The Real Reason You Get Attached To Narcissists

Based On The Internal Family Systems Model Of Psychotherapy

Thought Catalog

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Marc Nusser

By Shahida Arabi

You may wonder why you have so many conflicting emotions, thoughts and behaviors when it comes to trauma, especially if you’ve been traumatized by a manipulative narcissist. The Internal Family Systems model, created by therapist Dr. Richard Schwartz, posits that we all have “inner parts” that fall into three main categories: exiles, managers, and firefighters. These inner parts are discrete facets of our personalities or “subpersonalities” that serve vital survival and protective functions. These create an “internal family” inside of our mind.

When these inner parts are healthy, unburdened, and are able to contribute to our well-being and survival without using maladaptive strategies, this internal system can be led successfully by the core “Self,” the compassionate, calm, centered, connected and grounded self we all have within us. Each inner part wants something positive for the core “Self” but can go to extreme lengths to do so or use maladaptive strategies to achieve their goals, especially if they have been shaped by trauma. These inner parts can reveal themselves through behaviors, thoughts, emotions, images, sensations and more, and provide feedback to the “Self” that can guide the decisions the “Self” makes. When they are burdened with traumas and triggers, these inner parts can act out in extreme ways that harm us, even though their intentions are usually to defend, protect, and guide us back to safety.

This evidence-based model of psychotherapy is groundbreaking, especially when it comes to conceptualizing the impact of childhood trauma on our behavior. However, less has been spoken about how this model can also inform our relationships with narcissistic or psychopathic individuals. When we’ve been traumatized by narcissistic individuals, these inner parts can come into conflict and “fight” with each other for control, causing our inextricable trauma bond with the narcissist (a bond that develops as a survival mechanism) to become even stronger in some cases.

Here is how our inner parts can influence our attachment to narcissists:

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