Why is a relationship with a narcissist so addictive?

A myriad of problems can arise when your partner is a narcissist. Despite this, many people are still attracted to the person and the relationship and ending it is not an option. But why exactly? What makes a relationship with a narcissist so addictive?

The origin of the relationship

A relationship with a narcissist can literally be addictive. But to understand how that addiction develops and works, it’s important to know how the relationship begins. And especially how passionate such a relationship is in the beginning. “Falling in love with someone with narcissistic personality disorder is very intense from the start,” says narcissism coach Lot Anne Mulder. “For example, you are overloaded with messages and attention. A narcissist knows exactly what you crave and then gives it. Whether it’s attention, good conversations, money or gifts, it’s a given. A narcissist mirrors a lot. Your norms, values, goals and long-term plans are copied and returned to you. You really have found your prince(s) in shining armor and it gives such a euphoric feeling.”

The beginning of a relationship with a narcissist is often great, according to Mulder you don’t know what hit you, but a person with narcissistic personality disorder often has their own agenda for this. “A narcissist really wants you obligation and would like to have it in a short time.” A narcissist wants your tape as soon as possible. This is because the person has assumed a kind of alter ego for themselves, and this is also not sustainable for a person with a personality disorder. So it is to this person’s advantage to get you to ‘commit’ as soon as possible, because then there is finally room to drop the ‘alter ego’. After all, this alter ego costs this person a lot of time, energy and effort.


A narcissist often lets go true colors when their partner has committed to him or her. You will then see that after the binding moment, the dynamics will change, according to Mulder. “It often happens when people start living together, otherwise emigrate, or when a baby is on the way. In fact, it happens when it becomes more difficult to return to your old life.”

Literally overnight, a narcissist can change their behavior. “I have heard from a customer that it was still cake and eggs on the wedding day, but the day after – when the wedding ring was on her finger – she was immediately leveled. The same applies after a couple has had a child. In such a case, it is sometimes worse. Suddenly, a disproportionate amount of attention is given to the baby and not to the narcissist. It is very hard for such a person. This given attention is about pillar number 1 for a person with narcissistic personality disorder. That a relationship can go so extremely downhill in no time can be very shocking to the non-narcissistic person.”

A narcissist can negatively affect the relationship in so many ways. This has everything to do with the personality disorder they suffer from. Narcissists are often dependent on attention, and do not take well if their partner also spends time with others. They have little respect for others, are unable to empathize with others, and can react to criticism with tremendous anger. On the other hand, they can completely destroy their partner’s confidence. They are also a star at manipulation. In other words: every reason not to be with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder. But why do people stay with these kinds of partners?

Four reasons

Mulder knows that it is often emotional people who fall for a narcissist. “Sensitive people who are sometimes emotionally damaged. They are often not used to ‘unconditional love’ and it feels normal or ‘normal’ to them. They also often really want to believe in the dream image that makes them the little one save flag easy to filter out at first.

Don’t forget that they are completely made to fall in love,’ explains Mulder. This also makes it harder to leave a narcissist. “It has to do with the feeling. The first period is there for a reason, the period when you open your heart and fall madly in love. And maybe also become a bit addicted to this toxic kind of love. Then a narcissist also finds out that you’re a bit more sensitive than average because they want you to be loyal to them, and it’s easier to realize (read: manipulate) people with a lot of emotions.”

In general, there are four main reasons people stay in a relationship with a narcissist, as Mulder knows: trauma bonding, not being able to believe someone is really like that, brainwashing, and codependency.

1. The trauma belt

“A trauma bond is a kind of addiction that is created by intermittent reinforcement. This means that the fun moments alternate with terrible moments, which is also what characterizes a relationship with a narcissist,” says Mulder. These intensely beautiful moments, such as a wonderful vacation, fireworks in the bedroom, deep and beautiful conversations, are mixed with huge dramas and huge lows.

In a relationship with a narcissist, a person’s self-confidence often slowly declines. A narcissist also does a lot to make your circle of friends smaller and smaller, for example by playing you off against them so that you only have him or her. This person then becomes one of the most important people in your life and you hear few counter messages, these two facts also make you more manipulable. You are also often more ‘grateful’ that this person is in your life, even if this person is not good for you at all. Precisely because things often get worse in your general life after you meet a narcissist, the narcissist can become the highlight of your day by creating a (small) cozy moment. But also by creating a low point, which gives you the feeling that nothing is worth living anymore. “So the person you’re in a relationship with can give you a shot of dopamine so you feel like you’re all going to be okay. But this person can also color your day pitch black. The pendulum swing of this (intermittent reinforcement) is super addictive. “

2. Not being able to believe that someone is really like that

“Many people are inclined to project – as they call it beautiful in psychology. You then assume that everyone is built the way you are.” So you would never lie to someone else? Or would you never manipulate someone for personal gain? Then you can’t imagine that someone else can. “Even when you literally see it happening before your eyes, sometimes it’s hard to recognize that it really happened because it’s just not like someone could knowingly and premeditatedly do and mean it that way.”

3. Brainwashing

A person with narcissistic personality disorder ultimately wants to have as much control as possible over the person they are in a relationship with. “The person so often imprints on you: ‘You cannot do without me, without me your life is not fun’. This message – subtle or not – is then continuously repeated, eventually leading many people to fully believe it. It also makes it so scary to break up with a relationship, because you really believe that life will not get better after the breakup.”

4. Co-dependency

Often the brainwashing is related to codependency. Due to this brainwashing, people get low self-esteem. They make the relationship where non-narcissistic people are more important than themselves. The continuation of the relationship thus becomes more important than one’s own (personal) happiness, one’s own wishes or one’s own health. “This is what is called codependency. Some people are already ‘codependent’ before they get into a relationship with a narcissist, and some people are slowly made codependent in a relationship with a narcissist. So breaking that codependency cycle is extremely important .”

Laser focus

Mulder knows from experience that people stay with the narcissist mainly because of the way they have been brainwashed. “If you’re in a narcissistic relationship for too long, you really think it’s the best thing that ever happened to you, and that life without that person really isn’t or won’t be any more fun.” Narcissists often manipulate their partner in such a way that they lose their will. “Someone really wants you to be addicted.” And that manipulation sometimes happens in very ugly ways. From punishing and rewarding to making you extremely tired. “A narcissist, for example, keeps you awake at night so that you perform poorly during the day or can no longer make smart choices. Or a narcissist says you’re not good at your job. So you feel less powerful (and therefore less autonomous and independent) in your work. Everything the narcissist does is based on ‘feeling better than’ or maintaining ‘control’.”

By manipulation, the narcissist can slowly shrink your circle. For example, you see your friends and family less and less often, things are not going well at work and so on. “As a result, you no longer know what to do with the situation, and in the worst cases, your relationship is the only bright spot of the day.” Because the narcissistic partner is sometimes the only ‘positive’ thing in someone’s life, someone becomes incredibly manipulative and dependent. And precisely for those reasons, the relationship with a narcissist is so addictive, and it is so difficult to break with a narcissist.

Photo: Keenan Constance (Pexels)

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