The relationship between narcissists and empaths is a complicated one. The two are more interconnected than it seems at face value.
So why are narcissists attracted to empaths (and sometimes vice versa)?
The answer has to do with co-dependence. In this post, we’re going to explore why empaths can have a tendency towards codependence, why that’s so attractive to narcissists and exactly why empaths ignore early red flags in the relationship.
It’s not what you think.
Why some empaths are codependents
To cover this topic fully, we need to look at some quick definitions.
- An empath is a person who feels another person’s emotions.
- A codependent is a person who needs external validation on a deep level.
These two are not the same.
But there’s often some overlap. Not all codependents are empaths. And not all empaths are codependents.
And while it’s tough to talk in terms of statistics on this topic, many people with codependent tendencies are also empaths.
So why are so many empaths also codependent?
Here’s the thing about being an empath. It’s not easy.
As you can imagine, feeling other people’s pain, sadness and even happiness can be extremely overwhelming. Because you are hyper aware of people’s feelings, and sometimes even know the issues behind them, it’s easy to put other people’s feeling above your own.
It’s easy to get lost in “fixing” other people’s problems. And as you fall into this trap, it’s easy to lose yourself.
I’ve been there – actually, for most of my life.
Why narcissists are attracted to codependent empaths
To get to the bottom of this question, we have to understand the narcissist. The narcissist needs a constant flow of adoration. It doesn’t really matter who it comes from.
Here’s the bottom line.
The narcissist (whether secretly or openly) wants to be the center of attention. And the codependent empath is very like to put the narcissist’s needs above their own. So the narcissist gets what they want, at least for a while.
It’s not really that narcissists are attracted to codependent empaths. It’s more that codependents are likely to overlook early red flags and focus on the other person’s emotions.
As things progress, a cycle of emotional abuse begins.
If you’ve been a target of emotional abuse, it can be difficult to hear this next part. But there are always red flags in the early (love bombing) stage.
These red flags are usually glaring neon warning signs to someone who isn’t codependent.
Here’s an example:
You’re dating someone for three weeks and they start saying, “I love you.”
An emotionally healthy person would never do this.
Even you understand that it’s not normal, but you explain it away… usually with an excuse you got from the narcissist. You know they had a rough childhood, so of course they’re a little off, right?
Why empaths fall for narcissists
There’s the obvious connection of putting other people’s feelings before your own. And that explains why codependents get caught up with narcissists.
If you’re codependent, you need external validation, and you get a lot of it from the narcissist – in the beginning.
Later, when the devaluation phase begins, you end up searching for the validation that felt so great in the beginning. You don’t get it, or you may only get small doses, but you don’t give up hope. And then you get discarded – brutally.
Next, comes the hoovering phase. If you don’t know what that is, read this post. It’s quite a mind f**k.
You’ve told yourself that you wouldn’t go back. And you meant it.
So what went wrong with your plan?
When you feel other people’s emotions and are codependent, it’s nearly impossible to handle making people feel bad – especially when they appear vulnerable.
And when you walk away from a narcissist, you will make them feel bad.
It’s important to understand that their emotional reaction is real. And you feel it.
The reaction isn’t as much about you as you might think, but it’s real nonetheless.
You might feel a desperation for them to get you back into their lives. And as an empath, you feel that desperation on a deep level. It’s painful.
So when you reject this person, you feel their pain. It hurts both of you deeply.
You just want to get through the moment. You need to make the other person feel better, so you cave.
All this is what makes it more difficult for an empath to walk away from a narcissist. But there’s more to the story.
Regardless of whether you’re an empath, you’re likely to develop what’s called a trauma bond in this situation. As a result of prolonged emotional abuse, your self-esteem becomes tied to the other person’s approval.
When you’re in the other person’s good graces, you have value. When you’re not, you’re worthless.
Naturally, that’s not the case, but it’s the feeling you get. And it’s exactly what the narcissist wants you to feel.
How to start breaking the cycle
This is a major topic that deserves its own post, but I do have a few quick tips to help shift your mindset.
Learn about common patterns of abuse
Here’s one fun fact about narcissists: They are completely unoriginal. The more you learn about their patterns of behavior and abuse, the more power you will have. If you can be in a situation and spot triangulation attempts, gaslighting or “word salad,” you’re less likely to fall for it.
Learn about the ego
There’s an interesting connection between the narcissist and their target, and it has to do with ego. Narcissists learn to rely almost solely on ego from a very young age as a way to protect them from pain. But –and bear with me here—it’s your own ego that keeps you in the cycle of abuse. Without exception, the narcissist or other abuser will hurt you by triggering your ego. Lean into that knowledge to learn why things trigger you and how to work through them. You’ll come out stronger than ever on the other end.
If you want to learn more about the ego, read this post.
When you’re in the thick of emotional abuse, it’s all-consuming. You may have lost yourself to a point where you can’t separate the things that make you happy on a soul level. Now is the perfect time to prioritize your own happiness.
If you’re coming to terms with emotional abuse now, understand that you’re on the path towards something amazing. It may seem glim now, but there’s so much growth and discovery ahead that will undoubtedly lead to a life better than you’ve ever imagined. You may even want to go back and thank the narcissist. But let’s leave that can of worms in the rearview mirror.