A lot has been said about the connection between an empath and a narcissist, how these two groups of people are inevitably attracted to each other.
We have one group of people who are accustomed to people-pleasing, self-sabotage and who can feel the needs of others as if they were their own. We have another group of people who survive by gaining most of their energy through manipulating others into doing their biding.
These two groups of people are a match made in heaven, or more aptly, a match made in hell!
In this post I want to talk about the toxic relationship between the empath and the narcissist, why it occurs, how to avoid it and to hopefully provide some much needed clarity.
Empaths are those who experience hyper-sensitivity or hyper-empathy, they can take on other people’s emotions as if they were their own.
Empaths might naturally lean towards a higher level of sensitivity, which is further developed in their primary environments. Many empaths are born out of homes where the adult figures were not emotionally-mature, and couldn’t meet their own needs.
An empath becomes accustomed to intuiting and trying to regulate a parent’s emotions. While we would hope that our parental figures would be able to manage their own emotions, this is not always the case.
As we also seek validation and approval from our parents at this age, people-pleasing (always putting other people’s needs above our own) becomes entangled with the idea of love.
If an empath is not aware of these self-sabotaging tendencies, they can become a like a sponge for people’s energy. This leaves empaths vulnerable to lies, deceit and manipulation from those who prey on these qualities.
Narcissists are people who don’t know how to cultivate their own power so they have to do it through manipulating other people.
Narcissists are those who have chronically under-met needs. They don’t know how to fill themselves up, to be self-sufficient. They are emotionally aware in the sense that they know how to get their needs met (at any cost), but don’t have the capacity to do so healthily or autonomously.
We think power is controlling others, but power is having control over ourselves.
Empaths and narcissists share this common wound (unmet needs) they just tend to go about managing this in completely different ways, or have developed different coping strategies to deal with it. Some would say that empaths and narcissists have the same starting point but a different end-point.
Why empaths and narcissists are attracted to each other
Empaths and narcissists aren’t attracted to each other for some conventional reason, however both groups tend to work their emotions out through other people.
Empaths are strongly tuned into other people’s needs, emotions, energy; often neglecting their own. Whereas narcissists operate the opposite way. Empaths focused on meeting other people’s need, narcissists on other people meeting theirs.
When we use the word attracted here it can sound fatalistic or victim-blaming. I think it’s important to realize that just because we are attracted to something/someone, doesn’t mean that is a an accurate reflection of who we are.
Just because we are attracted to dynamics that aren’t healthy for us, doesn’t mean we cannot take steps to change that or create a new pattern. Attraction represents a state of awareness that is complementary but not necessarily in a positive way.
What to do about this dynamic?
Think about what is attractive to you. I’m not talking about looks or even shared values – what attracts you towards someone in how they act towards you? What sort of dynamics are familiar to you?
It can be helpful to take a look at how you have experienced relationships through your parental figures or childhood environment. What sort of qualities were modelled to you in a good partner; a partner someone stayed with? How does this mirror the relationships you have as an adult?
It’s this familiarity and ‘staying power’ that we are often attracted to, rather than to someone who can actually meet our needs, be in tune with us and grow together with.
Identify how you express your needs in relationships. A lot of modern relationship advice, especially in the spiritual community, points us toward hyper-independence “You don’t need anything from anyone”.
This sets us up to meet our needs in a relationship indirectly. Through unspoken expectations, assumptions and subtle hints. This is not always the best way to get our needs met, it causes a lot of confusion and silence.
The idea is that the less needs we have in a relationship the easier things will go, the less baggage we put onto someone else. However, in denying our needs and expecting things to figure themselves out without clear communication, we end up building resentment.
When we approach relationships with our needs in mind (rather than ignoring them) it’s also much easier to build reciprocity. We ask for what we need but we’re also tuned into what another person needs, it’s not one-sided.
We don’t enter into relationships where we avoid stating our own needs but end up catering to someone else’s because we are already tuned into them, and attentive in that way – because we think that is our role.
How we use labels
I think it’s important to highlight that there is a difference between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and someone acting like a narcissist or have narcissist traits, we often use these terms interchangeably.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is listen in the DSM-5, whereas colloquially we might refer to someone who is acting self-absorbed, selfish or destructive towards others as narcissistic, even if they aren’t diagnosed with this disorder.
Nowadays public resources on mental health/personality disorders are much more accessible, but this also means there is more misapplication and simplification of these disorders too. We use a lot of language casually that was intended for a medical setting.
The same could be said of the label empath – there is no empath committee that assigns these labels to people, it’s an individual choice/perspective to do so. However labels and behavior don’t always line up, just because someone claims or thinks they are something doesn’t mean it’s accurate.
The word empath is used to describe someone with a kind of hyper-sensitivity or empathy. Someone who takes on other people’s emotions as if they were their own. Sometimes using these labels causes more division than is necessary.
The world is certainly not divided up into empaths and narcissists or empaths and unaware people. We exist along a spectrum of empathy, and most if not all people experience empath (even if they express that differently).
People who identify as empaths can have a fluctuating level of empathy too – we all do. This labels describes an experience with sensitivity (hyper-sensitivity) that can have any causes and expressions.
Can empaths become narcissistic?
Those who are truly tuned into themselves, their emotions and other people’s will not likely become narcissistic. Those who are willing to question their behaviors, who aren’t afraid of their shadows, are less likely to become narcissistic because they are able to question themselves (which narcissists do not do).
However anyone can become narcissistic in nature or have narcissist tendencies – they can become self-centered, manipulative, unaware of how they are affecting other people and destructive in nature. One of the reasons empaths can become narcissistic is through how they use the label and how it distorts how they view of themselves/empathy.
Where ’empath’ becomes a badge of honor, a way to prove their goodness to others. As I mentioned above, assigning yourself a label doesn’t automatically mean that label applies.
Labels can also be used for nefarious purposes too, attaching a positive label to ourselves in order to manipulate people undetected.
The label empath can cause us to have an inflated sense of self, much like labels like spiritual, holy, even good. Labels become defences against criticism and decoration for our ego.
Empaths can often become cold and manipulative when managing everyone else’s emotions becomes too overwhelming. When they feel locked out from the world, becoming apathetic.
We all have a capacity to devolve or evolve, the difference is made in how we direct our awareness, we are not static being regardless of the labels we ascribe to ourselves.
In my guidebook Energetic Being I cover moving on from these labels, and how to work with your energy more intently.