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.

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Narcissists Don’t Want Unconditional Love

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Blog of a Mad Black Woman

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The curse of the Aspergers/Avoidant/Borderline triad.

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Today I attended a beautiful Pentecost mass that was held outdoors. The day couldn’t have been more perfect for an outdoor celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples. Unlike the disciples, I didn’t experience a sudden spiritual epiphany or dramatic change in my heart, or start speaking in tongues. But as always when I attend mass, I felt God’s presence around me (if not actually IN me) and felt surrounded by peace and light.

I looked at the tall trees gently swaying in the distance, their bright spring greens illuminated in the bright sunshine against the azure blue sky, and asked God to change me, to let the Holy Spirit flow inside me and fill me with its divine gifts of empathy, unconditional love, and joy. I asked Him to make me a better person who can connect with other people on a meaningful level–and having those gifts would make it so much easier for me to do that.

The truth is, I feel that I’m lacking in all three of these gifts. I do not have NPD and therefore have no desire to act in evil or toxic ways to others, but due to my other disorders–only one of them probably not due to abuse (Aspergers)–I often feel like there’s an emotional blockage keeping me from really being able to connect with other people, to really being able to empathize and feel WITH them the way people who have not been abused and do not have these disorders can do.

This particular triad of disorders is a tragic one. Even having one of these disorders cripples you and isolates you in various ways from others and can lead to a lonely life lacking in meaningful relationships, but having all three at once is devastating. It’s so hard for me to connect with the rest of humanity except on the most abstract level and as a result I’m often so very sad and lonely.

First, being an Aspie (the only disorder I was probably born with) makes it almost impossible for me to read social cues normally and although I can socialize well enough online (because it doesn’t require me to “think on my feet”–I have time to think through what I want to say or how to respond), in the day to day physical world my Aspieness makes me appear awkward and sometimes slow when I am forced to socialize, especially with neurotypicals who don’t understand people with Aspergers, so I avoid people. Due to my awkwardness I was a frequent target of school bullies, and it didn’t take long to learn that it was best to just keep my mouth shut and say nothing. I became painfully shy, fearing ridicule and humiliation. The old adage, “Tis better to say nothing and have others believe you are daft than open your mouth and remove all doubt” has been my motto most of my life.

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The other two disorders I have–avoidant AND borderline personality disorders–I am certain were due to years of abuse by my narcissistic mother and to a lesser extent, my codependent father who colluded with her most of the time (although I never really doubted his love for me). The AVPD (a Cluster C “anxious” personality disorder) only exacerbates my Aspergers. They feed off each other.

Avoidants shy away from social contact because of their low self esteem and overwhelming fear of rejection. As a result they are usually painfully shy but can even seem aloof or cold. Avoidants are not schizoid though (people with Schizoid personality disorder dislike other people and prefer a hermit-like lifestyle; they don’t care how others regard them): on the contrary, we WANT friends, we WANT meaningful relationships, we WANT romance, we WANT others to like us–but our fear of engaging with others due to possible rejection keeps us isolated and alone. We build a protective shell of aloofness around ourselves so we can’t be hurt. People with AVPD are risk-averse, and are likely to be underachievers due to their unwillingness to take risks that may expose them to social embarrassment.

An Aspie with AVPD is nearly–or is–a social hermit, but not out of choice, like a person with schizoid personality disorder. Making friends–a skill that comes so naturally to most people–is something most of us never mastered well, if at all. Even having a relaxed conversation or opening ourselves to another human is like rocket science to those of us with both disorders. It’s a wonder that I was even ever able to engage in romantic relationships and have a family. Of course, all the men I dated and of course the one I married were narcissistic, mirroring the toxic dynamics I had with my family of origin.

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Like the girl in this cartoon, I can relate to all of this, even the refusal to play charades! I was always terrified of that game because it requires a level of being able to read social cues and an ability to think on your feet, two qualities I don’t possess. And of course, the fear of risk-taking and humiliation.

And that brings us to my borderline personality disorder. BPD is not usually marked by overwhelming shyness or social awkwardness; in fact most borderlines are quite socially adept. But their disorder, like an Avoidant, is fueled by a deep-seated fear of rejection and almost always has its roots in childhood emotional abuse or neglect, as do all the personality disorders.

Borderlines long for close relationships and actively seek them out, but then push others away if they sense the other person might pull away or reject them first. They overreact to slights and are highly sensitive to criticism or rejection. Like a narcissist, they can be difficult to deal with because of this type of selfish oversensitivity can lead them to engage in some of the same antisocial behaviors and game playing people with NPD or even ASPD are guilty of, though not usually to the same degree because people with BPD have a conscience (even if it’s stunted in some) and don’t normally actively seek to hurt others. There are exceptions though–I was shocked and dismayed to read that both the murderer Jodi Arias and serial killer Aileen Wournos were both diagnosed with BPD, though in Wournos’ case, she was also comorbid with ASPD. Still, most borderlines, when they are made aware of how they have hurt their loved ones, feel remorse–but their guilt and shame can make them feel worthless and lead to self-destructive behaviors. It is not a fun disorder.

Though Borderlines are more likely to be self-destructive instead of deliberately destructive to others, this self destructiveness causes huge problems in their ability to form meaningful relationships, and due to their “go away–come closer” way of relating to others, their relationships are usually stormy and short-lived.

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Sometimes I feel like either Lucy or Charlie Brown (who I’m pretty sure would have AVPD), and sometimes both of them at once.

I am cursed with the overwhelming shyness and social anxiety of Aspergers and AVPD, but during the rare times I have been able to form relationships or friendships, sooner or later I push those people away in some form or another–not because I want to, but because I either become so afraid of rejection I reject the other person first–or more frequently, unconsciously do something to make the other person leave me. BPD is very maladaptive to the sufferer–it tends to bring on the very thing the Borderline fears the most–rejection.

I was diagnosed with BPD in 1996 during a three month long hospitalization for major depression. At the time, I also had PTSD from being a victim of abuse by a malignant narcissist husband, who gaslighted me constantly and even tried (but eventually failed) to turn my own children against me. During that hospital stay, I was given a copy of Marsha Linehan’s excellent manual for BPD, “Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder.Dr. Linehan is a borderline herself (she had originally been diagnosed with schizophrenia but felt her “schizophrenia” was really a manifestation of her BPD). The techniques in the book are a form of DBT (dialectical behavioral training) which teaches the Borderline patient to act mindfully–to think before they act and consider consequences, because Borderlines (unlike people with NPD) act on impulse when they feel threatened.

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Linehan’s excellent manual can be ordered here.

Linehan’s book helped immensely and since my long-ago hospital stay, I have learned to control many of my borderline symptoms. In fact I have become so good at it I rarely fly off the handle the way I used to or overreact to the degree I used to do. I still have my copy and have recently begun doing some of the excercises again because I still know there’s a LOT of room for improvement.

Like NPD, BPD doesn’t just go away. All personality disorders are incredibly hard to cure because they have become so much a part of the individual’s personality. There are still many times I unwittingly either push other people away OR get too close (or do both at the same time); I still have problems with understanding where other people’s boundaries begin and end. I also feel like there is a wall there keeping me from really being able to empathize with other people in a normal way. I can empathize in an abstract sort of way (it’s hard to explain what I mean by that but the empathy I do feel is sincere). It’s just so hard for me to connect on a meaningful level because I fear rejection so much. I want to be a friend to others; I want to make others happy; I want to be able to fully share in their emotions, good or bad–but I find it all so hard–not just because of my BPD, but my fear of engaging with others in the first place due to Aspergers and AVPD. This triad has been a huge curse all my life. But at least I know what my problem is. I’m what you would call “complicated.” I have my work cut out for me.

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Having all three disorders has made my life incredibly difficult and my relationships–when they exist at all–have been stormy or don’t last. But I don’t feel that I’m beyond hope. In fact, I’ve been feeling much better about myself since I started blogging and accepted God into my life. I do feel that He is changing me in a very meaningful and deep way. Maybe it’s not happening as quickly or dramatically as I had hoped, but it’s happening. I am feeling more ability to empathize with others and feel moments that come very close to pure joy. I have always had a great capacity to feel guilt and shame, so that has never been a problem. For a person with a Cluster B disorder, my conscience is probably TOO well-developed. I apologize for things I haven’t even done. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my entire life apologizing for my existence. I hate the idea of being a bad or evil person. I like it when I know I’ve made someone else happy. Those times when I can make others happy are becoming more frequent, and I think that’s a step toward healing. I’m also happy to report that my lifelong problem with envy appears to be disappearing. Envy is so toxic–mostly to the person harboring it. It’s a great relief to have that particular monkey off my back most of the time now.

So today’s celebration of Pentecost had special meaning, because even though I wasn’t knocked to my knees by the Holy Spirit, I felt a deep sense of peace, centeredness and just “being in the moment” that has always eluded me. I felt a genuine desire to become a person who can make a positive difference in the lives of others and can feel unconditional love even for those I do not know well. Now I just need to overcome my fear of engagement with others, but I have faith that in time that will happen too, and when that happens, a whole new world will open up to me as the walls I built at an early age begin to crumble and reveal the me I want to be–which is really the me God meant for me to be.

Never give up hope. Ever.

If you choose to stay with your narcissist…

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Lidija Rangelovska (Sam Vaknin’s wife) recently wrote about staying with her narcissistic husband and how she handles him.

My view, my principle…
People, unconsciously, but more often intentionally, complicate their lives in order to make some sense of their existence and to justify their actions. Me included. We are all, as my FB friend put it: “personal strength junkies”, who try so hard to be accepted and to belong. It comes from our upbringing, our unstable environment, and the fear of being alone. So, when we find a person that loves us or shows us affection, we are “hooked” and we won’t give up on that person. But we also don’t want to compromise, we want to keep our freedom and to have control over the other. And what now? It’s simple: we have to adapt to the changes and find a new meaning in life!
For me personally freedom is the most important. So, I assume that it is the same with all others and I do give people space… where their selves emerge and grow. If there is a person who has common sense and similar views of life to mine, there is a solid and healthy ground on which to develop the relationship.
But we should learn to communicate, share experiences and emotions, be honest and truthful… not be afraid and manipulative. We should learn to trust in order to understand and accept the other. We should build safe grounds for unconditional love to grow on. And isn’t this all that matters in life?

And later…

…my mother tongue is “narcissist”, literally. I was raised by malignant narcissists and HAD to learn how to communicate with them. And I wouldn’t name it as such, because it’s not the “language” of the narcissist, but of the abused. The “language” consists of understanding the abuse that occurred in the narcissist’s early childhood owing to which s/he adopted the False Self later in the adolescence. It is the ONLY self that the narcissist is aware of and if you can’t accept it, you won’t be able to understand her/him.

My advice would be to not even try to go there, as I call it, the “twilight zone”… it’s the “unknown and forbidden” to some people. For me that zone was my natural habitat. I was there… growing up in an emotionally and physically abusive family. I became codependent and was raised to be a good Source of Supply. I honestly don’t wish that on anyone!

So, then, why am I with Sam?
We are both emotionally damaged and we do understand each other’s pain. It’s in a space and at a time where we fulfill each other’s our unique psychodynamic needs. Where conditions don’t exist and there isn’t a room for any – that is where unconditional love exists… at least, where I found it.

[Anonymous] explained this dynamic […] in a very subtle way. “Personal strength junkies” is her term, not mine…

I’m glad there are people who really want to explore their and other people’s nature/character driven by their curiosity to learn more about themselves in order to relate to their significant others. Indeed, a person has to have the courage to do so… they’re the real heroes, not the ones that deny their existence and adopted the “go with the flow” principle… that’s selfish.

Then she posted the beautiful quote above from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit.” It’s amazing how profound certain books for children can be but there’s a wonderful message about unconditional love for adults too.

Several other people who are married to or in relationships with narcissists discussed how they are able to cope with staying with them without losing themselves or developing mental disorders like PTSD. Without exception, the narcissistic spouses (all male) have insight into their disorder and their wives have learned how to “speak narcissist.” There seem to be two primary requirements (besides the patience of a saint): (1) a strong maternal instinct, and (2) an unflappable sense of humor. Under these unusual circumstances, a relationship with a narcissist may actually work for both partners. Some may think of this as an unequal, codependent and even abusive partnership, but if framed as a kind of eternal mother/child relationship, it doesn’t have to be pathological.

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As for myself, I could never work things out with my malignant narcissist ex-husband and I went No Contact early last year (it’s actually Low Contact because we have children, so being completely No Contact isn’t really a possibility.) He had zero insight and denied he was a narcissist at all (instead, he projected his narcissism onto me and made himself out to be the victim and me the abuser). I think when a narcissist has no capacity for insight (which is probably most of them) and is in denial, No Contact (or Low Contact) is the best way to go to avoid psychological damage to ourselves. Even insightful narcissists who are not in denial about their disorder are highly dangerous people and should be handled with extreme caution. They are ticking time bombs.

What [Anonymous] and Lidija have shared provide hope that for SOME narcissists, there may be a way to stay with them and nurture them while not allowing them to obliterate our psyches–and in some cases even benefit from the relationship. It would take someone with a LOT of empathy and even more patience but I believe it can be done in some cases. Having a strong maternal instinct is of utmost importance because essentially, a narcissist is an emotional infant, unable to see others as separate from them. You must accept the fact they are probably never going to get “better.”

As for reproducing with them? Having children with a narcissist you are voluntarily and mindfully nurturing would be disastrous because to the narcissist, a child would be competition and have demands that would need to be met before theirs. This would enrage them in the same way a new brother or sister enrages a three year old. If you are married to or in a relationship with a narcissist and wish to stay with them and nurture them instead of going No Contact, they must be your ONLY “child.” When you choose to be with a narcissist, you are adopting an eternal infant. You would have to accept the fact they will most likely never grow up. Obviously, this choice wouldn’t be for everyone.

Second to a strong desire to “mother” your narcissist would be the ability to laugh at their antics and not take things too seriously. In one woman’s case, she said her narcissistic husband laughs WITH her, even though she admits the joke is usually on her.

I’m happy to hear there are people who can actually make things work with a narcissist. It requires a great deal of unconditional love and the ability to always put your own needs in a distant second place. I don’t recommend it for most people though.

ETA: I would recommend another requirement to making a relationship with a narcissist work: establish FIRM and VERY CLEAR boundaries, early in the relationship. Lidija clearly does this– I remember her saying in “I, Psychopath” when asked who made the rules she said she did. You would have to! Part of the maternal relationship requires the ability to provide discipline when it’s needed too. A narcissist who respects you because you established boundaries and can laugh with them and speak to them in their language won’t have a problem following your rules but may need to be reminded sometimes. 😉

Making love last with a narcissist: the rules

Old Couple

In summary, here are the cardinal rules for keeping your sanity intact while in a relationship or marriage to a narcissist:

1. Be a high empathy person with a strong maternal instinct.

2. Accept the fact they will probably never be cured.

3. Establish FIRM boundaries as early as possible and don’t be afraid to remind them of the rules when they balk or disobey. Remember you are dealing with an emotional toddler.

4. Be willing to always be in their shadow and not steal the show from them

5. Be able to LAUGH and not take what they do and say too personally.   It’s not about you.

6. Do not have children with your narcissist.  He/she is your child. (I used to joke that my MN ex husband was my “other child.” How true that was, and in some ways I wish I had known some of these rules back then, which might have made my life a little easier while still with him.)

The narcissist has to fulfill a requirement too. He or she must be insightful enough to recognize they are narcissists and mentally ill.

How to be happy!

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If only it were so easy.

Dogs are awesome teachers, friends, and therapists. They never worry, they’ll never mindfuck you, they will never lie to you, they live for the moment and enjoy simple things, they’re loyal and protective, they will listen to all your problems without judging or putting you down, and no matter how bad you think you’ve been, they still love you unconditionally.