Weird title huh? How can an empath be a narcissist? … It just doesn’t sound possible.
But it is.
Empaths by definition are supposed to be so finely “tuned in” to others and their feelings and thoughts that they can literally experience firsthand (or secondhand) what it’s like to be another person. Narcissists, on the other hand, seem to only care about themselves and their own needs and interests, appearing to be devoid of concern for others.
But here’s the thing: being an empath doesn’t necessarily mean that you actively feel empathy towards others. And being a narcissist doesn’t mean that you don’t have the capacity to feel what others feel on a mental and psychological level.
When most of us think of narcissists we tend to picture obnoxious, extroverted and self-obsessed people, on par with many Hollywood celebrities. But did you know that there are actually two types of narcissism: the overt and covert? Overt narcissists are typically thick-skinned and openly conceited. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, are generally shy, sensitive and introverted. However, both share similar traits of a lack of concern for others, obsessive self-interest, blaming and criticizing, dishonesty and manipulation.
Finally, this article was written in the interests of self-exploration and self-growth, not as an actual medical diagnosis. Fortunately most empaths are empathetic, but if you suspect that you may harbor any borderline or obvious traits, you’re free to keep reading.
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If you would like to learn more about being an empath, check out our book Awakened Empath which provides in-depth guidance:
10 Signs You’re an Empathic Narcissist
For most of my life I strongly believed that I was a kind, patient, caring and empathetic person. This idealized self-image I had created for myself only served to mask the real truth of who I was: that of a self-centered wounded egomaniac who couldn’t truly empathize with others. Don’t worry, I’m not “dissing” myself – it’s the truth! And you know, sometimes I still can be self-centered, but I have improved a great deal since then. By the way, this breakthrough from unempathetic empath to empathetic empath was greatly assisted by Sol who shook me up and put the mirror of Clarity right in front of me.
Since then, I’ve come across a great deal of (what I would consider) empathic narcissists. And yet, at the time of writing this article I’ve never read or actively found information on the topic. So I guess this article is a first!
The greatest danger of identifying as a straight-out empath is that it can blind us to our darker underlying traits. Unfortunately we tend to assume that just because we’re sensitive and can “feel” what other people feel, we automatically become empathetic people who can truly understand and feel compassion/concern towards others.
This is absolutely not the case at all. And in fact, I believe empathic narcissism is more pervasive than we think.
Now, I’m not here to demonize narcissism. In fact, as one lovely wolf commented beneath my last article, narcissists can be like angels in disguise. Narcissists are catalysts of change in people’s lives: they stir up all the old wounds, scars and shadow elements in a person and force growth. Many awakened narcissists (i.e. those who have become self-aware) are also sincere about changing their patterns of behavior. So if you think you may be a narcissist, or have been “diagnosed” as one, just know that this is a “safe” place for you to come out and express your perspectives.
As I mentioned in my last article, covert, or vulnerable narcissists, are sensitive and introverted by nature. Yet to disguise their chronic feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness, they overcompensate by creating idealized images of themselves (this is where identifying as an “empath” comes into play). Empathic narcissists tend to believe that they are a victim of everyone’s feelings and thoughts because they feel them so strongly, yet have little genuine tenderness, understanding or compassion towards others.
The essential difference between empathetic empaths and narcissistic empaths seems to be that empathetic empaths permit themselves to feel vulnerable, thus are open to developing empathy for others. On the other hand, narcissistic empaths seem to deny or avoid feeling vulnerable due to their low self-worth, thus are closed to truly caring for others.
Below I’ll narrow down some of the most common symptoms narcissistic empaths experience:
- The tendency to seesaw between acting superior to others and feeling hurt
- Feeling more special and fundamentally different from others
- Intensely upset and offended by any sign of perceived (or real) criticism
- Inability to take responsibility for one’s actions and feelings resulting in constant blame
- Frequently becoming completely consumed in one’s own personal affairs to the point of forgetting about others
- Self-martyrdom as a way of manipulating and controlling others
- Feeling that no one can understand one’s “unique” problems
- Always feeling victimized by the world/life/other people (e.g. others “attacking” you with their energy)
- Perceiving others in extremes (e.g. demonizing a person, or thinking they’re an angel)
- Inability to understand, or blatant lack of interest/regard for the alternative beliefs, upbringings, social conditioning and mindsets of others and the way this impacts their behavior
A couple of days ago I read an article that stated: “All empaths have empathy, but not all people with empathy are truly empaths.” However, everything I’ve seen, heard and experienced has shown me that this is incorrect. In reality, not all empaths have empathy. There is a big difference between feeling an emotion as your own (as empaths do) and actively stepping into the shoes of, understanding, and developing forgiveness and acceptance for another (empathy).
What to Do …
Not all narcissists are the same, so there is no black and white here. While some seem to be biologically programmed (born that way), others develop narcissism due to environmental and social conditioning factors. For this reason, I can’t speak for all narcissists. Thankfully, there is a lot of evidence that narcissism can be lessened and often even healed. There is no “one size fits all” solution for empathic narcissism, but a great place to start (in my experience) is the cultivation and development of Self-awareness and Self-love.
Shadow work inevitably fits into the process above after self-love has been developed. Personally, all of these steps, as well as being in the presence of an extremely (and shamelessly) honest partner, helped me to cultivate more empathy. But the process can be very long, so have patience!
What’s your opinion on empathic narcissism? Are you struggling to genuinely empathize with others despite your identification as an empath? You’re welcome to start a conversation below!
If you would like more clarity, support, and guidance surrounding this topic, please check out our empath book.
Note: When I write about “empathic narcissists” I am referring to a narcissist (or borderline narcissist) who believes themselves to be an empath. Please keep in mind that I am only writing about one type of narcissist here, the vulnerable or covert narcissist. There are also more extreme and violent narcissists that have traits which overlap with antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy – I am not writing about these types of narcissists at all. Due to the sensitivity of vulnerable/covert narcissists, it is easy to idealize themselves as empaths (this is only one of many idealizations). Although this is a touchy subject, I believe it’s important to explore any illusions we may or may not have about ourselves.