No: Narcissists don’t like “Empaths”

There’s this idea going around that’s pretty widely accepted in the “narcissistic abuse” community that narcissists are drawn to “empaths.”

Empaths are supposed to be so highly empathetic toward others they can almost read other people’s minds. Apparently narcissists love empaths because we feed off that raw empathy, which we are so lacking in.

Ironically, before realizing I was a narcissist myself, I considered myself to be a highly empathetic person and possibly even one of these empaths. Turns out I have very low empathy. Yet, I’ve heard this same sentiment among other self-aware narcissists too – all believing we were highly empathetic prior to waking up. How is that possible?

My guess is that it’s cognitive empathy at play. There are different types of empathy: cognitive and emotional/affective.

Affective empathy is an automatic drive to respond appropriately to another’s emotions. It allows you to put yourself in another person’s shoes and actually feel their feelings with them. When they are sad, you feel their sadness with them. When they are happy, you share their happiness too.

Cognitive empathy is knowing how another person feels and what they might be thinking. It is also referred to as “perspective-taking”. Cognitive empathy can help in a negotiation or in motivating people.

Narcissists are low on emotional empathy, but actually very skilled at using cognitive empathy. I can “read” a person’s emotional state very quickly and then relate that back to their underlying feelings and motivations. I pick up on subtleties, nuances, voice inflections, physical movements. This can come across as me being very emotionally attuned, almost like a mind reader. And I could always feel sympathy or compassion for that person, which I had confused for affective empathy.

Until recently, I never realized there were two types of empathy. I never grew up with affective empathy – I didn’t experience or witness it at home as a child so I quite literally did not realize I was missing it. My cognitive empathy was off the charts though.

When it comes to narcissists being attracted to highly empathetic people, my experience has been quite the opposite. I tend to be attracted to other low empathy types. In my case, this is usually paths (ASPD) or other NPDers. You can’t get much more low empathy than thatI also had a strong, almost reflexive disdain for emotional weakness.

At the time I never realized this, and wondered why I always found myself the “victim” to these types of personalities. Looking back, I see how comfortable I actually felt with them, in part precisely because we could be low empathy together and not feel judged or out of place. Additionally, because we are generally more skilled in hiding our own emotions, other Cluster Bs were more interesting and even mysterious to me — they presented more of a challenge.

In my experience Cluster B’s are drawn to each other and can act as codependents to one another. In fact, the most common pairing for a narcissist is a borderline personality. The common parings are BPD/NPD and BPD/ASPD. I’d say this has to be followed by NPD/NPD and NPD/ASPD, although I haven’t found the statistics yet to back this up.

This is for all sorts of reasons, but primarily, we feel comfortable with each other. Plus “normal” people can’t stay with any of us Cluster B’s too long before jumping ship. Media tends to get this right sometimes, for example, shows such as House of Cards (NPD/ASPD couple), The Sopranos (BPD/NPD mom/ASPD dad) or even the black comedy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“the gang”: three narcissists and a sociopath).

I’ve also asked around about this in my Cluster B support groups, which are primarily filled with other NPDs, BPDs and ASPDs. The overwhelming consensus was that we are all generally attracted to other Cluster B’s. We tend to view each other as partners in crime — someone else we can take on the world with. Anecdotal evidence backs this up as well. 

Quite frankly, people who exude lots of empathy have always made me uncomfortable. First, I have never gotten used to having anyone really support me or care about my feelings. Vulnerability is extremely hard for me. So when someone shows me a high level of empathy, I clam up and become incredibly uncomfortable. Like, I have to get out of here pronto, level discomfort.

I have a friend who is very empathetic. Once we had just come from hanging out and she was dropping me off at my house. We sat in the car talking. I started sharing with her how I had recently had two back-to-back miscarriages and was very depressed about it, worrying if I would ever have a full term pregnancy again. As I spoke, her eyes welled up with tears and by the time I finished she was full on crying. She seemed more upset about it than I was!

Far from being comforted, I felt trapped and panicked. On an intellectual level I appreciated her concern for me but I didn’t know what to say or do. I looked at her like she was some type of alien whose actions were completely foreign to me – because they were. I remember thinking, great, I just wanted to get this off my chest, now she’s crying and I have to deal with this. And I never know how to respond when others cry or show vulnerability around me.

It was so incredibly uncomfortable for me, I had a hard time not registering my shock and confusion. I clammed up and struggled to continue with the conversation. She never said anything to me about it, but I don’t think I pulled it off. I definitely registered a flash of confusion on her face as well. It was weird. I made an excuse to get the hell out of her car. 

Based on the evidence, my own experience, and the anecdotal stuff I’ve gathered from other awake Cluster B’s, I can’t imagine any narcissist purposely choosing or seeking to be around highly empathetic people. That’s just not how it works.

For those of you with Cluster B personality disorders, who do you find you’re most attracted to?

21 thoughts on “No: Narcissists don’t like “Empaths””

  1. I can relate to the discomfort you felt. I feel creeped out, disgusted, or even scared when someone shows me too much empathy. Part of my revulsion is that I distrust it; I think I’m being manipulated and recoil. It also reminds me of my own weakness (which I try to hide). I don’t like being this way but its been with me a long time. Oh, and yes, I used to think I was an empath. I’ve always been drawn to other cluster Bs, even though I didn’t realize at the time they were Cluster Bs. “Normals” just seem kind of boring to me sometimes. They’re not as interesting and I find it harder to relate to them. But I’m trying to stay away from other cluster Bs since I was so often codependent or victims to them. It’s not easy!

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  2. This makes so much sense. Like, so much sense that my head is spinning! What a brilliant article (the second one I’ve read from you today). Thank you very much for writing this. It means more than you could possibly imagine.

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  3. Hm, this is interesting. For me, it depends in who would show me that kind of empathy (aka, start to cry on my behalf). If it’s a good friend of mine, I don’t mind and believe they are sincere and not “making it about themselves”. If it would be my mother, I would get really angry, because I can’t believe a woman who has beaten and belittled me that she cares that much for me.
    Well … I don’t know, if I have a personality disorder – sometimes I ask myself if I might be a covert Narcissist or suffer from Avoidant personality disorder. But then again, I’m able to show affective empathy. One of my classmates was crying, because others were torturing her emotionally and as she started crying, I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, too. I couldn’t control it, but I didn’t start to fully cry, since I would have thought of that as being disrespectful towards her – she is the one who needs help and emotional comfort now and not me.
    I’ve noticed that I show almost no affective empathy towards people I tend to dislike. I’m just not able to …

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    1. Bambi I could always feel affective empathy, it was just not often. I did feel it more for groups (like stsrving children, women trafficked into sex slavery, etc) or characters in movies. It was harder for me to feel it for people I knew, but I didnt realize that at the time because I felt sympathy, etc. For them.

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      1. Hm … I feel affective empathy for those groups you mentioned (especially für woman trafficked into sex slavery – or tortured animals), too.

        Sympathy means, that you are sorry for their pain and that you want to change their situation?
        If so, I feel this for people close to me, too. I don’t know, if I feel always their emotions (sometimes I apparently do, as it was likely in the case of my crying classmate) but that thing, that is described as “affective empathy” is still a bit foggy to me. If the person close to me is crying – I usually feel my eyes welling up to. If that person ist angry at another person, I tend to be more rational about it and mostly do not identify with their anger. Confusing.

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      2. Yeah, totally confusing. Here’s how I understand it: sympathy is more feeling sorry for someone and what they are going through. Cognitive empathy is knowing what they are going through and understanding the emotions behind it. Affective empathy is more so feeling their feelings, like you said. Most of the time if people cried around me,I just panicked and didnt know how to respond, but on some occasions I could experience affectivr empathy under the right circunstances.

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  4. It’s true what you say about feeling comfortable with other B’s. Not all but I remember the first time I spoke to someone with similar traits. It felt comfortable and totally normal(does that make sense?).I was struck by the similar experiences and attitudes to my own which got me wondering how that was possible to be so alike with someone living on another Continent. Do all of us have the same way of thinking? I should say for clarification we were both diagnosed as sociopathic ASPD’S, Bi polars with long histories of troubles whilst trying to follow conventional lives. Funny thing is. We both belive that we’re not disordered at all. Just improved versions of human. Other Socio’ I’ve spoken to have said similar things. I’ve not seen our attitudes written anywhere so how is it we think alike???
    The wannabes on here stand out so much because of the way they believe Socio talk (or writes). They are mistaken.
    Like you I was on a cluster B group. Facebook. Most were BPD’s and Narc’s. Groupies too. They are odd. A great place to let off steam. The threads were great fun. Typical B’s going from misunderstood comment to death threats in seconds. Take a breath ,carry on like nothing happened. I met the Socio on there.
    I’ve quite a low opinion of Narc’s after finding myself with one for years. That was before I knew about all this and what they were. My training opened my eyes. I don’t generally go for dramatic terms in regards to people. Normals get on my tits, they’re like Sheep but her. I keep a special hate. In Some respects we have a perfect ex’s relationship Considering we have a child. We don’t talk unless something fuking drastic happens with our kid. I dont get couples that split then use kids to cause trouble. It’s a subliminal way of keeping contact. I’ve only got to hear her voice to be triggered into murderous rage.
    On that cheery note. I bid thee farewell and adieu. Like your Stuff

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    1. Thank you. I just read through it myself. I dont remember writing it but at least it was reasonably written and made sense. I’m having a mania phase which combined with the DID can get me in trouble ,depending on who’s writing at the time.I range between reasonable, sarcastic or super aggressive , An example got me told off by quora last night for a poorly writen response to someone claiming to be a Psychopath. Her whole attitude had pissed me off provoking the offending post. I was left confused though as Quora helpfully re wrote the post that had got me the telling off so i could resend it.
      I guess its not whats written,its how its written.
      I met a sociopath tonight at work. A first for both of us but felt instantly relaxed ,as if we’d known each other for years.
      People should look at that instead of endless articles on how mean we are. They may find out that most of us don’t set out to hurt at all. It happens mostly when the person isn’t needed anymore. It only gets messy if someone’s pissed us off.
      How was your parents relationship? I can recall occasional periods of normality followed by long periods of crap. I’ve never met anyone who could project malevolence like she could.
      A truly horrible creature.
      I’ve come to accept that I have an aversion to close relationships. It’s reaching that point thats hard. It would have been harder 20 years ago but
      I can now see that so much unhappiness was caused by trying to conform to the Social norms I was brought up with.
      Acceptance of what or who you are is key. Dont be afraid of what normals think. Until more people talk openly about the issues that affect them we will continue to be discriminated against by them. Never mind fucking Rascism. How many examples of that have anyone actually seen or been on the recieving end. I’ve personally experienced it once or twice Both times in Wales of all places.
      Mention mental illness though and you’ll
      experience discrimination surprisingly often. Since 2014 I’ve been dismissed four times and rejected twice for jobs I was so overqualified for it was unreal.For no other reason I can think of than that Id disclosed my issues Because ive had to mention the medication I take.
      Not one single time had I done anything wrong.
      It’s not going to stop me talking about it though because otherwise the discrimination will never stop. There are more people who have a problem with mental illness than are mentally ill. Time that changed don’t you think.
      Maybe its subliminal guilt that drives their fear. Many of us came to be like we are because of extensive and excessive abuse by ,so called, ‘normal’ people.Maybe that’s why we harbour so much anger inside us towards them.
      I just thought. I only meant to say thanks and here I am on my soap box again.

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