Dr Perpetua Neo

Are You Familiar Or Comfortable With Someone-- And Why The Difference Is A Red Flag In Relationships

Have you ever met a complete stranger, only to feel like you’ve known them for years? This happens sometimes, a bit like a personification of déjà vu, where you meet someone new but the conversation flows so easily it’s as if you already know each other.

This familiarity may happen on a first date, where you start talking and you feel like it isn’t the first date at all.

But there’s a distinction between feeling familiar and feeling comfortable with someone, and the difference between the two is important to recognise.


Be careful of falling for familiarity, warns psychologist Perpetua Neo, because narcissists are familiar.

“A narcissist can feel very familiar if you are brought up around them or have too many of them in your life,” she told Business Insider. “So familiarity is, for instance, ‘I have this pair of shoes and they are spoiled. They are dangerous and they don’t fit well, but I am used to them. So I feel safe in them but actually I could fall and they could kill me.'”

Some people find themselves being attracted to narcissists time and time again. This could be because you are a highly empathetic person, and narcissists are highly skilled at reeling you in and abusing your sympathy and generosity.

One psychological theory for why we fall into habits is called repetition compulsion. This is where we have a tendency to repeat situations that feel familiar. For example, if someone grew up with a verbally abusive parent for whom nothing they did was ever good enough, they may then subconsciously seek out romantic relationships with angry, dismissive people to try and fix the unresolved issue with a different person.

Relationships with narcissists can be so damaging to their victims that they start to question reality. Over time, the victim will believe everything that went wrong in the relationship is their own fault, even though it was the narcissist who was impossibly demanding and emotionally draining.

When their narcissist discards them, particularly psychologically vulnerable people may end up with another, and then another, when the relationships do not work out. They will be trying to repair all of their old broken relationships with people who are impossible to reason with, and find themselves in a cycle of destruction.

"That is the sort of familiar that's bad," Neo said. "And that kind of familiar might actually come up with feelings of danger, or excitement, which are key words associated with narcissists."


Comfort is different. When you are comfortable with someone, it means you are relaxed enough around them to be who you are. Excitement is important too, but it should be balanced with the feeling of stability. You shouldn’t feel like you’re about to teeter off the edge of sanity at any moment.

“When you’re free to be yourself you can talk you can joke you can laugh, you can actually oscillate between going deep, talking about intellectual and emotional stuff, and being fun,” Neo said. “So it depends on who you are. If you like to have fun, if you like to tease and play, that might be higher on your agenda. But some people like to be very serious, then they have to be comfortable enough to be serious.”

Ultimately it comes down to respect, and knowing whatever opinions you express, whatever you find funny, or engaging, or insulting, your partner will listen to you, whether they agree with you or not.

"Comfort isn't just about feeling like you're lying on clouds," Neo said. "Comfort actually means this alignment in terms of your personalities. Is there space for your similarities and your differences? When you're very similar, you may end up competing with each other. And if you're too different, it may feel like someone is trying to smother you with their opinion. So that's where difference is not healthy."

The trick to ending the cycle is recognising it without blaming yourself for starting it.

“Your mind keeps bringing you back to situations that are unresolved until you can solve them,” Neo said. “What is the common denominator — it’s me. So figure out, without blaming yourself too much, how can you actually sort out where that originated. Then you can end the repetition of compulsion.”

If you’d like to find yourself back again and have healthy relationships that fuel your growth in all areas of life, here’s my signature 8-week program Detox Your Heart, tailored to your goals, personality and lifestyle. Book your free Chemistry Call here.

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