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Why Narcissists Use People: Narcissistic Relationships Are Transactional

Updated on May 26, 2019
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

What is a transaction? Generally speaking, a transaction is a business deal. You pay your money, you get the goods. When you go into a convenience store because you are thirsty, you give the clerk money and he gives you a drink. That's a transaction. The relationship between yourself and the clerk is not emotional. You are two people who have come together because you each have something the other person wants. You want a drink and he wants money. You have money. He has a drink. You trade your money for his drink. He trades his drink for your money. The only reason either of you have entered into this brief relationship is because you have to. There is no other way to get what you want.

This is how pathologically narcissistic people behave in relationships.

Pathologically narcissistic people are users. There's just no other way to say it. They use other people the same way a non-narcissistic person uses tools or objects. Because of this, all relationships with narcissistic people are transactional. That means that the relationship must be providing the narcissist with something. If it doesn't, they will abandon it. They have no use for something or someone they cannot get anything from.

We generally see this in all narcissistic relationships, even if it doesn't appear to be the case. Trust and believe they are getting something out of it, even if they say they aren't and even if they don't seem to be. For example, a pathologically narcissistic person may tell you repeatedly that you have nothing to offer, that you're boring, that you're ugly, that you're no good and all manner of things designed to make it sound like you have nothing anyone could want. And yet... they are still in the relationship. They have not left. That means that they are getting something out of it, regardless of what they are saying - even if all they are getting is the feeling of superiority from running you down. That might not seem like much of a reason to stay in a relationship - and for non-narcissistic people, it isn't - but for a narcissist, it could be exactly what they are looking for.

This is not just something that happens in romantic relationships either. To be honest, no narcissistic behavior happens in just one kind of relationship. Pathologically narcissistic people see everyone the same. Whether the person is their spouse, their sibling, their parent, their child... everyone exists for their use. A narcissist that exhibits jealousy in romantic relationships may often display jealousy in family relationships, too; such as a man who is jealous over other men getting his wife's attention, but also when his brother gets their mother's attention. A narcissist that attacks their spouse for small mistakes may also treat co-workers this same way.

People who do not offer the narcissist anything are considered useless. They will often be ignored and abandoned when a better deal comes along. And "deal" is the correct word; it is a transaction. The narcissist does what they have to do in order to receive what they want from the other person. This can take many forms, it can be many things. They may want money, sympathy, admiration, for people to fear them, for people to desire them, a punching bag they can abuse, someone they can feel superior to... the list goes on and on. What they want often has a direct effect on their behavior, which is why the narcissist may (at first) appear to be many things to many people. It isn't that they are different, per se. It's they want different things from different people.

If they want to be feared by their spouse, they must be a tyrant at home. If they want to be admired by their co-workers, they must be charming and magnanimous at work. If they want sympathy from their friends, they must appear to be a hurting victim. It is the same person doing all of these things and though they are different, the motive for all of these behaviors is the same: supplementing their nonexistent self-worth. Pathologically narcissistic people cannot create, regulate or sustain their own self-worth. They have to extract emotional responses from other people using various manipulations and masks, which they then convert into validation of their existence:

If someone admires me, I'm good.

If someone cares about me, I matter.

If someone fears me, I'm powerful.

This is not true self-worth because it is totally reliant on other people, but it is the closest thing a narcissistic person can get to it. As with any other human being, the total loss of self-worth is disastrous and can lead to suicide. Because narcissistic people have no self-worth to begin with, they are completely dependent on others to give them value. As you can imagine, much of the time, one person is not enough to fulfill this. It's like filling a pitcher with a hole in the bottom. One stream going into it would not do very much at all. But 3 or 5 or 10 streams pouring into that pitcher would be much better. The problem is, the hole in this pitcher is big. The pitcher can perhaps stay at a constant level, but it cannot get full - no matter how much is poured into it. And if the streams stop, it empties very quickly. This is literally a life-threatening catastrophe for a pathologically narcissistic person. If even one stream stops, this is often noticed immediately and felt very deeply. The narcissist may panic, trying to regain that stream or find another to take its place.

You may wonder then, how discards ever happen. Well, the stream dries up or it slows to a trickle. They are not getting what they were getting from this source before. The mirror has clouded and all they see when they look at this person now are reminders of things they've done wrong. They will begin to search for other streams - other sources that aren't clouded - when they notice this happening. And when they find one, the old source is replaced and the problem is solved.

Other people are mirrors to a narcissist. They don't see the other person themselves. They see a reflection of who they are and what that reflection looks like is entirely dependent on what they believe that person's opinion of them to be. If they have treated this person badly, or believe the person to be superior to them, the reflection will not be a nice one. It will look like flaws and weakness and ugliness. If the person does not know them very well or looks up to them, the reflection will be more pleasing. This is why they often seem to value the opinions of strangers over their family; the stranger's opinion is generally not tainted by any of the narcissist's abusive behavior. How could it be? They don't know about it.

It is usually very painful for people to realize that what they thought was a marriage or a family or a parent-child relationship is no more than the necessary rigmarole that narcissists must go through to get what they cannot create for themselves. They must rely on other people, but in the end, it really doesn't matter who the people are. In many cases, it could literally be anybody, because it's not about the other people and never has been.

As we can see, relationships of any kind with narcissistic people can really be nothing other than transactional. They need things that they cannot get on their own. They must "purchase" them from other people through manipulation, extortion and subterfuge. They are in fact dependent on other people for their survival. I have compared narcissistic people to vampires for this very reason, but it's also very like a relationship between a baby and a caregiver. The caregiver holds all of the responsibility for the relationship. It is their job to provide care, love, support and literally everything else the child needs. The baby's only contribution is to exist and receive these things. If you've had any type of a relationship with a pathologically narcissistic person, you know that this is exactly what they believe a relationship is supposed to consist of: they are supposed to exist and you are supposed to do everything else, regardless of how you are treated, what you want, what you need, how you feel or anything else. That's what they think should happen when someone loves them. It's unrealistic, unreasonable and and almost pathetically childish.

Babies are not expected to show love, empathy, compassion, reciprocation or anything else. They are not capable of that just yet. It seems that narcissists are suffering from an arrested development that has rendered them incapable of it as well. The difference is that babies do not abuse their caregivers. They are not adults that understand right and wrong, or make deliberate choices to do things that hurt others. And they don't stay babies. They grow. They mature. They learn. They eventually reciprocate.

Narcissists don't.

A baby changes and grows every month. A two year old is only 2 for one year. Being in a relationship - any relationship - with a narcissist is like being in a relationship with someone who stays 2 years old forever.

© 2019 The Little Shaman


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    • profile image

      Joanie Carmichael 

      9 months ago

      I just want to thank you for your wisdom and the gift of helping others understand in a very simple way. The truth as it is and thats


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