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Why a Narcissist’s Love is Not Love (Based on Scott Peck’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’)

couples in love photoIn a ground-breaking primer on love and personal growth,  The Road Less Traveled, best-selling author and psychiatrist Scott Peck’s unwitting gives us the best advice, arguably in terms of what is and is not genuine love, and thus how you can protect yourself and mind and heart from falling for a narcissist’s love bombing. Dr. Peck defines genuine love as:

The will to extend one’s self for purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” ~ SCOTT PECK

As clear and practical advice, it defines love in terms of: (1) conscious or purpose-driven actions to grow; (2) a reflective process; (3) an inseparable connection between love for self and the other; and (4) actions that require each to stretch out of old comfort zones in order to love self and the other.

Notably, Dr. Peck’s use of the word ‘spiritual‘ does not pertain to a religion per se, rather to innate emotional strivings for all of which are arguably spiritual in nature, a conceptualization closely aligned with Dr. Abraham Maslow’s concept of ‘self-actualization.’

What was once theory, when Drs. Peck and Maslow published their works, is now backed by decades of neuroscience research. The human brain and heart, mind and body, are wired for love relationships consisting of love circuitry . The brain is hardwired for caring, compassion and empathic connection, among other amazing capacities, such as imagination, possibility thinking, and an inner connection to a wondrous source of creative genius that defies logical explanation. All of these promote health, wellbeing; and wholeness; and without opportunities to cultivate these capacities, there are negative impacts on emotional and physical health.

So what is and isn’t love, according to Dr. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled“?


  1. “Falling in love” is not love.


  • Falling in love is mostly an erotic experience, at best  only temporary. The experience of falling in love allows us to escape temporarily, with a sudden collapse of the ego boundaries of persons along with illusion of merged identities. Most experts in the field agree that this experience echoes a time when we were merged with our mothers in infancy.
  • The spell of being “in love” gradually or suddenly breaks when the reality of daily living intrudes the fantasy of total oneness or soulmate etc. The ego boundaries snap back into place, and one or both may believe they have “fallen out of love” due to their observations that there are now two separate individuals in the relationship. In contrast, when love is genuine, each person consciously acts in loving ways despite not feeling like being loving, for example, when one partner says no to another’s request.
  • The path of human spiritual grows begins with collapsed ego boundaries in infancy; followed by a necessary forming of one’s sense of self and agency, the ability to say yes or no, a sense that one’s life is one’s own.  Finally, when one finds one’s self, in a healthy couple relationship, one can feel both a sense of self as agent of one’s life, yet also a oneness with the other as partners. Spiritually, this can extend to oneness with all of life, God, or the Universe etc.

A narcissist however seeks to create illusions of love, based on romanticized ideals of love that he knows women are socialized to swoon over. He knows how to put on an act, to create the illusion of love. It’s not real because it is a set up to build a woman’s hopes and dreams up, only to let her down.

  1. Dependency on one another is not love.


  • Dependency on another is an unhealthy stuck state of mind and boy. An infant or a young child cannot function adequately, doesn’t feel whole rather totally dependent on a mother or caregiver to exist.
  • A mature adult learns to experience wholeness and to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another. (Regardless that they may want or prefer to be cared for by another.) All of us have desires to be babied, nurtured without effort on our parts, cared for by persons stronger than us who have our interests truly at heart. It is only when these desires or feelings rule our liveshowever that they become harmful, keep us stuck.
  • (Passive dependency has its genesis in lack of love. The inner feelings of emptiness passive dependent people suffer may be a combined resultof their own and parents’ inability to fulfill their needs for affection, attention, and care during childhood.)
  • Dependency is not concerned with spiritual growth of self or other. Dependent people are interested in their own nourishment, desire to be happy, loneliness. The word “love” is incorrectly used to describe dependency. If people loved themselves they would not allow themselves to passionately settle for shallow goals of being taken care of by others. And, if they loved others they would care about nurturing the growth of others.

A narcissist seeks to make a woman feel increasingly dependent on him. He portrays himself as a confidant and protector, and instills her with an increasing mistrust for others in her life, such as her parents and friends, and others who genuinely love her. Meanwhile, he’s also smearing her reputation so that others look down and mistrust her.

  1. Instinctual love is not love.


Love for those who are dependent on us, i.e., infants, pets—and obedient spouses or children—is more of an “instinctual” form of love, rather than a genuine form of love because: (1) it is effortless, thus (2) not an act of the will or choice. True love for another requires effort and choice to rise up above negative feelings in triggering moments. Instinctual love may be a great start for real love to begin, but a good deal more is required to develop a healthy, creative marriage, and raise healthy, spiritually minded children who yearn to contribute to life around them.

A narcissist’s love is not love as it is inhumanely a conditioning to break a woman, much like we do a horse or pet. A the slightest displeasure, a narcissist threatens to shame, belittle, cause a scene, employ punitive tactics, and other fear-based tools to condition a woman to act according to what he wants or doesn’t want.

  1. Simply giving the other what he or she wants is not love.


  • For giving to be genuinely loving, it must be judicious. That is, it must be based on sound wisdom, thoughtful consideration whether the giving nurtures or limits the growth of self and other.
  • (The word “judicious” means requiring judgment, and judgment requires more than instinct, i.e., to feel good by making another feel good; it requires thoughtful, often painful consideration and decision making.)
  • Judicious giving is also a balance between judicious giving and judicious withholding. A healthy relationship, in addiction to be comforting, is also confronting, urging, pushing and pulling. It’s how we get out of old comfort zones. It is leadership.

A narcissist’s love is not love because he conditions and expects the woman in his life to treat him as infallible, to tend to his needs and wants, especially sex needs, by threatening to shame and blame her for his every discomfort, pain or insecurity.

  1. Merely “feeling love” in the moment is not love.


  1. Love that is not backed by action is meaningless. If it fails this test, it is not genuine love.
  2. Genuine love requires an ongoing commitment. In a thriving marriage, partners must regularly, routinely and predictably, attend to each other wants and feelings, with thoughtful care, nurturing their relationship no matter how they feel.

A narcissist knows how to say things to stir feelings of love, or the promise of his love, yet it’s all talk and appearances and superficial displays, and double standards. When he is tested to genuinely love by being asked to listen and build mutual understanding, and to treat his partner’s needs and wants and requests with thoughtful care, as she does his, he gaslights, explodes or stonewalls, and the like.


  1. Love is a choice, a set of actions.


Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to act in a what that is loving, and thus promotes the sense of well being of the other. Love is a choice, an action or actions. It can be accompanied by many feelings, and one them may be love. But not all loving actions are accompanied by feelings of love in the moment.

  1. Love is a form of work or courage.


  • By far the most common and important way in which we love is listening.  Active listening seeks to understand the other, andrequires tremendous effort. Your willingness to do so is the best possible concrete evidence of your esteem for the other’s agency. One’s capacity to truly listen may improve with practice, but never becomes an effortless process. It’s a conscious one.
  • The act of love is one of extending oneself—it requires partners to move against the inertia of laziness (this is why it is work!) or the resistance fears may cause (this is why it requires courage!). All of life represents a risk, and the more lovingly we live our lives, the more risks we take.
  • Positive changes, big and small, in one’s life are acts of self-love. Not only does love for oneself provide the motive for such major changes, it is also the basis for the courage to risk changes. It is only when one has taken the leap into self-love and self-acceptance that one is free to proceed along ever higher paths of spiritual growth, a freedom to manifest love in its greatest dimension. The highest forms of love come from a place of feeling free to take action out of love, never out of fear of rejection or abandonment, and so on.
  1. Love is a commitment to build a strong foundation to grow a loving relationship.


  • Problems of commitment are inherent part of most psychiatric disorders. Persons with severe disorders tend to form only shallow commitments, their capacity to form commitments is weak or disabled.
  • Commitments in marriage and parenting require the ability to stay emotionally engaged in processes that are painful and life changing for all involved. For example, parents have as much or more to learn from the process of painful growth and changes that stems from seeking to learn to be the best parents they can to their children.
  1. Love exercises power with humility.


  • The truly loving person values the unique (and often challenging) contributions the other brings to their relationship.They are not reluctant to confront the other with wrongdoing. Indeed each has an obligation to confront the other with a perceived problem. A loving person, therefore, is frequently in a dilemma, caught between a desire to express a loving respect for the other’s choices and path in life, yet also a profound responsibility to exercise loving leadership as needed.
  • Confrontation is necessary, but only effective when exercised with humility. To fail to confront when confrontation is required represents as much failure to love as would thoughtless acts, harsh criticism or condemning statements, and such. If parents love their children they must, sparingly and carefully perhaps, but nonetheless actively, confront and criticize them from time to time, just as they must allow their children to confront and criticize them in turn. Similarly, loving spouses must repeatedly confront each other if the marriage relationship is to function as promoting the spiritual growth of each partner. No marriage can be truly successful unless husband and wife are each other’s best critics. Without mutual confrontation, the relationship is either unsuccessful or shallow.
  • Exercising power with love requires a great deal of work. Those who exercise power in an arrogant or harsh manner do more harm than good. Genuine love demands self-awareness. Partners who play god, feel entitled to condemn, diminish the other are operating from a place of ignorance and not wisdom.
  1. Love is led by self-discipline to translate love into action.


One who genuinely loves behaves with self-discipline and a genuinely loving relationship requires two self-disciplined partners to succeed. To attempt to love someone who cannot benefit from your love is a waste your energy and time. It takes two partners to form a genuinely loving, and thus healthy relationship.

6. Genuine love is the only path to joy.


  • Other paths may have occasional moments of joy however absent genuine love, the feelings are only fleeting and increasingly elusive (potentially addictive). The more one loves, and the longer one loves, the larger the sense of love inside self one feels, as a continued source from which actions are taken. Genuine love is self-replenishing.
  • The more one nurtures the spiritual growth of others, the more own spiritual growth is nurtured.

7. Genuine love both respects and seeks to cultivate the individuality of the other.


A major characteristic of genuine love is that it seeks to not only allow for the distinctions between self and the other, but also to maintain and see them as valuable contributions.

Photo by pasa47

Photo by torbakhopper

Why a Narcissist’s Love is Not Love (Based on Scott Peck’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’)

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2019). Why a Narcissist’s Love is Not Love (Based on Scott Peck’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2019
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