I have always resisted labels. They generalize and simplify so as to create a convenient (and lazy) “one size fits all” uniform designation for dummies. Great for cookie cutters and cookies. Not so much for people.

But recently I read an article that hit uncomfortably home. Entitled “Why Do Empaths End Up With Narcissists?”, it was one of those author unknown relationship-related pieces of the ilk regularly posted and shared on women’s Facebook groups. Like men sit around and read that shit? But a woman looking for answers to love or why her relationship failed . . . yeah. Don’t kid yourselves. We eat up that tripe by the tablespoon. Sorry, ladies. But it’s true. Come on. Be honest. A case in point, how many of you took that ridiculous numerology-based quiz “Have You Found Your Soulmate?” (BTW, if you are curious . . . my result was that I “already have,” I “know it” and though we are not “physically together at this point,” we “will be.” Great. Just what I needed . . . more false hope on the subject of Sunday! But that’s a topic for a future post. Continuing with this one . . .

First of all, while I have never not thought that aforementioned man had narcissistic tendencies, I have never regarded myself as an empath. The connotation for me was one of passive gentleness and caring. Way too kind a label for this hard bitch whose own sons have called an “Ice Queen.” Yet in reading Ms. Unknown’s outline of the 21 stages of a common relationship that can take place between an empath and a narcissist . . . in a word—OUCH. Had she provided little check-off boxes, I would have had twice the number of little Xs needed to win Tic-Tac-Toe without 3-in-a-row. In short, I was able to answer “yes” to a whole lot more of those stages than I was comfortable admitting to openly—or even to myself.

If you haven’t seen the article, here’s a brief and abridged recap as to the points I personally related to. The actual article was much longer and detailed, but please know I am giving all credit to Ms. Unknown. Had I thought to actually screen shoot the article, I would be putting in proper MLA citation format (and quotes) her specific statements, comments and concepts. The statements in italics, however, are purely my own. They are my thoughts and reactions as to how Ms. Unknown’s concepts pertained to me.

The Attraction

  • A narcissist will attract an empath because the empath feels validated by someone in need of her care. (True for me and my ex—though I resented his dependence and grew to despise his lack of independence, I never had a problem with my kids’ dependence. I loved feeling needed—ergo wanted—it defined me and gave me purpose. So much so that now they are grown, I am lost without that role to play.)
  • The narcissist’s need of her care begins to develop into a strong sense of unconditional love within the empath. (“Unconditional” was a level I never reached with my ex. In fact, the first time ever in my life I felt such for a man was with you-know-who.) The narcissist, however, has no intent of returning that love—though he (or she, ‘cause it’s not gender specific, though for the sake of ease we will heretofore refer to the narcissist as a “he” and the empath as a “she.”) goes through the motions and gives signs and drops hints. He may even use the L-word. (He did.) Which, of course creates

The Illusion

  • The empath feels a real connection. (BINGO)
  • But the narcissist’s goal is not to connect, but rather to control. He manipulates the illusion to his end, which is to break down the empath’s self-esteem. Once he creates an unhealthy dependence, he is in control—which then results in a constant cycle of manipulation. (OUCH. Hard to consider as true . . . but hitting waaaay too close for comfort . . .) Not to mention, having this woman on a proverbial string is a huge stroke to his already inflated sense of self. ‘Cause what narcissist isn’t an egotist? (Call it by another name if you want–arrogance, swagger, confidence–but for yours truly? Yeah. One of those moth to the flame attractions that dooms me from the start . . .)

The Failure

  • The empath’s intentions on loving the narcissist are pure. She wants to do everything in her power to heal him. Whether it be his pain from prior failed relationships or even addiction issues, she believes in (or wants to) that ole “all he needs is the love of a good woman” load of crap. (BINGO and OUCH) But her efforts WILL fail.
  • Reality is, the narcissist doesn’t believe he is damaged! (BINGO) He either believes or insists or deludes himself with an equally large load of shit: He is immune to love. Hell! He might even warn the empath: Don’t love me. (YEP BINGO and OUCH) Which of course only strengthens the empath’s resolve to persevere and succeed where all others have failed. (Or is that just me? The always has to get an A perfectionist?)

The Trap

  • The “relationship” is all about the narcissist—his needs, wants, decisions, timetable . . . (YEP. If I heard it once, I heard it 100 times . . . “I see who I want when I want” . . .)
  • The empath begins to see imbalance. (Of course she does–she’s not a TOTAL idiot!) She begins to question why she is with this man. (UH-OH…) The truth is, she is unhappy and dissatisfied because . . . (Pause. Wait for it) . . . she wants more. (OUCH OUCH OUCH) But she is afraid to end it. Or doesn’t want to. Or she hopes with time, he’ll become the man she wants him to be. (Yep, that ole nemesis “hope” and its ever eternal springing . . )

The Cycle

  • The narcissist-controlled rollercoaster/merry-go-round continues
  • until the empath hits her breaking point. (Personally, I didn’t so much “break” as I twisted myself in knots, trying to justify and rationalize . . . while writing such pointed and not so pithy pieces as Yo-Yo Romeo, Cherry-picking and The Emperor Has No Clothes . . .)

The Shift

  • The delusion of the “relationship” finally falls away for the empath. (Ladies, at some point, ya just gotta see the writing on the wall!)
  • She speaks up. (When I finally did, it didn’t go well. At all. By then there was so much hurt on my part, it spewed like Vesuvius.)

(Note: I don’t recall what Ms. Unknown called the remaining stages—so I’m calling these that reflected me and Sunday’s relationship what they were for me.)

The Explosion

  • When the empath vocalizes her concerns—or finally speaks her mind—the narcissist reacts with anger. (To put it mildly . . .)
  • He calls her “crazy” and “delusional.” He invalidates what she feels, denies the facts and throws the blame back on her. He claims innocence (ala “I never done you wrong.”) before hurling that notoriously male accusation which serves to absolve him of any complicity: You caught feelings. (CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK and CHECK)

The Self-doubt

  • The empath questions herself. Her innate insecurities surface. If she can’t be loved by this man to whom she has given her heart, then the fault must be hers. She must be “not enough” or “too much.” Either way, somehow she must be unworthy of being loved. (I went down that road over and over and cried enough tears to flood the fucking thing!)
  • The narcissist has no such feelings.
  • The empath stays and continues to wait for crumbs. When he doesn’t metaphorically speaking drop any, she texts or calls in an attempt to get him to toss a scrap of his attention her way. All the while she continues to delude herself with excuses to explain his behavior, which is in truth quite explainable: Honey, he’s just not that into you! (Butanything is better than nothing” is a freakin’ flotation device that will keep you afloat on false hope. Besides, if you truly deserve better, why doesn’t “better” come along?)

The Awakening

  • At last and eventually (Remember, she’s not a total idiot!) the empath begins to realize the bitter truth. The narcissist does not deserve her love, care, affection. He will never change. She can’t him “fix” him. With this painful awakening she is finally strong enough to break free of his control. And does (or tries to). But before she can begin the process of healing . . .
  • The narcissist has recognized the tip of power, his loss of control. And he reacts to maintain it. If he was gone, he returns. If he was distant, he becomes affectionate. He says what he knows she wants to hear.
  • Which brings the empath to a crossroads. . .

The Repeat

  • Faced with his face (i.e. his presence back in her life) the empath falters. Hope or fear or what she mistakenly believes is “love” may well weaken her resolve. Against her better judgment and the advice of caring friends and concerned family
  • she and the narcissist pick up where they left off and the whole damn cycle and the previous 8 stages repeat.
  • But if she has finally seen the light, the final stage will finally commence . . .

The Healing

  • The empath will stop the cycle.
  • She will accept the fact this “intoxicating” relationship is in fact only a “toxic.”
  • She begins the process of healing, severing all contact with the narcissist.
  • With time (and perhaps professional help) she will come to recognize her worth. She becomes stronger and wiser–and more cautious of whom she gives her love to in the future.
  • The narcissist has no such improvement. He moves on like nothing happened to find another.

This post is by no means an authoritative treatise. There are countless articles written by true experts and educated professionals available online regarding this oh-so-common pairing. If you recognize yourself in any of the preceding, by all means do some research and delve into it.

Remember the old saying “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”? Understanding the dynamic between an empath and a narcissist may help to shed a light. That light may not serve to illuminate an actual way out, but it can make sitting in the dark a tad more comforting. At the least it might make visible the writing on the wall . . .

As for me? Fuck. Yours truly is still looking for more matches and candles . . .

4 thoughts on “The Narcissist and the Empath

  1. Such a great article Judith. I’ve been researching this dynamic over the last 5 years and you have captured it perfectly! The healing begins. I just read a great book by Les Carter,PhD. ‘When Pleasing You is Killing Me’ and I highly recommend it. He has great you tube videos on Narcissistic personality and how to protect ourselves. I had this dynamic in my family of origin and therefore repeated it in my adult relationships. Sending you virtual applause


  2. Wow, Sista!! This really hit home. After a dance that lasted almost 25 years is finally coming to a heartbreaking (but pretty much just MY heart) end, I am seeing through researching covert narcissists that my instincts to stop-drop-and-roll away when the relationship was merely two weeks old should have been heeded. But no. I was one of those gals, at 40 years old, who thought that he (at 29 years old) just needs a good woman and we’ll live happily ever after. He’s 11 years my junior and we’re a culturally mixed couple. I lived through affairs, a stillborn daughter, two miscarriages, an adopted baby that had to go back to the agency when 5 days after we got him, I caught Mr. Perfect in a lie and he broke my nose and knocked me to the floor with a 3 month baby in my arms. I endured his 3 affairs, his insisting that everything wrong with our marriage was my fault. He would spend $20 on me for my birthday and $300 on himself. And every single vacation, every birthday, every holiday he had me in tears at least once. And now, when HE finally recognized that we keep going in circles with the help of #4 who is 20 years younger than me (I am now 64, he’s 54…and “she” is 45), he wants a divorce. And my heart was once again broken into a million sharp little pieces. After 25 years, how can he do this to us? I finally realized last week that what I am mourning, and was ALWAYS mourning, was what I thought we could be if he just, if he would just, if he could just…but the fucking reality is, he won’t, he never has and he never will. He had me EARLY, hook, line and sinker. And I am someone who readily takes the blame, whether or not it’s my fault and even whether or not I am even remotely involved. SO codependent. BUT…this piece spoke volumes to me. I feel like I have found someone else who loves to journal and speaks to my life. At 64 I think I can finally live without a man in my life. Especially without one who sends up red flags before the first coat of paint is dry! I am reading your Fairy Tale pieces, too. Girl!! Get outta my head!! LOL! I have come to terms with the fact that I need to get outta my own damn way. I have a few years left and I want to be happy and do things that I enjoy and spend the money I work for! Our taxes were done last year and I paid 65% of the taxes. And HE gets pissed because when I balance the joint checking account, I need to know what he’s spent. Oh, did I mention that he has to move back in with his parents because he can’t afford a place of his own. Dang it, girl….outta my way!! 😉


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