There’s a lot of discussion on the web about codependency as well as empathy, especially in the narcissistic abuse community. While it’s true people who are codependent to a narcissist also tend to be high in empathy and very sensitive, there seems to be a lot of confusion–people who aren’t too familiar with either term tend to believe empathic people are also always codependent. While codependent people are almost always highly sensitive (which is the quality that attracts their abuser to them and keeps them trapped in a toxic relationship because they believe they can “fix” their narcissist), the reverse is not always the case.
A healthy HSP (highly sensitive person) is simply an emotionally healthy person. They are confident and secure enough with themselves that they can resist the “charms” of an abuser. If a healthy person with high empathy does find themselves being drawn into an abusive relationship with a narcissist, they have the courage and presence of mind to pull themselves out of it and even go No Contact before they fall under the thrall of the abuser and before any damage is done. In fact, having high empathy makes it more likely a person will be able to “see” the red flags before anyone else, giving them a chance to escape and/or avoid the person.
A healthy HSP does not waste time trying to “fix” a narcissist. They know the chance of that happening is about the same as the likelihood they will sprout wings and fly to the moon. If a narcissist is going to change (I’m not one of those people who believes it’s not possible), it must be the desire of the narcissist and they have to work very hard at it, but no one else can “save” them except themselves, and it’s going to be a long, hard road if they decide that’s what they want. A healthy HSP will not allow themselves to fall into a love-bombing trap or be “hoovered” by a narc. Once they realize what they are dealing with, they will cut off any further communication. They know they can’t be nice about it, but must be firm. They may care, but they know they are not going to be the ones doing the fixing, and will be able to move on to a healthier relationship with someone they can actually grow with and who will be able to return their love.
Our society today is also quick to judge those who have high levels of empathy and want to give back to others as being “enablers.” This happens even in the public realm, with the massive cuts in spending to programs that help the most vulnerable people of society and the blanket dismissal by the Powers That Be of those who want to help as “suckers” who are “enabling” the most vulnerable people. I don’t wish to get on a political soapbox but there’s something very wrong with any society that only values how “powerful” you are or how much money you earn. There’s something sick about a society that dismisses its most vulnerable members as “lazy and stupid” or “deserving” of their sad lot. Empathy is a virtue that has become increasingly dismissed as a weakness, but is actually the one thing–maybe the only thing–that could rescue modern society from completely self-destructing. Empathy isn’t a weakness at all–it’s a strength. If you’re a HSP you have this quality and should be proud of it and use it, not hide it away like a shameful thing. The narcissists who run things in the world would like us all to think it’s a shameful thing, but that’s just another lie they tell. It’s needed now more than ever. So, you are not an “enabler” if you want to help others; just be careful who you are helping!
Unfortunately, HSPs have often been abused themselves or have other disorders such as complex PTSD, and they often find themselves targeted by narcissists for abuse. Narcissists are usually attracted to people with high empathy because they know they can get the “understanding” and love they crave and will proceed to feed on the HSP’s emotions much like a vampire feeds on blood. They know it’s hard for such a person to say “no” because they can’t stand to hurt anyone’s feelings, so an HSP person is more likely to stick around and tolerate abuse than someone who is less sensitive.
If you are such a person; if you are very sensitive, cut your losses now! Staying around a narcissist who is actively abusing you is just not worth it, and there’s also a very real danger of being drawn so far into the narcissist’s web of deception and abuse that you could develop Stockholm Syndrome and begin to identify with your abuser. Once this happens, you could even find yourself taking on traits of narcissism yourself and colluding with your abuser. It’s an insidious process but it can and does happen; and it happened to me. Be careful. Your soul is a precious thing and you should not give it freely to anyone until you know that person can be trusted with it. That doesn’t mean you have to become hypervigilant and start seeing demons around every corner, but if your intuition is throwing up a lot of red flags about a particular individual, don’t dismiss them. They could save your life.