What It Means When a Narcissist Says “I Love You” – by Athena Staik, PhD

This article by Athena Staik, Ph.D. is a must-read!

You can find the original on PsychCentral. Dr. Staik also has a Facebook page called What a Narcissist’s “I Love You” Means.


Dear Codependent Partner,

What I’m about to say is not something I’d ever say or admit (to you), because to do so would end the winner-takes-all-game that is my main source of pleasure in life — one that effectively keeps you carrying my load in our relationship.

And that’s the whole point.

When I say “I love you” I mean that I love how hard you work to make me feel like your everything, that I am the focus of your life, that you want me to be happy, and that I’ll never be expected to do the same.

I love the power I have to take advantage of your kindness and intentions to be nice, and the pleasure I derive when I make myself feel huge in comparison to you, taking every opportunity to make you feel small and insignificant.

I love the feeling it gives me thinking of you as weak, vulnerable, emotionally fluffy, and I love looking down on you for your childlike innocence and gullibility, as weakness.

I love the way I feel knowing that, through the use of gaslighting, what you want to discuss or address will never happen, and I love this “power” to train you to feel “crazy” for even asking or bringing up issues that don’t interest me, effectively, ever lowering your expectations of me and what I’m capable of giving you, while I up mine of you.

I love how easy it is to keep your sole focus on alleviating my pain (never yours!), and that, regardless what you do, you’ll never make me feel good enough, loved enough, respected enough, appreciated enough, and so on. (Misery loves company.)

(It’s not about the closeness, empathy, emotional connection you want, or what I did that hurt or embarrassed you, or how little time I spend engaged with you or the children, and so on. It’s about my status and doing my job to keep you in your place, in pain, focused on feeling my pain, blocking you from feeling valued in relation to me. I’m superior and entitled to all the pleasure, admiration, and comforting between us, remember?)

“I love you” means I love the way I feel when you are with me, more specifically, regarding you as a piece of property I own, my possession. Like driving a hot car, I love the extent to which you enhance my status in the eyes of others, letting them know that I’m top dog, and so on. I love thinking others are jealous of my possessions.

I love the power I have to keep you working hard to prove your love and devotion, wondering what else you need to do to “prove” your loyalty.

“I love you” means I love the way I feel when I’m with you. Due to how often I hate and look down on others in general, the mirror neurons in my brain keep me constantly experiencing feelings of self-loathing; thus, I love that I can love myself through you, and also love hating you for my “neediness” of having to rely on you or anyone for anything.

I love that you are there to blame whenever I feel this “neediness”; feeling scorn for you seems to protect me from something I hate to admit, that I feel totally dependent on you to “feed” my sense of superiority and entitlement, and to keep my illusion of power alive in my mind.

(Nothing makes me feel more fragile and vulnerable than not having control over something that would tarnish my image and superior status, such as when you question “how” I treat you, as if you still don’t understand that getting you to accept yourself as an object for my pleasure, happy regardless of how I treat you, or the children  — is key proof of my superiority, to the world. You’re my possession, remember? It’s my job to teach you to hate and act calloused toward those “crazy” things that only “weak” people need, such as “closeness” and “emotional stuff;” and by the way, I know this “works” because my childhood taught me to do this to myself inside.)

It makes me light up with pleasure (more proof of my superiority) that I can easily get you flustered, make you act “crazy” over not getting what you want from me, make you repeat yourself, and say and do things that you’ll later hate yourself for (because of your “niceness”!). Everything you say, any hurts or complaints you share, you can be sure, I’ll taunt you with later, to keep you ever-spinning your wheels, ever trying to explain yourself, ever doubting yourself and confused, trying to figure out why I don’t “get” it.

(There’s nothing to get! To break the code, you’d have to look through my lens, not yours! It’s my job to show complete disinterest in your emotional needs, hurts, wants, and to train, dismiss and punish accordingly, until you learn your “lesson,” that is: To take your place as a voiceless object, a possession has no desire except to serve my pleasure and comfort, and never an opinion on how its treated!)

(That you can’t figure this out, after all the ways I’ve mistreated you, to me, is proof of my genetic superiority. In my playbook, those with superior genes are never kind, except to lure and snare their victims!)

I love that I can make you feel insecure at the drop of a hat, especially by giving attention to other women (perhaps also others in general, friends, family members, children, etc. … the list is endless). What power this gives me to put a display of what you don’t get from me, to taunt and make you beg for what I easily give to others, wondering why it’s so easy to give what you want to others, to express feelings or affection, to give compliments, that is, when it serves my pleasure (in this case, to watch you squirm).

I love the power I have to get you back whenever you threaten to leave, by throwing a few crumbs your way, and watching how quickly I can talk you into trusting me when I turn on the charm, deceiving you into thinking, this time, I’ll change.

“I love you” means I need you because, due to the self-loathing I carry inside, I need someone who won’t abandon me that I can use as a punching bag, to make myself feel good by making them feel bad about themselves. (This is how I pleasure myself, and the way I numb, deny the scary feelings I carry inside that I hope to never admit, ever. I hate any signs of weakness in me, which is why I hate you, and all those I consider inferior, stupid, feeble, and so on.)

“I love you” means that I love fixing and shaping your thoughts and beliefs, being in control of your mind, so that you think of me as your miracle and savior, a source of life and sustenance you depend on, and bouncing back to, like gravity, no matter how high you try to fly away or jump.

I love that this makes me feel like a god, to keep you so focused (obsessed…) with making me feel worshiped and adored, sacrificing everything for me to prove yourself so that I don’t condemn you, seeking to please none other, and inherently, with sole rights to administer rewards and punishments as I please.

I love how I can use my power to keep you down, doubting and second-guessing yourself, questioning your sanity, obsessed with explaining yourself to me (and others), professing your loyalty, wondering what’s wrong with you (instead of realizing that … you cannot make someone “happy” who derives their sense of power and pleasure from feeling scorn for others … and you!).

“I love you” means I love the way I feel when I see myself through your admiring eyes, that you’re my feel-good drug, my dedicated audience, my biggest fan and admirer, and so on. You, and in particular, your looking up to me, unquestionably, as your never-erring, omniscient, omnipotent source of knowledge is my drug of choice. (You may have noticed how touchy I am at any signs of being question; yes, I hate how fragile I feel at any sign of thinking that you, or the world, could judge me as having failed to keep my possessions in line.)

And I love that, no matter how hard you beg and plead for my love and admiration, to feel valued in return, it won’t happen, as long as I’m in control. Why would I let it, when I’m hooked on deriving pleasure from depriving you of anything that would be wind beneath your wings, risking you’d fly away from me? It gives me great pleasure to not give you what you yearn for, the tenderness you need and want, and to burst your every dream and bubble, then telling myself, “I’m no fool.”

I love that I can control your attempts to get “through” to me, by controlling your mind, in particular, by shifting the focus of any “discussion” onto what is wrong with you, your failure to appreciate and make me feel loved, good enough — and of course, reminding you of all I’ve done for you, and how ungrateful you are.

I love how I skillfully manipulate others’ opinions of you as well, getting them to side with me as the “good” guy, and side against you as the “bad” guy, portraying you as needy, never satisfied, always complaining, selfish and controlling, and the like.

I love how easy it is for me to say “No!” to what may provide you a sense of value and significance in relation to me, with endless excuses, and that I instead keep your focus on my needs and wants, my discomforts or pain.

I love feeling that I own your thoughts, your ambitions, and ensuring your wants and needs are solely focused on not upsetting me, keeping me happy.

I love being a drug of choice you “have to” have, regardless of how I mistreat you, despite all the signs that your addiction to me is draining the energy from your life, that you are at risk of losing more and more of what you most value, and hold dear, to include the people you love, and those who love and support you.

I love that I can isolate you from others who may nourish you, and break the spell, and I love making you mistrust them, so that you conclude no one else really wants to put up with you, but me.

I love that I can make you feel I’m doing you a favor by being with you and throwing crumbs your way. Like a vacuum, the emptiness inside me is in constant need of sucking the life and breath and vitality you bring to my life, which I crave like a drug that can never satisfy, that I fight to hoard, and hate the thought of sharing.

While I hate you and my addiction to your caring attention, my neediness keeps me craving to see myself through your caring eyes, ever ready to admire, adore, forgive, make excuses for me, and fall for my lies and traps.

I love that you keep telling me how much I hurt you, not knowing that, to me, this is like a free marketing report, which lets me know how effective my tactics have been to keep you in pain, focused on alleviating my pain — so that I am ever the winner in this competition — ensuring that you never weaken (control) me with your love- and emotional-closeness stuff.

In short, when I say “I love you,” I love the power I have to remain a mystery that you’ll never solve because of what you do not know (and refuse to believe), that: the only one who can win this zero-sum-winner-takes-all game is the one who knows “the rules.” My sense of power rests on ensuring you never succeed at persuading me to join you in creating a mutually-kind relationship because, in my worldview, being vulnerable, emotionally expressive, kind, caring, empathetic, innocent are signs of weakness, proof of inferiority.

Thanks, but no thanks, I’m resolved to stay on my winner-takes-all ground, ever in competition for the prize, gloating in my narcissistic ability to be heartless, callous, cold, calculating … and proud, to ensure my neediness for a sense of superiority isn’t hampered.

Forever love-limiting,

Your narcissist

PS: I really, really need help — but you CANNOT do this work for me (not without making things worse for both of us!).  Remember, we’re co-addicted to each other, so we’d never go to an addict to get help, right?

Only a therapist, with experience in this, stands a chance, and even then, only if I choose to really, really, really let him/her! (That’s because I’d have to face my greatest fear that, not only am I not superior to everyone and thus not entitled to make and break rules as I please, but I’d also have to own — that my own actions, thoughts and beliefs about myself and others — are THE main cause of the suffering in my life … and changing them, THE solution. I could not would not ever want to do this for the sole reason that, from my worldview, only the feeble-minded and weak do such things!)

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

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  1. Painful to read. True, and painful. A few years out and I have to remind myself to be self-compassionate after reading that. You spell it out beautifully, though I now believe that any feeling qualities I once ascribed to him (for instance, as if he was actually fragile and vulnerable), I no longer believe. I think he he was a cold abuser, and I projected some human qualities onto him to make me feel better. It’s hard to fathom that someone could be so devoid.

  2. A provocative and serious satire follows. I hope it’s of value:

    This is painful to read because I have had these criticisms leveled at me by several people who’s own serious aggressive behaviour has never really been questioned. Never has this criticism of me been directly aimed, but indirectly. I have noticed that in this age where popular psychology has become common knowledge and anyone can diagnose anyone else, that anyone can be labelled the narcissist IF there is sufficient ‘denial’ in a group to label that person so. It’s called : “Confirmation Bias” and / or “Scapegoating”.

    And how better for a so called ‘therapist’ to rid themselves of pain and trauma in their own lives than to subscribe to a quasi religious philosophy and label the never met partner of a ‘client’ on behalf of that ‘client’. How to get ‘results’ and make the ‘poor client’ feel better about herself than to demonise their partner? How better to do this than to pursue a philosophy of so called ‘karma’? The question emerges: Who’s karma belongs to who?

    Desperate situations can make people act desperately or narcissistically and before you know it your own acts of self preservation or even acts of parenting for children / caring for group members can be twisted to show you as the selfish bastard, particularly if you are the father /man and particularly if you are acting for many people in a complex business situation.

    That old Feminist Slogan: “All Men Are Bastards” is as true today as it was 40 years ago when in London you could buy a T shit with that printed on it. I should know, I was a subscriber of ‘Spare Rib’ and had such a T shirt. I was a feminist man.

    Fathers have to go out to work BY LAW but then we are neglecting our family and acting SELFISHLY in the interests of our own career. It’s a no win situation for many men if their actions are interpreted with a bias. The philosophy of ‘karma’ offers many unresolved biases as a substitute to real healing.

    I have heard from several sources that some narcs twist the tables so effectively they can confirm a bias in favour of YOU being the narc. Interpreting everything you say / do as an act of selfish entitlement. Furthermore they can let you know this through your friends and associates; thus making them into ‘flying monkeys & enablers’; and you dare not question your friend’s judgement eh? This happened to me and I still blame myself and I still need these so called ‘friends’, though it’s always me that needs them, never the other way around. I even blamed myself for ending up alienated, ill, homeless, broke, unemployable and suicidal. I still doubt my own sanity and suffer from the endless recurring breakdowns and unfinished business of my own early traumas – SO, I must be the narc right?

    It MUST have been ALL my fault because I am the MAN acting only for my own selfish career motives.
    This is what my peer group of so called new age artists and therapists tell me, indirectly. . . The fact I worked as a volunteer in my industry (carpentry) for 20 years and part trained a group of apprentices, all now in work successfully, some running their own outfits, counts for nothing.

    I still can’t point the finger at my ex partner and say she’s the narc, mostly because I see no value in labeling someone else and ranting and moaning about love lost and strange behaviour when my own neurosis continually draws me into self blame and the ever returning cycle of unaddressed, UN FELT TRAUMA from my own early life. But the other reason why is because ALL the people who my ex and I share as friends have sided with her, thus I am totally gagged anyway. Dare I mention any misdemeanor on her part I am ‘so stuck in the past’, I need to ‘move on’. . . I need to deal with my own ‘karma’.

    Where does one draw the line? Most people behave a little narcissistically sometimes. How many people have NO ‘unmet need’? And surely that is the real issue, how do we get our needs met as adults when so many of our needs were NOT met when we were little? How many of us are NOT acting out unmet need? Can we really ‘re invent’ ourselves, dispose of our karma and ‘move on’. . ?

    I mean, my exes Buddhist Feminist Gestalt toting, meditation group leading Nun Therapist gave her two books for me to read on this subject of Counter Dependency / Co dependency and how to have a ‘loving relationship’ and I HAD to read them and agree with this analysis OR ELSE. . . That was or wasn’t my karma?

    Who’s the narcissist here then? I mean, a Buddhist, Feminist Nun Therapist ( ? ) could never be a narc herself could she? A Buddhist Feminist Nun could never act unconsciously with her own unaddressed pain and bias in favour of a ‘poor me’ little rich kid could she? I mean, this so called therapist advising the ‘poor victim’ on how to maneuver around me (the terrifying narc) could never be a flying monkey or a enabler could she? Or was it the Buddhist Nun who is the narc and my ex became her flying monkey. . . Will I ever find out? Why should I care, how dare I ask?

    Is it my karma?

    At the time I thought it was dodgy for therapists to set out ‘reading material’ for patient’s partners and to advise on relationships UNLESS there was an intentional agreement to act as a RELATIONSHIP COUNSELOR. I never agreed to this arrangement but I seemed to be at the bottom of a hierarchy where the Buddhist Nun was at the top, my partner in the middle and me at the bottom either agreeing with the latest analysis or getting grief for it. My own psychotherapist agreed, infact he told me he would never even advise on books to read let alone on WHO else to give books to. Nor would he advise on the relationship. In this sense my therapist kept me well focused on my needs (and thus steered toward my historic UN MET needs) and that kept me on track. Of course I did a lot of ranting, but isn’t that what a safe space is for? And isn’t that why the truth emerges from a safe space and why truth can then speak to power?

    So tell me, is it right for quasi religious meditation leaders with a ‘following’ to also act as psychotherapists and advise on such matters? Handing out ‘reading material’ for people not directly in the therapeutic alliance? Who’s karma is that?

    Is it my ‘karma’ to speak on such matters?

    I hasten to add that my ex now has all those ‘new age friends’, she has our daughter, the house rented out, and another house to live in with her new (rather soft touch and younger) live in boyfriend (who also freezes me out). She also pursues all the things I tried to help her with, but she dismissed at the time – talk about changing her mind, (no, let’s NOT talk about changing our minds). . . As a consequence of her rich and cold blooded family money, some earned in the ARMS INDUSTRY by the way, she has it ALL. But worst of all, I have noticed that every one who I know or meet who knows or subsequently meets her freezes me out, won’t talk to me; this includes friends of my daughter etc etc. . . I find myself in a social vacuum getting ‘feedback’ (or rather ‘No Feedback’) from total strangers because they know my ex, or her therapist. Is this my ‘karma’?

    I stay in this city for my children & grandson, but if I were to act in my own interest I would move to a different city, break all ties with this one and change my name and identity / career. But I would also have to ‘kiss goodby’ to my kids. . .

    I will never know who the narc is, me? My ex? Her therapist? Those flying moneys and enablers? Who really is the narc?

    Perhaps there’s a little narcissist in all of us desperately searching for confirmation from a substitute parent and potentially willing to shift the focus away from our own terror and pain onto another, I did it too, but how many so called ‘normal people’ are even aware they do it as well, without even realising it? Who’s karma is that then?

    God how I f*****g hate labels. . .

    I wish the very best to people out there who suffer with un met need and the stigma of failed relationships, neurosis, pain and suffering.

    I hope my letter is not too provocative.

    I truly wish we all get better, but I can assure you it IS a road less traveled. . .

    Paul G.

  3. Dear Paul, etc all…Your words and story are mirroring several Oprah shows, whereby, even Oprah herself admitted that, most American men, who are in any type of relationship with a woman, are ” Living Lives of Quiet Desperation” but especially spending time with women like therapist Ross Rosenberg writes about in his book titled, “The Human Magnet Syndrome.” The reality for men in America today, in 2018, is the road less traveled means that approximately, only 2 % of men will be able to find a truthfully functional and loving, reciprocating relationship of any kind, where a man is truthfully loved for who he is and not for the 1 hundred and one pre, peri and post calculating qualification agendas, which about 98 % of women have, before any man is allowed the privilege of spending time with the emotionally manipulating female predators of today, who see themselves as simply, little house on the prarie, Nellie-like, entitled survivalists… There are only 2 ways to be happy with a woman today…First, find a woman who is in the functional, loving 2% range…. Or, second, man up, be a real MAN, whatever the F_ _ _ that really means ? ….And take whatever the fluffy feminine, who me..!? feme fatal gal ( on her true insides ) can dish out…. After all, men have few needs and fewer to no emotions or feelings, RIGHT !!! Perhaps a 3rd, hard to swallow, dangerous venture choice, needs to be about what the late and GREAT intellectual comedian George Carlin said…” There are only 2 things you need to know about men and women…Men are really STUPID and women are really CRAZY and the reason that women are crazy, is because men are STUPID…In the words of a gentle caring male, a man depicting the film character named Forest Gump, ” Stupid is as stupid does” …May whatever created the universe find a place to live in all our hearts, it is our only hope for survival and true love … Respectfully, Steph

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