Have you ever felt like you’ve been stuck in a cycle of toxic relationships your entire life? In your relentless attempts to find out why, you’ve stumbled across narcissism. It’s so strange because after learning a bit more about narcissism, you can definitely identify narcissistic traits in your past partners, but you’re adamant that you’ve never experienced the dynamics of a trauma bond. If that’s the case, you could potentially be not only an empath, but overly empathic. After learning this, people naturally begin to wonder, do empaths attract narcissists or do narcissists attract empaths?

What Is an Empath?

An empath is someone who feels more empathy than the average person. There isn’t a specific criterion that can determine whether or not someone is an empath, therefore being labeled as an empath comes down entirely to the person in question. Being an empath goes beyond being empathic. Empaths are so attuned and possess such high levels of self-awareness that they have an extraordinary ability to sense and absorb the emotions of those around them. Empaths are fantastic human beings, the world benefits significantly from their presence.

What Is a Narcissist?

The official definition of narcissistic personality disorder is a disorder when a person has an inflated sense of self-importance. However, I believe the best approach to gain a comprehensive grasp of narcissistic behavior is to define it as the projection of one’s own emotional instability onto another human being. 

Narcissists are some of the most self-loathing individuals on the planet. Their behavioral patterns are designed to suppress their hatred for themselves. Someone who has the potential to become emotionally stable will be able to look within themselves and address their suppressed emotions, but a narcissist needs to regulate the tension building up inside of them through others.

This regulation manifests in their behavior. They spend every waking hour attempting to convince the world of their superiority. Sadly, as I mentioned in a previous blog How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissist, it works. We live in an era that circulates around dominance, and unfortunately our ignorance enables and rewards narcissistic behavior.

The complexity of narcissism is extremely difficult to understand especially for those who have suffered narcissistic abuse and haven’t been able to process it yet. Defining narcissism as the projection of one’s own emotional instability onto another has the potential to limit a significant amount of confusion and anguish for those who have suffered narcissistic abuse. 

Why Are the Overly Empathic and Narcissists a Bad Match? 

So, to answer, do empaths attract narcissists or do narcissists attract empaths? They both attract each other. Have you ever heard of yin & yang? In Ancient Chinese philosophy, yin & yang is a concept of dualism, and suggests that polar opposites have the potential to complement and support each other. An overly empathic person is yin, and a narcissist is yang. Their behavioral patterns are so complementary to each other that victim of narcissistic abuse who are overly empathic, run the risk of being trapped inside a relationship for decades. 

Narcissistic abuse cycle

In fact, 15 of our 67 participants who have survived narcissistic abuse, consider themselves to be overly empathic. Each one of them suffered narcissistic abuse in an intimate relationship for decades, with the shortest amount of time being 19 years. 

How Do the Overly Empathic and Narcissistic Complement Each Other 

Overly empathic people in narcissistic relationships will almost religiously put their abuser’s wants, needs, and desires before their own well-being. Being in a relationship with an overly empathic person is like winning the lottery for a narcissist because their partner will never call them out for their abusive behavior. So, no matter how brazen a narcissist may be, their overly empathic partner will continuously see them through a lens of compassion. 

In all narcissistic relationships, whether the victim is overly empathic or not, rationalization and justification of narcissistic behavior plays a huge role in the continuation of narcissistic relationships. This is a very self-destructive behavioral pattern that overly empathic people in narcissistic relationships use constantly. 

Narcissists are masterful when it comes to portraying themselves as victims. It’s so common for narcissists to blame their abusive behavior on a traumatic childhood, and while many of them may very well have traumatizing pasts, it still isn’t an excuse for being maliciously abusive in adulthood. 

Narcissistic excuses

A narcissist sob story is an overly empathic person’s kryptonite because they believe that with enough love and compassion anyone can be healed. 

Now this doesn’t mean overly empathic people are immune to the impact of narcissistic abuse, in fact they get hurt quite often. The normalization of rationalizing and justifying a narcissist’s behavior, in a wholehearted attempt to be emotionally available for an emotionally unavailable partner, is exactly what makes empaths oblivious to the harsh reality that they will not change.

How Do Overly Empathic People Escape Narcissistic Relationships? 

Overly empathic people escape narcissistic relationships just like any other victim of narcissistic abuse.

  • They get educated on narcissistic behavior
  • They address their trauma with qualified therapeutic guidance
  • They have outstanding support groups who understand narcissistic behavior
  • They summon the courage to acknowledge that their abuser isn’t going to change and that they are worth way more than what they are receiving. 

However, escaping narcissistic relationships for overly empathic people is extremely difficult because of how compassionate and forgiving they are. This makes them susceptible to manipulative tactics designed to trap them within the relationship by weaponizing guilt, like hoovering and breadcrumbing.

Watch Out for Hoovering 

Hoovering is a manipulative tactic that narcissists use to drag their victims back into the relationship after they’ve already left. Hoovering works so well because for the victim of narcissistic abuse, the relationship is real. They really love their abuser and want peace and happiness. 

If you gathered the courage to leave the person you felt like you were supposed to spend the rest of your life with, and a few months later they texted you saying that they’ve changed, they miss you, they’ll never stop loving you… would you be able to let them go again? 

Breadcrumbing is when a narcissist will strategically use moments of empathy to feed their victim’s hope. Hope usually manifests in the victims’ belief that their abuser will change and finally be their “Mr. or Mrs. perfect.” Breadcrumbing works so well because a narcissist will learn exactly how much abuse their victim can endure before they have to show the slightest level of empathy. 

This is a really malicious form of abuse because victims of narcissistic abuse, especially overly empathic ones, are constantly looking for a sign that their abuser is going to change, and on some level, a narcissist knows this.

breadcrumbing

With that being said, an interesting set of circumstances that triggers overly empathic people to investigate the abusive patterns they are experiencing, is when they have children with a narcissist.  

Overly empathic people will rationalize and justify their abuser’s behavior all day long, but that’s only from their perspective. Once they’re forced to see how the narcissist’s behavior is affecting their child, who they also deeply empathize for, they reach their breaking point and become far less likely to allow the abusive behavior to continue. 

Overly Empathic People Can Develop Codependency

As I mentioned above, guilt is a large part of narcissistic relationships. Hoovering and breadcrumbing are some of the most noticeable areas where guilt can manifest, however there is one more.

Codependency is a dynamic in a relationship where one person feels worthless and/or guilty if they aren’t devoting their lives to their partner. This dynamic makes the codependent, the one giving, feel like they need the other, who’s known as the taker and needs to be needed, in order to survive.

For overly empathic people, codependency is created by a combination of societal norms, narcissistic behavior, and their own behavioral patterns.

Let’s break this down…

Societal Norms & Empath’s Behavioral Patterns

A very common misconception among narcissistic enablers is the belief that relationships aren’t meant to be easy. While in healthy circumstances this may be true, oftentimes what you see happening is victims of narcissistic abuse confiding in those who are uneducated when it comes to narcissism, and being met with ignorant statements along the lines of, “…well, maybe you’re just going through a rough patch…” or “…relationships aren’t meant to be easy, maybe you should try to communicate better…”

These types of responses can be devastating for victims of narcissistic abuse, especially overly empathic people who already have a belief that with enough love and compassion anything can be healed.

Narcissistic Behavior

I can’t say it enough, guilt is a huge part of narcissistic relationships.

For an overly empathic person, the combination of societal norms, narcissistic behavioral patterns, and their own behavioral patterns, co-dependency is inevitable if the relationship is allowed to continue for extended periods of time.

The Scorpion and the Frog: A Reminder to Heal Yourself, Not a Narcissist

“A scorpion wants to cross a river but cannot swim, so it asks a frog to carry it across. The frog hesitates, afraid that the scorpion might sting it, but the scorpion promises not to, pointing out that they would both drown if the scorpion killed the frog in the middle of the river. The frog considers this argument sensible and agrees to transport the scorpion. The frog lets the scorpion climb on its back and begins to swim. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it stung despite knowing the consequence, to which the scorpion replies: “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.” The Scorpion and the Frog Tale

As harsh as it may be, it’s much safer to let a narcissist crash and burn by themselves than trying to save them. Leave the healing process to seasoned therapists who have experience with NPD. Don’t be the wholehearted frog who helped the scorpion cross the river, destruction, anguish, and manipulation is in their nature.

What Should You Takeaway From This Article

Much like most narcissistic relationships, breaking away from them will take time and a clear understanding of narcissistic behavior. Empaths have a particularly hard time breaking narcissistic abuse cycles because when they learn about narcissism, they rather attempt to heal their abuser than escape from the abuse cycle.

For example…

When I interviewed the 15 empaths who suffered narcissistic abuse, they told me that initially, when their therapist highlighted narcissistic traits in their relationship and told them it wasn’t going to change, they were angry. Instead of accepting their therapist’s advice, 9 of them attempted to use the information they learned to fix the relationship. Fortunately, they were eventually able to acknowledge that what they were experiencing wasn’t going to change, but not everyone is so lucky.

With that being said, being overly empathic is more than acceptable in a healthy relationship, however in a world that often takes advantage of those who show empathy, it’s important to ensure we only unconditionally love those who will truly love us back.


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Interviewing 15 overly empathic people who suffered narcissistic abuse

Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, Sandy Hotchkiss (2003)