I wonder. Until recently, I always thought people who say they’re empaths sounded a bit grandiose or even a little narcissistic. I never thought I was an empath, but as some of the toxic thinking patterns I was so trapped in begin to fall away (this is a very slow process!), I find that I’m better able to “see” things I couldn’t see since I was a small child. The “things” I see are what lies behind the facade all of us have to some degree or another, a facade which narcissists have become so effective at building that their real selves are all but obliterated (but they’re not really).
I was very emotional as a child and felt everything around me intensely. My sensitivity made me not only prone to being a target for bullies, but also physically vulnerable: I spent a lot of time sick and I had many allergies. I had terrible ear infections that left me nearly deaf in my left ear. The doctors said I was healthy and couldn’t figure out why I was always so sick.
Abused by my narcissistic family and the bullies at school, I gradually learned that it was too dangerous to fully feel my emotions or to connect with people on an emotional, meaningful level. I was made fun of or punished in some way. So I shut myself off from feeling anything but the most banal or self defeating emotions, only those that concerned myself or ensured my survival: fear, anger, jealousy, frustration, boredom, sexual desire, and a pseudo-love known as limerence. Rarely could I feel true sadness, joy, love, contentment, friendship, connection with God or nature, or caring deeply for another. I felt like I couldn’t connect with other people meaningfully but was still always quick to take offense to insults. This manifested in unpleasant ways like “going off” on people or losing control. I often scared people with the intensity of my rages and low frustration tolerance. Fear–a survival emotion–remained dominant. My programming told me I needed that fear to survive, but it sure hasn’t made for a pleasant time of things, and made me afraid to take any risks at all.
Worst of all, my heart became closed. I stopped being able to laugh or cry with abandon or with another person. I loved the idea of getting close to others and having meaningful relationships, but the reality was just too scary and the relationships I did have were either meaningless and shallow or unhealthy and toxic. I learned to isolate myself from others and avoid other people because other people meant pain. I isolated myself not only physically, but by making it difficult for people to be around me. I couldn’t stick with anything. I couldn’t finish anything. I couldn’t achieve anything. I was afraid to fail because failure meant certain rejection. This is what my narcissistic family taught me. This comprises the genesis of my BPD (which I think is finally beginning to fall away).
Five things have led to my ability to begin to let go and to reconnect with the self I lost as a child and young adult, listed in order of their importance to me.
1. My relationship with God
3. Blogging and writing (self-reflection)
4. Music — it’s incredible how powerful it is!
5. Time spent in nature, including time with animals (they teach us so much)
I won’t describe the means by which these five things are working for me, since I have done that elsewhere and it would turn this post into a book. But what’s beginning to happen is I’m realizing I genuinely care about others. I never thought I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t care before, it was because I was so protective of myself I couldn’t let those feelings of caring be consciously felt. Now when I hear a fellow victim talk about a lifetime of abuse or scapegoating, I feel true empathy for them because I’m more able to allow myself to experience my own pain and process it and that makes it easier to relate to the pain of someone who went through similar trauma. So I can no longer say I’m really empathy challenged. I always had it in me.
Something even more amazing is starting to happen. I’m becoming somehow able to see the lost child in the people I talk to on both my blogs. I may have always had this ability. From the time I was a young child, I could pick up the emotions of others around me. When I picked up my mother’s emotions, she told me to stop “acting spooky.” I think my X-ray vision scared her.
But I couldn’t just throw up a false self and become a narc. I lacked the right temperament. It was always so hard for me to hide the way I felt. So I went into hiding instead–emotionally and sometimes physically–becoming a near hermit. I stopped being able to have any deep relationships, even real life friendships. I stopped being able to feel the higher emotions that bring us joy and deep connection with others. These are symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder, which I had/have along with BPD and C-PTSD.
My life became drained of any joy or color. But now, I can see the hurt inner child in others, which is ironic since I still have so much trouble connecting with my own hurt child. This ability to see the real selves in the people who come to my blogs (or post on other blogs) even extends to people with narcissistic personality disorder. When I look at a narc now, I don’t see someone to hate or be terrified of, I see someone who didn’t get enough love and has no idea who they are.
I believe in No Contact. I don’t think any lay person can fix a narcissist and it’s always best to get away for your survival and sanity. But that doesn’t mean things are hopeless for a narcissist, should they sincerely want to connect with their real emotions. More therapists are needed who have the courage to work with these difficult and often infuriating people. Therapists who can help them realize the potential to love and feel the real emotions they were born with, who can help them break down the strong fortress they have built around themselves to keep everyone out. This must be done by professionals, and it can take a long time and it won’t be an easy road. I think there must also be a spiritual component, an acceptance that there is something–if not God, then some Intelligence or Presence–that is greater than all of us and is always healing and benevolent. I think the stigma is so bad that therapists either won’t treat them or give up when the going gets rough. Yes, some narcissists will leave. But some won’t, if the therapist is empathic and skilled enough and the narcissist wants change bad enough.
Both narcissism and C-PTSD and other problems caused by abuse all have their roots in childhood trauma. Why only focus on healing for the victims? Narcissistic abuse is a terrible thing. But it will continue as long as there are narcissists walking around allowed to get away with turning people into victims. If we can get to the root of the problem and help the narcissists themselves, then narcissistic abuse will end and there will be no more victims either. It’s analogous to alleviating crime in a city by addressing the problem of poverty that led to it. As long as you ignore poverty, crime will continue and there will always be crime victims.
I seem to have an uncanny ability to see the real, lost self behind a narcissist’s facade. This surprises me, because it seems like a quality an empath would have and I never thought I was one–just a run of the mill HSP. But through therapy, prayer, being in the natural world, music, and writing, I feel like my heart has opened and with that, a kind of X-ray vision. I’ve actually had self aware and some diagnosed narcissists come to me (mostly on Down The Rabbit Hole) telling me the blog has helped them and they are learning from it, or admitting they want help. A few have emailed me because they’re too ashamed of their narcissism to post on a public blog. Right now, all I can do is try to offer encouragement and direct them to other resources. I feel empathy for them, just as I feel empathy for the abuse victims on Lucky Otter’s Haven and here too. I wish I could help them more than I can right now.
I think I’m being called to something–working with people with NPD (as well as other trauma victims)–that’s going to take a lot of strength and courage and could even be emotionally and spiritually dangerous if I’m not very careful or don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It’s going to take a lot of training, and right now there are a lot of logistical problems (lack of money or time to go back to school; getting older; not liking confrontation and being socially awkward in general). But I feel like God has a plan and some doors will begin to open. I can work on my awkwardness and fear of confrontation in therapy (and these things are a result of low self esteem, not an “introverted” temperament). Working with people with NPD is something very few people dare venture into. It’s also something a lot of narc-abuse survivors have trouble understanding. A few even think it’s wrong. I don’t believe it is. I’m not ready to do it yet. But I feel like this is the shape my life is taking and the reason why everything happened the way it did.
Born an empath to narcissistic parents, they could not handle my ability to absorb the feelings of those around me and “see through” facades. They worked day and night to disable my gift because they were so afraid of it. But in spite of everything, I still have the gift and I want to use it to help people like my parents, even if my parents rejected the illumination of truth that gift had the power to reveal.