in this relationship is to provide unconditional love, acceptance and security to the narcissist no matter what they do or how they act. Their role is to receive these things from you. That's it. That's their part in the relationship. If you fail to perform well in your role, or if you dare ask them to give anything, they will become abusive - and if you consistently fail to perform your duties, they will find someone who will. This is not normal, nor is it healthy or fair.
People in these situations often advance the idea that we should accept the narcissist and love them with no expectation of love or empathy in return, the way we would love a child. This reasoning is understandable but... the narcissist is not a child. Yes, they are shattered personas, but that is not an excuse for their behavior, nor is it a reason to suffer abuse from them. Allowing a vicious dog to bite you because it's all he knows how to do is foolish.
It is of course up to you if you choose to pursue a relationship with someone who cannot love, respect or consider you and whose only reason for having you around is to have someone to blame when things go wrong and to use as a punching bag when they get angry, who will eventually discard you like trash when they tire of you. But if you choose to do so, make sure you truly understand what you are doing. Understanding narcissists requires acknowledgment and acceptance of these things. It requires a real and true acceptance of the fact that you truly do not mean anything to this person and that what you are trying to love is not real. It requires an acknowledgement and acceptance of very unsavory facts, such as the fact that they do try to hurt you on purpose and they will be cruel to you for no reason. They will never be grateful for anything you've done, nor will they ever recognize or appreciate your efforts. More than that, they will endlessly attempt to sabotage and destroy you. This is the reality. "Not expecting empathy" is not the same thing as "putting up with deliberate abuse and cruelty." It's one thing to understand that someone else is childish or unable to empathize. It's something different to understand that this means you'll be the target of deliberate and malicious cruelty a lot of the time, that this person will be actively trying to destroy you and your life on a regular basis. Maybe instead of focusing all your time and attention on the narcissist, what needs to be focused on here is why you don't think you deserve better than that.
You cannot love the narcissist back to health, or back to anything. There is no health to go back to. There is no person to love. The core personality was shattered before it was even done forming. Despite what you may believe, you have never even seen that core personality because it is not accessible. All you see are alternating masks. The nice one is not the real person. The abusive one is not the real person. The vulnerable, rejected and upset tantrum thrower is not the real person. None of these are the real person. The real person has been shattered into a million pieces and no longer exists.
Too many people seem to believe this type of dynamic in a relationship is the ultimate in unconditional, self-sacrificial love. That sounds beautiful, but the reality is that you're in a situation where your existence in the "relationship" is defined solely by what you can do for the other person and your needs do not matter at all. That's not love. It's slavery.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.