People who are poles apart might be drawn together for all the wrong reasons.
Narcissists, for example, are attracted to people they will get the greatest use from. Often, this means they pursue and target empaths.
Empaths are the opposite of narcissists. While people with narcissistic personality disorder have no empathy, and thrive on the need for admiration, empaths are highly sensitive and in tune with other people’s emotions.
Empaths are “emotional sponges,” who can absorb feelings from other people very easily. This makes them them very attractive to narcissists, because they see someone who will fulfill their every need in a selfless way.
A ‘toxic’ attraction destined for disaster
Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author of “The Empath’s Survival Guide,” told Business Insider that this is a toxic attraction which is destined for disaster.
“What narcissists see in empaths is a giving, loving person who is going to try and be devoted to you and love you and listen to you,” she said. “But unfortunately empaths are attracted to narcissists, because at first this is about a false self. Narcissists present a false self, where they can seem charming and intelligent, and even giving, until you don’t do things their way, and then they get cold, withholding and punishing.”
When a narcissist is trying to hook someone in, they will be loving and attentive, but their mask soon starts to slip. At the beginning they only see the good qualities, and believe the relationship will make them look good. This doesn’t last because narcissists are full of contempt, and they see most people as below them. Once they start to notice their partner’s flaws, they no longer idealise them, and they start to blame them for not being perfect.
It can sometimes take a while for the true colours to show, Orloff said, so she tells her clients to never fall in love with a narcissist. But this goes against an empath’s instincts, as they believe they can fix people and heal anything with compassion.
“If only they just listened more, if only they could give more,” said Orloff. “That is just not the case with a narcissist. It’s so hard for many empaths to believe that somebody just doesn’t have empathy, and that they can’t heal the other person with their love.”
Shannon Thomas, a therapist and author of the book “Healing from Hidden Abuse,” told Business Insider that empaths work hard for harmony, whereas narcissists are looking to do the opposite. They enjoy chaos, and like to know they can pull people’s strings.
Narcissists manipulate empaths by stringing them along with intermittent hope. They will integrate compliments and kindness into their behaviour, making their victim believe that if they behave in the correct manner, they will get the loving person back who they once knew.
“Empathetic people have the tendency to understand that we’re all human, we all have defects, and they’re willing to be patient with someone else’s personal growth,” Thomas said. “Empathetic people will be very long suffering if a narcissist says ‘I really want to change, I know I’m not perfect.’ They have these moments where they sort of admit fault, but they never actually follow through or believe it.”
This is simply a tactic narcissists use to reel their partner back in. With empaths, it is very effective, because they want to support their partner and help them grow. Ultimately, they are just being exploited further.
The push and pull nature of the narcissistic relationship can generate a trauma bond between the victim and the abuser, where it can feel almost impossible to leave the relationship, no matter how much damage it is doing.
“With empathy comes the ability and willingness to look at ourselves and look at our own faults, and that gets taken advantage of while the trauma bond is happening,” Thomas said. “It becomes a cycle for an empath who has been trauma bonded because they start looking at themselves, and what do they need to do to change, and what do they need to do different, and what their character flaws are. It’s the perfect set up, unfortunately.”
It can be difficult to comprehend the fact your are in a narcissistic relationship at first, but there are many red flags you can look out for as you get to know each other better. Thomas said to keep yourself safe from narcissistic abuse, you should understand we are responsible for our own personal growth, and other people are responsible for theirs.
“When you meet people or are in relationships with them, you have to be very careful that you’re not doing their work, or wanting their growth more than they do,” she said. “You have to see what they actually do to get better.”
Also, realise that boundaries are healthy for all relationships. For empaths, boundaries can feel harsh, but once they are aware of the strength of saying “no,” they can protect themselves from people who are looking to take advantage of them.
“Empaths don’t have to become hard or hard-hearted to be able to be healthy,” Thomas said. “It’s important to recognise that not everybody needs to be in our lives. We’re going to come across people who we realise might not be healthy for us, and you have to be okay with letting them go.”