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Narcissists & Empaths

I’ve been involved in some form of this dance in various forms throughout my life–  most significantly over the past several years. You can read my stories here and here.

Since I know many women in our community have also been–or are currently– involved in this dance, I wanted to touch on this topic here.

As change begins with awareness, here’s a brief overview of the problem, followed by some resources that I recommend for further healing.

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We’re all narcissistic to some degree, but when one’s self-centered actions cause considerable harm to others, it’s very likely that person has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a pathology that lives under the umbrella term, Cluster B.

Like autism, Cluster B personality disorders exist along a spectrum. They include borderline, narcissistic, antisocial, sociopaths, and psychopaths. Each is characterized by a lack of remorse, empathy, and conscience, in varying degrees, and is often accompanied by a combination of substance and process addictions (usually sex, alcohol, and/or drugs).

While “narcissism” has become a trendy topic, most of us– including a lot of medical health professionals– don’t fully grasp what it is. In fact, unless you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse first-hand, you really can’t understand it. By common, human standards, it’s unfathomable. A true living nightmare.

Good looking, successful, smart, intense, highly sexual, seductive, and charismatic, these individuals shine in the higher echelons of society. Their biggest warning bell is their charm.

They’re therapists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and spiritual leaders (who often have captivating eyes). Since these disorders were only first recognized twenty-five years ago and often go undiagnosed, they usually fly under the radar.

Because of the influence these individuals hold, the world’s legal, political, medical, and social structures are rigged in their favor. If you try to confront them, you’ll never win. They’re never accountable, will always retaliate, and never stop fighting.

Usually surrounded by wide-eyed admirers, they’re adept at mobilizing community support against you by twisting the truth, gossiping, and capitalizing on your deepest vulnerabilities.

Being around these individuals can feel really confusing. They’re incredibly easy to like– not to mention love. Known as “altruistic narcissists,” their Jekyll and Hyde natures remain covert. To all but those few who’ve lived closely with them for long periods of time, they appear delightful, kind, fun, loving, and selfless–always at the ready to lend a helping hand.

I’ll now refer to these individuals as men who are coupled with women because that is my experience, but this dynamic can show up in any configuration.

We all know these people. They’re our husbands, wives, bosses, colleagues, friends, siblings, and children. In fact, 1 in 5 people has a Cluster B Personality Disorder, ranging from narcissistic traits to full-blown psychopathy.

Sandra L. Brown, founder of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education and author of two books that I’ve found incredibly helpful (Women Who Love Psychopaths and How to Spot a Dangerous Man), says that these men don’t choose you. They target you– usually when you’re lonely, excessively vulnerable, and/ or in grief. They have a sixth sense for hooking into the most wounded parts of you that long to be loved.

They also target a specific kind of woman, one who’s intelligent, extremely high functioning, and at the top of her game in all areas of life, save intimate relationships.

These women are doctors, CEOs, attorneys, teachers, and leaders with specific “supertraits” that are as innate to them as their facial structures. These include: self-directedness, cooperativeness, empathy, trust, loyalty, tolerance, supportiveness, and self-transcendence/spirituality.

Often old-soul, highly sensitive empaths, these women grew up in homes where they felt abandoned by one of their parents (physically and/or emotionally). To survive, they split themselves off from their bodily instincts and lived in a fantasy world. As little girls, visions of being loved saved them.

These women later become what’s now known as “lightworkers.” Healers in their communities, they harbor the belief that all beings are, at heart, good-natured and well-intentioned. It’s impossible for them to fathom that the men they love so deeply simply don’t have the same moral fiber as everyone else.

On the contrary, these men are aware of their deception. They’re aware that they’re manipulating you for their own benefit.

Another consistent trait amongst these women is “low harm avoidance.” They fall in love with a person’s soul, believing that they’re above what these men have put others through. They hear all the stories about his “crazy ex” and think they’re the special ones who will help heal his wounds so he can embody his full potential.

Different people ascribe different names to the dynamic that plays out between these men and women: narcissist/codependent, energy vampire/empath, and love avoidant/love addict.

Each is using and objectifying the other. The love avoidant uses the love addict for sex, positive regard, and boosting his reputation. The love addict uses the love avoidant to fulfill her childhood fantasy of being saved and beloved in her most wounded places. Like iron filings drawn to a magnet, the two play out this tragic dynamic unconsciously, for it’s rooted in their deepest childhood wounds and beliefs.

Initially, their courtship looks and feels like a fairytale. The man uses what women’s health pioneer and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Christiane Northrup calls in her new book, Dodging Energy Vampires, “malignant intuition” to tap into the holes in a woman’s self-esteem and self-worth. He plays the victim and draws her in with a sob story, usually on the first or second date.

Sensing her deepest vulnerabilities and desires, he then shapeshifts to represent himself as the knight in shining armor who has come to make all of her dreams come true. This phase is known as love-bombing. He’s effusive and over-the-top with his affection and romantic gestures. He’s amazing in bed and tells her everything she’s always wanted to hear. Then, once oxytocin, the bonding hormone, is free flowing and the target has idolized her partner and become fully attached, the crazy-making starts.

The crazy-making includes covert manipulation tactics like triangulation (e.g. another woman is always in the picture and the man blames her for everything to take the heat off of him), minimization (“you’re overreacting!”), blaming, guilt tripping, gaslighting, and rationalization.

After being exposed to this for some time, a woman starts to feel like she’s going crazy. She gradually becomes a diminished version of herself, drained at every level. 75% of women coming out of these relationships have autoimmune disorders. Many are also in financial dire straits with bottomed-out self esteem.

These men are so smart that they often co-opt spiritual and psychological jargon to get their way. Because of this, their disorders usually remain undetected in therapy (most therapists aren’t trained to treat or spot them). Many times, these individuals are so handsome and charismatic that they can even dupe therapists who are specifically trained to treat them!

Experts say that these individuals aren’t capable of being in genuine relationships, and these pairings often end either when the man is found out or discards the woman.

Always in need of narcissistic supply– drama, emotional upset, and positive or negative attention from others in any form–he can’t be alone and therefore usually moves into a new relationship quickly (several other empaths are usually lined up, waiting to take his ex’s place). Then, as Freud’s theory of “repetition compulsion” predicts, the whole cycle begins again.

Those affected by this dynamic usually stay silent about it, knowing that another characteristic of Cluster B individuals is that they attack when confronted, stopping at nothing to undermine the reputations and credibility of those who expose them.

Women’s experiences have been discredited for centuries because we’re written off as being overly emotional, irrational, crazy, and, therefore, untrustable. This is just now starting to shift with the rise of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the recent Cosby verdict.

After educating oneself about narcissistic abuse, the only way to truly heal is to go No Contact with these individuals (or set up very limited communication structures if it’s impossible to go No Contact).

The next step is to step out of victimization and take 100% responsibility for your life. To do this, one needs to embark on the intensive soul work of healing the wounds that attracted her to the dynamic in the first place. Those wounds of worthlessness and abandonment are usually so painful and so deeply buried in one’s subconscious that she’d never dare touch them unless they were the key to her survival.

Everything outside of us is a reflection of our internal worlds. We are the source of our realities. Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens through us. If we harbor a deep belief that we’re worthless, until we fully heal that and replace it with more empowering belief, we’ll keep attracting the life experiences that affirm it.

From this larger perspective, Cluster B individuals can become key allies on our soul’s journeys.

If we do the inner work, our experiences with them can empower us to bridge the gap between our personalities and our souls, catalyze our evolution, and massively expand our vision for being alive.

Here are some resources for your healing journey:

  • Dr. Christiane Northrup’s new book Dodging Energy Vampires. (Dr. Northrup has an extensive resource list in the back of the book, and here’s a great podcast interview with her about this topic.)

In The SHE School, my 9-month group mentoring program, I share the tools and practices needed for building a trustworthy relationship with your inner authority.

Sourcing your love and happiness internally, rather than externally, is the only way to heal– and thrive.

Blessings on your healing journey!

SARA AVANT STOVER

Hello, beautiful. I’m Sara: a teacher of feminine spiritual and empowerment, author, and founder of The Way of the Happy Woman. I’m also the leader of The SHE School and the SHE Yoga & Meditation Teacher Training. Here’s the truth: I don’t want to be your guru. But I am wholeheartedly devoted to guiding women back to their own, inner wisdom, through feminine spiritual practices, yoga, meditation, and a whole lotta love (and guts). This work is my truest calling and greatest joy. I’m so happy to have the chance to share it with you.

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