Lately I have had questions from readers about how to deal with a narcissist. Empaths are confused by this relationship because the narcissist tends to mimic an Empath, and before the Empath knows it, the Empath is ensnared in a relationship she thought was real and equal and now cannot find a way out. What has happened, and why is this relationship so draining?
It’s important to realize that all people when their wounds are triggered have a tendency to become narcissistic. We focus on our pain and our emotions, becoming self-absorbed and less aware of the effect our actions and words have on the people around us. What this means is that Empaths can be narcissists, too. However, once we get out of a Victim stance and we start taking responsibility for our emotional state, we tend to behave narcissistically less often. We have grown ourselves out of the trap of the narcissist. What is this trap?
From what I have seen in my practice and my personal experience, the narcissist has a core wound that makes him or her feel unlovable and worthless. However, this wound and the belief is buried so deep that it is completely unconscious. To compensate and to not feel this pain, they over-achieve, they become know-it-alls, and/or they build up a facade that allows them to feel good about themselves. Feeling good is all they can allow or else they will access that deep pain. Many narcissists will sacrifice just about anything and anybody to avoid facing such pain. Such a person is unlikely to be able to do his work in order to heal because they are avoiding that core pain.
I have written an article (See The Emotionally Dissociated Hero) on one type of narcissist that the Empath tends to find fascinating. I have also written a book on the type of family that tends to support and collude with the narcissist called the Fan-Hero Family System. The book goes in depth into how this type of narcissist tends to function, and I recommend it for any Empath who is trying to recover from a relationship with such a person. However, the most important point for the Empath to understand so that they can avoid this relationship is the Empath’s own tendency to need to be the special, bonded one in another person’s life.
The narcissist uses this need to manipulate the Empath. The Emotionally Dissociated Hero uses his or her intuition to find a person to take on a support role in the Hero’s life and to keep them happy in that role until that person is invested in the relationship. Empaths, as you can already imagine, are great support people. We will listen to the Hero’s story, we will help the Hero with his projects, and if we haven’t healed our dependency issues, we will do this in exchange for having material support or for having a sense of purpose and belonging in the world. The blind spot for Empaths to watch out for is our unconscious belief that going deep and seeing the inner world of another is the best way to bond. It is unhealthy to bond to an unhealthy person!
The Hero unconsciously knows about the Empath’s need to bond. The Hero knows what to say and how to behave, but all of it is just an act. The Hero draws the Empath in, the Empath thinks she is having a great relationship, and then the confusion begins. What has happened? Why does this relationship that seemed so real at first now feel so weird and draining?
Heroes are usually charming, attractive people, they know how to make the Empath feel special, but they are shut off from their Hearts in order not to feel that worthlessness. The Hero is also a liar. He lies to himself, he believes his own lies, and then he tells those lies to the people around him without knowing he is lying. The Empath starts thinking that she is the crazy one, when it is the Hero who is actually ill. The Hero is so focused on his outer image that he is willing to sacrifice reality (and the Empath). Unfortunately, the Hero has usually gathered enough people around him that are willing to go along with the facade. These people, unlike the Empath, do not get past the outer shell of the Hero and fall for the facade. Or worse, these people catch glimpses of the unhealthy inner core, but do not call the Hero on his behavior. Theses people would rather live by appearances as well.
As you can imagine, this living-by-appearances is crazy-making for the average Empath. She begins to doubt herself; the Empath can get stuck in a mental loop of analysis of the situation and the relationship without making the realization that the Hero is happiest living a lie and wants it that way. However, eventually the relationship disintegrates when the Empath either becomes so drained the Hero has to find another support person, or the Empath leaves the relationship out of desperation for her sanity. For many Empaths it can feel like an act of survival to leave this relationship while everyone else involved thinks the Empath is the crazy, over-reactive one. Most Empaths who have been through this scenario have been in the relationship for years. It also takes them years to recover.
In the Fan-Hero Family System book I talk about an Empath and her husband who escaped from a group who both knowingly and unknowingly supported the unhealthy Heroes in the Family. This type of dynamic requires scapegoating–which means we set someone else up to take the blame and we project our unwanted feelings on to them. Of course, it is the Empath that usually becomes the scapegoat. Scapegoating is a terrible form of group lying and of avoiding reality. Most of the time it is done unconsciously, but even so, it is always incredibly painful for the scapegoat.
Empaths who have lived through this and want to heal must remember that they have been badly abused and injured in the worst sort of way. The person they have bonded to has violated her trust. Understanding the hidden dynamic can be helpful, which is the main reason I wrote the Fan-Hero Family System book. However, once the understanding is there, the real challenge for Empaths is to let go of the wound and not give it another thought, another feeling, or any more energy. The narcissist involved is a sick person. The people that support him are either knowingly or unknowingly supporting a lie. Empaths who want to live happy, full lives must embrace reality. Narcissists simply cannot. The best way to heal is to understand that the narcissist probably won’t be able to heal because he must first realize he is wounded. He cannot take responsibility for himself. Empaths must accept this is the case. This situation is unfixable!
The only sane action the Empath can take is to take responsibilty for her state. She can realize that she has these core beliefs about being special and about being emotionally bonded, and she can start observing how these beliefs drive her. Then she can be more choosy in her relationships. And she can be on the look out for people who avoid reality and avoid them herself.
Let me know if you have questions or comments!