Empaths are beings among us who feel energy and emotions intensely. They love fiercely, they support wholly and they care genuinely.
Narcissists, on the other hand, put themselves first, feel little or no empathy towards others, and are often selfish and manipulative.
The two couldn’t be more opposite, but why do they often find themselves in relationships?
It’s a recipe for unhappiness, but it happens all too often.
So to understand why these dangerous relationships happen, we must first look into what makes an empath and why narcissists see them as easy prey.
Read on to find out how the two opposites draw each other in, and what can be done to find true love and happiness.
What is an empath?
The chances are that you’ve come across an empath in your life by now (if you aren’t an empath yourself). Think about the people in your life who are always there for you, the ones who stick by your side through the good and the bad.
When you cry, they cry and when you laugh, they laugh even harder. Empaths have a wonderful ability to pick up on other people’s feelings and emotions.
The Oxford dictionary describes empaths as:
“(Chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to perceive the mental or emotional state of another individual.”
But in reality, they aren’t just in science fiction films or novels. Instead, they’re believed to make up around 1-2% of the population.
Empaths typically have some of these traits:
- Very caring towards others and will often go into professions such as nursing or teaching to look after others
- Usually creative and enjoy learning and exploring
- Often need time alone to recover from being around other people
- They cry easily at seemingly insignificant things
- They empathize and connect well with animals
- Struggle with boundaries and saying no to people
- They can sense other people’s emotions
- They’re usually easily stimulated
What separates empaths from everyone else, is that whilst we can be empathetic in many situations, we don’t feel other people’s pain just as much as empaths do.
An empath will go out of their way to make sure their friends and loved ones are happy, even at the cost of their health.
They can be very sensitive and easily stimulated, so being in large crowds or around different people all day can be exhausting for an empath.
Think about all the energy bouncing around in a room full of people. Now imagine that you can’t switch off from all different energies, and you’re aware of every change in the body language of every person.
This can affect empaths greatly, even to the point where they struggle with intimate relationships because the excess of emotions can become overwhelming.
It sounds tough, right?
Well, it gets even worse, because empaths, unfortunately, have a habit of attracting narcissists and vice versa.
And these types of relationships can become incredibly toxic and degrading. But, many empaths find themselves in this impossible loop with narcissists.
Read on to find out more about what narcissists are and why they’re so harmful to empaths in relationships.
What is a narcissist?
Just as you’ve probably come across an empath in your time, the chances are you’ll have met a few narcissists too.
In essence, narcissists have been defined as pathologically self-absorbed.
Although people diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) only make up a small fraction of the population (0.5-1%) there are still plenty of people who have narcissistic traits.
We can all have narcissistic traits but with a healthy balance. People with NPD suffer from a more exaggerated form of the condition.
Narcissism stems from Greek mythology. As the story goes, Narcissus, a proud and beautiful hunter came across a pool of water. Upon bending down to drink some water, he noticed his reflection.
He became so captivated by his beauty that he couldn’t bear to look away. Time passed and Narcissus died in the same spot, unable to walk away from his reflection.
Modern-day narcissists aren’t as dramatic when they see their reflection, but they do still hold the belief that they’re better than others.
Common narcissistic traits include:
- Believing heavily in their self-importance
- Taking advantage of others
- Behaving arrogantly
- Only wanting to socialize with people on similar levels to them
- Having a massive sense of entitlement
- Being cold and insensitive to other people’s needs
Narcissists can be extremely difficult to be around, and they’re even believed to be one of the causes of codependency, as they can often be neglectful or overly critical of their children.
So at this point, you might be wondering why on earth the two attract each other. Empaths couldn’t be more different from narcissists, but maybe the old saying still rings true; opposites attract.
Why do they play the dangerous dating game?
So why would an empath put up with a narcissist, and why do narcissists prey upon empaths?
The answer is quite simple.
Narcissists thrive off attention and being pandered to. They love to exert their dominance over people and feel superior to others.
Empaths, through their inability to draw healthy boundaries, often give in to these narcissistic demands.
They pamper and care obsessively for their narcissistic partner even if it means putting their happiness and health on the backbench.
It’s important to note that empaths don’t go into the relationship knowing that they’ll be treated unfairly or unkindly.
Narcissists are exceptionally good at being deceptive. They know exactly how to charm and woe their subjects, and they can keep the act up for a long time before showing their true colors.
As Stephen A. Diamond explains on PsychologyToday:
“Narcissists, who not unlike psychopaths or sociopaths, know how to effectively manipulate people through flattery, lying, conning, and deception, can be legendarily charming, making them highly attractive to adoring others.”
So, naturally, the empath thinks they’ve found someone who is confident, loving, and caring; everything that they’re looking for in a partner.
It’s only after the empath is fully attached and involved that the narcissist begins exerting their toxic behaviors.
You see, narcissists, under their mask of confidence and self-assurance, are seeking validation from everyone they meet.
They’re highly insecure and that’s why they overcompensate with their fake facade of self-importance.
According to Darlene Lancer, a therapist who has spent many years researching narcissism:
“Psychotherapists consider them to be “fragile.” They suffer from profound alienation, emptiness, powerlessness, and lack of meaning. Due to their extreme vulnerability, they crave power and vigilantly must control their environment, people around them, and their feelings.”
But whilst many people would be put off by this controlling behavior, unfortunately, empaths see them as beings who need help (which they do, but by professionals).
And by this point, it’s difficult for the empath to walk away from the situation without feeling like they’re letting their partner down or hurting them.
And that’s how the cycle goes – the narcissist fulfills their desire to have all the attention on them, and the empath, much to their detriment, has someone to care for.
How an empath can protect against narcissists
Although it might seem that empaths will forever be sucked into this toxic cycle, there’s hope and plenty which can be done for them to protect against narcissists.
And even though empaths may naturally attract narcissists, following these steps can help them identify and resist narcissistic people:
1) Set up boundaries
Setting boundaries can be tough to do, but essential if you want people to respect you.
Boundaries include things like being able to say ‘no’ when you don’t want to do something or walking away from a toxic environment.
As explained by counselor Gary Gilles:
“Clear boundary lines help you determine where you start and where you stop. They help define which responsibilities in a relationship are yours, and which ones belong to your partner.”
It’s your way of saying what is acceptable to you and what isn’t. And if your partner can’t respect those boundaries, you need to able to walk away from the relationship.
Empaths who work on having strong boundaries may still attract narcissists, but at least they’ll have the tools to stand up for themselves when the narcissist tries to take advantage of their love, time, or emotions.
2) Seek therapy
Although being an empath isn’t something that needs ‘curing’, they can still benefit from talking through their feelings with a professional.
Also, therapists can help an empath see patterns in their behavior, which may contribute to why they keep attracting the same types of partners.
Finally, therapy can be beneficial for empaths to learn more about themselves, so that they can deal with narcissists better when they come across them.
3) Work on your self-care
Loving and respecting yourself is important for everyone, but even more so for empaths who may forget to put their self-care first.
Building that important relationship with themselves can help them maintain self-care even if they do find themselves in the company of a narcissist.
- Taking time out to be alone
- Looking after themselves mentally and physically
- Living a healthy, balanced lifestyle
- Recognizing when to walk away from abusive behavior
For an empath, this can be difficult especially if they’re used to always putting other people first, but with continued practice, they can achieve a healthy balance.
4) Turn to family and friends
Naturally, having a good support network of friends or family can help empaths to keep in check and they can intervene when the empath isn’t putting themselves first.
Educating friends on the traits of being an empath (and of being a narcissist) can help them understand why empaths might make the choices they do.
This can then help family and friends to encourage the empath when they’re feeling emotionally exhausted or drained from trying to put boundaries in place.
It’s also difficult to recognize narcissistic behavior especially in the beginning, but friends who are outside the situation may pick up on these signs sooner than the empath does.
And let’s face it, having a good friend by your side is for support and encouragement is essential, especially when you’re trying to make fundamental changes to your life.
5) Recognize that the narcissist won’t change
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to ‘change’ a narcissist.
Firstly, they need to want to change themselves, but because of the nature of their condition, they probably won’t recognize how their behavior affects others.
Secondly, narcissists find it incredibly tough to put themselves in other people’s shoes.
When a narcissist does make progress, they’re more likely to work on building their self-esteem up and having realistic expectations of others.
Finally, if a narcissist isn’t willing or able to change, the last step is to walk away from a relationship with them.
Once an empath understands this, it’ll be clearer that their help, love, and care is futile as the narcissist won’t be able to change with just this alone. Only through therapy can real progress be made.
Ultimately, an empath can only make so many changes to their personality, and the aim isn’t to lose their empath abilities.
It’s more about helping them recognize narcissism and be able to draw boundaries to stop their kindness from being abused and taken advantage of.
Finding true love for empaths
When it comes to finding true love for empaths, it’s a constant struggle between avoiding unhealthy relationships and finding a partner who is understanding and respectful of their empath traits.
But, some resources can greatly help an empath in their search for love, and it all starts with themselves.
The Love and Intimacy masterclass by Rudá Iandê, a world-famous shaman, focuses on helping people identify codependency and toxic behaviors in their relationships, whilst also working on building their power and confidence.
It’s the perfect mix of advice, self-reflection, and encouragement which can help empaths and non-empaths in their relationships.
And, as it did for me, the free masterclass is brilliant at helping you see where your expectations and habits can cause problems in relationships and how to overcome these issues.
The masterclass isn’t aimed directly at empaths, but a lot of what empaths face in relationships is addressed, so it’s a useful tool for anyone who wants to cultivate healthy, happy relationships.
The attraction between narcissists and empaths isn’t new, but the information and understanding of the two means empaths can work on building their personal power and avoid harmful relationships.
Narcissists will always be around, and empaths will always be caring, but knowing when to draw the line and walk away is an empath’s safest bet.
Only then can they find a partner who is willing to reciprocate the love, care, and support that an empath needs and deserves.
And, for empaths who want to walk away from a toxic relationship with a narcissist, remember this – your leaving might be the catalyst for their change.
But by staying in an unhealthy relationship, you’re only continuing a cycle that will never result in happiness, love, or emotional stability.