You were married for 15 years. You did everything possible for your spouse. You knew how they took their coffee in the morning and what their favorite dish was. You even knew about the various events that took place in their day and expressed interest. When they were unhappy, you tried doing things for them so that they would be loving again. But no matter what you did or said it was never enough. They cheated, lied or turned to drugs and alcohol to fill them up. You finally divorce. Now after the fog has lifted and you've come out the other side, you think to yourself, "They never knew me and what I liked... it was all about them." Moreover, you realize that you keep attracting these same types of people into your life.
This is a common repetitive phenomenon that I see in my practice at The Art of Charm. Amazing, talented caregivers attract narcissists. What is going on?
Narcissists prey on caregivers because they make them feel better. They are insecure and empty, so they rely on external things (like money, sex, expensive cars, etc.) to fill them up and gain attention. When I coach people, I teach them how to detect signs of a narcissist. You can't change them, but you can change your perception so that you can spot a narcissist the minute you say hello. Here are four narcissist busters:
1. Set boundaries: Treat yourself as well as you treat others. Set boundaries and declare your wants and needs. If you are a caretaker, be careful that you are not putting others before you. Let your date know what you like and dislike. Do they respect your desires or only do what they want?
2. Look for reciprocity: Narcissists are really good at being charming and telling stories and sharing what is great about them. When meeting your dates, observe if they are just as interested in you and your stories. Is there reciprocity in the conversation or is it just one-sided? What are you doing to reinforce that dynamic? Be careful to not just sit and listen to it all. Instead, try talking about your interests, express your feelings and see if they listen.
3. Don't give it all away: Don't give away your personal value by doing too much, too soon, too fast. Narcissists will eat you up. Pay attention to how you are relating to your dates or potential partners. Are you always playing therapist by listening intently, offering advice and doing things for them? You can offer these things as a loving partner but pace it out and see if they are able to offer you the same in return.
4. Test if words get put into action: Does the person you are attracted to mean what they say and say what they mean? Narcissists love to talk but rarely follow through. Remember, actions always speak louder than words.
Finally, use this time in your life as an opportunity to change the pattern of attracting narcissists. Instead, focus on what you can do during the first phase of dating in order to attract a person who likes you for you rather than what you can provide for them!
Kimberly Seltzer LCSW is a Therapist, Matchmaker, Personal Image Expert and Dating Coach at The Art of Charm.