After her second failed marriage, and several dysfunctional relationships in between, Jamie began to see a pattern. She would fall quickly and deeply into the new relationship eagerly believing that this person was “the one”. Her emotional attachment would be so strong that she lost view of herself and often put aside her personal boundaries. This led to her missing key red flags about her new mate, even going so far as to put herself in danger.
About three months after the start of the relationship, Jamie would realize that she was doing all of the emotional work for both of them. Her partner would allow her to emote, do all work of maintaining intimacy, and to attach unequally while he withdrew, made fun of her ‘sensitivity’, and took advantage of her desire for connection. This inequitable balance exhausted Jamie and frequently set her up to be a victim of his abusiveness.
Eventually, a friend would wake Jamie up out of her spell and help her to see the unhealthiness of the relationship. But even this friend was growing weary of Jamie’s repeated pattern despite good advice to the contrary. So, Jamie sought out professional help. Her therapist helped her to see that she was attracted to the same type of personality, a narcissist. And while some can live with the selfish demands of this personality, Jamie could not.
Rather, she craved deep intimacy, emotional attachment, and an equal partnership all of which a narcissist is incapable. Her search for connection from a personality type that is incapable of it revealed an unhealthy pattern of her own. Part of her therapy included taking inventory of how she got here. Here is what she learned.
- Jamie’s father was a narcissist. Unfortunately, a person is often attracted to the least functioning parent, not the most functioning parent. This is how a child of an alcoholic marries an alcoholic or the child of a narcissist marries a narcissist. A person often marries what they know and what is familiar. Narcissistic behavior, despite its dysfunction, was familiar to Jamie. Even though she consciously tried to avoid people like her narcissistic dad, her subconscious was attracted to it. As such, she overlooked the similarities and dove head first.
- Jamie’s mother encouraged relationships. Not understanding that her husband was a narcissist, Jamie’s mother would encourage Jamie to remain in relationships that seemed familiar to her father. Her mother believed that her husband was great and a perfect spouse. Naturally, she supported Jamie to stay in these relationships and would steer her away from engaging with personalities that were not like her dad.
- Jamie had unresolved issues from childhood. One of the healthy things her subconscious was trying to resolve was that she was not the problem, her dad’s narcissism was. As a child and even into adulthood, her dad made her feel inferior to his superiority. By marrying a similar type of person, Jamie’s subconscious was seeking out opportunities to prove that she could handle the narcissism and therefore was no longer damaged by it. It was a way of rewriting the past so Jamie would not be the victim but rather the victor.
- Jamie kept seeking to be the favorite. A typical narcissistic parenting pattern is to play favorites with their children. There were times when Jamie was the favorite and therefore enjoyed special attention and gift giving. But her failed first marriage put Jamie in the forgotten category. In an effort to regain her lost status, Jamie sought out approval from her dad by finding a mate similar to him.
- Jamie fell for the love-bombing. Because Jamie craved the emotional connection of being in a relationship, she was vulnerable to the initial love-bombing a narcissist does to attract their mate. In the early stages of the relationship, a narcissist will become, say, or do nearly anything to draw the other person into them. Once hooked, the narcissist becomes insecure that they cannot meet the needs and therefore pulls back. Unable to admit to any shortcomings, the narcissist blames the new mate for their withdraw and demands different performance. Jaime would happily agree just to get back to the intense love at the beginning but it never came. As time wore on, the narcissist’s standards became even more demanding and impossible to achieve.
- Jamie was attracted to parts of the personality. During therapy, Jamie came to realize that she liked the charming nature of a narcissist. She also liked the focus on influence, money, possessions, appearance, and power. She found herself thinking the best of a person and naturally believed the narcissist’s exaggerated success. Instead of questioning the reality of a person’s success, she accepted it as truth and unintentionally encouraged the fantasy of the narcissist.
To stop the attraction, Jamie learning to spot a narcissist more quickly. Instead of avoiding them, as she did initially, she engaged to verify the narcissism. Then Jamie put up a boundary and only allowed the narcissist to be an acquaintance and not even a friend, let alone a boyfriend. This kept her from repeating the pattern the next time.