I’ve had a few questions around situations in which a relationship with a narcissist has ended, and ended badly, and lo and behold, a few months later, or even years later, the narcissist makes a request for a special favor despite all that had gone before. Clients come back to me stirred up, old wounds uncovered, resentment brewing once again. How can this person have requested a favor; what the heck is wrong with the narcissist? Empaths must remember that if we are healthy we tend to understand how a person is feeling, and we tend to respect boundaries, so we naturally do not ask favors of those people who have told us to go away. When we are healthy we understand that our feelings and needs are just as important as others’ feelings and needs. But for the narcissist, the narcissist simply cannot see anyone in their lives as important as themselves. The narcissist simply doesn’t care how other people are feeling. It is the narcissist’s feelings, needs, and requests that are important. Everything else takes second place to the narcissist.
If you have read my book on the Fan-Hero Family System, you are familiar with the Enneagram Type Three, which I like to call the Hero. When the Hero is emotionally dissociated, the Hero usually starts behaving as a narcissist. While the healthy Hero is in pursuit of self-improvement and acts as an inspiration to others, the unhealthy Hero believes in the image he has of himself and of others in his life, and tries to protect that image even at the expense of others and in direct contradiction of reality. In the Fan-Hero Family System book I described the adult son of a Hero who broke off contact with his narcissist father because his father could not treat him or his family in a way that wasn’t damaging and hurtful. The son, my client, had explained to his father that his father seemed incapable of seeing that there were problems in the relationship, and therefore no change could occur. Unless those changes happened, my client couldn’t afford the negativity and crazy-making behavior from his father in his life. My client asked for no visits, and no contact unless the behavior was addressed. Basically since his father was incapable of even admitting there was a problem between them, the relationship was over for my client, even though the narcissist father wanted the relationship.
As you can imagine, this breakdown of the father-son relationship was extremely hard on my client. It had taken him years of hard work to become clear enough about his family to see what was really going on, and to see how shallow many of the family relationships were. In his family, like with many unhealthy Fan-Hero Families, he was expected to serve the family and the image. He was a support person, not the person who should get the attention and glory, which always goes to the Hero. His wife had been punished because she had seen what the dynamic was, and then his children had been neglected and ignored. On one level my client had allowed this to happen, which had caused him major grief within his marriage. On another level, this was the set up of his family, so once he did his personal work he was able to release himself from these contracts and behave as the man he always wanted to be. His marriage repaired itself, and his children were free of any generational contracts from his side of the family. He knew he had been lucky to escape, and he only regretted that it had taken him so long.
A year after he had ended his relationship with his father he received a letter from him asking for help. His father wanted to remove his son from his will so he could give that money to his current wife, who was likely to outlive him. His father had mismanaged his money, and wanted to fix the problem this way, but didn’t want to do so without his son’s approval. My client, who had assumed no inheritance was coming anyway, was angered by this intrusion and had the urge to write back to his father and tell him to jump in a lake. He was surprised that his wife found the letter hilarious—she encouraged him to not respond at all. While my client ended up deciding not to respond to his father’s request, it was a good opportunity to look at the mind and motivations of the narcissist, especially the unhealthy Hero type Narcissist.
While a healthy person would feel extreme shame and embarrassment at writing such a letter, the narcissist has no problem with this sort of request because he is too emotionally dissociated to feel uncomfortable feelings of shame and of embarrassment. He doesn’t have that natural check in place that the rest of us have, which is the main benefit of being able to feel and to handle our uncomfortable emotions. Because the narcissist only considers himself, he doesn’t consider what effect writing such a letter would have on his son, or even on his wife for that matter. He is only fixated on getting his own needs met, which is to have enough money in his bank account so that his young wife won’t go back to work and possibly leave him in his old age. Also notice that in this case the narcissist also avoids responsibility for his mismanagement of money and for the ensuing consequences by asking his son to give him his approval. By making it a joint decision he doesn’t have to shoulder all the responsibility for his actions. The narcissist also doesn’t see that his letter simply reinforces his son’s conclusion that he is incapable of having a healthy relationship. He doesn’t see or care that he makes it appear that his wife has only married him for his money.
Another point Empaths don’t realize is that the Narcissist can make such a request because he has nothing to lose. Since he doesn’t feel uncomfortable like most people would, there is no cost in asking for a favor. Either way, he wins. In this particular case, the narcissist wins no matter how my client responded. The narcissist can tell himself that he did his best in contacting his son if his son doesn’t respond, and it’s his son’s fault for not helping him. He wins if his son contacts him and says go ahead since he can then share responsibility for fixing his mismanagement of his money. He can tell his wife that his son knows about the change in the will, too, so she won’t feel like she’s imposing on the father-son relationship. But he also wins if his son says no because he can tell his wife that his son cares more about the money than her financial security. In all three cases the narcissist avoids responsibility, can transfer blame, and also lightens any emotional discomfort that may be pushing through his repression.
While my client was angry, and while he understood on a whole new level how deep the narcissism ran in his family, he was grateful he had already ended the relationship with his father. If he hadn’t done his personal work and had still been in contact with his father, he would have had to deal with his father’s financial problems. It would have been enough to end the relationship at that point, but then his father could blame the ensuing rift on his son’s attachment to money, rather than deal with the cleaner break my client had made months before. The narcissist’s behavior isn’t surprising here, even though many Empaths are revolted and baffled by such behavior. Narcissists have no compunction asking for favors that benefit them to the detriment or discomfort of the people around them. If you are in relationship with a narcissist, keep this in mind. A narcissist is too wounded to be able to care about you as you care about him. He is simply incapable of doing so. He may say he loves you, but remember that his love for you is secondary to his own needs and feelings. Staying in a close relationship with such a person without keeping this fact in mind can lead to deep hurt and betrayal. Don’t expect a narcissist to treat you as you would treat him—that simply misses the point of what it means to be a narcissist.