If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you might ask yourself why. Surely your life would be easier if your partner thought of you and your needs a little more. Surely you would feel happier if your partner didn’t require so much of you. Surely things might be different if you weren’t constantly feeling like you’re walking on eggshells, impossibly trying to please but inevitably falling short.
Of course, your relationship didn’t start out full of self-sacrifice. At first, a narcissist will shower you with affection and make you feel loved. He’ll buy you gifts, flatter your ego, make you feel needed until he’s roped you in. Then he’ll manipulate you in all sorts of ways to keep you under his thumb. That’s because every narcissist needs a supplicant.
Low Self-Esteem, High People-Pleaser Desire
Although it seems like a people-pleaser with low self-esteem should never be in a relationship with a narcissist, that’s often what happens. Opposites attract, often for a reason. Someone who sees little value in her own worth will often gravitate to a relationship in which her preconceived notion is reinforced.
The people pleaser will absorb whatever negative thing the narcissist says about her; her insecurity helps her believe the worst about herself. She’ll try to win approval of the narcissist in a vain attempt to shore up her self-esteem. She’ll sacrifice her own needs because she fears she will displease her partner, who can get upset with her over every tiny thing. She lives in terrible daily fear of what the narcissist will or will not do, like blame her or punish her or abandon her. Meanwhile, the narcissist doesn’t think of her at all, except as someone who can do his bidding.
Both partners have probably experienced some similar childhood trauma from a parent who abandoned them or was otherwise abusive. People-pleasers find a narcissist whom they can care for and thus, prove themselves to have some worth. They do not feel they are worthy of authentic love from a partner. Rather, they believe that they are not going to be loved for who they are, but for what they do. What can they give to a narcissist so they can stay in an ostensibly loving relationship?
A narcissist is codependent, too, even though he seems to be the dominant, strong one. He needs someone to support him, to fill in with empathy, nurturing, and emotional expressiveness that he—the narcissist—inherently lacks. And he needs his partner to submit to his control, which is key to a narcissist. He must control his partner so she won’t challenge him or make him feel weak. But, in fact, he is already weak. He’s dysfunctional and needs to control his partner.
People-pleasers and narcissists are often a good fit. The people-pleaser is attracted to the aura of strength and success that a narcissist can project, even if false. Because the people-pleaser has low self-esteem, she tolerates the abuse a narcissist will dish out. She prefers a non-assertive, subordinate role in the relationship and hopes to absorb some of the strong attributes of her narcissist partner.
But it’s hard for her to get emotionally close because a narcissist can’t give up control or power, which is what one must do to be truly intimate. The narcissist cannot get close to the people-pleaser because it makes him feel weak. The people-pleaser keeps attempting to be loved and the narcissist keeps rejecting in a never-ending cycle of suffering. They both feel a lack of love.
The first step is to understand if you are in such a relationship, and if so, why? We’ll talk further about codependent relationships next time.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact