The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Many people understand that narcissists are attracted to people who they believe have things they themselves don't have. This could be anything, truly: money, a job, friends, confidence... and it can apply in some way to literally just about everyone they come in contact with, as narcissists believe themselves to be fundamentally lacking in ways that others are not. They may not understand what they are lacking or what this even really means, but most of them do seem to feel that they are somehow lacking compared to others, and because of this they - either consciously or unconsciously - seek out people who have the things they don't.
In addition to this, they are also attracted to people who have similar wounds to theirs, just like everybody else. Wounds are attracted to wounds, regardless of what kind of personality someone has. This is, of course, why these same people are attracted to narcissists in return. They have empathy for the narcissist's wounds. They recognize that kind of pain, that kind of damage, because it's the same kind they have. Unfortunately, they assume it is the same for the narcissist. It isn't.
Narcissists see someone who will understand them. Who will be sympathetic to them. Who will be there for them. Who will carry them. Who will fulfill needs and give unconditional love to them. The more psychopathic ones see someone to exploit. The other person's needs are not considered in the equation and never will be, because narcissists don't understand that caring relationships are not supposed to be transactional but reciprocal. People are supposed to support each other. But narcissists can offer support to no one, not even themselves. They have nothing to give. It is like relying on a two year old to be an equal and emotionally-supportive partner. This personality is only set up to take from others in large amounts without reciprocating at all. This is also just like a very young child.
The other person in the relationship - whether it is the narcissist's spouse, sibling, child or friend - does not know this. They assume they are in a relationship with an adult person who understands their wounds and will offer the same amount of support that they themselves are offering. They are shocked and hurt when this does not happen. Surely someone who has been through the same things, knows the same pain, deals with the same wounds would understand! But this is not the case. When someone has problems with empathy, they don't understand other people's emotions and are not interested in learning about them. This is where we can see that lacking empathy does not equal lacking emotions. Narcissists have emotions; with many of them it's very, very obvious. But they don't understand that other people have feelings the same way they do, and because they don't understand, they don't care. It just doesn't matter. It's actually beyond not caring, in all honesty. Saying someone doesn't care implies they understand the situation and have decided that they are not emotionally investing in it. This is not that. It's not even a thing for them. It's not part of their orientation to the world at all.
Your orientation to the world likely includes empathy. You probably not only understand but consider that others have feelings and emotions. Not just about you, but in general as fellow human beings. This probably helps guide some of your decisions. When someone's orientation to the world does not include empathy, things are very different and simply knowing the intellectual fact that other humans have emotions is not enough to direct a person to consider or even recognize those emotions. It's information without any real meaning. This is difficult for people who have empathy to understand, because considering the feelings of others comes naturally; it's part of how you see things and make choices. It's easy to assume that how their behavior will affect others occurs to narcissists and they simply dismiss it, but if someone truly has serious trouble with empathy, this assumption actually makes no sense. It likely did not occur to them at all. Why would it? The mechanism that triggers a person to consider the feelings of others does not exist within them. This doesn't excuse any of their behavior in any way, but it does provide some understanding for those dealing with this kind of personality as to the true depth of this problem. It's actually worse than many people realize.
People sometimes say that narcissists must understand people's emotions, otherwise they would not be able to exploit them. But you probably know how to use a remote control, right? You know that pushing certain buttons will cause certain things to happen on the device the remote belongs to. This doesn't mean you understand why the action of pushing a specific button causes these things to happen, and as long as it works, you probably don't care. Why would you need to care about that as long as it works? You don't need to understand why something works to do it, and you don't need to understand how something works to use it.
People exist in narcissists' lives to meet their needs. Period. This is why manipulation is their only way of interacting. It is their only survival skill-set. They cannot meet their own needs and must devise ways of forcing others to do it for them. If you don't do it, you have failed them. You have abandoned them. It doesn't matter why you didn't do it. They say, "You didn't bring me the water!" and you say, "I couldn't bring it because you broke both my legs..." and they say, "Yeah, but... You didn't. Bring me. The water." This is all that matters. This is unreasonable, unfair and even inhuman treatment, but this is what happens when someone's empathy does not function correctly. They are unable to see that you are not capable of doing it and don't care. All that matters is that you didn't. This is, once again, very hard for people to understand when they have empathy that functions correctly. How can this not occur to someone? Because it just doesn't and because they have no understanding of it anyway, they don't care when it's pointed out. Why would they? It's meaningless information that doesn't resonate with them in any way.
Narcissists who are extremely empathy-deficient will often show confusion or anger when confronted with the reality of the emotions of other people, even accusing them of being manipulative or of "just saying these things to upset" them, because they don't understand that the other person is a human being with actual, real emotions and feelings. They just don't get it and don't care anyway. When dealing with narcissists, it's extremely important to remember that. It can literally save your life.
Like is attracted to like and even though you may not be the same kind of person as the narcissist in your life, if they are someone you are not related to, it's very probable that you've got similar wounds. Wounds are attracted to wounds, even when we don't realize it. Even if they are someone you're related to, you've probably got similar wounds, though you had no choice about them entering into your life. The thing to remember is that not everyone reacts to everything the same. Having the same experiences as someone else should not cause you to assume that they are the same as you, because this is just not true. It's really not, and our assumptions can hurt us quite a bit here if we are not able to accept the reality of the situation because of our belief about who someone should be. Never let your belief about who someone should be cloud the accurate perception of who they actually are. Who you believe someone to be really doesn't matter. What matters is who they show themselves to be.
For example, people often say, "Abusers are not traumatized. I'm a survivor of abuse and I would never hurt anyone, ever." And that is so wonderful to hear, but that's you. It's not everybody at all, unfortunately. Studies have shown repeatedly that the overwhelming majority of abusers (of all kinds) were abused themselves. This is sometimes called the cycle of violence, even though some kinds of abuse don't include physical harm. People are different. Some people react to trauma by become more compassionate and developing more empathy, and others react to it by becoming abusers themselves. But here again, we see the belief that everyone with the same experiences or wounds is the same. This is not correct, and addressing this assumption is very important because it is dangerous. To know someone's experience is not to know them as a person, and we should not assume anything about another person that we don't have direct evidence of, regardless of whether it's positive or negative.
The good news is that when you start addressing your wounds and working on healing them, you will find that you are no longer attracted to people who are not doing the same. You will probably have deep understanding for them, but you probably won't feel such a strong connection to this kind of person anymore because you are no longer similar in this way - and they likely will not feel it, either. That is a beautiful thing. This is one of the reasons it is stressed so often that in order to protect yourself from toxic people like pathologically narcissistic personalities, you must address your wounds and vulnerabilities. It's hard but it's necessary, and this is one of the biggest reasons why.