The above saying is not only a cliché but it is also true. There is one thing narcissists and those who get involved with them for too long definitely have in common: a lack of self-love.
Narcissists project their own self-hate onto the ones they pretend to love or care for, whereas their counterparts’ lack of self-love is shown in the neglect of self-care, self-protection, and self-sacrificing acts, allowing narcissists and other individual to cross their personal boundaries, take advantage of them, and ultimately abuse them.
Often times, this lack of self-love in self-sacrificing individuals is described as co-dependency. Co-dependents hope that their good deeds to others will make them feel validated and loved. And so, both, the narcissist and the co-dependent, make each other an extension of themselves in order to feel whole. Workaholism and perfectionism, for example, are very common in co-dependents, and thus, they are quickly taken advantage of to do most of the overtime at work or accept delegated tasks, even though their schedule is already exploding. Saying no does not occur to them, even though the word is resting on the tip of their tongues, and they usually end up loathing themselves when they realize, the workload has just become too much.
The lack of self-love in narcissists and co-dependents stems from conditioning in childhood. The love or nurturing of their emotional needs they did not receive from their parents lives on in their adulthood until they fix it. Now, the mistake a lot of self-sacrificing individuals or co-dependents make is that they try fixing the other person rather than taking care of their own needs, which is how they end up in toxic dynamics, or what they perceive to be a loving relationship on the surface (or merely the idea of such) is subconsciously, even if unwillingly, a project to them. The narcissist’s lack of self-love is a bottomless void and no matter how hard someone works, or how much overtime he/she invests to bring this project to completion (or merely to fruition), it is doomed and going to fail; without a doubt, self-sacrificing individuals or co-dependents will lose themselves in this seemingly never-ending process (or project).
It is through the learning of self-love that a co-dependent individual can break this cycle and habit, however, as self-love is such an unknown feeling and territory to them, and they experienced narcissists to be utterly self-absorbed which they mistake for self-love, the struggle they face is the question, whether loving themselves does not make them narcissistic? And so they sort of hover in a state of limbo where the concept of genuine love cannot be quite grasped.
Self-love is not narcissism. And narcissism is not self-love. What society falsely labels as the narcissist’s self-love is self-absorption; a selfish state of being that makes us want to say that a person is “full of him/herself”. They perform a very shallow attempt to appear strong and self-confident under a mask of grandiose demeanor, while under the surface, the opposite is much more the truth; a cover-up to hide their insecurities and self-hate.
Genuine self-love instead is constituted by self-acceptance and recognition of one’s personal needs and boundaries that self-absorbed individuals repeatedly try to disturb. A union with a narcissist will never happen or merely lasts for a short amount of time if genuine self-love is in place.
There is another saying that goes together with the above. “You must help yourself first in order to help others.” As you can see, there is nothing selfish, self-absorbing, or even self-destructing about genuinely loving yourself. It is a benefit for you as well as those who truly deserve your attention.