I received a comment a few weeks ago that really made me think. The comment related to my post on cycling behavior and the suggestion was that narcissism and commitment phobia had to be on the same spectrum because of how cold a phobic can become during the separation part of the cycle. Although I certainly agree that some narcissists can also be resistant to commitment I don’t put them on the same spectrum as a commitment phobic.
From what I have read a true commitment phobic wants a close relationship. That is what keeps them trying. However it is when they get in the relationship and the prospect of making a commitment looms before them that fear and pressure take over and the cycling behavior begins resulting in an eventual break up. Commitment phobia has been likened to claustrophobia and that certainly makes sense to me. Both result in a resistance to having options limited in some way.
I think most commitment phobics are also just very indecisive about what qualities they want their relationship partner to have and so they also are not firm when a relationship needs to end. In fact, I think finding the right partner requires a strange combination of being emotionally open to another person so that you can get to know them but being decisive and tough if a relationship ends. Unlike a narcissist a commitment phobic doesn’t like to hurt people but can end up hurting someone greatly because of indecision.
So I can explain this a little better let’s step back and start with a fundamental fact. Selecting a relationship partner has to be a selfish decision. You have to find someone that is right for you. The other person has to look at it the same way. My ex-wife heard something from one of her counselors that has stayed with me. She said that the best relationships occur when each person thinks they got the better of the deal.
Now being selfish about what qualities you want in a person doesn’t mean that you only take from a relationship and not give. It simply means that basics things like values, goals and personality have to be in alignment.
One way to better understand this rationale is to see if the reverse position could be true. What if finding the right partner meant primarily wanting to make the other person happy? In this case imagine being approached by someone you weren’t remotely attracted to and who had personal characteristics you found offensive, but that this person really wanted to marry you. Would anyone advise a friend to marry that person to make them happy? I certainly don’t think any reasonable person would do that.
Now let’s look at what happens during cycling behavior. The pull away part of the cycle begins because of thoughts about why a person is not right for you. There is also a great feeling of pressure to make some kind of decision and so the commitment phobic decides firmly, at least for a while, to end the relationship. This results in a discussion and probably an argument which entails the phobic giving the reasons why it doesn’t work for him or her. The person on the receiving end hears these reasons but boils it down to one thing: the person breaking up with them doesn’t care about their needs. The conclusion they make is that the person breaking up with them is a cold hearted narcissist.
One thing I have learned about myself since my divorce is that I am terrible at breaking up. I remember my first post divorce breakup. My girlfriend disclosed to me that she wanted to have a baby. Yes I should have asked that question early in the relationship but it didn’t occur to me. The pressure to make a decision was immediate. My thinking was that I either had to go along with it or break up with her. My other choice would have been to just say I didn’t want another child and let her make her own decision but at that time I would have felt guilty about keeping her from reaching a significant goal. Therefore I decided to break up and asked a counselor I was seeing at the time how to do it. Her advice was to tell her my reason and then to cease all contact so as to not give her any false hope. Let’s just say I wasn’t tough enough and didn’t do a good job at that so the breakup was messy and drug on too long.
The point of that story is that this method of breaking up seems to be the conventional wisdom. I think that most commitment phobes can do this for a while and this approach adds to the idea that they are narcissists but at some point due to indecision and a lessening of the pressure the positive thoughts about the relationship come back, a reconciliation occurs, and the cycle begins again.
If you really suspect that the person you are with is a narcissist there are better ways to tell that than during a breakup. If during the good times you can tell that everything is all about them with very little real giving and that any kind of criticism or personal rejection results in a rage then it means that you may want to get some counseling about your relationship because you are probably the one that needs to end it.