Hello there, and thank you for joining me today. Much has been written about relationships between Empaths (or Highly Sensitive People; for clarity I will be using the word “Empath”) and Narcissists. There can be no denial that a narcissist (narc) will target an empath, for the very qualities they wished they themselves possessed. By and large, empathetic people feel deeply, are driven by making the world and the people in it ‘better’. We want to help. We want to save. We want to give. We DO give, sometimes to our own detriment. By and large, empaths are some of the most caring people in the world; deeply touched and affected by the suffering of others. It is just this nature that empaths become the perfect target for the narcissist. Let’s take a deeper look at the relationship dynamic, what I am calling here “The Perfect Dance of Destruction”.
“The Narcissist at the root of their being, are empty with a void of missing internal self-worth. Narcissists WANT desperately to be worthy and often live lives full of overcompensation and ‘acting’ to portray to the world the very opposite of what they truly are. The Empath on the other hand, often exudes outwardly the very characteristics a narcissist covets; genuine loving care for others, understanding and giving beyond measure. The Empath becomes the target of the Narcissist and willingly may enter the “Dance of Destruction” thinking they will be able to help or save the Narcissist.” L.A. Gilliam
Here are some character traits of an Empath:
- Highly sensitive to others’ feelings and emotions
- Highly in touch and in tune with nature and the natural world
- Can feel others’ feelings – both happy and sad
- Genuinely caring, giving, supportive, and understanding
- Is often moved deeply by pieces of music, art, and performances
- Is often called upon by others in times of need
- Is willing to offer support, an ‘ear’ or ‘shoulder’ in times of distress
- Can become emotionally exhausted easily
- Enjoys time alone, in peace and quiet
- Needs solitary time after parties, events, and social gatherings
- May choose to avoid small talk and seemingly benign gatherings
- May avoid crowds
- Ironically, are able to often detect someone who is not genuine
- May be moved to tears (both happy and sad) when another is crying
Now, let’s take a look at some character traits of a Narcissist, as they roughly correspond with the above:
- Is unable to ‘put themselves in others’ shoes’; cannot understand why another person feels as they do
- May enjoy time outside, but is not moved emotionally
- Cannot feel empathy, sympathy, nor joy when others do
- Does not FEEL deeply with the arts; appreciation may be shown, but will be limited to their own personal experience, not to the ‘world’ as a whole
- Will use assistance offered to others as a ‘bargaining chip’ in the future; any assistance given will be remembered and will have strings attached
- May be called upon for financial support, or life-event support, not emotional support
- Will feel ‘alive’ the more people are around; enjoys crowds, noise, attention, being the ‘center of attention’
- Cannot stand time alone and doesn’t understand why others need it; time alone bores the narcissist to tears (one reason their lives are always in chaos)
- Is able to ‘fake’ authenticity in the BEGINNING, like nobody’s business, a narc is one of the best actors on the planet (both male and female)
- Sheds tears for effect only; for attention, sympathy, or as a show. The narc does not cry for others – ever. They cannot FEEL to that depth.
Now, when the narc and the empath first meet, it is likely the empath will ‘think’ they are in the company of someone very similar to themselves, and there is GOOD REASON FOR THIS. The narcissist will ‘mirror’ tone of voice, gestures, word selection, topics discussed right back to the empath, creating a false bond or attachment (it seems very real) WITH the empath. This is the performance of a lifetime after all, the ‘Dance of Destruction’ has begun with the narcissist pretending to be who the empath IS. The empath may pick up on this or that, little things here and there, but the narc is so skilled at manipulation, even very knowledgeable and successful therapists are often fooled.
The next step beyond these first few meetings or dates are important, as this is when the narcissist will begin laying the ‘seeds of sorrow’. Oh, the stories empaths hear! Remember, the empath already believes he or she is in the company of someone very similar TO themselves, because the narcissist has made sure their performance has HOOKED the empath. Now, the narcissist will start laying everything on the line; personal problems, health problems, family problems, challenges they are facing, events they’d like you help with, and on and on it goes. Of course the empath wants to ‘help’! That is in the empath’s nature after all, and how can one deny supporting someone who has such woeful stories to tell? Ahhh – be aware here empaths, be VERY aware. If we are not careful, this is when and how we get STUCK in the Dance.
Over time, as the empath believes he or she is creating a genuine bond with the narc, we start letting our own boundaries loosen. We have been treated so well up to this point, not knowing the facade of the ‘game’ (this is nearly a literal HUNT by the narcissist) nor the depth of the acting by the narc. The empath now moves emotionally closer to the narc, offering support, care, understanding, and compassion. The narcissist is lapping this attention up like an overheated dog to a bowl of cool water. The narc can FEEL THIS; make no mistake. The narcissist is very skilled at their OWN sense of intuition and will be able to sense and know when the empath has emotionally committed to them. The empath’s efforts and actions SHOW the narc that they are now ‘hooked’. The empath WANTS to offer this support to the narc; it is in the empath’s nature to PROVIDE. The narcissist WANTS this support; it is in narc’s nature to TAKE. Hence, the ‘Dance of Destruction’.
As the relationship progresses, the narcissist drops the facade, drops the mask of who they have pretended to be (in order to hook the empath). When this happens, the empath does not understand this ‘switch’ in personality, but will work TIRELESSLY to make things right again – likely thinking this is just a temporary ‘rough patch’. This IS THE DANCE. The narcissist takes, takes, takes; the empath gives, gives, gives, all in order to make things better again, to get back to those early days when things were ‘so good’ (remember, they were fake for the narc). The empath works harder than ever to make things right; the narcissist may ‘throw a bone’ to the empath now and again to keep the empath hooked. The empath MUST have harmony to feel safe, secure, and stable; the narcissist must create chaos, confusion, and drama to feel ‘alive’. You will not find a narcissist at rest; in perpetual motion, with a million things going on all the time, they must have this level of activity to FEEL (see the previous post where brain structure and processing abnormalities were discussed). This lifestyle, this chaos, is the OPPOSITE of what the empath needs. Yet, the empath just wants things to go back the way they were in the beginning. This duality is extremely difficult for the empath; where did the harmony go? Where are all the good days like we had in the beginning of the relationship? WHY have things gone so haywire? Because we were with a narcissist the entire time, but didn’t know it – in the beginning.
Have you ever felt like you were the one doing all the work in a one-sided relationship? Have you ever felt like the person you are with, over time became someone you didn’t even recognize? The empath will exhaust himself or herself in the effort to get back to the ‘beginning’, when things WERE in harmony. This is not to be. This dance will continue as long as the empath allows it.
It must be restated here that the narcissist WANTS what the empath IS, and because this will never happen, the relationship turns to deep emotional and mental abuse. This is at the hands of the narcissist. The narcissist and empath, now locked in the ‘Dance of Destruction’, are locked into this push-pull, the needs of the narcissist being catered to by the empath exhaustively. Most empaths just want to keep the narcissist HAPPY to avoid the abuse that will come our way if we are to stand up for ourselves, our makes OUR needs known. The empath may in fact live like this for years and years; decades and decades. Driven by the deep need to ‘save and help’ others, the deep drive to do all possible to make others feel good, satisfied, happy, and supported, the empath will literally wear themselves out at the expense of the relationship. And don’t you know, narcissists are there – lapping it all up. Ultimately however, the narcissist will engage in this dance to the empath’s destruction. Eventually, the empath just can’t do it any more, is suffering from very real physical symptoms from having lived under this stress for so long, or just may decide one day that they’ve had enough. Abuse is abuse, and narcissists are KNOWN for it. Some empaths will take it, until they just can’t any longer.
Sadly, when the empath tries to move away from the relationship, the narcissist will FEEL this happening, and up the ante of attention, of positive interactions. This is commonly known as ‘love bombing’, and will trick the empath into thinking and feeling that “Yes! Things are better! Look how great things are again!” But, this is ONLY TEMPORARY and is a calculated effort on the part of the narcissist to once again secure the empath’s love, attention, and support. Once the empath is again firmly entrenched in the relationship, often thinking something like “Okay. I must’ve been mistaken. Things are getting better!”, the narcissist will drop this facade, this game, like a hot potato. The narcissist cannot sustain this positive behavior toward the empath because it is not genuine. This temporary reprieve from the abuse, the negative and demanding nature of the relationship IS MANIPULATION, and empaths will fall for it time and time again. THIS IS THE DANCE OF DESTRUCTION.
So, here we are friends. This ‘Dance of Destruction’ is what will happen in a Narcissist-Empath relationship. There is no discounting the very real struggle any empath feels as the awareness dawns on them exactly who they are dealing with as the mask of the narc slips. The empath MUST be the one to end this dance; the narcissist is unlikely to do so, and why would they? They have the perfect servant, the perfect accommodating partner in the empath. This Dance of Destruction will in fact deplete the empath significantly, if the empath does not end the relationship. Remember, empaths are some of the most caring people in the universe; deeply touched and affected by the suffering of others. It is just this nature that empaths become the perfect target for the narcissist. Personally, I now limit my ‘saving’ behavior for animals. I have no interest in saving another adult human being. Best, L.A.