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There are three main stages in a narcissist’s relationship: idealise, devalue and discard.
As the partner of a narcissist, the relationship starts off being everything you ever wanted and ends with you being cast aside, feeling worthless.
Breaking up with a narcissist is hard, but many people who’ve done it report that they finally understood how badly they were treated once the relationship was over, and vowed never to fall for the same tricks again.
However, others find themselves repeatedly attracted to these people, no matter how many times they’ve been discarded. The reasons for this vary; sometimes personal psychological factors cause people to fall for narcissists, while some narcissists are just very good at appearing desirable.
A 2016 study published in the European Journal of Personality asked 90 people to go on dates, and rate each other’s appeal as potential short- and long-term partners. The results of nearly 700 dates showed those with the highest scores on the study’s narcissism scale were more likely to be considered “desirable” by those who dated them.
Here are three reasons people find narcissists so appealing, as well as three ways to avoid the cycle of getting sucked into relationships with them.
Reason 1: They believe in their own attractiveness.
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In a blog post in Psychology Today, Joe Pierre, a Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences Professor at UCLA, outlines the adaptive and destructive personality traits of narcissists. Pierre says adaptive traits such as self-sufficiency, individualism, confidence, leadership, and ambition are attractive to people when looking for a partner.
Primarily, narcissists are attractive because they think of themselves as the top prize, and that factors into to how other people see them. They believe in their own value (on the surface, at least), so their charisma and confidence often makes them the life of a party. These are powerful tools when looking to attract a mate.
The destructive traits of narcissists, such as arrogance, entitlement, vanity, and lack of empathy, do turn people off, of course, but they don’t tend to show right away.
Reason 2: At the beginning, you are the centre of their world.
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Narcissists often flatter their partners early in a relationship. When you’re just starting to date a narcissist, they can make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world, says psychologist Dr Neil J Lavender in a blog post on Psychology Today. This is because narcissists see themselves as the most interesting, intelligent, attractive people in a room, and who they choose to spend time with is a reflection of that. They’re likely to tell you how wonderful you are and boast about you to their friends because they have to show you’re worthy of their attention.
However, this bombardment of affection can be taken away as quickly as it appears, Lavender warns – narcissists are prone to discarding people at the drop of a hat. If they feel you’re getting too attached or you no longer have value to them, they’ll be gone and so will the love.
Reason 3: You might just be wired that way.
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Nobody goes looking for a narcissist, Deborah Ward, author of the book ‘Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness,’ explains in a blog post on Psychology Today. Instead, these choices get made subconsciously.
Ward refers to the common psychological theory that we are attracted to people who remind us of our parents. If their relationship was abusive, or you were always seeking approval as a child, you may look for a partner with those same traits because you’re trying to heal wounds from the past, she says.
Narcissistic behaviour may seem “normal” in these cases because you might be accustomed to being treated badly by those you love. Anything familiar, whether good or bad, feels comfortable, Ward says. The problem is that a comfortable relationship isn’t the same as a healthy one, and narcissists are unlikely to give you what you need on a long-term basis.
According to Ward, narcissists often seek out sensitive, kind people, because they can use their empathy to take advantage of them.
Solution 1: Figure out what you need.
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If you find yourself getting sucked into repeated relationships with narcissists, Ward says the first thing you to do is figure out what you want from a partner.
Our needs for love, respect, attention and acceptance are important, she says, and that’s what relationships are for. However, you may have lost sight of those goals somewhere along the way and settled for unhealthy relationships with the wrong people.
Although narcissists appear to fulfill your needs at the beginning of a relationship, this almost never lasts. Instead, you might find yourself desperately holding onto a person that actually didn’t exist in the first place. Ward says change begins when we recognise that we deserve and should expect more.
Ward suggests thinking about whether you got enough attention growing up, and reminding yourself that it’s okay to express your needs and tell your partner how you feel.
Solution 2: Stop trying to help them.
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Ultimately, narcissists probably won’t change. You are not responsible for their growth or healing, or even for the health of the relationship overall, Ward says. They have to help themselves – and will only do that if they want to. The sooner you realise this, the better, she says.
If you’re used to pushing for what you want, it can feel wrong to give up, Ward says. But the new challenge is realising that you don’t have to work so hard, and that the person you love shouldn’t cause too much stress. If they do, you might have to re-evaluate what behaviors you consider to be acceptable.
Solution 3: Move on.
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If you have told your partner what your needs are and they show no interest in fulfilling them, it’s probably time to move on.
It can be tough to change your expectations and beliefs, but Ward says having a clear sense of what you expect from relationships will protect you from getting mistreated.
Psychiatrist Judith Orloff writes in a blog post in Psychology Today that focusing on yourself and your the future will eventually help healthier relationships emerge. One day you might even wonder how you allowed yourself to be hurt by a narcissist at all.