It is common for survivors of narcissistic abuse to ask themselves at one point or another, “Why did I choose to be with a narcissist?”
Generally speaking, people get into narcissistic relationships for one of two reasons. The first reason is that they naturally gravitate towards narcissistic relationships. The second reason is that the narcissist manipulated them into the relationship.
This article is going to explain the reasons that people get into narcissistic relationships and hopefully bring you some clarity about your own narcissistic relationship.
You Naturally Gravitate Towards Narcissistic Relationships
The cause of someone naturally gravitating towards narcissistic relationships is typically an abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing.
Now, before we get into this, it is important to clarify that abusive/unhealthy childhood upbringing has a very broad spectrum of possibilities.
Meaning that “abusive” or “unhealthy” could refer to a childhood upbringing with physically abusive primary caregivers (e.g. slapping, punching, spanking).
Or it could mean a childhood upbringing with primary caregivers whose emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency was unhealthy (e.g. too much pampering, being overprotective, lack of boundaries).
Either way, the point is that when someone grows up in this type of environment, it corrupts their beliefs about what love and healthy relationships should look like.
There are two big reasons that having corrupted beliefs about love and healthy relationships is so dangerous when you cross paths with a narcissist.
The first reason is that your beliefs about healthy relationships and love will align with the beliefs that a narcissist has.
You see, according to the triangular theory of love1, true love consists of three elements: intimacy, passion, and commitment.
When a relationship has all three of these elements, it is called consummate love.
Now, if you were to ask a narcissist if they were looking for consummate love, their answer would most likely be yes.
Here’s the catch though…
Because narcissists have corrupted beliefs about love and healthy relationships, they are incapable of truly achieving consummate love.
Because of this, their relationships are almost always missing one of the three elements of love that the triangular theory of love speaks about.
What is the significance of this?
Well, as a general rule, if you grew up in an abusive/unhealthy environment, you didn’t experience consummate love.
Even though you may desire consummate love, it isn’t what you are familiar with.
So, when you cross paths with someone who also has corrupted beliefs about love and healthy relationships, such as a narcissist, you naturally gravitate towards them because it is what you are familiar with.
Without a shout of a doubt, one of the most common ways that this manifests is through something called the love bombing phase.
The love bombing phase is a period in the beginning of a narcissistic relationship where the narcissist will overwhelm you with attention, gifts, compliments, intimacy, and affection.
Those who have experienced the love bombing phase often describe it as magical and a once in a lifetime experience.
To be honest, they aren’t wrong.
The love bombing phase can feel really, really good.
Here’s the issue though, the love bombing phase is nothing more than a manifestation of a narcissist’s perception of love and healthy relationships.
You see, narcissists are typically only capable of a type of love called infatuated love.
Infatuated love is purely motivated by passion and it is intoxicating, irrational, associated with bad decision making, and usually short lived.
As a general rule, narcissists are only capable of infatuated love because it is what they witnessed during their abusive/unhealthy childhood.
This isn’t always the case, but it is a lot of the time.
If you were to have witnessed/experienced infatuated love during your childhood upbringing, the narcissist’s behavior during the love bombing phase would feel familiar and you would naturally gravitate towards it.
To sum everything up that we have said so far, some people get into narcissistic relationships because they have corrupted beliefs about what healthy relationships and love look like.
Because of these corrupted beliefs, they naturally gravitate towards narcissistic relationships because it is what they are familiar with.
So, this was the first reason that having corrupted beliefs about love and healthy relationships is so dangerous when you cross paths with a narcissist.
In the next section, we are going to unpack the second reason.
The Narcissist Manipulated You Into the Relationship
The second reason that people get into narcissistic relationships is because they were manipulated into the relationship.
There are many different manipulation tactics that narcissists use.
But the one that they use to get you to get into a relationship with them is mirroring.
In this context, the term mirroring refers to a narcissist’s ability to absorb a ton of information about your identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that you can identify with.
For example, imagine that you’ve been going out with a narcissist for a few weeks.
One day you decide to open up to them about something traumatizing that happened to you when you were young.
You say, “When I was 10 years old my mother left my father for another man and I never saw her again. It has been so hard for me to get over it. I just know that I never want to do that to my kids.”
The narcissist responds, “Hey… I don’t want to take away from anything that you just said, but when I was young my father cheated on my mom and left us. I… I just want you to know that I understand where you are coming from.”
This is mirroring.
Of course, there are some cases where the narcissist is actually telling the truth. But more often than not, the narcissist is just making up stuff to mirror you.
Over time, these types of interactions will manipulate you into feeling heard, understood, and supported.
The goal that narcissists have when they mirror you is to fill a void in your life.
In romantic settings, the void that mirroring fills tends to align with the beliefs that the person being mirrored has about love and healthy relationships.
This brings us to our second reason that having corrupted beliefs about love and healthy relationships is so dangerous when you cross paths with a narcissist.
You see, when you have corrupted beliefs about love and healthy relationships, it makes it easy for a narcissist to mirror you because your beliefs align with theirs.
When you have healthy beliefs about love and healthy relationships, it makes it much harder for the narcissist to mirror you because they are incapable of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that go into maintaining a healthy relationship.
Does this mean that you are narcissist proof? No. But it does mean that the narcissist will have an extremely difficult time manipulating you into a relationship with them.
Of course, mirroring isn’t the only manipulation tactic that narcissists use to get people into a relationship with them.
There’s also gaslighting, breadcrumbing, future faking, and many others.
But when a narcissist is able to use mirroring to make someone feel supported, heard, and understood, it is very common for them to also be able to manipulate that person into a relationship with them.
What Should You Take Away from This Article?
It is very important to find ways to remind yourself that “choosing” a narcissist isn’t something that you should beat yourself up over.
Yes. You will need to work on yourself to be able to protect yourself from narcissists.
But there isn’t any shame in that.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.
Halperin, David A. “Group processes in cult affiliation and recruitment.” Group 6.2 (1982): 13-24.Malinosky-Rummell, Robin, and David J. Hansen. “Long-term consequences of childhood physical abuse.”Psychological bulletin 114.1 (1993): 68.