Explore both the traits of the self-absorbed and those attracted to them.
Self-centered people can be seductive and lure others emotionally. They exist on a continuum from mildly self-absorbed to full blown narcissistic personalities. They can exhibit great charisma and charm, be the life of the party and exude excitement. At first sight they can hook us. Commonly, we look and evaluate no further.
In 2015 D.S. Hasin and B.F. Grant reported that narcissistic personality disorder occurs in 6.2% of the population. Of those with narcissistic personality disorder, 7.7% are men, while 4.8% are women.
In 2010 Back, Schmukle, and Egloff studied college students using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Their goal was to study the initial attractiveness of narcissists and why others are so quickly attracted to them, even upon a first meeting. More on their findings later on.
Who Is Attracted to the Self-Absorbed?
What is the emotional lure? Who is subject to it? Homer B. Martin, M.D., and I found complementarity in such attractions. The attractions are learned in childhood from parents. In 2011 S.H. Horton reported that narcissism is also learned in childhood from parents.
The self-absorbed person at first seems very competent and capable. He or she presents a persona that is almost too good to be true, and it is. Underneath the persona resides a low-coping, helpless person who demands much support, attention, and constant admiration from others. This emerges once the emotional snare is set in the relationship.
The attracted person is adept at giving support, praise, and comfort. This person relishes dispensing care to needy, demanding, weaker, self-centered people. At first the attracted person does not feel abused. Instead, they feel thrilled at the idea of tending to such a magnificent person. The attracted person projects the magnificence onto the self-centered person. The narcissistic person does not really possess such grandeur. The view is in the mind of the strong attracted person.
Traits of the Self-Absorbed that are Attractive to Others
The study by Back, Schmukle and Egloff found that the following traits come into play in first attracting others to narcissistic people:
- Their manipulativeness
- Neat, fancy, or flashy clothes
- Charming facial expressions
- Confident body movements
- Displays of verbal humor
- A high sense of entitlement
- An ability to exploit others.
All the traits ensure positive attraction to self-absorbed people upon first meeting them. Our positive responses to self-focused people likely reinforces narcissists’ view of themselves as being liked and even of being superior to others. This becomes positive feedback to self-absorbed people.
Traits of Those Attracted to Self-Absorbed People
In 2018, Homer B. Martin, M.D., and I reported on almost 4,000 people seen in dynamic psychotherapy over an 80-year period. We studied self-absorbed people and those attracted to them. We discovered the being attracted role was also learned in childhood. We learned the following traits are present in those attracted to self-focused people:
- Being adept at giving emotional support to others
- Dispensing praise and comfort to others
- Rationalizing that narcissistic people are needy and require inordinate attention and care
- Paying attention to self-absorbed people, which at first does not make them feel abused or exploited
- Being thrilled at the idea of tending to such magnificent people as the overly self-involved
- Using projection––the grandeur of the narcissistic person is in the mind of an attracted person.
What Happens as the Relationship Progresses?
At first in the relationship, both people are as happy as clams. They fulfill roles they learned in childhood about expecting care and delivering care to others. Harmony reigns for a while. Then cracks in the relationship appear. The two people overlook red flags that portend problems, commonly rationalizing why the other person won’t disappoint them or repeat unwanted behaviors.
Over time the self-absorbed person notices ways the attracted person disappoints him or her. The attracted person starts to burn out from the imbalance between emotional care expended and that received in the relationship. The attracted person witnesses overly demanding self-focused behaviors. An emotionally unbalanced stalemate ensues. Divorce, marital affairs, and co-existing in unsatisfied marriages can occur.
Self-Focused People’s Seductions Outside of Romantic Relationships
Many people are magnets for self-centered people. They get entangled repeatedly with self-focused people in a variety of life scenarios. The same attractions are found in the larger world of work relationships, families, friendships. and politics. Self-centered people entice coworkers, friends, and voters with bombast and promises that are too good to be true. Over time the promises do not hold up.
How to Escape the Trap of Being Attracted to Self-Absorbed People
Martin and I discovered it is necessary to first observe and not just go by immediate emotional reactions to a self-centered person.
Secondly, one must think about what is a reasonable way to behave with such people. Do you indulge and give them everything they want? Do you expect emotional support for yourself commensurate with the emotional support you give to the other person? Is there balance in the relationship? Here are some tips to help yourself:
- Recognize that brief first encounters will cause you to falsely evaluate self-focused people as attractive based on visual and auditory cues.
- Take your time in assessing others. Do not let first impressions hook you into problematic relationships.
- Meet people over several occasions to see what they are like over time.
- Grasp how and when you project your salutary traits onto self-absorbed people when they do not possess them. Such traits may exist in you––kindness, considerateness, helpfulness.
Back, MD, Schmukle, SC, Egloff, B (2010), Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism-popularity link at zero acquaintance, J of Personality & Social Psychology, 98 (1): 132-145.
Hasin, DS & Grant, BF (2015) The national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions (NESARC) waves 1 and 2: Review and summary of findings. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 50: 1609-40.
Horton, SH (2011) Parenting as a cause of narcissism: empirical support for psychodynamic and social learning theories. In The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Theoretical Approaches, Empirical Findings, and Treatments (eds WK Campbell, JD Miller): 181-90. John Wiley & Sons.
Martin, HB, Adams, CBL (2018) Living on Automatic: How Emotional Conditioning Shapes Our Lives and Relationships, Praeger/Bloomsbury.
Yakeley, J (2018) Current understanding of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder, British J Psych Advances, 24(5) 305-315.