Updated: Sep 18
The Empath and the Narcissist exist on opposite ends of a spectrum where one’s love language is “I feel loved when I give” and the other’s is “I feel loved when I take”. This article explains the personal history of the empath and the narcissist as well as the dynamic between them when they interact. The sections below describe the overall tactics used by the narcissist and the psychological tole on the victim. I will use the words “victim”, “empath”, “you” and “codependent” interchangeably, referring to the person receiving the abuse. Using “you” is my attempt to talk to the person who needs to be validated. YOU are not alone. There are many references for help at the end of this article.
This article is written from a couple years of research, therapy, and living my whole life around narcissists. This is my own “connect the dots” process I went through when waking up to this dynamic playing out in my life over and over again. “Why do I keep picking the toxic one?” This is why.. and it’s a cycle that can be broken! You can change your life through doing your own inner work and discovering how your own blueprint is laid out.
For the Empath reading this, take note of what resonates with you and journal your heart out about everything that comes up. I hope you connect some dots that empower you to do the healing work to break the cycle. When you are ready, sign up for my 12-week Empowerment program, Straighten Your Crown. Together we will get you to a grounded and centered into your body and begin to build the foundation of finding yourself again.
**Here is the companion video discussion about the effects of narcissistic abuse on the empath, and how heal from it with Becca Lynn Briley with Southwest Institute of Healing Arts.**
Who is the Empath? Who is the Co-dependent?
The Empath is a person who is highly sensitive to the energies around them. They, in a sense, can be like an emotional sponge picking up on and feeling the thoughts, feelings, and energies of people, places and things around them. Empaths know something in the pit of their stomach or feel this knowing in the chills on their skin or it may manifest as aches in pains in their body. They can see behind the superficial exterior and they can hear the unspoken truth not being said. This sensitivity enables an empath to detect subtle shifts in emotions, facial expressions, and subtle body cues in others. An empath may also identify as: intuitive, psychic, or clairsentient.
On one end we are all meant to use our nervous system like the empath, they are still connected in some parts to the old ways. In concert with our deductive mind and lead by our pure hearts, we are able to intuitively navigate the waking world. It is an Empaths innate ability to hold a safe space for anyone by seeing only the good or positive qualities in a person. It’s a wonderful quality to have as a healer in fostering grace and forgiveness but in the dating world the waters become dark and murky as the old recording is pushed to play.
On the other end, Co-dependents are made. A co-dependent is already an empath, BUT as a survival strategy become a people pleaser, a suppresser of own needs, a saver of the wounded other, the eternal caregiver who will suffer in silence while they continue to pour from an empty cup until nothing is left of them but skin and bones. A compounding of attachment trauma and having to change their behavior to appease the adult as a means to survive will turn the empath into the co-dependent where “I’m not ok until you’re ok” becomes the norm. The co-dependent ends up using their empathic extra-sensory skills to be hypervigilant to avoid being seen and upsetting the narcissist.
The co-dependent is the empath who got stuck in a traumatic interpersonal relationship with a toxic person. The narcissist can be a parent, partner, boss, sibling, friend/peer. The spectrum of abuse can be across the board, but for this article I am mainly focusing on mental (emotional and spiritual) abuse and it’s effect on the empath, how to recognize the abuse, counter and get away, and how to heal from encounters from these toxic tricksters.
The empath and the codependent are two ends of the same pole. Not at all implying that one is ‘bad’ and one is ‘good’ but showing how the sweet empath becomes conditioned to be the people pleasing codependent. They have been trained to use their gifts to serve others to their own detriment. Its only a misuse of the ability, not a brokenness of self and that realization is the first step to healing. Realizing that you were never flawed! It was the inability to express unconditional love by your caretaker that you mistook as your fault as a child which then made you think that you were unlovable. Quite opposite!! YOU are very loveable because your heart and intentions are pure. It is because of your genuine lovability that brings the narcissist to you like a moth to a flame. It is a flame they want to possess and embody.
Who is the Narcissist? What is Narcissistic Supply?
Unfortunately, both the empath and the codependent end up as prey for the narcissist because of their big generous heart. Narcissists are essentially a parasitic trickster, an eternal victim, a coyote, the shadow fool who preys on kind people to feed on their life-force energy. A narcissist’s childhood is full of “big T and little t” trauma. Attachment trauma: neglect and abandonment are the core wounds like the co-dependent but the trauma effected the narcissist so deeply that it damaged their sense of self at the root core. They become a shell of a person and their soul (to various degrees) shuts down and disconnects from the body. They are no one but the character they portray. Their heart has become a blackhole attempting to suck in it everything they think will make them feel whole, but you can never fill a blackhole. These people see the bright divine light from the empath and latches on with a hooked tentacle and begins the process of grooming you (“getting to know you”). Its quite tragic and sad! But you cannot.. CANNOT get sucked into their black hole. You’ll lose yourself and your life.
Think back to the time when you first met the narcissist who’s damage is most prominent in your mind. What did you think of them? No one understood you like they did before. No one had the same hopes and dreams and aspirations as you. They feel like your twin. You haven’t known them long but you feel like you’ve known them for eternity. It feels like a fairy tale and you deep down feel like you are being SAVED or FOUND for the first time in your life. You feel swept off your feet and blown away at the chance of meeting your soul mate.
It all feels so validating and pure and free but you, my dear friend, fell right into their trap. By mimicking and imitating you they project a personality that is so close to your own that it creates a false sense of safety. If you look back to the hours of instant deep (oversharing) conversation, the part of their story they shared was the sob story about how life has been so hard on them but DETAILS about this and everything else is DEFLECTED back to you. Eventually they will project their shadow aspects of their personality onto you which leaves you so confused you’re wondering how your “soulmate became your cell mate” (term used by Ross Rosenberg (5)).
Emotional Abuse: The Cycle of Abuse & C-PTSD
Slowly the narcissist’s mask of the person they pretend to be begins to slip and you start to see the real person underneath. This is a slow process over time and is hard to see at first, but you start asking yourself or your friends questions about who you are as a person like, “am I a bitch? I was just trying to have a heart to heart and then it was turned into a fight and somehow I did something wrong?” You look back at who you once were and to who you are now and wonder how things got there.
Emotional Abuse & covert narcissistic abuse involves a person’s attempts to frighten, control, or isolate the victim. It’s in the abuser’s words and actions, as well as their intimidating presence and relentless persistence in these behaviors that wear the victim down over time.
The Abuse Cycle
1. Love bomb- mimic and mirror you to create false sense of safety “I KNOW you”
2. Degradation- abuser starts to systemically devalue and degrade victim. The goal is to erode self-esteem and self-worth. Victim feeling less than and wondering what they did wrong.
3. Abuse- emotional, mental, spiritual, physical disrespect of boundaries of the mind, body, and soul
1. Love bomb- abuser now tries to make up for abuse by playing apologetic sweet puppy but apology at its roots is not genuine AND behavior doesn’t change.
*Abuse cycle continues until victim leaves. It will always continue to get worse.*
This cycle of abuse over time has a grave effect on the victim. The degradation of their sense of self; the invalidation of their reality, what they feel and think, their needs, their dreams slowly drains away the empath/co-dependent’s light. Strapping them onto this rollercoaster where they can’t get off and there seems to be no end in sight. The victim feels like they don’t know what’s going to happen next, what mood the abuser will be in, how are they going to react.
Scared and in an attempt to control the situation you make sure you do everything right for them. The counters wiped, laundry folded and put away, dinner ready for when they arrive home, made sure the kids are clean and quietly playing, big smile on your face when he walks in the door…. But the first look in his eyes when he steps through the door tells you how the night will go. This emotional rollercoaster is what creates C-PTSD which is the element that turns the empath into the co-dependent.
C-PTSD is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a stress response trauma where the person feels trapped and like their life is threatened over a period of time (years). Where a spectrum of mental, physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual abuse occurs over that time. C-PTSD is most often seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood. For those who grew up with a narcissistic caretaker this dynamic became the blueprint for how you give and receive love and why you are in the cycle of dating toxic people.
Most days the victim feels a low grade anxiety of hypervigilance (walking on egg shells) hoping to not trigger the abuser. The victim’s mind, in this hypervigilant state, is so hyper aroused activated by the stress response that any little thing can set them off into an anxiety attack of worry about the abuser coming to get them even years after the abuse has happened. The stress response can also cause the victim to completely dissociates from their body and self at the slightest trigger.
Depression and suicidal thoughts or attempts is a very real possibility with someone suffering from C-PTSD as they feel hopeless in escaping their abuser, even after years of an actual threat because mentally they are stuck back in the abuse. It feels inescapable.
***THERE ARE SEVERAL RESOURCES FOR HELP AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE***
Trauma Bonding and Stockholm Syndrome
Trauma bonding is a slow methodical mental abuse designed to train the victim to believe that abusive behaviors are a sign of love. Trauma bonding feels like a fast and furious, magnetic and captivating kind of “love” but in reality it is being in love with the fantasy of who this person could be. It is “falling in love” or attaching to someone through a shared wound. That wound may be abandonment, feeling misunderstood, betrayal, unworthy etc. Whatever the wound is it is also the way they know how to get under your skin and use your own hurt and shame to manipulate and control you, to inevitably suck your light from you through shame.
Stockholm Syndrome is the stress response to “tend or befriend” by sympathizing with the abuser. As a child this was done for basic needs survival. The tactics used in the Emotional Abuse, C-PTSD, and Trauma Bonding sections explain how and why the victim will end up making excuses for or taking the blame for the abuse. The abuse cycle of love bombing, devalue, abuse, love bombing makes the victim feel that things can change when feel artificially or temporarily safe again with the abuser during the love bombing phases. After finally relaxing into the love bombing phase the narcissist will need a more potent supply fueled by anger and soon shifts into devaluing the empath again and it keeps going.
Imagine you were “punished” (hit) for not following directions as a child. Afterwards you are left feeling abandoned and unworthy from the unjustly attack. In order to attach to the abuser to get your needs met, you learned to meet their needs and make them happy so that you could receive crumbs of love and approval. This became your equation for love. So, you learned to please your abuser in order to receive the crumbs of love you craved. This dynamic becomes the model for love in adulthood. Where you find yourself with the emotionally unavailable “bad boy” or “wild girl” who end up taking you on a rollercoaster ride leaving your head spinning asking “what happened? Where did I go wrong?” The answer is that you didn’t do anything wrong, this person took advantage of your open heart and then blamed you for everything bad they did.
Gaslighting and Manipulation
Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse, and manipulation. Brainwashing the victim to believe the narcissist’s narrative by creating self-doubt within the empath getting them to question their own intentions and perceptions. The narcissist will discredit, tear down, belittle the empath’s belief/intention/perception then insert their own. The goal is to bring the victim so low that they lose their sense of reality and self-identity as the narcissist takes their identity from them. It is all about controlling how they want to be perceived and how the narrative will be told.
The narcissist doesn’t know how to hold space for you to share your thoughts and feelings and a tactic they use when they feel put on the spot in these situations is to turn these times of true intimacy into a big fight where you have disrespected them by attempting to open up to share your feelings. They don’t want to take responsibility (even if that means holding space for you to share) so they switch into withholding love and justifying through making you the bad person and them the victim.
By using another tactic of invalidation. You are constantly left questioning what really happened, how you really feel, how did you perceive what happened. They create so much self-doubt within you that you look to them for a sense of reality, you can no longer trust your own senses or perception of reality. You have now become easily moldable to whatever they need you to be for their own personal pleasure or gain.
I have learned my own tells for when someone is trying to gaslight or manipulate me. My brain will kind of do a short circuit “do not compute” warning. Things won’t add up or make sense and I will somehow be the bad guy when my intentions and heart are in a good assertive place. This is when I take a moment to pause and breathe because I know that I need to get very grounded and centered in my heart about my intentions and feelings in the matter. My next step would be to not engage. I may need to make my point but then I do not get into the boxing ring with them. Swallow your pride, wanting to be right, saying the last word and just calmly walk away and lick your wounds in privacy. This is you winning because they want you to react so they can spin it back onto you to make you look like the bad guy.
Ways to tell if you are being gaslit
· Left feeling confused and crazy
· Depressed and anxious
· Constantly apologizing and feeling not good enough
· Keep doubting self and intuition
· Frequently make excuses for partner
· Was more confident, self-loving, and relaxed before you were with the partner
· Feel numb, hopeless, joyless
· Wonder if you are a good enough person/partner even though you are giving all you have
Ways they disrespect and manipulate you. Are you making excuses for their behavior??
He didn’t mean to get angry, it was my fault.
He puts up with me and still loves me.
He had a terrible childhood, I feel sorry for him.
I can help him to change with love and support.
He deserves a fair go, he doesn’t mean to hurt me.
Constantly testing your boundaries
Disregard your feelings, needs, opinions
Ignore you when you’re speaking
One way relationship
They speak very rudely to you, may have a rude nickname for you
Manipulate you though guilt tripping/shaming you
Gaslighting you- denying your reality- brainwashing you
Stepping into the inner Gentle Warrior
Let’s talk about how to counter and get rid of someone like this because you do have the power and authority to make it stop even if that takes extreme legal measures. NO ONE deserves this type of abuse and no one has the right to treat someone this way no matter how much they try to justify it.
The Gentle Warrior is someone who has a soft heart but a steady, strong, deeply rooted sense of self. They know who they are, they live with integrity following their own personal core values, they practice self-care, they are assertive and aren’t easily manipulated. The gentle warrior knows that the secret to life as an empath is to first meet one’s own needs so that they CAN help others. They know that discernment is key to navigating the world as an empath. When they know what emotions and perception of reality is theirs and what isn’t theirs they know what to do with that feeling. Either process their own emotion or hold space for (but not pick up) the other to process it. They hold the wisdom of self-love – something the narcissist can never have and covets the most.
If the gentle warrior is faced with an antagonist they easily see the red flags and avoid the person or situation. If they have to confront the antagonist it is with the highest respect of self because the gentle warrior knows that they cannot save someone who plays this game, it’s a trap. They see things from a grounded sense of their own personal reality and can see people and situations for how they are.
I also recommend taking a couple of self-defense, kick boxing, or martial arts classes to help you tap into a feel your true power and the potential the comes with it. Having a safe space to let out some of that bottled up anger is going to be the biggest relief of your life. There, you drop the good girl act and step into your inner Xena Warrior Princess and it feels really good and really empowering!
Parts of Self to Heal after Narcissistic Abuse
1. Self-esteem: Build up your confidence again. Be gentle with yourself during your recovery. Eroding your self-esteem is the best way the narcissist knows how to trap you. If they keep you small you won’t try to leave because you will think there isn’t anything better or that you actually deserve the maltreatment. Once a day do something kind for yourself. Look into the mirror and smile at yourself, go for a walk, do a project that’s only for yourself. Do things that remind you of who you are and nourishes your light.
2. Intuitive Development: Trust your gut. The narcissist constantly invalidates you as part of their gaslighting campaign. The more you don’t trust yourself the more they get to write the narrative. Spiritual development strengthens your faith to source and strengthens your self-trust. When you listen to the intuitive nudge, a possible red flag, investigate it. Do research, ask around, find any way you can morally validate your intuition. Keep an intuition journal where you write down all your weird dreams, intuitive nudges, insights, impressions etc. When you get to the point where you can trust your intuition again, you won’t even need to investigate because you KNOW that when you get this ping you need to follow it because your higher-self is guiding and protecting you. You have already learned those lessons, you don’t need to repeat them again.
3. Know your worth. Everyone wants the best deal. You want to get the maximum quality for the price. Well, that’s how a narcissist feels about people. You’re an item to possess. If the narcissist deteriorates your self-esteem he degrades how you perceive your own worth. On the outside you’re a Mercedes but you were told you are an ’02 Toyota Corolla. When you wake up to the brainwashing and remember your light they no longer have power over yourself narrative.
4. Re-calibrate your Picker: Read the red flags and figure out your intuitive cues that are communicating that this person is toxic. Work on reprogramming your mind, body, and heart to seek out feel what healthy love feels like. It will feel awkward at first but deep in your heart it will feel right. Lean on the healthy relationships in your life and learn what makes those relationships work for you and nourish them.
5. Become the Gentle Warrior. An empowered empath who has strong boundaries, assertive, a gentle heart, warrior attitude- I’m never giving up!
My hopes is that this article helped you to piece together aspects of your childhood, adolescent, and adult life in a context that allows for you to see everything you went through as trials and tribulations on a hero’s journey. That this didn’t happen to you, it happened for you. I am in a place on my healing journey where I look back at everything in my life and SEE how it all fits together. How everything happened to put me on my path. Everything happened for me to experience, understand, and evolve from. My hopes for you is that you too adopt this perspective. When you do you can turn around, gentle warrior, and help lift others up.
If you struggle with C-PTSD contact your local Community Mental Health to find a local therapist
Depression and suicide Call the Suicide Hotline 800-273-8255
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233
3. Mental abuse: https://www.healthline.com/health/signs-of-mental-abuse
5. Ross Rosenberg: https://www.selfloverecovery.com/
6. Attachment trauma: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6920243/
7. To work with Andrea: https://www.owlwisdomintuitions.com/
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