Certainly no one picks a self-absorbed narcissist as a love interest intentionally, but because narcissists are so charming at the beginning of a relationship, anyone can be taken in. Once the charm fades, as it always does with a narcissist, many people end the relationship. But there are some who continually fall victim to the narcissist’s charm and stay in the relationship long after the charm has faded and the critical, controlling, and self-serving behaviors take its place. Why?
Finding someone who matches up with your values is necessary for a healthy and lasting relationship. Helping your client identify their values is key to helping them avoid yet another failed relationship with a narcissist.
Many clients who repeat unhealthy relationships with narcissistic partners recognize that they are the common denominator in all these failed relationships, but feel helpless and unsure how to pick a healthy partner. Understanding their own values is key to break the cycle.
I teach marriage and family therapy graduate students at Northwestern University, and I start my course with a 10,000-foot overview of the history and study of intimate relationships. Year after year, I am struck by the aliveness of love. While the desire to love and to be loved is woven into our DNA, our intimate relationships—the crucibles within which love is created and maintained—are embedded within our larger social and cultural contexts.
Inclusion in tribes was a condition of survival in earlier eras of human history. As a result, our ancestors grew extremely sensitive to the threat of rejection from the group, and we retain sensitivity to social exclusion to this day. But most of us no longer have strong group bonds akin to those that exist in tribes, and we are also potentially able to be in contact with cast numbers of other humans. Thus each and every individual we encounter can represent either a source of great comfort and safety or a looming threat of social exclusion.