Why we’re so attracted to people who end up abusing us

It isn’t just women who end up in relationships with abusers, narcissists, and bullies. Men end up in these kinds of relationships too.

The new zeitgeist being passed around says that we attract things to us, so when we end up in abusive or toxic relationships, we’re led to believe we’re the ones at fault because we attracted those people to us.

This becomes a kind of victim blaming, and unfortunately only adds to our anxiety levels and can send up plummeting downward with depression.

What’s going on with us? Is this true?

No, actually it’s not! Let’s look a little more into what’s actually going on.

I found some well-worded information in the article Why So Many Incredible Women Are Drawn To Selfish & Narcissistic Men. While the article speaks to women, I see a much wider application.

Please note, the article starts out asking the same old questions about why we attract such people, but further down I found the nuggets of truth!

“Do you have a pattern of toxic relationships?

Do you ever meet a guy who is so amazing at the start, charismatic, charming, and so into you. But as soon as you get hooked, he starts becoming controlling and critical.”

Why So Many Incredible Women Are Drawn To Selfish & Narcissistic Men

When we notice that we have a pattern of toxic relationships, we question ourselves: “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I just pick a good one?”, “Why can’t I see through them?”.

Fortunately, there’s another explanation! It involves flipping the script a little.

What makes you so attracted to selfish men (people), like narcissists? 

The first step to understanding why you keep attracting narcissists is to turn the question around to better understand what is really going on.

You do not have some hidden magnet inside of you that pulls a narcissist toward you every time you meet one.

What’s really going on is what happens with everyone: You attract what is familiar. To break it down further, you have a subconscious program that highlights narcissists and makes them shine brighter than other men you meet.

Something inside of you recognizes his narcissistic qualities and an alarm goes off saying, “This is familiar! This is familiar!” The problem is your subconscious doesn’t distinguish between what is familiar and good for you, versus familiar and bad for you.

Instead of asking, “Why do I attract narcissists and selfish men?” you are better off asking, “What is it about these men that feels familiar to me?”

You’re not attracting them. You’re attracted to them.

Narcissists, bullies, and abusers know how to present a very attractive front to pull you into their world. Many are very charming, can be great conversationalists, and if they do things like “love bombing” we can get all swept up in the flurry of emotions. They’re kind of experts at distracting us from seeing who they are because deep down they know exactly who they are and want to very rapidly pull us in before we can realize they’re actually not good for us.

Here are four reasons you are attracted to selfish people

1. You were raised by a narcissistic parent.

We don’t necessarily see the red flags, because the familiarity of the red flags is invisible to us in the early stages.

Usually, we’ve had a parent who was already full-blown into all the traits, so we never saw the beginning stages to be able to recognize them.

Since your parents are like gods to you as a child, you won’t see their inability to parent you as their fault. Instead, you take full responsibility for their flaws.

You believe that you’re the problem and that there must be something wrong with you. You will take on any belief or strategy to feel loved and safe in your family of origin.

Children with narcissistic parents grow up to be perfectly matched with romantic partners who are narcissists.

The relationship feels so familiar to you (and weirdly comfortable) that you have trouble extricating yourself from the toxic situation.

This same pattern applies to people who have abuse, bullying, or trauma in their childhood. The familiar dynamic plays out in romantic relationships.

Because you were raised by a narcissist and you developed perfect strategies for accommodating their moods and selfish behavior. It feels “normal” and inviting to be constantly trying to win love from a narcissist who is incapable of loving you.


In my own life, my mother was a verbally and physically abusive narcissist.

When I became an adult I was trying to figure out what was wrong with her, and since she claimed she had no memory of abusing me or my brother, I was wrongly assuming she was schizophrenic. It was only when my second marriage was falling apart, and the counseling sessions were about to end because hubby was refusing to go anymore, that the counselor told me on our last Zoom meeting that I needed to look up the word “narcissist” to learn more about my husband.

This was a huge milestone moment for me. The counseling sessions had stopped, I had moved into my daughter’s home and I was doing my research to learn more in order to be able to heal. The more I learned about narcissists and people who have relationships with them, the more I realized that the original narcissist in my life was my mother.

She claimed to have no memory of how she treated my brother and I not because she couldn’t remember, but because she couldn’t accept responsibility for her actions. She had learned that claiming not to remember got people off her back when they called her out on her terrible behavior towards them.

She wanted me to forgive her so that we could go back to how things were, but I didn’t want to go back to how things were. Things were good for her because she was able to manipulate me, but that wasn’t the place I wanted to return to.

Her apologies were, “Please forgive me IF I have done anything to hurt you.” She truly struggled to articulate anything of what she had done. She became angry with me for pushing her when I told her that wasn’t a real apology. Of course, she had hurt me. I had a broken bone, had too many bruises and chunks of hair pulled out to be able to be satisfied with the implication that maybe she HADN’T abused me.

She was angry that I was seeing through her weak attempts to placate me and angry that I wasn’t accepting her apology and just being willing to return to the status quo.

This is typical of narcissists, bullies, and abusers, their inability to accept responsibility for their actions turns into blame-shifting, and then suddenly there’s a lot of arguing going on, which is all part of their smokescreen to turn the negative attention away from themselves.

It was only when I learned to step back and set boundaries for myself that this unhealthy dance between us changed.

I had to accept that after years of trying, I was powerless to change her. I had to learn to accept that she is who she is, and she would never be the kind of mother I needed nor would I have the kind of relationship I wanted.

The only person who can change a narcissist is themselves. I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know if that is a possibility.

2. You have an overdeveloped sense of empathy.

There are a few cultures that tell us we choose our families and our troubles before we come into this world because there are lessons we need to learn that only they can teach us, and there are lessons we can teach them because life always flows both ways.

Many years ago I had 4 psychics approach me, and they each gave me the same message: I had chosen all my troubles before coming into this life.

Coming from an abusive past, I asked myself WHY on earth I would do such a foolish thing. Why would I choose to have the kind of mother I had chosen? What insanity was that? Was this actually a form of victim blaming? What could I learn from an abuser?

When we’re empathic, we have so much feeling and understanding for others that we tend to excuse people’s bad behavior toward us. We’re easily manipulated by their lies. We want to believe because we’re altruistic and believe that others are like us. It’s crushing for us to learn that other people aren’t like us. I could easily understand that I had things to share with an abusive person, but it was truly humbling to accept that I had something to learn from an abuser. What could an abuser teach me? What did I need to learn from an abuser?

What could the possible lessons be for us? Weren’t WE the evolved ones who knew how to treat people nicely? Weren’t WE the ones to be the examples? What was lacking in the US that we agreed to come into this life and choose to have an abusive parent?

Boundaries. We didn’t know the concept of healthy boundaries. Because we were able to be empathic and altruistic, we assumed that everyone was like us and so we interacted with everyone as though they were. We had no understanding of the darker sides of humanity, yet empaths tend to have a deep yearning to help others and humanity as a whole.

The whole concept of boundaries seems almost “icky” because we’d prefer to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, that they have the emotional tools to treat us in a fair and mature way.

Our spiritual development required we learn these skills, in order to become a more rounded, healthier person. How could we help others unless we learned about who they were, behind the scenes, and how could we help them if we didn’t learn how to protect ourselves from their lies and abuse?

Through the whole process of learning what boundaries are and how to place them into my relationships, I learned there’s a LIMIT to what we can do to help others, especially those who need to take personal responsibility for their actions and do their OWN work on themselves.

I learned that the open, giving love we have, and the sheer power of our love won’t change them. They’re not going to be able to magically absorb our love and become a whole, healthy person, that there is indeed a barrier between us and them, which is the separation of two people.

Just because marriage is supposed to make “two people as one” that’s not what actually happens. We still stay separate individuals, each one responsible for our own thoughts and actions.

Part of their lies entails making us responsible for their actions or words, “You MADE me do that” or “You MADE me say that”. As people who lack boundaries, we accept the blame. Until we learn healthy boundaries ourselves, we’ll keep getting sucked into those lies.

3. You tend to sacrifice your needs to earn love.

Ah yes, self-sacrificing for the sake of others, the thought process goes something like this: when they see how much we do for THEM they will want to do the same or more for us!

I’m sorry, but while this may SEEM to be deeply spiritual, relationships aren’t actually quid pro quo!

If we’re doing this, we’re actually being just as manipulative as they are! Does this shock you? It shocked me when I learned this truth!

Enablers can be very guilty of this thought process. We do SO much for them, so they should feel gratitude towards us and reciprocate, right? Wrong!

We may also find ourselves seeking self-worth by how valuable we try to make ourselves to others.

If you’re seeing yourself in these words, try telling yourself “I AM worthy!” If you feel discomfort with the words, you may be trying to earn love, because inside you feel unworthy of it. Not to worry, this is something we can develop for ourselves, we don’t need to wait on others to validate us!

We’re each worthy of being loved! We can teach ourselves how to develop these feelings for ourselves, even if it isn’t anything we have known.

We hope that the more we pour into our narcissists, at some point they will see what we’re doing for them and they will be inspired to reciprocate. That’s not quite the way it works.

Narcissists don’t reciprocate. They just continue to receive until you have nothing left to give.

Narcissists will wring you dry again and again and again.

Giving to get is not a good strategy for lasting love. Notice if you find yourself feeling angry and resentful that your partner doesn’t consider your needs.

A narcissist sees you as the solution to their needs and is unable to understand that you require something from them. In his mind, being with him should be enough for you.


This is where learning healthy boundaries play a big part. When we learn where to stop in our efforts, and our expectations so we’re not just pouring ourselves out endlessly. Narcissists are bottomless pits and we have unspoken expectations that they will somehow magically see that we have needs too and will spontaneously wish to fulfill them.

Narcissists just aren’t built that way. When we keep expecting them to “see the light” we end up being angry and resentful people. That’s no way to live one’s life and hope that happiness will come from it!

4. You don’t believe that you are worthy of love.

We’ve touched on this point already, but this is a huge foundational point to turning our lives around!

A few years ago I realized I realized I didn’t like myself very much. I struggled to believe I deserved good things in my life, so I subconsciously self-sabotaged myself time and again, as if I were trying to prove to myself that I was right in thinking I was a loser.

I learned that all of those thoughts were the end product of having internalized all the lies I had been told about myself. I had internalized the abuse as proof somehow that I just wasn’t worthy of being treated better.

Low self-esteem can leave you vulnerable to a narcissist. At the beginning of the relationship when he is love bombing you, you’ll feel overwhelmed by how much attention he is directing your way.

The narcissist will use his appearance of self-confidence to take advantage of your lack of confidence.

Initially, he’ll show up to rescue you and be your hero. He’ll appear as the answer to your prayers and dreams.

But as the relationship continues, he’ll begin to use your lack of self-esteem against you, subtly chipping away at your confidence. This is a way of controlling you and keeping you under his sway.

He knows he can turn his attention back to you anytime he needs to, and you’ll respond accordingly.


Why it’s important to do our inner work

All of the points above show us why it’s so important to do the inner work on ourselves!

Until we do this difficult work, we will keep being attracted to the same kind of people, whether in friendships or love relationships. Until we do this work, we will continue to question why the abusers and narcissists are able to gain such traction in our lives.

When we come out the other side with strong feelings of self-worth and liking ourselves, we won’t feel the same attraction or the sense of a rush being around the narcissist when they’re baiting the trap for us!

We’ll be willing to wait until we really get to know the person, and not rush in too quickly into a relationship, for fear that we would lose that person’s interest.

Narcissists and abusers don’t want long dating periods. They can only keep up their mask and the pretenses for shorter periods of time, so they will try different pressure tactics to get us hooked, hopefully, married with a kid, so we can’t get away too easily.

Our old selves would be very flattered by all the attention and their lines of reasoning: “I just love you so much I can’t wait another minute until we start our lives together!”

Our new selves WANT to slowly get to know them, to see how they are in day-to-day situations, and not just flashy shows of attention.

I was amazed by how much my inner world shifted when I set out to do the work of teaching myself to like myself. I’m sure you will enjoy feeling these benefits too!

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10 thoughts on “Why we’re so attracted to people who end up abusing us

  1. It is a long process in accepting and loving ourselves…but if it wasn’t we wouldn’t appreciate the outcome. We are pushed and pushed until we dare to go past our fears and truly see who we are within. Great post Tamara, may that inner flower bloom in that understanding for us all ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mark! I agree with you, this work is a lifetime work in progress! We continuously need to keep doing it. ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You are absolutely right about all the reasons you listed. I think I attract those kind of people because I’m too empathetic and I also have difficulties with saying no and setting boundaries. I’m more of a giver and I think narcissists can see that and tend to take advantage of that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Right?! If we dare to look deeper at who the original narcissists in our lives were, we can see that when we met narcissists later in our lives we felt comfortable with them because their behavior was familiar to us. When we do the inner work on ourselves, we no longer feel that behavior is acceptable to us. When WE change, that dance changes! I’ve seen how narcissists I meet will now find excuses to get out of MY life, because I’m not signaling to them my compliance. Rather the opposite!😊😜

      Liked by 2 people

        1. You’re so right! We were lied to and brainwashed to believe that, to keep us under their sway! Otherwise we’d have left!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! Very enlightening! I can look back now and realize that the three most important men in my life were indeed narcissists! Starting with my father, my first serious boyfriend (this one is most obvious to me now!) and my ex husband. Ok. Time to do some work on me!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We certainly get trained into accepting them into our lives don’t we? I struggled with the old theory of our attracting them, because it made me feel there was something wrong with me. When I learned that we’re actually conditioned into seeing their behavior as being acceptable, because it’s familiar! It was a huge, brain awakening experience! Congratulations to you for seeing what you can change in yourself to create a healthier future! Yay!


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