How your empathy can hinder your healing from narcissistic abuse
Have you ever thought that your empathy could actually hinder your healing from narcissistic abuse? If you haven’t, I totally get you. It is so counter-intuitive (how is that for a touchy-feely empath-resonant term?) that your superpower could actually have its problematic side. But that is exactly what can happen. And that is what I want to talk about today.
But first a slightly guilty confession.
An empath’s unlikely delight
I have been feeling a bit off form lately – too many worries, for too long and not enough of the old “normality” that we took for granted pre-2020.
Being off form, results in an elevated consumption of TV programs. Last month, I didn’t just watch “Superman and Lois”, I kind of loved it – despite everything that is undoubtedly wrong with it.
Superman and Lois is an – unlikely – empath’s delight. Superman’s empathy means that he goes into situations that are potentially dangerous to him and endures more pain than he needs to… because of his empathy. He triumphs in the end, of course but his empathy dramatically increases his vulnerability. (His evil half-brother – who ultimately loses after a good run of being hateful – has no such relatable failing.)
An empath’s first lesson
The first lesson that we need to learn – whether or not we choose to learn it from “Superman and Lois” – is likely that, unless we raise our own awareness, our empathy can put us through more pain than necessary.
That suffering really serves no useful purpose since – unlike Superman – it is not our mission to save the entire world but only our world.
An empath’s second lesson
The second lesson was brought home to me by an interview that i did a few days ago for my Break Free Membership.
It happened when I was interviewing a self-professed Narcissist, Rob, who lifts the lid on Narcissism, for the benefits of empaths, on Instagram.
Having seen a fair few of his reels (short videos for non-Instagrammers), it seemed to me that his descriptions of how Narcissists operate was a good fit for the experience that I and my clients have had.
His content is intended to help empaths protect themselves from further Narcissistic abuse.
Rob struck me as well-intentioned and – dare I say it – sincere.
The interview proved to be absolutely fascinating.
In my terms, we were both “on the same side of the barricade”, our agendas not a million miles apart and yet…
“Separated by a common language”
We just didn’t speak the same language. It was a bit like that old saying, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that the United States and Great Britain are “two countries separated by a common language”. Only on steroids.
We both know the same words and, to a point, have a common vocabulary. However the words just don’t hold the same meaning for Rob and me.
So, how did that play out?
I could feel my empath mind constantly scrambling to reformulate and make sense of the things that he said.
While he, secure in the knowledge that what he had said was right and definitive, sat back and watched the empath chase her own tail to convert Narc speak into intelligible Empath speak.
“Yes, but they have feelings, too”
Towards the end of the interview, we tackled the issue of narcissistic guilt and shame. He was adamant that he experienced both. In fact, he kept bringing the matter up throughhout the interview. My empath brain kept racing down the rabbit hole of “Yes, but he says he has feelings, too. If he can feel guilt and shame, is he really a true Narcissist?”
And then I got it.
He did experience what he understood as guilt and shame. Only not in any way comparable to the empath’s own – intense – experience.
As empaths we see the world through empath eyes. We assume that everyone, at bottom, either is – or wants to be – an empath.
We are convinced, in our heart of hearts, that being an empath is the best way to be – even the only way to be.
So, what do we do when faced with a Narcissist?
The empath’s Sleeping Beauty narrative
We spin some internal Sleeping Beauty-style narrative – that we cannot help ourselves spinning – about the Narcissist. That person is sleeping the emotional sleep of the cursed. However, once kissed by the love of a good empath, that person will wake up and become Just Like Us.
When that happens – and happen it surely must, sooner or later, with enough love and persistence from us – we will walk off until the sunset, hand in hand, to live the Happily Ever After in emotional harmony. Finally.
Except that, as my interview with the Narcissist brought home to me , it can never happen.
Narcissists are just not like us.
They don’t have the same register that we do.
They never have and they never will.
Nor do they even want to.
We may labor under the illusion that the poor poppets are deprived and want that extra dimension that we have.
The truth is more likely that they see us as idiots, too impaired by all that feeling baggage that we lug around with us to do the best that we can for ourselves.
If you struggle to understand a Narcissist – and which empath doesn’t? – these are ideas that you really need to take on board.
Empaths might want to be happy with a Narcissist. However, we empaths never could be happy with them. We would always be either banging our heads against their limitations or our own.
My Narcissist interviewee and I parted amicably enough. I had, he said, asked him some good questions. Still, as an empath, I was never going to breach his narcissistic perceptions of the world. My questions were only good inasmuch as they caused him to keep doing what he loves to do – looking at himself.
Our inner worlds run on parallel tracks.
Empaths and Narcissists have no true emotional meeting place.
For Rob, the interview was interesting – inasmuch as he is deeply interesting to himself.
For me, however, it was paradigm-shifting.
You don’t have a common language
Trying to love a Narcissist into being more the way that you would like them to be really is like empathizing up the wrong, proverbial tree. It cannot happen.
You do not speak the same emotional language.
You never will.
This paradigm-shifting interview is coming to the Break Free Membership later this month. To enjoy this and other transformational interview, as well as the tools, techniques and self-study materials you need to heal from narcissistic abuse, join me in the Break Free Membership.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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