My stupid ego stands in the way of empathy.


There’s been something on my mind that’s been bothering me a lot, but I’ve hesitated posting about it because it makes me sound like a terrible person.  But I’ve always aimed to be honest on this blog, so I’m not going to make an exception this time.

A few weeks ago, I made a new online friend.  She’s in a severe depression right now due to receiving some bad news. She was so grief-stricken she had to go into the hospital and get treated for her depression.   Since then she’s been confiding in me by email, because she’s too shy to publicly comment about her situation.   For about a week or two, we corresponded almost daily.   Our emails to each other were long and deeply personal, and they proved therapeutic for me as well as for her.

I’m no therapist, but I’m always willing to correspond via email and try to direct people to the proper resources or actually help them directly if I can.   I felt like I could relate to this woman; I identified with a lot of her issues. She said she felt the same way about me.  I began to think of her as a friend, someone I cared deeply about, even though we never met and we’d only been corresponding for such a short time.   I felt a great deal of empathy for her situation.  These empathic feelings are  something rather new for me, because only recently I was too busy working on my own issues and trying to recover from my own trauma that I didn’t have the time or inclination or even the ability to really be able to empathize with anyone else.   Lately though, I’ve been rediscovering the empathy I possessed so much of as a child, and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.  I want it to keep growing because it makes it easier for me to connect with people and makes it possible for me to be authentic and help someone else in need, which is what I’ve been aiming to do more of.

My new friend told me that writing to me helped her a lot, and I was extremely touched by this.  I told her she was helping me too, which is true.   I began to look forward to her emails, because, well, the things she told me made me feel good.   I felt my ego puffing up with pride like a loaf of baking bread.   I began checking my inbox several times a day to see if there were any new emails.  I was getting a little obsessed, to be honest.  I was jonesing for that feeling of being needed, of feeling like I was important to someone, of knowing that someone I liked and cared for valued me that much.

I haven’t heard back from her in a few days.  Now I’m becoming insecure and hypervigilant and wondering if I said something wrong or overstepped her boundaries or if she just got tired of writing to me.    I kept reading over our emails trying to find anything, any hint at all, that I might have said something offputting that ran her off or made her want to stop emailing me.   I found nothing but obsessively, I kept looking.

After 3 days of no correspondence, I finally emailed her again.  I was extra careful not to sound too needy, and because she’s so fragile right now and came to me for help (and not the other way around), I tried extra hard to not to project my own “stuff” into my email to her.  I read it over several times and it sounded alright to me, but I still worry she may be able to pick up on my neediness.

I realized with horror that my worry about her possibly abandoning me was more powerful than my concern that she might have had to go back into the hospital (or just couldn’t get online, or was busy, or whatever).    My insecurity made my email sound more stilted and less natural than usual.  I no longer feel like I can be as open and honest, because of my own stupid fears of being offensive or overbearing and making her think badly of me.  It isn’t her fault I feel like this–it’s my own ego getting in the way of the real empathy I have for this person.

This happens to me all the time, and is one of the reasons I’ve sometimes thought I’m actually a narcissist.  Everything is always about me, my ego, what other people are thinking about me, am I being validated, am I still valued by them, are they going to leave me, do they secretly hate me?  Even when all the evidence is to the contrary, I still look for the microscopic speck of dirt in my bowl of ice cream–and always find it even though it isn’t really there.

Yes, I do have empathy–and a lot more of it has been freed to me lately–but when there’s any uncertainty or insecurity and I begin to feel hypervigilant and paranoid.  I start fretting that maybe I’m being deliberately ignored or God forbid, abandoned, and all that wonderful, healing empathy I’m learning how to use goes flying out the window and everything becomes all about me and my stupid ego again.

I still care about this individual and want to help her, but I want my empathy to flow naturally and my ego to stay out of it, because all that does is fuck everything up.  I’ve been praying for this to change, because how can I ever really be of help to anyone else if I’m always worried about what other people are thinking about me?   This isn’t about me; it’s about her and trying to help her heal, not getting some sort of ego boost for myself.

I’m not going to email her again.   I’ll just wait now, and if I never hear from her again, I can live with that.   Maybe she got what she needed from me–the encouragement she needed–and that should be enough.   I hope she is okay.

If nothing else, then I have learned a hard lesson about pride and ego: pride comes before the fall.  True empathy requires humility and the ability to set your own ego outside the door.

40 thoughts on “My stupid ego stands in the way of empathy.

  1. I don’t think your disappointment is narcissistic. I think you are very sensitive, caring and and introspective…which places you in a very vulnerable position in online relationships which, by nature, are more superficial. I think your reaction is just natural, and you are over thinking it. Email amd social media invites desertion, real life demands attention, and typically people don’t stop to say “Excuse me, I’ve gotta go” when having a crises or checking into a psyche ward. It is kind of like my elderly ain’t who stays home all day. I can be extremely busy but if I do not return her call she worries, as if something bad happened. The one who sits home has more time to obsess about things.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I think you are more HSP than narcissistic. I also think you invest in people in a way that they can’t always reciprocate (I used to do that). Sometimes we love on a level that can’t be matched and others burn out before we do. It sucks, but keep your fire stoked no matter what. Maybe it just means that “task” is done and it’s time for the next one. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you’re being a little hard on yourself here. I agree that “making it all about you” shows narcissism. But showing some narcissism does not make you a narcissist. As we know, everyone has some degree of narcissism and people on the PD spectrum maybe show a bit more than others. Particularly when stressed. Personally, I think this overlapping of traits across all sorts of PDs is why the DSM classification was so radically changed last time around. Rather than giving people smudgy and unhelpful labels like “Narcissist with some obsessive overlay” or “Histrionic with anti-social-like tendencies”, they thought they’d try just saying “Personality Disorder with these specific traits.” Of course, nobody liked it.

    The core defect for people with PDs seems to be the same across the board (although it will manifest differently in each individual) – the defect in empathy that allows them to extract attention or admiration from other people without having to admit to themselves that these other people are real and will thus be affected by their actions or may even deserve reciprocation i.e. they make it all about them. And no-one but them. Ever.

    So when you say that “everything is all about me”, you may be exhibiting a PD trait, but that doesn’t make you a narcissist. The fact that you can recognise it and at least attempt to address it almost certainly means you aren’t, I would have thought. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • that’s so true! showing narcissism does not make you one
      they are one ALL the time
      and can you eve imagine in your WILDEST dreams that a narc would even question themselves and be worried and show accountability etc? no way!
      even worrying that youre one means youre not by default it seems…yea… really due to how horrific narcs have been to us we overcompensate with fear on not being one!
      one thing is for sure,after narc exposure being natural anymore is out the window
      we may have good natural days
      but aren’t those the BEST!?
      the ones we look back on and think wow..that was so “pre-narc”of me, I actually enjoyed a moment/day…
      that’s healing
      so I just realized it may be why when a person heals they may not stay friends with someone who “knows it all” about us
      takes time

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      • well I meant, as healing never comes so fast if ever! fully healed!? rare.. so I meant I recall having stubborn moments where I thought I needed to “take back myself” from others who knew too much… and stubbornly tell myself I am healed Or it didn’t happen etc.. just for a break…just another thought… gets so overwhelming you can blank out and try to have normal days.. to face the world too and people at work..if I managed a good day at work I wouldn’t want to come online and face the bad again… happens more if its the beginning of dealing.. not years later when talking about it is common and safe distance. for your friend it seems raw since she was in the hospital recently..
        facing you is also ‘facing herself’ at this point
        maybe no emails were like.. hey the weather is nice today and I am having a vanilla coffee have a nice day
        and that’s it
        they were all intense maybe.. I am guessing many things as well but sharing how itd be if it was me in case it helps too.
        I was always on needy end/receiving help
        I am like her in this! I feel…sounds ironic itd mean because she knows you care she can have a 3 day gap…
        IF she has decided on one !
        hope she is ok!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi there, I love your blog so much. But how does one reply or add a comment? I am new to this and I don’t know how. I can’t find your email address either. Thank you. And I just read the one about your depressed friend and you sounded EXACTLY like me. I have the exact same problems when it comes to female friends due to being the daughter of a narc mother. I pouring everything into being a caring friend and when they leave me…I don’t know what I did and become sooooo disappointed, It has happened my entire life and I am turning 50 this year. I have no sisters either. It makes me sad….because I would love a life long friend to help through the good times as well as the bad and have a special connection. Why is this so hard. Thank you!!!!! MK

    On Mon, Aug 15, 2016 at 12:26 AM, Lucky Otters Haven wrote:

    > luckyotter posted: ” There’s been something on my mind that’s been > bothering me a lot, but I’ve hesitated posting about it because it makes me > sound like a terrible person. But I’ve always aimed to be honest on this > blog, so that’s what I’m going to do. A few weeks ag” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think most of us with N mothers probably have this problem , especially with other women. Thanks for your kind comments. I think you just figured out how to reply! Comments go through moderation for first time commenters, you should be good to go now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I related and having just written a post about surviving an N mother I get it about coming back to the empathy you once had. In fact I was an extremely empathetic child, relating to dogs, cats, fish all living things with heartbreaking empathy. I became very numb because my mother demanded such an outpouring of emotion constantly the little body I inhabited shut down feeling anything. It was as if the synapses got fried. That feeling of pins and needles when a limb wakes up after going asleep probably happens to our souls too. And I believe as well if you are self aware enough to ask the question “is this narcissistic that I think its all about me” is an indication you aren’t.

        If you hit your thumb with a hammer the thumb demands your whole attention. Thus coming into relationships after being out of them for a long time is a frightening and painful thing (like the thumb screams for attention) I just think its a process of learning how to be a friend while also being aware you are out of practice and its terrifying

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        • My heart breaks for the vulnerable, empathetic little girl you were who your mother couldn’t even begin to understand. In therapy today, I talked about that too–being a sensitive child who could absorb everyone’s emotions like a sponge and see the truth about people even at a very young age.
          Healing from abuse is very, very hard, and takes a long time, and along the way we probably pick up a few N traits of our own too (fleas). I’ll always be angry at my family for what they did to me, but I still forgive them and after everything, I still have love for them. God knows why. I stay NC though. That’s what saved me.
          I have some catching up to do on your blog, Katie! Sorry I haven’t been by. Too much on my mind lately.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you for your compassion. Sometimes the world feels like it has so many sharp and jagged edges. Its no wonder people hide behind walls or go numb. NC is essential or the scab keeps getting pulled off preventing the healing. Its hard to keep up with reading, no worries… Bless you on your trip and for your encouragement about healing.

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      • “I think most of us with N mothers probably have this problem , especially with…”

        Most of us with N mothers have so much fear of becoming angry narcissists ourselves that we avoid engaging in healthy self love, as if that sort of thing is a sin. Healthy self love, in my mind, is recognizing how wonderful we are (because it is true – all of us were made in God’s Image). That IS our authentic self. But we should also ground ourselves in the reality that we possess inner goodness and marvelous, unique gifts ONLY because God (Who is NOT a narcissistic parent) free gifted us with such things. Let us all be like that simple, nameless leper who returned to thank Jesus for his cure. I am sure Christ knew his name. This stops us from taking that bipolar like prideful trip to grandiose self promotion, self importance and delusional narcissism.

        God gifts every one with His Image, even the Narc. They are just blind to it either because of undeserved trauma (the lepers) or chosen path (the condemning pharisees) but they are all blind.

        Dea’s Ave

        Little child that I am cries inside of me
        For it is true the bough breaks
        And when our cradles come crashing down
        Little children will always awake
        Shed not your tears for the Motherland
        Child, she’s been barren for years
        Why do you seek to reap honey where
        Her valleys are filled with your tears?

        Pity your poor broken Motherland
        And love her like you love yourself
        But trod not her sharp, broken bitter shards
        You cannot return them to delph

        She’s not the fair one you’re rooted in
        The lines of her face read untrue
        Project not your self on her false facade
        Because goodness is rooted in you

        Only once in a world was a Mother Fair
        Who could render a tangled path true
        Your King from the cross He has shown you her
        And given His mother to you

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you hit the nail on the head, Judy. I think we’re so fearful of becoming N oursevles (and with good reason too, because N parents tend to have N children–and we can pick up some of the traits called “fleas”) that we are afraid that any sort of pride or real self love (not the “love” of a false self) makes us narcissists. It is narcissism, but it’s healthy narcissism, and it’s necessary for survival. It’s when there’s too much of it or it’s the wrong kind that it’s a problem.
          I’ll try to remind myself in the future that it’s good to love yourself or be proud of something or have a little healthy narcissism.


  5. I think you showed a great deal of empathy in this post. Just reading long emails about someone’s depression. I probably would have found them boring. But friendship is a two-way street. You can’t just give and not have any needs of your own. That sounds more like therapy than friendship. Your need is actually a gift to your friend. Friends want to know they have something the friend needs and wants from them. Ego isn’t just a negative. In a reciprocal relationship, both parties have egos. Both need to feel needed. I wonder if your panic was some of your borderline fear of abandonment coming out. Knowing that you are also vulnerable could warm your friend’s heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are really comforting thoughts. I think you are showing empathy yourself here. I’m sure the panic has everything to do with BPD or C-PTSD fear of abandonment being triggered even though there is no reason for it really.


  6. I understand every word here! but also recently you had said about people on blogs you’ve grown attached to suddenly disappearing, so I wanted to say what I was thinking the whole time.. its this new day of social media! and what it can do to us
    if you don’t know where she lives, who she is ,where she works,her real name (we do sometimes get bits and pieces) her phone number etc
    there is always that ‘out’ and a person can disappear! maybe why online is so popular! we get therapy and friendships but we also get anonymity and a safe distance and the right or ability to disappear which may also be needed… so in a sense you are doing an additional service to people! I am saying this as a good thing..
    as cruddy as it may seem to disappear (which she most likely hasn’t! ) just adding that the element attached to social media is a sort of safe place… FOR Those very reasons that also scare you.
    for the same reason of “she is too shy etc to let people know in her ‘real life’ or face to face
    we come here…she may not be ready so soon to have a face to face TYPE of relationship(even if online) where you are actually accountable to someone!
    I have been beyond stressed that some people ive had conversations with.. that I CANT even call an attachment (was NOT as close as what you described) they EXPECT meto check in with them.. they’ve driven me to points of anger where ive had to tell them off for even expecting it. (but these are MEN and you know what I mean) men I haven’t flirted with at ALL.. yet a few convos and they think ..well!?? that you owe them . that is different but im saying how social media can feel at times.. and how there are all these new rules and boundaries that we as humans are not used to yet! that’s why I handle it so sloppily myself! letting myself get all mad over a stranger is also not ok… (these were not ‘close) yet still im expected.. to be…so THEY were taking it as face to face..
    on social media
    when something MOVES to real life/in person
    you just KNOW IT
    and in fact it may have with you two so she needed that breather,, if that’s even it.. because that is a BIG step!
    what if you got so close it was like ,hey lets meet for coffee next may not ever but the FEELING and the accountability can get to that point.. that its about as close as it can get to a person in your life.. friend co worker sister… face to face… for all intents and purposes…
    I understand this is about your feeling though! but I wanted to interject how you may be hard on yourself while navigating the new social media protocols.. none of us have down yet…
    its NOT the same as her being a co worker.. who just wouldn’t even look in your direction for 3 days…
    so we question ourselves a lot needlessly on here…. online
    yet I am SURE if she was able to come online and didn’t she feels all guilty! so see it goes both ways as we learn how to do this
    she needs to console herself with ..’no its ok that I didn’t write her yet, I just am having a bad few days’ and I think its great you emailed her.. shows you CARED!!!! if she responds or not she appreciates that! imagine if you didn’t!?
    I had the same thing few years ago… hundreds of daily INTENSE as possible emails with a woman overseas…..she just tells me she is healing and not talking as much and is always kind..we basically let it all out and shared with each other every possible thing there was to say about our lives and feelings
    and now 6 years later.. can pop up at anytime and say hi,she is forever special to me. she is on my fb now…
    another person I had this.. intense email relationship with is now in jail.. and hardly a week goes by.. I look him up and see how its going/trial.. he has a piece of me I feel for all I shared…
    and me of a sense. so… I even asked to get his inmate # to penpal him there.. but.. not sure yet (for what he did)
    I kept asking myself if I am doing that for me or him and didn’t want to hurt him, as he is IN JAIL
    its like I needed him to say .. he didnt mean what he did.. or as if im a victm who needs to heal.. for what he did..when he didn’t do it to me (but it makes you wonder if he would then) so anyway
    we definitely develop REAL attachments here! you seem to be on track in even thinking on a genuine person navigating these things. many may shrug them off (or so it seems) but they carry with them a burden.. they do an injustice to themselves…
    I have someone ready to meet me in person without any cue from me
    I feel guilt and why should I
    they also have to learn… we all do…(that is again a man woman thing)
    between two women.. it will be harder for all that is out of the way.. and only being genuine is there….scary for her scary for you! I get it. ive always been the run away disappear type.. never easy..never non chalant…

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  7. This kind of reminds me of the problem of “spiritual pride.” People practicing any kind of spiritual path are prey to this. They do really well on their path. They feel pride in their success. They realize they have thrown themselves off their path by their pride.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Damn, that’s kind of a perfect description of this! You’re trying to get rid of pride, but by doing well ridding yourself of it, you actually gain more of it! Isn’t it ironic, dontcha think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ever see the movie, “The Devil’s Advocate?” This lawyer is tempted to go all out in becoming a success. He leaves out all principles, compassion and even his love for his wife. But he sees a vision of what will happen if he follows that road and he changes course. But the devil, who has been tempting him all along, comes to him in the guise of a reporter and wants to do an interview, making a big story about a lawyers with a crisis of conscience and he agrees to do the interview. The camera pans in on the reporter-satan who says, “Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.” The theme of the movie? Temptation is omnipresent.

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      • No this is scrupulosity not spiritual pride. It is not wrong to love yourself and rejoice in spiritual progress. The only danger comes in when we think His consolations mean we are “special” as a “favorite” of God, and on an elitist grand mission. This is also delusional, which can happen after great stress. God loves all of us in a very special way and has a unique and important role for each and everyone of us but that does not mean we were even meant to know what it is. We are each supposed to trust in Him and simply try our best to do His will.

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    • Lucky Otter said “The world sometimes does seem like a very dangerous place, full of landmines and tripwires everywhere you go. It’s hard to let go and trust.”

      I feel this way a lot as well in my journey. I think it is because I realize the enormity of what I know now, as if spiritual and mental health is just a “learning” experience in which I have survived simply because I have been a “lucky” – a very, very “lucky” little otter. (“I happen to be a bit smarter, or tenacious, than most.”)

      In reality Lucky Otter – you and I, no emotionally abused child, survives any of this by chance. God had you in the palm of His hand all along. Realize what we realize now is ENORMOUS, it is genious, but it was necessary for us, so God gave it to us. He is all providential. But we should ignore the temptation to believe that means we “need” to figure everyone and everything out in the future. That is still God’s job. Our job is to recognize that God was always there, providing us with what we need in the right time, and thank Him for it.

      God is not a mean man with a stick, grading us for how much we learn, and wanting to cast us into hell should we make a mistake, planting those trip wires Himself. One cannot fall accidentally into hell, which I believed as a child. ( I believed that because I had a narcissistic parent.) Let us not confuse our Father in Heaven for a narcissist. This will lead to the simple trust we need to survive.

      Liked by 2 people

      • This–what you just said–and you–are amazing because this is EXACTLY the conclusion I’ve been coming to over some time now. I’m a very spiritual person (I wasn’t always!). This journey we are all on isn’t just a journey to mental health wellness, but is very much a spiritual one. And no, I don’t believe, as some do, that anything is accidental. I think things happen because we are being molded to go in a certain direction God wants us to go. I just read a post on another website today refuting this, but I don’t believe that anymore.

        No, God doesn’t want us to suffer, and doesn’t “set things up” for us to suffer but what I think he does do is uses our suffering to mold us into better people who can serve the way he wants us to serve. I can begin to see his direction for me. The underbrush and brambles are finally being cleared away, little by little, and I’m seeing where it is he wants me to go and he is giving me small tests or lessons (practice) in doing the things he intends for me. A life plan is finally taking shape. I wasn’t put here for no reason, the way I used to think. But it’s not for my own glory or any person’s, but his glory, and for the world. If you ask God, he will show you what you need to do, and what he wants for you, but you have to keep your own will out of it.
        Whatever God’s role is for us, we will be happier than we ever could be trying to force our own will and winding up sorry and full of regrets.
        Everything that has happened to us–bad and good–is being used to shape us into better people.


      • i needed to read this last paragraph especially. thanks, i been diagnosed with BPD and am also a bit NPD and HPD. i think because of these issues i am more xsensitive than mo9st to fear. of authority figures and i dont trust easily

        Liked by 1 person

          • will check it out. i suffered years of emotional and verbal abuse from a parent who was also occasionally physically violent. and a Christian. so i am learning to heal from it all. i have been told i have symptoms in common with Complex PTSD, although no gformal diagnosis as yet. i have been on a lot of websites about CPTSD. i followed Healing Complex PTSD and Lily Lucario on twitter for a while but then they blocked me . i never knew why, but i wonder if it was because i disclosed i have cluster b issues? they were nice to me until i told them that…..

            Liked by 1 person

            • Really, they blocked you? Some of the ACON blogs are not friendly to people with cluster B disorders, even BPD. There’s a lot of anger because of the abuse they suffered at the hands of cluster B people. So yes, that might have been the reason they blocked you. You have to be careful. This one isn’t like that and in fact, a few of the regular commenters (including me) have BPD (which in my opinion, is almost the same thing as C-PTSD but more ingrained and harder to heal. Definitely check out my other blog too.
              I am sorry about the abuse you suffered and the religious abuse too.


  8. I think that you do your friend a disservice if it’s all about her and helping her. Real friendship is a two-way street. You don’t have to be a narcissist, in fact it’s the opposite if you can honestly write about your own insecurities. One sentence, for instance: ‘I haven’t heard from you for three days, and perhaps it is silly, but I’m getting worried that you don’t like me’, followed by something like ‘just hope you are okay’, and it’s not about YOU helping HER, but about two people each allowing the other to care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just heard from her again(she is fine, just been depressed and sleeping a lot the way I used to do), and she said the same thing as you, and it is true–therapy relationships are one way, not friendships. Thank you.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I feel you are too harsh on yourself. You are certainly not a narcissist. You are just obsessive and get deeply attached to things, situations and people. You certainly loved that validation and the feeling of being important which is natural but what makes you go overboard is your excess attachment.

    The red flag here is that such people tend to get attached with their sorrows too and they find it v difficult to let go of their victim status which they had been only once upon a time.

    The mantra for you should be -‘If it comes let it, if it goes let it”.

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    • You are so right, and I worry for nothing most of the time. So much wasted energy that could be put to better use. And that is a very good saying there too–in fact I told myself that too. “It” came back. I’m learning to navigate better through friendships, etc. I used to either avoid and/or get too close (very BPD of me!)


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