Love – Putting the Horse Before the Cart


In order to form healthy relationships, certain elements or building blocks are necessary for healthy attachment:  Intimacy or knowing the other person, trusting that person, relying on that person, committing to that person and then depending on the type of relationship, adding the element of sexual intimacy.

It’s very common in the aftermath of this abuse that targets have a great fear and mistrust of ourselves in the area of “love” that we shun the idea all together. We fear that we will not be able to discern healthy love from toxic love whether that comes from another narcissist or someone equally unhealthy.

In order for us to build the type of healthy relationships we desire after having endured narcissistic abuse, we must come to understand how the 4 elements mentioned above build upon eachother and form the foundation of a healthy relationship.

Narcissistic Abuse – What Went Wrong?

In narcissistic relationships, the narcissist’s disorder skews the formula and discombobulates and confuses us; it ensures that we put the Cart BEFORE the horse.

Intimacy is defined as a close, warm association with detailed knowledge or deep understanding of another person. It’s been said that “intimacy” can be described by the words, “In to me, You See”.   We come to know others from what they authentically share with us about who they are. This knowledge is both verbal and action oriented.

Targets who grew up in narcissistic households weren’t shown the example of authenticity and honest knowledge by our primary narcissistic caregivers. We learn to accept “verbal declarations” of love as a replacement for action oriented love & intimacy because narcissists insist that you don’t question their actions.  In adult life, when a well groomed target encounters another narcissist, who hides behind their words and excuses, we are quick to deny our intuition and gloss over the knowledge their actions are giving us.

Narcissists hide their true selves behind a mask. Their shame core runs so deep that to be known for who they really are is too terrifying to risk. They present this “acceptable” masked image to the world in an effort to ward off the inevitable rejection and abandonment from being known intimately. However, Narcissists desperately need your connection, intimacy and your love.

The narcissist employs manipulative tactics to circumvent the normal “intimacy” process. Believing themselves entitled to receive the one-sided benefits of love from you, they do two very strategic tactics:

They love bomb their potential targets, mirroring targets characteristics and pretending to offer all the promises of unconditional love and intimacy.  They do this in a rapid, whirlwind fashion so that we don’t have time to stop and discern the real knowledge of who the narcissist truly is. They fake us, they con us and they push us quickly into trusting, relying and committing to them before those next phases have been truly earned.

We don’t ever “fall in love” with the real narcissist. We fall in love with an image that they purposefully created for us to extract what they needed from us.

Only when we KNOW someone can we healthily move along to the next phase of relationship: TRUST.

Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Narcissists never earn the second stage of trust in a relationship, because they never give us the ability to really know them. However, in hindsight, targets learn a very important lesson about “knowing” the narcissist. It’s one of the reasons we focus so much on describing the narcissist and defining their actions, because with our new found knowledge, we now know to trust our intuition and look for the tell tale signs of a narcissist’s character (or lack of character) by their ACTIONS without being deceived by their words.

Other aspects of the narcissists disorder also prevent trust:

They can’t be mutual and reciprocal. They are one sided and self serving.

They are pathological liars. Their words are meaningless and empty.

They treat everyone with callous disregard and lack of empathy.

They have a history of harming others.

They are unreliable.

Their identity is undefined and chameleon like.

They are not loyal.

Narcissists DEMAND BLIND trust, they don’t command it. They strong arm their targets into trusting them, when there is NO LOGICAL basis for doing so. They expect the whirlwind of love bombing to be so effective that when it comes time for us to assert ourselves regarding our trust issues with the narcissist, we will continually back down from doing so.  We can’t trust someone we don’t know and further, we can’t trust someone with narcissistic personality disorder because of their character. This is the stage where, based on our knowledge of who they are, we should be escaping the relationship not relying on it or committing to it.

Relying on a Narcissist

Here’s where we as targets begin to feel the cognitive dissonance between being demanded to trust the narcissist with love bombing as the “rationale” for doing so (because they love us) and having to fight our intuition that says, “do NOT trust this person”.

We deeply know we can’t rely on the narcissist to be there for us in any real way: they don’t listen to us, they don’t respect us, they don’t respect our boundaries, we are not validated, we aren’t shown genuine unconditional love, we are shown abuse. But we are expected to remember the love bombing, forget about the reality and proceed to commit to the narcissist without the expectation of any mutual reliance or commitment.

We are in great pain in this stage because we want the narcissist to be there for us in real ways. We’re under the “impression” that we’re in a “loving” relationship and that means to us, that we will be valued, heard, cared for, and can rely upon the people who say they love us to have our best interests at heart. NONE OF THIS could be further from the truth with a narcissist. It is during this awful managing down phase that the narcissist plays on our strengths of forgiveness, benefit of doubt, second chances and understanding that they use our strengths to keep us locked in the pain cycle and committed to our abusers with no relief whatsoever.  This dissonance between what we believe “should” happen and what is actually happening (abuse) can go on for many many years.

Commitment is the next conscious stage of intimacy building that is entirely out of context with a narcissist. As we just described, we remain locked in a cycle of abuse that solely benefits the narcissist with our love and “commitment” to a relationship that serves the narcissist only but is full of pain and abuse for ourselves.

Healthy commitment is the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, or person.  At it’s worst, in a narcissistically abusive relationship it’s an engagement or obligation that restricts our freedom of action.

The narcissist is keen to know that they aren’t “earning” our intimacy or commitment they are FORCING IT, they are manipulating it and they are stealing it. Our rational brains would NOT allow us to commit to an unreliable, untrustworthy and unknown stranger. But our emotions and heart can certainly be manipulated by a skilled predator and sociopath and that is exactly what’s happening when a target appears to be “committed” to a narcissist.

Finally, no one who hasn’t earned our trust and reliance upon them by being a person of character who is fully committed and loyal to us, should receive benefit of our sexual intimacy. It is foolhardy to give our physical beings to someone we don’t know. Yet, with a narcissist’s careful manipulation of us, we do just that. We open ourselves up in our most vulnerable sense when we share physical / sexual intimacy with another person. We trust that they are loyal to us, won’t give us a disease, misuse or mistreat us and will honor and value the level of intimacy we are sharing with them.

This trust and reliance of and on a narcissist to respect us sexually is entirely misplaced, especially after all the evidence we have to the contrary regarding how they treated us emotionally and mentally in the initial stages. Again, narcissists rush and push for sexual intimacy. They are addicted to the feelings they get from having our sexual attention and affection; our supply is their drug. They will do and say ANYTHING to get their fix.

If putting the “horse before the cart” is the proper analogy to building healthy love based on predicated stages of intimacy, trust, reliance, commitment and sexuality,  it becomes clear to see how the narcissist’s distortion of these elements becomes a toxic, confusing mess.

Further, a narcissists’s demands that the cart be put before the horse, that we give them our love, sex, and commitment prior to their earning it, is a disastrous set up for dependence upon and addiction to a toxic, abusive relationship.








Posted on December 23, 2015, in Narcissism. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I just exited a very deep narcissistic relationship. I had left my fantastic career and moved my husband and two sons to another country to be with him and work with him. He was 27 years older than me and married, too, although his wife did not know about our affair. She thought we were just work colleagues despite the fact that he bought a large estate, and we all moved there together in two separate homes. His and my relationship lasted 6 years and took a huge toll on my health. I alienated myself from family, friends, colleagues to make it work with my family and his insane jealousies and his incessant drive for “supply” through his work and community. I used to be a strong professional woman, and people can’t believe how far I fell. I spent three years writing a spiritual adventure novel to try to justify the relationship and why I loved him. It felt like he was a fallen angel and this was a big spiritual battle for me. People love him, look up to him, think he’s so generous and great, like a saint. In my book Bridges: An Extraordinary Journey of the Heart, you can see my struggle and how far I went to justify the love. Why did I love someone who I know is a compulsive liar and deceiver? Why do I still? I thought there must have been a divine rationale—that my love was supposed to change him but it did not. He made me think it did, but when his wife discovered the affair, he turned on me and I discovered that everything he ever told me was not true. Then he twisted our relationship and made me look like the terrible one to his wife, who threw us out of our house and the country, and now we have to start again. It’s a blessing in disguise I know. I was not strong enough to break the bond, but when opened up the truth, first to tell my husband, then my mother, then my kids, a chain reaction occurred and the truth set me me free. I’m not sure freedom is the best thing for me, as now I feel so lost and broken, but I pray that God will help me through this and give me the strength to find myself again, be a good mother again, and make the most of life.


  2. Our daughter is in a narcissistic relationship–it went fast–he was moving in with her before we had even spent a day with him, and since then, he has manipulated her into not seeing us and not talking to us for long stretches. Now she has called to say they are engaged. Is there anything we can do to stop this impending train wreck?


  3. This describes me a T. I am just beginning into my journey of recovering from this abuse. Fear of men now 100% fully engrained in me. I haven’t had sex in years. I haven’t been intimate with a man, really, in the whole duration of my marriage – because really – how intimate was I really getting with a man who abused me?

    Another post in my series of blog posts about my narcissistic marriage I was wrapped up in for 12 years.

    Password is : Free2016


  4. The ‘horse before the cart’ analogy is spot on! Thanks for breaking the process down for us. A lot of these aspects come easily to most people, but they need to be explained to someone who may have suffered abuse at the hands of a narcissistic caretaker.


  5. I’m 3 years away from this sort of abuse but I’m still suffering now


  6. Every word describes with total accuracy how I was hoodwinked for decades, locked in an abusive marriage! Once I understood (thanks to your blog and others, Greg), I was able to divorce and am now reclaiming my life. It is possible!


  7. I love the term Love Bomb, haven’t heard that one elsewhere. Yes, that’s exactly what it feels like.


  8. Great article, everything said is very true….


  9. I was convinced I had trust issues. I even admitted to it. I failed to recognize that it was my Spidey senses trying to tell me to pay attention. We had been friends flirting occasionally for two and a half years. Then he decided he was in love with me after I encouraged him to be awesome. So we started seeing each other. He love bombed me, and I ate it up. With a few weeks, he brought a lot of grumpy moods and bitchiness to the table. And projection! If I said anything, he would deny it and tell me not to talk to him that way. I was always kind in trying to assert my boundaries. He was selective in who he would introduce me to, but made a show about how this or that person had never met any of his girlfriends because he wasn’t serious about them. Boy, did I feel special Then the petty criticisms and control-freaky behaviors began. He would insist that he knew how I felt even when I told him I did not feel that way. He spent most of his time on facebook, hiding his phone screen from me. He would say or do something shitty, then ask for a hug and point out one of his positive attributes “(I’m the perfect height”). Huh? He accused me of lacking self-awareness and having a sanctimonious lack of trust, but refused to engage in any meaningful conversation about any of it. He just said he was confused. I finally gave him the ultimatum to either figure it out and work with me, or go. He said he needed to think, had some things to figure out, then left, taking his pajamas with him. I broke it off the next day. The whole thing lasted 9 weeks. I guess I’m lucky, but what a crap lesson to learn.


  10. I guess I am in stage one. I started this last night and had a bad urge to stay in bed all day but decided to get up and attempt to make up with my family… it didn’t go very well, but i think I am on the shaky road to recovery. I have to make it to my 90 days…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Every time I think my ex-friend was just an insensitive person, I read a post like yours which is right on the money and I realize he truly had NPD. I was always there if he needed something but he would disappear, sometimes for days if I asked for help. He was and is a broken man – he admits how out of place he felt in society, and the more I tried to get close to him, the more he fought back and became nastier. I’m relieved he is is no longer in my life, but I feel bad that I fell for his game. I really thought he liked me but it looks like it was all just an act. Sure makes one lose trust for future relationships.


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