Why Narcissists Attract People-Pleasers

Two sides of the same coin.

Posted Nov 24, 2020

In many ways, narcissists and people-pleasers have similar issues in a relationship. However, they are expressed in very different ways. The narcissist can only see the relationship for what it gives them, with the focus entirely on their own needs. The people-pleaser is equally skewed in her vision of a relationship, but is only focusing on the other person and not paying any attention to their own needs. 

At the same time, both of these types of people are trying to find a person who will fill a significant role in their life. The narcissist is only looking for someone to make him look better or provide a feeling of superiority. The people-pleaser is looking for someone to save and someone to make them feel deeply needed. 

The extreme selfishness and the extreme lack of self in the relationship creates a situation where two parts can find, in each other, a connection they lack with others. The selfishness and the need to feel needed create a powerful pull that draws the people-pleaser to the narcissist. 

In addition to the similar but opposite needs, there are other reasons why people-pleasers are attracted to narcissists and why narcissists seek out these personality types.

  • Control—people-pleasers often find the control demanded by the narcissist early in the relationship to be intoxicating. They mistake this control for security and safety in the relationship by equating control with the desire to protect. 
  • Challenge. People-pleasers see their role in life as making others happy. The narcissist poses a challenge, constantly increasing their demands on the people-pleaser. This challenge can become a mission for the people-pleaser in trying to please the ultimate selfish person.
  • Charisma. One of the hallmarks of a narcissist is the ability to shower a potential partner with praise, affection, and attention in the early stages of the relationship. For a people-pleaser, this is the reward they have been seeking, even if it only lasts a short while. 
  • Validation. Also known as approval, the narcissist feeds the people-pleasers need for approval and validation only enough to get what they want. This conditional type of approval forces the people-pleaser to continually strive for validation. 
  • Elevating the narcissist. The narcissist also feels validated and approved in a relationship with a people-pleaser. The more he is elevated in the eyes of the people-pleaser, the more his ego and narcissism thrives. 

Tips for Recognizing a Toxic Relationship 

People-pleasing is a learned behavior. It is often developed in childhood when children learned that their mental and physical well-being depended on keeping others happy. This is often related to growing up with abusive, alcoholic, or otherwise dysfunctional parents. 

There are steps that people-pleasers can take to break out of this cycle. Working closely with a therapist, counselor, or coach is extremely helpful in recognizing the behaviors and making strategic changes. 

  • Track behaviors. Self-monitor your thoughts and behaviors throughout interactions with others. Notice when you switch into people-pleasing mode, and begin to look for both triggers as well as responses you can feel internally. 
  • Set boundaries. Setting boundaries requires both insight into what you will tolerate and how assertive you are willing to be. Having the ability to say "no" to requests that violate your boundaries, as well as being able to state your wishes, ideas, and desires, is another component of breaking the cycle. 
  • Learn about people-pleasing. It is often difficult to see the subtle ways you are engaging in people-pleasing as it is a learned behavior you have had for life. Reading on people-pleasing and how to make changes is a great compliment to therapy and counseling

Remember, any behavior can be changed, including people-pleasing. As narcissists are very unlikely to change, breaking away from destructive and toxic relationships is also an important part of healing and developing new, positive behaviors.