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  • Elinor-Greenberg-Ph.D.

Narcissistic Love Patterns: The Recycler

Will my narcissistic ex come back?

I am often asked, “Will my narcissistic ex come back to me again?” I can reassure you that there is one type of narcissist that almost always returns. I call them “the recyclers.”

“Recyclers” can be men or women. What they have in common is that they tend to cycle through the same set of lovers over and over again. Unlike many narcissists, people with this narcissistic love pattern tend to avoid confrontations and they value being with someone predictable over the novelty of a new conquest. I think of them as “sequential monogamists.” While they are with a person, they are faithful; but as soon as they become bored or narcissistically wounded, they move on to the next available person in their group. Over time, they assemble a collection of undemanding lovers who are willing to take them back repeatedly. If no one drops out, this pattern can go on forever. Eventually, most of the lovers realize that there are others in the group, but they either become resigned to the situation or have their own reasons for accepting this type of intermittent relationship.

Example: Robby

Robby had an interesting collection of women: Three had never been married, one was divorced, and the other lived with what she described as a boring, older husband. Unlike many narcissists, Robby liked women around his own age and enjoyed their companionship. The women liked Robby because he liked them and also because he was very adventurous and brought excitement into their lives. He liked his women agreeable and predictable and his life uncomplicated and spontaneous. He would suddenly get it into his head that they should both go to Las Vegas for the weekend, he would buy airline tickets immediately, and then they were off on an adventure together. And, if he got bored in Las Vegas, he simply arranged for them to move on to someplace new. Robbie recycled places in the same way that he recycled women—Las Vegas led to New Orleans, which led to Big Sur, which might lead to Hawaii. Robbie did not really care which of the women he was accompanied by, as long as he got whatever he wanted from the experience.

  • Why do recyclers move on?

If “recyclers” value predictability and monogamy, you may wonder: “Why do they move on at all?” The answer is that they suffer from the same issues as other people with narcissistic personality adaptations (I prefer the word “adaptation” to “disorder”):

  • Narcissists lack “object constancy.”

“Object constancy” is a psychology term for the ability to maintain your positive feelings for a person (including yourself) while you are feeling frustrated, hurt, angry, or disappointed by the person. It also includes the ability to maintain your emotional connection to the person when he or she is not physically present. A lack of “object constancy’ is considered to be one of the hallmarks of a personality disorder.

Because “recyclers” lack “object constancy,” when t