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Why a Narcissist’s Love is Not Love (Ever)

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In a ground-breaking primer on love and personal growth in relationships, The Road Less Traveled, published in the late 1970s, best-selling author and psychiatrist Scott Peck gave us some of the best advice at the time on what genuine love is and isn’t. And this clarity, arguably, has great value today if you have been or currently are in a relationship with a narcissist, more specifically, to arm yourself against the love-bombing attacks on bottom line regarding timeless wisdom and truth when it comes to love.

Speaking of human love and relationships, what was once theory, when Dr. Peck and other experts published their works, is now backed by a couple of decades of neuroscience research. The human brain and heart, mind and body, without question, are wired for love relationships as there exists physical love circuitry in the brain that affects personal health and wellbeing, even physical survival in early formative years. 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. What is more, opportunities to learn and cultivate these capacities is intricately connected to your health, wellbeing; and wholeness; absence this knowledge and understanding, there are negative impacts on emotional and physical health.

Let’s start with Peck’s down to earth practical definition for love:

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

This practical definition defines love as much more than “feel good” feelings, and rather in terms of: (1) conscious actions oriented toward the growth of self and the other; (2) a reflective process of thinking and making optimal decisions; (3) an inseparable connection between love for self and the other; and (4) actions that require each to extend and stretch out of old comfort zones in order to love self and the other in growth promoting ways.

(Note: The word ‘spiritual‘ does not pertain to a religion per se, and rather to innate emotional strivings that are spiritual in nature, a conceptualization closely more aligned with another foremost psychologist of the 20th century, Dr. Abraham Maslow, and his concept of ‘self-actualization.’)

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


  1. “Falling in love” is not love. Why?
  • Falling in love is mostly an erotic experience, at best only temporary. The experience of falling in love allows two persons to escape reality temporarily with a sudden collapse of the ego boundaries of each, giving them an illusion of merged identities. Most experts in the field agree that this experience echoes a time when our identity was totally merged with our mother’s in infancy .
  • The spell of being “in love” either 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 start to think or believe they have “fallen out of love” due to their observations that there are now two separate individuals in the relationship — with quite opposing tendencies across several dimensions! In contrast, when love is genuine, each person consciously acts in loving ways despite moments of “not feeling like being loving,” for example, when one partner says no to another’s request.
  • The path of human spiritual in life is a learning and growth journey that 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, partner’s experience a similar cycle and journey, one that begins once again (likely not coincidence!) with collapsed ego boundaries and an infant-desire to “be one” and experience total unity with another, yet this time, either overtly or covertly, there is added complexity on the learning journey in that, either overtly or covertly, each partner has a developed sense of self as agent of one’s life — which makes the learning and growth of each far more challenging, arguably, necessarily so!

Why is it critical to accept that — “falling in love” per se – is not real love, especially if you’ve been or are in a current relationship with a narcissist? Because a narcissist is a con artist who derives power and sense of identity from proving they are superior in intellect by duping women, essentially, with bait-n-switch mind games. Narcissists have studied what baits women into surrendering their mind, bodies and sense of self; they know how to “use love words” that make women swoon in order to create a false sense of trust. And their task is made easy  illusions of love, based on romanticized ideals of love that he knows women are socialized to swoon over. He knows how to orchestrate illusions of love, act as if, and bait her into giving up more and more of herself, bottom line, convictions, time and time again. It’s not real because it is an intentional set up to build a woman’s hopes and dreams up only to let her down. Understandably, it is very difficult for most women to see and accept; and yet this awareness is critical to both their healing, as well as avoiding encounters with other narcissists in the future.

  1. Dependency on one another is not love. Why?
  • Dependency on another to “make” you feel unconditional love for your self and life is an unhealthy stuck state of mind and body, brain and heart. This state is only healthy or normal in infancy and early childhood when an infant is totally dependent on a mother or caregiver to exist and physically survive.
  • 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. (As a disorder, passive dependency has its genesis in lack of ability for the adult to love self. The inner feelings of emptiness passive dependent people suffer are a combined result of both their own and parents’ inability to fulfill their own needs for affection, attention, and care during childhood.
  • A mature adult has learned or must learn the critical lesson, along the way, that it is essential to cultivate a sense of wholeness and self-love that allows one to be and live their best life without the certainty that one is being totally and unconditionally cared for by another. (Regardless that they every single human being, deep down, will always want or prefer to be cared for unconditionally by key others.) 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 and genuinely at heart. These strivings control the behaviors of infants; in the formative years, it’s natural and good. In adulthood, these yearnings, unless reined in, cause serious problems, mostly as a result of making choices out of survival-love fears. When these desires or feelings rule our lives and choicesthey keep persons stuck, repeating harmful patterns.

Why is it critical to become aware that — depending on another to make you feel unconditional love for your self and life — is not real love, especially if you’ve been or are in a current relationship with a narcissist? A narcissist lusts to feel hatred and scorn for others, and to feel hated and feared by others. As a result of mirror neurons in their brain, this means to the extent they hate others, they live with ongoing self-hatred. No one can take this away from them because they link their identity and sense of power and superiority to this hatred and scorn, so they zealously will fight to keep it! The more a woman signals that she wants to make a narcissist happy, and that her happiness and self worth, and self-love depend on this, the more a narcissist has openings to torment and take control of her mind, in particular, how she feels about herself, the narcissist, others and life. A narcissist will erect illusions of himself as the good guy who knows best; and his partner as childlike, evil and, or emotionally crazy. He knows how to “act” like confidant and protector, all the while, gather information on how to instill her with mistrust of her self and those that have been longstanding support systems for her, more often one or both parents,  perhaps other friends or others who genuinely care for other human beings. Meanwhile, he’s also smearing her reputation so that others look down and mistrust her.

  1. Instinctual love is not love. Why?

According to Scott Peck, love for those who are seen as frail and 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.

Instinctual love may be a great start for real love to begin, he notes, 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.  The love for children or a pet becomes genuine when this is based on conscious and consistent choices and actions that require effort to do what is right, in keeping the highest good and care for them, and this is not easy! It often requires not giving in to what one feels like doing or saying in the moment, for example.

Why is it critical to note — that depending on another to make you feel unconditional love for your self and life — is not real love, especially if you’ve been or are in a current relationship with a narcissist? For one thing, a narcissist feels overall scorn for those he regards as weak, dependent, and derives pleasure from enforcing dominance and superiority, whether it’s a pet, child or partner. He uses gaslighting and other inhumane fear-based tactics to intentionally break other’s will to self-govern, much like a horse or pet. A narcissist is likely to regularly set up situations to train his “objects” to accept that “obedience without question” is a requirement he links to his identify and self-worth; thus any signal that his authority is questioned can detonate severe abuse or punishment. And thus, at the slightest displeasure, a narcissist may act methodically 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 they want is not love. Why?
  • For giving to be genuinely loving, Speck notes, 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 withholding is also part of judicious giving. In a healthy relationship, partners caring and thoughtfully will need to make requests, challenge one another, confront, urge, push and pull, and so on. It’s how we get out of old comfort zones. It is a partnership in which each grows their capacity for personal leadership while participating in the other’s.

Why is it critical to note — that simply giving the other what they want — is not real love, especially if you’ve been or are in a current relationship with a narcissist? It goes without saying that a narcissist’s giving is not judicious; they orchestrate the illusion of giving a female partner what she wants, but they do so with an intent, among other things, to confuse and love bomb her into staying in an abusive, exploitive relationship. A codependent’s love is not genuine love or giving either! A narcissist is so beyond healthy in that what they ask is toxic for them as well as their female partner. A narcissist wants to feel entitled to treat or mistreat the woman in his life however he pleases, and to do so with impunity. He expects her let him train her to deny and treat her own needs as invisible, and to tend to even his sadistic needs and wants, as if they were her purpose in life.Thus, giving a narcissist what they want is like giving a drug addict drugs; this enables and further destroys their connection to feeling human; and keeps them stuck in patterns of thinking abusing and hurting others is “normal” when nothing could be further from the truth.

  1. Merely “feeling love” in the moment is not love. Why?
  • Love that is not backed by action is meaningless. If it fails this test, it is not genuine love.
  • Genuine love requires an ongoing commitment. In a thriving marriage or couple relationship, both partners have 100% responsibility each to regularly, routinely and predictably, attend to their own and one another’s growth and well being, health and wholeness, and do so with thoughtful care, and conscious actions.

Why is it essential to keep in mind — that “feeling love” in the moment — is not real love, especially if you’ve been or are in a current relationship with a narcissist? A narcissist feels pride inside for his use of tactics of conning and exploiting those he regards as weak. He’s studied his subjects, as victims, and knows well what they are starved to hear and fell. Thus he’s adept at stirring feelings, and toying with a woman’s emotions, in order to exploit and abuse her. Intentional abuse is never love. A narcissist is love in a mindset that links his identity and power to hurting and exploiting others for his gain to prove dominance and superiority. 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 automatically gaslights, explodes or stonewalls, and the like, and thus reveals who he really is — and what his endgame is.


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

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. Why?
  • 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. Why?
  • 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. Why?
  • 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. Why?

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. Why?

  • 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. Why?

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.

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Why a Narcissist’s Love is Not Love (Ever)

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. (2020). Why a Narcissist’s Love is Not Love (Ever). Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Feb 2020
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