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- Personality Disorders
When The Narcissist Won't Let Go
We hear a lot about how they discard their loved ones, but what about when they won't go away? It is not uncommon to hear stories of narcissists who continue to try to get back in people's lives for months or even years. Why does this happen?
A big part of it is that narcissists have serious issues with control. They want to control everything. It's their way of overcompensating for the fact that they feel weak and out of control. You are doing something that is not in the script by leaving the relationship, and that is not allowed. This leaves them with the gnawing feeling that everything negative they believe about themselves is true: they are weak, they are losers, they are garbage. This is intolerable and they have to do something about it. So they attempt to bring the situation back under their control. When this doesn't work, they simply keep trying. Even if they have other people to sponge off of, that feeling continues to plague them. People often believe that the narcissist is attempting to reignite the relationship out of love or caring. This is not the case. They just can't abide the loss of control. In fact, it is not uncommon for narcissists to convince the other person to come back into the relationship dynamic just so they can leave on their own terms. It isn't the relationship they want. It's control.
Another reason narcissists hang on is because if they don't have many other people around them, they have no one to carry their emotions for them. Someone who is pathologically narcissistic is ruled by emotions, remember, whether they deny them or not. Their emotions are often out of control and even frightening. They need someone who can carry these for them, someone they can blame their own bad behaviors and the resulting emotions on because otherwise, these things will overwhelm the narcissist. If you leave and there is no one else, the narcissist is left to deal with these things alone and they generally don't do very well at all in that situation. So they will chase after the relationship in the hopes that the person will come back and alleviate their suffering by letting the narcissist abuse, blame and control them. Their magical thinking convinces them that eventually, they will get what they want.
Narcissists usually have huge issues with rejection and abandonment. Even if the false self they project on the world is all about looking self-confident and strong, inside they are filled with self-hatred and shame for what they are. Their false self is just the mask they wear in the hopes that nobody will realize how disgusting and awful they are behind it. They live in constant fear that people will see through their fragile facade to the despicable thing they really are. This suffocating self-hatred and shame is delusional, but they are utterly convinced it is the truth. It makes them paranoid and hypersensitive to criticism, because they are afraid people will find out their secret. They are convinced no one will ever love them and they do not not love themselves.
They do seem to care enormously about themselves but it isn't real caring. They are pathologically self-focused, which is something different. Imagine if you had a huge, grotesque festering wound on your face. You would do your best to cover it up, but every time you talked to someone or they looked at you, you would be convinced they were looking at that ugly, awful wound - even if they didn't know it was there. Because you know it's there. If they left the relationship, no one would be able to convince you that that didn't have something to do with it. When you're hiding something, you are always paranoid it will be found out.
This is why narcissists read abandonment and rejection into things when it isn't really there. They are so convinced they will be abandoned and rejected because of what they really are that they see it everywhere. They know they are dirt on the floor and they are sure it is only a matter of time before others see it, too. Sadly, because of the paranoia and fear surrounding this issue, they behave in ways that actually expose what they are trying to hide. They essentially tell on themselves. It's like a child who has done something wrong. They are behaving oddly, so you say, "What are you doing?" and they say, "I didn't break the window!" You didn't even know there was a broken window, but they are so preoccupied with it that they just blurt it out. This is not guilt, though. It's fear.
When you end the relationship with a pathologically narcissistic person, you've tripped the rejection and abandonment switch, so to speak. You've triggered that fear. Now they have no defense against all these awful feelings they feel inside and they will come pouring through. This is one reason they are able to appear so convincing when they are begging you back. It's not an act. They are terribly upset. It's just not over you. They are willing to do anything to stop the feelings inside themselves and they believe other people are the only way to do that. The problem is that as soon as their emotions and self-worth are regulated again, that false self goes right back into place and the cycle begins all over again. They are an empty hole and there is no way to fill it. Everything poured into it just disappears.
One of the biggest reasons narcissists cannot let go is because they have no way to regulate their own self-esteem or self-worth. They can't soothe themselves when they are upset. When most people get upset, they still have perspective and a mostly balanced viewpoint. They can say to themselves, "Wow, I made a horrible mistake here but I'm still a good person. This is not the end of the world." Narcissists cannot do that. They have no way to produce positive feelings about themselves. This is the reason they flip out over small things and why they use the false self in the first place. The false self is designed to get the positive feelings from other people that the narcissist believes they themselves can't, by being all the things the narcissist is not. Brave, smart, funny, charming, caring, helpful... whatever is the opposite of what they believe themselves to be. The narcissist needs a steady stream of those positive feelings to sustain themselves so they can validate their self-worth and hold off their negative feelings. Otherwise, they will drown in these negative feelings.
This is what people sometimes call "narcissistic supply." It's important to remember here too, that "positive" is used loosely. Some narcissists want only admiration and applause, but most are perfectly happy to take any type of attention they can get, even attention that most of us would consider negative such as arguing. It isn't negative to them, though, because to them any type of attention is positive. Without that, the narcissist literally cannot live. Narcissists that are cut off from it often decompensate. They can dissociate from reality, become psychotic and even commit suicide. This happens because they have no escape and no way to fight back against their delusional self-hatred and shame without other people to prop them up. It engulfs them. The only chance they have of breaking out of that is learning to self-soothe, but this seems to be a task that is beyond most pathologically narcissistic people. They are just too emotionally underdeveloped.
It's important to remember that this is all subconscious. Most narcissists are in complete denial of their feelings in general, and they don't realize or understand any of these things. They are not doing it maliciously. In order to be malicious, they would first have to understand and care that you are being hurt, and they do not. This is how they operate and that's all. They need other people or they can't survive. It's not about anything else but that, no matter how they come across or what they say. Their behavior is all the proof of that anyone should need.
So what do you do if there is a narcissist in your life who will not let go? Well, this sounds trite but unless you can have them arrested for stalking or physically move out of the area, the best thing to do is ignore them and keep ignoring them. Many times they eventually do move on, but if you break no contact even once, you will show them that if they persist, they can break you. And be careful with this situation. Narcissists who feel they have nothing to lose can be very dangerous people. It does not take them long to spiral down into a place where they no longer care about anything, including their own lives. Prisons are full of narcissists who decided punishing someone to death for leaving them was more important than anything else in their lives.