Why is he/she always leaving? Why is she/he so critical of everything I do? Is he/she a narcissist?
There is so much pop psychology out there talking about narcissism. I find that much of the time the label is used, it’s because the partner is desperate. Unfortunately, it’s used in a pop-psychology way and can end up doing more harm than good!
Let me give you the criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and then distinguish it from a “Back Walking Away.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-55) defines narcissism as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
In order for the diagnosis to be assigned, at least 5 of the following 9 criteria must be noticeably prevalent:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement
- Interpersonally exploitive behavior
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
- A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
The truth is, most of us can be described as resembling some of the above list at moments. However, it is not often that we can be described as such both consistently and pervasively.
Usually when people tell me, “Help me! I’m in love with a narcissist!“… What they are more accurately saying is… “Help me! I’m in love with a Back Walking Away (BWA).”
Not every Back Walking Away is a narcissist, but most narcissists are BWA’s! So let’s leave narcissism for the professionals, and talk about BWA.
Before you get too excited about slapping that label on your partner, they are usually only attracted to, and end up with, a partner who is what I lovingly call a “Love Addict“ (LA)!
I know! When you realize
that your role carries a label too, you might not be nearly as excited about
reading on! But I hope you’ll hang with me, because it’s actually a fun
discussion. And there is hope for a happy, healthy, loving, relationship!
If I were to break this down in the simplest of terms, I would say that in the assembly line of life, the Back Walking Away missed the Velcro station. And the Love Addict got a double dose of Velcro.
There are as many men as there are women who are Love Addicts, and the numbers of men and women who are Back Walking Away are fairly equal. What gets really interesting is that it is not uncommon for them to switch roles back and forth, although one is usually primarily the LA, and the other primarily the BWA.
The BWA has an overwhelming
sense and fear of engulfment, but they have an underlying fear of abandonment.
The LA has an overwhelming sense and fear of abandonment, but an underlying fear
of engulfment/smothering. When they get together, it is pure magic. It compares
to nothing else. And both are blissfully in love.
The Love Addict is attracted to the power and adulation of the Back Walking Away; because the BWA is absolutely charming when they find a partner with Velcro.
The BWA is actually attracted to the vulnerability of the LA, because they feel needed, and therefore feel somewhat heroic.
The LA immediately creates a fantasy about the BWA, and believes they are the answer that they have long sought. This creates a “high” that elicits words like “bliss, soul mate”, etc. The BWA gets their “high” from believing they can help, rescue, or guide the LA.
In this process, the LA feels relief from their sense of loneliness, and not mattering. They feel safe, complete, and valued. The magic of the relationship keeps everything on an unbelievable, unmatchable “high“ for anywhere from about six weeks to six months. (If it’s long distance, or one travels often with work, it can last longer).
Because the LA feels safe, they begin to share their vulnerabilities. At some point the BWA starts to feel overwhelmed and smothered by the vulnerability (which they once loved, but now call “neediness”) of the LA and judges them as “less than“ because they have needs. They start complaining of feeling controlled and begin to distance themselves from the LA by pointing out their faults.
On the other side, the
LA, who had felt so safe, vulnerable and cherished by the BWA now begins to feel
the distance as their faults are constantly pointed out. Often, the BWA begins
name-calling. Names like “worthless“, “pitiful and needy“, or even “crazy.“ It’s
usually at this point that I get a call from the LA telling me that they think
they’re in love with a narcissist.
The LA is devastated by the distance and name-calling, and often begins to make unrealistic efforts to correct who they are. The harder they try, the greater the distance, and they find themselves sinking into their abandonment wound.
At this point, the back walking away often engages in some other distancing behaviors (affairs, staying out late, etc.) or addictive process to get relief from the engulfment they are feeling. Sometimes it is a process addiction, such as gambling, sex addiction, or even a shopping addiction. Sometimes it’s a chemical addiction, such as prescription drugs, alcohol, or even food.
As the LA drowns in
abandonment, their fantasy about the BWA bursts. They may begin engaging in their
own form of nastiness, calling it self-defense. Anything from telling everyone
what a jerk the partner is, writing the partner lengthy diagnoses of who they
are, to extremes such as throwing all of their clothing out into the front yard
or occasionally in the swimming pool outback.
As the LA escalates in their efforts to shame their partner back, the BWA, if exposed enough, eventually feels guilty about what they have done. They may turn back in to seduce the LA back in close. If the love addict responds, the fantasy is re-established, and the whole cycle begins again.
As the numbers of cycles increase, the damage done to one another often increases.
I know you’ve seen this process, and probably you have seen it in yourself to some extent. Some couples engage in it, see that it’s not a healthy process, and either work their way through it or actually get help. Unfortunately, the numbers of couples who choose that route are all too few.
If the LA hammers or
begs long enough for counseling or coaching, the BWA is likely to go seek out her/his
own counselor or coach, lamenting a one-sided saga without full disclosure on
their behavior. With the empathy of the counselor/coach, the previously
deflated BWA leaves with fresh wind in their sails, to go home and return to
diminishing and name-calling the LA.
The LA will go to counseling to get a coach or counselor to help them entice the partner into counseling. In the process, they will also coach the counselor on how they should handle the BWA, thinking their plan is best.
If things continue to deteriorate, the BWA and or the LA may put together their own “homespun intervention.“ The LA is more prone to do it “on the sly,” ie prepping their pastor and wife, then inviting them over to a dinner. But sometimes they will arrange a full-on “let-me-expose-you-in-front-of-enough-people-to-shame-you-to-death” intervention.
The BWA is more prone to
arranging something semi-formal. The back walking away is more prone to putting
some things semi-formal. They are perfectly happy to gather a group of friends,
family members and coworkers to bulldoze the LA down, all in the name of love.
WARNING! This should not be practiced at home! LOL!
Seriously, no intervention should be planned or acted upon, in any form, without an intervention specialist. Without a specialist, it rarely goes well, and 90% of the time fails. It usually does more damage than good to the person, and often places the last nail in the coffin of what was once a magical relationship.
So at this point, you
may be thinking, “So what you’re saying here, Dr. Neecie, is that there is just
no hope? And that I should divorce my partner or leave the relationship?“
That is absolutely NOT what I am saying. I am saying it is a seriously damaging cyclical pattern to both individuals, and the relationship. In many cases, children, family members, and other relationships experience the painful fall out as well.
I have said and firmly
believe there is HOPE in these situatons. But I would like to outline the
prerequisites for turning this cycle around.
Both partners must:
- Commit to doing the work on the relationship
- Turn the focus of their process and work on themselves, and off of their partner.
- Be willing to get whatever help is needed. There are many great workshops addressing these kinds of issues; there are many great coaches, counselors, therapists, etc. There are online programs, and church-based programs that can definitely be helpful. Learn about the programs, interview the people, and together select one.
- Commit to at least three months, preferably six months, of rolling up your sleeves and working together. (Ceasing any affairs, addictive processes, or “counseling with” friends or family).
- Initiate the gratitude process. Starting each day journaling three things you are grateful for about your partner, and closing each day by sharing three things that you feel grateful to your partner for that day.
I have a FREE Recovery Guide with resources, and a sample treatment plan to help you get started.
You can end the destructive cycle and find a healthy love (with plenty of magical moments). But you will never find it unless you decide to get off opposite sides of the ring, and join hands as “healing partners.” What are “healing partners?” My definition is:
Loving and caring about your partner enough to learn their needs, understand their expectations, and actively engaging in meeting those. Diligently working together to call the other’s VERY BEST forward. All while noting and caring about your impact on the other.
Download the Recovery Guide today, and get your Gratitude Process going. You will note a difference, even if small, by week’s end.
Wishing you extraordinary, healthy love.