I was waiting to post about this until I talked to my therapist about it tonight and I’m glad I waited because of what I found out about myself.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve had this “rescuer complex.” Let me explain what I mean by that, because it’s complicated. I also think I finally know why I’ve been this way for so long.
Over time, I’ve realized that almost every single man I’ve become either seriously involved with (that includes my marriage) or fell in love with (even if it was one-sided) has been either a narcissist or antisocial, and very often they were both. (There were two outliers–a therapist who I developed an intense and painful crush on, and another guy who was either bipolar or had BPD).
I don’t know how I could discern a potential date’s character at the time I met them, but somehow I could. Of course, I was never aware of why I was so attracted or what exactly attracted me to a particular man. Although I had a preference for a certain type of tall and dark haired man, occasionally I’d find myself wildly attracted to someone who did not fit that description. Or fail to develop interest in another one who did.
“Normal” guys — or guys with other disorders besides NPD/ASPD — just didn’t interest me. If a non-disordered man showed interest in me, I just generally wasn’t attracted to him, no matter how physically attractive or how funny or smart he was. If I accepted a date with a normal guy, I grew bored quickly and soon he’d figure out I wasn’t interested and stop calling.
Going back in my mind over my love life, a pattern emerges. In all these relationships, I was always trying to get these guys to express their emotions and show their softer sides. Sometimes I’d even try to get them to cry. No, I’m not a dacryphiliac (Google it if you’re curious), nor do I have sadistic tendencies. It was never my intention to hurt my lovers. They could just as easily be showing “happy” vulnerability (tenderness, love, sympathy, “tears of joy” ) as “sad” vulnerability. As long as they were being vulnerable, it didn’t matter what was causing it.
If I succeeded in getting a man to show their soft core under all that outer hardness or coldness, I felt a combination of tender affection and a sense of enormous pride. Whenever a normally hard or cold man became vulnerable, I felt important and powerful and flattered that he trusted me enough to drop the mask. I felt like I’d found the Holy Grail. Little did I know that very often, these soft emotional sides shown to me were fake. Crocodile tears shed because somehow the man “knew” that is exactly what I wanted. Occasionally the emotions expressed were genuine, but of course this would never last.
It doesn’t really matter whether the emotions these men revealed were genuine or not, because in both cases, my rescuer complex was activated. I spent years trying to figure out what this meant and why I kept doing it — and why men who already showed a soft side without having to wear a mask were not attractive to me. I think I finally have an answer.
Normal men presented no challenge to me. My goal in relationships was always to feel like a caregiver, a nurturer. It made me feel needed and important to be in that role. That doesn’t mean I didn’t care about these men–I did, but there was definitely a self-serving motive. If the man was closed off emotionally, as most narcissists and all psychopaths are, the “prize” of having won his tender side seemed that much more valuable and meaningful–and made me feel even more special.
Now I understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. In only choosing narcissistic men, I was recreating my relationship with my mother or possibly both parents (my mother was a malignant NPD, my father possibly NPD or a NPD/BPD combination). In trying to get them to be vulnerable and show their tender emotions, I was unconsciously trying to get my mother to love me and show me how vulnerable she really was (in front of me, she never showed vulnerability).
This should be obvious. After all, most people are attracted to those who resemble their own parents psychologically. The really shocking thing I discovered was that I was projected my own need to be nurtured onto the men I dated!
I was a very emotional and sensitive child, but was shamed for having such strong feelings, both at home and at school, where I was often bullied. I was told my emotions were unacceptable and that I wasn’t “happy” enough (of course if I really was happy, I was somehow diminished for that too). Over time, I learned to stuff these feelings to the point that sometime during my teens or twenties, I “forgot” how to cry. Presenting myself as someone who didn’t get emotional (except for my rages) made me feel more acceptable. My emotions became so blunted that I started to suspect I didn’t really have true emotions anymore. I began to feel like I’d died inside. Far from feeling better, I actually felt much worse.
Unconsciously I knew this wasn’t healthy and that I’d have to reclaim my vulnerability to feel happy. But I didn’t know how to do this, and I lacked the courage to do it anyway. So I did it by proxy–by getting someone I was close to–someone who mirrored me, like a boyfriend–to reveal THEIR vulnerable side. Then, I could express my own tender side, but it was directed toward another person, so it was safe. And made me feel needed and important, something I never felt at home.
Now that feeling of “excitement” I used to obtain by getting a seemingly invulnerable man to be vulnerable, I now get when I feel my own tender and vulnerable side revealing itself in therapy and at random other times. I no longer need to “project” that need onto someone else, since I can do it for myself now. What will this mean in terms of any future relationships, should I ever have another one ? That’s something I can’t answer right now, but perhaps my days of requiring a potential mate to be a narcissist are finally over.