He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not – Psychopathy, Narcissistic Personality, and Safe, Loving Relationships
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One of the most disheartening realities I have encountered as a personality educator is victim shaming and blaming. When you are a survivor or someone who works with survivors, you know the suffering and devastation that so many brave souls have endured in narcissistic and psychopathic relationships. That is why it is disturbing to see people demonstrate insensitivity toward their pain.
In my writings, I have had people complain that psychologists “write too much about psychopathy – enough already!” Or they claim that no one needs information regarding the red flags of a psychopathic relationship – “They’re a psychopath! What else does someone need to know!”
Anyone who has had their mental health ravaged by someone with intentions to destroy them, could never make such statements.
The compassionless responses of those individuals toward victims imply that they made the assumption that victims of psychopathic abuse are naïve and brought it on themselves. But the reality is that survivors often found themselves in relationships with individuals with dark personalities unknowingly. No one volunteers for it.
He/ She Did Not Know the Complete Picture – It was Concealed
It was during the relationship (often after the survivor has bonded) that the person they thought was safe, morphed to display the full range of their character. The part that is dark, cold, and at times dangerous will expose itself with greater frequency.
Perpetrators of abuse can hide behind a mask of kindness, generosity, and understanding. Men and women, who eventually become their victims do not go out into the world with the goal of connecting with a callous, irritable, individual who desperately needs to berate their lovers to feel good about themselves.
No, of course not.
These relationships usually start off just fine. Actually, they can be intensely intoxicating, with minimal indicators that the partner could be a danger to anyone’s physical, emotional or financial well being.
For conditions such as psychopathy specifically, we know that they are severely limited in their ability to bond with others. Their mates are often confused by their ease of disconnection following a relationship that the survivor thought was meaningful.
“I thought he loved me!”
To be left behind, violated, suddenly rejected without cause, or devalued and discarded by someone you have an intimate bond with is extremely painful. The entire process is often abusive. Abuse can cause a trauma response which leaves behind lasting emotional changes that (if not properly treated) can be lifelong (study).
Giving your heart to someone who is without morals and empathy is not the fault of the individual who fell in love. It is normal to bond to someone we are attracted to. However, as you know, the person with psychopathy did not bond.
When the Relationship is Over – Psychopathy & Narcissistic Personality Disorder
After the discard phase, many people go on a quest to find information. In that hunt to learn more, they often wonder:
Did she/he really love me?
That is a complex question because there are several factors involved.
1) Narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy are conditions with varying intensities, associated with genetic and environmental factors. They share some of the same symptoms, such as lack of empathy.
Can you love someone when you do not have empathy for them and your feelings barely extend beyond yourself?
Someone can love them, but without the ability to take their mate’s feelings into consideration, the relationship is severely limited and one-sided. One person will get hurt repeatedly, and the manipulative partner will twist reality, causing the survivor to feel responsible for all the pain and problems.
2) Love is not a solitary concept, but rather (particularly from a psychological and neurobiological standpoint) reflective of many different stages that are related to different neurochemistry (study).
Let’s quickly look at the question of “Did he/she love me” from a neurobiological stance. It is a fact that people with psychopathy are impaired socially.
Research suggests that one of the reasons behind their social deficits is that their reward system (portions of it) is hypersensitive. The reward system of our brain is associated with processes like, motivation, chasing pleasure, addiction, intense focus on a person/ thing, attention, anticipation, and so forth.
From studies regarding the behavior of individuals with psychopathy, as well as reports of survivors, I suspect people with psychopathy can feel lust and attraction intensely. However, the system related to true attachment and bonding, which involves, oxytocin, and emotions such as compassion, kindness, and empathy, does not function properly.
They do not bond with their mates and often move on when they are bored as though the person they ‘loved’ never meant anything to them. (Note: moving on does not have to be physical. They can stay in the relationship for years, however, move into a state of contempt, meanness, intimidation and heightened manipulation.)
Can someone love you when they always put themselves first?
Can someone love you when they cannot bond with you, feel empathy for you, or care about your emotional or physical well-being?
Can someone love you when they have tied your worth to how it makes them look or what use they can derive from the connection?
I do not know how love, which is a state based on compassion, kindness, empathy, safety, and connection, can be present when the obstacles of psychopathy and narcissism are present.
Rhonda Freeman, PhD | Clinical Neuropsychologist