*Art by Jennifer Bruce
Interrupting The Irresistible Appeal Of The Seductive Narcissist
People love to hate on the narcissists, and no wonder. It can feel like whiplash if we override all the warning signs and red flags and jump headfirst into those relationships, only to watch the love bombing flip on a dime to abuse and exploitation, leaving our heads spinning and our hearts feeling blindsided and crushed. It’s no wonder there are hundreds of books about how to spot narcissists and how to read the red flags of sociopathy so we can get out before the worst of the abuse leaves us at rock bottom.
That said, nobody questions the initial appeal of many people with narcissistic tendencies. Narcissistic types are often good-looking, smart, creative, talented, charismatic, personable, wealthy, confident, competent, and swoon-worthy individuals. Or in the case of narcissistic spiritual teachers and healers, they may seem to have special powers or mystical magic that can be fascinating, compelling, curiosity-inducing, impressive, and charged with positive emotions that make your heart swell, especially if that person is selling the irresistible lie of “enlightenment” as a way to make all your pain go away forever.
What’s not to love about all those appealing qualities, especially if they mimic the way you felt when a narcissistic parent love bombed you if you complied with their highly conditional “love” or gave you the feelings of specialness, lovability, and worthiness a neglectful, abusive, or unloving parent might have failed to help you install as a healthy template during childhood?
It usually feels great (at first) to be chosen by someone like that who makes you feel special, good enough, appreciated, and flattered. And who wouldn’t want to feel chosen, special, and loved by someone who others might perceive as a “catch?”
There’s Always A Catch To Such A Catch
But there’s always a catch to such a catch. The love bombing is temporary and tends to fade once the seductive spell is cast, peaking out only if you rebel against the domination, quit complying with their agenda, and threaten to get out from under the spell. The flattery becomes a kind of manipulation to keep you complying with their agenda, with the love bombing used as a drug you can become addicted to, and if you make any move towards your own self protection, rather than cooperating with their very specific agenda, all that flattery can turn to venom in the bat of an eye. Underneath all that charm, there’s a startling lack of empathy and an inflated grandiosity covering up deep feelings of worthlessness and insecurity.
It can feel very confusing. You wonder what happened and how you ended up getting insulted, criticized, threatened, punished, or abandoned if you fail to comply with the coercion and control. You wonder how all that euphoria can turn to bottomless despair the minute you quit holding up a flattering mirror to reflect back their inflated self-image, playing the cursed Echo to their Narcissus.
If you do comply with the agenda and appease the narcissist, you might feel as if you’ve been swept into a vortex of brain fog, losing your footing and agreeing to things you’d have never imagined agreeing to. You might feel disoriented from the distortions of the gaslighting and lying and seriously doubt your own view of reality. You might blame yourself or go on a binge of self-improvement, spiritual bypassing, “make myself attractive again” kinds of activities. You might think you’ve done something terribly wrong and read 1000 books or set out on a course of meditation or energy healing or spiritual counseling to try to better yourself so you can trigger the narcissist less or forgive them more easily. You might even feel like you’re losing your mind, and some people under the spell of narcissistic abuse do succumb to psychosis, suicidality, addiction, or chronic illnesses doctors can’t seem to treat.
Pain Can Be A Great Teacher
As awful as it is to come through the fire of such a destructive relational pattern, there is a bright side, which is that, as awful as it feels, pain can be a great teacher, if you can learn from it, grow from it in therapy, and spot the seductive spell of the narcissistic types much more quickly the next time you feel its allure. After licking your wounds, getting yourself safe from danger, and doing what you must to hold your abuser accountable for the harm they’ve caused, a step for later on is to learn to spot the red flags. It’s not hard to catch, early on, the love bombing and flattery that comes on too quick, too much, and without the slow burn that builds real love, intimacy, and trust. It’s not difficult to see through to the grandiosity and sense of being special and better than other people who they look down upon. It’s not hard to spot the way they suck up to some people and look down their noses at others, criticizing others as a way of fluffing themselves up.
Next time around, if you get too close to someone with this pattern, you can notice the euphoria you’re likely to feel and realize that healthy relationships rarely have such high highs, but if you’re willing to sacrifice the addictive euphoria, you’re also more likely to have fewer low lows. Rather than indulging the euphoria and seeking out the next fix, you can recognize them as the heroin they really are- and begin a recovery process from the addictive compulsion to fall prey to the next narcissistic love bomber who dangles a hook.
Healing The Trauma That Makes You Vulnerable To Narcissistic Abuse
Gaining insight into how to spot the red flags isn’t enough, though. You have to do the deeper dives to heal the traumatized young parts that probably learned to suck up to a narcissistic parent, using survival strategies that likely saved your life at one point but may have overstayed their necessity. You might even be attracted to the darkness in such people since they may remind you of your own parents. You might even get erotically turned on by your need to save the narcissistic one from their own shadow. Healthy people may not turn you on at all until you’ve treated the wounds that make those with narcissistic tendencies so alluring. But in time, you’ll find healthier people with better boundaries attractive too.
Recovering from narcissistic abuse requires not just treating the traumas inflicted by the perpetrator of abuse but also treating early childhood abuse from narcissistic parents or other caregivers, learning how to shore up your own boundaries and respect those of others, treat the traumas that wounded your boundaries in the first place, and learn to stand up for yourself, say no, call the authorities, and hold your abusers accountable, or get out if anyone is ever tempted to abuse you in the future. This is a gross oversimplification of a very nuanced relational pattern.
Suffice it to say that we’ll be getting down and dirty to understand and have compassion for all of our “parts” who might be vulnerable to the seductive hooks of people who might not have our best interests at heart and might even have ruthless, self-absorbed, or manipulative agendas we don’t want to fall prey to again, even while we don’t need to dehumanize anyone who might have developed narcissistic parts as a way of adapting to their own developmental trauma.
Armed with insight, discernment tools, and self-awareness of your own vulnerability to the spell-casting of narcissistic types, you can learn to have compassion for those with narcissistic tendencies without falling prey to their hooks and without failing to hold them accountable for the harm they cause. Next time around, you can see these folks coming, spot them quickly, and take measures to protect yourself and others who might be harmed in the fallout. You’ll also gain insight into your own shadow, not in a “blame the victim” way, but so you can feel like an empowered person in recovery rather than a helpless, blindsided victim who doesn’t understand what happened enough to protect yourself in the future.
If you have found yourself in situations where you’ve been vulnerable to narcissistic abuse, please know you’re not alone, it’s not your fault, there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel, and there is a way to get through this with your heart, soul, psyche, and body intact. Your recovery process and the trauma healing you’ll likely have to tackle might even make you even more ready for the kind of deeper, truer love, connection, and intimacy that can be the lasting gift of surviving narcissistic abuse.
Breaking The Pattern
At some point, the next narcissistic type will drop some love bombs, blast you with charm, flatter you and suck up to you relentlessly, insist that you were in a past life together or here on this earth for some mystical purpose, shower you with gifts, money, and praise, make exaggerated promises, and pull out all the stops to seduce you into their web. And you’ll watch it like the song and dance it is and maybe even feel some compassion for the desperation of the one doing the song and dance. You might even feel your heart open for the one who can’t handle not being in control 24/7, especially if you realize they were most likely out of control when they were younger and adapted strategies to make sure that never happens again. You might even develop trauma-informed compassion since narcissism is a trauma symptom as much as addiction is, and all trauma deserves our compassion, even though your compassion need not cause you to let down your guard or collapse your boundaries around dangerous people.
Even if you feel pity or extend compassion, you don’t have to rescue that person or comply with their agenda. You don’t have to save them from themselves or satisfy the sometimes infantile demands of their inner children. Instead of taking the bait, you’ll know that hit of heroin is simply not worth the agony of the withdrawal. You’ll say, “No, thank you,” tip your hat, thank your lucky stars you finally broke the pattern, and walk the other way without looking back.
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