Do you ever feel like you understand the feelings of others on a deeper level and put the needs of those around you ahead of your own? If so, then you may be an empath.
It doesn’t seem like empaths and narcissists would be similar, given the differences in personality traits. Still, some psychologists suggest that they might be more closely related than we realize. So are empaths actually just narcissists?
Empaths and narcissists are not the same but two very different personality types. Empaths are highly sensitive, caring individuals who can sense and understand the emotional states of others. Narcissists are not devoid of empathy, but they are obsessed with their own self-image and have little regard for others.
Empaths are often seen as highly sensitive, compassionate individuals who can pick up on the emotions of those around them. Narcissists, on the other hand, are often seen as self-centered and entitled individuals who lack empathy for others.
But some narcissists are capable of cognitive empathy. That’s very different, however, from being an empath. Let’s explore the differences between these two personality types.
Are Empaths Just Narcissists?
Empaths and narcissists may appear similar on the surface, but they are actually quite different. Narcissists operate from a place of ego, entitlement, and self-importance, whereas empaths feel deeply for those around them and strive to help others.
Empaths tend to be compassionate, generous, and understanding, while narcissists are often selfish, controlling, and manipulative. Empaths feel the emotions of those around them as if they were their own and give more than they take; narcissists take more than they give and only care about themselves.
While both can be emotionally intense personalities, empaths use their feelings to build meaningful connections with others while narcissists tend to use theirs to gain power or control over other people.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with one’s own interests, needs, and success. The personality traits of a narcissist include:
- An overinflated sense of self-importance
- An inability to empathize emotionally with others
- A need for admiration and recognition from others, known as narcissistic supply
- A fragile self-esteem that is easily damaged
- An incompletely developed sense of identity
A person with narcissism often has difficulty forming meaningful relationships due to their lack of empathy and poor communication strategies. They can also be perceived as cold or manipulative.
They engage in narcissistic abuse that includes behaviors such as lying, gaslighting, and triangulation to manipulate and control the people around them.
Their grandiosity, arrogance, vanity, entitlement, and self-centeredness often result in an abusive relationship. Their narcissism forms as a result of childhood experiences that interrupted the complete formation of their true identity.
As a result, they have little emotional intelligence even when they can understand the emotions of other people. Instead, they use that knowledge to manipulate or exploit others in order to achieve their goals. This video discusses how that works in a mother/daughter relationship where the daughter is an empath.
What is an Empath?
Empathetic people experience the emotions of others as their own. They are highly sensitive to the feelings and energies of those around them, often absorbing these emotions as if they were their own.
Empaths have an innate ability to understand and feel the emotions of others, often without even trying. This can be both a blessing and a curse; while it allows them to form deep, meaningful connections with people, it can also lead to being overwhelmed or emotionally drained due to feeling so deeply for those around them.
It’s important for empaths to take time for themselves, practice self-care, and find ways to cope with the intense emotional energy that they may experience from those around them. If they are unable to do this, they may end up forming a trauma bond, particularly for those in relationships with narcissists.
That can result in them falling into a pattern of codependency whereby they ignore their own needs to please other people. This often results in an abusive romantic relationship since many people will take advantage of that fact.
How are Narcissists and Empaths Different?
It’s important to understand the differences between narcissism and empathy to be able to tell if you’re dealing with an empath or a narcissist. Here are some key differences between the two.
Cognitive Empathy Versus Emotional Empathy
Narcissists sometimes have the ability to understand the emotions of other people without actually experiencing them for themselves. This is known as cognitive empathy, and such people are often considered narcissistic empaths. Research conducted by experts at Harvard University supports this characterization, as the results suggest that narcissists are not deficient in empathy; their empathy is just dysfunctional.
Empaths, on the other hand, experience emotional or affectual empathy. Emotional empathy means that a true empath will actually feel the emotions of other people as if they were their own. Affectual empathy refers to a desire to help other people through emotional crises.
Most empathic people want to help people they know who have internal turmoil. That’s why there is often an attraction between narcissists and empaths. For the empath, the appeal of narcissists is that they are someone they can help.
For the narcissist, the appeal of an empath is that they are focused on the narcissist’s needs. It doesn’t end well, however, since narcissists are abusive people who will take advantage of the empath’s kind nature.
Grandiosity and Entitlement Versus Compassion and Understanding
Narcissism is characterized by a sense of grandiosity, entitlement, and self-importance. They are often controlling, manipulative, and selfish. Empaths tend to be compassionate, generous, and understanding people who feel deeply for those around them and strive to help them.
Empathy can be used as a source of strength when it comes to building meaningful connections with others – an empath will listen carefully in order to gain a greater understanding of their situation as well as how they feel. Meanwhile, narcissists use their emotions in order to gain power or control over other people.
So while both may be emotionally intense personalities, there is a clear difference in the focus of that intensity. Narcissists are toxic people who use their charm and cognitive empathy to abuse others, while empaths use their perceptual abilities to reach out and help others in need.
Selfishness Versus Selflessness
Narcissists are also usually selfish; their needs come first before anyone else’s. While narcissists are selfish, their personality disorder involves much more than selfishness, as the following video shows. Empaths are selfless, often putting the needs of others ahead of their own.
A narcissist can only focus on their needs because they must be constantly adored to feel good about themselves, and to get that adoration, they must use manipulation. Empaths, on the other hand, focus on other people, and in helping them achieve emotional peace and stability, they can help themselves as well.
An empath is striving to create peace and harmony, which will make them feel better because of their ability to sense others’ emotions so strongly. Narcissists will only use any understanding they have of others’ emotions to manipulate and control them.
The empathy experienced by narcissistic people is not qualitatively the same as the empathy experienced by so-called true empaths. Narcissists possess a dysfunctional cognitive empathy, which they use to manipulate other people. Empaths experience emotional empathy and affectual empathy, which they use to help others. This makes them quite different personality types.
Though both tend to be emotionally intense, the focus is not the same. It is important, however, for empaths to take good care of themselves to avoid falling into a pattern of codependency. This means recognizing their abilities and taking care to avoid becoming overwhelmed by others’ emotions.
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