My stupid ego stands in the way of empathy.


There’s been something on my mind that’s been bothering me a lot, but I’ve hesitated posting about it because it makes me sound like a terrible person.  But I’ve always aimed to be honest on this blog, so I’m not going to make an exception this time.

A few weeks ago, I made a new online friend.  She’s in a severe depression right now due to receiving some bad news. She was so grief-stricken she had to go into the hospital and get treated for her depression.   Since then she’s been confiding in me by email, because she’s too shy to publicly comment about her situation.   For about a week or two, we corresponded almost daily.   Our emails to each other were long and deeply personal, and they proved therapeutic for me as well as for her.

I’m no therapist, but I’m always willing to correspond via email and try to direct people to the proper resources or actually help them directly if I can.   I felt like I could relate to this woman; I identified with a lot of her issues. She said she felt the same way about me.  I began to think of her as a friend, someone I cared deeply about, even though we never met and we’d only been corresponding for such a short time.   I felt a great deal of empathy for her situation.  These empathic feelings are  something rather new for me, because only recently I was too busy working on my own issues and trying to recover from my own trauma that I didn’t have the time or inclination or even the ability to really be able to empathize with anyone else.   Lately though, I’ve been rediscovering the empathy I possessed so much of as a child, and it’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.  I want it to keep growing because it makes it easier for me to connect with people and makes it possible for me to be authentic and help someone else in need, which is what I’ve been aiming to do more of.

My new friend told me that writing to me helped her a lot, and I was extremely touched by this.  I told her she was helping me too, which is true.   I began to look forward to her emails, because, well, the things she told me made me feel good.   I felt my ego puffing up with pride like a loaf of baking bread.   I began checking my inbox several times a day to see if there were any new emails.  I was getting a little obsessed, to be honest.  I was jonesing for that feeling of being needed, of feeling like I was important to someone, of knowing that someone I liked and cared for valued me that much.

I haven’t heard back from her in a few days.  Now I’m becoming insecure and hypervigilant and wondering if I said something wrong or overstepped her boundaries or if she just got tired of writing to me.    I kept reading over our emails trying to find anything, any hint at all, that I might have said something offputting that ran her off or made her want to stop emailing me.   I found nothing but obsessively, I kept looking.

After 3 days of no correspondence, I finally emailed her again.  I was extra careful not to sound too needy, and because she’s so fragile right now and came to me for help (and not the other way around), I tried extra hard to not to project my own “stuff” into my email to her.  I read it over several times and it sounded alright to me, but I still worry she may be able to pick up on my neediness.

I realized with horror that my worry about her possibly abandoning me was more powerful than my concern that she might have had to go back into the hospital (or just couldn’t get online, or was busy, or whatever).    My insecurity made my email sound more stilted and less natural than usual.  I no longer feel like I can be as open and honest, because of my own stupid fears of being offensive or overbearing and making her think badly of me.  It isn’t her fault I feel like this–it’s my own ego getting in the way of the real empathy I have for this person.

This happens to me all the time, and is one of the reasons I’ve sometimes thought I’m actually a narcissist.  Everything is always about me, my ego, what other people are thinking about me, am I being validated, am I still valued by them, are they going to leave me, do they secretly hate me?  Even when all the evidence is to the contrary, I still look for the microscopic speck of dirt in my bowl of ice cream–and always find it even though it isn’t really there.

Yes, I do have empathy–and a lot more of it has been freed to me lately–but when there’s any uncertainty or insecurity and I begin to feel hypervigilant and paranoid.  I start fretting that maybe I’m being deliberately ignored or God forbid, abandoned, and all that wonderful, healing empathy I’m learning how to use goes flying out the window and everything becomes all about me and my stupid ego again.

I still care about this individual and want to help her, but I want my empathy to flow naturally and my ego to stay out of it, because all that does is fuck everything up.  I’ve been praying for this to change, because how can I ever really be of help to anyone else if I’m always worried about what other people are thinking about me?   This isn’t about me; it’s about her and trying to help her heal, not getting some sort of ego boost for myself.

I’m not going to email her again.   I’ll just wait now, and if I never hear from her again, I can live with that.   Maybe she got what she needed from me–the encouragement she needed–and that should be enough.   I hope she is okay.

If nothing else, then I have learned a hard lesson about pride and ego: pride comes before the fall.  True empathy requires humility and the ability to set your own ego outside the door.


15 thoughts on “My stupid ego stands in the way of empathy.

      1. True; I asked because scenarios like this are very familiar to me (NPD/BPD), my immediate thoughts are often towards myself and protect against ‘failure/criticism’ (narcissist’s rejection) rather than experience panic at a perceived loss of the other person (borderline’s abandonment). On a side-note, I hope she’s ok too.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Interesting. Are you referring to a sort of pre-emptive rejection of someone you feel like you need for N-supply, t protect yourself against being rejected yourself? That’s what it sounds like, and (gulp) I do that too sometimes. Like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Devalue and discard for pre-emptive defense?

          Or do you just mean when faced with this kind of situation, that your N (rejecting) defenses come out and you shut out your feelings, rather than feel the pain, as the BPD part of you would?

          At this point I’m beginning to think something happened, like she’s back in the hospital. I no longer think it’s me at this point.


      2. (For some reason I can ‘t reply to your second reply??? So it’s showing here.)
        When you hadn’t received a reply from her and ‘the fear’ kicked in, you automatically assumed (as I would) it was something you had done to cause a negative reaction rather than worry about her. I’m a funky mix of personality; the inability to feel love/affection and intellectualising of emotions of the narcissist, the lack of identity and emptiness of the borderline and the elusive self-esteem of the avoidant! I may qualify for a few PD’s but I am summed up nicely in ‘Chronic Shame’ and my defences against it. From a lot of your posts it comes across that you (like me) are navigating through the PD’s but never quite finding a home.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s been very confusing! My diagnosis is (or was) BPD and AvPD. Now it’s PTSD (really, C-PTSD) but I still don’t think I’m healed yet from BPD even though my therapist thinks so. Maybe it’s just because I’ve learned not to act out in BPD ways anymore the way I used to. I’m still very much Avoidant though. I do have N traits; I started this blog believing I had NPD (covert type). I don’t think I do, but sometimes I wonder.

          My therapist doesn’t believe in labels–he says they are stigmatizing, which they are. I think that all these labels are also confusing and so many of us are trying to diagnose ourselves and are probably wrong half the time. Do you really have a NPD diagnosis? If you’re self diagnosed, you might not be one.

          “Chronic Shame” LOL! That’s a good one, and would fit just about everyone here! C-PTSD comes close, because anyone with a PD also has underlying C-PTSD (though not all C-PTSDs have PDs).
          I know, it makes my head spin! Alphabet soup!

          You probably couldn’t reply to my second reply because I think this blog isn’t set up for more than 1 or 2 replies. I will check it and maybe have to increase the number because that will make conversations here a little more freeflowing and easier for people to follow. Thanks for pointing it out!



      3. I came across the term ‘Chronic Shame’ in a book I have just finished called Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame by DeYoung; it puts everything together very well for me having been covered in psoriasis as a kid and the damage in did to my self-esteem. That’s bad enough but my parenting led to separate difficulties and although I have been formally diagnosed with NPD/BPD (I’m now in a specialist team after 15 years of hell in the mainstream MH services) it’s not as clear cut as the DSM or ICD criteria. In the wider psychoanalytic meaning of the terms there’s no doubting I qualify for both but Klein’s work on closet narcissism hits the nail on the head: ‘There is an emotional investment in the omnipotent object rather than in the grandiose self. While the exhibitionistic narcissist seems impervious to the object, the closet narcissist is exquisitely dependent on and vulnerable to the object.’ This is why I asked if you experienced rejection or abandonment in reaction to not getting a reply from your friend.

        Your therapist is right though in not getting fixated on labels, they can be a distraction and can lead to the label getting treated (and sometimes not treated because of the stigma) rather than the person.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ll be honest, it kind of annoys me that he isn’t more fixated on labels but I know that’s pretty dumb of me. I don’t mind my BPD label; I’m sort of attached to it tbh, even if I’m not BPD anymore.
          Thank you for sharing this information. How did you feel when you got the NPD label? When I got my BPD label there really wasn’t a stigma yet, or at least not one that I knew of, so it didn’t bother me. I was surprised though, because I had thought I was Bipolar. I was kind of relieved I wasn’t Bipolar; BPD didn’t sound as bad to me at the time. I know both are pretty bad.


      4. Mixed emotions really on the labels; first validation as I’ve always known something wasn’t right, I was somehow different growing up, seemed there was a part of me missing but I did a wonderful job of creating whatever false self was needed to appear ‘normal’. The problem with labels is with GPs, they see BPD and immediately ask how I self-harm, they see NPD and become defensive thinking I’m going to tell them I know better than they do. Don’t have time to explain the difference in a grandiose and a closet narcissist.
        Oh, I’m glad your friend just needed time out rather than anything worse.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes,I agree that therapists or doctors who rely too much on the labels because they lack information tend to stereotype and they may treat you in a way that doesn’t work for you at all.

          I’ve found that sometimes getting a name for what’s eating you gives you a sense of closure. Did you experience that?


      5. I’ve been mulling over the word ‘closure’; I think I got something analogous to when frightened and lost in a place you don’t know, the relief then discouragement that comes when someone tells you where you are and points the way home, only to realise how far away you are and how long it’s going to take to get there! You now have direction to whee you need to get to, but my goodness it’s going to be tough.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I think there’s a vulnerability for everyone in relationships, even friendships, especially when they’re new. There’s perhaps a lack of confidence as you learn to relate to this particular person as opposed to others. It makes me think that we feel what most people feel but we feel it on STEROIDS, on a crippling level at times. To others it’s a matter of getting their feelings hurt, to us it’s the fear of another person abandoning us when we feel we’ve had enough of that in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You could not have described this better–yes, its exactly like feeling the normal feelings everyone does on damn steroids. Everything is magnified 100x. Reaching out to others is for us, so terrifying and we see rejection where it doesn’t even exist. Hypervigilance goes on red alert. It’s so scary.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I understand that you feel sad.. Because you get attached to somebody and then loosing this person is painful but enjoy what you had and let go if attachments that bring you pain.. Like when mourning a death.. Let go if something is causing you sorrow . She looses by not writing to you 💝

    Liked by 1 person

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