What is narcissistic charm? It’s the all the attention, flattery and interest a narcissist might show you at the outset of a relationship. Now, there’s nothing inherently bad about a person displaying these behaviors. It’s often simply a part of the wooing process. But as I’ve written before, a person’s interest doesn’t necessarily mean they have genuine regard for you. That’s why these days you have to be particularly wary of charmers. And it’s all too easy to mistake someone’s interest in you for regard. (See: Abuse Victims Mistake Interest for Regard.)
Narcissists don’t need others in the healthy way most of us do. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have desires of others. So, when they see something in you they like or want to possess it (or you), they can really turn on the charm. They’ll put on their most appealing face. And they’ll do their best to make you feel special, too. But that’s when you have to be the most careful. It’s too easy to get swept off your feet and still have no idea who they really are. Moreover, you can be made to feel ever so special to them without ever really knowing what designs they actually have on you.
Relationships Born of Narcissistic Charm
Narcissistic charm often plays a key role in relationships that turn out to be abusive and exploitative. Such relationships follow a typical course:
- Someone shows tremendous interest in you.
- They do everything they can to make you feel special.
- They tell you everything they you’ve ever wanted to hear.
- Only slowly do they reveal how grateful and admiring of them they expect you to be.
- And even more slowly than that do they reveal how disregarding of you they can be if you don’t meet their expectations.
- In time it becomes clear that while they once might have had some use for you and did all they could to win you over, they never really had any positive regard (i.e. genuine love) for you (especially the person you are at the core).
- You finally realize how badly they have used and abused you. But you’ve invested years and mounds of time, energy, and often, money. So, it’s hard to walk away.
(See again the “Slot Machine Syndrome” discourse in In Sheep’s Clothing.)
An Even Subtler Charm
Narcissists can deliberately charm as a way of seducing you. But you can also allow yourself to be seduced in subtler ways, too. The quiet confidence some narcissists exude can be almost intoxicating. That’s especially true for those struggling with insecurity of some sort. Such insecurity can breed emotional neediness. And it can be overwhelmingly flattering when someone you think has is all together (based on their projection of that confident image) has taken a big interest in you. But once again, this is inherently problematic because interest alone does not equal regard.
So what’s the answer to this dilemma? How do you avoid succumbing to narcissistic charm? The answer lies in two things: knowing your worth, and knowing where it truly comes from. Those most vulnerable to narcissistic charm simply don’t know their true value. And that prompts them tend to seek external validation. Looking outward for validation makes anyone vulnerable. It’s also a gateway to emotional dependency.
External approval seekers are the opposite of narcissists. Narcissists are pathological in their excessive and unfounded sense of their worth. They may solicit your attention and admiration. Such things pad their already inflated ego. But they don’t require your approval. They already think they’re great. And in the more pathological cases, they just know they’re great. Contrarily, those they target for relationships are often plagued by self-doubt. So it’s easy for them to get bowled over by the attention and interest the charming narcissist might show.
In the coming weeks I’ll have more to say on healthy self-worth.