The Pain of Accepting Love Was Not Real with a Narcissist

Fully understanding what it means to be supply

Unto itself, the severing of an attachment with a romantic partner tests us to our limits even when both parties are compassionate and kind. Indeed, going through a breakup is difficult enough without the added trauma of facing it was all a horrifying lie. Unfortunately, this is exactly why a breakup with a malignant narcissist is exponentially worse than a breakup with a non-disordered person. It is in fact, psychologically tormenting.

As a survivor of narcissistic abuse and a complex trauma therapist, I’ve come to recognize that the turning point in which the victim realizes love was not real is one of the most shocking and difficult hurdles to navigate.

On the heels of realizing the relationship was fraudulent the victim of narc abuse attempts to break away and go no contact. They struggle to accept they were merely supply. This means accepting they were merely a devoted source of endless worshipping gratification for the narcissist. As supply, they served a utilitarian purpose to comply with the narc’s endless insatiable need for attention and control. Their sole function was to feed the narc’s relentless need for worship and complete compliance. Given the narcissist’s developmentally stunted and primitive attachment template, this is the only way the narcissist feels relationally secure.

Any deviation from the role of subservient supply was deemed worthy of punishment. If the target strived for mutuality or reciprocity or actually attempted to uphold standards of equanimity and respect, egregious repercussions followed. Of course, when being love-bombed and manipulated, the malignant narcissist conformed to what the target desired. The narc, highly skilled at mimicking feelings and reading others so as to know who they should morph into to glean supply convinced the target they were a perfect match. This makes it all the more painfully difficult for the survivor to believe it was all contrivance.

Whether a covert narc who seems benign, even virtuous, or a vulnerable narc who weaponizes victimization, or a female narc concealing perfidious motives behind a gender-specific guise, or a full on psychopath, once the love-bombing draws you in and you become a desirable target, the games begin. The gaslighting, the lying, feigning innocence, the word salad, the ghosting and stonewalling, the triangulating, the character assassination, and the smear campaigns are all set in motion to ensure domination and control.

The survivor of narc abuse must accept that a relationship between a narcissist and supply is a power submissive dynamic, not a loving relationship characterized by equanimity, mutuality and reciprocity. Embracing this harsh reality is the trajectory to recovery.

Somehow the victim of narc abuse has to accept that they were the only one in the relationship who was emotionally invested and capable of genuine compassion and love. They were alone in a fictitious fantasy, caught up in a perfidious trauma bond. Shattering these illusions amidst relentless hoovering is not an easy task.

Additionally, the ravages of Stockholm Syndrome aka trauma bonding, accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder, crescendoes in the tragic realization that an intractable addiction has set in, characterized by harrowing obsession and emotional flooding. As a result, unbearable withdrawal symptoms are ignited when the victim attempts to break free.

B.F. Skinner’s work with operant conditioning explains how addiction occurs within the context of a supply-narc dynamic.

Operant conditioning principles tell us that what we learn is impacted by reinforcement and punishment. A pattern of intermittent positive reinforcement peppered amidst arbitrary unpleasant consequences establishes unpredictability and confusion. The narcissistic abuser capitalizes on this phenomenon. The victim’s mind scrambles to discover what one has to do to acquire a positive response from the narcissistic abuser. Eventually, cognitive dissonance sets in, and the desperate, futile urgency to discern a rhyme or reason becomes a driving force.

When the victim is caught up in an addictive cycle the narcissistic abuser who is deified by the victim, is seen as the source of redemption. Similar to how the heroin addict views their drug, the narc’s approval or positive reinforcement, is perceived as the only way to alleviate the victim’s unbearable pain.

If the victim of narc abuse manages to make it out alive and is sufficiently glued together in the aftermath of debilitating withdrawal, they are not only challenged to heal from a trauma bond that is steeped in numerous betrayals, they must also grieve a love that has no foundation in truth.

At this stage, the survivor knows they were merely a possession. They are beginning to grasp that what they experienced with the narcissist was not love. Seeing the narc with their new supply can disrupt the certainty about what they’ve endured. Although it’s not love with the new replacement either, the narc will frame the breakup as the old supply’s fault, even suggesting the former love interest or former spouse was mentally ill and abusive. The new supply is presented as the one who is ‘worth’ receiving the narcs love and decency. This cruelty is a hit of sadistic supply for the narc. Unfortunately, it is a source of excruciating doubt, hysteria, and self loathing for many folks who are discarded, maligned supply.

In “Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason” philosopher Immanuel Kant makes the claim that evil is innate to the human species. We all have lower impulses and a shadow side. Although the potential for evil is in all of us, for malignant narcissist’s it’s where they live. Malignant narcissists have an extreme propensity for evil as, depending on where they land on the narcissism spectrum, they either do not possess empathy or are unwilling to express it.

Nevertheless, as victims of narc abuse struggle with the derealization that coincides with knowing s/he was tricked into believing the narcissist cared, they are conflicted by the collective scoffing at human evil. Everywhere others proclaim how unreasonable it is to believe that a person is dangerously malicious. Collective notions of innate benevolence declare it is too polarized and primitive to believe that a narcissist is impervious to reason and devoid of humanity. The survivor is befuddled by these edicts.

Unfortunately, it is our refusal to acknowledge the dark side of human nature that is our hubris. This denial proliferates acts of evil, often under the guise of virtue and sanctification. We exonerate others and we exonerate ourselves.

For those who achieve absolute conviction about the narcissist’s character and moral depravity, bittersweet renewal occurs. A modified worldview and perspective of human nature contribute to living life with greater caution and guardedness. The danger is not minimized or rationalized. Rather, the personal responsibility to effectively harness one’s instinctual aggression is prioritized.

No longer confused, the survivor sees what others may not. While this triumph heightens discernment and discrimination, it also means the loss of innocence and safety that comes with knowing that good does not exist in all people. It is this sacrifice that will assure not being a narcissist’s mark. For the survivor of narcissist abuse, it’s understood that this gain outweighs the cost.


Another informative article from Sheri! 🙂


Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

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