What You Should Know About Sex with a Narcissist
When you first got together, your partner might’ve seemed considerate, wildly devoted, and very interested in making sure you had a good time in bed.
Maybe they lavished you with attention, gifts, flattery, and promises of true romance, to the point where you almost felt overwhelmed by their charm.
Yet as time went on, you began to notice some persistent red flags in their behavior:
- They begin to devalue and criticize you — first subtly, then openly.
- They lash out in rage, or ignore you completely, when you do or say something they don’t like.
- They no longer seem to consider what you enjoy in bed but instead seem entirely focused on their desires.
If your partner also has a general attitude of entitlement and superiority, along with a need for regular praise and admiration, you might start to wonder whether they could have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
“Personality disorder” is an umbrella term for a group of mental health conditions, including NPD, characterized by unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
And the short answer is yes, it’s certainly possible.
We’ve got answers to your questions about sex with a partner who displays symptoms of narcissistic behavior below.
What does narcissistic sexual behavior look like?
The traits that characterize NPD and other personality disorders tend to remain pretty constant over time.
These traits also show up in multiple areas of life. So, someone with characteristics of NPD won’t just show narcissistic behaviors at work or around family and friends. You’ll eventually begin to recognize the signs in most of their interactions.
In a romantic or sexual relationship, key traits that characterize NPD can absolutely extend to all domains of your relationship, including the bedroom.
That said, you may not always notice specific behaviors right away, especially when your partner makes a dedicated effort to present a different side of themselves.
When a sexual partner exhibits symptoms of NPD, you might notice some of the following.
They only seem to care about physical pleasure
Sure, sex can be a lot of fun. Purely physical, no-strings-attached sex can be perfectly satisfying — as long as that’s what you and your partner both want.
In a relationship, sex (plus post-coital cuddling and pillow talk) also helps you connect with your partner on an intimate level. It doesn’t just feel good, it also promotes bonding and increased closeness.
But partners with symptoms of NPD may have little or no interest in building intimacy once they’ve accomplished their goal of sexual gratification.
If you try to talk about your feelings or the relationship, they might offer some token participation but seem bored or disinterested and quickly change the subject to how they feel.
They need a lot of praise
People who display narcissistic behaviors generally have a high opinion of themselves. They may consider themselves special, uniquely gifted, and more important than anyone else.
In bed, this can sometimes translate to putting their own pleasure first. They may want you to satisfy theirneeds, and if yours don’t get met, well, that’s not really their concern.
That said, self-importance can also mean that they could want to satisfy you so you can praise their skills and tell them how considerate they are as a partner.
So, instead of sharing how much fun you had together, they might want you to describe, in great detail, just how great they are at sex and how much you enjoyed the encounter.
They might look for this validation and approval every time you have sex. When you don’t offer the admiration they’re hoping for, they might press you for further compliments or even get angry.
They react poorly when you disagree with them
Let’s say you mention something you didn’t like or you suggest something to try in the future.
- “I don’t love it when you bite my neck.”
- “Please don’t hold my head when I’m going down on you.”
- “I think it would be really fun to try sex standing up.”
It’s absolutely valid to express your own needs and preferences. Yet even when you do so respectfully, comments like these might challenge their perception of themselves as the “best” partner.
So, they might respond by dismissing your request, pointing out “flaws” in your appearance or performance, or making unkind remarks.
- “You always seemed to like it before.”
- “I only try to keep your head still because you’re not very good at that. I’d never finish otherwise.”
- “What would you know? It’s not like you’re that exciting in bed.”
They feel entitled to sex
Narcissism is often characterized by a sense of entitlement, so a partner with symptoms of NPD might assume you’ll jump at the chance to have sex whenever they’re in the mood.
After all, they might reason, shouldn’t the chance to have sex with someone so attractive and talented delight you?
When you don’t want to have sex, they might:
- try to make you feel guilty by saying you don’t care about them
- accuse you of cheating
- call you names
- compare your performance to past partners
- threaten to leave you or have sex with someone else
You may not automatically recognize these behaviors as abuse. You might even start to wonder whether not wanting to have sex makes you a bad partner and you really are the one at fault.
These manipulation tactics fall under the umbrella of sexual coercion, however. You can consider them calculated attempts to make you feel bad and give in to what they want.
No one deserves sex.
A partner might feel a little disappointed when they want to have sex and you don’t. But in a healthy relationship, they’ll respect your decision and your boundaries, and they won’t pressure you to change your mind.
They have little interest in your feelings
Narcissism typically involves a lack of empathy.
Low empathy doesn’t make someone completely incapable of understanding other people’s feelings.
But it does mean they may not spend much time thinking about the impact of their behavior. They might even seem unaware that other people even have feelings.
If your partner displays symptoms of NPD, you might get the impression that as long as they get what they want, nothing else matters.
Maybe they have a very detailed and specific outline of how your encounters should play out. They tell you what they want to do, in what position, and what you should wear to bed and say during sex. They don’t ask your opinion or consider that you might want to try something else.
This can leave you feeling more like an object than a partner.
Does it always come across in the same way?
Narcissistic behaviors happen on a spectrum.
It’s possible to have several narcissistic traits without meeting full criteria for a diagnosis of NPD. These traits can show up in varying degrees of severity.
A partner with less-severe narcissistic traits may show more willingness to acknowledge problematic behaviors when you call them out. They might also make more of an effort to consider your feelings and sexual needs.
Someone who displays severe symptoms of NPD, however, may remain firmly convinced that only their needs matter. They may continue attempting to manipulate and exploit you in order to get those needs met.
It’s also important to understand that a few different subtypes of narcissism exist. While narcissistic behaviors do align with the same main characteristics, they won’t look exactly the same from person to person.
Plenty of people might recognize the exaggerated sense of superiority and self-importance seen with grandiose narcissism, but vulnerable (covert) narcissism can look pretty different.
A partner with traits of grandiose narcissism might:
- make outright sexual demands
- tell you that you’re wrong when you challenge or criticize their behavior
- ask for praise and compliments directly
- become openly enraged when you disagree
On the other hand, a partner with traits of vulnerable narcissism might:
- use passive aggression or other manipulation tactics to get what they want
- shift the blame to you when you call out problematic behavior
- put themselves down so you’ll offer compliments and praise
- be very sensitive to criticism and hold grudges when they think you’ve insulted them
Many people with traits of NPD do cheat on their partners and attempt to manipulate them into having sex.
That said, narcissism itself doesn’t automatically mean someone will cheat, use sexual coercion tactics, or show any sexually aggressive behavior.
Is there a difference between narcissistic sexual behaviors and sexual narcissism?
It’s easy to confuse sexual narcissism with narcissistic sexual behaviors. After all, they sound like exactly the same thing.
Here’s the difference:
Sexual narcissism isn’t a personality disorder, or any type of mental health condition.
It specifically refers to traits of narcissism that show up only in someone’s sexual behavior and attitude toward sex. Someone can display traits of sexual narcissism without meeting any criteria for an NPD diagnosis.
A person with traits of NPD might have an entitled attitude and other narcissistic traits in the context of their romantic and sexual relationships. But narcissistic traits will also show up in other areas of life.
It’s also possible to display symptoms of NPD without behaving in sexually entitled ways. In fact, the criteria used to diagnose NPD don’t even touch on sexual behavior.
suggests a link between sexual narcissism and sexual aggression — which includes rape, other sexual assault, and sexual coercion. Experts have not, however, found evidence to suggest that narcissism alone makes sexual aggression more likely.
What should you do if you recognize this in yourself?
If you’ve noticed signs of narcissism in your own behavior, you might be curious about those traits and how they might affect your relationships.
Talking to a mental health professional is an important step toward getting more insight and creating lasting change.
You can certainly begin making changes on your own, perhaps by:
- reminding yourself that your partner has just as much value as a person as you do
- making a habit of checking in with your partner about their sexual needs
- practicing more productive responses to criticism
Traits and behaviors associated with personality disorders tend to be difficult to change alone, though, so professional support can make a big difference.
Therapy provides a non-judgmental environment where you can:
- explore underlying causes of narcissistic behaviors
- identify how narcissistic traits show up in your life
- practice considering things from your partner’s (or anyone else’s) perspective
- learn new methods of communication and relating to others
- learn to recognize and respect the boundaries others set
In short, support from a therapist can help you develop and maintain healthier relationships that satisfy both you and your partner.
What if you recognize this in a partner?
If you’ve identified some narcissistic traits in your partner’s sexual behavior, you might wonder what to do next.
Should you confront them? Dump them? Say nothing and hope the situation improves?
The best response usually depends on the circumstances of your relationship.
If you care about your partner and want to stay involved, you might try starting with a conversation.
“I feel hurt and ignored when you say my interests don’t matter. I’m willing to try things you enjoy, and if we’re going to continue this relationship, it needs to be on equal terms. My preferences are just as valid as yours.”
It’s also important to set clear boundaries (and stick to them!).
“When I say I don’t want to have sex, I mean it. If you continue to pressure me or try to make me feel guilty, I’ll leave/you can go home.”
If they want to maintain your relationship, they might be willing to consider working with a therapist, so you could also encourage them to seek professional support.
“I want to continue dating, but I don’t see that happening unless you’re willing to consider my feelings. Would you consider talking to a therapist about how to give that a try?”
At the end of the day, remember this: Change is possible, but it can take time and hard work in therapy to see any results.
Learn more about navigating a relationship with a partner with NPD.
How can this affect you long-term?
Narcissistic traits can affect all of your personal and professional relationships, making it difficult to keep a job, maintain friendships, or have healthy romantic relationships.
NPD also often involves feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, emptiness, and anxiety. Any of these can contribute to emotional distress and other mental health symptoms, including depression.
What’s more, if you do attempt to coerce or manipulate a partner into having sex, you might find yourself facing legal consequences — not to mention the lasting trauma and distress you might leave them with.
Since NPD is a mental health condition, it generally doesn’t improve without professional treatment. That said, support from a therapist can go a long way toward helping you address these signs and behaviors.
The bottom line
A partner with traits of narcissism may not always feel motivated to change any of their behaviors, so they might continue showing little interest in your sexual needs and desires.
If you’ve tried talking to them and they still fail to show consideration and respect for your feelings and boundaries, ending the relationship and moving on may be a better step toward your long-term well-being.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
5 Ways You’ll Feel Destroyed by the Polyamorous Narcissist
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Wondering how to deal with a polyamorous narcissist?
You are not alone.
Many online blogs and support groups for victims of narcissists have sprouted up over the years, as people have realized the damage a narcissist has done in their lives.
But, there isn’t enough material out there to keep up with the narcissist’s ever-evolving attempts to justify their many relationship crimes, the main one being infidelity.
Narcissists are generally non-monogamous. While there are plenty of resources for victims of narcissists stating that narcissists are always cheaters and conduct their multiple sexual relationships in secret, what should you do when your narcissistic partner reveals that they are into polyamory?
If you’re not sure what it is, polyamory means “multiple loves”. It is the notion that a person can have multiple emotionally and/ or sexually intimate relationships at one time and do so honorably, happily, and safely.
Unfortunately, when narcissists are involved in polyamorous relationships, it simply means that more people can be relationally harmed — and often be harmed even more deeply than in a monogamous situation.
Let me begin by saying that this article is not to imply that polyamory is a bad thing for those folks who follow the spoken (and unspoken) rules of engagement. But polyamory isn’t for everyone, especially not those who are seeking long-term, stable, collaborative, and supportive relationships with a single partner.
While your first inclination might be to join the narcissist’s love tribe to avoid losing him or her, you may want to think hard and deep about what you could be getting yourself into. Because, truth be told, most narcissists who claim to be polyamorous are simply using it as an excuse to keep an ongoing string of lovers at their beck and call.
And if you’ve caught your partner cheating and you suspect they’re a narcissist, the last thing you want to do is join their harem.
So how do you handle yourself when your cheating partner “confesses” they are into polyamory? This is one of those times you’ll need to tame the compassionate part of your personality and examine your relationship with wide-eyed cynicism.
Five Epic Reasons to Stay Far Away from the Polyamorous Narcissist
Before committing yourself to a lifestyle choice that has the potential to harm you exponentially, let’s examine five reasons why refusing to be part of a love circle with a polyamorous narcissist is a smart move.
1 – You will never come first
Most people who grapple to find balance in a relationship with a narcissist struggle, profoundly, due to the infidelities they uncover.
People with narcissistic traits are drawn to polyamory mainly because they believe it relieves them of true intimacy and commitment, while providing them with copious amounts of attention. They use numerous relationships and drama to avoid the expectations of a monogamous relationship, and eventually cause harm and emotional damage to those who get close to them.
2 – They want the ego trip, not the relationship
True polyamorists invest a large amount of time to ensure everyone they’re involved with feels heard, cared for, and emotionally safe. If a true poly determines that someone feels hurt by the arrangement, they typically find a gentle, caring way to end the relationship to avoid further harm to that person.
Narcissists, on the other hand, genuinely couldn’t care less about who feels hurt as long as it’s not them. They are not willing to make compromises unless they are on the receiving end.
Narcissistic individuals will often expect you to go along with the whole idea of their having as many partners as they want, but if YOU dare to take on another relationship, then all hell breaks loose. They’ll accuse you of exacting revenge or doing it to “make them pay”.
Remember, one person does not get to make all the rules in healthy relationships, regardless of the sexual tone of it. If you are being made to feel wrong or difficult, then you are dealing with a greedy narcissist who wants to play the field, not a true poly.
3 – Beware the self-proclaimed “Spiritual Poly” who wants a ‘Sister Wives’ situation
This plays into #2. Obviously, this applies to the male “polyamorous” narcissist.
Curiously, there still exists a large demographic of narcissistic men who truly believe they are entitled to have as many women as they want because it’s their so-called “God-given right”.
These men infiltrate and hide out in polyamorous circles. They approach vulnerable poly newbies and begin grooming them for participation in their polygamous objectives. Once you’re in their grip, they’ll start quoting old scripture and/or brainwashing you to believe this is how things are supposed to be. You know, the whole “going back to the basics” thing.
Unless you want to be another woman’s sister and co-wife, you don’t mind your man sleeping with other women under your nose, and are willing to accept being hurt to have another person’s needs met…it’s best to remove yourself from the situation.
4 – Prepare for triangulation on steroids
If you’re intimately involved with a narcissist and have uncovered evidence of their secret affairs, the last thing you want to do is agree to a polyamorous relationship.
The reason for this is you’ll ALWAYS be wondering about the Narcissist’s Ex or other partners whom they may be involved with at any given time…and wondering why the narcissist hasn’t chosen to be with you.
In many cases, the new partner will be worried about you and you’ll be worried about the new partner. Why? Because Narcissists are cheating slimeballs, and you and the new partner have every right to be concerned. And no, that doesn’t make you crazy, as the Narcissist loves to suggest.
It’s not enough that most Narcissists are porn addicts and are constantly busted for surfing online dating sites, but they keep their partners perpetually enmeshed in a crazy love triangle, often promising both that they’re on the verge of leaving the other.
True polies don’t play these kinds of games. There’s no triangulation or pitting one partner against the other. No one is made to feel less-than. However, the reality is that, ultimately, people who engage in polyamory must always choose who to be with and who comes first. Is that something you want to ponder every day of your relationship?
On the other hand, if you’re being mocked because you feel uncomfortable and insecure or you’re being told how the narcissist and the other partner(s) don’t believe you’re ‘polyamory material’, that’s pure narcissistic manipulation. And sadly, this kind of triangulation gives the narcissist a euphoric high – at your expense.
5 – The polyamorous narcissist will not honor basic agreements
If you agree to a polyamorous relationship with a narcissist, you will eventually learn that your needs don’t matter. You’ll go into the arrangement expecting at least some level of compassion and consideration from your partner, only to realize you’ve been fooled.
Not much different from a monogamous relationship with a narcissist, really.
But, with a so-called polyamorous narcissist, basic needs and expectations will not be met…and can even put your health in danger.
- They’ll have unprotected sex with their other partners, putting you at risk of contracting STDs or even AIDS
- They’ll constantly bail out on plans you’ve made together, often without warning and mere minutes before your plans are supposed to transpire
- They’ll expect you to go along with their rules, but should you bring someone else into your life, things will get rocky fast
- Or, they may agree to your taking on another partner, only to fabricate a debilitating ‘devalue and discard’ later on
A dysfunctional relationship or marriage is bad for one’s health. People are often more willing to leave a bad job than they are willing to leave a bad relationship.
Toxic relationships stress the immune system, increase inflammation, damage DNA, and accelerate aging. Symptoms include insomnia, adrenal burnout, weight loss or gain, IBS, chronic fatigue, repetitive illnesses, and fatigue, among other things.
You’ll become increasingly needy for basic relationship dynamics — compassion, reassurance, emotional support. Things you don’t want to admit you need from your partner, but the lack of which can reduce even the calmest and most collected person into a train wreck.
If you’re thinking you should stay the course even though your relationship is unfulfilling, remember that life is too short to stay unhappy when there is a way out.
You are not stranded together on an island in an episode of Naked and Afraid; you’re not the last two humans alive; the future of the world doesn’t depend on your staying together.
To what end are you sacrificing your own happiness?
If you’re ready to break free and get started on the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse NOW, there’s only ONE way to do it: Let me show you how to forget the narcissist and move on.
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Narcissists, Sex and Fidelity
Are narcissists mostly hyperactive or hypoactive sexually and to what extent are they likely to be infidel in marriage?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of narcissists, loosely corresponding to the two categories mentioned in the question.
Sex for the narcissist is an instrument designed to increase the number of Sources of Narcissistic Supply. If it happens to be the most efficient weapon in the narcissist's arsenal - he makes profligate use of it. In other words: if the narcissist cannot obtain adoration, admiration, approval, applause, or any other kind of attention by other means (e.g., intellectually) - he resorts to sex.
He then become a satyr (or a nymphomaniac): indiscriminately engages in sex with multiple partners. His sex partners are considered by him to be objects - sources of Narcissistic Supply. It is through the processes of successful seduction and sexual conquest that the narcissist derives his badly needed narcissistic "fix".
The narcissist is likely to perfect his techniques of courting and regard his sexual exploits as a form of art. He usually exposes this side of him - in great detail - to others, to an audience, expecting to win their approval and admiration. Because the Narcissistic Supply in his case is in the very act of conquest and (what he perceives to be) subordination - the narcissist is forced to hop from one partner to another.
Some narcissists prefer "complicated" situations. If men - they prefer virgins, married women, frigid or lesbian women, etc. The more "difficult" the target - the more rewarding the narcissistic outcome. Such a narcissist may be married, but he does not regard his extra-marital affairs as either immoral or a breach of any explicit or implicit contract between him and his spouse.
He keeps explaining to anyone who cares to listen that his other sexual partners are nothing to him, meaningless, that he is merely taking advantage of them and that they do not constitute a threat and should not be taken seriously by his spouse. In his mind a clear separation exists between the honest "woman of his life" (really, a saint) and the whores that he is having sex with.
With the exception of the meaningful women in his life, he tends to view all females in a bad light. His behaviour, thus, achieves a dual purpose: securing Narcissistic Supply, on the one hand - and re-enacting old, unresolved conflicts and traumas (abandonment by Primary Objects and the Oedipal conflict, for instance).
When inevitably abandoned by his spouse - the narcissist is veritably shocked and hurt. This is the sort of crisis, which might drive him to psychotherapy. Still, deep inside, he feels compelled to continue to pursue precisely the same path. His abandonment is cathartic, purifying. Following a period of deep depression and suicidal ideation - the narcissist is likely to feel cleansed, invigorated, unshackled, ready for the next round of hunting.
But there is another type of narcissist. He also has bouts of sexual hyperactivity in which he trades sexual partners and tends to regard them as objects. However, with him, this is a secondary behaviour. It appears mainly after major narcissistic traumas and crises.
A painful divorce, a devastating personal financial upheaval - and this type of narcissist adopts the view that the "old" (intellectual) solutions do not work anymore. He frantically gropes and searches for new ways to attract attention, to restore his False Ego (=his grandiosity) and to secure a subsistence level of Narcissistic Supply.
Sex is handy and is a great source of the right kind of supply: it is immediate, sexual partners are interchangeable, the solution is comprehensive (it encompasses all the aspects of the narcissist's being), natural, highly charged, adventurous, and pleasurable. Thus, following a life crisis, the cerebral narcissist is likely to be deeply involved in sexual activities - very frequently and almost to the exclusion of all other matters.
However, as the memories of the crisis fade, as the narcissistic wounds heal, as the Narcissistic Cycle re-commences and the balance is restored - this second type of narcissist reveals his true colours. He abruptly loses interest in sex and in all his sexual partners. The frequency of his sexual activities deteriorates from a few times a day - to a few times a year. He reverts to intellectual pursuits, sports, politics, voluntary activities - anything but sex.
This kind of narcissist is afraid of encounters with the opposite sex and is even more afraid of emotional involvement or commitment that he fancies himself prone to develop following a sexual encounter. In general, such a narcissist withdraws not only sexually - but also emotionally. If married - he loses all overt interest in his spouse, sexual or otherwise. He confines himself to his world and makes sure that he is sufficiently busy to preclude any interaction with his nearest (and supposedly dearest).
He becomes completely immersed in "big projects", lifelong plans, a vision, or a cause - all very rewarding narcissistically and all very demanding and time consuming. In such circumstances, sex inevitably becomes an obligation, a necessity, or a maintenance chore reluctantly undertaken to preserve his sources of supply (his family or household).
The cerebral narcissist does not enjoy sex and by far prefers masturbation or "objective", emotionless sex, like going to prostitutes. Actually, he uses his mate or spouse as an "alibi", a shield against the attentions of other women, an insurance policy which preserves his virile image while making it socially and morally commendable for him to avoid any intimate or sexual contact with others.
Ostentatiously ignoring women other than his wife (a form of aggression) he feels righteous in saying: "I am a faithful husband". At the same time, he feels hostility towards his spouse for ostensibly preventing him from freely expressing his sexuality, for isolating him from carnal pleasures.
The narcissist's thwarted logic goes something like this: "I am married/attached to this woman. Therefore, I am not allowed to be in any form of contact with other women which might be interpreted as more than casual or businesslike. This is why I refrain from having anything to do with women - because I am being faithful, as opposed to most other immoral men.
However, I do not like this situation. I envy my free peers. They can have as much sex and romance as they want to - while I am confined to this marriage, chained by my wife, my freedom curbed. I am angry at her and I will punish her by abstaining from having sex with her."
Thus frustrated, the narcissist minimises all manner of intercourse with his close circle (spouse, children, parents, siblings, very intimate friends): sexual, verbal, or emotional. He limits himself to the rawest exchanges of information and isolates himself socially.
His reclusion insures against a future hurt and avoids the intimacy that he so dreads. But, again, this way he also secures abandonment and the replay of old, unresolved, conflicts. Finally, he really is left alone by everyone, with no Secondary Sources of Supply.
In his quest to find new sources, he again embarks on ego-mending bouts of sex, followed by the selection of a spouse or a mate (a Secondary Narcissistic Supply Source). Then the cycle re-commence: a sharp drop in sexual activity, emotional absence and cruel detachment leading to abandonment.
The second type of narcissist is mostly sexually loyal to his spouse. He alternates between what appears to be hyper-sexuality and asexuality (really, forcefully repressed sexuality). In the second phase, he feels no sexual urges, bar the most basic. He is, therefore, not compelled to "cheat" upon his mate, betray her, or violate the marital vows. He is much more interested in preventing a worrisome dwindling of the kind of Narcissistic Supply that really matters. Sex, he says to himself, contentedly, is for those who can do no better.
Somatic narcissists tend to verbal exhibitionism. They tend to brag in graphic details about their conquests and exploits. In extreme cases, they might introduce "live witnesses" and revert to total, classical exhibitionism. This sits well with their tendency to "objectify" their sexual partners, to engage in emotionally-neutral sex (group sex, for instance) and to indulge in autoerotic sex.
The exhibitionist sees himself reflected in the eyes of the beholders. This constitutes the main sexual stimulus, this is what turns him on. This outside "look" is also what defines the narcissist. There is bound to be a connection. One (the exhibitionist) may be the culmination, the "pure case" of the other (the narcissist).
next: The Compulsive Acts of a Narcissist
Staff, H. (2008, November 14). Narcissists, Sex and Fidelity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, October 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/narcissists-sex-and-fidelity
Last Updated: July 8, 2016Sours: https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/narcissists-sex-and-fidelity
Source: Pixabay, used with permission
Poor Narcissus. The gods sentenced him to a life without human love. He fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water and died hungering for its response. Like Narcissus, narcissists only love themselves as reflected in the eyes of others.
It’s a common misconception that narcissists love themselves. They actually dislike themselves immensely. Their inflated self-flattery, perfectionism, and arrogance are merely covers for the self-loathing they don’t admit–usually even to themselves. Instead, it’s projected outward in their disdain for and criticism of others. They’re too afraid to look at themselves, because they believe that the truth would be devastating.
Actually, they don’t have much of a "self" at all. Emotionally, they’re dead inside and they hunger to be filled and validated by others. Sadly, they’re unable to appreciate the love they do get and alienate those who give it.
All personality traits, including narcissism, range from mild to severe. Narcissism can be viewed on a continuum from mature to archaic. Mature individuals are able to idealize romantic partners, express their talents and skills, and accomplish their goals while employing only neurotic defenses; a middle group has unstable boundaries and employ borderline defenses, and those highly sensitive to wounding employ destructive, psychoticdefenses and have unstable relationships (Solomon, 1989).
NarcissisticPersonality Disorder (NPD), first categorized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 1987, occurs in 1 to 6.2 percent of the population; males exceed females at a ratio of 3:2 (Dhawan, 2010; McClean, 2007). Although nonprofessionals often label people with NPD who show a few narcissistic traits, clinical NPD ranges in severity from those with only the minimum required five diagnostic traits to narcissists who strongly manifest all nine symptoms. Here’s a summary of the Diagnostic Criteria in the DSM-5:
Someone with a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (sometimes only in fantasy), need for admiration from others, and lack of empathy, beginning in childhood, as indicated by five of these characteristics:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents
- Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes he or she is special and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- Requires excessive admiration
- Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
- Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
- Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others
- Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her
- Has arrogant behaviors or attitudes
In addition to the grandiose “Exhibitionist Narcissist” described above, James Masterson identifies a "Covert" or “Closet Narcissist,” which is someone with a deflated, inadequate self-perception, a sense of depression and inner emptiness. He or she may appear shy, humble or anxious, because his or her emotional investment is in the idealized other, which is indirectly gratifying (Masterson, 2004). “Malignant” narcissists are the most pernicious and hostile and they enact anti-social behavior. They can be cruel and vindictive when they feel threatened or don’t get what they want. More on the treatment of NPD.
It’s hard to empathize with narcissists, but they didn’t choose to be that way. Their natural development was arrested due to faulty, early parenting, usually by a mother who didn’t provide sufficient nurturing and opportunity for idealization. Some believe the cause lies in extreme closeness with an indulgent mother, while others attribute it to parental harshness or criticalness. This latter position stems from Otto Kernberg’s emphasis on parental anger, envy, and hate, or indifference that expresses veiled aggression (Ellis, 2009; Russell, 1985).
The two views converge on the underlying psychodynamics. An idealizing, indulgent mother may be unable to experience her child as a separate individual and provide sufficient empathy, mirroring, or opportunity for idealization. Although leniency can result in healthy narcissism, when psychological control is added, like guilt induction and withdrawal of love, a solid self doesn’t develop, because the child’s focus is to gain external approval. Rather than receiving support for an emerging autonomous self, the child learns that love and involvement is conditioned on conforming to parental needs and expectations (Horton, Bleau, & Drwecki, 2006).
Heinz Kohut observed this in his narcissistic clients who suffered from profound alienation, emptiness, powerlessness, and lack of meaning. Beneath a narcissistic façade, they lacked sufficient internal structures to maintain cohesiveness, stability, and a positive self-image to provide a stable identity (Russell, 1985). He believed the cause lay in the empathic failure between the caregiver and child.
He differed from Otto Kernberg, who thought the pathology began during the oral stage, claiming that it could even begin in latency. Narcissists are uncertain of the boundaries between themselves and others and vacillate between dissociated states of self-inflation and inferiority. The self divided by shame is made up of the superior-acting, grandiose self and the inferior, devalued self. When the devalued self is in the inferior position, shame manifests by idealizing others. When the individual is in a superior position, defending against shame, the grandiose self aligns with the inner critic and devalues others through projection. Both devaluation and idealization are commensurate with the severity of shame and the associated depression (Lancer, 2014).
Although most people fluctuate in these positions, the Exhibitionistic and Closet Narcissists are more or less static in their respective superior and inferior positions, irrespective of reality, making them pathological. Arrogance, denial, projection, envy, and rage are among the defenses to shame (Lancer, 2014).
Although more research is required, twin studies revealed a 64-percent correlation of narcissistic behaviors, suggesting a genetic component (Livesley, Jang, Jackson, & Vernon, 1993).
Relationships with Narcissists
It’s easy to fall in love with narcissists. Their charm, talent, success, beauty, and charisma cast a spell, along with compliments, scintillating conversation, and even apparent interest in others. Enlivened by their energy, people gravitate towards them and are proud to bask in their glow.
At home, narcissists are totally different than their public persona. They may privately denigrate the person they were just entertaining. After an initial romance, they expect appreciation of their specialness and specific responses through demands and criticism in order to manage their internal environment and protect against their high sensitivity to humiliation and shame. Relationships revolve around them, and they experience their mates as extensions of themselves.
Many narcissists are perfectionists. Nothing others do is right or appreciated. Their partners are expected to meet their endless needs when needed–for admiration, service, love, or purchases–and are dismissed when not. That their spouse is ill or in pain is inconsequential. See "How to Tell if a Narcissist Loves You."
Narcissists don’t like to hear “no” and often expect others to know their needs without having to ask. They manipulate to get their way and punish or make partners feel guilty for turning them down. Trying to please the narcissist is thankless, like trying to fill a bottomless pit.
They can make their partners experience what it was like having had a cold, invasive, or unavailable narcissistic parent. Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat had such an emotionally empty mother, who devotedly bonded with him to survive. The deprivation of real nurturing and lack of boundaries make narcissists dependent on others to feed their insatiable need for validation.
The Narcissist’s Partner
Although their partners feel loved when the narcissist bestows caring words and gestures, is madly possessive, or buys expensive gifts, they doubt his or her sincerity and question whether it’s really manipulation, pretense, or a manufactured “as if” personality. They feel tense and drained from unpredictable tantrums, attacks, false accusations, criticism, and unjustified indignation about small or imaginary slights. Their criticisms can escalate to narcissistic abuse.
These partners also lack boundaries and absorb whatever is said about them as truth. In vain attempts to win approval and stay connected, they sacrifice their needs and tread on eggshells, fearful of displeasing the narcissist. They daily risk blame and punishment, love being withheld, or a rupture in the relationship. They worry what their spouses will think or do, and become as pre-occupied with the narcissist as they are with themselves. Partners have to fit in to the narcissists’ cold world and get used to living with emotional abandonment.
Soon, they begin to doubt themselves and lose confidence and self-worth. Communicating their disappointment gets twisted and is met with defensive blame or further put-downs. The narcissist can dish it, but not take it. Nevertheless, they stay, because periodically the charm, excitement, and loving gestures that first enchanted them return, especially when the narcissist feels threatened that a break-up is imminent. When two narcissists get together, they fight over whose needs come first, blame, and push each other away, yet they are miserable and need each other.
Despite having a seemingly strong personality, narcissists lack a core self. Their self-image and thinking and behavior are other-oriented in order to stabilize and validate their self-esteem and fragile, fragmented self. They share codependentcore symptoms of denial, control, shame, dependency (unconscious), and dysfunctional communication and boundaries, all leading to intimacy problems. One study showed a significant correlation between narcissism and codependency (Irwin, 1995). Although more aggressive than passive, in my opinion, they are codependent.
Accommodating codependents and narcissists can be a perfect fit, albeit painful, because the latter’s attributes and aura of success boost the former's low self-esteem, which allows accommodators to tolerate emotional abuse. Typically, accommodators aren’t authoritative and prefer a nonassertive, subordinate role, because their own power and often anger are repressed, frightening, and shame-bound. They seek and hunger for missing parts of themselves and idealize new partners’ qualities, which they hope to absorb. This is why two accommodators rarely get together. They’re in awe of narcissists’ self-direction and “strength,” and live vicariously in the reflection of their success, power, protection, and charisma, while unaware of narcissists’ fragile personas and hidden shame (Lancer, 2014).
Accommodators attach to narcissists who appear bold and express their needs and anger, yet themselves feel needless and suffer guilt when they assert themselves. Caretaking and pleasing make codependents feel valued. Because they feel undeserving of receiving love, they don’t expect to be loved for who they are–only for what they give or do (Lancer, 2014). Narcissists are also drawn to their opposite to support their pride and fill their emptiness–partners who are emotionally expressive and nurturing, qualities they lack. They need partners they can control who won’t challenge them and make them feel weak (Lancer, 2014).
Often in these relationships, narcissists are the distancers when more than sex is anticipated. Getting emotionally close means giving up power and control. The thought of being dependent is abhorrent. It not only limits their options and makes them feel weak, but also exposes them to rejection and feelings of shame, which they keep from consciousness at all costs. (Lancer, 2014) Their anxious partners pursue them, unconsciously replaying emotional abandonment from their past. Underneath they both feel unlovable.
For loved ones of narcissists, doing the exercises and using the recommended strategies in Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult Peoplecan be helpful in dealing with a narcissist. Doing them can also help an ambivalent partner get clearer about whether he or she wants to stay in the relationship.
Read about therapy with or for narcissists.
© Darlene Lancer, 2015. This post was first published in The Therapist in July 2015
Ellis, A. A. (2009). Personality Theories: Critical Perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Dhawan, N. K. (2010). Prevalence and treatment of narcissistic personality disorder in the community: a systematic review. Comprehensive Psychiatry 51.4, 333-339.
Irwin, H. J. (1995). Codependence, Narcissism, and Childhood Trauma. Journal of Clinical Psychology 51:5.
Lancer, D. (2014). Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You. Minnesota: Hazelden Foundation.
Livesley, W. J., Jang, K. L., Jackson, D. N., & Vernon, P. A. (1993 December). Genetic and environmental contributions to dimensions of personality disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry 150 (12) , pp. 1826-31.
Masterson, J. F. (2004). A Therapist’s Guide to the Personality Disorders: The Masterson Approach: A Handbook and Workbook. Phoenix, Az.: Zeig, Tucker, & Theisen, Inv
McClean, J. (October, 2007). Psychotherapy with a Narcissistic Patient Using Kohut’s Self Psychology Model. Psychotherapy Rounds, 40-47.
Solomon, M. F. (1989). Narcissism and Intimacy. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.
Lancer, D. (2013 Jan.- Feb.). Does Our Codependency Help or Harm Our Clients? The Therapist , pp. 13-18.
Russell, G. A. (1985). Narcissism and the narcissistic personality disorder: A comparison of the theories of Kohut and Kernberg. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 58, 137-148.
Partners narcissist multiple
When Robert Browning wrote “grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,” he had no inkling of a future University of Florida study showing that narcissists are more interested in sexual pleasure than lasting intimacy.
The new study found that narcissists are more likely to philander and dump their partners than people who view closeness and commitment as the most important parts of a relationship, said Ilan Shrira, a UF visiting psychologist.
“Narcissists have a heightened sense of sexuality, but they tend to view sex very differently than other people do,” said Shrira, whose study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. “They see sexuality more in terms of power, influence and as something daring, in contrast to people with low narcissistic qualities who associated sex more with caring and love.”
As a result, narcissists tend to go through a string of short-term relationships that don’t last long and are usually devoid of much intimacy, he said.
“Even when they’re in a relationship, they always seem to be on the lookout for other partners and searching for a better deal,” Shrira said. “Whether that’s because of their heightened sexuality or because they think multiple partners enhance their self-image isn’t entirely clear.”
Although narcissism and sexuality have been linked since the psychoanalytic writings of Freud, researchers have paid little attention to the connection, he said.
Shrira collaborated with Joshua D. Foster, a University of South Alabama social psychologist, and W. Keith Campbell, a University of Georgia social psychologist and author of the 2005 book “When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself.” They did two studies with a total of 485 undergraduate students at the University of Georgia.
In the first study, participants who scored high on a narcissism personality inventory test, as measured by strong agreement to such statements as ‘I will be a success’ and “I find it easy to manipulate people,’ considered physical pleasure to be much more important in a sexual relationship than emotional intimacy. The highly narcissistic were 50 percent more likely than the more humble to view the primary purpose of sexual intercourse as enhancing their own physical pleasure, rather than increasing emotional intimacy with their partner, he said.
In the second study, which involved only undergraduates who were in a romantic relationship, those with high narcissism scores expressed considerably low commitment to their partner.
Typically, males are more narcissistic than females, who are known to place greater priority than men on personal relationships, Shrira said. “Narcissists tend not to value relationships unless it’s for self-serving purposes,” he said.
In a separate cross-cultural study the researchers conducted on people ages 8 to 80, they found that narcissism peaks at about 15 or 16 and then steadily declines as people get older, Shrira said. He attributed this partly to the “reality principle.”
“When you’re in high school or college, you’re at the peak of your physical condition and the world is your oyster,” he said. “But when you get out in the world you realize you’re not the best at everything and it sort of humbles you.”
Narcissists often make a good first impression because of strong social skills that make them appear charming, and sometimes even empathetic, but this is usually only a ploy to attract attention, Shrira said. “Once you get to know these people, you realize they’re very self-focused and are always bringing the conversation back to themselves,” he said.
Shrira said he believes narcissism is on the rise partly because of the prominence of the self-esteem movement over the past quarter century. When the movement began in the ‘80s, an improved self-concept was credited with helping students perform better in school and resisting the temptations of premarital sex. But now people are starting to realize that unlimited positive reinforcement may not necessarily be a good thing, he said.
“If all you get is positive feedback as a child and your success is not based on any sort of real accomplishment, you’re not going to be motivated to work hard,” he said.
Seth Rosenthal, a post-doctoral research fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University, said Shrira’s study “adds to an accumulating body of evidence that narcissists often aren’t playing by the same set of interpersonal ‘rules’ that most people are.”
Source: University of Florida
Citation: Sexual attitudes help explain narcissists' relationship problems (2006, October 4) retrieved 15 October 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2006-10-sexual-attitudes-narcissists-relationship-problems.html
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