Considering Narcissists have hurt so many people, it makes sense why there is a proliferation of information, articles and books on narcissism. There seems to be a surplus of people on social media who are vilifying narcissists, while making themselves to be specialists on the subject. Those who contribute are often victims of narcissistic abuse and want to help others avoid their mistakes. I am thankful for their efforts, since it is connected to codependency recovery, which is where I spend a great deal of my personal and professional effort. It seems to be one of the biggest psychological movements I have seen in recent years.
There are well-researched and experienced experts in the area who are making valuable contributions to the understanding of narcissism. Sam Vaknin is one such expert on narcissism. He has almost made “Malignant Narcissist” a household term, just by his own efforts. But even with his contributions, and perhaps because of them, there has been a backlash of misunderstanding on the subject. By focusing on Malignant Narcissism (which happens to be the condition he purports to have), he has accidentally and unintentionally given the impression that “Malignant Narcissism” is the same clinical condition or psychopathology as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The truth of the matter is Malignant Narcissism is a subcategory of NPD, or what I call “garden variety narcissists”. Moreover, those with NPD, do not display many of the same characteristics as those with Malignant Narcissism.
I see one common mistake about Narcissism, that those with NPD cannot love and have empathy. Sam Vaknin and I discussed this subject. We agreed for the most part that narcissists can, in fact, feel and express love and can be empathetic.
We also mostly agreed that Malignant Narcissists and those with Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopaths) cannot feel or experience love. Malignant Narcissism and ASPD are often confused, and it is necessary to simply define it as a subcategory of NPD. It is not only a pathologically narcissistic disorder, but also combines traits of Paranoid Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. It is, therefore, correct to assume that Malignant Narc’s and ASPD’s cannot love as it is understood in our general culture. But, it is incorrect to make that same leap for those with NPD. I will henceforth referred to them as “narcissists.”
As I have mentioned in my YouTube videos and in my book “The Human Magnet Syndrome” “garden variety narcissists,” or those with NPD are capable of love and empathy, AS LONG AS IT MAKES THEM FEEL GOOD OR THEY GET SOMETHING IN RETURN. They desperately and perpetually seek love, appreciation and affirmation from others. And they will consciously and unconsciously gravitate toward others that can meet this impossible need. However, the people who are going to fall in love with them are deprived of the same love, respect and care that the narcissists fight to obtain. These unfortunate people are almost always going to be codependents.
Narcissists suffered unmitigated abuse and trauma as a child, which was when their pathological narcissism was created. They have a huge empty hole inside themselves that motivates their search for love, respect and care. Sadly and pitifully, they can NEVER receive enough of love, respect and care to satiate their unquenchable thirst for it.
My Human Magnet Syndrome book explains in detail why narcissists perpetually seek love, respect and care from others, while not being able to reciprocate. My book also explains why codependents are the ones withstanding the narcissist’s selfishness while shaping it into a loving relationship. Therefore, according to this clinician and writer, it is a fact that both the narcissists and codependents love each other. The feeling is quite real to them. If you don’t believe me, just ask one!
When narcissists fall hopelessly and deeply in love with codependents, they love even more intensely than a person who is psychologically healthy, i.e., a person who is neither a codependent nor a narcissist. In the euphoric beginning stages of the relationship, the narcissist experiences complete and unconditional love. This love is what they have been seeking their whole life. Because the codependent can deliver the goods, they fall hopelessly in love. And why not? They just found the person who will adore them for who they are and give them love and affirmation. Despite their broken selves, which they keep nicely repressed and out of the way of their conscious mind. What the narcissist cannot and does not realize is that their soulmate experience is going to be short-lived.
The fleeting and unstable nature of their love experience is best explained through a metaphor – a bucket with holes. Narcissists need a steady stream of unconditional love, respect and care to keep their hole-ridden bucket filled. No amount of unconditional love or affirmation, kindness, empathy, etc., will ever keep their “buckets” topped off! Hence, their need for affirmation, attention, etc. while desperately self-promoting themselves. But here is the rub: they can only adore and love people who fill their holey bucket. They really do “love” these people – their codependents. And the codependents selflessly “love” them back. A sad state of affairs…
Incidentally, the psychologically healthy person has the same bucket. But because the bucket is whole instead of having holes, it can be filled and remain that way. A filled bucket promotes love for self and others. It also promotes an aversion to others who scoop away too much of their own water.
When the narcissist’s bucket is empty, which is a perpetual problem for them, their “love” experience mysteriously vanishes. What once started off as ‘soul mate” experience quickly devolves into a “cellmate” nightmare. They will do whatever they need to do to find a source from which they can siphon water. Their desperate need to keep their bucket filled draws them into the “loving embrace” of their forgiving and selfless codependent. Or compels them to find another codependent source. And, as soon as the existing or new codependent re-fills their love bucket, the narcissist’s subjective experience of love returns.
In conclusion, NARCISSISTS CAN LOVE. The question should be why can’t they love someone else unconditionally or why do they hurt people they love. The confusion of Malignant Narcissism with Narcissistic Personality Disorder may be the source of this confusion. Lastly, I don’t want to criticize or blame people for mistakenly believing narcissists can’t love. For victims of narcissistic abuse, it is easy to think of them as monsters who lack human feelings. But don’t get me wrong, I am not on the “love your narcissist” bandwagon!
For more information about Ross’s Self-Love Recovery Program, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.