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.

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The real reason highly sensitive people get bullied.

It was time to pull this one out of the archives!

Lucky Otters Haven

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I had an “Aha” moment today.

The reason highly sensitive people get bullied so often isn’t because of our sensitivity. It’s because of the dismally low self esteem that tends to go along with being that sensitive, especially if we were victimized by malignant narcissists and bullies when young.

Narcissists envy and fear high sensitivity.

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Narcissists hate high sensitivity in others for two reasons: 1. They envy it because it’s something they can’t have or may have lost as children and it’s a sign of an authentic person, which is something they aren’t but wish they were; and 2. they fear it, because they know this quality makes it possible for to zero in on the emptiness hiding under the narcissist’s guise.

Their hatred and fear is expressed through love bombing followed by bullying and other forms of abuse meant to weaken the HSP. An HSP’s fragile ego can be…

View original post 1,304 more words

Why empaths and narcissists seem to need each other.

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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.

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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.

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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

Can you have too much empathy?

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Believe it or not, the answer is “Yes”! But it really shouldn’t be too surprising, since people with high empathy are also highly sensitive, and since they feel everything so keenly, sometimes the negative emotions surrounding them can drag them into a depressive state.

A friend who reads this blog sent me this article, thinking it could possibly explain the depressive state I’ve been in. While I’m not sure that’s the reason I’ve been so down, it’s still an interesting article and should bring some clarity to HSPs and empaths who are feeling inexplicably depressed. If you are an HSP or an empath, think about whether you’ve been exposed to negative people or people who are going through bad experiences or suffering depression. You might have picked up on the emotions of others.

Empathy is a wonderful trait to have but having too much of it can hurt its bearer. At some point, you can even suffer from “empathy burnout,” which basically means you shut off your ability to feel empathy after you’ve been drained emotionally by giving too much of yourself to others. Empathy burnout is common in people in the helping professions, many who are naturally empathetic. After a few years, they may find themselves no longer able to empathize with the people they help, and even beginning to resent them. That’s why there’s so much attrition in these professions.

I think practicing mindfulness is a good skill, not only for people with C-PTSD and personality disorders, but also for empaths and HSPs who may have too much of a good thing!

Here is the article she sent me.   It also explains the differences between empathy and sympathy.  (They are not the same thing!)  Sympathy is more detached and cognitive; even narcissists can feel sympathy, though they might have a limited capacity to feel emotional empathy.

Exploring Hyper-Empathy Syndrome

Am I am empath?

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I’m a little scared to post this, but I’m going to anyway. I’ve never regretted posting anything I’ve felt shy about posting.

Until very recently, I always thought people who say they’re empaths sounded a bit grandiose or even a little narcissistic. I never thought I was an empath, but as some of the toxic thinking patterns I was so trapped in begin to fall away (this is a very slow process!), I find that I’m better able to “see” things I couldn’t see since I was a small child. The “things” I see are what lies behind the facade all of us have to some degree or another, a facade which narcissists have become so effective at building that their real selves are all but obliterated (but they’re not really).

I was very emotional as a child and felt everything around me intensely. My sensitivity made me not only prone to being a target for bullies, but also physically vulnerable: I spent a lot of time sick and I had many allergies.   I had terrible ear infections that left me nearly deaf in my left ear.  The doctors said I was healthy and couldn’t figure out why I was always so sick.

Abused by my narcissistic family and the bullies at school, I gradually learned that it was too dangerous to fully feel my emotions or to connect with people on an emotional, meaningful level. I was made fun of or punished in some way. So I shut myself off from feeling anything but the most banal or self defeating emotions, only those that concerned myself or ensured my survival: fear, anger, jealousy, frustration, boredom, sexual desire, and a pseudo-love known as limerence.  Rarely could I feel true sadness, joy, love, contentment, friendship, connection with God or nature, or caring deeply for another.  I felt like I couldn’t connect with other people meaningfully but was still always quick to take offense to insults. This manifested in unpleasant ways like “going off” on people or losing control.   I often scared people with the intensity of my rages and low frustration tolerance.   Fear–a survival emotion–remained dominant.   My programming told me I needed that fear to survive, but it sure hasn’t made for a pleasant time of things, and made me afraid to take any risks at all.

Worst of all, my heart became closed.  I stopped being able to laugh or cry with abandon or with another person.  I loved the idea of getting close to others and having meaningful relationships, but the reality was just too scary and the relationships I did have were either meaningless and shallow or unhealthy and toxic.   I learned to isolate myself from others and avoid other people because other people meant pain.  I isolated myself not only physically, but by making it difficult for people to be around me.   I couldn’t stick with anything.  I couldn’t finish anything.  I couldn’t achieve anything.     I was afraid to fail because failure meant certain rejection.  This is what my narcissistic family taught me.  This comprises the genesis of my BPD (which I think is finally beginning to fall away).

Five things have led to my ability to begin to let go and to reconnect with the self I lost as a child and young adult, listed in order of their importance to me.

1. My relationship with God
2. Therapy
3. Blogging and writing (self-reflection)
4. Music — it’s incredible how powerful it is!
5. Time spent in nature, including time with animals (they teach us so much)

I won’t describe the means by which these five things are working for me, since I have done that elsewhere and it would turn this post into a book. But what’s beginning to happen is I’m realizing I genuinely care about others. I never thought I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t care before, it was because I was so protective of myself I couldn’t let those feelings of caring be consciously felt. Now when I hear a fellow victim talk about a lifetime of abuse or scapegoating, I feel true empathy for them because I’m more able to allow myself to experience my own pain and process it and that makes it easier to relate to the pain of someone who went through similar trauma. So I can no longer say I’m really empathy challenged. I always had it in me.

Something even more amazing is starting to happen. I’m becoming somehow able to see the lost child in the people I talk to on both my blogs. I may have always had this ability. From the time I was a young child, I could pick up the emotions of others around me. When I picked up my mother’s emotions, she told me to stop “acting spooky.” I think my X-ray vision scared her.

But I couldn’t just throw up a false self and become a narc.  I lacked the right temperament.  It was always so hard for me to hide the way I felt. So I went into hiding instead–emotionally and sometimes physically–becoming a near hermit. I stopped being able to have any deep relationships, even real life friendships. I stopped being able to feel the higher emotions that bring us joy and deep connection with others.  These are symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder, which I had/have along with BPD and C-PTSD.

My life became drained of any joy or color. But now, I can see the hurt inner child in others, which is ironic since I still have so much trouble connecting with my own hurt child. This ability to see the real selves in the people who come to my blogs (or post on other blogs) even extends to people with narcissistic personality disorder. When I look at a narc now, I don’t see someone to hate or be terrified of, I see someone who didn’t get enough love and has no idea who they are.  I think of my parents and feel so sad that they spent their lives spiritually asleep instead of awakening to the authentic people they could have been.  But I don’t think they chose narcisissm–no child ever makes such a choice, at least not consciously.

I believe in No Contact. I don’t think any lay person can fix a narcissist and it’s always best to get away for your survival and sanity. But that doesn’t mean things are hopeless for a narcissist, should they sincerely want to connect with their real emotions.  More therapists are needed who have the courage to work with these difficult and often infuriating people. Therapists who can help them realize the potential to love and feel the real emotions they were born with, who can help them break down the strong fortress they have built around themselves to keep everyone out.   This must be done by professionals, and it can take a long time and it won’t be an easy road. I think there must also be a spiritual component, an acceptance that there is something–if not God, then some Intelligence or Presence–that is greater than all of us and is always healing and benevolent. I think the stigma is so bad that therapists either won’t treat them or give up when the going gets rough. Yes, some narcissists will leave. But some won’t, if the therapist is empathic and skilled enough and the narcissist wants change bad enough.

Both narcissism and C-PTSD and other problems caused by abuse all have their roots in childhood trauma. Why only focus on healing for the victims? Narcissistic abuse is a terrible thing. But it will continue as long as there are narcissists walking around allowed to get away with turning people into victims. If we can get to the root of the problem and help the narcissists themselves, then narcissistic abuse will end and there will be no more victims either. It’s analogous to alleviating crime in a city by addressing the problem of poverty that led to it. As long as you ignore poverty, crime will continue and there will always be crime victims.

I seem to have an uncanny ability to see the real, lost self behind a narcissist’s facade. This surprises me, because it seems like a quality an empath would have and I never thought I was one–just a run of the mill HSP.   But through therapy, prayer, being in the natural world, music, and writing, I feel like my heart has opened and with that, a kind of X-ray vision. I’ve actually had self aware and some diagnosed narcissists come to me (mostly on Down The Rabbit Hole) telling me the blog has helped them and they are learning from it, or admitting they want help.  A few have emailed me because they’re too ashamed of their narcissism to post on a public blog.  Right now, all I can do is try to offer encouragement and direct them to other resources. I feel empathy for them, just as I feel empathy for the abuse victims on Lucky Otter’s Haven and here too.   I wish I could help them more than I can right now.

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I think I’m being called to something–working with people with NPD (as well as other trauma victims)–that’s going to take a lot of strength and courage and could even be emotionally and spiritually dangerous if I’m not very careful or don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It’s going to take a lot of training, and right now there are a lot of logistical problems (lack of money or time to go back to school; getting older; not liking confrontation and being socially awkward in general). But I feel like God has a plan and some doors will begin to open. I can work on my awkwardness and fear of confrontation in therapy (and these things are a result of low self esteem, not an “introverted” temperament). Working with people with NPD is something very few people dare venture into.  It’s also something a lot of narc-abuse survivors have trouble understanding.  A few even think it’s wrong.   I don’t believe it is.   I’m not ready to do it yet. But I feel like this is the shape my life is taking and the reason why everything happened the way it did. It was the reason for all my suffering.

Born an empath to narcissistic parents, they could not handle my ability to absorb the feelings of those around me and “see through” facades. They worked day and night to disable my gift because they were so afraid of it. But in spite of everything, I still have the gift and I want to use it to help people like my parents, even if my parents rejected the illumination of truth that gift had the power to reveal.

HSPs and empaths, take heed! You cannot heal a narcissist!

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In my readings and observations of people in the narc-abuse community, I’ve become aware that Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), empaths in particular, are highly attracted to narcissists. The reverse is also true–narcissists see an empath and smell blood.  As an HSP myself (though not an empath), I have always been drawn to narcissists as friends and romantic partners.   This has gotten me into a world of trouble and almost destroyed me until I finally learned to resist their “charms” and go No Contact whenever possible.

Why Empaths are so attracted to Narcissists.

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It’s a psychological truism that we tend to be attracted to people similar to the people who raised us.  For those of us who were the most sensitive child in the family and as a result, became the family scapegoat, developed codependent personalities, or even developed a form of Stockholm Syndrome toward our abusers, we continue to carry our legacy or “people pleasing” into adult life and find ourselves drawn toward other narcissistic people, who are very good at promising us the world and vowing to solve all our problems.   But getting involved with a narcissist is the ultimate bait and switch–they make a lot of empty promises to love you unconditionally and never betray or hurt you, but they don’t deliver.  Not even close.  All they care about is feeding off of your love and generosity in order to keep their false self inflated like a balloon toy.

Not only are we fooled into believing the narcissist will be the answer to all our woes and fill our own inner emptiness, HSPs and empaths are also drawn to the “hurt inner child” inside every narcissist.  Most people can’t see the emotional void and deep unhappiness at the core of an NPD; they just see the narcissist as either a likeable charmer or a huge A-hole (depending on their role to the narcissist or stage of the relationship), but empaths see beyond the “false self” to what really lies beneath the carefully constructed facade.    This is why empaths and HSPs were so often scapegoated as children–because they were children who could see the ugly truth and sometimes even blew the whistle on the narcissistic parent–and nothing terrifies a narcissist more than being exposed as living a complete lie.

I’ve talked to quite a few empaths who actually seek out narcissists to love, in spite of having been educated about narcissistic abuse and the very real dangers they pose both spiritually and emotionally.  Empaths who choose to love a narcissist and think “this one is different” really ought to know better.   They look at a narcissist and don’t see a predatory, toxic individual who only seeks to use and abuse for their own gain; instead they see only the “hurt inner child” living in darkness beneath the bright, cheerful facade.

Their observations and feelings are actually not wrong.   Because empaths can see the truth about people, the damaged person they take so much empathy on is real.  Narcissists are indeed hurt, damaged, deeply unhappy people, although some abuse victims prefer to think of them as inhuman devils without souls at all.   Narcissists are definitely human, but they are dangerous, and especially deadly to an empath, because of how much such a person tends to give of themselves and how codependent they can become.

Like moths drawn into the flame.

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Narcissists are drawn to empaths because (even though an empath can see beyond the false self, which scares narcissists), they give them everything they want.   Deep inside, what every narcissist really wants is someone to love them unconditionally, and empaths are more than capable of doing that.  They are also deeply envious of the empath’s ability to feel with no shame, even if they deny and hide their own feelings.   Empaths are compassionate, patient, self-denying, always willing to listen without judging, and generous with their time, money, possessions, emotions, and everything else they have to give, both tangible and intangible.  An empath’s love for a narcissist will cause them to stick by them no matter how much abuse gets dumped on them in return.   Empaths are perfect candidates for Stockholm Syndrome.   They will keep giving and giving, while the narcissist gives nothing in return except heartache and pain.

Some empaths may seem masochistic because everyone else can see that the narcissist is sucking the empath’s lifeblood away, turning them into a dried up husk of the whole person they once were, but the empath, like a moth driven to a flame, continues to give and give and give until they have nothing left to give.   It’s not masochism that drives an empath to stay with the narcissist and allow this abuse, though–it’s the deep belief empaths have that their unconditional love alone can heal the narcissist and make them whole again.

It’s a beautiful idea, that unconditional love can heal a narcissist and transform them into loving, authentic human beings.  It would be nice if things really worked that way, but only in fairy tales and movies do such things happen.   The Beast is won over by Beauty’s love and is transformed into a loving prince;  the miserly Scrooge is transformed into a generous and compassionate philanthropist;  The Grinch grows a huge heart out of the hard little stone in his chest when he hears the Whos singing down in Whoville in spite of having all their Christmas presents stolen;  Jerry McGuire changes overnight from a selfish, materialistic jerk into a nice guy.  Usually it’s the love of someone else–often a woman or child–who is the catalyst in getting the narcissist to change their evil ways.  These movies and stories touch our hearts and bring tears to our eyes because we wish life were really that way.

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It’s tempting, if you’re an empathic type of person, to want to reach that hurt inner child inside your narcissist and through your unconditional love alone, give them the courage to jettison their false self and let that inner child out, and finally learn how to love.   But what’s far more likely to happen is that in spite of your best efforts, the narcissist will not change and will resist or even attack your efforts to transform them.   They will just keep taking from you, for they have no idea how to give of themselves or how to love.  You become drawn deeper into their web of misery and darkness, and eventually have nothing left to give and finally, your soul is destroyed beyond repair.

The only way to help a narcissist.

You cannot help a narcissist by giving them your love.  The best way to help a narcissist is to stop giving them narcissistic supply–in other words, going No Contact.   Only then is there a small chance that without that fuel, they will be forced to confront their own emptiness and pain, which could lead to them seeking professional help.   But don’t count on it.  Most likely, they will just move on to a new source of supply or try to hoover you back in.

I’ve stated many times that I don’t think most narcissists are beyond hope.  I’m one of the few narc-abuse bloggers that holds to that view, and sees narcissists as a different, more dangerous type of abuse victim.   It’s not a very popular view, but it’s mine and I’m not likely to change it.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about Apostle Paul, a malignant narcissist if there ever was one, who was changed by the Holy Spirit into a righteous (if still slightly arrogant) devoted follower of Christ.    I know of NPDs who are in therapy or treatment, or were in therapy and have actually been deemed NPD-free or are at least working hard to change their ways and become more authentic, loving people.  NPDs  are sad people who know their lives are empty and shallow and essentially meaningless, even if they never admit it.  Some even become consciously aware of how exhausting and essentially unfulfilling their dependence on others to feel good about themselves (and what they feel good about isn’t even who they really are) really is.

I’ve always believed that with both self-awareness (knowing one is a narcissist) and willingness to change (disliking what one has become), that healing becomes possible.  But change isn’t something that can magically happen through an empath’s unconditional love.   If it’s going to happen at all, it takes years and years of difficult and grueling therapy by a trained professional who knows exactly what works for this disorder (and what doesn’t)–and because they are trained in this, are not going to get pulled down into oblivion by allowing the narcissist to feed on their heart like a predatory animal.   Healing can also come through an act of God, as it did with Paul.    We can love a narcissist (but from a safe distance!), and we can ask God to help him or her–and maybe that will turn out to be God’s will too.  You never know.  God may have a special mission for them and decide to remove the scales from their eyes.   But please, empaths and HSPs, never try to cure a narcissist yourself through your unconditional love.   It won’t work.  You don’t know how to do it.  Leave it to the professionals and God.

I am a Highly Sensitive Man by Rick Belden

Absolutely fascinating first person account of what it’s like to be a highly sensitive man … in an increasingly insensitive world.

The Toxic Attraction Between an Empath and a Narcissist.

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I have my own ideas about the complicated dynamics between narcissists and empaths, but I’ll just let this excellent article (written by an empath) speak for itself.  These two apparently opposite types of characters do often seem to be drawn to each other.

The Toxic Attraction Between an Empath and a Narcissist. 
By Alex Miles

We know that “narcissist” has become a bit of a buzzword recently, and some folks are quick to apply it to an ex-lover or family member or friend. While awareness of this concept is healthy, so is remembering that it is, in a mental health context, a serious condition that shouldn’t be applied to someone you’re mad at because they stole your mirror. ~ Eds. 

I am an empath. I discovered I was an empath after I got involved in a very deep and highly destructive relationship with a narcissist.

I am writing this article from the perspective of an empath, however, would love to read the view from the opposite side if there are any narcissists that would like to offer their perception on this.

Through writing about the empath personality type I have connected with many other people who class themselves as an empath and time and again I have heard people tell me how they have also attracted relationships with narcissists. There is a link. So, I decided to explore it further.

This is my theory…

From my own experience and studies on the narcissist personality type, there is always one core trait: A narcissist is wounded.

Something, somewhere along the line, usually stemming from childhood causes a person to feel worthless and unvalued and, due to this, they will constantly and very desperately seek validation.

Here comes the empath, the healer. An empath has the ability to sense and absorb other people’s pain and often takes it on as though it were their own. If an empath is not consciously aware of boundaries and does not understand how to protect themselves, they will very easily and very quickly bond with the narcissist in order to try to fix and repair any damage and attempt to eradicate all their pain.

What the empath fails to realise is that the narcissist is a taker. An energy sucker, a vampire so to speak. They will draw the life and soul out of anyone they come into contact with, given the chance. This is so that they can build up their own reserves and, in doing so, they can use the imbalance to their advantage.

Read the rest of this article here.

Your greatest strength.

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Empathy begins at home.

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I know that for a very long time I’ve had issues empathizing with others on a one to one basis (with a few rare exceptions like my children). It’s not that I like seeing others in pain or want to hurt them (I don’t, at all), more that I have had so much trouble connecting to my emotions, especially tender or vulnerable feelings, that this avoidance extends to everyone else. I’ve always felt empathy when it’s “safe” though–therefore I can cry for a character in a movie or novel, or even a TV commercial. I can get quite upset reading a news story about someone who’s been abused, especially if it’s an animal or a child.

But when it comes to real life people, I just can’t allow myself to get that close. I hold everyone at arm’s length. It’s too dangerous to let them in, because they might stir up emotions I haven’t wanted to feel. Of course this means emotional (as opposed to cognitive) empathy goes out the window too. You can’t feel an emotion for someone else if you can’t even access it for yourself.

It’s a common belief that all people who lack empathy are narcissists or psychopaths (or have some kind of schizoid disorder or psychosis, or autism). But a lack of empathy is also a common symptom in people with complex PTSD. Shutting off emotions–including empathy–is a defense mechanism that protects you from further harm. The problem is, this protection also “protects” you from feeling much joy or being able to really love anyone else.

Recently I’ve been feeling a kind of tender regard for my child-self/true self. Right now she’s not integrated and feels far away sometimes, but I can feel her sadness and pain. I can also feel that she’s a good person, a gentle sensitive spirit with so much love to give. I feel a tender protectiveness now where before I felt only shame and wanted to hide her away, just as she had been hidden away by the narcissists who “raised” her. So how was I any different from them, by keeping her hidden, projecting badness and shame onto her, refusing to see her strengths? Sometimes I just want to hold her like my own child. It’s not self-pity; it’s closer to empathy and even love.

Is this where empathy begins? Does it begin with loving yourself–your true self? If you hate your real self, you cannot learn to expand empathy onto others, since you can’t even empathize with yourself. If all you feel is shame, that is going to be projected onto others. That would apply to narcissists and the personality-disordered as well as people suffering from C-PTSD.   The problem for the disordered is it may be too late for some of them.  They are so thoroughly shielded by a false self they cannot even access their real selves or only with a great deal of difficulty that could take years.  There are much stronger defenses to break through.  They may be so shut off they can’t even see the lie they are living and think it’s everyone else–not them–with the problem.

The root of attachment and trauma disorders is is rejection of the self internalized from the people who were supposed to love you and mirror you; to heal, you must be able to develop empathy for your true self. That’s what my therapist has been helping me do.