What Narcissists Really Want to See in Your Eyes

Hint: It's all about them.


Narcissus, the mythical Greek character from whom we have derived the term “narcissistic,” was a ridiculously beautiful youth. Because of his extreme beauty, people fell in love with him left, right, and center. He never returned their feelings, though, and left a trail of rejection, including one would-be suitor who killed himself.

A prophet had warned Narcissus’s mother that Narcissus would live a long life—provided he never recognized himself. Having seen the disregard that Narcissus paid those who fell for him, the gods played a cruel trick. Narcissus sees his own reflection in the water and falls in love with his own beautiful self. Narcissus had no interest in anyone else—he simply wanted to dwell on his own reflection. His entire existence from then on was dependent on what was mirrored back to him.

Source: John William Waterhouse/Getty Images

Like the original Narcissus, when a narcissist looks into your eyes—not to mention hearing the words you say and witnessing the actions you take—they want to see themselves mirrored back. What’s more, they want to see a certain version of themselves—the version they have cultivated to appear successful, attractive, and popular—reflected in you. You can mirror the narcissist’s own version of themselves, however delusional it might be, by agreeing with them, by complimenting them, and by acting in the way they want you to act. As long as you do this, you can be the narcissist’s best friend, lover, or favorite child.

Narcissists are always looking at the external, and they will want to see in your eyes that you adore them and accept them as being the incredible person they have projected. Perhaps most importantly, they are seeking validation. Deep down, they might know that the version of themselves they present to the outside world is on very shaky foundations—they need to see in your eyes that you believe and support them, that you validate what they choose to show.

The second you crack the narcissist’s mirror or muddy their reflection—by challenging or disagreeing with them or pointing out the untruths in their version of themselves—they react strongly. Imagine if you spent a long time putting together your face and hair, and while you were staring into your favorite mirror, someone came up behind you with a sledgehammer and broke it. This is how bad it can feel to a narcissist when you go against them, which is why their reactions are so extreme and out of proportion. Whether they use passive-aggressive or openly aggressive means, the narcissist will make sure you don’t crack their mirror again.

Narcissists try to ensure they have people in their life who will reflect back what they want to see. This is what they need—just as Narcissus needed his precious reflection in the pool. Being that reflection means you are as passive as that pool of water, too scared to break or even smudge the narcissist’s mirror. If you want to have a voice, to be free from fear and constraints, and to lead a life where you don’t have to watch your every move in case it causes offense to the narcissist in your life, you need to make a commitment to taking back control of your life.

Changing your role within a narcissistic relationship is tough, and many people can only do so by leaving. It is important to seek out the support you need during this process. You may find it useful to seek out the help of a suitably qualified therapist. To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.