Narcissistic infatuation is a unique kind of relationship captivation. And it can engender considerable passion. In fact, the person(s) involved can seem nearly irrational in their interest in one another. And one reason can be because the adulation typically involved is so powerully seductive. (See also: Adulation is Seduction Not Love and Mistaking Interest for Regard in Relationships.) As a result, narcissistic infatuation can eventually lead to addiction – addiction to a person. And as most of us know, addictions, while powerful, are inherently destructive. So, just what is this phenomenon I’m calling narcissistic infatuation? And how does it happen?
We can become enamored of someone for a variety of reasons. But sometimes we’re particularly (and in some instances, unconsciously) drawn to:
- An aspect or aspects of ourselves that we see in the other person
- Hidden or as yet undeveloped aspects of ourselves that we find more solidly in the other person and desire to more fully incorporate into our own lives.
Ultimately, therefore, narcissistic infatuation is a misguided attempt at self-love.
Ego-inflated characters, incapable of genuinely positively regarding another, can unduly sway the ego-impaired. Their flattery can indeed build up a sagging ego. But it can’t lay the foundation for a lasting, healthy relationship. You don’t realize it at first, but when narcissists say: “Wow, you’re really fantastic!,” what they could actually be meaning is: “I love the me I see in you!” They could also be saying: “I see something(s) of value in you I really want to possess. And possessing it would make me even greater than I already am!”
So many relational problems these days stem from an unhealthy sense of self. Some folks think entirely too highly of themselves. Others don’t think enough of themselves. And it seems that getting the balance right is harder than ever. We get so many mixed messages about how to love ourselves properly. And, sadly, too many of those messages encourage narcissism as opposed to genuinely positive self-regard. That’s why I’ve written so frequently on this topic.
See, for example:
- Toxic Self-Love
- Healthy Versus. Unhealthy Self-Regard
- The Spirituality of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect
Genuinely positive self-regard (i.e. healthy self-love) requires emotional, character, and spiritual maturity. To love yourself in a healthy way, you have to deeply understand not only what your true worth is but also from whence it truly derives. And in our character-disturbed age, that’s no easy task.
Self-admiration is not healthy self love. Similarly, idolizing another, for whatever reason, is not good for either the party idolizing or the one being idolized. Sadly, too many folks these days equate admiration or adoration with love. Feeling adored can sweep you off your feet. But you’re destined to fall flat on your face. What we all really need is positive regard. Genuine, selfless, well-wishing – that’s true love. And it has to be given freely and without strings to be the real deal. Certainly, we desire it from others. But we mostly need to afford it to ourselves. And if we haven’t learned to do that properly, we can’t possibly give it to another.
I’ll be talking more about these matters in the coming weeks.
I’ll have an announcement soon on the Character Matters page about the new podcast-format program. I’ll also have an announcement in the next few weeks about the Spanish Language Edition of In Sheep’s Clothing. And finally, before the end of the year I’ll have an announcement about the complete re-write I’ve been doing of the manuscript originally titled “The Ten Commandments of Character,” based on the section of my book Character Disturbance of the same name. The re-write provides a much broader and deeper exploration of the essentials of emotional, psychological, and spiritual health that underlie sound character.
12 thoughts on “Narcissistic Infatuation Can Seem Like Love”
Here’s to you, Dr. Simon!
Dr. Simon, I was wondering what you think about restorative justice in cases of intimate partner violence. I’ve long had problems with ideas like “hurt people hurt people” which are so popular in restorative justice spaces.
Abusers are evil. IPV is calculated, predatory, and wickedness of the man’s chosen doing. Wife-beaters are not sad sacks with woundedness causing them to be abusers. It’s about entitlement, misogyny, and predation. It’s enslavement of the woman. Bondage. And accomplished via trickery, deception, manipulation, intimidation, threats and violence. Throw abusers into jail and throw away the keys. Children of the devil.
Hurt people hurt people is generally a bunch of BS. With regards to abusers, it’s 100 percent inapplicable. Restorative justice with abusers is but more manipulation. Victims deserve better.
Please see my reply to Ms. X. And a final caution to you about the sweeping generalizations you consistently engage in despite my polite but firm repeat cautions to be more mindful. You always raise some important and valid points. And your experience may indeed have taught you some important things well worth sharing with others. But sadly your points become inherently diminished by the intensity and rigidity and “I know better” flavor often attached to them. One last time. Be more mindful. Search your heart before posting. If your real intention is to be part of the healing of this badly broken world, it will be reflected in the tone of your comments. Thank you.
Dr. Simon is very right.
My posts are very intense. Too intense for many. But such intensity reflects the severity of my victimization and the damages inflicted. I have been victimized by too many psychopaths. My experiences have probably been more extreme than most. The degree of damages and sadism and depravity experienced makes for less grays than most in a black and white world.
I do wish to be part of healing but I don’t think the world is going to be healed or made better. Prevention is better than healing. A leopard cannot change its spots. Evil people will remain evil. They are happy being evil. The world is never going to be ridded of evil until Judgment Day.
I don’t know how to be less intense. I’m working on it.
Given how manipulative batterers are and how rare it is for batterers to actually serve prison time for their DV, I don’t think there should be any restorative justice programs for them. Even those who run BIPs, when being honest, state the batterers don’t change and the success rate is dismal, at best, with batterers just getting better in non-physical violence tactics.
Yes, on second read, my post was pretty intense and quite rigid. But it takes a lot for any wife-beater to be sent to prison for his wife-beating, so out of that population, I see no hope for them, and wouldn’t see restorative justice programs being the least bit helpful or wise for DV victims to undergo. That’s merely my opinion and it doesn’t apply to all other potential crime victims, as more happenstance crime victims might be served by restorative justice offerings.
A woman-beater turned murderer just recently got out of prison after being sentenced to a mere 3 years for a horrific, vicious, sadistic, calculated murder. Three years. It’s very difficult for men to be sentenced to long prison terms, when it’s their girlfriend or wife they choose to viciously beat and even murder. I think the average prison term is 7 years for a murdered woman; whereas a woman will serve decades if not life without parole if they dare defend themselves and kill their batterer or pimp or rapist john.
The average number of times DV occurs before the victim dares to call the police for the first time is in the 30s if I recall correctly. And for a wife-beater to actually be sentenced to a prison term, he’d have to be just short of murder and make a horrific scene. Most don’t even spend much more than a night in jail.
Others’ mileage and experiences probably vary.
I appreciate the caution. I largely post comments because I don’t want other women to be as badly harmed as I have been.
I don’t necessarily know better. That’s why I come to your site. To read your posts and try and absorb what you share. Thanks for running your website and posting as you do. You have the command of language, the excellent writing, and the doctorate. I have none of those things.
I’ll refrain from posting.
It’s the over-generalization about almost anything that I have a problem with. True, sometimes it’s hurt people who unwittingly or even knowingly hurt people. But other times it’s simply entitled, callous, heartless people not made that way because of any particular hurt who simply wantonly do dasdardly things. I emphasize this point in my professional trainings. But people are always looking for explanations. And we take comfort in what appear to be general rules. But exceptions are, in fact, the rule. Restorative justice is both well-indicated and much needed in certain instances. But there are also cases where the only safety we have is to restrict the freedom of wanton abusers. There simply are no general rules. Too bad we live in a time where it’s almost impossible to have a civil and completely open-minded and unbiased conversation about such things.
“You don’t realize it at first, but when narcissists say: “Wow, you’re really fantastic!,” what they could actually be meaning is: “I love the me I see in you!” They could also be saying:
“I see something(s) of value in you I really want to possess. And possessing it would make me even greater than I already am!””
So true and so important to be vigilant!
“I see something(s) of value in you I really want to possess. And possessing it would make me even greater than I already am!”
I once had a guy tell me that being with me he was thrilled that when people saw me he thought “look what I have”. To him I was a possession, an object to show off – to reflect on him. My heart sank. I knew he didn’t care about me, just my looks.
Most men are like that, hence the commonly used expressions of trophy wife, arm candy, and similar. For most men, women are but status objects to acquire, display, consume, and trade in. That’s reality.
Most men are dishonest about this reality, but it’s true. It’s very rare that a man wants a woman for anything other than her looks and to use and abuse her. People can delude themselves all they want about this not being reality, but such is true and can be seen all over. Pretty revolting, but men rule the world and hoard the power and resources and through forced subjugation, can objectify in masse women and it’s seen to be ‘normal’ or ‘natural’. It’s about consumption, not humanity. There are always exceptions, but they are very, very rare.
Again, good points but extreme language (e.g., VERY, VERY RARE). An amusing true story for you to consider: In 1969 I helped my sister move in to her university dorm. Coed college but gender-segregated dorms. Still, male guests were allowed in the dining hall. I walked in with my sister for a little snack. What greated me were tables of female “judges” holding up large rating signs like judges at an olympics event, rating all the males who passed through. I’m sure they must have been rating what they knew to be my intelligence and character. (ha ha) Sadly, 1 got only 3 tens! Shallowness and superficiality can afflict any gender. And remember, this was 1969. Culture has become ever more shallow since then!
I can also tell you that of the hundreds of couples I’ve counseled, very few women have told me they were drawn to the men in their lives because of their character. I’d hate to say some of the outrageous things I’ve heard about what actually did draw them. Again, be careful with sweeping generalizations and unnecessarily excessive language.
What a remarkable story. And yes, it’s rare. That you had to think back to 1969 and not had experienced more recent overt objectification says something. Most women are judged daily in very telling ways.
Many endure being ranked daily by most men they encounter and are further reduced to their orifices, thanks to the commonality of porn culture, which is rape culture. Women aren’t even human in most men’s eyes. That you do not see this is because you are a man and aren’t treated as a woman and have never experienced life as a female.
I realize you wish to say it happens to both sexes to defend men, but there is a pattern. There is no equivalent to trophy wife, or arm candy. Men aren’t pushed into self-objectification from early on, as women and girls are.
At any rate, sorry you went through that. Objectification sucks.
It seems you’d also want to argue things like DV can happen to both men and women. Indeed, it can, but there are clear differences in the number of incidents and it’s basically a male-on-female crime, with men being the perps is almost every occasion. Same thing with rape. Yes, boys and men can be raped, but they are not raped with the same frequency that girls and women are raped. So it is not sex-neutral. There isn’t an evenness to be argued. Same thing goes with objectification and dehumanization and “shallowness and superficiality” as you put it. It’s not equally applied and equally done to both sexes. There’s a clear imbalance.
Why are there beauty pageants? Why are there trophy wives? Why is diet culture pushed so heavily onto girls and women? I’ve not heard of the term trophy husband. I don’t see equal numbers in those with eating disorders with as many men with anorexia as women. I don’t see a proliferation of beauty pageants for men.
One research study I read, asked little girls, kindergarten or perhaps 1st grade, whether they’d rather be fat or be without a limb (missing one of their legs or arms) and without exception they chose to forgo a limb so as to not be fat. Why are little girls found dieting and worrying about being fat (and in our culture, much as it shouldn’t be, skinny is largely equated with beauty, fat being equated as ugly)?
I speak from my experiences as a female. I cannot help that you see it as extreme. From my perspective, it’s truth, and thus it is not for me to cushion or lessen or soften the truth. If the truth and reality is extreme, then that’s how it is.
Same with the example you gave. Sure they were objectifying you. In 1969.But that was only a few who were doing it. Most men objectify women. In all arenas of life. That you had one experience with a few women who judged you as though you were in a beauty contest doesn’t negate what I said, nor the imbalance, or the harsh lived reality of every girl and woman alive.
I forgot that I said I’d refrain from commenting. I’ll do that now.
Well put Anonymous.