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The Narcissist and the Empath: A Toxic Attraction

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

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There is no more dangerous and painful relationship than a relationship with a Narcissist. These relationships are often categorized by abuse of every kind (physical, verbal, mental, emotional, financial...), exploitation, gaslighting, manipulation and a total disregard for the other person by the Narcissist. We know Empaths as kind, generous people who are plugged in deeply to other people's emotions, often knowing us better than we know ourselves. So why would an Empath be attracted to a Narcissist? Of course, a person does not have to be an Empath to be unlucky enough to have encountered the Narcissist. However, Empaths find themselves entangled with Narcissists a disproportionate amount of the time comparatively speaking and because it seems such an unlikely pairing in a lot of ways, this dynamic deserves some investigation.

Who is the Empath?

Empaths are people who are uniquely and exquisitely tuned in to the emotions of other people, even to the point of feeling these emotions. They are sensitive, kind and nurturing to a fault. They may unfailingly place the needs of other people before their own. This is a big reason they are attractive to narcissists.

Who is the Narcissist?

Narcissists are selfish, emotionally and morally bankrupt, immature individuals who are unable to feel empathy for others in any true or meaningful way. They do not consider other people's feelings at all; indeed, they don't even seem to realize other people have feelings in the same way that they themselves do.

It doesn't seem to make sense that two such people would be even remotely attracted to each other, let alone form what can seem to be an unbreakable, almost fatal attraction-type of bond, but it happens - and frequently. How, though?

The Attraction

At first glance, it's easy to see why the Narcissist is attracted to the Empath. Empaths are everything the Narcissist is not: kind, caring, emotionally aware, supportive, in control, able to have relationships and make friends... True to his nature, The Narcissist covets things they do not have and they endeavor to take them from anyone who does have them (or at least ruin them so that no one has them). The Empath gives freely of themselves, making themselves a glowing beacon for the Narcissist. It's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. The Narcissist senses an emotional source they can leech off of nearly indefinitely, like a battery that never dies. They can take and take and take, and in return The Empath will give and give and give. This is the nature of the relationship between the two and it will never change.

But why is The Empath attracted to The Narcissist? In the beginning, the powerful "vibe" The Narcissist gives off will resonate very deeply within The Empath. It catches The Empath's attention, and they are drawn to The Narcissist as magnetically as The Narcissist is drawn to them because of it. The Narcissist's presence is often very emotionally intense and most Empaths are attracted to that, whether they realize it or not. The Narcissist may also be hard to read emotionally (the vibe is intense but it may be very distorted, like static on a TV where one cannot see the true picture) and since reading other people's emotional states is often very easy for the Empath to do, they may be drawn to a narcissist in spite of themselves in an attempt to figure them out. Who is this person? What's going on with them? What are they about? In short order, The Narcissist may then reveal a lifetime of abuse (real or embellished) along with a carefully-crafted commercial pitch showcasing how wonderful they are (usually not real) - and how wonderful The Empath is, even though they just met – and The Empath will be effectively snared because they do not realize at first that the intense emotionality being generated by The Narcissist is all for themselves.

It would seem unlikely that the Empath would fall for this considering that they are very in tune with others' emotions and their true selves. Can't they see what The Narcissist really is? The answer is usually yes, they can. Most Empaths sense something "wrong" about the Narcissist very quickly, sometimes even during the first conversation. But they can also see something else, and it overrides everything else: how wounded and broken they are inside, beneath all the lies and abuse. Narcissists need. It's not an act on their part or a mistake on the Empath's part; the Narcissist really is fundamentally wounded and broken inside. A large number of Narcissists are skilled at appearing helpless and lost. That's because in many ways, they truly are. The Empath's mistake is in believing this means they can help.

This is so often the attraction, whether conscious or not. The Empath wants to help The Narcissist. It is a fatal blind spot, because the Narcissist cannot be helped and more importantly, they do not want help. Yet even when Empaths can see this clearly, The Narcissist's wounds are clearer. They are evident in everything Narcissists do, even in the horrible things. Especially in the horrible things.

The Why

Narcissists are adept at making people believe they are the only ones who can help them, or that they already have helped them. This is what Empaths want. It feeds their need to help, and no one is more convincing than a Narcissist when they are showering someone with praise or pushing their emotional buttons to get a response. Empaths give Narcissists the emotional sustenance they both want and need, allowing them to bask in the light of The Empath's care and attention all the time. It is a dangerously codependent relationship which revolves around superficially fulfilling the needs of only one person who can be neither satisfied nor happy. The Narcissist is like a cup with a hole in the bottom: no matter how much you pour into it, it is never enough.

There is an important distinction to make here, however. We say "superficially fulfilling" because it is important to remember that the Empath's needs are being fulfilled, too, even if this does not seem to be the case. Empaths are usually the obvious injured party in the relationship but in a manner of speaking, they are a “willing” injured party; they have locked themselves in a situation where they can perpetually "help" someone who will always need them. They have made a "career" out of taking care of a professional victim who does not want to get better. This may seem like victim-blaming to some, but it is only by recognizing this very thing that the Empath can empower themselves to get away from the Narcissist for good: they have to understand that they are choosing to stay and they can choose to leave. Narcissists only have the power over others that is given to them.

Lots of Narcissists are arrogant overachievers but most are crippled by their disorder in many ways, unable to function in the world normally in more than a very superficial way. The Empath sees an opportunity to take care of someone in perpetuity - and even if they don't want to, their caring nature can make them feel that they must. What will they do without The Empath? It doesn't seem fair to abandon The Narcissist, regardless of how horrible they are because they are sick and the sickness is not their fault. It's true that the way narcissist's brains work are not their fault. However, it is not The Empath's fault, either. They do not need to be punished forever because of someone else's mistakes. If they stays in a relationship with the Narcissist, they will be.

This is the Empath's nightmare: abandoning those who need them when they could have helped. That is the problem with this logic, though: Empaths cannot help Narcissists. No one can.

The Conclusion

Since it is unrealistic to expect that the Narcissist possesses the insight to be able to recognize their problems, it is up to the Empath to recognize the situation and resolve it. The first (and most important) thing they must realize is that the only way to resolve the situation is to get out of it. That can be a very hard truth to face. No one wants to believe they have wasted years of their life on someone who literally does not care or appreciate it at all, but this is the trap the Empath finds themselves in - especially when dealing with a Narcissist who swears this is not the case. Don't be fooled. It is the case, and it will never change.

The Narcissist cannot and will not change. They are not capable of the type of emotion, empathy and compassion necessary to render themselves a fair, loving, satisfying partner – and cannot learn. They cannot learn how to be a "real" person. This ability is learned in the first few years of life. By the time the Empath meets the Narcissist, it is already far, far too late.

It is important here, too, to remember that the relationship is not laid squarely on the Narcissist. The Empath must take responsibility for their own actions and acknowledge the hard truth that their needs were being fulfilled on some level by the relationship, regardless of how painful or horrible the relationship was. If they cannot do this, they will continue to find themselves in relationships with other Narcissists and the pattern will not be broken. The problem (and pattern) is not solely with one person, because any relationship - even one with a Narcissist - is reciprocal. The Empath stayed in the relationship far past the time when they knew the relationship was unhealthy, dangerous, abusive or unfair and they must take responsibility for that. Only by acknowledging this can they truly break the cycle and be free.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.