When her best friend married a narcissist over 30 years ago, Ms. Meyers became intrigued by women who fall in love with self-absorbed men.
5 Reasons Why Some Women Are Attracted to Narcissists
1. They're charmed by his confidence.
2. They're eager to hitch their wagon to his star.
3.They feel special by association.
4. They're escaping an unhappy childhood.
5. They fear life without a man.
Women Who Fall in Love With Narcissists
Narcissist is the diagnosis du jour. Licensed therapists (as well as armchair ones) freely slap the label on anyone and everyone these days. We smugly give the tag to people in the public eye—Donald Trump, Madonna, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, O.J. Simpson, and Kim Kardashian—without ever having met them. We're all convinced that we have a mother-in-law, a boss, a friend, or a co-worker who deserves the categorization.
Today, psychologists wonder if we're actually creating more of these self-absorbed types with our social media obsessed culture that's full of selfies and personal blogs. For me, though, the most intriguing question has always been: Why do some women fall in love and even marry narcissists when most of us try our darndest to avoid them?
My Best Friend Married a Narcissist
The question of why some women fall in love with narcissists has intrigued me ever since my best friend, Dayna, married one. It was 26 years ago and she was just 22, fresh out of college. Her four children, all young adults, now struggle mightily with the serious effects of having grown up with a dad who always needed the spotlight on him and not them. Today, they wrestle with anxiety, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. Dayna's decision to marry this guy and stay with him made me more fascinated by the women who are attracted to narcissists than the narcissists themselves.
If a woman finds herself drawn to a self-absorbed man, she may be using him to avoid looking in the mirror and fixing herself. Dr. Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist and author, advises women to concentrate on self-improvement instead of getting sidetracked by the drama that abounds when involved with a narcissist. She says:
“If you find yourself in a narcissistic relationship, you can first recognize what you have chosen and reflect on the unconscious motives that might have led you to choose such a partner. Did you have a self-centered parent? Are you more comfortable with your partner being in control, so you can then be more passive? Do you get a sense of worth from being attached to someone who is in the spotlight?”
In this powerful video, Dr. Hawkins speaks directly to women who've fallen in love with narcissistic men.
1. They're Charmed By His Confidence
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explains how narcissists make a powerful first impression, captivating others with their looks, confidence, and charisma. In the report, it states: "We tend to be attracted to people who possess the four qualities (flashy and neat dress, charming facial expression, self-assured body movements, and humorous verbal expression) that narcissists tend to (initially) possess...After the first meeting, narcissists were rated as more agreeable, conscientious, open, competent, entertaining, and well adjusted by the other members of the group."
A narcissist’s early luster quickly fades, though, for most women as they get to know him better. They realize the depth of his self-absorption as his lack of interest in them and others becomes obvious. Young, inexperienced women, however, may choose to overlook this in favor of his worldliness and bravado. His bold boasting makes him seem like a perfect candidate to help shepherd them into adulthood.
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When Dayna met her husband, she was just 18—a shy freshman at a large university. He was ten years older—a college graduate already well-established in his profession and earning good money. He was charismatic, charming, and showered her with attention. He took her on costly dates to high-end restaurants, theater productions, and sporting events. Being on his arm was heady stuff for a young woman who had not dated previously.
2. They're Eager to Hitch Their Wagon to His Star
Narcissists are characterized by their grandiose thinking and big ideas. They have the bravado to convince some people (especially those younger and less experienced) that they have what it takes to become rich and successful. However, contrary to popular belief that they thrive in the business world, narcissists typically struggle to get ahead at work and their lofty career plans often go unfulfilled. Lacking the people skills to collaborate, they're unable to get ahead even when they're intelligent and capable.
As those who work with a narcissist will attest, they’re difficult to have at the office. They're arrogant and manipulative, power hungry and competitive, sensitive to criticism and always needing to be right. In her article in Psychology Today called "7 Ways to Cope With Narcissists at Work," Dr. Stephanie A. Sarkis describes how these self-absorbed types are unlikely to climb the corporate ladder because they're disliked and distrusted by co-workers. She writes: “While everyone at work initially is in awe of or looks up to the narcissist, eventually they figure out the narcissist's game. Eventually the narcissist runs out of people to sabotage or blame—until a new hire comes along. Everyone else has learned to distance themselves."
When she was young and unsure of herself, Dayna was eager to hitch her wagon to a narcissist's star. She was willing to let him take care of their future while she cheered him on from the sidelines. She was confident that her husband would one day run his own company and manage dozens of employees. She saw a future of extreme wealth and privilege for her family. Unable to get along with others, though, he found it impossible to keep a job and she wound up supporting them.
3. They Feel Special By Association
Like many narcissists, Dayna's husband sees himself as special and superior. In his opinion, he's exceptionally intelligent, witty, and articulate. He fancies himself a gifted storyteller who can beguile audiences with his adventures and insights. In the early days of their relationship, Dayna would sit by his side at parties and beam with pride as he narrated his tales and dispensed his opinions. While everyone else was wondering how they could politely extricate themselves from such a blowhard, she was blissfully oblivious to their eye-rolls and get-me-outta-here body language. She believed that her man was indeed special and, therefore, by association so was she.
As is common with narcissists, Dayna's husband likes to put on a show with strangers: chatting up fellow diners at restaurants, making small talk with mail carriers, and joking with baristas at the corner coffee shop. Introverts like Dayna can find this impressive because it's outside their comfort zone. Eventually, though, they can become troubled by it, realizing that their narcissistic partner is far more comfortable and competent with superficial interactions than deep, meaningful ones.
Instead of getting fulfillment from a close relationship with his wife, Dayna’s husband gets his narcissistic supply when a stranger laughs at his joke, compliments his wardrobe, or praises his taste in beers. Public adulation is more satisfying to him than the approval of his partner, making Dayna feel alone and unsupported in their marriage. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences, explains it this way: "True narcissists lack empathy. As a result, their interpersonal relationships are destined to suffer. Because they can never see the world from the eyes of someone else, including their closest romantic partners, they'll lack the ability to connect emotionally.”
In this video, a therapist explains how adept narcissists are at making women fall in love with them, promising them the moon and “love bombing” them with compliments and attention.
4. They're Escaping an Unhappy Childhood
Like other women who fall in love with narcissists, Dayna saw her partner as an easy exit from an unhappy childhood. Because she grew up with an emotionally absent mother, she often felt unloved and invisible. Her self-esteem was in the cellar when this older confident man entered her life, making her feel secure and wanted. He offered an escape that was appealing and one that she wasn’t self-assured enough to make on her own.
Years after she wed and with the help of a therapist, Dayna came to understand that she had married her husband as a way to repair the relationship with her mom. As is so often the case, though, this proved to be futile. Instead of fixing that problematic bond from childhood, she managed to recreate it in the present-day with her spouse.
Stephen Treat, director of the nonprofit Council for Relationships, says that it’s not unusual for damaged people to unconsciously try to repair the past with their current connections. He explains, “Your psyche wants to go back to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and resolve that parental relationship in a marriage. You think you'll be able to heal this way, but you're probably no more equipped to deal with the situation than you were as a child, and the parental dynamic gets repeated in your marriage, usually with bad consequences.”
Not surprisingly, Dayna's husband turned out to be a lot like her mother. His needs always came before hers. He took and took and gave little in return. He could quickly become cold and indifferent. While many of us would bail from such a one-sided relationship, Dayna stayed because it was familiar to her. She had never been given the opportunity to shine as a child. Therefore, playing second fiddle was all she had ever known so she was comfortable in that role...but never happy.
5. They Fear Life Without a Man
It’s unlikely Dayna will ever divorce her narcissistic husband three decades after their wedding. The insecurities that drove her into his arms in the first place are more pronounced than ever and starting anew in her fifties would be tough. She's been in and out of marriage and personal counseling for years so she understands that he won't change. However, she now has some tools to cope with his self-centered ways.
Most significantly, she’s aware of the strategies her husband used over the years that often made her feel like she was losing her mind. In fact, narcissists are often described as “crazy-makers'' because their actions leave their loved ones feeling confused, clobbered, and doubting themselves. While there are numerous crazy-making behaviors, Dayna’s husband had a favorite one called “kitchen sinking” that he used whenever he felt criticized by her. He’d reach back into their long history together and hurl everything at her that she’d ever done wrong in their marriage (everything but the kitchen sink). Not only did this technique distract from the problem at hand, it would make her feel guilty, ashamed, and defeated.
Today, when her husband blames her for everything that goes wrong and takes no responsibility, she doesn’t let it bother her. When he gives her the silent treatment for days (and sometimes weeks), she enjoys the respite. As her long-time friend, I'm sometimes amazed at her toughness for staying with such a difficult man. Other times (especially when I see her adult children struggling) I'm frustrated at her weakness for not leaving him. By watching their relationship through the decades, I realize they're in some kind of strange dance that both fascinates and repulses me. I no longer see Dayna as a victim but know her children definitely are.
What about you?
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: I got myself blind drunk for a year. I didn’t have the courage to extricate myself while I was sober, but now I’m alcohol-free. I’m reliving the breakup as if it was yesterday and I’m devastated and miss him terribly. Will I ever stop loving this man as I remember him? It’s been two years now.
Answer: First, let me congratulate you on your sobriety. That's a wonderful achievement and you should be so proud of yourself. Now that you've taken that enormous step you're ready to move forward in other areas of your life and make yourself a priority. It's always easier to look in the rear-view mirror because those sights are familiar and, therefore, feel safe and comforting. What we know (even if it's bad) is often less scary than the unknown. But, we must keep looking ahead. The spiritual life coach, Iyanla Vanzant, says: “When life removes something from you, it's not helpful to go chase it down and get it back.”
I dislike the expression “time heals all wounds” because it's a fallacy and keeps people from taking the necessary steps to get better. I've talked with people in their 80's (including my own mother) who are still suffering from childhood hurts. In order to heal, we need to be pro-active and not just wait for some magic to wash over us. Looking backwards and ruminating about the past only leaves us feeling stuck and miserable. I urge you to see a cognitive therapist for a short period to get you moving in the right direction. He/she can help you set goals to propel yourself forward. You're so worth it! If you put in the time now, you'll be so glad. Two years is enough time to have suffered.
There's a saying: “life doesn't happen to you; it happens for you.” What did you learn from that relationship with a narcissistic man? What did you discover about yourself? What made a self-absorbed guy attractive to you? What's there about you that a narcissist found desirable? This is your opportunity to make sense of that experience, gain valuable insight, and use it to move in a new, healthier direction. Too many women jump from one romantic involvement to the next without taking the time to figure out why they keep picking the same type of man and then lament when it doesn't work out yet again.
I wish you much growth and happiness in your journey of self-discovery. This is an opportunity to embrace your spirituality and heal through prayer, meditation, reading, and time spent in nature. You need to get that man out of your head and heart and enjoy all the beauty this world has to offer. I'm glad you reached out for help and hope you continue to do so. Take care!
© 2017 McKenna Meyers