The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Many people have been through the hell that is a relationship with a pathological narcissist, and something that is on a lot of people's minds is whether or not the narcissist is capable of loving other people. We will explore that here.
The Truth is...
Can narcissists love? The short answer is no. The narcissist does not love you. The narcissist doesn't love anybody, not even themselves. Especially not themselves. This can be hard to hear and a lot of people don't want to believe it, but sugarcoating things is not the right thing to do here.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you are likely the only one in the relationship with any genuine feelings for the other person. That's not to say the narcissist has no genuine feelings at all. They do. They just don't have any genuine feelings for you.
We've all heard that old adage, "If you don't love yourself, you can't love anybody else." It may be old but it's also true, and the narcissist is a perfect example of it. They don't love themselves and because of that, they cannot love anyone else. They also can't believe anyone can love them, either (regardless of what they may say to the contrary). Loving a narcissist is the same as loving a character on a TV show. This is not a real person and can never reciprocate. It is of course up to the individual if they choose to pursue a relationship with someone who is likely not capable of loving them back, but they should at least know what they are getting into.
The Reality of The Situation
It's one thing to understand that a narcissistic partner is not able to love you. It's something else entirely to really understand and internalize what this actually means in practical terms. This is not a 'normal' relationship that is respectful and considerate but simply devoid of affection. This is living in a war zone with someone who is actively and purposely trying to sabotage and destroy your life because not only do they not love you, they are pathologically, even obsessively envious of you and everything you have. Why should you have things that they don't have? They endeavor to take those things away from you. If they can't have it, nobody can.
Narcissists are not just cold and empty. They are white-hot infernos of rage, hatred and jealousy. Most of that is actually directed at themselves, but they often project it outward in a vain attempt to get some relief from it. And the people they direct it at are the people closest to them.
The Cold, Hard Facts
Not only does the narcissist not love you, they don't really consider you a person at all. Not in the way they consider themselves to be a person. That's why they behave the way they do. Some people have punching bags that they take their anger and frustration out on. Narcissists often use other human beings this way. This is because they don't see them as people. It's not malicious, exactly. They're just not built that way.
The only reason narcissists get into relationships in the first place is to validate themselves: "If someone loves me, I matter. If someone has sex with me, I matter. If someone cares about me, I matter. If someone pays attention to me, I matter. I exist. I am important." They don't care about sharing their lives, or happy Christmases with the family or what you did at work today or anything like that at all. They would be happiest if you simply did not exist until they needed you to. Again, this in and of itself is not malicious. They just have no real interest in anyone but themselves. They're focused on what they're doing and what they're thinking and what they want. That's basically it.
Of course, you do exist. You have needs and you have goals and plans and things you want to do. If these do not involve the narcissist, the narcissist is not interested. If it does involve the narcissist but the narcissist doesn't want to do it, the narcissist is not interested. There is no give and take in this kind of relationship. There is only take. There's no understanding, no support. It's all about what they need, what they want. Try to take the focus off of that, and there will be very big problems. Nothing you say really matters and nothing you do really matters unless it has to do with the narcissist. This is what the disorder is.
Anyone who has dealt with a narcissist knows these things are the truth. In fact, the truth is really a lot worse than is being stated here. It's not a pretty picture at all. The abuse, the lies, the emotional blackmail, the constant disruption of people's lives, the destruction of their peace, the nonstop creation of disasters and catastrophes, the complete lack of stability, the never-ending drama, the triangulation, the splitting, the irresponsibility, the childishness, the endless arguments over nothing and vicious attacks for no reason, the total lack of respect, the complete disregard for other people's feelings... It's ugly. Dealing with a narcissist is ugly. It's torture.
Narcissists more than likely don't have the capacity to love at all. They can feel infatuated and they can become obsessed, but these things are not love. Narcissists often think they love others, but if you ask them why they love someone or what they love about that person, the answer will often be a list of things the person does for them. It is generally not be a list of things about the person themselves.
For example, a non-narcissistic person might say, "I love my wife because she's so strong" or "I love how my husband is so passionate about things." A narcissist might say things like, "I love her because she makes me feel smart" or "I love the way he gives me stability." It's all about what someone is doing for them. There's no recognition or understanding of the person as an individual. People only matter to the narcissist if they can do something for the narcissist. Once someone's usefulness goes away, the "feelings" the narcissist had for that person usually go away, too. Feelings for others are superficial and really only extend as far as the person relates to the narcissist. Anything beyond that does not matter. To the narcissist, it doesn't even exist. They are like the center of a wheel, and people are the spokes. They see everyone and everything as an extension of themselves in some way or another. Everything flows from them, and toward them. They are the Sun that every other thing revolves around. Not just the brightest star but the only star.
There are many people right now suffering in relationships and holding onto hope that things will change. The reality is, the chances are 1000 to 1. Because of the unique and damaged way they see and relate to other people, it isn't really possible for narcissists to love others. There can only be one Sun. Narcissists are just too focused on themselves and their problems. There is no room for anyone else.
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.
Jimmy Murphy12345 on February 27, 2020:
I'm wondering where The Little Shaman gets her information from? Would she please be able to list any sources? Thanks
Heidi Dorfli on October 20, 2019:
Last post should be corrected to "flying monkey" (not flying "monkee"); it would be fine if one acted as a member of a fun, all-boy band.
Heidi Dorfli on October 20, 2019:
Very good article; thank you.
TO ADAM: the article assumes the narcissist has not been in treatment and has not responded to treatment and significantly changed behaviors as a result of such treatment. With that assumption, it IS black and white--period, and the author is quite right. Thinking otherwise, one risks becoming an enabler or a flying monkee.
TO BRIAN: First, it appears you have not been diagnosed with NPD, but instead with narcissistic tendencies. There is a difference between the diagnosis of the personality disorder and the tendencies of the disorder. It is a matter of degree, mostly, but it also means you may be more susceptible to treatment, if you choose to try to ameliorate your toxic behaviors. Remarkable start in that direction by your reading the article, and your reading all the comments, and the only thing you can do is go into high melodrama, blaming the author for ruining your life! Well done, narcissist-in-training!
Adam on October 01, 2019:
I think this article is far too black and white. It's extremist and fails to note the many subtleties and shades that can exist in this condition. Underneath it all is a human being. Some may be so far gone that they are indeed incapable of love, but absolutely not all of them.
Eric on August 08, 2019:
I am not sure. I am trying to understand a marriage to one so I can prevent it from happening again. Whether they can love or not is something I don't want to figure out. It's more, how to not get into that situation again.
Rockysroad on December 24, 2018:
I have been fascinated, ever since I read it, by a throw away line Scott Peck wrote in one of his books, something like: "in classic fashion, the narcissistic mother and the schizophrenic daughter". My older sister, now deceased, developed schizophrenia in her early twenties when she became pregnant with an unwanted child. That's when she started hearing the voices say: "Kill the child". Being her younger brother, I, sadly, had a ringside seat to her psychological unravelling over the years. Thinking back, I can see mom never allowed her to develop a strong sense of who she was, separate and distinct from herself, and that made her vulnerable and overly dependent on the kindness of strangers. In a curious way, she knew it. I remember in high school some guy played a trick on her. He snuck up behind her and tickled her face with a long stalk of grass with seeds on the end. She immediately got alarmed, furrowed her brow, eyes darting around looking for an explanation, and then got the joke when he burst out laughing. In response, she said something to the effect of "that's not fair - you know I don't have a strong sense of reality" and all the eavesdroppers exchanged knowing glances. At the same time, she had an IQ of 165. She graduated Valedictorian of her high school class and then Sarah Lawrence. Her Valedictory address was published in the New York Times she told me. She aced her GRE exams and got into Harvard grad school. She was beautiful - voted May Queen in High School. She was really talented in music. She studied piano at Julliard School of Performing Arts as a child. She could sing - she played Fiana in a high school production of Brigadoon. (I remember telling myself as I was still struggling to accept her fate, "She's not crazy. She just lives in Brigadoon.") It still breaks my heart to remember no one had a brighter future than my sister, that is, until she met her future husband. He basically finished off the job of dismantling her personality that my mother had already started. I watched him do it. In one of our first conversations he told me, "When I met your sister, I thought she was the craaaaziest person I ever met." (When he was finished with her some twenty years later, she was the craziest person I ever met, too). He told me being with her was like two race horses galloping along side by side, neither one able to pull ahead of the other, so they eventually slowed to a canter and then a trot and then a saunter. But he never stopped trying. I never met anyone who needed to be the smartest guy in the room more than him. He was all ivy, went to Brown University in the 60's when it was still a serious institution of learning, not the fainting couch for entitled social justice wannabes it is today - talk about narcissists! At any rate, he saw his chance when, right at that time, my sister had a minor surgery to remove a benign cyst on her ovary. My father told me he went to the doctor afterwards and convinced him to tell my sister she didn't have to worry about birth control because of the surgery, so she didn't - and got pregnant. That son of a bitch caught her in a classic Bateson double-bind no way out scenario with predictable results. There were other problems. He was the older brother of a younger sister and she was the older sister of a younger brother so they both were used to being the boss - a very unstable and untenable basis for a relationship never mind marriage even under the best of circumstances. When she finally left him, that same week he went out and bought a round dinner table to replace the one they had and then pretended my sister had never been there - as if her children would somehow forget. They didn't forget. When they were older and established, they took over her care and found her the perfect location, a beautiful home with two devoted Filipino caregivers who adored her and took such good care of her. After my sister died, every time my niece would return for a visit they would cry and give her a hug - such sweet people! My nephew turned out to be a very successful hotshot business consultant with a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters, wrote a book and even did his own TED talk. My niece is an accomplished therapist with a masters degree and a full client load plus a brood of three kids of her own and a very understanding and supportive and successful husband. She said she survived and eventually thrived by asking a simple spiritual question: How is all this perfect? I have asked myself the same question many times since she told me that. Listening for the answer has transformed my life.
Julie on December 21, 2018:
After 41 years I am not crazy and I get it now. I didn't walk away, I ran. No contact.
Brian on December 16, 2018:
As someone diagnosed with narcissistic tendencies, that is all I can say.
Thanks for robbing me of all hope of recovery.
Susie on December 14, 2018:
Very helpful and insightful - never come across toxic or irrational before and it makes you question your own sanity. But really it’s just a pattern of behaviour that has nothing to do with the unlucky person they purport to love. I do feel foolish, duped and unloved but your article has helped me focus on ending this as there is only a future of continuous hell otherwise. Thank you
Mary Its all my f on November 15, 2018:
I agree with mark totally. My mother never saw who i was. When i entered the relationship with my ex, i was continuing that battle. Why could my ex never see i was a good person? Never realizing it was unfinished emotional business i had with my mother. Now i really see why i stayed.. So really we both had emotional problems. Now through thearapy, and insight i am healing. I have moved on from that 10 year relationship that was almost the end of me. I have compassion for him, sadly i had to leave him behind and i know his suffering will never end. He is a child trying to live in an adult world. At least i was able to grow and it was because of the relationship i had with him. I have no resentment for the suffering, in a way he helped me, i am 10 times the women i was when i met him. When after 10 years in desperation, i decided to give myself what. I could not get from him. When i really started to protect myself, i developed self respect, and so much more! He could nevet "see" me.
It was when i could really see him that i understood. He is a sad little boy that lives in fear and lonlieness. And its hard to just
leave someone to suffer. But i will suffer with him mo more. I have moved on!
Mark on October 23, 2018:
I agree with everything, with one rider. No person is 'a narcissist'. This is an unhelpful label, which fails to humanise their condition. These are people who were not seen by their own parents. Usually rejected, disregarded or dismissed when being vulnerable infants.
They had to construct a strong false (grandiose) self to survive. So, they are developmentally arrested (just like a 3 year old child). It's important to state this because those 'used' by such people, tend to feel like victims. Rather than unfortunates who were objectified by severely wounded adult children, living in the world, stuck at an age of 3-6. Knowing this, sets us free to heal from the wounds we have suffered, caught up in the web of their dysfunctional way of relating. By the way, I have suffered all my life trying to be 'seen' by others, because I was not really seen by both my parents (now deceased). So, I'm not making glib assumptions. If our parents were ego centric, it sets us up to either be like them, or be addicted to those who have the same narcissistic character traits and disorders. We repeat the cycle. If we are courageous enough to admit, we are attracted to them, because the wounded child in us, is determined to be seen by them, so we can feel alive. No one else seems attractive to us. Of course, this is a rather depressing and destructive cycle to be in. But with understanding, we can see what we are doing and hope to find healthier people to relate to, who can help us find real love in this world. Keep up the good work, you make a lot of sense. Just try to humanise the narcissistic disorder/condition. I feel sorry for them.
Melanie on June 08, 2018:
These were excellent writings about the malignant narcissist. Very important information to know. Thank God for Google and all that I have read and learned for the past 3 years.