Some people are naturally drawn to narcissists. Coincidentally, narcissists are drawn to people who are drawn to them. Like a Kardashian unable to walk past a mirror, never did a narcissist pass up a chance to be admired.
Indeed, if you didn’t already know, the greatest torture for a true narcissist is to be treated with indifference. It strikes at the very core of a deeply ingrained insecurity, an insecurity few can discern below the narcissist’s disassociation into illusions of personal majesty.
But it’s there, like no other host of the disease of insecurity, it’s there. So terrifying is the feeling of vulnerability within the narcissist’s unconscious that the walls he (and on occasion “she”) builds up around himself for protection are absolutely insurmountable.
In short, the best advice for one going into a relationship with a narcissist, whether it be business or personal, is to not go into the relationship. Well, unless you enjoy misery. I recently found this article which lists 40 reasons to not marry a narcissist, and most of the reasons apply equally to business relationships. If you’re not ready to take my advice I highly encourage at least a quick read of this article, it may help change your mind.
But the purpose of this article is not to define narcissism, not to give a systematic strategy on how to outmaneuver a narcissist, not to rehash any of the endless studies performed on the disorder, and not even to compare which of the 2016 presidential candidate suffers most from it (*hint: Trump is a near perfect textbook narcissist, while Hilary appears to be a high functioning sociopath, now forget I said it*). The purpose of this article is to posit a rarely asked question of those affected most by relationships with narcissists: why are you drawn to them in the first place?
For this question I need no surveys, no peer-reviewed studies, no collections of psychiatric patient profiles, all I need is my personal experience. For most of my life I was drawn to narcissists and once I figured out why I became almost immune to their nonsense.
My experience happened almost exclusively within the Evangelical Christian communities I associated with growing up. This is not to imply that Evangelical Christianity has somehow cornered the market on narcissism, they haven’t. But it is where I happen to find scores of them, some of which became my close mentors.
There was one narcissistic pastor in particular that I served for the better part of a decade. This man had all the classic traits of a narcissist: he was highly charismatic; had the confidence and pomp of a Spanish matador; was a man who had an answer for everything, and was always right (just ask him); a man who preyed on people awed by his self-assurance, and willing to admire him for it; the sort of man who could sell a colony of termites to a log home owner. He was the man in charge – and he was exactly what I was looking for as a late teenager and early 20 something.
The reasons for this attraction would take me a long time to realize, though even a cursory knowledge of my background makes the reasons obvious. I should’ve known better.
I grew up with a single mother and an older sister. The chaos and volatility of power in our family was quite extreme, I could aptly described it as Lord of the Flies, the only difference being that the Lord of the Flies eventually settled into a coherent power system. Ours never did; even with the help of 5 step-father/live-in boyfriends.
There were two things that kept me sane and optimistic growing up: (a) my Christian faith, and (b) the inevitability of growing up and moving out. I never feared moving out; I lusted after it. I dreamed of creating my own life and finding the stability and manly strength of mind that I desperately longed for as a child.
If the reader has been paying attention so far it’s easy to guess why I was drawn to narcissistic older males – particularly narcissistic older males who masqueraded as spiritual leaders. They fulfilled all the whimsical, archetypal ideals I imagined of a father figure during my childhood. A strong, older male with spiritual vitality was of a different universe when compared with the weak and flippant father figures I was subjected to as a kid; male figures who, after realizing their failed attempts to lead our confused home, would move out and leave me in the hands of warring females (mother and sister) over household dominance.
I clung to this pastor/surrogate father figure for some years before our inevitable personality clash occurred, a clash which culminated in me challenging his perspectives of the tithe and his method of collecting it from his congregants (By the way, if you want to – or need to – continue in a relationship with a narcissist do not, under any circumstances, challenge his paycheck. I’ll just leave that there). In classic narcissist fashion he straightaway dismissed me from all leadership roles and turned his back – both figuratively and literally – on our relationship just as cold and unreservedly as any true narcissist would.
And this is the piece that ate me up for years: his ability to wholly disregard me as a person, as a surrogate son, and even as a fellow believer after half a lifetime of friendship. It wasn’t until years later when I studied narcissistic disorders that I began to connect the dots and realize that my experience was anything but novel and was bound to have it’s fairly predictable ending. And it was even later than this experience that I would find myself again drawn to and working with yet another narcissist, this time during my counseling internship, an internship which I chose and pursued based on the charisma and confidence of the supervisor. Once again I had a very similar experience, though by this point I had learned to deal with narcissists on a professional level and survived my, thankfully, short internship.
It was after this relationship that I finally asked myself the most important question, not just in dealing with narcissists, but in dealing with any challenging personality: ‘why am I drawn to this person?’ After I had answered this question with some satisfaction I have been able to both recognize and lovingly navigate relations with the narcissists in my life (which are many since I work in the healthcare profession).
It requires a love that is secure in foundations which transcend human relationships and the concomitant psychological needs they create. Most of us want to have close and caring relationships with those we meet in our daily lives. With narcissists this is just not possible. A transcendent type of love seems required if one desires to treat them with genuine care without becoming a victim of failed expectations for reciprocal care; something most of us naturally expect in our relationships.
Now that I know I have a tendency to gravitate towards this type of person, for very specific, deep-seated psychological reasons, I am better able to govern my own attitude and behavior around these people as a matter of course – not as a matter of strategy. And even more importantly, answering this question has opened a whole world of understanding of myself.
And that’s worth a couple hundred hours of psychotherapy.
Thanks for reading.