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Why Are Empaths and Narcissists Drawn to Each Other?

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Celine is a former "Empath" who was recently in a toxic relationship with a diagnosed Narcissist (Narcissistic Personality Disorder/NPD)

DISCLAIMERS

Let me start this off with some disclaimers:

  • Empaths are not martyrs, nor are they “better” than narcissists. Empaths simply harm others in different ways than narcissists do. I do not agree with the common narrative that empaths are helpless victims or incapable of harm.
  • I am not referring to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) exclusively in this article. I am referring to all/any narcissistic behaviours. (i.e. fear and disgust at vulnerability, needing to be perceived as perfect or better than others, arrogance, manipulating others without regard for their well-being, etc.)
  • Narcissism exists on a spectrum, and NPD is at the extreme end of that spectrum.
  • EVERYONE has some narcissistic behaviours, including Empaths. Likewise, most Narcissists have some empathic behaviours.
  • I am more Empathic than Narcissistic, but I’ve tried my best to be neutral.
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Their Commonality is Trauma

To get straight to the point: Narcissists and Empaths are drawn to each other so strongly because they are both deeply traumatized and have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). This background of shared trauma means their brains are wired similarly in many ways, leading to a natural sense of connection and ease of communication.

However, they have taken far different approaches in dealing with their trauma.


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The Empath's Experience

Empaths, like Narcissists, experienced the world as a cruel, chaotic, and frightening place growing up. The Empath deals with this by trying to help, save, fix, understand, heal, and support others. (Notice that many of those behaviours are toxic – it’s not possible to “save” or “fix” anyone). Empaths deal with the cruelty others have inflicted on them by becoming the people who were kind to them, whose kind words or support were enough to keep them going through hard times.

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As Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

When you’re traumatized and have very little self-esteem, a kind word or action towards you validates your worthiness and can keep you going through horrendous experiences. Empaths know this and many strive to be the kind of person who makes a positive difference in the lives of others, even if how they go about that is misguided and a projection of their own trauma.

The Empath chooses to love and hope again and again, despite the tremendous pain they experience. The Empath pathologically sees the good in everyone. And I say that this is pathological because their ability to see the good in everyone is often to the exclusion of seeing the bad/toxic traits in others, and this is usually to the empath’s detriment. Assuming the best of others even despite evidence to the contrary frequently leads Empaths to become mired in toxic and abusive relationships, which traumatizes them further. Empaths can also enable others’ harmful behaviour because of their instinct to see mostly good in people, and their tendency to make excuses for others’ harmful behaviour.

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The Narcissist's Experience

The Narcissist, on the other hand, sets themselves apart from others so as not to be wounded again. The Narcissist learned growing up that if they did not fend for themselves constantly, then they would not survive. They learned that if they showed vulnerability, they would suffer for it in some way. As such, they come to see vulnerability, expressing emotions, or more extremely, feeling at all to be weak and repulsive. (The Empath considers not caring about others to be repulsive.) The Empath pathologically sees the best in people, and The Narcissist pathologically sees the worst in people. For the Narcissist, this tendency is pathological because it causes them to be hyper-critical, paranoid, defensive, and in the extreme, to abuse people by using their perceived defects as justification.

Pathologically seeing the worst in others and viewing them with suspicion served The Narcissist well when they were around people who would trick, manipulate, or abuse them at a moment’s notice. Many Narcissists have also experienced being abandoned by others for their perceived faults, and so are quick to treat others as disposable also. Seeing the worst in others also serves as a protective mechanism – if no one is ever as good as them, then no one truly deserves to be around or with them, and this leads to not becoming emotionally attached to others. If attachment develops, it is shallow and precarious. If their relationships are never deep, vulnerable, or intimate, then they are less likely to be wounded when they either discard the other person, or are abandoned.

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Two Different Approaches

Empaths sail through the waters of their immense, deep pain to experience connection with others (and sometimes, are delusionally optimistic about this and end up shipwrecked, stranded, or drowned). Narcissists don’t see why that’s worth the trouble, since they’re better off by themselves in their high tower in the middle of nowhere, anyway. On the surface, the Narcissist’s choice may seem less painful, but the reality is that their experience is terrifyingly lonely, plus it’s exhausting for them to maintain the façade of superiority they feel obligated to uphold when they do leave their tower.

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Another Commonality is Shame

Narcissists construct and maintain this “perfect” persona for the world in order to mask their real, imperfect Self, which they feel deep down is too repugnant to truly be loved (so constant compensations must be made). This stems from deep, deep shame, originating from their trauma. Empaths identify with the Narcissist’s shame, because they carry that, also. They recognize it right away and see the wounded soul beneath the hard exterior. The Empath sees that the Narcissist’s Real Self is still there – but far, far away, up in that tower. Empaths often believe at some level that they can bring the Narcissist’s Real Self out, arguing that the Narcissist just needs time, patience, and compassion. This comes back to Empaths wanting to save, rescue, or fix others as a way to remedy their own trauma, when in the past, they were unable to save or fix the people who hurt them.

In Conclusion...

I hope this article provides a more nuanced analysis of the destructive but magnetic allure that Narcissists and Empaths feel for each other. The Narcissist is not evil, and The Empath is not an embodiment of unconditional love: they are both extremely traumatized and represent opposite ends of the spectrum of C-PTSD and how this manifests in their personalities, beliefs, and relationships.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Celine

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