Can a Narcissist Love?

Narcissistic woman thinking about love.

Getty / Jamie Grill

Narcissists can and do love, but their love tends to be superficial and fleeting. They can develop intense emotional attachments—even appearing to "fall in love"—and yet still maintain a complete lack of empathy for the object of their affection. Their relationships are often plagued by dramatic mood swings, tumultuous highs, and heartbreaking lows.

This means that their love often feels superficial and inauthentic because any meaningful connection or empathy doesn't accompany it.

How to Tell If a Narcissist Loves You

It is important to remember that while a narcissist may appear to love you initially, this feeling is often short-lived and conditional.

Narcissists have difficulty maintaining meaningful connections, so their form of “love” is often shallow and fleeting.

Their Actions Will Tell You

Dr. Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, DO, MPH, FAAFP, FASAM, Medical Director at Psyclarity Health, located in Boston, Massachusetts, notes that their actions are the only way to tell if a narcissist loves you. "Do they take your feelings and needs into consideration? Are they able to put your happiness first, even when it doesn't directly benefit them? If the answer is 'yes,' then it's possible that they may indeed love you."

Dr. Flora notes, however, that this requires self-reflection on the narcissist's part. "Unless they're willing to work to change their behavior, any love or affection they show may remain conditional and one-sided."

Dr. Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, DO, MPH, FAAFP, FASAM

Unless they're willing to work to change their behavior, any love or affection they show may remain conditional and one-sided.

— Dr. Flora Sadri-Azarbayejani, DO, MPH, FAAFP, FASAM

Megan Tangradi, MS, LPC, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, Clinical Director at Achieve Wellness & Recovery concurs. "If a narcissist claims to love you, it is important to look beyond words and focus on how they are actually treating you. Do they take the time to listen to your feelings? Do they respect your boundaries and take responsibility for their actions? Do they make you feel valued and appreciated? If the answer to these questions is "yes," then it is likely that the narcissist does care for you in some capacity."

Signs a Narcissist Loves You

To recap, here are the signs that a narcissist loves you:

  • Their actions will show you
  • They will treat you with respect
  • They will listen to your feelings
  • They will respect your boundaries
  • They will take responsibility for their actions
  • They will show you appreciation
  • They put your needs first

Ultimately, it is important to remember that narcissists can and do love—but their love may never be the same as a healthy, unconditional bond.

The best way to know if a narcissist loves you is by looking at their behavior over time rather than just relying on words or expressions of affection.

If they are consistently putting your needs first, even when it doesn't directly benefit them, then it may be possible that they truly care for you.

What Does a Narcissist Think Love Is?

Narcissists often have a skewed idea of love and what it should look like. Ketan Parmar, MD notes, "To a narcissist, love is an external source of validation used to boost their self-esteem. They do not understand that real love involves reciprocity. Instead, they believe that love is something they can obtain from a person or object and use to feel better about themselves."

Ultimately, narcissists view love as something that is owed to them and will usually act with a sense of entitlement in their relationships. Their love depends on their partner's unconditional admiration, often leading to toxic and one-sided dynamics.

Ketan Parmar, MD

To a narcissist, love is an external source of validation used to boost their self-esteem. They do not understand that real love involves reciprocity. Instead, they believe that love is something they can obtain from a person or object and use to feel better about themselves.

— Ketan Parmar, MD

Additionally, a narcissist's idea of love is usually very superficial. They may be overly affectionate or quickly profess their undying love without having developed any meaningful connection with their partner. These kinds of declarations may feel exciting and special at first but soon become shallow and meaningless as the relationship progresses.

Can a Narcissist Ever Be Happy in a Relationship?

While it may be possible for a narcissist to develop feelings of love towards someone else, they struggle to maintain lasting relationships due to their lack of empathy and tendency towards selfishness.

However, it's possible that asking someone with NPD to put themselves in someone else's shoes can help them learn to build empathy.

But, without treatment, it is unlikely that a narcissist will find happiness in a relationship as they are typically unable to give or receive the emotional support necessary for any healthy connection.

With therapy and self-reflection, some narcissists can learn to become more compassionate and understanding toward their partners.

What Happens When a Narcissist Falls in Love?

When narcissists fall in love, they become obsessed with being adored and admired by their partners. They may shower them with compliments and gifts or attempt to manipulate them through grand gestures of affection.

Unfortunately, this emotionally charged relationship is often too intense and unstable, leading to a cycle of ups and downs that can be difficult to escape.

Results of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that narcissists might succeed in short-term dating but fail in committed relationships.

The Bond Is Unlikely to Be Deep and Long-Lasting

Rather than forming a deep emotional bond, narcissists become attached to the idea of love and attempt to recreate the feeling of admiration they had at the beginning of their relationship. They may belittle their partner as self-protection if they don't feel that admiration.  

Narcissistic Traits vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

It is important to remember that not everyone who displays narcissistic traits has narcissistic personality disorder.

A Person With Narcissistic Traits
  • Occasional selfishness

  • Exhibiting manipulative behaviors sporadically

  • Can show empathy

  • Able to form deep bonds

A Person With NPD
  • Persistent selfishness

  • Displays manipulative behavior often

  • Has difficulty showing empathy

  • Unlikely to form deep bonds

Dating Someone With Narcissistic Traits

In other words, someone can be selfish or manipulative without necessarily having the condition. Therefore, it is necessary to keep in mind that these types of behaviors are not always indicative of an underlying mental health disorder and should only be treated as such if they have been formally diagnosed by a professional.

In a relationship with someone with narcissistic traits, the individual may still be capable of forming genuine connections with others and expressing love appropriately. They will likely display selfish behaviors on occasion, but these should not be considered signs of a mental health disorder.

Mental health counselor, Holly Keller, LMHC, states: "People with narcissistic tendencies tend to be the people in your life you think of as self-absorbed or emotionally immature. The depth of love may be on the shallower side or expressed immaturely. They may believe love looks like gift-giving, proximity, or physical intimacy."

Dating Someone With Narcissistic Personality Disorder

On the other hand, if someone has been formally diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, their relationships will likely suffer more significantly due to their lack of empathy and inability to self-reflect or take responsibility for their actions.

This type of individual may also use manipulation tactics such as gaslighting or stonewalling to gain control over their partner can lead to feelings of powerlessness and ultimately result in an unhealthy dynamic.

Holly Keller, LMHC

Due to the shallow nature of relationships and chronic feelings of emptiness that accompanies NPD, someone with this disorder would likely not be able to experience true joy in a relationship.

— Holly Keller, LMHC

However, it is important to remember that although it can be difficult, it is still possible for a narcissist to learn how to love and maintain healthy relationships with others.

They can understand their limitations with therapy and self-reflection and become more empathetic toward their partners. In doing so, they may be able to create a meaningful connection that brings joy rather than suffering.


At its core, narcissistic behavior is rooted in insecurity and an unfulfilled need to feel special or important. This means that a narcissist has difficulty experiencing genuine feelings of love; instead, they may replicate what they believe are appropriate expressions of love by mimicking romantic gestures or words without understanding the feeling behind them.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."