While all narcissists are emotionally unavailable to some extent, not all emotionally unavailable people are narcissists. But sometimes the lines can get really blurry, especially since most narcissists are able to fabricate empathy for short periods of time. However, all of this becomes evident throughout long-term conversations and getting to know the person on a deeper level. So here are some important distinctions to look for during the “getting to know you” stage that distinguish true narcissists from the emotionally unavailable.
Lack of Empathy or Capacity for Change
There’s a variety of different types of emotionally unavailable people. Whether they’re garden-variety jerks or players, or simply just gun-shy or broken-hearted and in the early stages of healing, they lack the psychological equipment for long-term relationships. At least at that specific time. But they still can connect and empathize with others. It is confusing because on many levels they might be able to discuss intelligent points. They may still feel remorse or guilt over hurting someone (although it doesn’t necessarily stop them from bad behavior). But what separates emotionally empty guys from the narcissists is that the narcissist is unable to maintain their connection and the behaviors indicate deeper wounds.
Narcissists, by definition lack core empathy. With a true narcissist, after the honeymoon period is over, you witness an appalling, chilling indifference in response to your emotional needs and desires that borders on inhumane. They are unable to even consider anybody else’s feelings and do not care who they hurt in the process of getting what they want. Studies in patients with diagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder have shown gray matter abnormalities in parts of the brain related to empathy. These abnormalities make it harder for them to evolve, even if they decided consciously they had that desire.
The Origins of Their Behavior
For most emotionally unavailable individuals, their behavior is caused by a direct origin event. Did they get hurt in the past? Maybe a few times? Did they have childhood trauma? These wounds can generally be treated with support, professional help, or even just going through the grieving process. However, there are some individuals who are “perpetual bachelors (or bachelorettes)” and there’s not much you can do to change that.
Narcissists tend to suffer a “narcissistic wound” in childhood. One theory suggests that they may have suffered a lack of caring by their parents and another shows that being taught an excessive sense of entitlement at an early age can lead to narcissistic traits. As a result, a narcissist’s behavior is hardwired and very difficult to change in adulthood because they never outgrew their infantile sense of egocentrism.
Why They Create “Harems” or Love Triangles
Emotionally unavailable people can create “harems” unwittingly. They may date multiple people at once to keep themselves safe from commitment or rejection. This doesn’t make their behavior justifiable, but their reason is completely different from that of a malignant narcissist. They may have a hard time committing to one person, or anything more than a casual situationship. Any deception that is involved on their part is still wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated, but it doesn’t bear the same intentions as a narcissist who intentionally manufactures love triangles.
Narcissists manufacture love triangles because it gives them a sense of power and control. It’s all just a big game for them. The different members of their support network, which are usually made up of their primary partner, exes, so-called “friends,” – all of them serve as sources of narcissistic supply — objects from which they can obtain praise, admiration, resources and an infinite number of ego strokes. They gain excitement from their different admirers competing for their attention. Making their various “fangirls” or “fanboys” jealous of each other makes them feel desirable and on top of the world.
Their Level of Malice or Sadism
Emotionally unavailable people usually aren’t out to harm others. Many believe that by managing expectations early on, they are doing their “fair share” of telling the truth and not leading people on (though those on the receiving end may not feel so). Others, however, obscure the truth deliberately to get what they want in the immediate moment (for example, using someone for sex while pretending they want something more). Regardless, when you express to an emotionally unavailable person how much they’re hurting you, they are usually able to leave you alone, move onto someone else or distance themselves due to guilt. They may boomerang back occasionally, but it’s usually out of selfishness rather than outright malice.
On the other hand, malignant narcissists on the high end of the narcissistic spectrum gain pleasure from taking people down. Research has shown that those who are high in dark triad traits (such as narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) actually take pleasure in seeing sad faces. It all feeds into their grandiose sense of power and superiority. They use “cold” empathy to assess the weaknesses and strengths of their victims, but they lack affective empathy, which would allow them to consider or care about the harm they inflict.
The Idealization, Devaluation and Discard Cycle
Emotionally unavailable people idealize you because they want to fast-forward you into getting what they want (usually sex) or, sometimes they’re not even aware of the extent of their own emotional unavailability. For example, an emotionally unavailable person who is still in the midst of heartbreak may be so enthusiastic about finding someone else after a break-up that they overestimate their interest. When they withdraw, it’s not so much as a manipulative tactic as an indicator of their inability to be emotionally intimate with you, and a recognition that perhaps they aren’t ready for a serious relationship after all.
Grandiose narcissists, on the other hand, idealize and love-bomb their victims deliberately to groom, manipulate, and control them. They feed their victims empty flattery and excessive praise at the onset to ensure that their victims trust them. They are the types that will declare their love for you within the early stages of dating. Once their victims are sufficiently hooked, they often devalue their victims and mistreat them, subjecting them to put-downs, rage attacks, gaslighting, verbal, emotional, and sometimes even physical abuse. They also eventually discard their victims in horrific ways – that is, unless their victims discard them first, in which case, it becomes an elaborate power struggle to hoover them back in so they can devalue them further.
At the end of the day, if a partner is not treating you with respect or engaging in any form of abusive behavior, whether they are a low key jerk or a flaming narcissist chances are they are NOT a good candidate for a relationship. Unless an emotionally unavailable person is willing to work on his or her own behaviors, this relationship won’t be satisfying for you in the long-term either. It’s time to become more emotionally available yourself by cutting off contact with anyone who isn’t giving you the happy, consistent and healthy relationship you deserve.
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