“James only thinks of himself. Last night I told him I was feeling sad, that my dog had a heart attack and may not live. Instead of empathy he told me he lost a dog twenty years ago. I explained that I found this dog on the street after a car ran him over and I nursed him back to health. He was the most loyal sweet animal, so soulful. To which James responded that I didn’t need a dog, because he was so sweet and not only that that he had money.” Claire said.
“I notice he didn’t say that he was loyal.” I said.
Tears filled her dark eyes darkening them even more, “No, that’s because he cheats on me. He has always slept with other women.”
“How about you?” I asked
Wiping her eyes, she said, “I never slept with other men. I love him.”
“What is it you love about him?” I inquired.
Claire explained, “Well, I’m shy and he’s the life of the party so he takes over. James has the gift of gab and he charms people. He flirts and compliments everyone and they all love him. As a salesman he doses the same thing at work and he sells a lot of cars.”
“So he lives to be admired and loved by the world. But it doesn’t sound like he has much empathy for you.” I interpreted.
Claire thought for a moment and said, “I guess you are saying that he is a narcissist. Come to think of it, he talks about himself all the time and my friends say he is arrogant. So yah, he is a narcissist. And he thinks he can have it all: me and all his other women.”
“Does he remind you of anyone in your family?”
Sad eyed, Claire concurred, “My father is successful, handsome, charming, and arrogant like James. My parents fight a lot because he travels and cheats on my mother. She has been depressed a lot.”
“Are you close to your mother?” I asked.
“She is my best friend and I feel for her. But my father is annoyed with her depression” Claire said.
I then offered, “Perhaps you identify with your mother.”
“She’s an amazing woman, intellectual, kind, loving. I don’t understand why my father doesn’t understand her or have empathy for her.” Claire said.
I then inquired.” Does this all sound familiar?”
“Yeah, James is like my father with regard to other women and a lack of empathy.” Claire was making the connection.
I continued to interpret, “It seems your father and James have a desperate need for the world to love them. It is this hunger for admiration and love that consumes their attention, so they are left bereft to empathize with your mother or you”
Claire then posed the very question that women in love with narcissistic men inevitably pose, “So why am I so in love with him if he is not there for me?”
“At an unconscious level you are identifying with your mother and trying to fix your father through James. Again, this is all at an unconscious level, so James is a stand-in for your father and if he can have empathy for you, you will have cured your father and your mother will be happy.” I explained the underlying unconscious dynamics.
“It’s a lot to process, but I know I have to give up on James, give up thinking he will understand me, be there for me, and love only me. I guess the only one he loves is himself.” Distress turned to hope.
And in time, that is exactly what Claire did. What helped was this sensitive, caring, empathic man who came on the scene.
If this story resonates with you in any way, read my book, The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain’s Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011). In this primer on love, you will learn about the power of mirror neurons on your relationships.
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