Have you found that you keep attracting narcissists? The inability to empathize, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and an excessive and pathological need for admiration are just a few qualities narcissists possess, according to psychotherapist Dana Dorfman, Ph.D. Those are obviously not traits of a loving and supportive partner. So why do some people attract narcissists over and over again? Here's everything you need to know about why this keeps happening and how to say goodbye to them for good:
1. You have a narcissistic parent.
Breaking a cycle is easier said than done unfortunately. If you have a narcissistic parent, Dorfman says you may seek a partner out, subconsciously or not, who possesses similar traits. "Our emotional minds seek familiarity and are compelled to repeat relationship patterns," she elaborates. "While not romantic per se, parents symbolize our first love experiences. As a result, we are likely to replicate these experienced patterns or dynamics in our adult romantic relationships."
Even if you don't have a narcissistic parent, you may have a toxic family member or narcissistic ex who deeply affected you in a similar way. Whether a good or bad situation, familiarity is comfortable and often invited in.
2. You're an empathic person.
Empathy is the ability to relate to and feel other people's emotions. While being empathetic is an amazing characteristic to possess, be aware of whose needs and desires you're tuning into. Empaths are drawn to narcissists, and narcissists love taking advantage: "Since narcissists rely on exclusive focus and attention, an empathic person would naturally appeal to them," explains Dorfman. Meanwhile, "the emotionally attuned person is likely to experience gratification or receive positive feedback for their unique emotional accuracy, thus perpetuating the dynamic."
3. You have low self-esteem.
Everyone struggles with self-esteem issues, but unfortunately, narcissists tend to use their "self-assured" personality to take advantage of it. Certified trauma therapist Támara Hill tells mbg that "women who are struggling with their own self-esteem issues, including a history of abuse, trauma, bullying, or identity issues" tend to attract narcissists. Narcissists can appear as if they are coming to your rescue, ready to lift you up, and they often start a relationship by love-bombing you. In reality, though, narcissists only use your insecurities to inflate their ego and to keep you under their control.
4. You deny your own needs.
Do you find yourself giving and giving in relationships without ever taking the time to think about what you want in return? Narcissists prioritize themselves above anyone else, so a person who facilitates that, knowingly or not, is a catch for them.
"Fearful of being perceived as 'needy,' an individual may overcompensate by ignoring, not acknowledging, or denying one's own needs," says Dorfman. "As a result, a partner who perceives oneself as selfless, without emotional needs, can focus exclusively on the other."
5. They make you feel good (sometimes).
While a narcissist will critique you over and over in private, they'll tout your achievements to others any day. "Narcissists view their partners as extensions of themselves—someone who will reflect positively and admirably on them," says Dorfman. "As a result, a narcissist may be attracted to an individual who possesses attributes that they value and that they believe will enhance their image." If you look good to other people, they hope that makes them look good. It ties back to their desire to control you, ensuring that you're always at your best, even if it's to the detriment of your mental well-being.
How to stop attracting narcissists:
Set firm boundaries.
There's nothing wrong with being an empathetic, giving person—but it's important to make sure these kind qualities within you aren't taken advantage of. Do this by being firm about your boundaries: what behavior you will and will not accept, what you're willing to give, and what you refuse to do no matter what the other person says.
Narcissists do not understand boundaries and will try to push through yours when possible. "If an individual ignores, repeatedly crosses, or is unresponsive to your efforts to enforce boundaries, strongly reconsider continuing the relationship," says Dorfman. She has seen this include intrusive questioning, disrespect for your time and space, and an inability to adhere to your delineation of boundaries. By setting your strong and uncompromising boundaries, you're telling narcissists to back off.
Work on developing rock-solid confidence.
And ditch anyone who makes you feel less-than. Narcissists love someone who doesn't believe in themselves or whose insecurities get the best of them, so one of the best ways to stop attracting narcissists is to develop a strong sense of self-worth. Obviously, developing confidence and self-love is a lifelong journey, but once you start reminding yourself of what you deserve—and project that confidence outward—narcissists will see you're not someone easily manipulated and therefore not a good victim for them to prey on.
Home in on a person's values.
A person's values speak volumes about who they truly are. "Focus on their values and morals, search for objective facts to support their so-called values, and then tap into your intuition," says Hill. "There's one thing a narcissist cannot fake, and that is empathy. We can intuitively sense, most times, if someone truly connects or not."
Identify red flags.
If only what you saw was really what you always got. In the case of narcissists, their personalities will fluctuate dramatically depending on the situation they're in. A narcissist's public and private selves are more extreme in presentation—particularly in their treatment of a partner. If an individual is consistently respectful and charming in public, and consistently abusive and demeaning in private, it is likely to be a narcissistic red flag," says Dorfman. While it's easy to brush off red flags, especially when a person comes off so well to others, trust your gut and take action when they appear. A healthy relationship won't feel like something is off—believe yourself that there is.
Avoid anyone who tries to control your behavior.
If you notice that someone is imposing their opinions on you and gets mad when you don't listen—run away! From criticizing your appearance to consistently attempting to control your behavior or trying to make you a mold of them, Dorfman explains each of these controlling actions are narcissistic tendencies. The right partner will appreciate you for who you are instead of trying to make every choice for you.
As you begin to understand the signs of a narcissists and what type of person narcissists are attracted to, it'll begin to become much easier to avoid them over time.
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Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer based in New York City. Covering a range of topics with a focus on mental health, sex, and relationships, her work has appeared at Healthline, The Huffington Post, Men's Health, INSIDER, Bustle, NYLON, and more. Fielding received her bachelor's in international fashion and business management from FIT, and also spent time living in Italy and Australia, writing as she traveled. She's the co-founder of Empire Coven, a space for highlighting trailblazing women across New York.