“He’s a cold hearted snake, look into his eyes…(uh oh)…He’s been tellin’ lies…” Paula Abdul
*please note this article addresses a narcissist as being either male or female. For simplification purposes the gender pronoun is interchangeable. Narcissism does not discriminate 🙂
Many of the narcissistic abuse survivors I work with have become intimately acquainted with a seductive-withholding narcissist in their love life. This article serves to define and illuminate the dangers of encountering and preventing a constriction crisis with such a slippery serpent in the dating world.
The internet abounds with articles on narcissistic abuse recovery. Fortunately, we live in a time where access to information for the abuse survivor community is readily available. I want to point the reader’s attention to a particular type of shady creature who can present as Mr. Gallant Knight in Shining Armor or Delicious Dazzling Vixen in the beginning stages of the idealization stage of an abuse cycle. Enter the seductive-withholder….
This term was originally coined by Susan Peabody in the love addiction community. Essentially, she is describing a somatic narcissist who uses romance and sex to seduce a potential romantic partner. However, instead of just one cycle of idealize/devalue/discard, the narcissistic seductive-withholder performs a specific type of “hoover” called the relationship recycle. In other words, we know from literature and studies that extreme narcissists often do return to prior sources of narcissistic supply to see if they can tap more “ego fuel”.
When an extreme narcissist returns for multiple cycles of “hoovering”, oftentimes this abuser is said to be engaging in repetitive cycles of seductive-withholding. The survivor often is reeling in the aftermath of being discarded, and so with a trauma bond in tact, often will take back their abuser to attempt to return to the original state of infatuation or idealization. However, the seduction phase is short-lived, and as soon as the extreme narcissist knows that the former lover is still pining away for their lost love relationship or if s/he provides any response indicating a re-engagement with the narcissist, the abuser will begin the devaluing phase quickly or even move to discard rapidly. A healthy individual would reciprocate the attraction and evolve the relationship mutually by gradual increased expressions of vulnerability and trust-building. Not so for the seductive-withholding extreme narcissist.
An extreme narcissist has a core fear of engulfment and abandonment. At the very center of their vacuous identity is a core state of shame. The narcissist experienced an abusive childhood devoid of healthy attachments and possibly extreme abuse and learned that s/he had to use a false self (mask) to survive an emotionally intolerable experience. When an adult extreme narcissist is attracted to a potential mate, s/he may have the same longing for love and connection as any human being does. With that drive comes the seductive behavior of the somatic narcissist. However, once the extreme narcissist discovers that their love object has reciprocated interest, alarm bells in the narcissist’s mind go off. The narcissist equates love, vulnerability, and emotional expression with pain. Also these revealing sentiments expose the narcissist to their core shame and potentially re-experiencing the feared same ridicule and shaming brought about by their abusive caregiver(s) growing up. So when an extreme narcissist gets close to someone they are attracted to, they immediately shut down their emotional center and detach. S/he cannot tolerate the vulnerability of mature love. Then s/he devalues and discards the romantic partner.
An extreme narcissist is seeking the very thing every human being needs and wants: love. However, when love is expressed/returned or interest is a green light by a love object, the abuser cannot tolerate the potential exposure to vulnerability. This toxic shame, wound tightly and subconsciously within the psyche of the narcissist, permeates his/her actions. Instead of happily receiving the response of love and vulnerability from their potential mate and reciprocating it, the narcissist is flooded in shame, fear, and anxiety. A seductive withholder will gaslight and deny any pronouncements of a relationship, dating, attraction, or heaven forbid, love. Instead an extreme narcissist projects shame and blame onto the very person they were attracted to and attempted to seduce in the beginning of the cycle with love-bombing and future-faking.
So the narcissist shames, blames, gaslights, and flat-out denies any attraction to their potential mate and the often will engage in the silent treatment at the discard stage. For a time. Until s/he isn’t getting enough narcissistic supply. Then the abuser will revisit prior sources of narcissistic supply and attempt to recycle the relationship again…if the former love interest will bite the bait….
So, what can you do if you have been in a love relationship with an extreme narcissist who uses seductive-withholding to extract narcissistic supply? You can chose not to re-engage. Your ex, if an extreme narcissist/seductive-withholder, will never be able to give you what you need for a healthy relationship. The qualities of integrity, accountability, honesty, authenticity, compromise, accountability, and empathy are sorely lacking in your abuser. S/he may do a very good job of acting like they possess these qualities, but they cannot psychologically maintain the ability to continuously express these qualities with any depth or integrity for any length of time. In short, the result will always be idealize/devalue/discard and with as many cycles as the partner allows after permitting another idealization stage.
With a narcissistic seductive-withholder, the survivor is destined to have emotional pain with contact. No Contact is the way to go in circumstances such as the above. Refusing to participate in the dance of idealize/devalue/discard is key. Psychotherapy with a trained trauma-informed therapist is essential, particularly a professional who understands narcissistic abuse recovery. Joining a support group or forum of compassionate survivors can be helpful. Reclaiming self worth, establishing healthy boundaries, and connecting with safe community is essential in the healing process. Survivors may encounter the intoxication of a potential “high” of another dance with the snake…but the outcome will always be the same with an extreme narcissistic seductive-withholder: emotional pain. Best to not play with the snake or allow the serpent any access to your precious emotional/physical/financial capital. No Contact.
A colleague of mine, Shahida Arabi, renown writer and advocate for the survivor community, recently reminded me of an amazing quote by Marianne Williamson, which is so very relevant. I will leave the article with the following:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
(from Marianne Williamson: A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3 (Pg. 190-191).)
(A version of this article first appeared in the author’s blog, From Andrea’s Couch)