When you read about empaths and narcissists, they’re mostly treated as complete opposites.
But it’s not as simple as that.
Considering how many empaths end up in relationships with narcissists, it’s worth looking into why this happens.
And essential to that understanding is answering the question, “Can an empath be a narcissist?”
Or, to put it another way, is it possible for a narcissist to feel empathy?
The answer might surprise you.
Or it might echo a feeling you’ve had for some time now.
It’s time to get some answers.
Empaths and Narcissists: 11 Reasons They Get in a Relationship
When it comes to relationships between these two, it’s not as simple as empath vs. narcissist (or vice-versa).
Before you can free yourself from an abusive relationship, you need to know what drew you into it in the first place.
1. The narcissist sees the empath as loving, devoted, and agreeable.
The narcissist is drawn to empaths because the latter are emotional sponges. An empath in love will listen to the narcissist with undivided attention and a desire to understand them.
When the narcissist shows genuine appreciation for this openness, the empath feels rewarded and special.
2. The empath admires the confidence, charm, and decisiveness of the narcissist.
The narcissist presents as unusually confident, driven, and often successful. They go after what they want and generally get it.
The empath, who is more of a people-pleaser and less likely to exhibit the same fearless confidence, admires those qualities and is flattered by their attention.
3. The narcissist knows how to act like the ideal catch.
They’ve got the look and often the financial clout to make a strong and positive impression on someone who catches their eye.
They know how to exhibit their best features without coming across as braggy or high on themselves.
It’s a gift. And they use it to their advantage.
4. The empath makes the perfect “adoring fan.”
The smitten empath sees only the golden halo surrounding the narcissist who’s gotten under their skin. They adore everything about them, and it shows.
The narcissist, of course, enjoys every minute of it. And they may shower the empath with thoughtful gifts and compliments to encourage more of the same.
5. When the narcissist complains, the empath responds with compassion.
The world just doesn’t appreciate them or show them the respect they deserve. And when they vent about this to the empath, they can expect wholehearted sympathy, soothing compliments, and understanding.
The empath craves harmony and will do what they can to restore their partner’s sense of well-being, so they can both enjoy their time together.
6. The narcissist is protective and quick to defend the empath from others.
If the empath is targeted by someone else, the narcissist — if it suits them — will be quick to swoop in and come to the rescue, standing with their empathic partner and showing their readiness to shield them from abuse and take on their aggressors.
When the narcissist is unhappy (or done) with the empath, all bets are off. They’re no longer worth the trouble.
7. The empath likes to please and to preserve harmony.
Empaths tend to soak up the feelings of those around them. So, in pleasing others and restoring harmony, they’re also making themselves feel better.
If their partner is happy, they’re happy. And if their partner seems troubled by something, they’ll do what they can to fix it or make up for it.
8. The narcissist likes to be pleased and pandered to.
They know how badly the empath wants peace, harmony, and good feelings all around. And if it suits the narcissist, they’ll allow the empath to bend over backward to serve them, lavishing them with praise, treating them on a rough day, etc.
At some point, they’ll put the empath’s peacemaking impulse (and groveling skills) to the test.
9. The empath wants to see the best in their partner.
Empaths deal with so much negative emotion daily. They want to believe their “one good thing” is exactly that — all good and loving and supportive. They want to believe their partner will be there for them when needed. They want to believe they matter.
When something happens to put that in question, they might finally begin to question whether their narcissistic partner loves them or is just happy to get what they can.
10. The narcissist is adept at gaslighting, denial, and deflection.
Narcissists — especially those that have put energy into suppressing whatever empathy they feel — have had to learn how to defend themselves against hostile voices (or those they perceive as hostile). They learn early on how to deny, deflect, and gaslight others.
Being with an empath gives them a safe space to practice.
11. The empath will fixate on their own faults.
And the narcissist will encourage them to do exactly that. Because if you’re focused on your own self-improvement, you’re not paying attention to what they’re up to. You’re too caught up in fixing yourself to see the red flags in your relationship.
Confront the narcissist and they’ll likely point out your faults and challenge you to work on yourself instead of trying to change them. The empath is all too quick to oblige.
Can a Narcissist Fake Empathy?
There is a kind of empathy narcissists use to win over empaths and get under their skin.
The high-functioning narcissist uses cognitive empathy (or “intellectual empathy”) to connect with empaths and gain their trust.
Once they’ve sold the latter on their fellow-feeling and good intentions, they can use that to create a trauma bond, using a cycle of love bombing, neglect and abuse, and gaslighting.
If the empath catches on and confronts them, they again use cognitive empathy to reconnect and overwhelm the empath with affection, promises, and gifts.
If they succeed in winning them over, the cycle repeats.
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Why Do Narcissists Hate Empaths?
Considering what we’ve come to recognize as classic narcissistic treatment of empaths, it’s tempting to think narcissists as a whole have nothing but contempt for empathetic people. But it’s not that simple.
Narcissism, like many things, is on a spectrum.
Some narcissists are more capable of feeling empathy but they resent it and do their best to thwart its impulses. If they meet an empath who isn’t a self-hating one, they might resent them for it, too.
Or, on some level, they might be curious as to whether the empath has found a way to be happy in spite of their “affliction.”
Narcissists who are less likely to feel empathy see it as something that holds “other people” back. It’s something they can to use their advantage, and they might feel justified in using empaths — because “they make it so easy!”
So, how do empaths protect themselves from narcissists?
How Does an Empath Deal with a Narcissist?
Whether we’re talking about a narcissistic empath or a narcissist adept at using cognitive empathy to get what they want, there are steps an empath can take to break free.
Like any romantic relationship, this one can start off with both having the intention of making the relationship a healthy one. But in most cases, their differences with respect to empathy go much deeper than their attachment.
So, what can you as an empath do when you know your relationship has to end?
- Get some distance. Take time for yourself and don’t allow the narcissist to drag you into a conversation (no phone calls, no texts, no social media interactions…)
- Call it what it is. Depending on your situation, you can either call out their narcissistic behavior to them or simply acknowledge it to yourself.
- Shut the door. Don’t give the narcissist a chance to argue with you or make you “the one with problems.” Any communication should be limited and on your terms.
- Do what you enjoy. Rediscover the joy you feel when you’re pursuing your own interests rather than sacrificing them to do what the narcissist wants.
- Spend time with friends. Reconnect with people who genuinely care about you and build you up. Allow them to help you rebuild the life you want.
Are You an Empath Attracted to a Narcissist?
Now that you know 11 reasons why empaths and narcissists so often end up together, which ones stood out for you?
And what will you do today, as an empath, to protect yourself and build a life that brings you joy.
Every decision you make will have an impact on your current relationships. Every choice is an opportunity to assert your right to be loved as wholeheartedly as you love.
May every relationship you have bear witness to that.