A narcissist’s ability to use manipulative techniques (e.g. mirroring, future faking, and love bombing) in such a convincing manner often manipulates the people that they abuse into believing that the narcissist in their life truly loves them. Unfortunately, this is rarely, if ever, true.

Narcissists do not know the meaning of true love because they have an unhealthy perception of love that causes them to believe that the core characteristics of true love (e.g. emotional closeness, commitment, vulnerability, etc.) are a weaknesses. The concept of true love is a foreign concept to them.

This article is a thorough exploration of a narcissist’s corrupted perception of love and the reason that narcissists are incapable of true love. We’ve also created a short video (see below) that outlines our article Why Do Narcissists Pretend to Love You to give you as much helpful information out of this article as possible!

A Short Video Explaining the Reason That Narcissist Pretend to Love You

Why Do Narcissists Have an Unhealthy Perception of Love?

To start things off, we want to ensure that you understand the difference between true love and the definition of love that narcissist have. According to the Triangular Theory of Love1, there are three elements of love: commitment, passion, and intimacy.

Generally speaking, those who are emotionally healthy/stable consider consummate love to be true love. Consummate love occurs when all three elements of love (commitment, passion, and intimacy) are present in a relationship.

A narcissist’s definition of love circulates around the concept of infatuated love. This type of love is purely motivated by passion and it is intoxicating, irrational, associated with bad decision making, and usually short lived.

Suggested Reading: Can Narcissists Love?

Their Childhood Upbringing Gave Them an Unhealthy Perception of Love

There are many different theories about the origin of narcissism. We cover them in our article How Are Narcissists Made, but generally speaking, narcissism originates from an abusive/unhealthy childhood with primary caregivers who were emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent.

With that being said, it is very important that you understand just how broad “emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent” really is. It could mean anything in between primary caregivers who are physically abusive towards the narcissist and primary caregivers who’s availability, responsiveness, and consistency is unhealthy (e.g. a parent who doesn’t set rules/boundaries with the child or pampers them too much).

a family pampering their son

Nonetheless, the primary caregivers that narcissists had did not mirror their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. They prevented the narcissist from getting the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development, but that’s not all.

In addition to this emotional neglect, narcissists also began to develop many painful emotions about themselves such as a belief that they are inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, weak, and worthless.

Sadly this was the beginning of a narcissist’s hatred for the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and other characteristics that are associated with the true love (e.g. emotional closeness, vulnerability, commitment, etc.)

When the narcissist would express the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, or other characteristics that are associated with true love towards their primary caregivers, they were met with a negative response (e.g. shame, punishment, invalidation, neglect).

It is this negative response that caused narcissist to develop a deeply rooted hatred for the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and other characteristics that are associated with the true love. In a twisted and abusive way, the negative response that narcissists experienced validated the negative perception that they have of themselves.

A child being neglect and feeling worthless.

This level of emotional unrest would be extremely difficult for anyone to manage but the unhealthy cognitive development that narcissists had left them without the emotional skills needed to manage their painful emotions with healthy forms of emotional regulation.

To manage their painful emotions and protect their emotional stability, narcissists created a falsified public persona through mirroring and turned to their external environment to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that their primary caregivers couldn’t give them (e.g. a narcissistic teenager constructing his/her sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being a really good soccer player.

You can read more about mirroring in our article How Do Narcissists Use Mirroring but it is a manipulative technique that occurs when a narcissist absorbs an extraordinary amount of information about and individual, group of people, or society as a whole, and uses that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to portray them as “perfect” to others.

A narcissist’s ability to mirror society allowed them to develop a positive self-perception that they use to suppress all of their painful emotions deep within their psyche. In other words, the positive self-perception that narcissists have created for themselves is the only form of emotional regulation that they have.

A narcissist building their self-perception

To sum up everything that has been stated so far, this unhealthy process solidified the unhealthy perception of love that narcissists have. As children, their thoughts, feeling, emotions, needs, and other characteristics that are associated with true love were met with a negative response.

This caused the narcissist to develop many painful emotions about themselves (inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, weak, and worthless) that they were incapable of managing because their emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers led them into an unhealthy cognitive development.

Without any options or explanations, narcissists began to believe in their negative perception of themselves so they created a charming, successful, innocent, honest, desirable, goodhearted, charismatic, and virtuous public persona to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to construct a sense of self.

The overarching message that narcissist got from this upbringing is that the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other characteristics that are associated with true love are what makes them inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, weak, and worthless. We’ll dive into this more in the next section but this is the reason that narcissists hate and are incapable of true love.

Why Are Narcissists Incapable of True Love?

The reason that narcissists are incapable of true love lies within the fragility of their self-perception and public persona. The combination of the approach that narcissists had when constructing a self-perception/public persona and the emotional neglect they experienced as a child left them emotionally immature, stunted, and fragile.

In our articles How Do Narcissists React to Criticism, Why Do Narcissists Go Into a Rage, or Why Do Narcissists Deny Everything, you can learn more about the fallout of the emotionally immature and stunted aspects of a narcissist, but here we are going to focus on their fragility, specifically narcissistic injuries.

A narcissistic injury, also known as an ego injury, occurs when a narcissist’s positive self-perception or public persona gets contradicted. When they experience a contradiction it triggers all of their suppressed painful emotions and compromises their emotional stability because they are incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage their painful emotions.

a narcissist feeling no love but a ton of negative emotions about herself

This is a huge problem that narcissists have to deal with on a daily basis because of how fragile they are. Something as normal as criticism, being held accountable for their behavior, or being told no could cause them to experience a narcissistic injury and feel inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, weak, and worthless.

The reason that this is important to be aware of is because the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and other characteristics that are associated with true love also cause them to experience narcissistic injuries.

Remember, the unhealthy/abusive upbringing that narcissists had led them to believe that the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and other characteristics of true love made them inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, weak, and worthless. Again, this was because they were always met with a negative response when they tried to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance as a kid from their primary caregivers.

When they create their positive self-perception and grandiose public persona, they suppress all of their painful emotions and that includes the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and other characteristics of true love. When they experience something like emotional closeness, it does nothing but serve as a constant reminder to them of how horrible they feel about themselves.

This is part of the reason that narcissistic relationships are often so hectic, intoxicating, irrational, plagued with bad decision making, shallow, and short lived. The stability or calmness of a healthy relationship triggers their painful emotions and makes them feel extremely uncomfortable.

A narcissist wanting to argue and be toxic

They are incapable of true love because the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and other characteristics of true love causes a narcissistic injury, triggers their suppressed painful emotions, and compromises their emotional stability.

Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Create Chaos?

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists don’t have the slightest clue of what love is. They are incapable of true love because the thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, and other characteristics that are associated with it, trigger their suppressed painful emotions and compromise their emotional stability.

The fact of the matter is that true love is an unwavering, unbreakable and unparalleled fondness and devotion for another person in your life and narcissists are incapable of this level of commitment.


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

[1] Sternberg, Robert J. “A triangular theory of love.” Psychological review 93.2 (1986): 119.