Everyone desires to be loved, but there are large variations in how people define, experience, and express love. People who have been abused often have a distorted view of what love is and what it means. Narcissism forms as a result of childhood trauma that arrests the normal development of a child’s identity. Because of the trauma, that child has a distorted view of love.
While a narcissist might want to love you, they are often incapable of genuinely understanding the emotion. They have never truly experienced it, and therefore, they are unable to express it in a healthy way. That’s why they have difficulty showing others love no matter what they are feeling.
It’s not possible to know what people are feeling inside, but it is true that narcissists have difficulty expressing intense emotions like love. They have a distorted view of just what it means, and that shows in their interpersonal relationships. It’s critical to really understand the difference between wanting to love someone and actually loving them. Read on to learn more about how these concepts affect the reasons behind why narcissists marry.
Do Narcissists Marry You Because They Love You?
Narcissists learn early in life that love is conditional. They needed to perform to receive the love of their abusive parents in their childhood, and the damage to their self-esteem made it impossible for them to love themselves. They are full of self-loathing.
If we define love as the desire for someone to have good in their life. Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas said it is “to will the good of another.” If you really love someone, you want them to be happy even if that means they can’t be with you. You genuinely want what’s best for them.
Narcissists are not capable of having empathy for anyone in their life. They can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes and really understand what they are feeling and what they need. Without that capacity, it is not possible to know what will be best for someone else.
It also makes it impossible to understand what you want, because someone without empathy and compassion won’t listen even if you tell them what you want or need. Can they, then, really want ‘will the good’ of you? It seems unlikely.
That doesn’t mean, though, that a narcissist doesn’t think they love someone. They may genuinely feel affection and desire for someone they are romantically involved with, but that affection and desire is usually based on how that person makes the narcissist feel about themselves,
They are so internally focused that they can’t see what is important to someone else. They only see how that other person is relevant to their life. That person is important to them, but not because they value them as a unique human being.
Instead, they value them for what they can do for the narcissist. This might be the result of lust or obsession, but it isn’t how we define love.
Why Can’t Narcissists Understand the Needs of Others?
The problem for narcissists is that they are either unwilling or unable to identify with the needs and emotions of other people. This is known as emotional empathy, which is defined as the ability to respond in an appropriate emotional way or to mirror other people’s emotional states in order to express care and concern for them.
While narcissists lack what experts call emotional empathy, they do have what is called cognitive empathy. That’s the ability to understand someone else’s perspective intellectually, which the research shows the narcissist does when it serves their needs.
Interestingly, other research shows there are structural abnormalities in the brains of narcissists. This may be part of why narcissists are unable to develop healthy emotional empathy. Whatever the cause, narcissists are not able to see either themselves or other people in a clear way.
The narcissist sees other people as simple extensions of their own identity. That’s why they can’t really perceive them as distinct individuals with their own needs, feelings, and desires. That doesn’t stop them, however, from overestimating their emotional empathy.
They often feel they are very empathetic and compassionate despite all evidence to the contrary. Because they receive input that contradicts this, narcissists will distort their perceptions and interactions to help regulate their own emotions and self-esteem.
That causes them to withdraw from those close to them and engage in self-promotion. They end up projecting any unwanted or negative aspects they perceive in themselves onto the other people in their life. It also produces all the other manipulative behaviors narcissists exhibit, including denial, blame, criticism, entitlement, and narcissistic abuse.
This leaves little room for understanding the other people in their life. It also makes it hard for them to express positive feelings for those around them.
How Do Narcissists Experience Love?
For a narcissist to feel love, they need their partner to be doing something to help them. They need them to show them they love them rather than simply saying the words. While many people feel that actions speak louder than words, what this really means for the narcissist is that love is transactional.
Love for the narcissist is conditioned upon what you can do for them and how you can show them you love them. What’s more, you can never do enough. You need to feed them a steady stream of caring and affection through your actions to sustain them.
They also expect that since you’re an extension of their own identity structure, you don’t need to be told what they need or want, or for that matter, what they’re feeling. You will just know and respond accordingly if you really love them.
Of course, this is an extremely unrealistic expectation, and no one can live up to it. You can’t read your partner’s mind no matter how much you love them. But for the narcissist, that is a critical part of love.
That’s what was expected of them as a child, and therefore, that is now what they expect of those they love as an adult. It’s sad really, because, in truth, the narcissist doesn’t really feel loved by those around them. This reality makes it equally difficult for them to express love.
What Can a Narcissist Do to Express Love Better?
If you’re a narcissist who wants to improve their emotional empathy, there are some things you can try to help. It’s not going to be easy, but there are some things you can do if you are willing to change your selfish tendencies and enhance your emotional empathy. Doing so will improve your relationships.
If you’re the partner of a narcissist, you might encourage them to use these strategies to help you feel loved. Work on these things together so you’re not making it all about their bad behavior. By showing them that your marriage matters, it can help them want to change.
Here are a few strategies you can try:
Love is a Two-Way Street
Because narcissists are so self-absorbed, they don’t focus on their partners’ needs. Showing the people you love that you are thinking about their needs helps them feel loved. If you get a drink, ask your spouse if they want one, if you’re bored, ask them if they want to do something. By including them in your self-care bubble, they will feel love and return the favor.
Ask About Your Spouse’s Feelings
Ask your partner about their feelings and express yours. Check in about how something makes them feel or if they had a good night’s sleep. When you show them you care and express your emotions, they feel your concern for their well-being.
Narcissists often forget about their promises. They often forget birthdays or commitments they made to go somewhere or do something. Use apps or online calendars to set reminders so you don’t forget. When the reminder sounds, take the time to send a message to the one you love. Also, be compassionate and understanding when someone else forgets. You’ve done it, so you can understand how easy it can be to forget.
Give Your Spouse Their Props
When your partner does something good or experiences success, let them know you’re impressed. Tell them they did a good job and you’re proud of them. It will make them feel proud and loved to know you feel that way.
It’s not possible to know what anyone is truly feeling, but the same trauma that produces narcissism often impairs the ability of a narcissist to feel deep emotions like love. Like all humans, they want to love and be loved, but they don’t have the capacity for expressing that emotion in a healthy way. If you’re a married narcissist or the spouse of a narcissist, there are some things you can do to improve your marriage and both express and feel love.
It’s helpful to get all the information you can about how narcissists experience love. This article about their ability to love has some vital information that will help you understand their emotional experiences better.
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