The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
When talking about the dynamics of the narcissist/empath relationship, many people have questions and the biggest of those is often: if empaths are so in tune with others, why can't they see what narcissists really are?
Empaths are people who are very in tune with the emotions of others. This should not be confused with people who are codependent and trying to read or anticipate the emotions of others. Empaths can become codependent - as anybody can - but they are not the same thing. There is a previous article that talks in depth about the difference between these two things if you need more information.
Empaths are frequent partners for narcissists because they can see how hurt and damaged the narcissist really is. Empaths with poor boundaries can end up becoming enmeshed with narcissists and even becoming their caretakers for exactly this reason. They end up feeling responsible for the narcissist and their empathy has become maladaptive in this situation. The author has several articles that go into these relationship dynamics in depth, but why does this happen in the first place? Why can't the empath see what the narcissist is from the beginning?
The truth is, many empaths do see what narcissists are from the beginning. They just ignore it because their desire to help is so strong, or because their boundaries are not strong enough to withstand the constant assaults against them from a narcissistic person.
Also, empaths are usually very hopeful people. They often try to give people many chances in the belief that everyone will do better if given a chance, and by the time their hope has eroded to nothing, they are trauma bonded and enmeshed in the relationship, making it very hard to end contact with this person. The hope has often become denial, and that makes it even harder. The empath's ego can often become involved as well, turning it into a situation where they will not give in until they have "fixed" or "cured" the narcissist. This is, again, an example of poor boundaries and is actually the empath trying to control the situation - and sometimes, the narcissist as well.
However, there is another problem as well. Many times, the empath cannot see what the narcissist is at first because the narcissist projects a very inconsistent vibe or energy. This can scramble the empath's radar, so to speak. Your energy reflects who you are. The pathologically narcissistic person really has no identity or it's very unstable, so their vibe or energy is usually very inconsistent and can be massively contradictory; for example, seeming to be a very helpless, damaged person one moment but a very predatory and cold one the next. The empathic person cannot get a fix on who or what the narcissist actually is. This can be very intriguing and it can keep people coming around, trying to figure it out. It is only much later that people realize there was nothing to figure out because there is nothing else there. They find that they are no closer to figuring the narcissist out than they ever were, and they know them no better than they ever did.
There's nothing to know. In a very real way, and as strange as it sounds to say it, with narcissists what you see is what you get. There's nothing deeper here, and there is no ultimate "true self" hiding under all of the masks that you see. The lost little child, the vicious predator, the seducer, the arrogant achiever and any other mask you might see... these things are who they really are, which is to say there actually is no "who they really are." They are all of these things, and so consequently, they are really none of them.
The masks you see are the unbalanced, unstable and fractured parts of an identity they are unable to pull together into a cohesive whole. The masks and personas are each as real as the other, for whatever that's worth. This of course means that they are each as fake as the other as well. There is no true substance to the pathologically narcissistic person and one of the things that keeps people hanging on so long is the idea that there is.
It's an extremely difficult thing to accept, especially when sometimes you can clearly see glimpses of the person the narcissist could have been. But it isn't who they are and that's that. No amount of caring or sacrifice on your part can make somebody into something they're not.
Lucy from Leeds, UK on September 11, 2019:
Really astute and eye-opening article.