Why I choose not to believe in the empath/narcissist relationship
Disclaimer: This article is written from a cisgender/heteronormative/western narrative because that is my experience. If you caught this post, you know I want to support and care about every single person on this earth (and beyond!) but need to stay in my lane because my body/experiences are mine for a reason. If your experience is different and you want to talk about the empath/narcissist relationship from a different lens, I can connect you with others who might better get it.
When I started learning about empaths and what it meant to be one, I couldn't read anything without something about narcissists and the empath/narcissist relationship. If you aren't familiar, just type 'empath narcissist' into the Google search bar and you'll find oodles of info. I'm a big believer in personal power and when an empath aligns themselves with being one half of this dynamic they give their power away. This post isn't to victim blame - I absolutely believe hurt people (~narcissists) can be drawn to emotional people (~empaths) and cause a lot of pain - and I know how hard it is to get out when this happens. Instead this post is meant to shine a more positive light on the dynamic to encourage you, the empath reader, to look beyond a box the Internet wants to place you in so you can take back your power and recognize where you too are accountable.
I'm not going to go into details, but I have been in a toxic relationship.
The relationship put me into a deep depression and as I crawled my way out (and I say crawl because it took everything I had to leave) I victimized myself by believing his actions made him a narcissist and staying longer than I should (have in hopes of 'fixing him') made me a weak empath. Now that I have spent time reflecting on the relationship, I want to write a post about my thoughts on the empath/narcissist dynamic. Yes I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and yes have put up with things I wish I hadn't, but I was never a victim, nor was I weak, and I regret reading (and believing in) the articles that suggested I might be. I'm just a human being who was intentionally put on the path of another human being to learn more about myself and what it means to love and be loved.
The empath/narcissist relationship is really big in the self-help world right now and that scares me, because it promotes a victim mentality and a lot of blame.
We are all doing the best we can with the situations and conditioning we were born into - there are no good or bad people. If you feel similar, or want to feel similar, below are three ideas that helped me realize I am not a victim and that the narcissist/empath dynamic is not as commonplace as the Internet makes it seem.
1. We are all narcissistic.
Narcissism means: having an interest in oneself. Not only is this subjective, what "having an interest in oneself" means to me is different than what it means to you, it's also a bit silly how we can label basic human instinct. We are all narcissists at our core; we come into and leave this world alone and even the most caring person would put themselves first in a situation of survival. But we don't have to think in terms of survival to think about this: in the relationship I had with the person who best fits the narcissist label, I stayed because on some level, being with him filled a void and made me feel good. Emotional abuse is VERY real and this isn't to discredit the "grooming" and "gas lighting" that makes sensitive people stay in unhealthy situations, but instead plant a seed that no relationship is one sided. We have to be careful throwing around the word narcissist - we are all narcissists because we are all human.
And I know with this will come questions about those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and how that's different. Mental illness labels have purpose, but I resonate more with the idea that hurt people hurt people. I don't believe those who fit the 'Narcissistic Personality Disorder' description are more narcissistic than the rest of us, instead they have a greater shield on their heart.
Read more: Why My Lows Aren't As Low Anymore (a critical view of the DSM)
2. Just because you're an empath doesn't mean everyone who hurts you is a narcissist.
Not every kind, caring person is an empath (an empath is someone who picks up psychic information through feeling) and not every person who hurts an empath is a narcissist, and... to throw another one in here: empaths can be incredibly narcissistic. When I first started learning about empaths I fell into the trap of thinking that those who hurt me had to be narcissists. That's what the empath/narcissist dynamic is all about. Empaths draw in narcissists, right? Well no. Hurting is natural, we have to hurt to heal. We have to hurt to grow. Now that I've reclaimed my power, I am able to see that those who I once assumed were narcissists are actually beautiful, sensitive souls who hurt me to get me to where I am today. Nothing narcissistic (or more narcissistic than we all are as humans) about them, they were just doing part of what they came here to do. Instead of seeing my relationships as empath/narcissist, I now choose to see them as karmic. The people who hurt us hurt us for a reason, and that reason is to grow.
3. The empath/narcissist dynamic is set up to take away an empath's power.
Most people who associate with being an empath would probably agree that realizing you are the "better half" of the empath/narcissist relationship is nice at first. It takes away the responsibility you have for your life and experiences. It gives you someone/something to blame for living a life you don't want to live. And this makes me sad, because it takes away your power. Being an empath means having a strong third-eye chakra, which means you can see through other people's *shit* MEANING you have more power than you'd ever believe to identify and get yourself out of unhealthy situations. But when you allow yourself to be victim to a label and its place in a dynamic, this power pours out of you. Tap into that power you have to see the truth of a situation and challenge yourself to be critical. Is that guy you're with intentionally, maliciously hurting you? Or does he just have a different set of values? If he is intentionally hurting you, how can you harness your inner strength to remove yourself from the situation? Are you able to think critically about your role, where is your support? A lot of people get power from being a victim so I challenge you to see things a different way. It's easier to blame others for the stuff we don't want to face in ourselves... but I guarantee when you get to a space where you can think critically, you will see that more often than not, the person you assumed a narcissist isn't a narcissist at all. Don't give your power away and don't latch onto an idea just because of the false power it provides.
When we associate and value the empath/narcissist dynamic, we keep ourselves from drawing in those incredible, kind, caring partners we crave. Not intentionally, but more by default because we begin to understand ourselves as being prone to draw in the 'bad guys' because of who we are and the abilities we have. Regardless of whether or not we've been with a "narcissist" once we have a bad relationship (like most of us do, because they wake us up!) it is difficult to disengage from the belief that all guys are bad... so we draw more and more of them in. This is law of attraction in motion, we get what we subconsciously believe. When I made the decision to stop this pattern and finally call in a healthy, happy relationship I had to come face to face with a ton of limiting beliefs and how they play out in my life.
Below are my reflections on some of them.
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1. If there is someone in your life who you feel fits the narcissist definition, ask yourself what you are meant to learn from them.
Is it boundaries? What about self-advocacy? Or maybe it's just that hurt people hurt people. We don't draw in 'bad people' (there are no bad people) because we are empaths, we draw them in to learn something. Every single person who comes into our life has something to teach us. Use that third eye chakra of yours to see it.
Read more: That shitty thing you are going through is the guidance you've been asking for.
2. Empaths see the best in people and subconsciously understand a person's potential and how good they can be.
The thing with potentials though, is that they are potentials and not reality. If you're with someone who is acting in a way you wish they wouldn't and you just know they can be better, I challenge you to ground yourself in the moment and be real with yourself that they might not change. All people have free will and just because you can see their potential, doesn't mean they will (or even want to) reach it.
3. No matter how much we believe we've moved on, until we are able to clear the beliefs we accumulated from a challenging relationship, we will project them onto wonderful people.
It sucks to hurt and after healing from a bad relationship we do everything we can to protect ourselves. While I've healed tremendously from my traumatic relationship, I still catch myself doing things to protect my heart. Feeling revengeful, withdrawing, getting defensive, keeping part of yourself hidden, mistrusting, or choosing to do something not in alignment with unconditional love are all ways this manifests. If you find yourself acting out in any of these ways with a new partner, take time to yourself, cut the cords to the emotion you feel, and challenge yourself to reflect on whether or not you have tangible proof for what you're feeling or if maybe you are projecting a belief onto someone innocent. Learn about the solar plexus and the heart chakra, too. Balancing these will help!
4. Surround yourself with people who will be objective for you.
Anytime emotions are involved, we can't see clearly. The most self-aware person will oversee red flags when in love. Emotions are POWERFUL. I have two people in my life who I know will be honest with me no matter what, and I call on them when I feel someone may be overstepping my boundaries. I never want to hear what they have to say (because I like seeing people's potential) but I trust them to be honest with me regardless and though I don't always listen, I always reflect and take their opinions seriously.
5. It's OK to settle until you're ready to not.
I talk a lot about not settling for anything in life, but oh myyyy it used to bug me when people told me I could do better than the relationship I was in. I actually couldn't. I didn't have my power yet. When you care so much about someone and are sucked into their potential (rather than their truth) it's really, really hard to walk away. It takes a village to leave an unhealthy relationship... and not being able to does not mean you are weak. It means you haven't built up that village yet. None of us are destined for abusive relationships, that relationship you wish you had exists out there, it really, really does! This universe is infinite. But it's OK if you aren't ready to find it yet. If you are ready to start building up your supports so you can eventually leave, I encourage you to seek counselling.
<<Take a peak at my empath mentorship packages.>>
6. Understand that your idea of a healthy relationship is unique to you.
What most of us understand as a healthy relationship is based on society's norms. But in reality, there are an infinite amount of ways to have a healthy relationship and an infinite amount of ways to have an unhealthy one... because what healthy/unhealthy means is unique to each of us. For example: when I talk with folks who are with someone who is cheating on/with them, I try to fully understand the dynamics of the situation. I love the idea of monogamous life partner, but I also understand that human beings aren't necessarily meant to be monogamous. A cheating partner isn't a bad person, and they aren't always a narcissist, they might just have a different value system and a different idea of a what a healthy relationship means. This is only problematic when the other person in the relationship values something different. We can re-claim our power by acknowledging when we are in a situation that doesn't align with our truth so we can redirect ourselves to one that does; instead of focusing on what your partner is/isn't doing, if you can, focus on you and your needs and be honest with yourself about whether or not you are where you want to be.
This article has been one of the most difficult to write because I know a lot of sensitive people (myself included) have their identity tied into the empath/narcissist dynamic and I didn't want to trigger anyone. Sensitive people can, and do, come into contact with emotional abusers, but with a bit of critical thinking we can see that it's not as commonplace as the self-help world makes us believe. If you got anything from this article, I hope it's that you don't have to be a victim to ANYTHING in this world.
You can be an empath in a healthy and grounded relationship and you can be an empath and act narcissistically, neither of which are ever discussed in the empath/narcissist circles. There isn't one size-fits-all and though labels and ideas can be helpful, they don't define us. We define us and there is a lot of power in realizing that.
If any part of this article resonated with you, or triggered something with you, I would love to continue the conversation.