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  • Writer's pictureKatarina Ament, PsyD, MS

Empaths & Narcissists: Why Caring, Empathic People Are Targets for Narcissistic Abuse

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you identify as a caring, empathic person. You likely pride yourself on being understanding, generous, and attuned to others' feelings. So why is it that you keep finding yourself in relationships with narcissistic or manipulative people who take advantage of your good nature? What is it that attracts empaths and narcissists?

The hard truth is that the very qualities that make you a wonderful friend, partner, and human being also make you a target for narcissists and other manipulators. Here's why:

8 Reasons Why Empaths Attract Narcissists

You See the Best in People

As an empathic person, you look for the good in everyone. Even when faced with questionable behavior, you try to understand where the person is coming from. Because of this tendency, you can sometimes miss or downplay early red flags that signal you're dealing with a narcissistic personality. While your compassion is admirable, it also makes you vulnerable.

You're Intuitively Tuned In

One of your strengths is that you're highly intuitive and emotionally intelligent. You pick up on others' subtle cues and energy. You can often sense when someone is struggling before they say anything. However, this intuitive sensing can work against you with a narcissist. You feel their inner shame and insecurity, which makes you want to help. You get hooked in by your empathy and desire to heal their pain.

You Give People the Benefit of the Doubt

Even if someone treats you poorly, you tend to rationalize their behavior and give them second chances. You make excuses for them, assuming they're just having a bad day or a tough time. It's hard for you to accept that some people are simply manipulative users with selfish motives. Your tendency to rationalize and minimize bad behavior makes you the perfect supply for exploitive personalities.

You Have Difficulty Setting Firm Boundaries

For you, it's second nature to go above and beyond for others. You have a hard time saying no or setting firm boundaries and limits. While your selfless spirit allows you to make tremendous contributions in this world, it also means you can be taken for granted. Narcissists and manipulators sense your distaste for rocking the boat and use it to slowly cross your boundaries.

You Feel Responsible for Others' Feelings

As an empath, you absorb others' emotions easily. When someone is upset, you immediately feel responsible for fixing the situation and regulating their emotions. Narcissists exploit this tendency by making everything your fault and playing the victim. This puts you in a constant state of trying to manage their feelings and needs.

You Avoid Confrontation

While you have strong values, you dislike conflict and tension in relationships. Narcissists are experts at sensing when someone fears confrontation. Rather than directly addressing issues, you hold resentment in or try to keep the peace. This allows bad behavior to go on without being checked. Speaking up goes against your nature, but is essential with narcissists. There is an art to this though. You want to assert your boundaries calmly and in a matter-of-fact way without over-explaining, defending, or criticizing the narcissist. And even then, there will likely be pushback. For more information on this, check out our other articles on How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissist and Why Confronting a Narcissist Doesn’t Usually Work.

You're Attracted to "Projects"

A pattern many empaths fall into is developing attachments to "wounded birds" or "projects." You're drawn to people you perceive as needing your help, understanding, or "fixing." This includes many narcissists, who know how to play up their stories of woe to hook caring people. You feel compelled to heal their pain, which they skillfully manipulate.

You Doubt Your Own Needs

After constantly caring for others, you can begin to dismiss, minimize, or feel confused about your own needs. You feel selfish putting yourself first. This makes you vulnerable to narcissists who exploit your lack of boundaries and make you feel guilty for having any needs at all. Re-connecting to your needs is essential.

So where does this leave you? The good news is that awareness is power. Knowing these dynamics allows you to recognize manipulative behavior faster and set the boundaries needed to protect your energy.

Key Steps Toward Breaking Free

  • Working on self-validation so you're not overly reliant on outside approval or attention

  • Setting clear boundaries and deal-breakers for unacceptable behavior

  • Tuning into potential codependent tendencies that may cause you to ignore red flags

  • Learning how to effectively assert yourself rather than avoiding or getting pulled into an emotionally charged argument

  • Reflecting on past patterns in relationships so you can break them

  • Prioritizing your own self-care and needs

Whatever you take away from this, know that your empathy is a beautiful thing. The world needs more caring, empathic souls like you. But you also deserve relationships that nourish you in return. Stay true to yourself while also protecting your energy. You can care deeply for others and be treated with the love and respect you deserve. The dynamic between empaths and narcissists is complex, but awareness of the tendencies of each can help empaths avoid unhealthy relationships. With mindfulness, empaths can learn to set boundaries with narcissists while still retaining their compassion.

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