Narcissism develops following childhood experiences in which the narcissist buried what they consider to be a defective true self and replaced it with a false self. They infused this false self with grandiose ideas, and they use manipulation and control to get others to support the distorted image they present to the world. This is what lies at the heart of why narcissists fear intimacy.
There are several feelings that intimacy invokes in the narcissist, all of which make them very nervous about getting too close to anyone. Here are 11 of the most common underlying reasons why narcissists will do almost anything to avoid intimacy:
- Loss of Narcissistic Supply;
- They are Full of Shame;
- Fear of Judgment;
- Fear of Abandonment;
- Fear of Ridicule;
- Fear of Narcissistic Collapse;
- Fear of Commitment;
- Affection is Suspicious;
- They Like to Maintain Control;
- They Don’t Know How to Love;
- They See Vulnerability as Weakness.
Understanding narcissism is vital to understanding why the narcissist fears intimacy. Read on to learn more about the false self, why the narcissist needs other people to prop up their self-esteem, and how that relates to the fears narcissists have regarding intimacy.
What Happened to the Narcissist that Caused Their Condition?
The childhood experiences that create narcissism cause the narcissist to believe their true nature is hopelessly flawed. They see themselves as worthless individuals who are incapable of doing anything in life.
Remember that the narcissist was a child when they came to feel this way about themselves, and so, their coping strategies were not as capable as those of an adult. They did the best they could to survive their circumstances, but they didn’t have the knowledge or understanding that an adult has.
As a result, the child did what they thought they needed to do — they hid that flawed self deep inside and constructed what they thought was a better image to present to the world. This is the false self, and as children do, they infused the false self with grandiose ideas about what makes someone strong, intelligent, and great.
The problem the young narcissist faces, however, is that the false self is not able to support those grandiose ideas. It’s not a true ego, and therefore, the child has no internal identity mechanism to support their own self-esteem.
A healthy ego functions to help you soothe yourself when you face problems or challenges in life. Everyone faces these kinds of challenges, but a healthy ego helps you to retain your sense of self-worth despite failures that inevitably occur in every life. Without a healthy ego, the narcissist cannot withstand life’s normal ups and downs.
11 Common Reasons Why Narcissists Do Avoid Intimacy
What happened to the narcissist is truly a tragedy, and it caused them to fear getting too close to anyone because they might learn the truth. They might discover and reveal to the world that the narcissist is not all those wonderful things they infused into their false self. That’s what is ultimately behind the narcissist’s fear of intimacy, but it’s related to all of the following underlying fears.
1. Loss of Narcissistic Supply
Because the false self created by that damaged child is unable to support an internal identity and self-esteem, the narcissist needs other people to give them almost constant adulation. This is known as narcissistic supply.
To get the people in their life to give them what they need, the narcissist uses manipulation. They want to manipulate people into complimenting them and giving them the adoration they have convinced themselves they deserve.
If they get too close to someone, however, and that person is able to see the truth about the narcissist’s flawed nature, they won’t give them that adulation they need. If that happens and the narcissist loses their external validation, they face the possibility of a complete mental breakdown.
2. They are Full of Shame
At the heart of narcissistic personality disorder is a deep-seated shame the narcissist feels about their true self. They can’t face that shame because it might destroy them, and that’s why they don’t want to get too close to anyone.
If they get too close, the other person might see the shameful truth about them — that’s what they think. They never developed a sense of compassion or empathy for other people, but they also never developed those feelings for themself either.
They look in the mirror and see a terribly flawed individual. Their entire identity is a house of cards that can come crashing down if they let anyone get too close. As the psychologists at Fulham Consulting explain, “Narcissists fear any true intimacy or vulnerability because they’re afraid you’ll see their imperfections and judge or reject them. No amount of reassurance seems to make a difference, because narcissists deeply hate and reject their own shameful imperfections.”
3. Fear of Judgment
The narcissist is actually constantly judging themselves, and they expect that should anyone discover the truth about them, they will judge them harshly too. That might trigger a cascade effect whereby they will lose their narcissistic supply and be abandoned.
Moreover, they will have to face their internal shame head-on, and that’s perhaps the most frightening thing of all. They have lived so long with the false self they created that having to accept the truth they believe about themself is unthinkable.
Additionally, if they let one person get too close and that person judges them, they might also reveal the truth to the other people in their life. The narcissist fears they could lose everyone around them.
4. Fear of Abandonment
Ultimately, the narcissist fears being abandoned by everyone in their life. They think that if they discover how weak and inept they are, they will leave them behind. In effect, that’s what the narcissist did to themselves when they were a child.
They abandoned their true self and buried it deep inside. They saw what they believed to be a flawed nature and they left it, so why wouldn’t everyone else in their life do the same?
That would be disastrous for someone who relies on external validation as extensively as the narcissist does. This is a compelling reason for keeping their distance from everyone in their life.
5. Fear of Ridicule
The narcissist is someone who seems to have a high opinion of themself, but that’s only a facade. They believe their true nature to be useless, and they often project their own flaws onto others and ridicule them as a result.
Because they do it, they believe others will do the same too. They fear that if someone is able to see the truth about them, they will reveal that truth to the world by ridiculing them. A healthy person could face ridicule because they have internal identity mechanisms that can soothe and support their self-esteem.
The narcissist doesn’t have these internal mechanisms. They rely on external validation, and if instead of validation, they are ridiculed, their false self, their false ego, would be unable to withstand it.
6. Fear of Narcissistic Collapse
Narcissistic collapse is what happens when a narcissist is unable to maintain their superior false self-image. When that facade collapses as a result of narcissistic injury, the narcissist faces a mental breakdown.
This can cause them to react with intense emotions. They may lash out in a vindictive rage or collapse in an emotional heap. They may become aggressive and even dangerous or they may be unable to function in their life.
At their core, the narcissist senses the fragility of their emotional state, and they fear a complete breakdown that can result from having their true self exposed to those around them. That’s a big reason why they fear intimacy and the various other consequences it may bring.
7. Fear of Commitment
Because commitment equals intimacy, the narcissist has a deeply rooted fear of commitment. They understand the expectations of closeness that comes with commitment, and they also understand that a commitment means going from having eggs scattered all about to having all your eggs in one basket.
The narcissist will typically cycle through relationships and people. As one person becomes tired of the narcissistic abuse, the narcissist moves on to someone else. They often have extramarital partners waiting in the wings in the event their spouse tires of their abuse. This is so they won’t experience a disruption in their narcissistic supply.
Committing to one person means risking relying too much on one person for that supply. They fear they could be left without anyone to meet their extensive needs for adoration, and they also know that committing to someone means letting them get close enough to see all your flaws.
8. Affection is Suspicious
Because many narcissists were themselves abused by narcissistic parents in their childhood, they have come to view affection as suspect. Narcissists will use affection as a manipulation tool, and they will change their behavior quickly once they have gotten what they felt they needed.
As a child, the narcissist may have experienced such sudden and dramatic changes in the affection they received from narcissistic parents. A narcissistic parent views their own children in the same way they view other people — as extensions of themselves who should focus on the narcissist’s needs.
For that reason, they will use and manipulate their own child just like they would anyone else. They will show affection when they need or want something from them, and they will abruptly shut that supply of love off if they don’t get what they want or if they aren’t satisfied with what the child gives them.
Moreover, narcissists are never satisfied so facing their parent’s disappointment and criticism was a constant factor in the narcissistic child’s life. That disappointment became inextricably linked with affection in the child’s mind. That’s why the narcissist sees affection and attempts at intimacy as suspicious.
9. They Like to Maintain Control
To be truly intimate with someone is to be vulnerable. The narcissist fears vulnerability as much as anything else in their life. Vulnerability means they have no control, and it means they can’t secure their narcissistic supply.
Narcissists feel the need to maintain control so they can ensure a constant narcissistic supply to boost their fragile self-esteem. On a deep level, they understand that their false self image is a house of cards that can come crashing down at any moment.
In their mind, the only thing preventing that is their manipulation of other people to help prop up their ego. That means they must retain control over everyone in their life. Intimacy and vulnerability are clear threats to that control.
10. They Don’t Know How to Love
In reality, the narcissist never learned how to love because they were never given love. Their parents denied them the security of knowing they can do things for themselves. They were never able to develop a strong sense of self and the belief that they could do the things they need to do to survive.
In their childhood, the narcissist saw love as transactional. To get it, they had to give something up or do something worthwhile, and they were never able to do something worthwhile in their narcissistic parent’s critical eyes.
Because of that, the narcissist didn’t learn that love is unconditional; on the contrary, they learned it was all about conditions. Moreover, they learned they were never able to meet those conditions. They never felt loved, they learned that love was something they had to earn, and therefore, they never learned how to give love.
They see love and intimacy as equal to vulnerability, and in the narcissist’s mind, there’s nothing more dangerous than vulnerability.
11. They See Vulnerability as Weakness
The reason the narcissist sees vulnerability as dangerous is that they see it as a weakness. They can’t abide weakness because that leaves them open to being exposed for the flawed human they believe themselves to be.
Remember that the narcissist has infused their false self with grandiose ideas of superiority, and that is the vision of themselves they need other people to sustain through narcissistic supply.
While healthy people see vulnerability as a normal part of the human condition and something that spurs personal growth, the narcissist rejects the idea they have a need for growth. They have convinced themselves they are superior and flawless.
To be close to someone is to be vulnerable because they can see the real you, but for the narcissist, that idea is a nightmare. It makes them weak if they are vulnerable, and they certainly don’t want anyone seeing their real self.
Can You Love a Narcissist Enough to Help Them?
All the reasons why a narcissist fears intimacy reveal just how damaged they truly are, and for many people, that provokes a compassionate response for them. This is particularly true for empaths who are extremely sensitive to other people’s feelings and who seek to help them.
While there are certainly many romance novels and movies that would suggest if you just love someone enough, they can heal their damaged selves, the truth is that you’ll never be able to love a narcissist enough to help them heal.
It is possible for narcissists to improve, but it rarely happens because they must first admit they have a problem. Even if they do that, they will require intensive, long-term psychotherapy to reduce their narcissistic tendencies. Most of the time, that won’t happen.
There are various types of psychotherapy that can help the narcissist, most notably cognitive behavioral therapy, but the problem lies in getting the narcissist to see they have a problem. The nature of their personality disorder makes that very difficult for them to do.
If they do seek help, you can support them through the therapy, and you can even work with them to improve your interpersonal communication. They must take the first step, however, and they must commit to continuously work on getting better.
Most of the time, you have to accept the limitations of a relationship with a narcissist and realize that you will never get from them the intimacy you might desire. A relationship might still be possible with them, and even a happy one, but you will have to look to other people in your life to fulfill your need for closeness.
Narcissism is an extremely damaging cluster B personality disorder. Part of the reason it is so destructive is that the individual has no internal identity mechanisms that can support their own self-esteem. They must instead rely on external validation to support the grandiose ideas they have infused into an artificial identity structure known as the false self.
That puts them in a very vulnerable position, and they know that and constantly fear exposure as a result. That makes them manipulative and fearful of becoming too close to other people. Intimacy means risking everything they’ve worked so hard to create in order to survive their own abusive childhood. It’s a tragedy in every sense of the word, but only the narcissist can change their situation.
Narcissism is a devastating personality disorder and one that affects everyone around the narcissist. What’s more, it has numerous other consequences for the health of the afflicted individual. You’ll want to learn more by reading this article about how narcissism can affect the longevity of those who suffer with this disorder.
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