Why You Keep Attracting Narcissists
Many people want to know why they keep attracting narcissists, and how to stop this from happening. This is actually a two-pronged question. The first is why are narcissists attracted to you, and the other is why are you attracted to them.
Why Narcissists are Attracted to People
Narcissists are attracted to people that have something they want. That can be many things. It can be physical, it can be emotional, it can be mental, it can be material... it depends on what the narcissist is looking for at that given time, and the type of narcissist they are. An overt narcissist may be more drawn to people who make a good trophy they can sport around: someone with money, or someone with exceptionally good looks, someone who has achieved success in some way. A covert narcissist may be more drawn to someone who feels sorry for them, as sympathy is what they are looking for. In all cases, the narcissist is looking for that fabled "perfect partner," and whatever that means to them.
In a very real way, narcissists believe in fairy tales. They are prone to magical thinking, and their ideas and standards regarding relationships and love are very unrealistic. Because of this, their relationships are essentially doomed to failure. They have a script in their mind of how it's supposed to go, and when it does not follow that script because the script is not realistic or reasonable, they very quickly become disillusioned and disappointed with their partner. Their partner is supposed to be the ultimate in love, in beauty, in understanding, in support, in self-sacrifice... in everything. Their partner is supposed to always let the narcissist shine, always compliment them, always love them, never have a bad day, or needs, or feelings or any interests that don't involve the narcissist. Any deviation from this is perceived as very disappointing and hurtful to the narcissist. They feel let down and even betrayed that their partner is not perfect.
This is not unlike the love a very young child has for their mother or father. Children see parents as perfect, as incorruptible, very nearly God-like until they get older and are able to actually see them as people. Many times, this first 'fall from grace' for a parent is very traumatic to a child, especially if it happens too early. Narcissists react much the same way to the realization that their partner is not perfect: with anger, hurt and betrayal. To that end, narcissists gravitate toward people they believe can provide them with that perfect love, that perfect relationship.
Partners of narcissists are usually very - even overly - compassionate, empathic and sensitive people who are generally bright, talented, or gifted in some way. The narcissist is very envious of these qualities, as they secretly believe themselves to be boring, stupid, ugly, worthless, untalented... whatever the opposite of these qualities might be. By securing a partner who embodies every quality they themselves lack, narcissists endeavor to absorb or acquire these qualities themselves, either by association or through a kind of emotional osmosis. They are chameleons, and they will attempt to imitate that which they admire. The problem is that this is not real and they know it, so over time they become angry at their partner for not "sharing" these things with them. The narcissist tries to 'fake it until they make it,' but they never do make it. Over time, enraged by their inability to absorb these qualities from their partner, their deep envy turns to pathological jealousy and the narcissist seeks to destroy these qualities in the partner, so that now nobody has them.
It's reminiscent of a child who sees that another child has a toy they want to play with. If the second child refuses to share this coveted toy, the envious child may destroy or otherwise scorn the toy out of frustrated jealousy. The fact that this upsets the other child doesn't really matter. The object that was causing the stress has been eliminated. Narcissists behave the same way.
"People pretend to like your piano playing, but they're just being nice."
The narcissist is trying to convince themselves that those qualities aren't really that great anyway because they don't have them. The narcissist's ideal partner would be one who played the piano beautifully but told everyone else the narcissist plays better. One that recorded their beautiful works and released them under the narcissist's name. One who stayed in the background working tirelessly to elevate the narcissist's self-esteem and enrich the narcissist's public image.
Why People are Attracted to Narcissists
We often hear that narcissists target people, and while this can certainly be true, it's also true that they run their game on a lot of different people, but it doesn't work on everybody. Long term, it works on almost nobody. This leads us to the second part of the question: why are you attracted to them?
The initial answer is that narcissists present themselves very well at first. Their facade is perfect. But again, though they run their game on many people, it only works on a few. So why is that? I often hear people saying things like, "How could I be so stupid?" or "Wow, I'm so dumb..." It has nothing to do with intelligence. Most people - including those that stay with them - see through the narcissist relatively quickly. The issue is that while most people head for the door as soon as they figure out that this person is abusive and manipulative, not everybody does.
The reasons for that are varied. It's true that narcissists are abusive and they work at breaking someone down but - and this may not be a popular thing to say, but it's the truth - in order for it to get to that point, there has to be another reason the person has stayed, because most have identified the narcissist as abusive, and/or abnormal before that ever happens. It may be that you had a dysfunctional family growing up, maybe a narcissistic parent or those that were otherwise emotionally unavailable. If that's the case, you may not even realize that this is not how relationships are supposed to go because this is how it's always been. Maybe you were abused and treated badly, so a partner who is rude, disrespectful or cruel would not be something unfamiliar to you. Even if not, maybe your feelings and needs have never been appreciated or validated by your family so a partner who acts the same way would not be considered abnormal. People will gravitate and accept what is familiar to them.
Codependents often find themselves in relationships with narcissists for similar reasons. The narcissist needs a partner that will constantly put their own needs aside for the narcissist's benefit in order to feel validated and codependents need to be needed in order to feel validated. This can sometimes result in a "martyr" type of complex or mindset for the codependent, with the idea being that the more they suffer, the more it shows they care. Dysfunctionally-speaking, it's a perfect relationship, with everyone's dysfunction feeding off of each other.
Empaths often find themselves in relationships with narcissists, but not for the same reasons as codependents. Empaths see behind the narcissist's abuse to the truth of what the narcissist is and want to help. The empath becomes trapped by their own empathy and desire to help, either not recognizing or stubbornly refusing to accept that the narcissist is beyond help. Codependents, victims of abuse, empaths, fixers... Regardless of intelligence, talent or anything else, nearly all partners of narcissists are people who - for whatever reason - either don't believe their needs are important or don't believe they deserve to be treated any better. If they did, they would be taking strides to get away from the relationship. This can become a vicious cycle, because being around a narcissist is certainly not going to help anyone feel better about anything. The worse the narcissist's abuse gets, the more it reinforces this idea.
What to do About It
Love yourself. The important thing to remember is that, while narcissists can cause terrible damage to people, the initial problem with your self-worth existed before you ever met the narcissist. That's what made you vulnerable to them in the first place. That's why you put up with the abuse and the disrespect and the manipulation. Still, you are not a victim. A victim is somebody who cannot move on from things that have happened to them. It defines them. This is why the narcissist is a victim and you are not. You are a survivor. Other people can only affect you emotionally or mentally if you allow it. You don't have to listen to them. You don't have to believe them. You don't have to sell yourself out. Work on your self-worth and you'll find that, while you may or may not stop attracting narcissists, you'll stop being attracted to them.