Last year, a reader named Bill wrote me asking for help with an ex-girlfriend who was making his life hell by spreading false rape rumors about him around their community. We spoke back and forth, and I determined she suffered from Cluster B personality disorders, particularly Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder. Smear campaigns are a big part of a narcissist’s M.O.
I gave him some advice, he took it and reported back that it helped him greatly. He thanked me, and I didn’t hear from him in a while. Last week, I got another email from Bill:
I don’t know whether or not you remember me, I sent you an email quite some time ago asking for advice with a girl who was trying to ruin my life, after asking for some more information you got back to me telling me that she most likely had a narcissistic personality disorder. I know it has been a long time, but it looks like, I once again am having woman troubles, I don’t know what to do about it. All of this is me once again asking for help.
I started dating her awhile back, and the relationship burned hot and fast. Part of the reason it burned so fast was that I was caught up in my emotions and allowing them to rule my actions. I became a very jealous boyfriend, not to mention protective. Eventually she broke things off with me, citing that we were too good friends, and she loved me, but “Not in the way you want me to love you.” For awhile I didn’t talk to her after that, trying to get my own emotions under control, until one day she started texting and calling me again, acting totally normal, just wanting to be friends. As it turned out we have become best friends, however, I still couldn’t quite get it out of my head that I wanted to be with her in a physical, romantic relationship, as opposed to this platonic relationship. By best friends I should elaborate to say we shared pretty much everything, talking all of the time, hanging out at movies, telling each other everything, things like that. Recently she has started seeing another guy, and I went damn near crazy with jealousy. The thing about the guy is that he is a player, and I know it, I am not just jumping to conclusions either, I knew it well before he started seeing my ex, and I have also talked to women he has been with. I can say that this guy is not afraid to play the numbers game, though for him it seems the numbers game is all about quantity, and not about quality at all. Also, when she started seeing this guy, I attempted to cut all ties with her, for the sake of both of our sanities. She is the one who reinitiated conversation, and broke down at the thought of no longer being friends.
Like last time I am willing to answer any and all questions you might have. I am just hoping for some solid advice, which you always seem to give. I have gotten the entire gamut of advice from friends, ranging from just leave her, to she will come back to you after she is done with him.
On a total side-note, I would also like to ask your opinion of the PUA community as discussed in the book The Game by Neil Strauss. And made famous by the peacocking Mystery.
After I read this, plus remembering his dilemma from the year before, I began to get a feeling about what could be at the root of his problems.
I sent this response:
What are your parents like? Is one or both of them a perfectionist or very demanding and hard to please? Is one or both of them very self-sacrificing and goes along with the other most of the time in order to keep the peace?
Also, did you grow up feeling unconditional approval, that you were free to be whoever and whatever you had to be or did you grow up with a feeling of conditional approval, meaning you were told only some roles, careers and paths are acceptable and if you don’t pursue them you are somehow less valid a person?
My parents are divorced, they have been for almost six years now. They got divorced when I was 12. My mother has custody. I’m not sure if that information will help or not, but there it is. My mother alternates between being hard to please, and seeming to almost not care. Whereas my father, he is grudging with approval, that is the best way I can think of putting it. He is a very ‘manly’ kind of man. He is a police officer, outdoorsy type guy. He is also very distant most of the time. I never really know if I have his approval or not. I have known from an early age that my father would be most proud of me in a masculine type of profession such as military or policing. Mom on the other hand, she is uncomfortable with the very idea of me having a dangerous job and would be happier if I had some kind of desk job. Something that made a lot of money.
I then asked:
How blindsided were you by the divorce? Did it seem like something inevitable that you saw coming? What were your impressions of their marriage before they got divorced? Did you think they were somewhat happy and were devastated by the announcement, or were they unhappy and fighting to the point where you felt almost relieved they were splitting?
I was and wasn’t blindsided by it. I knew something bad was happening, but not to that magnitude, though the second my father sat us down to explain what was happening, I knew. That was the first and only time I’ve ever seen dad cry. Mom was a wreck for awhile. She took it very hard and believed that all the fault lay on her. She seems to be over things now, though I also get the feeling living with me can be hard for her because I look like dad, and have some similar mannerism. I took the divorce hard. I tried for the longest time to step up and be both the older brother and father figure to my younger brothers. One is sixteen..The other is 13, he resented me for trying to step up like that and it created a lot of friction between us. My dad seemed to get over things rather quickly. Within a few months he had a girlfriend (who he is still with) though everybody swears my father didn’t have an affair with her. My relationship with dad and with mom has been strained ever since.
I then asked:
Did you become your mom’s or dad’s emotional support for any period of time? Like, did she or he vent to you about what they were feeling for a while, especially about the divorce?
Did you have people either inside or outside your family to work out your problems, whether they were general growing up problems or problems about the divorce specifically?
Most importantly, growing up did you feel you mostly had to be there for people emotionally and take care of their feelings, or did you feel the reverse, that people were mostly taking care of your emotions most of the time?
I became my moms emotional support for awhile. She needed someone to talk to, that much was plain, and most of her friends turned against her after the divorce. Mom vented a fair amount about the divorce, though she tried not to. Dad has vented once or twice. The most memorable thing being when he sat me down, and write out on a piece of paper how much he made each month, then subtracted out the payments he made for us. Then the rent and everything else he paid, just to show how little money he had. I didn’t really talk to anyone about things. I tried to be strong. It was insisted that I see a psychologist for a time, but I balked and refused to say anything important. The thing is, about the only person who helps me through anything now is Lindsay, my ex. I mostly felt I had to be there for other people and look after everyone. I felt I wasn’t really allowed to express my own emotions.
Here’s my take on this:
When I heard you developed two high-drama relationships in a row, it was a major signal. That is why I asked those follow up questions.
I could give you short term tactics to deal with the current drama you are dealing with, but with the way you’re currently emotionally wired, you would just end up getting into another high-drama relationship. That’s what happened after the last time I gave you advice. On an unconscious level you seek these types of relationships out.
So I decided to delve into the big picture on this one.
At some point you developed what are called “caretaker values.” This means you feel responsible for other people and their emotions. You pride yourself on being a giver. The problem is, such a mindset makes you the perfect mark for people who are takers, or emotional vampires. Emotional vampires are the type of people who make other people responsible for their feelings and emotions and never take responsibility for anything. They always blame, accuse, whine, etc. Examples include narcissists (egotists), borderlines (Jekyll-and-Hydes), histrionics (drama queens), sociopaths and more.
For someone who blames everyone else and takes no responsibility, a person who always blames himself and feels responsible for others and their feelings is a dream come true. No one with a healthy sense of boundaries and self-esteem would put up with them, so they don’t like to let such a person go easily once they find them.
There is a psychological concept called narcissistic supply. Narcissistic supply can be defined in the broadest sense as anything that feeds the ego. It’s what narcissists live for, but one doesn’t have to be a full-fledged clinical narcissist to enjoy narcissistic supply, as all of us enjoy ego boosts to some degree.
In movies like Blade and shows like True Blood, there are often “pet humans” who hang around the vampires, letting them feed off their blood, but the vampires never fully turn them into fellow vampires. They just keep them around to feed on, stringing them along with the promise that they will eventually become vampires. The humans are so grateful to be around the exciting and seductive vampire and so desperate to eventually enter the vampire’s inner circle that they keep letting the vampire feed on them at will, in hopes that one day the vampire finds them worthy enough to fully accept into his or her inner circle and convert into a vampire.
In the meantime, however, the vampire will be feeding on plenty of others, and these others the vampire will either convert into vampires and put into their inner circles immediately, because they find them more exciting than the pet human, or just kill them dead, because that person isn’t the type who will voluntarily agree to be a pet human and a long-term food source.
The vampire usually never plans to make the pet human a vampire or take the pet human as a permanent mate. That’s why while he’s stringing the pet human along and feeding on the pet human for days, months and years, he’s also still feeding on others, and even letting some of them become vampires and enter his inner circle while the devoted pet human is still waiting.
In real life there are emotional vampires, and what they feed on is not blood but the aforementioned narcissistic supply. In real life there are also pet humans, except we call the codependents. Like the pet humans in Blade and True Blood are great long term sources of blood for fictional supernatural vampires, codependents are great long term sources of narcissistic supply for the real-life emotional vampires.
Narcissistic supply can be different things to different people. Something that is a major type of narcissistic supply for me may provide absolutely no narcissistic supply for you, and vice versa. It’s important to understand the preferred form of narcissistic supply for the person you’re dealing with. A big problem, however, is that many guys out there don’t understand the major forms of narcissistic supply for the average woman: flattering attention.
Everyone likes flattering attention to a degree, but not everyone likes it as an end in and of itself. The average guy for example enjoys flattering attention, but mostly as a means to an end, that end being a short-term or long-term sexual relationship. If a man has no interest in a sexual relationship with a woman, he won’t actively court flattering attention from her. And when they give flattering attention, they usually give it in hopes of getting a short-term or long-term sexual relationship in return.
So a lot of guys mistakenly project these same mindsets onto women, and think that if a woman is giving them flattering attention or is willingly receiving their flattering attention, she must be interested in an eventual sexual relationship. What guys don’t get is that for many women, especially immature and damaged women, flattering attention is often an end in and of itself. And while guys usually only give flattering attention to women in hopes of getting a sexual relationship, women will often give flattering attention just to ensure they get flattering attention in return. Guys, once again projecting their own mindset onto women, don’t get this and believe the women must be giving him flattering attention for the same reason he gives it to her: because she has sexual interest in him. Unlike men, however, women will often pretend to be interested in a guy just to receive narcissistic supply in the flattering attention and nothing else. This is an incredibly crucial thing to understand.
What is a means to an end for the guy, in this case flattering attention, is an end in and of itself for the woman, a dynamic I discussed in my post about the means-end paradox. And if you read that post, you’ll see one of the aspects of the means-end paradox is that the person who is treating something like a means to an end gets more emotionally invested as time goes on, while the person who is treating that same thing like an end in and of itself gets less invested as time goes on, thanks to the sunk-cost trap. This is why guys get more into a woman as they exchange flattering attention with her and nothing else, but the woman gets less into a guy the more she exchanges flattering attention with him and nothing else.
For young women flattering attention is as major a form of narcissistic supply as sexual notch count is for young men. This is why people like Tariq Nasheed say that all guys need to go through their player stage and all women need to go through their attention-whoring stage before settling down. (Just like the male mid-life crisis is an example of a guy reliving and completing his unfinished player stage from his younger days, the cougar phenomenon is a woman’s version of the mid-life crisis, where she’s reliving and completing her unfinished attention whore stage from her younger days.)
Many women outgrow this attention-whore stage after high school or college, but for immature and damaged women this can be their preferred form of narcissistic supply until the day they die, as any man who dates a Cluster B soon discovers. Also, because North American women are maturing slower and slower all the time, attention-whoring is especially an epidemic among them compared to women in other parts of the world.
Anyway, what are some types of flattering attention women use for narcissistic supply? One is having guys for friends that she knows wants to fuck her. The longer she can string a guy along in one of these pseudo-friendships just in the hopes that he will eventually fuck her, the more her ego gets boosted. Women know most of their guy friends want to fuck them, even though they often play dumb about it or sometimes even lie to themselves about it. Any woman can keep a guy coming back for sex, but a much bigger ego boost comes from getting a guy to repeatedly come back for months or years just for the slim hope of one day lucking into sex. Getting guys who have no chance of being in a sexual relationship with them to keep trying or loitering is very flattering and a big mental win for them.
Another form of flattering attention women use for narcissistic supply is triangulation, which is making guys compete over her. Immature and damaged women are especially excessive with this tactic. On some primal level, in their lizard brains, women evolved to make men physically fight over them. It was the more surefire way to test two suitors to see which one would be the best protector for her and the better mate. Because modern values are different and society frowns upon such violence, the modern women have sublimated this desire into the game of making men compete with each other on the mental and emotional planes for her approval.
It’s also a test to see where your self-esteem is. If she succeeds at getting you jealous, you have failed the test. And no one’s perfect, I’ve fallen for this test myself in the past. We’re all human. But there are other dangers in getting jealous. When you get jealous, you unconsciously communicate that you think the guy is better than you, that you are threatened by him and feel you may not be able to compete. On some level, whether consciously or subconsciously, she will pick up on this communication and regardless of what she was originally feeling for him, your jealousy will start to make him more attractive in her eyes. The more jealous you get, the more attractive he becomes to her.
Another form of flattering attention women use for narcissistic supply is entertaining male companionship and entertaining male conversation. Entertaining male companionship can include but isn’t restricted to brunch dates, lunch dates, dinner dates, movie outings, bar meetups, coming to see her perform somewhere, showing up to a get together she’s throwing, visiting her on her job is she works in the service industry like as a bartender, etc. Basically any platonic activity she could invite a girlfriend to. Entertaining male conversation can include can include long platonic conversations, either in person or on the phone, where the guy is doing things that include but aren’t restricted to playing therapist and listening to her sob stories, having long gossip sessions with her either about people they know or celebrities, is listening to her superficial and frivolous thoughts and acting like they are the most profound, mind-blowing insights ever, or is just keeping her “company” on the line while she does something boring like go on a cab ride, do her laundry or walk around the supermarket.
Guys regularly employ these strategies as an indirect means of getting laid, but the irony is that the longer a guy engages in them, the more he kills any sexual attraction that was originally there. By being too available, too open and too talkative, he’s taken away all the mystique, all the sexual chemistry, all the intrigue, all the sexual polarity, and most of all he’s robbed her of the blank canvas she desires to project all her fantasy and desires onto.
Women love these forms of narcissistic supply, and in you this woman has found one guy who will supply all of them. And if she’s an emotional vampire, her thirst for narcissistic supply is insatiable, just like the supernatural vampire thirsts for blood. And like the fictional vampire can keep pet humans around for a backup blood supply when no other blood supplies are available, she’s using you as her pet codependent that she can keep around for emergency narcissistic supply when other options aren’t available.
This is why each time you try to cut ties and move on with your life, she keeps reinitiating contact and calling you back into her life. Because she knows there is still narcissistic supply to be sucked out of you. You’ve been such a good, dependable source of it so far, and why take the time to groom a new one when she already has such a good source in you?
The problem is, one of two things is going to happen: (1) much like people gain a high tolerance to a drug the more they get used to taking it, emotional vampires get a tolerance to narcissistic supply from a particular person and it doesn’t excite them as much as it used to. (2) the codependent reaches his or her breaking point and either gets angry or starts getting passive aggressive. In either case, the pet codependent no longer is a optimum (or is that optimal? that always confuses me) source of narcissistic supply for the emotional vampire and quickly gets discarded without warning. Once you are drained dry of narcissistic supply, believe me you will be unceremoniously dumped, even as a platonic friend, in favor of a better, newer source of narcissistic supply.
So my immediate advice is to forget her and move on. You’re too deep in the friend zone to recover, and the longer you stay in this situation the worse it will be for your self-esteem, and I can guarantee you’ll be unceremoniously dumped anyway when she feels she has no use for you anyway so you might as well do the dumping yourself.
However if I just stopped with the immediate advice, I’d be ignoring the roots of your problem, and you’d find yourself back in this situation again, possible with an even bigger vampire than the previous ones. So I’m going to do two follow-ups to this post. First, we’ll discuss the roots of your caretaker persona and your codependency issues. And in the installment following that, we’ll go into whether the PUA community is the answer to your problems.