Loving a Narcissist

Jan 09, 2019 by Renee Linnell
In a child psychology class I took in college, I learned about intermittent reinforcement. In an experiment, chickens were taught to push a button with their beaks. In one group, each time the chicken pushed the button, a food pellet appeared. The chickens would peck at the button until they were full, then they would stop. In the second group, the chickens got rewarded with food at first but then consistently got nothing when they pushed the button. These chickens pushed the button a few times after the food stopped but soon grew bored and quit. In the third group, the chickens sometimes got a food pellet and sometimes did not. It was random. These chickens pecked the button until their beaks bled . . . and kept on pecking, never knowing if just one more push of the button would reward them with food. The result of the experiment: To strengthen behavior of any kind, use intermittent reinforcement.

Seeking love from an addict or a narcissist is an example of this. Sometimes you get the reward: love, warmth, acceptance, encouragement. Most of the time, you do not. The fleeting moments in which the person is loving and kind are random and unpredictable, and the desire for reward becomes unquenchable because you constantly believe it could come again with the very next attempt. You peck until your beak bleeds, and then you peck some more.

The cure is self-love. You can still love the narcissist or addict, if you have to. You just have to love yourself more. Enough to know you deserve whole love. Real love. Balanced love. Love yourself enough to leave. So real love can find you. It’s scary at first, to be loved so much, to be loved so fully . . . especially when you are used to being with emotionally unavailable partners. But, life is so short. And you deserve it. We all do. 

Image from: WeHeartIt