Symbiosis: The Empath and the Narcissist

Dear empath,

You may feel as if your purpose in this life is to facilitate the healing of others, to offer yourself up as a container in which others can find comfort and support, to emotionally feed and water others to watch them abundantly grow. Highly sensitive and highly intuitive, you’re like an emotional sponge, absorbing all of the emotional energy around you. You thrive when you see others happy, genuinely feeling their joy. Equally, though, you deeply feel their struggle. You feel the pain. You feel the heartache. You feel the negativity of those around you. You have the heart, you have the understanding, and you have the compassion that makes you easily sought out for someone who is hurting, someone who is toxic, someone who has narcissistic tendencies. You may find yourself taken advantage of, becoming a dumping ground for others’ problems while you offer nothing but love from start to finish until they’re finished with you or until you make an intentional effort to be finished accepting the treatment of a dish rag. Without strong boundaries, you become exhausted. Without strong boundaries, you may find yourself falling into martyrdom or self-sacrifice.  Even when you do set boundaries, you may do so on the later side of a problem and receive serious push back for doing so as it appears to be against your nature to those around you. Similarly, you value honesty above all else even when others don’t want to hear it, however gently you present it. Being a “people-pleaser” may be a theme within your identity, allowing negative energy to cause you anxiety. Reconnect with yourself. You may feel fueled by nature, as you get away from high stimulation of busy life. Find inner peace. Grant yourself the compassion and understanding that you so freely give to others, knowing that it is never your responsibility to fix someone else. Mindfully manage your environment. Take up journaling to externalize your internal thoughts. Know that you aren’t alone – 20% of the world’s population can relate to how you’re feeling. You deserve to prioritize yourself, screening and weeding out toxicity from your life. You are a gift to the world – protect yourself accordingly.

Dear Toxic Person,

You may not recognize the warning signs you display in your life. If you do, you may criticize others, picking apart their lives rather than expressing happiness for them when they share details of their lives with you. You may feel extremely inferior, aiming to overcome this complex by becoming superior. You may be aware that people tend to step away from relationships with you, although you often attribute this to something being wrong with them rather than you. Admitting we’re wrong isn’t a particularly fun thing to do, so you may deny your wrongdoings whether it’s on a conscious level or a subconscious level. Sometimes you may feel that you are unworthy of existence, and at other times feel as though your purpose on this earth is grandiose and highly important. You may have a strong fear of rejection and abandonment, hindering you from the vulnerability of genuinely, deeply loving others. We can all display some toxic characteristics here and there throughout our lives and we all display narcissistic tendencies sometimes. Without some introspection to release our toxic thoughts and behaviors, though, our personal toxicity goes under our radar and we lose the ability to work on our relationships where toxicity has embedded itself. In rare cases, these behaviors can be classified as a personality disorder.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a need for admiration, a lack of empathy for others, a sense of entitlement, taking advantage of others, and a heightened sense of self-importance. Someone who fits into such category tends to seek external validation, has goals that are grounded in gaining approval from others, and has superficial relationships. Know that this isn’t your fault. Toxic tendencies and Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be caused by external forces such as strict authoritarian, perfectionist parents that have damaged your self-esteem and put you under pressure to meet unrealistic demands, neglect in childhood that has exposed you to an unpredictable environment, causing you to wear a cloak of importance to make up for your feeling of insignificance, or trauma including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Seeing a therapist can help you become more aware and able to identify things in your past that have paved the way for the attitudes and behaviors that have created conflict in your life.

Relationships, including friendships, between the empath and the toxic person seem to be extremely common. The toxic person and the empath are seemingly opposite, but we’ve all heard that opposites attract. The empath may be a target for the narcissist. Although the empath is highly intuitive, they often don’t initially see the toxicity as it is typically hidden under charm and a false self. The toxic person is a consistently negative presence in the empath’s life, although still managing to keep the empath around. The empath tends to stay in toxic relationships for too long, allowing their high level of empathy and understanding to justify the behaviors of the toxic person. The empath longs to help the toxic person grow, and is patient enough to stay through the suffering. The empath validates and encourages the toxic person, while the toxic person allows the empath to feel needed. The toxic person tests the empath’s boundaries, and the empath models love, acceptance, and emotional intelligence for the toxic person. These relationships are unsustainable, yet they give both the empath and the toxic person an opportunity to grow. This type of relationship ultimately serves each person a deep purpose. If you have found yourself identifying with either of these roles and realize that you may be in a relationship with the other, learn your lessons, grow, and leave the relationship a stronger and more self-aware individual. Not all relationships are meant to last, but all relationships give us an opportunity for self-improvement.

References and Further Reading:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Arienta, S. (2016). Lightworker relationships: Creating lasting and healthy bonds as an empath. Pompton Plains: New Page.

Davenport, B. (2018, December 04). 29 Empath Traits. Retrieved from https://liveboldandbloom.com/03/self-improvement/empath-traits

Dodgson, L. (2018, January 23). Empaths and narcissists make a ‘toxic’ partnership – here’s why they’re attracted to each other. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/why-empaths-and-narcissists-are-attracted-to-each-other-2018-1

Luna, A. (2018, October 01). Dear Empaths: 4 Types of Narcissists You May Be Attracting ⋆ LonerWolf. Retrieved from https://lonerwolf.com/empaths-and-narcissists/

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bridgestorecovery.com/narcissistic-personality-disorder/narcissistic-personality-disorder-treatment/

Orloff, J., MD. (n.d.). 9 Lessons I’ve Learned From Being an Empath in Love. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empaths-survival-guide/201802/9-lessons-i-ve-learned-being-empath-in-love

Smith, M. R., PhD. (2018, May 24). Dating As An Empath: Why It Makes Relationships So Hard. Retrieved from https://thoughtcatalog.com/michael-r-smith-ph-d/2017/03/what-being-an-empath-actually-is-and-why-it-makes-dating-and-relationships-so-hard/

S, S. (2017, November 18). Why Empathic People Struggle With Romantic Relationships. Retrieved from https://www.lifeadvancer.com/empathic-people-struggle-romance/

Ward, D. (2012, January 16). The Highly Sensitive Person and the Narcissist. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-and-sensitivity/201201/the-highly-sensitive-person-and-the-narcissist

Wiest, B. (2018, August 09). How To Know If You’re The Toxic Person Everyone’s Trying To Avoid. Retrieved from https://medium.com/personal-growth/how-to-know-if-youre-the-toxic-person-everyone-s-trying-to-avoid-a38603f61e9f

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