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What Does a Narcissist Mean When They Say, ‘I Love You’?


So many people are drawn in when a narcissist professes love for them.  They think they’ve made a ‘breakthrough’, that the narcissist has changed, and they really feel love.  They think maybe the narcissist will be different, more caring and empathic.  Or they mistakenly think they are ‘the one’ the narcissist has been looking for all their lives, and they will treat them better than they’ve treated anyone else in the past. But here’s the truth; when a narcissist says, ‘I love you’ they mean one of two things, and neither one will turn out well for you!

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to how a narcissist feels.  Many say, ‘narcissists don’t have feelings’, but this isn’t true.  What’s very true is that they feel completely differently than people without this disorder, and until you really understand that, you are at risk!  My next blog will be all about this, so come on back and you’ll catch that one when it comes out.

The focus of this blog is just the emotion of LOVE.  And more specifically, the ‘I love you’ statement.  In my experience, this is one of the most difficult areas for a person to truly understand the narcissist.  If you’re an empathic, truthful, and genuine person, this just won’t make sense.  So let’s try to make sense of the nonsense that goes on inside a narcissist.

The narcissist is an empty, fragile ego, who’s sense of self and identity only stay inflated with a constant source of praise, adoration, giving them their way, allowing them control, and letting them think they are the center of it all.  They lack empathy, feel they are entitled to get what they want, when they want, and to use and abuse others for their own will and desires.

Their locus and focus is entirely on themselves and getting their needs met, and the intensity of these needs is at a very gut, survival level.  They will start with more subtle manipulations to get their needs met, but can escalate all the way to debilitating tears and suicidal threats, or rage and violence.  They can go from sweet and charming, to serial killer in 2.4 seconds when thwarted in any way, and then back to sweet and charming if you give in.  They will literally make you feel crazy.

Understanding all of that, there really are only two things narcissists truly mean when they say “I love you.”   

  1. They are saying it to get something they want from you.  Remember a narcissist doesn’t feel empathy for you, doesn’t see your emotions, needs or wants as important at all, and uses and abuses for their own gains, without hesitation or remorse.  They are completely comfortable lying to you to get what they want.  They are good at it, very convincing, and will often not think twice about their lies ever.  If you’re not a dishonest person, you often can’t even fathom how easy this is for a narcissist and you can get drawn in over and over again.  They want what they want and if they think saying, ‘I love you,’ will get that for them, then they will say it. 
  2. The second reason is more convoluted.  A narcissist falls in ‘love’ with someone who keeps their balloon full and never asks for anything in return.  So, they may feel what THEY consider love, and may feel that they’ve finally found, ‘the one.’  The problem is that what they ‘love’ about you is that you are praising, adoring, meeting their needs and not asking anything from them; you’re keeping their balloon full.  You may even be inadvertently excusing and forgiving their terrible behavior, enabling and placating them when they start to feel the beginning of emptiness.  They may think you are ‘perfect’ because you are letting them be as narcissistic as they truly are, and not calling them out on any of it.  This sense of ‘love’ they express is usually in the early stages of a relationship when you’re both giving it your all, and letting go of anything that comes up that might be red flags.  This feeling of ‘love’ is not reciprocal or fulfilling for you on any level and will dry up and blow away as soon as you begin to realize what’s going on and ask for fairness, or not to be used or abused, or for any sort of consideration of you or your needs or wants.

The truth is that they cannot ‘love’, because they lack the very skills that are required for love.Love is a verb; it’s a daily action that you share with another.The ‘I love you’ is cheap talk, while the actual walking the walk is impossible for them.They will not ‘love’ you in any of the normal action-oriented aspects of real love.They will not be there for you; they don’t recognize your emotions, needs or wants as important or valid.They will not care about you; they are the important one in this arrangement, not you.They will not stay true to you; if they have other desires/wants/needs, they believe they are entitled to meet those and will do so without remorse or regret.They may act regretful if they get caught but they are just upset they got caught; that’s not real remorse.They will not build you up, help you, care about your life, your growth, your passions, or interests, or dreams, or hopes; they literally are not interested and will let you know through devaluing anything you are into, and putting you down for wanting anything outside of focusing on them.You will continually feel that your world has to revolve around them and you don’t matter.You will feel as if the life is being sucked out of you, because it is; they need you to fill them, and will use and destroy you in the process.

So in summary, when a narcissist tells you they love you, or they can’t live without you, they mean one of two things; they want something from you, or they believe you’re going to keep their balloon inflated and they want that.  It’s crucial that you recognize there is nothing in that arrangement that is good for you.  They will decide when it’s on, and they will decide when it’s over.  They will easily lie, cheat, and steal everything you have.  They will bankrupt you not only financially but emotionally and physically too.  And when you’re used up, they will kick you to the curb with not a backwards glance.

Save yourself and your precious love for someone who can be loving towards you, in a caring, empathic, and reciprocal relationship.


Originally Published on

Shannon Petrovich LCSW, LISAC, BCD Therapist, Author, YouTube Creator

Shannon earned her Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Connecticut. She earned her clinical licenses in Social Work and Substance Abuse Counseling, and is a Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work.

Her new book, Out of the FOG Into the CLEAR, Journaling to Help You Heal from Toxic Relationships has attained Amazon Bestseller status in Self Help for Abuse, Codependency, and Personal Transformation.

On her YouTube channel Therapist Talks, she shares insights, information, perspectives, and strategies on a wide range of relationship and mental health topics.

With a very trauma-informed, strengths-based approach, she seeks to help people see the old stories that are in their way, and to fully become the person they were created to be.

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