A narcissist is emotionally unavailable, but not every person who’s emotionally unavailable is a narcissist. If you’re going to begin healing and confront brutal truths, it’s necessary to know the difference.
Two Main Types of Narcissists
An overt narcissist behaves like your “average” narcissist. They loudly brag about their accomplishments, one up everyone in the room, and exude an air of arrogance. They want to be powerful and untouchable. I imagine they dream of leading a cult with millions of followers, who wake each morning, praying to a photo of their face.
For such reasons, an overt narcissist is easily identifiable. As soon as you meet one, you’ll know. Underneath their mask of confidence, lies an incredibly insecure individual, compensating their feelings of inferiority by seeking external validation.
A covert narcissist, commonly referred to as the passive aggressive narcissist, is difficult to spot, making them dangerous. They’re subtle, calculative, and move cautiously. Their charming mask isn’t noisy like the overt narcissist- it’s quiet. Initially, their behavior is thoughtful and attentive, listening rather than speaking.
It’s not uncommon, for those who date a covert narcissist to remain in the dark until they’ve been discarded (although, they always come back and repeat a three phase cycle- which I’ll elaborate on in another post.) Their manipulation is subtle, hidden behind hot and cold, aloof, and passive aggressive behavior, leaving you in a cloud of confusion, constantly doubting what’s true and what isn’t.
Regardless, whether you’re dealing with an overt or covert narcissist, the underlying motivation is the same; to seek admiration and feel a sense of importance, disregarding the cost. Their personal relationships are merely transactions to receive a source of supply they can selfishly benefit from.
If this hurts you, they genuinely don’t care. A narcissist does not experience emotions and human compassion like the average person. They lack emotional depth, so tapping into someone else’s is extremely difficult, and to some, impossible. Their lack of empathy ranges on a spectrum, like all behavior, and it’s likely they suffer from a personality or mental disorder (but not always, in which case, behaviors would indicate mild to moderate on the spectrum.)
Initially, allowing you to feel wanted and cared for is easy, because they’re prepping you for supply. Once obtained, you fall down the rabbit hole and become trapped. The rest of the process consists to maintain your placement down in the trenches, exerting minimal effort, but enough to keep you guessing, wanting more.
Having established an upper hand in the relationship, they’re free to return as they please, stealing supply by saying what they know you want to hear, via false promises, and retreating back as if it never happened, leaving you dumbfounded and upset.
Showing them you’re upset feeds their ego more. If you disclose how their emotionless behavior makes you feel and express your undying love, in hope it might change their ways, your tears of frustration is music to their ears. Whatever you’re saying is not digested, because all they hear is, “Wow, look what I can do. I’m so special, loved, and important.”
The Emotionally Unavailable
The emotionally unavailable are often called narcissists because their emotional disconnect can be easily mistaken for a lack of empathy. When an individual, such as the emotionally unavailable, learns to suppress their emotions, the process of doing so, becomes habitual, but doesn’t indicate a destitute of empathy. (In another post, I’ll discuss why one learns emotional suppression and the function is fulfills)
Their feelings and actions shift, without rhyme or reason, leaving you perplexed, without solid ground to stand on. Dissecting every word and behavior becomes a full time job without benefits or compensation. You’re running in circles, expecting to arrive at a destination. Feeling constantly uncertain is the one thing you can be certain of. Just like dating a narcissist, this is no peaceful place to reside.
Like you and I, the emotionally unavailable have feelings. They’re human too. You know this, although sometimes it’s hard not to peer up at the sky and look for unusual spaceships. They desire to be seen and loved but suppressing emotions is habitual and creates unconscious internal conflict that’s projected through inconsistent behavior.
Just like the covert narcissist, their initial presentation was entirely different in the early phase of the relationship, alluring their partner into a trap. The main difference between emotionally unavailable and the narcissist is intention.
A narcissist intends and profits from your misery, not giving two shits about it. An emotionally unavailable person profits, making it difficult to leave even if you’re miserable, but doesn’t necessarily want to make you feel that way, but if it happens, they’re not exactly remorseful or concerned due to their ability to disconnect from those feelings, but deep down, they do exist.
Their intentions are not malicious, although it may feel that way. Disclosing how their behavior makes you feel, will prompt them to withdraw and retreat to a place of comfort. Since they’re threatened by their own emotions, dealing with yours, feels like the ultimate ambush. *Aborts mission, avoids, and hides.* In turn, you witness a cold, dismissive partner, and naturally will take it personally, but it really is a defense against vulnerability and fear of dependence. Avoiding that is their perception of surviving.
As they dismiss your feelings, you question whether or not you’re even entitled to have them, and begin wondering if there’s any truth behind their words, since their actions paint a different story. This subtle manipulation may not be intentional, but just like a narcissist, they rarely ever leave and stay gone.
Walking back into your life after a period of silence, and repeating that same cycle is incredibly selfish, but you’re dealing with someone who lacks emotional intelligence. You can say how you feel and they can try to imagine how you feel, but if they’ve never walked in those shoes, what perspective do they relate with? Especially since this level of emotional disconnect is embedded from an early age. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but allows you to take responsibility for your own.
I’ll continue to discuss these lovely gems, diving into the “whys and hows” their behavior originated, and why that attracts you to them, as well as why they’re attracted to you. A somewhat obvious hint: polar opposition. It’s a dysfunctional dance of a toxic balance. If you care to understand these complex movements, stay posted.
-Jessica Bruno, LMHC