Narcissism is caused by childhood trauma that causes the victim to bury their true self and construct a false self which they use to interact with other people. They infuse the false self with grandiose ideas about themselves because they secretly harbor strong feelings of shame and self-loathing. Because the false self is unable to perform the duties a real sense of self — or ego — would do for them, the narcissist needs adoration from those around them to prop up their own self-esteem. That makes them manipulative and controlling, and they live in constant fear that someone will expose them for the fraud they truly believe themselves to be.
The truth is that the narcissist simply can’t afford to get too close to other people, even someone they love. Exposing their emotions makes them vulnerable, and this is something they cannot risk. They believe that if they do, you will come to loathe them as much as they do.
It’s important to understand the way a narcissist truly views themselves in order to explain why they fear intimacy more than almost anything else. A little more insight into how this personality disorder is formed can help with that.
How Do Narcissists Feel Inside?
Partners of narcissists, in particular, will often express frustration at how difficult it is to get their partners to open up and talk about their true feelings. They typically see only two sides of the narcissist: love-bombing and narcissistic rage.
When they want to delve deep into philosophical issues, discussions of personal growth, or emotional issues, the narcissist usually shuts down and refuses to talk to their partner. They seem to only want to keep it superficial, but why?
The answer lies in the fear they have that you will see who they truly are and leave them. Narcissism is created by two forms of extreme deviations from normal parenting. Either the narcissist was abused or neglected, or they were overly pampered.
In the one case, they may have been told outright that they were worthless or insignificant. They may have also been physically abused. In the situation of extreme pampering, the narcissist was never allowed to do anything for themselves. It was done for them by overprotective parents or their parents told them it was something someone else should be doing for them.
In either case, the narcissist comes to think of themselves as inadequate, worthless, or not enough. They are never able to develop a healthy sense of self because both situations result in the feeling that they are not good enough. For that reason, they bury their true sense of self for which they are ashamed.
In its place, they construct a grandiose false self and use that to interact with those around them. It’s not good enough, however, to keep them from feeling that shame and self-loathing. That’s why they need a constant narcissistic supply of external validation.
How Do Narcissists ‘See’ the Other People in their Lives?
Since narcissists don’t develop an internal support system, they use the other people in their lives to prop up their self-esteem. They need them to praise and adore them as much as possible. Of course, real relationships don’t work that way.
Sometimes you’re praising the people in your life, and sometimes, you criticize them. To the narcissist, criticism is an intolerable source of pain. They are hypersensitive to it because they fear that their inadequate, hateful true self will ultimately be exposed.
Since the narcissist uses other people for self-esteem, they come to view them as simply extension of themself. They don’t quite ‘see’ them as independent beings with their own thoughts, desires, and needs.
Instead, the narcissist believes that their loved ones should be solely focused on the narcissist’s needs. When that doesn’t happen, the narcissist feels profoundly hurt and may act out in childish or even aggressive ways.
How Does the Narcissist React to Attempts to Go Deep?
When someone does try to go deeper with a narcissist, they are often met with resistance. The narcissist may try a number of things to distract them. They might make jokes, ignore them, or even start an argument with them.
The last thing a narcissist wants is to give you any insight into their inner world. First, they themselves don’t want to take that close of a look, and second, they don’t want to give you any ammunition you might use against them.
Most healthy people would never think of doing such a thing, but the narcissist will use anything you reveal to them — your deepest fears or most profound regrets, for example — against you. Therefore, they simply presume you would do the same.
More importantly, however, the narcissist doesn’t want to be introspective because they are afraid of what they will find. They are afraid that their worst fears about themselves, those things they have buried so deep so long ago, will all be revealed to be true. They’re afraid that both they and you will see that they are, in fact, worthless.
If you persist in trying to get them to talk about personal things or delve deeply into their own psyche, they will do anything to get you to stop. This may even mean starting an argument to get you to back off.
Can a Narcissist Ever Change?
It’s difficult for a narcissist to change because that would mean admitting they need to change. They have constructed such grandiose ideas about themselves, ideas that they are perfect in every way. To admit that’s not true can cause serious internal conflict for the narcissist who may sink into a deep depression as a result.
When narcissists do get to a point where they admit something is wrong and seek help, it often takes years of intense therapy and a strong commitment on their part to get them to change. Their tendency — what they’ve been doing since childhood — is to bury their true feelings and show the world only those positive, grandiose illusions they’ve created through the false self.
What Can Someone Who Loves a Narcissist Do?
If you’re someone who loves a narcissist, you really have to accept that it’s unlikely they will change. You have to seek the outlet for intimacy you’re looking for elsewhere. Talk to trusted friends with whom you can discuss those deep, intimate issues, practice lots of self-care techniques, and accept what you cannot control.
You have to understand that you can’t make someone else change. They are the only ones who can change themselves. If you’re prepared to stay with them, the only thing you can do is take care of yourself. Be sure to set strong boundaries that you clearly communicate to the narcissist and enforce every time they violate them.
Don’t make excuses for their behavior and don’t bail them out of their problems when they make mistakes. Let them experience the challenges that everyone goes through in life. Offer them your love and a reasonable amount of support, but none of that should come at the expense of your own happiness.
Narcissists fear intimacy because it’s a huge threat to the false image they’ve so carefully constructed. They also fear what they might see if they are forced to look deep inside themselves. You won’t be able to have that kind of deep relationship with a narcissist as you would with a healthy person. You have to accept that and take the appropriate steps to protect yourself.
This is a difficult reality to understand and accept, and that’s why you’ll also want to watch this video that explains more about what narcissists hate and fear the most. It will help you to better understand how they feel inside.
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