I’ve noticed something strange about some narcissists that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere else. Some narcissists, though lacking empathy for other people, seem to have it in spades for animals. Even some psychopathic malignant narcissists are actually very good with non-human creatures. My ex is one of these. He cried like a baby when our dog, Daisy, died of a massive stroke in early 2013. He was always very kind to her and the cats. He used to be beside himself with worry when one of them got sick. The animals seemed to trust him and even preferred him to me! In spite of being No Contact (really, very low contact) with him, I completely trusted him when I had to recently rehome two cats and a dog, all whom I cared about very much (the pets are now staying with my daughter).
But that’s the only time you would ever see him be genuinely kind. Any “kindness” he showed other people was meant to be either manipulative or to impress.
A commenter on another post, discussing her psychopathic ex-lover who is still actively gaslighting her and generally being psychologically abusive, had this to say about him:
The guy I know loves cats. Many of the photographs he sent me have him in photos with kittens in his hands. The photos make him look very loving. Because you would think that any man that relates to cats and kittens in photos would be loving, gentle and harmless.
[…] His nickname for me was Kitty Kat.
This phenomenon is actually pretty common. It surprises me it’s almost never discussed.
So here is the conclusion I come to about why some narcissists can genuinely feel empathy for animals. The problem isn’t that the narcissist lacks empathy per se, but that they have shut off their capacity to feel empathy for other humans. They may feel it for an animal (or maybe for some, a lesser or non-mammalian animal because dogs and cats may be seen as “too human.”). Here are two surprisingly touching essays Sam Vaknin wrote about his relationship with a goldfish and a snail. The reason some narcissists have normal or even excessive levels of empathy for animals is because animals are “safer” to feel empathy for than other humans, who they have come to hate and devalue due to abuse they suffered at the hands of their parents.
Of course this doesn’t apply to all narcissists or people with an antisocial personality. We have all read of cases of serial killers and other sadistic criminals who spent their childhoods tormenting all living creatures, even the lowly ants and spiders of the world. But only some are like this. Most are probably indifferent to animals.
I have also seen a related phenomenon that’s even more strange than the affinity some narcs have with animals. Some psychopaths and malignant narcissists (almost always male) who seem to live to abuse or even torment other people, at the same time seem to genuinely love their own mothers and even feel protective of them. You hear about serial killers who worshipped their mothers (but hate all other women), even though the mothers were almost always abusive to them. The movie “Psycho” illustrates this in Norman Bates’ relationship with his dead mother. Obviously the exceptions these psychopaths make for their mothers are rooted in severe codependency to the point most people see their relationships with them as “sick,” but it’s still an indicator of a more vulnerable, codependent side of themselves they show to no one else.
For both the seriously character disordered who love animals (because they’re safer to love than people) and those who love their mothers (because they have unhealthy codependency with them), it’s as if little piece of their true self somehow remains split off and immune from their otherwise impenetrable wall of narcissism.