If you’ve ever loved a narcissist, then you have likely asked yourself the question: Can a narcissist love?

Does the narcissist love me? Does this person really care for me? I certainly tried to find out these answers when I was married to a narcissist.

I would take these questions beyond self-inquisition and ask one of our five different couples’ counselors’, “Does he love me?”  The answer was “as much as he can.” I would ask my friends if they thought he loved me. Most of them answered something like “Yes, but he just shows it differently” or “He loves you in his own way.”  My family said “Maybe you need to show him more love and understanding.” I felt like I was running headfirst into a brick wall trying to find the truth.

So, can a narcissist love? Here’s four things that we know about narcissists and love:

1. Narcissists can love only so much.

Pretend you have a 32oz. cup and a 6 oz. cup in front of you.  You are the 32 oz cup, and your cup is so full of love that one more drop would send the contents over the edge.  The narcissist is the 6 oz glass.  That glass is also full, but it has a hole in the bottom where it slowly leaks, and the cup will never overflow.  The narcissist can’t love more than what that cup will hold. It’s just not possible.

The narcissist cannot love more than a small amount because the narcissist cannot emotionally connect to do that.  A narcissist cannot emotionally connect with themselves, making it impossible to be intimate with others.

2. Narcissists love conditionally.

For a narcissist, a relationship is transactional.  Winning is the goal.  The narcissist will say and do what that person needs to do in order to get a supply from you.  A narcissist needs you love, attention, praise, worship and admiration like we need air to breathe. Many narcissists have perfected the façade of love.  That outward show will only continue if your supply continues.

3. Narcissists present their facade early on to win you over…and it seems like love.

In the beginning of the relationship, you may have felt like the narcissist loved you more than anyone ever has.  You feel like you’ve found you soulmate.  This is love-bombing.  And unfortunately, narcissists are often celebrating themselves.  Some psychologists say the narcissist is seeing in you a reflection of their own self-importance and overabundance of self-love.  

 4. Narcissists look at everyone as extensions of themselves.

Narcissists look at others like that person is there to serve them in a certain capacity.  Maybe there is an employee that the narcissist uses to fill a need for attention and admiration.  Perhaps you are expected to be the trophy wife or trophy husband.  If you are dealing with a narcissistic parent, perhaps you are the golden child that is expected to shine light on that parent.  The parent is living out dreams through you.  In a crude analogy, it is as if you are the arm or leg of the narcissist, and you are supposed to do your job to keep the narcissist moving forward, never feeling isolation, desolation or fear.

If you are experiencing these four things, this version of love is so very different from healthy love.  True love can look like words of affirmation, emotional support, feelings of physical and emotional intimacy, gift giving and quality time.  The partnership or relationship between two healthy people is one where they both experience mostly feelings of happiness around each other, or at least peace. 

If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, and you are struggling, no one can tell you what to do.  You can ask yourself, “Am I getting my needs met?” You can also ask yourself, “Do I want to live this way for the foreseeable future?” 

Laura Charanza