October 19, 2009

Lonely Others

Mariana by Sir John Everett Millais

“Narcissists sense they are separate from others but the reality is that they are separated (disconnected) from their true selves. The True Self being defined as the sustaining core self that was unconditionally loved during infancy and supported during normal maturation. Without healthy attachment to those who valued the developing child, narcissists constructed a False Self, cutting them off from their essential core self. Depending on the degree of pathology, the narcissist may or may not be able to cope with archaic feelings of aloneness that have nothing to do with the present and everything to do with an unresolved past.” ~The Lone Narcissist

Most people in narcissistic relationships report feeling ‘lonely’. Of course they felt alone. They were. What I am referring to is the loneliness other people feel because they are in a narcissistic relationship that cannot satisfy emotional needs for empathic understanding and intimate connection.

When we complain about feeling lonely, it’s likely not because we are merging the past with the present and falsely accusing narcissists for parental neglect in our childhood. Feeling lonely in the narcissistic relationship is the truth. We are lonely. Narcissists are physically present but they are not emotionally present. We might feel crazy when our feelings are incongruent with our beliefs about the relationship, but it is not crazy to feel lonely when we have been abandoned emotionally.

It IS crazy for narcissists to insist they’re lonely when ‘others’ are emotionally available and present in their lives. Narcissists’ perception of themselves as alone are pathological. Or past-ological. Rearranging reality by projecting the fault of their loneliness onto those who are not ignoring, neglecting, rejecting, or abandoning them, is a distortion of reality. It is a lie. It is an accusation repeated so assuredly that narcissists aren't the only ones who believe it. Others do, too. We question ourselves unmercifully, looking for answers within that are not to be discovered. We have not abandoned the narcissist. They have abandoned their vulnerable selves.

The past and the present

Normal people might confuse pre-existing feelings with the present situation and it doesn’t mean they qualify for a DSM diagnosis. The difference is that people ‘catch themselves in the act’ by containing painful emotions long enough to gain insight into the conditions of childhood leading to an inexplicable sense of loneliness. The past and the present might be temporarily confused when something in the present triggers an emotional memory from the past. The difference is that awareness tells us we’re feeling archaic emotions that do not FIT with present time. We ‘catch’ ourselves feeling angry towards a partner when we accuse them of not meeting our needs and realize our anger is not towards that person, it’s towards our father, or our mother, or whoever it was that neglected us as children. 

That’s the curative power of emotional triggers. Triggers demand our attention. We examine ourselves more deeply and separate what is happening now from what was happening then. This is normal. This is the value of containing emotions long enough for the introspection process to restore our SANITY. 

In the narcissistic relationship, people are emotionally abandoned, taken for granted, expected to give---not take nor ask, and subordinate (or neglect) their own needs because narcissists’ needs are primary. Our needs are diminished as excessive. Our difficulty articulating a 'sensed’ lack of intimacy (that we can’t adequately express) is excused as being infantile. To narcissists, the fault of your aloneness is NOT they. It’s never their responsibility to meet your emotional needs because they can’t---a fact they can’t admit, even to themselves. So they deny the truth and blame you for being needy and dependent. 

Narcissists detest ‘dependency’. They resent being asked to meet people’s needs because their inability to do so threatens narcissistic perceptions of grandiosity & omnipotence. Therefore, narcissists criticize emotional needs as a sign of inadequacy, incompetence, a lack of self-reliance and a desire for too much attention. Narcissists target our self-doubt by accusing us of not giving enough attention to them. (Satisfying the insatiable needs of the lonely narcissist is, by the way, impossible.) 

Narcissists divert the attention from their deficiency by targeting our self-doubt. We internalize their accusations and think to ourselves, “Am I too needy?? Maybe I am!” 

We apologize for being insecure. 

What just happened? We absorbed fault for the narcissist’s neglect and our red-cheeked embarrassment is a signal to the narcissist that he successfully “aimed, fired, and targeted” our shame with a dead-center manipulative accuracy. Now we are feeling selfish for making demands on someone who protests they are only doing the best they can. We are, according to the narcissist, overly focused on ourselves rather than supporting the lonely narcissist who sacrifices his life to make us happy. 

The narcissist effectively humiliates us because we trust him to empathize based on our belief that he cares. Never forget though: vulnerability angers narcissists. Our demands for reciprocal nurturing angers narcissists. Our intimacy and trust triggers their narcissistic defenses because they must pretend to themselves and others, that they have no such needs. Narcissists, you see, are mega-self-reliant machines of perpetual needlessness. When we ask for reciprocal compassion, something narcissists lack and therefore cannot give, their inadequacy ‘triggers’ defenses and they react. Aggressively. The intent of their aggressive reaction is to stop YOU from making them feel bad about themselves. 

If you have shameful feelings about asking for something you do not feel entitled to ask for (like breathing more than your fair share of oxygen) if you have shameful feelings about being too demanding, or too self-centered, the narcissist’s accusations will exacerbate your fears about wanting too much for yourself. The next time you feel ‘lonely’ you’ll blame yourself for disrespecting the narcissist’s heavy time schedule preventing him from spending time with you. Because you know, or so the narcissist has reassured you, he is coping with his loneliness without complaint or blame. 

If you say things like, “I don’t feel emotionally connected or seen by you”, narcissists will defend themselves against what they perceive to be an attack. They will attack even when no threat was intended. Now of course you weren’t attacking them for being deficient but in their omnipotent perceptions, your complaints about feeling ‘alone’ are a personal insult. You have just threatened the narcissist’s self-image as the all-giving provider who responsibly husbands his narcissistic supply. Instead, what you’ll hear from defensive narcissists who see themselves as being attacked by you, is a ‘switch’. A switch that targets YOUR empathy for them: 

“WHAT??? You’re lonely? YOU’RE LONELY??” the narcissist says. “Well, that’s par for the course! Did you even notice that I am lonely? I work my fingers to the bone, doing everything around this place and YOU are complaining about loneliness?? What do you WANT? To have your cake and eat it, too?? If you want me to hold your hand all day, then FINE! I’ll do it! We can go bankrupt and let lawn grow twelve inches high and starve to death because God forbid I should leave you alone long enough earn a living! We can die holding hands in our living room if that’ll make you happy! Is that what you want? Well, IS IT?” 

The narcissist flips reality by effectively taking the focus off your feelings by claiming he is the loneliest of all God’s creatures under the Tuscan sun. And you, the empathic person who cares about your impact on other people, stop thinking about ‘getting a little’ and start thinking about how YOU can ‘give a lot more’. 

You are shamed into believing your needs are excessive and un-important, that you are being selfish and narcissistic for ignoring the narcissist’s superior loneliness. 

You have just been humiliated, insulted, demeaned and manipulated. Narcissists are confident that by the time they’ve finished twisting reality around, that you will be even more reluctant to make demands in the future. You are forced to either become self-reliant ( in denial) like the fine example pontificating in your face, or you will be verbally abused and emotionally assaulted by the person who says he loves you so much that he deals with his own loneliness because he wants to be with you. 

“Please forgive me”, you mumble. “I’ll be more considerate of your loneliness.” 

With a satisfied, smug look on his face, the narcissist accepts your apology. 

And leaves. 

This time he knows you’ll cheerily wave good-bye, making sure he knows how much you love him so he won’t feel so lonely on his long commute. If you're quick enough, you can hurriedly tuck little love notes in his briefcase before he leaves. 

The problem is, narcissists lack deep emotions that resonate with others. If we express our feelings of loneliness, the narcissist diverts the attention away from their deficiency to provide emotional connection and accuses YOU of being deficient; i.e.: too sensitive; too demanding; too self-centered; incompetent. This of course, is poppycock. It’s an example of reality turned backwards because:

1- Narcissists are incapable of meeting other people’s emotional needs. (Narcissists are emotionally deficient and relationally incompetent)

2- Narcissist’s deficiencies must never be exposed or called into question. (Narcissists are hyper-sensitive to criticism; hyper-vigilant to threat)

3- Narcissists believe their needs take precedence. Your needs are irrelevant. (Narcissists are self-centered and selfish)

4- Narcissists fear dependence and increase their aggression in order to silence further demands (Narcissists are bullies)

5- Narcissists use guilt and shame to garner your compliance (Narcissists are manipulative)

6- Narcissists perceive themselves as superior beings who have risen above the emotional fray. Your expression of vulnerability, fear and neediness reinforces their perceptions of your inferiority

7- YOU avoid exposing relationship inadequacies because you’ve been groomed, through insult and humiliation, to internalize the problem as being YOU

8- Your valid loneliness is twisted into invalid insecurity, lowering your self-esteem and increasing your fear of incompetence

Taking Responsibility for our Loneliness: Healthy Self-Reliance

I have one more important point to make about our loneliness in the narcissistic relationship. We can become healthily self-reliant by admitting to our feelings of loneliness and accepting the narcissist’s inability to meet our emotional needs, then taking responsibility for ourselves by investing our time in interesting work, personal skills, talents, interests, and satisfying passions. The time we spend alone is a gift the narcissist never knew he was giving: solitude. Alone time works to our benefit once we stop expecting the narcissist to meet our needs and instead, provide for our needs ourselves.

Self-efficacy and healthy self-reliance increases our self-esteem---something most people need to address if they have spent much time in a narcissistic relationship. Whether or not we had low self-esteem prior to meeting the narcissist, increasing our self-esteem is part of everyone's healing, especially if we decide to stay in the relationship.

Many of us became low-maintenance partners & children who resorted to fending for ourselves because we were unable to rely on others to provide for our emotional needs. Therein lies the strength of our resilience, which will support us through a prolonged healing process.

Value Your Alone Time

Self-reliance is problematic if we are ashamed of asking for help or label ourselves as deficient and needy. Perhaps we’re embarrassed about expecting too much, ashamed of making demands that appear to be selfish. If we were afraid of being dependent on others (something narcissists dread), we will be loath to ask for help even when we admit we need it. The key to restoring self-trust is discernment between those who are threatened by our neediness and those who are not.

Re-learning to ask for help IS being self-reliant.

It’s crucial for people in narcissistic relationships to expand their friendship circle. To join community service groups, sign up for classes, return to school, create hobbies, participate in activities that increase self-confidence and alleviate loneliness. Friendship restores self-esteem because we discover that we do know how to build healthy relationships with those who are not narcissistic. Nobody works harder at a relationship than those who have exhausted themselves loving a narcissist. It is a self-defeating exercise ending in utter futility and despair. No wonder our self-esteem plummets as a direct result of relational failure. No wonder we feel lonely.

Value your alone time and remind yourself it is not a weakness to be ‘needy’ or lonely. Everyone is needy during a crisis. Trauma, rejection and abuse isolate the victim, leading to feelings of aloneness. It is not a failure to need other people or admit you can’t rely solely on your own resources. In fact, self-reliance might be defined as relying on yourself to rely on others!

Healthy self-reliance reduces insecurity as we successfully trust ourselves to provide for our emotional well-being. The more responsibility we take for our emotional well-being, the more secure we become. We must rely on ourselves to be responsible because as adults, we are responsible for our emotional well being. That means understanding what we need to do to take care of ourselves and then meeting those needs with compassion and kindness---the same degree of compassion and kindness we gave to the Lone Narcissist.




  1. As I have tears running down my face, I could say so much. That was truly the most excellent article I have ever read on explaining the narcissist. If I ever doubted that I was married to one, I don't any longer. It was like you were sitting in my living room, observing all that had went on. You explained it so well. I can't thank you enough for always shining a light, where there was such darkness.

  2. I too was married to one identical to the one you described. How alike they are!

    You were like the flashlight shining the light on the cockroach. He scurries into the darkness because he doesn't like what he sees.

    Eventually WE see.

  3. thank you so much.

    that list is truly what he is like.


  4. I shut out the people I love...I beat myself up about it...I'll go weeks with out talking to my closest friends...they have grown to understand that this is just the way that I am...I'm incapable of meeting their emotional needs...I get bored sooner than later...and shut them out completely...until my guilt forces me to dial their number and apologize for my extended absensce...I'll say whatever I have to in order to make them feel better...only until I get bored again...and the cycle continues...my biggest fear is that I'll be alone forever...this article hit the nail on the head...labeling this problem only seems like an excuse to continue this behavior...you know...like I get a pass for being a jerk...because I'm a lone narcissist...

  5. Nobody gets a pass for being a jerk, whatever their circumstances or difficulties may be. That's a good thing, though. Our desire for 'relationship' forces us to REFINE our character a little bit at at time.

    If we do not desire relationship with others, well, there ya go: permanent Jerk. No incentive=no change.

    If you care about your friends and truly want to stop this vicious cycle, anonymous, Pace Yourself. You don't need to be perfect overnight. You don't have to make grand gestures and then overwhelm yourself so much you have to back away.

    What you can do is set a goal to stop ANY behavior that hurts other people (like rejecting them) and then slowly change your typical behavior.

    Many people are extremists, lonely narcissists or not. I have a difficult time with extremism, thinking I'm either 'All the Way ON' or 'all the way OFF'. so to speak. In other words: You're WITH friends or you aren't with friends.

    Finding balance is our challenge.

    It might help to learn about and implement healthy boundaries between yourself and others so you aren't overwhelmed by their energy. (easier said than done).

    Some people are naturally gregarious and others are not. Those who require large amounts of 'alone time' will probably benefit the most from boundary work.

    Thanks for commenting!


  6. Oh my god, that's exactly how he is. I can't give anymore, I'm exhausted. But he claims HE is exhausted, because he's constantly running around fixing other people's problems. People that "don't have their shit together". He even told me the other day that he feels burned out and that he even thinks of suicide. I said that is serious and maybe you should get help from a therapist. But then he quickly changed subjects and wouldn't talk of it again, he just needs "rest". Normally I don't say that kind of stuff to him, he looked surprised. I guess deep down I know he is beyond and above getting help from therapists, because he's the best therapist himself. Normally what happens is I feel it's my fault he's burned out, and I try to work harder and harder to be self-sufficient, to "take care of my own shit", and I can't, and I crash, and I come crawling to him for help. And he does help me. I can't deny that. When he says "am I not always there for you? Do I not always get you out of your messes?" I can't deny it. And when I crash and come to him for help, call me crazy but I think I see this smile of satisfaction on his face. I can't believe somebody would get satisfaction from my pain so I try to deny it, but it's there. It's a crazy, vicious circle. It's hard for me not to feel like everything is my fault, like he says it is, my fault that he's burned out, since he does in fact help me a lot and is a workaholic("for us"). And I feel so weak and out of energy I can't contribute enough? I just can't be as self-sufficient as he is. I don't know how he does it. Why does he even bother with me if I'm so defective, surely there must be perfect women out there who "have their shit together."? If that's his standard it must be achievable. He even alludes to some women out there who do "have their shit together". So why doesn't he want to get with them? Why me? Why courting me who is so defective? "I want to help" he says. That's why I get with all these women with problems." Ok. So why is it that I just feel more and more scared and indebted after all this help? Why is it I feel worse? Why do I feel weaker and weaker? Is it me? Am I hopeless? Is it because "I don't want to be helped"? Why does it feel like he's a shark?

    I need to stop this toxic circle. Thank you for this website, I try to learn and understand...

  7. "The narcissist effectively humiliates us because we trust him to empathize based on our belief that he cares. Never forget though: vulnerability angers narcissists. Our demands for reciprocal nurturing angers narcissists. Our intimacy and trust triggers their narcissistic defenses because they must pretend to themselves and others, that they have no such needs. Narcissists, you see, are mega-self-reliant machines of perpetual needlessness. When we ask for reciprocal compassion, something narcissists lack and therefore cannot give, their inadequacy ‘triggers’ defenses and they react. Aggressively. The intent of their aggressive reaction is to stop YOU from making them feel bad about themselves."

    Thank you for articulating this. This is exactly what happened yesterday when I reached out in need to a long time friend who has a pattern of disappearing. I was beginning to suspect some kind of narcissism, have been careful with my expectations and found it did not take much to trigger an aggressive response that felt so inappropriate that I had a fight or flight response( face flushed with adrenalin) and abruptly excused myself from the encounter.

    1. Hi Tracy,

      You did a good thing, excusing yourself from the encounter. Most of the time, we over-explain or apologize profusely--hoping to elicit a sympathetic response. When someone becomes even more aggressive (blaming and hurtful), we need to take the lead and end the conversation as kindly as possible.

      There may be a more appropriate time to 'smooth things out' later, once things have cooled down. It's important to disengage so the situation doesn't escalate which can end up doing irreparable damage to the relationship.

      I don't know if you want to continue being friends with this person but a little time and space, while allowing the narcissist to save face, might "save" the relationship.

      Usually, people with narcissistic disorders respond the opposite of what we expect. When someone reacts in an unusually aggressive manner, we shouldn't rationalize or excuse their behavior OR blame ourselves. (which is what most of us do---wondering what "we" did to set that person off!


    2. Thanks for all the work you have done organizing and presenting this valuable information!

    3. Well, thank you so very much! I'm so grateful to have the time to do this. It brings me great joy talking with people all over the world, sharing our experiences and helping each other!


  8. Yes, this pretty much sums up my N's behavior, too. And, I have been doing so much self-examination and (unfortunately didn't read your blog about this)expressing to him what I feel is my share of the blame for how things went. And, I do feel that there are ways in which, if I had known what I was dealing with, I could have reacted less crazily to the craziness of our relationship. His response to my apologizing to him for my part of our problems was so typical. Not an equal apology to me for any of his less than wonderful behaviors but "Sounds like you're onto something. Keep processing." What he doesn't know, and I'm NOT telling him, is that I AM continuing to process--ALL of it. I at least have had the sense not to tell him that I think he's pretty far up there on the narcissist continuum. That would definitely not be helpful.

    I also would like to put a plug in for the no contact rule. For me, at least, it comes down to wanting so badly for it not to have all been a lie, for there to be something real between us, that when I am in his very familiar presence I'm back down the rabbit hole, second guessing my perceptions and letting him milk me for narcissistic supply. We have been married for 25 years, but haven't lived together for the past five, and STILL I can't seem to let go completely, and it takes several days for me to quit obsessing and grieving after I've spent even an hour or two around him, which happens mostly only at family gatherings these days, which he usually manages to avoid, thank goodness. However, a couple of days ago we finally sat down and filled out divorce papers, which I have left up to him whether or not to file, which sounds crazy, I know, but makes sense in the context of how badly a narcissist needs to feel in control. Anyway, it was hard, and he looked good, and even though I know he's not good for me, I miss him. So here I am surfing the net and reading yet another site about narcissism and working on getting myself back on an even keel.

    This particular posting has made me see that what I'm trying to find isn't more information about narcissism or even validation that that really is what is going on, but a way of living with a very complicated and contradictory set of feelings so I can do what I need to do to take care of myself and not feel so foolish and broken for wishing things were different. What doesn't kill you makes your stronger, right? The last 25 years didn't kill me, and I do feel that I am getting stronger every day. Thank you for helping me see myself more as a survivor of a strange and mind-altering experience that might have happened to anybody (and will take as long as it takes to put behind me) and less as a permanently flawed, codependent dupe and failure who is doomed to repeat the same mistakes ad nauseum.


    1. "Sounds like you're onto something. Keep processing."

      Excuse me for laughing, but: ROFLMAO!!!!!

      I really hate the theory that only codependent messed-up people fall in love with narcissists. If I hear one more person tell me that "water seeks its own level", you might hear me screaming....EVEN if you live half way around the world! It's a ridiculous notion when applied to pathological relationships that are typified by deceit and pretense.

      Although, I can't argue with the negative fall-out of being "IN" those relationships. The damage to our self-esteem and our sense of worth.

      As far as your complicated feelings, it has been imperative for me to set boundaries on what I will and won't do. Boundaries that are 'good' for me and my children without worrying about my X. He's a big guy. He can take care of himself (and you know he WILL, ha!). Once my boundaries are set in place and written down, I can return to them when my feelings waffle. We all have waffly feelings, anon. There's no shame or irregularity with that.

      Hang in there. Come back anytime you need to talk while you through the last details of a lousy marriage.


  9. What do you do if you are in a relationship of 14 years with a Narcissist and have 2 sick children requiring you to give up a Medical practice and move away from the narcissist for the childrens health. Yet now you are more dependent on the narcissist and you are more lonely and less supported now that he has moved you for "the childrens health". What if you have a mother who is a narcissist and family you have shut yourself off from becaus you cannot handle the narcissistic mother an d husband and be sane to care for the children. What if you now feel you need that mother and d father and brother because now you are beyond isolated and need help. Do you go back to your mother and father and tell them everything??? Will they help? Will it help. Desperately need help... clarity to move foreward.


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