If you are in a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), you may find that the relationship is less intimate than you thought it was. It is probably intense, time-consuming, long-lasting, and uses a great deal of your mental energy—but intense is not the same as intimate. An important test of intimacy is to ask yourself the following questions: “is this relationship a safe haven where I feel loved and accepted for being me?” and “do I trust the other person and do they trust me?” If you cannot answer ‘yes’ to both of those questions, read on.
A narcissist can be extremely good at giving the appearance of intimacy… and he will turn it on and off at his pleasure. He may run hot and cold- going in and out of being highly somatic and needing a sex partner. When he’s needy, he offers intimations of intimacy that are very appealing and hard to resist. It’s easy for his partner to think this time he’ll be different, but… he’ll go back to being selfish immediately once he’s got his gratification. Narcissists are the ultimate users.
Fear of Intimacy
People with personality disorders are fearful of real, mature intimacy. Mind you, intimacy is formed not only within a couple, but also in a workplace, in a neighborhood, with friends, or while collaborating on a project. Intimacy requires emotional involvement; it is the result of interactions with others in constant and predictable (safe) close relationships.
Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder interpret intimacy as codependence, emotional strangulation, and the demise of freedom. They are terrified by it and avoid it; their self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors are intended to tear apart the very foundation of a successful relationship, career, project, or friendship. Narcissists feel elated and relieved after they unshackle these ‘chains’. Narcissists are simply indifferent, callous and careless in their treatment of others. Their abusive behavior is usually offhanded and absent-minded, although when they feel threatened or are in the devaluation process their behavior can be calculated and premeditated.
Emotional intimacy occurs when we share ourselves deeply with another person. Mutual trust is required in order to feel safe and secure with another person. Narcissists are not able to truthfully share or trust. Some narcissists are truly gifted at pretending and appearing emotionally invested in you. They are often unusually attentive in the beginning, idealizing you, and offering to meet all of your needs and more. Narcissists can appear to be exceptionally sincere and many people fall for this act.
Development of Intimacy
We learn to be emotionally intimate when we are very young children. It begins with a secure, loving attachment to a parent. The child who feels securely attached is able to express his\her feelings openly without shame or fear. The parent is in tune with the child and able to comfort him when he is frightened, confused or angry. As a result of psychological needs being met by a parent, the child learns to trust others and feel secure about himself as a person. Mothers of narcissists are not good parents; they reward the child, whom they regard as special and superior, as long as he/she reflects the desired parental image. These children are highly praised, and prized, in the narcissistic family- not for who they genuinely are- but for fulfillment of the wishes or dreams of the narcissistic parent. As a result, the narcissist never learns in early childhood how to become emotionally intimate. Because he is not loved for being his real self, the narcissist never learns to relate to himself on a deep emotional level nor can he reciprocate any real affection or love for another.
Consider friendship with the narcissist as another example of a relationship. You cannot truly get to know a narcissist friend. You cannot be genuine friends with the narcissist for all the reasons above. Plus narcissists are addicts. They are in constant pursuit of gratification, known as”narcissistic supply”. Everything and everyone around them is an object, a potential source of narcissistic supply (to be idealized) or not a source (to be cruelly discarded).
Narcissists can be happily married… to compliant, subservient, self-deprecating and indiscriminately supportive spouses. They also can be happily married to masochists. However, a healthy, normal person would not be happy in an intimate-less narcissistic relationship.
Intimacy versus Intensity
Many partners of individuals with NPD confuse intimacy and intensity. Real intimacy has to do with trust, understanding, and feeling understood. People who are intimate (we don’t mean sex here) reveal personal vulnerabilities without fear that what they share will be used against them. Intimacy relies on feeling safe, mutuality, endurance, respect and no secrets. Without healthy self-disclosure at the right time, there can be no intimacy. And that takes honesty about who we are and how we feel. Narcissists are unable to be honest with themselves, let alone other people.
Intensity on the other hand, has to do with secrecy, lack of trust, high drama, fear and disrespect. Intensity with a narcissist is spent in fantasy, the cycle of idealization and devaluation, bitter arguments followed up by apologies and make-up sex. Sharing our deepest selves as a part of mutual sharing is fundamental to a sustained, mutually satisfying relationship. Unfortunately, narcissists don’t allow themselves to know their own vulnerabilities or feelings so they are unable to share with others.
Another factor that makes intimacy possible in a healthy relationship is being able to see both the good and bad traits of the partner at the same time. Again, this is not something narcissists can do. In their world, everything is black or white, good or bad (splitting).
Sex versus Intimacy
In a recent issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, University of Florida researchers found that narcissists are fixated on sexual gratification rather than enduring intimacy. (That’s probably not a surprise to anyone in a narcissistic relationship). Narcissists are more likely to have a history of short-term sexual conquests compared to people who consider commitment the most important aspect of a relationship. “Narcissists have a heightened sense of sexuality, but they tend to view sex very differently than other people do; 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.” The results of another study showed that highly narcissistic people were 50 times more likely to view sexual intercourse as a way of increasing their own sexual pleasure, rather than complementing partner intimacy.
In summary, people with NPD are not capable of genuine intimacy but rather seek to get their “fix” of constant compliments, admiration and respect for being a ‘superior’ person. There are only two kinds of people in the narcissist’s life-those who are better than him (whom he envies) and those who are worse (whom he degrades in order to feel better about himself). There are no intimate, genuine relationships.