American singer song writer Aimee Mann demonstrates her understanding of the “narcissistic alliance” in her 2002 hit song “The Moth”, which opens with the following verse:
The moth don’t care when he sees the flame
He might get burned but he’s in the game
And once he’s in, he can’t go back
He’ll beat his wings till he burns them black
If you have ever found yourself drawn to a narcissist, you may feel just like a bug to light.
Some scientists scratch their heads trying to understand why a moth will always fly into a flame that burns its wings. Theories range from pheromones that draw a moth to the light all the way to the theory that light acts as a moth’s directional compass, telling it where to go. In both scenarios the moth is seduced by the light causing it to head into danger without consideration for the consequences ahead.
In the therapeutic space, clients who enter into relationships with narcissist often discover they follow the same pattern ignoring the many red flags that appear during the relational flight course.
The good news is, if you happen to be one of those people, you can change the way you navigate future relationships so it’s easier to find the love you’re seeking.
TO BEGIN, LET’S FIRST DEFINE NARCISSISM, WHAT IT IS, AND WHAT IT ISN’T.
Narcissism exists on a continuum that we all live on. On the one end, there are people who can behave immaturely, selfishly, with a touch of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and be extremely self-focused.
On the other, there are people who are truly self-less, care deeply about others and their well-being, and see others as different from them but value those differences greatly.
Most of us lie in the middle.
As human beings, we all are self-motivated to some degree and that means that we all have our own needs in relationships and we also have our own version of relational struggles.
THE ISSUE WITH THE NARCISSIST IS THAT THEY LACK EMPATHY FOR THE OTHER PEOPLE IN THEIR LIFE.
A person with true narcissism, in a clinical sense, can only see others as objects for their pleasure, not as people with wants, needs, vulnerabilities and feelings. Instead, they exploit those wants, needs and vulnerabilities because for some, it gives them a false sense of power and superiority, and for others, it feeds them with a sick sense of pleasure.
Regardless of the motivation, if you are a metaphorical moth who always seems to be drawn to a narcissist’s flame, then you know how charred the wings of your heart can get hoping that your love interest picks you over their own needs/want/desires.
You likely also know, even though you may hope to the high heavens that things will be different this time, that in this type of relationship, you always get burnt in the end.
While many people in this predicament torment themselves trying to understand why their narcissistic mate treats them the way they do, the more important question is, why are you drawn to them like a moth to the flame?
THE ANSWER CAN BE FOUND IN YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE.
For you, your attachment which was formed early in childhood is like your preprogrammed flight plan. It is your due-north and directs you where to go almost without thinking. For most people, attachment developed during your childhood and was impacted by how your parent’s or caregivers treated you. If you were neglected, mistreated, abandoned or hurt in other ways, you unconsciously look for this pattern in future relationships (this is like your own pheromones directing you to a familiar scent).
Unfortunately, until you learn how to understand why you’re attracted to these kinds of pre-programmed relationships, you will continue to seek out relationships that model the ones you were in as a child.
While many try to “think” their way out of this pattern, hoping it will happen never works. Most people need to access their early relational wounding in a deeper way, usually through psychotherapy. When this happens, a person can grieve and unburden themselves from unconscious beliefs placed there as a child.
THESE COULD INCLUDE BELIEFS LIKE:
· I’m not lovable
· Only when I behave in certain ways will a person love me
· My job in a relationship is to make them happy regardless of my needs
· Their needs come first
· I don’t deserve to be happy
Once a person brings this kind of thinking into therapy, a good therapist can help them unpack these beliefs and heal them with more loving ones. In therapy, the work is actually to replace these negative beliefs with more positive ones which reduces the attraction to future narcissists because the need to feed these beliefs dies off.
When this happens, the words to Aimee Man’s song can be replaced to read something more like this:
“the moth will care when s/hesees the flame.
S/hewon’t get burnt
cause s/he’sleft the game.”
Being attracted to narcissists is not a life sentence if you do the work to heal. You can choose to find healthier paths to love but it does require that you dig a little deeper to see what is causing you to feel like a moth to a flame whenever one comes around.
*Maura Matarese, M.A., LMHC, R.Y.T., is a psychotherapist and author of the book: Finding Hope In The Crisis: A Therapist’s Perspective On Love, Loss, And Courage. Her new online course, Finding Hope After Heartbreak, will be available soon. In the meantime, enjoy this free Finding Hope After Heartbreak Workbook.