The 'Empath-Narcissist' Relationship: Two Sides of the Same Coin?
A few disclaimers: I use the terms 'empath' and 'narcissist' here because it provides common grounds to describe healing possibilities with patterns of behavior characterized by modern psychology and which I personally find incomplete and unsatisfying, even non-humanistic. I personally find the term 'narcissist' isolating and cruel, and the term 'empath' limiting and borderline insulting given that every human being, in my view, has empathetic capacities that one can choose to develop. I am not a trained psychotherapist so if that is your jam, this article might not satisfy your curiosity. The perspectives presented in here are by no means offered as medical advice.
The central idea of this article will come as a controversial idea: that the relationship between an empath and a narcissist can be a blessing in disguise, in certain cases and when approached from a different angle than the one usually offered in the public arena. I have seen, in many instances, and experienced myself, that a 'narcissist can subconsciously look for an empath in order to heal, and an empath will sometimes open up to a narcissist in order to grow.
The issue I see in the two pairing up is therefore not one of personality or behavior to fix, but one hindered by the level of awareness of the dynamics of the relationship. Contrary to what the vast literature and resources on such relationships affirms, I propose that most 'narcissists' will not pick someone who is sensitive in order to suck up their energy, but rather as a way out of their pain. Many 'narcissists' are aware of their own darkness, and have no clue how to free themselves up from it. 'Narcissists' are generally highly intelligent and seek connection even though they may act as if they are rejecting others. The connection coming from a place of ‘ungroundedness’ makes for what people often interpret as predatory behavior when the 'narcissist' is in fact craving Love.
The more acute the level of 'narcissism,' the more challenging it can be for them to see clearly and pick the right 'healer.' As a result, most 'narcissists' will pick a relatively wounded/unhealed 'empath,' who, while understanding what is going on intuitively (as in, being able to feel, to understand, to forgive, to compose, to adapt, to give room, to the pain and 'pathologies) is not able to mobilize their gifts because they are not yet healed and empowered themselves at the level at which they are being called to function: a 'wounded empath' does not have the tools which can be helpful in supporting someone else's journey through pain. The level of proficiency in doing so required of an 'empath' needs to be proportional to the level of pain experienced by the person on the other side for the relationship to work generatively: to activate or enable the 'narcissist's' healing.
An 'empath' called to do work at this level is being called to do deep, deep work that demands much courage and showing up to working with others as well as with human pain at a whole new level. It invites them to first heal their own deeper layers of darkness as well as their superficial insecurities, and to secure a safe grounding of their own. They are being called to being something that pertains to the realm of the superhero, which they have the capacity to become, but through a serious ordeal and their own dark night of the soul. It is very challenging to see clearly when you are surrounded by the dark cloud of a 'narcissist'! It’s disorienting and it’s confusing. It doesn’t make logical sense and it sucks 'empaths' into the dark and airy energy of 'narcissism' which has no solid roots in the Earth, roots that are capable of breathing and of Life.
This can result in individuals on either side of the equation eventually kicking people out of their lives, which can be devastating on both sides and cause further trauma, even inviting more and more people with the same profile over and over again or help.
When damaging, the individuals will say:
- on the 'narcissist' side, that humanity / no one can be trusted. This reinforces their deep-seated inability to trust. (can also be seen as a battle between ‘Light’ and ‘Darkness’: roommate not understanding that I was seeking joyful interactions, while he was in a dark corner all the time, so it seemed suspicious and unsafe to him.)
- on the 'empath' side, that they “keep attracting narcissists” or people with trauma: people with deep trauma, even people with suicidal tendencies, and love relationships where there is no emotional stability and safety.
When it helps: the person with a suicidal tendency one will make a demand
on the empath, and the empath will firmly, sometimes violently, reject the
demand, causing the wounded person to ‘wake up.’
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