Further, in The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm (1945) emphasizes that love entails the effort to develop knowledge, responsibility, and commitment. We must be motivated to know another’s wants, needs, and feelings and provide encouragement and support. We take pleasure in their happiness and try not to hurt them.
When we love, we show active concern for their life and growth. We try to understand their experience and worldview though it may differ from ours. Caring involves offering attention, respect, support, compassion, and acceptance. We must devote the necessary time and discipline. Romantic love can evolve into love, but narcissists aren’t motivated to really know and understand others. (Ritter, et al.2010)
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, narcissists lack empathy. They’re “unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.” (APA, 2013) Research shows that they have structural abnormalities in brain regions associated with emotional empathy. (Schulze, et al. 2013) Hence, their ability to appropriately respond emotionally and express care and concern is significantly impaired.
Narcissists have several hurdles to loving. First, they neither see themselves nor others clearly. First, they experience people as extensions of themselves, rather than separate individuals with differing needs, desires, and feelings.
Second, they overestimate their own emotional empathy (Ritter, et al).
Third, their defences distort their perceptions and interactions with others. They brag and withdraw to control closeness and vulnerability, project onto others unwanted, negative aspects of themselves, and they use denial, entitlement, and narcissistic abuse, including blame, contempt, criticism, and aggression, to ward off shame.
Perfectionistic narcissists callously put down others and may attempt to destroy adversaries in order to sustain their illusion of perfection. (Lancer, 2017) All these issues impair narcissists’ capacity to accurately take in another person’s reality, including that person’s love for them. In fact, narcissists emotional intelligence helps them manipulate and exploit others to get what they want, while their impaired emotional empathy desensitizes them to the pain they inflict.
Can we measure love?
Love is difficult to measure, but research shows that people feel love expressed by:
1) words of affirmation,
2) spending quality time,
3) giving gifts,
4) acts of service, and
5) physical touch. (Goff, et al. 2007)
Another study revealed that participants also felt loved by a partner who:
1) showed an interest in their affairs;
2) gave them emotional and moral support;
(3) disclosed intimate facts;
4) expressed feelings for them, such as “I’m happier when I’m near you;” and
5) tolerated their demands and flaws in order to maintain the relationship. (Swenson, 1972, p. 92)
Related: The Narcissistic Lover’s Playbook
How To Tell If A Narcissist Loves You
People who love narcissists are starved for many of these expressions of love. Sometimes, narcissists are remote, dismissive, or aggressive; at other times, they show care and concern and are helpful. It’s not that narcissists are incapable of feeling or even intellectually understanding someone’s feelings. The problem appears to be rooted in childhood trauma and physiological deficits that impact emotional assessment, mirroring, and appropriate empathic expression. (Unconscious or unexpressed: “I love you, but”); Expressed: “I’m too busy to come to the hospital,” sounds pretty cold, but may not reflect the narcissist’s love for the person hospitalized. When the importance of a visit is explained to them, they might make the trip.
They may show love when they’re motivated. Their love is conditional, depending upon impact on the narcissist.