Some of you might have dated, or are currently dating, a narcissist. And relationships with narcissists are anything but smooth; at one point, they will give you attention, but the very next moment, they will focus entirely on themselves, leaving you in emotional turmoil every single day.
So, naturally, you must have wondered, ‘Can a narcissist fall in love at all? Are they even capable of expressing feelings like everyone else?’ Well, you need not wonder any further — there’s finally an answer.
In this article, I will address the can a narcissist fall in love question in detail. However, before moving on to the dilemma itself, I should first establish a few things. Mainly, there needs to be a delineation between love in general (as the rest of the world sees it) and what love is to a narcissist.
What Is Love?
The subject of what love actually is has been covered by various thinkers over the centuries, from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas to Erich Fromm (and, to an extent, Haddaway). It’s a fascinating subject to everyone who enjoys some deep thinking, but it gets complicated when you try to define it in practical terms.
So, before moving forward, you’ll need a clear-cut example of what love is not.
1. Romance Is Not Love
This might sound contradictory until you realize one simple fact. Romance, as a concept, is merely one important segment of love. If you have nothing but romance, you’re not doing the necessary work to evolve that feeling into something tangible; rather, you’re stuck at the basic, high-school level of ‘love’ that disappears after the first major hurdle in your relationship.
2. Lust Is Not Love
Once again, having strong feelings of sexual attraction is a major part of what love is, but in and of itself, it’s merely a physical and physiological need that you have to satisfy. In short, there is next to no emotional fulfillment between the partners.
3. Codependency Is Not Love
Staying in a relationship with someone simply to have them validate your sense of identity is far from healthy. It’s safe to say that there isn’t even an ounce of healthy love there.
When talking about love, you need to keep in mind that it’s a complex feeling, which involves both thought and action, as well as a long-term commitment and lots of sacrifices. So let’s get down to the brass tacks.
As stated earlier, sexual attraction and romance are definitely two important segments of love. In order to love and be loved, you need to be attracted to someone physically. In addition, an emotional connection is a must (kisses, hugs, romantic talk, etc.).
However, there are more components to love, arguably more important than romance and sexual attraction. When you love someone, you need to feel the motivation to know everything about them. You need to address their wants, needs, and desires; moreover, you need to be ready to share some of your own.
In addition to all of that, real love requires endurance. When you have a fight with your lover, you will both need the maturity to go past the argument and settle it like adults. You have to realize that you’re not always right, but that you’re also not always wrong. Healthy love needs input from both lovers because that’s how you grow and form strong, lifelong bonds.
Most importantly, a lover needs to feel empathy for their partner. When they’re feeling down on their luck, depressed, sad, or angry, they need someone to lean on, someone who can help them cope and move on. Understanding another individual on that deep of a level is the very essence of love.
Can You Measure Love?
Asking yourself, Can a narcissist fall in love? is easy. Coming up with a definitive way of measuring someone else’s love for their partner is an entirely different matter.
Two studies, in particular, focused on how some people measured love in their life. The first of the two studies, published under the title The Behavior of Love, came out in 1972. The second study was performed 15 years later under the name Measures of expressions of love.
Within the first study, participants expressed that they felt loved by their partner who did one of the following acts:
• Showing interest in their daily affairs
• Providing emotional and moral support in tough times
• Sharing intimate facts about themselves
• Verbally expressing their feelings for the participant regularly
• Tolerating flaws and bad behavior for the sake of the relationship
The second study showed similar results. Subjects who participated in the study expressed that they feel love when it’s expressed by the following:
• Words of affirmation
• Spending some quality time with the partner
• Giving presents
• Performing acts of service
• Physical touch
Of course, these results do not represent love across the board. However, they are a good indicator when you’re looking into the nature of narcissists and how they express love (if they express it at all).
Can a Narcissist Fall in Love, Then?
Well, it really depends on the context. More importantly, it depends on who you’re asking.
If you were to ask an average narcissist, they would more than likely say ‘Yes, I can fall in love.’ In fact, they might even show it directly; narcissists often don’t have any trouble finding a partner. And on the surface, it definitely might look like a healthy, loving relationship.
However, if you ask someone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist, you might get an entirely different answer. Scorned partners will call a narcissist cold, distant, unable to open up, incapable of empathy, etc. In extreme cases, partners of narcissists have suffered extreme emotional abuse. To put it simply, their answer will rarely be positive.
So, why do narcissists act that way, and is there a way for them to love like you and I do?
What Stops a Narcissist from Loving You?
Narcissism is a serious personality disorder, brought about by some past trauma that gives the person a skewed view of the world. They do not see the world as you do. And, more importantly, they don’t see themselves as the world sees them.
With that in mind, there are several key hurdles that prevent a narcissist from falling in love like everyone else.
The first one is the way they see others. A typical person with a narcissistic personality disorder or NPD will not look at you as an individual. Rather, they will see you as an ‘extension’ of themselves. To put it bluntly, you’re a useful tool for them; your wants, needs, and desires don’t even factor into their lives, and when they interact with you, they only see what’s useful for them.
Emotional empathy is the second major hurdle. Usually, someone with NPD will overestimate how empathetic they are. They will act like they care for your problems on the surface level, but it won’t ‘look’ like they do. More often than not, it will look like an afterthought rather than true empathy.
The third and final hurdle is their defenses. A narcissist will constantly brag, but shut off emotionally when they feel vulnerable. Moreover, they will use various abusive tactics to go after the person who’s in love with them.
Paradoxically, a person with NPD has a strong cognitive empathy. They are emotionally quite intelligent, which makes them extremely dangerous. A narcissist can easily manipulate their partner into giving them what they want without realizing how much they’re emotionally destroying them.
How Do Narcissists Show Their Love?
As stated, a narcissist sees everyone as an extension of themselves. So, when interacting with a partner, they aren’t trying to make the partner feel wanted. Instead, they do everything for their own emotional gratification.
Of course, people with NPD can and do express both sexual and romantic attraction. If you’re dating a narcissist, they will shower you with gifts, kind words, and immense physical contact. And on the surface, that will look like love to you. More importantly, it will look like love to them.
However, someone with NPD doesn’t like to share their feelings, nor can they empathize with your own. So, if you try to make your relationship serious, they become defensive, abusive, and cold. That’s when they’re capable of saying some of the most hurtful things to you. And what’s worse, they’ll say it deliberately, fully conscious of their words.
As horrible as this might sound, you are almost like a puppet to a narcissist. They will play with you and take care of you until you start to bore them. That’s when they go back to square one and become passionate with a different person, seeing you as a burden.
But Can a Narcissist Fall In Love Like I Do, Despite All of That?
So far, everything in this article has been somewhat glum. It’s not easy when you know that your partner is someone who might never love you the same way you love them.
Luckily, there is a light at the end of that tunnel. A narcissist, despite their problems, can definitely manage to return your love. However, it will take a lot of hard work.
Your first step is to try with couples’ therapy; make sure to find a therapist who specializes in NDP. Therapy will help you both break down your defenses and open up to each other. In time, your partner will start to discuss their vulnerabilities and understand your feelings.
In addition, your partner will have to undergo individual therapy. That way, a specialist can help them reduce their narcissistic behavior. More importantly, your partner will learn how to open up to other people besides you.
If you’ve suffered emotional abuse in your relationship, seek therapy at once. It will help you cope with what happened, and you’ll move on to a much healthier, happier person.
Can a Narcissist Fall In Love: Final Thoughts
Having NPD is crippling, both for the narcissist and the person they’re seeing. But can a narcissist fall in love and overcome their destructive behavior? The answer is ‘yes,’ but only if you’re both willing to work together to reach that goal. It won’t be easy, but it will all be worth it in the end.
Further reading: How to Know If a Narcissist Is Finished With You: Narcissism 101