The narcissist’s dark and twisted brand of empathy.

Originally posted on August 20, 2016

twisted_tree

Do narcissists have empathy?  Yes, and some of them have a lot of it, but it’s probably not the kind of empathy you want anything to do with.

Some lower spectrum narcissists do have some capacity for normal emotional (not just cognitive) empathy, but it tends to be selective–that is, they can turn it off when it’s too dangerous or it makes them feel too vulnerable. That’s why, for example, a low-to-mid spectrum narcissist can feel empathy for fictional characters in a movie or novel and even shed tears for them, or can feel empathy for a stray or sick animal, but when you tell them you just lost your job, or that what they just said hurt your feelings, they turn into a block of ice. Their reaction to your pain is about as heartwarming as the Siberian wilderness in January. If they’re love-bombing or trying to hoover you, they may FAKE emotional empathy, but they don’t really feel anything.  They show you what appears to be tender compassion in order to manipulate.

It’s not news that most narcissists are ultra-sensitive, but their sensitivity is retained only for themselves, and that’s why they are so easily offended. But that sensitivity seems to have a switch that turns to “off” when it comes to other people and they can appear appallingly insensitive. Many narcissists were so sensitive as children they were actually potentially empaths. Their empathy didn’t really go away, but remained in a twisted and barbed form. Their developing disorder transformed their natural emotional empathy into something dark and malevolent. Some experts call he kind of empathy narcissists have cognitive empathy–which means the narcissist KNOWS how you feel, but can’t share your feelings or care how you feel. If they are malignant or sociopathic, they may even want to hurt you. Because most of their emotions went into hiding as a form of self protection, the emotional, caring aspect of any empathy they might have once had disappeared too, and what remains is only the cognitive portion. Narcissists have an uncanny and unsettling way of knowing EXACTLY how you feel–and if they are malignant, they use their twisted brand of empathy against you. For a malignant narcissist, empathy–a quality we normally associate with loving concern–becomes a weapon used to control, attack, and belittle you.

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Cognitive empathy.

On HG Tudor’s website, Knowing The Narcissist, he wrote a post about the way some narcissists mock their victims using mimicry of their emotional reactions as a form of abuse. I am going to quote a portion of that post, because of how well it illustrates the way a malignant narcissist uses cognitive empathy as a weapon to cause pain. It’s quite amazing how well they know EXACTLY how their abuse is making you feel, but instead of feeling remorse and apologizing the way a normal person would, they instead use that knowing empathy as fodder for their mockery cannon. My ex did this to me constantly, and Tudor’s description of the victim’s feelings of overwhelming helplessness and frustration at the receiving end of this type of abuse is absolutely spot on.
WARNING: THIS MAY BE TRIGGERING.

When you stood there crying with frustration and I drank deep of the delicious fuel you provided me, I would raise my hands to my eyes and draw pretend tears on my cheeks and make a sobbing noise to humiliate you further. Here I was letting you know that I copied everything that went before yet now I copy again but not with the perfection I once exhibited. I allow the sting of sarcasm and the malicious mockery to infiltrate my copying of your behaviour so that your hurt and bewilderment was increased. You would shout at me and I would shout back using the exact words before standing and laughing at you as you burned with frustration, unable to find any response. You might stamp your feet in exasperation and I would do the same but with a leer of disdain writ large across my face.

There were times when you would scream. A terrified scream as my vicious manipulations would take their toll and as you tried to curl into a ball and hope you might just disappear and escape this nightmare, I would lean in close to you and mimic your scream into your ear, creating this fabricated falsetto of distress in order to further your own. Every reaction to my devaluation of you had the potential to be met by a mimicked reply from me in order to further your misery and demonstrate I did not treat your responses with any sincerity or concern.

Another way a narcissist can use cognitive empathy is to scope out your vulnerabilities–knowing exactly which buttons to press to upset you. In the comments, Katie provided a great example of this. Her mother, who scapegoated her and knew she was sensitive about her poverty, used this against her, saying things like, “Oh, Katie dear, it must be SOOOOO hard to be living the way you do and never have enough money for the basic things.” And then followed that up by crowing about how successful her siblings were and the vacations and new cars they were buying. My mother used to use my sensitivity itself, knowing I was sensitive about my sensitivity, saying things like, “It must be so awful being so sensitive.” What’s happening here is a kind of fake, sarcastic “empathy” is thinly veiling a cruel jab at one of your buttons, which their cognitive empathy is used to discern. And then, should you complain, they will act all hurt and innocent and tell you they were only trying to be nice or were showing concern for your well being. This is a vicious kind of gaslighting.

Please keep in mind that cognitive empathy in itself is not a bad thing.  It could be a tool used in mindfulness training to help a person learn to “walk in someone else’s shoes” before acting out against them.  Cognitive empathy can be learned, but emotional empathy cannot be taught–it’s either there or it isn’t.  Most empaths have both cognitive and emotional empathy.  Cognitive empathy lets them know how someone else feels, but the emotional aspect allows them to care.

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Arguing with Trumpists is exhausting.

 

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I should know better than to argue with Trump supporters on Twitter or anywhere else. Several other people were involved in this thread. I have called them Person A, B, etc. The Trump supporter is called “Trumpist” and I’m just “ME.”  This is the kind of twisted logic we are up against.

Thread Starter: With Trump’s base showing strong preferences for authoritarianism, and continuing to support a serial predator of children [Roy Moore], it’s time to look this problem in its face. 1/ (first post in a long thread)

Trumpist: YOU are the ENEMY… you are the bad guy. Christians like me are fighting progressives like you with all our hearts. We just want to live with our traditional values without scum like you trying to push ‘progressive” bs on kids like my nephew. 😡😡😡😡

ME: Well fine but then why are you evangelicals trying to shove your religious agenda down OUR throats. And that is precisely what’s happening. To your side religious freedom only means the freedom to enforce your beliefs on everyone else.

Trumpist: because GOD wants you to inherit the Kingdom which is Heaven but you can not do that with this Progressive agenda. LGBT is a sin, coveting one’s neighbor is a sin=jealousy of the rich,

ME: First of all, I think you are wrong. My God doesn’t operate that way (and I *am* a Christian). Second of all, we have FREE WILL and should have the ability to choose our own eternal fate, not under the duress of theocrats and authoritarians who want complete control.

ME (continuing): Also we are not JEALOUS of the rich. We see a few billionaire oligarchs taking everything away from average people and actively TRYING to make our lives difficult. They have NO empathy. Most of them aren’t even Christians. The Kochs are atheists, FFS. Greed is IMMORAL.

ME (continuing): I suggest you read the Gospels, esp. the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew to see how Jesus actually expects Christians to behave. You guys are the false prophets we were warned about. Twisting Christianity to support your own selfish, immoral, sociopathic agenda.

ME (continuing): Coveting your neighbor? How about ROY MOORE coveting underage CHILDREN? And defending the rapist of a FOUR YEAR OLD? Huh? Explain how that squares with your hate filled brand of “Christianity.” The party of family values, my ass.

Person A (replying to Trumpist): so, you essentially want the same as ISIS then?

ME (to Person A): The dominionists do. They have much in common with ISIS and the Taliban, just substitute Islam with Christianity and it’s the same damn thing.

Person B (also replying to Trumpist): What values? Pedophilia?

Person A: If you want a fucking theocracy, go live in Iran or Saudi Arabia and leave this country alone. We have SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE HERE. If you don’t like it, get out. (accompanying ISIS/GOP comparison meme posted)

Person C: You most assuredly have this backwards. Christians like you are attempting to require non-believers, and other religions to live according to your values because you are afraid that your belief system is so weak that it cannot hold if kids are exposed to other ideals. 1/ (beginning of a new thread)

Person D: Hint: allowing other views to exist is not “pushing” them on you. It’s what is required for a free and democratic society. This tweet right here basically demonstrates the authoritarian instinct the thread us talking about.

Person E: Why are you fighting progress?

Person F: So, “traditional” values like bigotry, hatred and supporting pedophiles? Good luck with that. You disgrace Christianity with every word out of your mouth and Jesus rebukes you.

ME: I just retweeted that hideous reply from TRUMPIST because it’s a PERFECT example of what’s wrong with America. The theocrats and dominionists want complete control and apparently do not believe in FREE WILL.

TRUMPIST (replying to everyone): gays are wrong, period.  Killing babies is wrong, period. There isn’t anything wrong with praying in school. WRONG! We want those rich people to invest in America since they have the means, we don’t want war, some sense of morality in govt, what rights have women lost since the election?

ME: You really don’t get it, do you? I give up. Bye.

ME: (not replying to anyone in thread, which I left): Why am I wasting my day arguing with Trump supporters and religious nutcases? It’s an exercise in futility and exhausting af. Now I have to take a nap.

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I slept for about 4 hours after that conversation and then spent the rest of the day feeling depressed and deflated, no energy at all.  It’s amazing the oxygen sucking effect these zealots have on us. Of course, it might be more emotionally draining to those of us who suffered narcissistic abuse and who find Trump (and his apologists) personally triggering.   We have to be careful to take breaks and replenish. But sometimes I wonder, how are we going to win when there are so many people (like a whole third of the country) who simply deny facts and who logic, reason, and even a simple sense of right and wrong simply doesn’t work on?

I think I’ve figured out their obstinacy. There are a great many people in the United States who WANT an authoritarian president, who WANT theocracy and WANT to be told exactly what to do. They WANT draconian laws for those groups of people they dislike. It satisfies their hatred and fear of those who aren’t like them.  They don’t even care if those same laws hurt them too (which they will).   As long as they get to see the people they hate suffer. 

I’ve heard far too many Trump supporters actually gloat about how they love to “trigger the liberals.” They don’t care how morally bankrupt a leader is, as long as he is upsetting or threatening the “Others” they don’t like (who they see as the real threat).   They joke about “liberal tears.”  There’s something sadistic and even sociopathic in this mindset, which is common in people with authoritarian personalities who are drawn to other authoritarian types.   Conversely, I don’t know any anti-Trumpists who enjoy upsetting or triggering Trump supporters.  In fact, most avoid it.   If we argue with them, we’re just trying to get through, for all the good that’s going to do.   You hope you at least planted a seed somewhere.   But sometimes it feels like scattering seeds into the Sahara Desert.

There are also many people who find thinking for themselves and making their own life choices simply too stressful and/or challenging, so they prefer an authoritarian father figure who tells them exactly what to do and thereby removes the burden of having to make too many choices or do their own thinking.  It’s also people like this who are attracted to authoritarian leaders and authoritarian religions.  It’s actually comforting to them.   These people may have problems with codependency and don’t realize it.

*****

Further reading:

My Twitter Debate With a Trump Supporter

I also just read this peripherally-related, but VERY important, article about the death of Christianity in America.   At first I thought it was just another brainless screed from the evangelical far right, but it’s actually a very well thought out essay about how the alliance between the evangelicals and the far right is actually destroying real Christianity in our country.  The evangelical excuses (bordering on idolatry) for Donald Trump and now their defense of a child molester and sexual predator like Roy Moore is the end-game, at least for Christian evangelism.  They have sold their souls for political gain and power.

The Death of Christianity in the U.S. (Baptist News Global)

Trump’s personality disorder brings out the worst in everyone.

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I think it’s pretty safe to say Donald Trump has a very malignant case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and appears to fit all of its psychiatric criteria.    Unfortunately, he’s only the tip of the iceberg, merely a symptom of America’s soul-sickness.

Trump has surrounded himself with a staff of other Dark Triad or Cluster B personality-disordered types.   Congress and the Senate are also populated by people who appear to have no conscience or empathy, and only feel entitled to take from others to enrich themselves.    Many of them appear to have antisocial or psychopathic personalities.

Narcissists like Trump become codependent and simpering in the hands of psychopaths, because of their emotional neediness.   Vladimir Putin appears to using him to achieve his own nefarious ends of world domination or at least the destruction of western democracy. Trump, being a narcissist and therefore far more emotionally fragile than Putin, doesn’t realize he’s only being used and exploited.

I could go for pages speculating about the psychology of Trump, his enablers, and those who are using him for their own ends (and many have), and I feel pretty confident saying that almost his entire administration is made up of sociopathic and codependent types, the latter of which have mostly already left or been fired (Reince Preibus and Sean Spicer seemed more codependent to me than personality-disordered themselves).

I don’t see any obvious Borderlines in the Trump administration, although Trump himself appears to have a few Borderline or Histrionic traits.    As far as I can tell, Trump is the only obvious case of NPD.   The rest seem more like people with ASPD or psychopathy to me, seemingly emotionless and willing to use and enable Trump for their own ends.

How Trump brings out the worst in everyone.

Authoritarianism and racism are highly correlated with antisocial and narcissistic personalities, and we saw the worst of society become violent at the KKK rally and protest in Charlottesville, Virginia today.    The undercurrent of hatred in this country runs deep, and our election of a black president in 2008 and 2012 did nothing to quell it — if anything, the hatred and racism that were always lurking beneath the surface became even deeper and more toxic than at any time since the Jim Crow days.

America is a sick country and only a sick country would elect a malignant narcissist for its president and psychopathic or antisocial people for high political positions.    Trump isn’t the problem, since the problem would still be there whether or not he was president.   He is the ugly symptom, and is now bringing all the darkness out in the open.   We are finally seeing how deep this cancer runs and hoping against hope it hasn’t reached Stage Four.

In some ways this is a good thing, since now we can see exactly how sick our nation has become and how deep and dark the divisions between us really are.   But Trump also has a way of bringing out the worst traits in everyone he comes in contact with, even indirectly — in his administration, in his supporters, in his enemies, and in his opponents.  Even though I’ve never met the man, whenever he’s on TV I feel as if all the oxygen has been sucked out the room.  He’s everywhere.  You can’t get away from him.

Trump enables his cabinet members and sycophants in their lack of empathy, lack of conscience, and crass greed and selfishness.  They use him for their own ends and they know he will never call them out if they just keep on flattering him and giving him the praise he wants.

Trump brings out the worst in his staff.   He causes drama and chaos whenever his bottomless need for admiration and approval isn’t met — he will attack, devalue or discard whoever he believes isn’t giving him the approval he craves, even those who could benefit him.     He always has a scapegoat, always — even among those who have been loyal to him, like Mitch McConnell or Jeff Sessions.   Never in my life have I seen a White House so filled with drama and discord.   Even the Nixon administration at the height of Watergate seemed like a sanctuary of sanity in comparison.  Trump brings out the very worst in his staff, while anyone with a semblance of a conscience or a soul left has already resigned or been fired.

Trump brings out the worst in his supporters.  He enables them to display their authoritarianism, racism, hatred, and ignorance — even to the point of violence, as we see happening today in Charlottesville.   On social media, the rhetoric of his supporters has become increasingly hate-filled and ugly, to the point of threatening non-supporters with terrorism and even civil war against them.    Trump appears complicit in all this, and acts  as if it isn’t happening.

Trump brings out the worst in his non-supporters.   Many people are suffering from PTSD or even C-PTSD that has been retriggered by his constant gaslighting, projection, threats,  need for revenge, and denial of the truth.   Depression, despair, feelings of dissociation and unreality, and dread are problems for many Americans right now, and therapists even have a name for it:  Trump Traumatic Stress Disorder (TTSD).   Anger is also being triggered in his non-supporters, though not in quite the same way as in his supporters.   Righteous anger differs from hatred, and it may be the only good thing he’s bringing about.   He’s forcing his opponents to expose the truth about what has happened in our country over the past few decades and demanding that we change course — drastically, if necessary.

I was involved in a discussion on Twitter about Trump’s fragile ego, and we agreed that he seems to be a collapsed narcissist, who knows it’s only a matter of time before the whole house of cards comes toppling down and he’s exposed, even to many of his supporters, as the criminal and fraud he really is.   As he grows more desperate, he increases the volume on his endless demands for admiration and approval, holding more hatred-enabling rallies and even threatening nuclear war over a perceived insult from North Korea’s equally unhinged leader.   That’s how bottomless Trump’s emotional void is:  that he would be willing to send millions of people to their deaths — even the entire planet — just to save his fragile ego.  It doesn’t help that many far-right religious leaders are stroking his ego even more by telling him he’s been anointed by God.

We can never begin to think of what he’s doing is normal, because it’s anything but.

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That’s the sound of your soul being sucked into oblivion. 

****

Further reading:

The Soul-Sucking, Attention-Eating Black Hole of the Trump Presidency.

HSPs and codependency.

Originally posted on November 8, 2015

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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.

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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.

Contrived Helplessness

This post caught my eye and while reading it, I realized I used to do exactly this.   I think contrived helplessness isn’t limited to the fragile/covert type of narcissist though.  I think it’s also fairly common in people with codependency issues, or who suffer from BPD or C-PTSD.

When I used to pull the “I can’t do anything” card, it was never intentional;  I didn’t want to be that way!  I really believed I was that helpless.  I’d been programmed to believe I was incompetent and couldn’t do anything.  I didn’t know how to be any other way, but looking back on myself in those days, I realize now that I did it because I was so starved for attention and sympathy.   Getting pity and help from others was the only “power” I thought I had, but if you had asked me back then if I did it for attention, I would have said no and meant it.   Later on, I hated that kind of attention because it could be so patronizing and made me feel even more incompetent and helpless.

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Grace for my Heart

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

Every once in a while I come up with a term for a narcissistic behavior only to find that the term is already being used for something else. I have wanted to write about a certain type of narcissist who controls others by being needy. I thought that the helplessness these people exhibit is a learned behavior. So I looked up “Learned helplessness.” Yes, it is a psychological term used for those who have tried a certain task repeatedly without success, then have become convinced that they are unable to do the task. A kidnap victim, for example, may try to run away and fail over and over, then give up and become unable to take advantage of real opportunities. Some of the more famous kidnapping cases, like Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, may be examples of this inability in victims to help themselves.

Of…

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The 4 types of narcissistic abuse victims.

Originally posted on May 15, 2015

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It’s become clear to me that not all ACONs and abuse survivors are on the same page when it comes to their attitudes toward narcissists.
Because we all are abuse survivors you would think there’d be more solidarity among us, but this is not necessarily the case.

It seems there are four distinct types. In spite of things I may have alluded to in the past, I don’t think any one group is worse or better than any other. They are different, and each has their reasons for having the attitudes they do. I’ll explain why I think the attitudes are different among the four groups. There is definitely a pattern I’ve noticed.

1. The Narc-Hating Group.

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These ACONs usually underwent the worst abuse as children, or had two narcissistic parents instead of just one. Having abusive parents seems to instill the greatest anger in victims–more so than having been with an abusive spouse–and this anger isn’t easily let go of. This group has a warrior mentality: to them, ALL narcissists are evil, bad seeds, or demonic, and have no hope whatsoever of recovery or healing. They may acknowledge a continuum or spectrum among narcissists, but it’s not important to them. A narc is a narc is a narc, and they are all considered impervious to change and anything they do is suspect. Some ACONs of this type are ultra-religious and believe all narcissists are seared souls destined for hell.

2. All Cluster Bs are the Same Group.

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This group goes a step beyond the first one, in that they believe anyone with a Cluster B disorder–Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic, or Antisocial–is character disordered and manipulative, and therefore all pretty much the same and to be avoided like the plague. They do not make exceptions even for Borderlines–the least “malignant” of the four disorders. People who subscribe to this view were as damaged by their malignant narcissistic parents as the first group. One of their parents may have been Borderline or Histrionic, rather than narcissistic– but people with those disorders don’t always make very good parents either. It’s unfortunately all too common for narcissists to collude with Borderlines in the abuse of the child, with the Borderline in the more codependent, subservient role.

3. Not all Narcs are Hopeless Group.

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This group may be in the minority among ACONs (at least among bloggers), but it’s the group I’m evidently in–which has raised the ire of some of the Narc-Hating ACONs. People in this group aren’t going around singing the praises of narcissists and in fact the vast majority strongly encourage No Contact (just as the other two groups do). They do not tolerate or enable narcissistic manipulations and abuse, but they hold that because narcissism may be a spectrum disorder, that those at the lower end of the spectrum (non-malignants) may be redeemable under the proper circumstances and with the proper treatment. They may show more sympathy or empathy for people with narcissism than the first two groups, but they aren’t enablers either. Most do not believe malignant narcissists and psychopaths/sociopaths are redeemable, however.

Many people in this group were part of the Narc-Hating group when they were trying to disengage or go No Contact with their abusers. They used their anger to give them the courage and motivation to disconnect and stay disconnected. But because their hatred and anger toward narcissists isn’t as deeply ingrained as in the first two groups (I’ll explain why in the next paragraph), people in this group eventually can no longer hold onto their anger and prefer to try to understand the motives of those who abused them, while at the same time remaining disconnected from their abusers and not enabling narcissistic behavior. Their desire to let go of anger is very difficult for ACONs of the first two groups to understand, and people of the third group may be seen as betraying the ACON cause, even though this isn’t really the case at all. They’re just handling things differently.

Another reason a person may hold that some narcissists are redeemable is they may have a narcissistic child, and it’s an extremely difficult thing for a parent to accept that their own child may be beyond hope.

It’s been my observation that people in this group may have suffered less severe abuse as children, or had only one narcissistic parent instead of two. One of the parents (usually a codependent spouse) may have actually loved their child, and this love tempered the abuse inflicted on them by the narcissistic parent even if they were forced to collude with the abuse at times. Some people in this group may have even had normal childhoods with non-narcissistic parents, but got involved in relationships or marriages to narcissists (which technically means they are not ACONs at all). It’s been my observation that people who suffered most of their abuse at the hands of a narcissistic spouse or lover rather than a parent never developed the deep hatred toward all narcissists that the first two groups tend to do.

4. Codependents.

Fashion model stylized as marionette doll sitting on violet studio background

Codependents are often (but not always) personality disordered in some way, and many of them are Borderlines or covert narcissists. They are usually victimized by their narcissists, but also identify with and collude with their abusers. Most codependents were abused by narcissistic parents, and are drawn to narcissistic relationships where they are compelled to re-enact their abusive childhoods. This is the group that may never acknowledge they are being abused or reach out for help. They continue to defend and enable their abusers and may believe they are the ones at fault for anything that goes wrong. If a Codependent leaves their narcissist and realizes they were actually being abused, then they are no longer Codependent and join one of the first three categories.

In defense of “needy” people.

Many of us complain about certain other people acting too “needy.”  But maybe they’re not the problem; maybe we are.

The 5 stages of narcissistic abuse recovery.

freedom

I went No Contact with my sociopathic NPD/ASPD ex in February, 2014 — almost three years ago. Enough time has elapsed that I’ve seen that there are several stages one goes through on the way to recovery and healing. There does seem to be a clear pattern that I’ve seen in both myself and in others. The order of these stages never varies, though the circumstances may vary. Unfortunately, many people get “stuck” at a particular stage and can’t seem to move to the next one.

1.  Numbness/codependency.
A person at this stage is still living with or involved with their abuser(s). They are in a state not unlike a victim of brainwashing or an active cult member. They have been led to believe (through the manipulations of the abuser — gaslighting, projection, isolation, and all the rest) that they are worthless, crazy, stupid, and the one at fault for all that has gone wrong. They question their own sanity because they have been told by the abuser that everything they believe is not true. They may even identify with their abuser (codependency) or look to them as their only reason for living. At this stage, they will do anything for the abuser, and can’t figure out why they feel so depressed and why their lives (and possibly even their health) is falling apart and everyone seems to have turned against them, sometimes even their own families.  They blame themselves, and have no idea that this is something being done to them by their abuser. A person at this stage may have shut off their ability to feel any emotions, and tell themselves (and may even believe) that this is normal.  Suicide is a real possibility.

2. Righteous anger and No Contact.
If an abuse victim is lucky, they will reach a point where they realize they have been abused, and that they are not the one at fault. Usually, this leads to righteous anger, and the victim may begin to express this. Because you can’t reason with an abuser, and they will not tolerate your honing in on the truth, in most cases the victim will realize they need to break away from the abuser. The anger the victim feels overrides the fear, depression, and numbness they felt previously, and gives them the motivation to do what they need to do to get away. In some cases, such as when there are children, going No Contact may be more complicated and it may be only possible to go very low contact.

The rage the victim feels may remain for a time (some longer than others). This is the stage that many narcissistic abuse bloggers are at when they begin to write about what happened to them. While unremitting rage will eventually poison the soul if the danger has passed and it has nowhere left to go, it’s still a lot healthier than remaining stuck in an abusive relationship and slowly dying a soul-death.

Unfortunately, many survivors seem to remain stuck at this stage. It almost seems as if the anger becomes a sort of addiction.  But I won’t write about that here;  I have other posts about that.

3. Asking questions, seeking answers.
At some point (for most people), the rage (which served its purpose) burns itself out. Some survivors grow weary of the unremitting hatred toward the personality-disordered and seek to understand the behaviors of those who caused them so much pain instead, while still remaining No Contact with abusers. They may spend time reading about the disorders of their abusers, and otherwise educating themselves. In time, this gives them a more balanced perspective, while they still acknowledge how dangerous such people can be. During this time, the survivor also learns how to navigate the world and relationships with better boundaries, practice being mindful, and also is better able to detect red flags to avoid being abused again (this may have begun during Stage 2).

4.  Looking inward, self awareness.
It’s not until a survivor can forgive their abusers (while never forgetting the harm they caused) that the healing can truly begin. Survivors continue to practice having good (or at least better) boundaries, and practice being mindful.

At the same time they may begin to look inside themselves to see what their own role(s) might have been in the abuse they endured. They may realize they tend to be codependent, or didn’t set good boundaries (usually because they were never trained to have good boundaries by their own abusive parents) or in some cases, may even be personality-disordered themselves (this kind of self-awareness can come as a huge shock but isn’t possible as long as a person is stuck in anger and hatred).

Though the survivor might have played some role in the abuse they endured, this doesn’t mean what happened was their fault or that they could have stopped it. The self-defeating behaviors and/or codependency that led to a person becoming a victim are almost always unconscious and programmed into the person during early childhood by abusive parents.

It’s during this stage that a survivor will often decide to enter therapy or some other type of psychological or spiritual counseling (this can happen as early as Stage 3).

5.  Coming together.
This last stage is when an abuse survivor begins to put all the pieces together, begins to understand the complicated dynamics between abusers and victims, and in some cases, becomes able to to use their own experience to consciously help others heal, even seeing what happened to them as a kind of blessing.   It’s at this stage that real freedom and happiness can finally be achieved  because the person has developed a sufficiently strong sense of self that is no longer attracted to (or attractive to) abusers.

I believe I’m somewhere between stages 4 and 5, though I have frequent relapses.  Remember: relapse is part of recovery!  Don’t beat yourself up.

Why empaths and narcissists seem to need each other.

narcissist-and-empath
Credit: Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed

The concept of narcissism and HSP (highly sensitive person) or empathic traits coexisting in the same person is a matter that has very little research behind it, but I definitely think there is a strong case to be made for it. Hear me out before you hit the backspace key. I actually think it’s at the core of why empaths and narcissists are so uncannily drawn to each other.

In my article A Match Made in Hell: Narcissists and HSPs, I wrote about the tendency for narcissists and HSPs to form trauma-bonds with each other–that’s really just a fancy way of saying these two seemingly opposite types of people are often attracted to each other and form codependent relationships.

The trauma bond.

The narcissist is both attracted to and envious of the empath’s vulnerability and high empathy. They are attracted to it for a very simple reason:  they need it badly. As children, narcissists failed to be mirrored or loved unconditionally by their parents, and are love-starved, even though they’d rather die than ever admit it.   The empath, in turn, is able to love the narcissist without condition, to the point of allowing themselves to be sucked dry.

Narcissists also envy the empath’s ability to love unconditionally because on some level, usually unconsciously but sometimes consciously, they know they jettisoned their own ability to love and feel empathy a long time ago in order to survive.  Most were highly sensitive children but shamed for it.  Many were bullied.   So they learned to bury their emotions behind an invulnerable facade because continuing to be so vulnerable hurt too much. Empathy may be a gift, and I think most narcissists were born with that gift, but were never shown how to use it and were punished for having it.  It became a curse instead of a blessing, so they sent the gift into exile and shored up a false self to make sure it never saw the light of day again.

Knowing they jettisoned their ability to access their own vulnerability, combined with a continued starvation for unconditional love and acceptance, is what draws narcissists to empaths. They abuse the empath, either consciously or unconsciously, because they hate the fact they need their love so badly, and the empath’s sensitivity also unconsciously reminds them of their own sensitivity that caused them so much pain. It’s a constant reminder of the shame they felt as children for being so sensitive, but they also can’t live without it. So they punish the empath for reminding them of their own “weakness” and making them feel so needy.

The narcissist, in their neediness and simultaneous resentment of being so needy, feeds off the empath like a vampire. If they are malignant, they don’t care that they’re destroying the very person who gives them a reason to live. They may even get some satisfaction in knowing they are punishing them. If the narcissist is not malignant, they may feel some guilt over what they do to  the person who gives them so much love, but be unable to stop doing it. Or more often, they aren’t even aware they are doing it. They just seem like a bottomless well that can’t get enough and keeps on demanding more.

Of course such a relationship is extremely unhealthy, even deadly, for the empath, who will eventually either leave the narcissist or be completely sucked dry or in the worst cases even destroyed. But the empath does gets something important out of the relationship too. They truly believe that through their unconditional love, they are saving the narcissist from him or herself.

Common roots.

Empaths and narcissists often both come from abusive or dysfunctional families. Both started life as highly sensitive children. But at some point they diverged. While the empath embraced their own vulnerability and learned how to use their gift to help others and find joy and authentic connection with others, the narcissist rejected it because it seemed more like a curse and made them feel too much pain. If they were never shown any empathy or were shamed for being too sensitive, it’s understandable why they might have rejected their own empathy and covered it over with a facade of toughness.

Why are empaths drawn to narcissists?

Empaths, like narcissists, often have narcissistic parents, and are unconsciously drawn to those who remind them of their parents or perhaps a sibling or other close family member.  They are naturally drawn to those who seem to need healing, and in embarking on a relationship with a narcissist, they are unconsciously attempting to heal their parent or other family member. This is why empaths so often become codependent to narcissists.

Empaths are able to see through the facade the narcissist presents to the world, to their hidden true self. They can see the hurt, abandoned child that lives inside every narcissist. They truly believe they can “fix” them and transform them into authentic, feeling humans capable of returning what they have been given. Of course, this belief is almost guaranteed to end in disappointment (if the empath is lucky), and possibly much worse. For a narcissist to change and stop the pattern of abuse, the desire to do so must come from inside of them. They must be willing to drop their mask of invulnerability and do the hard work of reclaiming the vulnerability they were born with and gave up a long time ago. The empath can’t make a narcissist want to change. Just because they can see through to the sensitive true self doesn’t mean they will be able to draw him or her out. They can die trying, but it probably won’t work. The unwilling, un-self-aware (or malignant) narcissist is likely to punish them for trying.

Failed empaths?

There may even be a genetic connection between narcissism and those who become empaths. I’ll go out on a limb and even speculate that they might even be the same thing–the narcissist being a “failed empath.  It’s ironic but I definitely think there’s a connection.

But how can that be? Narcissists are incapable of empathy, have problems feeling and expressing deep emotions, and are incapable of loving anyone but themselves. Isn’t that the opposite of being an empath?

Well, yes and no. The explanation is complicated, so I hope you stay with me here.

As I’ve explained before, I think most narcissists began life as highly sensitive people who at an early age suffered trauma due to abuse. This caused them to shut off their too-vulnerable true (authentic) selves from the world and in its place construct an elaborate defense mechanism–the false self–initially meant to protect the vulnerable true self from further harm, which has no defenses at all. Even empaths who are not narcissists have some protective psychological armor, so they did not need to construct a false self to take the place of the true one. Healthy empaths are truly authentic people who feel deeply and are emotionally honest with themselves and others. Narcissists were born with no emotional defenses at all; the false self replaces the true one and appears invulnerable. But this is only an illusion. When you face a narcissist, you will never know who that person really is because all they will show you is the protective mask they have created. They are so terrified of being hurt again that they will attack with vicious ferocity if they think you pose any threat to its flimsy underpinnings. It must be a terrifying way to live.

The high sensitivity of a narcissist is retained in the way they react to personal insults or slights. They overreact when they feel like they are being attacked, ignored, or they perceive their source of narcissistic supply may be in danger. They are paranoid, touchy, and often lack a sense of humor about themselves. They may try to appear as if they don’t care, but if you know narcissism, it’s usually not too hard to see the emotional fragility behind their defenses and acts of false bravado. When it comes to other people, they can seem incredibly insensitive.

Narcissists who aren’t high on the spectrum and become self aware may be able to reclaim emotional empathy toward others, because empathy is a skill that can be learned.  A forum member on the NPD board I read (who has NPD) described something that happened with her husband that warmed my heart.  She said he had hurt her feelings, and she caught herself about to attack him.  She felt her defenses go up, but instead of acting out, she decided to NOT act out and just allow herself to feel the hurt.  Instead of attacking him as she normally would have, she cried.   He put his arms around her and she allowed herself to be held and comforted, to feel vulnerable and cared for.   She said at first she felt awkward and uncomfortable, but the next time it happened, she felt less uncomfortable.  Now allowing herself to be loved is becoming second nature and she says she is starting to feel some tenderness toward him too, and even moments of a new feeling that she thinks is real love, a warm feeling not based on getting supply from him or bolstering her ego.   So I think empathy takes practice.  If you were born with it, you don’t lose it, but it may be hard to access and takes a conscious effort to learn to reclaim and use.

But before a narcissist can really get better and feel empathy toward others, they first need to develop self-compassion (this is NOT the same as self-pity, but is actually empathy for the rejected child-self). They must also be courageous enough to stay in treatment and confront and release the traumatic feelings that lie hidden beneath the mask.

This usually only happens when the narcissist hits rock bottom and suffers a massive loss of supply, sending them into a depression.  At that point they may enter therapy or realize the problems they have are because of themselves.   The problem with this is once things begin to improve or they begin to feel better again, they are likely to leave therapy because the work to get to their authentic self is too painful.    It takes an enormous amount of motivation, courage and positive thinking for a narcissist to stay in therapy long enough to begin to access their true self and embrace their own vulnerability.  It can be done, but it’s not easy.

For malignant narcissists though, things are very different.  Stay with me here because things are about to get complicated.

The connection between malignant narcissism and high sensitivity.

warm_cold_empathy
Warm and cold empathy.

In my research about NPD, there has been a lot of discussion about a concept called “cold” empathy.   Most of us associate narcissism with a lack of empathy, but this isn’t exactly the case. Most narcissists–especially malignant ones–do have empathy, but it’s not emotional or affective empathy; it’s cognitive or “cold” empathy. What this means is that a narcissist KNOWS what you are feeling, and may use what they know you are feeling against you. Cold empathy is “felt” on the cognitive (thinking) level, but not as an emotion, and that is why the narcissist can feel no compunctions about turning your feelings against you in order to punish or hurt you.

An extreme example of this would be the sadistic, psychopathic rapist. The rapist “smells” your fear and uses that against you to become even more sadistic. It *is* empathy, but it’s “cold”–the rapist understands exactly what you are feeling and your fear makes him feel powerful, so he increases the level of torment. He feeds off your fear like a vulture feeds on carrion. You don’t need to tell him you’re afraid; he KNOWS. He just doesn’t care and even derives pleasure from it.

Cold empathy is the twisted mirror image of warm empathy, which non-pathological people are capable of feeling on an emotional, not just a cognitive level. HSPs and empaths have an excess of warm empathy.  Here’s where things get complicated. If a narcissist is also a failed empath, their high sensitivity could morph into a quality that seems almost supernatural and is utterly chilling–a cold, sadistic form of “empathy” where they seem to be able to see into your mind. A non-sensitive person would not be able to detect your emotions without you telling them how you feel, and therefore not have that creepy, unsettling way of “seeing into your soul” that the malignant narcissist does. So, the higher the sensitivity a narcissist has (and the more the “warm” empathy has been shut out or turned “cold”), the more malignant they will be.

narcautism_spectrum
Malignant narcissism is high on the HSP spectrum.
Credit: http://dondepresso.rujic.net/post/116940034025/manic-chart-narcautism-spectrum

This idea was actually illustrated in the humorous-but-true graph (shown above), where initially I wondered why malignant narcissism was showing so high in empathic/HSP traits. But actually it makes perfect sense. An empath who adopts narcissism as a way to cope and whose warm empathy all turns cold will become malignant. A less sensitive person (or a highly sensitive person who still retains some warm empathy) may still become a narcissist, but they won’t become malignant. Of course, at their core, all narcissists are highly sensitive. They just don’t want you to know.

In summary, then, empaths and HSPs can be the most kind and caring people you can ever hope to meet–or the most dangerous. A narcissistic empath is definitely someone you’d want to avoid.

They are two sides of the same coin. The tragedy is that a malignant narcissist can destroy a previously healthy empath, but it doesn’t work the other way around: a non-narcissistic empath can’t change a malignant narcissist into a good person.

*****

Further reading:

Narcissists and Empaths: The Ego Dynamic

H.G. Tudor’s theory of narcissism and codependency (trauma bonds).

HG Tudor has a really good blog. Don’t let the frightening appearance on the main page intimidate you. I’ve been following this blog for a while and it’s been immensely helpful to me, as it has been to many others. Please give HG’s blog a chance. You will learn so much about the mind of the narcissist, straight from the horse’s mouth. Sometimes it’s helpful to have that perspective too. Here’s a very interesting theory he has about why codependent types and narcissists are so drawn to each other.

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