It seems like there is a special attraction between empaths and narcissists. These personality types are drawn to each other and the relationship between empaths and narcissists is a very toxic relationship, at the cost of the empath.
Clearly, a relationship with a narcissist will not be healthy in any scenario. So, also if you are not an empath it’s very unhealthy to have a relationship with a narcissist and it will drain your energy. The empath-narcissist relationship, however, seems to exist often and the dynamics are especially toxic.
An empath is the opposite of a narcissist. Empaths are kind, generous, sensitive and tuned into their emotions and the emotions of others. They can place the needs of other people before their own, especially when they have no boundaries or cross them unconsciously in order to help others. On the contrary, a narcissist lacks empathy and doesn’t feel other’s emotions and is all about attention, ego and receiving validation.
My parents are in an empath-narcissist marriage, where my mother is the empath and my father is the narcissist. I experienced and observed this toxic relationship for decades and it has very disturbing and unhealthy dynamics.
As knowledge is power and necessary to recognize narcissists, I like to share some of my experiences and observations and also share the research I did into the relationship between empaths and narcissists. I will go into why empaths and narcissists are drawn to each other, the unhealthy dynamics of this toxic relationship and what to do when you’re possibly in a toxic relationship yourself.
I hope it’s helpful and possibly gives you some insights.
Why empaths and narcissists are drawn to each other
Here are the three main reasons why empaths and narcissists are drawn to each other. I feel like the third reason is the most dangerous one and can grow into the most unhealthy dynamics in the long term.
1. A lovely fake persona
An empath could be fooled by the fake persona the narcissist appears to be. They can be very charming, intelligent and giving. They seem perfect and can give a great amount of love at the start of the relationship. The love bombing and perfect behaviour stop sadly when you don’t act how they want you to.
Once you can’t give the narcissist full commitment or control they will see your flaws and blame you for not being perfect. They will change their behaviour as if someone hit a switch and they can show varying negative or abusive kinds of behaviour such as coldness, aggressiveness, gaslighting, blaming, and silent treatments.
2. Opposites attract
A familiar saying is that opposites attract. This saying might result in being more open to a relationship when someone is different or thinks differently, which isn’t a bad thing. It can be bad, however, when the opposites are drawn together for the wrong reasons.
The narcissist is attracted to people that are of greatest use and can fulfill their needs. Often, this is an empath. A narcissist has no empathy, lives for ego-boosting and needs a lot of admiration/validation. On the contrary, an empath is highly sensitive, can sense other people’s emotions and could be great at putting aside their own needs.
An empath wants to fulfill the needs of others in a selfless way and is vulnerable to crossing their boundaries in pleasing someone else. They will think about the feeling of others first and then maybe consider their own. The narcissist obviously loves that because they only care about themselves.
What’s attractive to the narcissist is that the empath is caring, emotionally aware and able to have relationships and friends with a true connection. It’s everything a narcissist doesn’t have or feel. The narcissist wants to have that or just ruin it so no one will have it.
3. Emotional intensity of a narcissist; an intriguing puzzle
Sometimes it’s not the fake persona or the opposite that attracts the empath. It can go deeper than that. The attraction could be the emotional intensity of the narcissist. They seem powerful and are often intense people. They are like an intriguing puzzle.
A narcissist is mysterious and hard to read. An empath will possibly see some broken inner true self and be drawn into it. Who is this person? There might be some darkness inside that’s attractive to the empath. An empath could thus wonder about how broken and wounded this person is beneath the lies, abuse, ego, and arrogance.
A narcissist can be very intense indeed, but the intense emotion is for the narcissist themselves. An empath might think they can transform them with love. ‘I will love this person enough to heal him and wash away their fears and break the wall.‘
The narcissist will be excited about exploring their new partner and finding all their weaknesses, triggers and thought patterns. They play a manipulative game to gain control and will (slowly) drain their energy.
The intuition of an empath will tell something is off with a narcissist. This could even be right at the beginning. These things may seem small, but in hindsight, they will still remember these doubtful moments.
Unhealthy dynamics of the toxic empath-narcissist relationship
I will now share 7 unhealthy dynamics of the empath-narcissist relationship. You will probably recognize some overlap between these dynamics because there are many slightly different ways in how this relationship can play out.
1. Giving vs. taking
The first dynamic is quite general and this is that empaths are givers and narcissists are takers. Empaths give freely and narcissists take. This matches and empaths are thus a great supply for a narcissist. An empath has a lot of compassion, understanding and unconditional love to give. A narcissist needs a lot of attention and validation.
A narcissist enjoys being worshipped. This can result in a very codependent relationship where the narcissist keeps needing more of this attention and validation.
2. Chaos vs. harmony
An empath strives for harmony and peace, whereas a narcissist likes drama and chaos. A narcissist wants to control and is not looking for a balanced relationship with honest and open communication. A narcissist doesn’t want you to develop as a person but wants you to develop as someone in their control.
They use a reward system to respond to your behaviour. They will reward you with compliments and their original lovely fake persona when you act how they want you to. When you become too independent or seem not to be under control they will punish you. There will never be long term harmony in a relationship with a narcissist.
3. Boundaries will slowly fade
An empath will be forgiving and a narcissist can push this a lot. This means an empath will forgive more than they would initially, which could be because of gaslighting and inequality in self-worth or self-confidence between the empath and narcissist.
An empath cares about what others think, especially when it’s someone they love or think they have a deeper connection with. This care and the ability to listen is what is being abused by a narcissist. It gives them the power to slowly push your boundaries because the empath is simply too sweet, forgiving, loving, and kind.
4. Empaths wants to fix the narcissist
It can take a while before the narcissist shows his or her true colours. Once an empath sees something is wrong with their partner their first instinct often is to try to fix them. An empath might believe they can heal them with compassion or being spiritual. They might believe it’s their mission to do this and that’s why they are meant to be together.
Some empaths won’t accept that someone actually is a narcissist and can’t be fixed, which means they will keep trying to repair things. It can be very hard for empaths to believe and accept that someone doesn’t have any empathy or the possibility for a deeper connection.
An empath might keep believing somewhere under the mask and the walls built by the ego there is some little insecure and hurt child within that needs care and love. Although it’s very admirable to believe this, it’s exactly why the suffering won’t end.
5. Working together on fulfilling the needs of the ‘wounded’ narcissist
The dynamic of fixing of the narcissist could go even a step further. This is because the narcissist and empath fulfill each other’s needs. The narcissist will be in the attention of the empath all the time as this person is deeply wounded and needs help. This can grow into a dynamic of only fulfilling the needs of the narcissist.
The problem is that the narcissist can’t be satisfied and it will never be enough. The narcissist can keep pretending he or she wants to change and fulfill the empath’s need or desire of wanting to help. A narcissist might say things as ‘don’t worry, we will get better together’ or ‘I’m broken but with you, I’m in repair’.
Some narcissists are very intelligent and they develop their manipulative ways along the way. This could mean they could start to use these things as ‘I’m not perfect, but I really want to change’ and ‘I hope we can work this out, I know I can do better’ to convince the empath they are really trying to change.
The problem is the narcissist won’t follow through and is just lying. My narcissistic father could say he was trying to change and that he was very committed to the marriage and our family just before going to his mistress on the same night. It was like he had multiple personalities and fully believed his own lies and act.
The empath could believe they are the only one that is able to help the narcissist or that they might even be the first person to ever help or listen to him/her. A narcissist feeds the need for an empath to help. This dynamic is dangerous and painful.
There can be verbal, emotional, physical and financial abuse. Also, there will always be a disregard for the empath and the empath can become empty and drained as long as this abusive relationship keeps going.
6. Blindly believing in good intentions
It’s clear an empath is sensitive to the narcissist’s pretended willingness to change because they want to help their partner grow. To keep believing this, despite intuition, can be a blind spot of the empath. Sadly, the more the empath believes the good intentions of the narcissist the more pain and abuse follows. This means a large ability to keep giving more and more in combination with believing in someone can change can result in a draining lifetime marriage with a narcissist.
A narcissist can’t be helped and mostly doesn’t even want help. Leaving a narcissist requires an empath to abandon someone in need of help. It’s like the narcissist is stuck in a muddy swamp. If you jump in to try to rescue the narcissist you will get stuck yourself. The narcissist doesn’t even want to leave the swamp and will try to convince you to get in there and stay there.
7. Empaths may feel responsible for the narcissist
There can be a trauma bond between victim and abuses. It feels impossible to end the relationship, despite the pain and damage it causes.
An empath will start by looking at themselves first when something happens, as they have this ability to grow and will think of their faults and possible lessons to learn. What do I need to do to change? How do I make this relationship better and not give up on it?
The question is whether an empath is able to not feel responsible for the personal growth or change of the narcissist. Sometimes an empath feels a form of responsibility for the growth of their partner. This can be really strong. An empath could even think it’s their spiritual calling to help this person and the universe meant them to be together. I can assure you it’s not and it only brings pain.
Example of a behavioural pattern in an empath-narcissist relationship
I will now share a behavioural pattern of my narcissistic father when being confronted by my empath mother. Communicating with my father is like speaking with someone working in a call center responding in specific ways depending on the behaviour and questions of the other. He just reacts and all behavior appeared to be a pattern, once I saw the truth.
I want to show you how a relationship between an empath and a narcissist can grow into disturbing patterns. The example is about when my mother questioned my father about his ongoing ‘secret’ relationship with his secretary.
The example goes from stages of lesser intensity such as my mother just questioning my father to stages of greater intensity such as my mother having real doubts about their marriage. My father would respond differently depending on my mother’s behaviour. It’s a mixture of gaslighting and manipulative narcissistic behaviour. I will walk you through the stages:
– This is when my mother questioned my father based on doubt without having any proof.
– Reaction: Silence, marginalizing and avoiding. Followed by denial.
‘Of course, that didn’t happen. How do you make this stuff up’
‘I am telling the truth, don’t you trust me?’
‘Who told you that? That person is lying!’
– When she discovered a lie with proof and he couldn’t deny it.
– Reaction: Putting himself down, marginalizing it, and telling he wants to change.
‘I am so ashamed of this and I did it for us but it was wrong’
‘I will work on getting better. I am not perfect.’
‘It only happened once and it meant nothing’
– When she kept going about this lie.
– Reaction: Love bombing
‘I love you the most and you are the only one that matters to me’
‘You are my soulmate and we are meant for each other’
– When confronting him about his behaviour not being equal to what he says.
– Reaction: Blaming, more marginalizing and self-pity. He would do this very extravagantly and dramatic.
‘Like it’s all because of me’
‘I guess I am the bad guy again and everyone is against me’
‘I am just working hard to ensure we have a nice house and dinner. You are all so ungrateful’.
‘Refugees and homeless, they have hard lives. Don’t exaggerate.’
– When my mother had real doubts about their marriage and he felt like losing control.
– Reaction: Suicide threat.
‘I will drive myself into a tree’
‘I don’t want to live without you and could just have an accident and then you can all be a happy family’
– When she kept doubting despite the suicide threat and told that she might not want to be his wife anymore.
– Reaction: Being shocked, showing panic and postponing the argument.
‘I’m panicking! I don’t know if I will be able to go to work like this’
‘I will never ever abandon you’
At stage 6 the argument ended. My mother didn’t want to disturb his ability to work because of their arguments and he used this by showing panic or questioning whether he would be able to keep working. He got in her head with his. They would postpone the discussion and passing time would set them back to earlier stages.
It was disturbing to witness the above pattern for years and my mother would mostly end her questioning around stage 1, 2 or 3. They were stuck in this pattern and I don’t think it mattered how far she would come because there probably would be more stages. It’s because she was stuck in the game with a narcissist and it’s impossible to ‘win’ a game of manipulation with a narcissist if you have a conscious yourself. They can always go a step further because there are no boundaries. The only solution is to stop playing.
Gaslighting and marginalization
My mother felt like she always needed facts and documented truth to confront him because she knew he would win the argument in some way. This was because he made her doubt herself, about what she saw or heard. This was the consequence of his constant gaslighting. An empath can be vulnerable to gaslighting.
Do you recognize the above and do you keep questioning your own thoughts and perception of reality? Do you possibly feel confused or do you feel like you are ‘not enough’ in your relationship? If so, you can read more about gaslighting in this article.
A narcissist can marginalize by comparing cheating or lying to something general, like how brutal the lives of refugees and homeless people are. My father would use this to convince my mother cheating isn’t that bad because it meant nothing and he loved her so much.
Silence is agreement and pushing boundaries
Empaths think a lot about what someone says and take it very seriously. Sometimes an empath needs time to feel what he or she thinks of something. A narcissist doesn’t need this time, which can be a disadvantage for the empath in conversations. An empath might not respond immediately to something disturbing or shocking and later on, it will be marginalized by the narcissist and possibly also by the empath.
A narcissist can use disturbance or confusion to get you silent. If you think ‘there is no point in this’ and thus stay silent, the silence will be aggressively taken as agreement and they might even say you agreed later on.
I spoke with my mother about the above behavioural pattern recently and we came to the conclusion he always seemed to avoid a final verdict and let time pass again after an argument. Silence meant agreement in his mind. Anytime my mother didn’t respond he would take it as agreement.
My narcissistic father is great at constantly pushing boundaries. He would overcompensate and be around a lot when caught. My mother didn’t like it as she was used to him not being around a lot. A simple example of pushing boundaries is giving hugs and showing affection to my mother very soon after she found out about his mistress.
He would just keep doing that despite the arguments and knowing my mother was disturbed by it. At the start, she would still say she didn’t like it and needed time but eventually she would just say nothing and accept it. He would blame her for being grumpy. This is a constant pushing of boundaries and not giving someone space. It’s a clear sign that someone doesn’t listen to what you need and doesn’t respect your boundaries.
What to do if you are possibly in a toxic relationship?
So what to do if you are possibly in a toxic relationship and you recognize a lot in this article? Just to be clear, this is merely advice from my own experience.
I think it’s important to acknowledge and recognize which needs were being fulfilled by your unhealthy relationship. You need this knowledge and take responsibility for whatever needs were being fulfilled. Empaths can choose to stay in a toxic relationship in order to fulfill a need to help other people.
When you have or had this unhealthy relationship it doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault. A narcissist is just a narcissist and you can’t do anything about that. It might be because of the narcissist’s youth or former pain. Yes this can be sad and you can even wish them the best, but this is no reason to accept the abuse.
It’s beautiful you have the ability to keep giving but no one should ask you to do this at the cost of yourself and your energy. This also means you shouldn’t ask this of yourself. In a healthy relationship, both persons will care, love and try to develop each other.
The only solution is to break the cycle and be free. Narcissists don’t have the power over you. Stop giving. You have to accept you can’t help the narcissist and it’s not your responsibility either. Stop trying to fix this broken person and start working on yourself.
Getting more knowledge
Follow your intuition and you will know the truth. Do they really want to grow the relationship and stimulate you also to grow and become stronger? I wrote some questions you can ask yourself about your relationship and how healthy it is when you have doubts about this. You can find these questions in this article about the web of control of a narcissist.
If you know your partner is a narcissist and you want to know what to expect when you break up with a narcissist you can read this article. If you doubt or feel like you should get more information first try this article about the grey rock method and start documenting your observations. I would advise reading a lot about it. There are luckily many sources these days to find information about narcissism.
I wrote an article exploring what is love to a narcissist. It goes deeper into questions such as ‘can narcissists fall in love?’ and ‘what’s love to you?’. You can read about this in my article exploring questions about love and narcissism.
Take the time to heal
It might feel like you wasted your life or your time. Staying in the situation can seem better than accepting the whole relationship or marriage was a lie or mistake. This is a trap. I’ll repeat again that the narcissist can’t or will not change. There is no empathy and you can’t get a deeper connection with them.
You might be interested in my article about 11 reasons why it’s so hard to end a relationship or marriage with a narcissist.
I want to emphasize that I think you didn’t waste time or sometimes years. That’s a pointless and blameful thought to yourself. This is why:
– You learned who you are or who you want to be.
– You were loving and caring, even for someone that didn’t repay that favor.
– You possibly needed this long and hard lesson before finding your real true love.
– You will become stronger than you ever were.
I see how beautiful empaths are and I wish empaths would take more care of themselves. Boundaries aren’t scary or selfish. They are healthy and you would still be a loving and caring empath. It might feel bad but saying ‘no’ is necessary and is a positive skill.
In the end, the better you take care of yourself the better you can take care of others. Not everyone has to be in our lives, it’s better to focus on people that show real kindness and healthy vibrating energy!
I wrote an article about self-worth and shifting attention to yourself that might help when you are ready for that. Allow yourself time and try to be kind and loving to yourself. I wish you strength and more kindness in the future!
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