How To Tell An Empath From A Narcissist

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While it might seem surprising, it’s possible to be uncertain if someone is an empath or a narcissist. What’s more, there is such a thing as an empathic narcissist. There’s also a narcissistic empath. How can you tell the difference between the two?

The difference is in the ability to make meaningful connections. Empaths are able to share the feelings of other people, and this allows them to make strong connections on a deep level. Narcissists are full of shame and self-loathing and need external validation to feel good about themselves. 

Narcissists are very manipulative because of their insecurity, and empaths can be lax about setting good boundaries. Surprisingly, the two are frequently attracted to each other. Read on to learn more about how to recognize these two personality types.

What are the Definitions of Narcissism and Empathy?

Narcissism and empathy are two traits that are often discussed in the context of personality disorders and dysfunctional relationships. While both traits relate to how different types of people perceive and interact with the world around them, they are fundamentally different from one another.

Understanding the definitions of narcissism and empathy can help you to distinguish between these two traits and identify them in others. It can also help you to avoid getting into a toxic relationship with someone who only wants to manipulate and use you.

Narcissism is a term derived from ancient Greek mythology. Narcissus was a handsome man who fell in love with his own reflection. Psychologically, narcissism refers to a personality trait characterized by apparent excessive self-love, a need for attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with narcissistic traits often have an inflated sense of their own importance and believe they are entitled to special treatment.

Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. If it were his beauty that enthralled him, he would be set free in a few years by its fading.

W.H. Auden, poet

On the other hand, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is a trait that allows individuals to connect with others on an emotional level and respond to their needs and desires. Empathy is often described as one of the key aspects of emotional intelligence, as it helps individuals to form healthy romantic relationships and navigate social situations effectively.

While both narcissism and empathy relate to how individuals perceive themselves and others, they are fundamentally different. Narcissism is characterized by a lack of concern for others and an excessive focus on one’s own needs and desires, while empathy is characterized by a deep concern for others and a desire to understand and respond to their needs. Relationships with narcissists are often characterized by manipulation and abuse, while relationships with empaths create strong, loving, and supportive connections. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that affects an estimated 6.2% of the population, according to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The disorder is characterized by a long-standing pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration known as narcissistic supply, and a lack of empathy for others.

A person with narcissism often has an inflated sense of self-worth and believes that they are special or unique. Narcissists may exaggerate their achievements and talents and expect constant praise and admiration from those around them. They may also believe that they are entitled to special treatment and privileges, regardless of their actions or behaviors.

There are two types of narcissist: the vulnerable narcissist, also known as a covert narcissist, and the grandiose narcissist, also known as an overt narcissist. Vulnerable narcissism involves the same things as grandiose narcissism, but the vulnerable narcissist is more subtle in their manipulation to get their needs met.

One of the key aspects of NPD is a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with the disorder may have difficulty understanding or relating to the feelings and needs of others and may seem indifferent or even hostile towards them. They may exploit others for their own gain, something called narcissistic abuse, and they may lack remorse or guilt for their actions. They may also resort to physical abuse and other bad behavior to get what they want.

While the exact cause of NPD is unknown, it is thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some studies, such as this one out of Spain, suggest that a traumatic childhood or early life experiences may contribute to the development of the disorder.

Characteristics of an Empath

Characteristics of an Empath

Empaths are individuals who have a heightened sense of empathy and are able to pick up on the emotions of others. They possess a unique ability to understand and feel the emotions of others as if they were their own, and interestingly, that’s one reason why narcissists fear empaths, as explained in the video below. Empaths are often described as highly sensitive and intuitive, and they are known for their nurturing and empathetic nature.

One of the most prominent characteristics of an empath is their high level of emotional intelligence. Empaths are able to understand a broad range of emotions and have the ability to identify and respond to the emotional needs of others. They possess a strong sense of empathy, which allows them to form a strong emotion connection with others on a deep level. That often greatly enhances their personal life.

“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.”

Barack Obama, former President of the United States

Empaths are also highly attuned to their surroundings. They are sensitive to the energy of the people and environments around them, which can cause them to feel overwhelmed with intense emotions. Often, empaths seek out quiet and peaceful environments to recharge their emotional energy.

Empaths can also be highly intuitive, possessing a strong sense of intuition that allows them to pick up on subtle cues and nonverbal communication. They are able to read other people’s body language and emotions, which allows them to understand the emotions and motivations behind people’s actions.

Another important characteristic of empaths is their ability to provide emotional support and comfort to others. Due to their high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence, they are skilled at helping others navigate difficult emotions and providing a safe space for people to express themselves.

What is the Difference between an Empath and a Narcissist?

What is the Difference between an Empath and a Narcissist

Empaths and narcissists may seem like polar opposites, but in reality, they share some common traits. While empaths are known for their strong ability to feel and empathize with the emotions of others, a person with narcissism is often characterized by the self-centered and manipulative behavior they use to get the supply of attention they need to feel good.

So how can you tell an empath from a person with narcissism? Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:

Empath Vs Narcissist

Empaths Narcissists
1. Highly Sensitive

Empaths are highly sensitive individuals who are attuned to the emotions of those around them. They often feel the emotions of others as if they were their own, which can be both a gift and a curse.

1. Center of Attention

Narcissists crave attention and admiration above all else and often go to great lengths to be the center of attention. They enjoy being admired and praised, and they often surround themselves with people who will fuel their overinflated sense of self.

2. Good Listening Skills

Because empaths are so receptive to the emotions of others, they are often excellent listeners. They have an innate ability to understand and validate the feelings of others, which makes them great friends and counselors.

2. Lack of Empathy

Unlike empaths, narcissists lack empathy and struggle to understand or relate to the emotions of others. They may come across as cold, callous, or indifferent to the struggles and feelings of those around them.

3. Emotional Sponges

Empaths are emotional sponges who absorb the emotions of others like a sponge. This can lead them to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and drained, especially in toxic or challenging environments.

3. Manipulative

Narcissists are often master manipulators who use others to get a constant supply of attention. They may lie, charm, or flatter others into doing their bidding, and they may exploit relationships for their own gain.

4. Compassionate and Caring

Empaths are deeply compassionate and caring individuals who prioritize the emotional well-being of those around them. They are often natural healers and helpers who go above and beyond to support others in need.

4. Entitled

Narcissists often have an excessive sense of entitlement, believing that they are owed special treatment and privileges simply because of who they are. They may behave arrogantly and condescendingly towards others, belittling those they see as below them.

Are Empathy and Narcissism on a Spectrum?

Empaths are people who are highly attuned to the emotions of others, often to the point of feeling other people’s emotions as if they were their own. Empaths typically have a deep sense of compassion and are often highly sensitive to the energy and emotions around them. They usually have an innate desire to help others and create a nurturing environment, making them highly sought-after friends and partners.

On the other side of the spectrum lies narcissists. Narcissists are individuals who have an inflated sense of self-importance and often create their sense of self-worth by receiving special treatment and attention from others. They tend to be highly focused on themselves and their own needs, caring little for the emotions or concerns of those around them. Narcissistic behavior includes manipulative tactics, lies, or other means to get the narcissistic supply they need. They may regularly engage in abusive behaviors to maintain their sense of control.

While there may be some overlap in terms of traits between an empath and a narcissist, these two personality types are fundamentally different. Empaths operate from a place of empathy and compassion, with a deep understanding of the emotions of other people. They seek to make others feel seen and heard and are highly creative and intuitive in their approach to life.

Narcissists are often driven by their own ego and the desire for power and control. They may use manipulation and abusive tactics to get what they want and tend to be highly combative and aggressive in their interactions with others. 

It can sometimes take a while to see a narcissist’s true character, and it can be jarring when they finally show themselves for what they are. Still, if you pay attention to small clues, you can avoid getting in too deep. 

What are the Benefits of Being an Empathic Person?

What are the Benefits of Being an Empathic Person

Being an empathic person comes with a range of unique benefits that allow individuals to connect with others on a profound level and make meaningful contributions to the world around them. While the term empath is often associated with a highly sensitive personality, those who possess these qualities have a lot to offer.

One of the most significant benefits of being an empathic person is the ability to make authentic connections with others. Empaths have a deep understanding of human emotions and can relate to others on a genuine level. Whether in personal or professional settings, the capacity to connect with others in a meaningful way can make all the difference in building strong and lasting relationships.

Empaths are also highly perceptive and intuitive, which allows them to pick up on subtext and nonverbal cues that others may miss. This ability to read between the lines can be an asset in many areas of life, from navigating social situations to making important decisions in the workplace.

Furthermore, empaths often possess a strong sense of compassion and a genuine desire to help others. This compassionate nature can be highly beneficial to those in need, providing a safe and nurturing space for emotional support and growth.

Empaths also have a heightened sense of awareness when it comes to the energy and emotions around them. This level of sensitivity can be harnessed to create a healing or therapeutic environment, whether in a personal or professional capacity.

Finally, empaths are often highly creative individuals, able to tap into their emotions and connect with the world around them in a unique and authentic way. This creativity can be utilized in many areas of life, from art and music to problem-solving and innovative thinking.

Can a Narcissist Be Empathetic?

Can a Narcissist Be Empathetic

Narcissists are often thought of as self-absorbed and lacking empathy for others. However, there are some different types of narcissists, and some exhibit both narcissistic and empathetic behaviors. People with this personality type are known as empathetic narcissists or empathic narcissists. They are also known as ‘dark empaths’ because of their bad behavior.

An empathic narcissist is someone who possesses cognitive empathy in combination with the self-centeredness of a narcissist. Cognitive empathy is the type of empathy that allows them to understand other people’s emotions without really experiencing them.  These individuals also have an intense need for validation and attention, often putting their own needs before those of others.

“Nobody can be kinder than the narcissist while you react to life on his terms.”

Elizabeth Bowen, Author

Despite their contradictory behaviors, empathic narcissists can seem appealing to those around them. Their apparent affectionate and caring nature can be alluring, drawing people in and making them feel special and seen.

True empathy, however, is demonstrated by concern for other people’s well-being, and the empathic narcissist lacks that. Their self-centeredness, manipulative tendencies, and other bad behavior can quickly sour a seemingly good relationship, leading to emotional abuse and manipulation and turning it into a toxic relationship. 

It can take a while to recognize that something has dramatically changed, and by that time, you could be in too deep. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the early clues you might see in their interactions with other people. It’s hard for them to keep their true agenda hidden for long.

It’s important to note that not all narcissists have empathetic tendencies. Many narcissists lack the emotional intelligence or desire to empathize with others, making them incapable of maintaining healthy relationships. These individuals often exhibit abusive behaviors, including physical abuse, and their inability to consider the feelings of others can cause immense emotional damage to those around them.

Can an Empath Be Manipulative?

Can an Empath Be Manipulative

Empaths are often seen as kind-hearted individuals who are able to tune into the emotions and needs of others with ease. They create a safe, emotional space for other people to work through their feelings, particularly those negative emotions that can impede their personal growth.

However, there is a common misconception that all empaths must be completely selfless and incapable of manipulative behavior. In reality, it is possible for empaths to be manipulative just like anyone else, as you can see in this video.

There is also a type of narcissistic person known as a narcissistic empath, someone who possesses both the sensitivity of an empath and the self-centeredness of a narcissist. These individuals may use their empathetic abilities to manipulate others and fulfill their own needs for that always valuable supply of attention that keeps their self-esteem afloat. They often enter into abusive relationships because they attract people with sensitivity long before revealing the type of person they really are.

Empathic narcissists may use their ability to tune into the emotions of people to gain their trust and manipulate them into doing what they want. People with this personality type may pretend to be someone they are not, using their empathetic abilities to convince others that they are caring and compassionate, all the while manipulating them for their own benefit. They may also use their empathetic tendencies as a way to guilt-trip others into doing what they want.

Empathic narcissists, like all narcissists, often create a cycle of abuse that results in a trauma bond with their victims. They can sometimes be so charming that the victim gets hooked on that persona and continuously tries, unsuccessfully, to bring them back. They think that if they can just make the person happy, they will once again become the charming individual they fell for in the beginning. 

What are the Drawbacks of Being an Empathetic Person?

hat are the Drawbacks of Being an Empathetic Person

Being an empathetic person is not the same as being an emotional sponge. While an empathetic person is able to relate to and understand the painful emotions of others, they are not meant to absorb those emotions. Empaths need to have healthy emotional boundaries in order to maintain their own emotional well-being and process those painful emotions.

Empathetic people have a number of positive traits that make them valuable members of society. For one, they are safe people who make great listeners. Empaths are known for their attentiveness and their ability to really hear what someone is saying. They are able to provide comfort and support to those who are going through difficult times.

Additionally, empathetic people are often able to diffuse tense or emotional situations. Their calm and compassionate demeanor can help to de-escalate conflict and create a more peaceful environment. They are also able to pick up on subtle cues and body language, which allows them to understand situations more fully.

Unfortunately, some people may take advantage of an empathetic person’s kindness and sensitivity. Narcissists, for example, may try to exploit an empath in order to gain emotional support and validation. It is important for empaths to be aware of this dynamic so that they can maintain healthy boundaries.

A person with a strong personality, like many grandiose narcissists, can overwhelm an empath with their intense emotions and bad behavior. If they also have a solid understanding of the best way to manipulate the empath, it can be a recipe for disaster. 

One of the key aspects of codependency is a strong desire to please others while disregarding your own needs. Empaths who don’t maintain well-defined boundaries can easily fall prey to this problem. They are perpetually in a pleasing mode as opposed to a self-care mode. 

Final Thoughts

There are times when it can be difficult to tell the difference between an empath and a narcissist, but their true intentions are revealed if you look at the motives behind their behavior. While narcissists can be charming and even empathetic, their true aim is to manipulate you. 

Empaths, on the other hand, genuinely care about other people and want to help them work through difficult emotions. Knowing the difference between the two can save you from a toxic relationship. 


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Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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