Narcissistic Empaths and the Narcissist / Empath Relationship
However, you may recall in a previous post where I wrote about the Law of Attraction, I pointed out that the perception of opposite energies “attracting” is an illusion. According to the Law of Attraction, like energy attracts like energy. So how can two seeming opposites such as a narcissist and an empath be alike?
Like Attracts Like or Opposites Attract?
First, we need to review what like energy attracts like energy actually means in terms of Law of Attraction:
If we want to truly understand the law of attraction, we have to understand it in energetic terms: heavy energy attracts heavy energy. Lighter energy attracts lighter energy. The vibrational frequencies of the energies are a match.
For example: total control and total submission exist on the same power spectrum and they are both symptoms of a heavier, “negative,” fear-based energy, one being a hunger for power, and the other being a state of feeling powerless. Thus, these two energies attract because they are the same fundamental energy expressing itself on a spectrum, and give the illusion of opposites attracting.
Next, we have to establish what an empath is.
When most people on the internet are talking about empaths, they are actually talking about someone who struggles with codependency and cannot separate their own emotions from those of others. I think there’s a great deal of nuance involved in this, and people often lump several categories together. I tend to see these broken down like so:
- There’s psychic empaths, which are people who physically experience other people’s emotions and energy in the environment around them (also known as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity or a highly sensitive person (HSP))
- There’s people with empathy, who have the emotional intelligence to understand how another person may be feeling
- And then there’s people who are codependent, who may, but don’t necessarily, have either of the aforementioned abilities
What’s the difference between all of these things?
Psychic empaths/HSP appears to be biological in nature – you’re born that way (and it exists in animals as well). Emotional intelligence/empathy is cultivated and nurtured through our interaction with our environment and relationships. Codependency is a learned coping mechanism/survival strategy when healthy boundaries and emotional intelligence is not cultivated or nurtured – it may mimic real empathy but in an unhealthy way, or it may involve real empathy but lack the capacity for healthy boundaries.
A person can be codependent, have empathy, and be a psychic empath, or a person can be codependent, have little emotional intelligence, and be a psychic empath, or they might be a perfectly healthy, empowered psychic empath with a high emotional IQ.
Me, personally… I’ve always been HSP, but I have not always been emotionally intelligent. Not even close. I had to learn how to cultivate emotional intelligence on my own. I taught myself how to feel and how to empathize with other people. In some ways, shutting off one’s ability to empathize might be a reaction to being HSP in an abusive world. The pain of living in this world is too much for a developing, sensitive nervous system to process, so it becomes numb and dissociated in order to function normally.
The kind of empath that is most often drawn into relationships with narcissists are typically codependents, some of whom who may not actually be empaths at all, but rather, covert narcissists.
Narcissists and the “narcissistic empath” exist on opposite end of the same spectrum. Indeed, some research suggests that the only people who can stand being friends with narcissists are other narcissists, because they satisfy one another’s need for power by association and they actually admire and compliment one another’s narcissistic qualities. A high profile example of such a relationship is that of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, or Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.
Everybody’s A Little Bit Narcissistic
The next thing that is important to establish is that narcissism and codependency are a spectrum. Literally everyone has some narcissistic traits, and we all probably have some codependent tendencies. Some people are more narcissistic than others, and some people are more codependent than others. The extreme ends of those spectrums are where you’ll find the hardcore narcissist and the narcissistic empath, and it’s those ends of the spectrum where we might find narcissistic personality disorder.
Defining Traits of Narcissists and Narcissistic Empaths
The defining characteristics of both narcissists and (narcissistic) empaths/codependents, etc. are:
- Lack of healthy boundaries – an empath has few to no boundaries, and a narcissist has little to no respect for boundaries
- Lack of a true defined self/identity – someone who is codependent’s identity may revolve around what others want them to be, someone who is narcissistic’s identity revolves around what they believe is ideal based on societal standards
- Dependent on others for validation / overly concerned with what other think – because of the lack of identity, both a narcissist and a codependent are very invested in how other people view them
- Lack of emotional accountability – a narcissist and a narcissistic empath both have difficulty owning their emotions and may project blame onto others. Someone who is codependent or an empath, but not a narcissistic empath will not project blame. They will typically accept emotional responsibility and blame rather than project it.
- Driven by shame – shame is the underlying trauma that drives narcissism in all of its expressions.
In this way, these two types of personalities are two sides of the same coin – and of course all of this exists on a scale/spectrum, so it’s to varying degrees of intensity.
A codependent or narcissistic empath gives all of their boundaries away (thus, no boundaries), and a narcissist disrespects all boundaries (thus, no boundaries), which is why they tend to “attract*” one another, and why overt narcissist parents create covert narcissist or codependent children.
(*Again, when I say “attract” what I really mean is narcissists behave in such a way that the only people who will tolerate them long enough to be in a relationship with them is someone who severely lacks boundaries. This isn’t so much an attraction as it is cause and effect.)
Both are overly concerned with the appearance of perfection, people pleasing, and deriving validation from another, it just manifests in slightly different nuances. Both constantly conform to others’ expectations, but it seems codependents focus on the individual in front of them, and narcissists focus on the collective’s.
On the extreme end, both lack a deep level of self-awareness, have a desperate need for attention, both engage in emotional manipulation, but one is more overt, and the other more covert. Both have a tendency to victimize themselves as well, which is why the whole “narcissists attract empaths” trope works so well–it allows the narcissistic empath to play that victim/martyr role and wear the label of “empath” like a badge of honor.
And finally, narcissistic empaths don’t actually have real empathy–they imitate empathy as a means of manipulating others into giving them validation. Their primary concern is still themselves, just like any other narcissist.
Out in the wild, these covert narcissists would be considered energy vampires to the tune of Evie Russell, from What We Do in the Shadows.
Spoiler alert: in true overt/covert narcissist fashion, Collin and Evie start dating.
Narcissists Are Not Attracted to Empaths
Narcissists are not attracted to empaths. Narcissists are attracted to people with weak boundaries and people-pleasing tendencies, which, as we’ve already established, is not a defining characteristic of an empath, it’s a defining characteristic of codependency. A narcissist can display both overt and covert narcissistic tendencies, they don’t have to be one or the other.
As I said earlier, everyone has some narcissistic traits, and we all probably exhibit some codependent tendencies. Some folks might rank higher on the scale than others, and that’s where you find seemingly good people being attracted to seemingly bad people… except that’s really just our own lack of self-awareness around our own narcissistic tendencies being mirrored back to us by the person we’ve identified as “the narc.” No one is good or bad, merely highly traumatized or less traumatized.
Narcissistic education coaches on Instagram are often people who have experienced narcissistic abuse, and when they haven’t fully healed from that abuse, they are usually still writing from a place of wounding and blame and have a tendency to dehumanize the abuser, which then creates an entire culture that writes off wounded people as irredeemably toxic, which naturally creates even more wounding by stigmatizing personality disorders.
Some also tend to give really bad advice to the people they’re allegedly trying to heal, because they, themselves, haven’t yet worked out how to heal, such as telling their clients, “You don’t love them. It was just a trauma-bond.” This is actually a form of gaslighting. Coaches don’t know you and they don’t know whether or not you really loved your abuser or not, and they have no business telling you that you didn’t when they’ve never even had a real life conversation with you (I will die on this hill). What they should be telling you is that you perhaps have an unhealthy attachment to said person, and teach you how to compassionately detach without abusing yourself or vilifying anyone.
I’ll never tell an abuse victim that they deserved what they got or that it was their fault, because none of us ever asks to be abused. Healing is a process as well, and we don’t need to make excuses for our abuser’s behavior, nor do we even have to forgive them. We can be angry and hurt and all of the complicated emotions in between and still learn to express those complex emotions in non-abusive ways. Expressing that pain in abusive ways is exactly what is occurring during narcissistic abuse.
Narcissistic abuse victims often gaslight themselves and bury their feelings as a coping mechanism to detach from their abuser. The unfortunate side effect of this is that they shut off their own empathy toward that person, and the one thing that defines a narcissist is a lack of empathy. So the irony is, you may end up becoming just like them, which is why abuse becomes a cycle.
At some point, in order to truly heal, we have to recognize that abusers were, themselves, abused. And while we don’t have to excuse their behavior, or even forgive them for what they did, we do have to try to understand how they became who they are, if for no other reason than to ensure that we, ourselves, do not become the thing we despise. When we bring ourselves back to a state of empathy and compassion, it opens a path for our own healing as well as one for the abuser, should they choose to accept it.
As with all things, this takes time (everyone’s timeframe is different) and it is is a process. If you’re reading this and you identify, you may not be ready for that yet and that is totally valid. I simply invite you to look at the larger picture of your healing journey and recognize that this is something that is possible to heal beyond, should you choose to, and it’s okay if you’re not ready yet.
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