The Biggest Myth about Narcissists that Most People Don’t Understand.

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While narcissists share many similar traits with each other, as defined in the DSM-IV and DSM-5 (considered the authoritative source of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the U.S. and elsewhere), they do not all share the exact same background and personality.

Therefore, they will express themselves differently depending on whom they are with and the general situation they are in. Not only that, it is my belief that there is a lack of understanding as to the exact meaning of empathy, which is one of the traits listed in the NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) criteria, and how it relates to narcissists.

One of the main reasons for this is that many people think that empathy and empathising is the ability to feel compassion for others and, in turn, to express a compassionate response. But it isn’t—there is far more to it. Compassion is different than empathy.

It has long been believed, both by professionals and the general public, that narcissists are incapable of recognizing and understanding other people’s feelings and needs, i.e., empathizing.

However, I would like to suggest an alternative way of observing the behavior of those with NPD, and how to understand the detrimental effects that this misunderstanding can have on those who narcissists interact with.

I believe that narcissists are entirely capable of empathising and recent studies have also arrived at a similar conclusion.

Empathy is a translation of the German word einfühlung, which means “feeling into,” and it has two components to it.

The first part to empathy is the capacity to sense and intuitively understand another person’s subtle or more obvious emotional, psychological, or physical sensations and symptoms of distress or pleasure.

This aspect of empathy is the art of seeing the world through the eyes of someone else by recreating in our own minds the other person’s set of circumstances. It encompasses an understanding of another person’s motivations, attitudes, beliefs, values, feelings, and emotions.

Therefore, when we empathize, we can view other people’s conditions and situations similarly to how they might be feeling or perceiving them, rather than viewing them purely from our own perspective.

We feel empathy so that we gain an idea of how it might feel to exist as someone else.

I believe that most narcissists are highly capable of using their senses to discover how another person is feeling, therefore, they have the capacity for the first part of empathy. The main reason I think that narcissists do this is so that they can then gain access to information that will benefit themselves in some way. Whereas those who aren’t narcissistic would empathise in order to benefit the person they are empathizing with, rather than themselves.

The second part to empathy is once we have identified and perceived how someone is feeling, we can instinctively respond to a person’s state by communicating in a compassionate, non-biased, mindful, and heartfelt manner.

This second part is where narcissists either intentionally or unintentionally fool other people. The majority of the time, narcissists will sense what someone is feeling and then express themselves in ways that make it appear as though they are offering genuine, heartfelt empathy.

In fact, this is usually what causes people (empaths in particular) to be drawn to narcissists in the first place—empaths often believe upon first meeting someone like this that they have met someone similar to themselves due to the narcissist appearing to be extremely attentive and empathetic.

Narcissists can come across as the most caring, thoughtful, considerate human beings, depending on whom they are either trying to impress or manipulate. When narcissists have something to gain, whether egotistically, financially, or materialistically, they can convince almost everyone around them that they have genuine concern and care for other people’s emotional, mental, or physical well-being.

The reason narcissists are so highly skilled at expressing faux-care is because they have so acutely observed the people they are interacting with, and thus, empathetically tuned in and understood how they are feeling.

Now, this does not mean that narcissists will then put other people first in these circumstances or that they themselves will subsequently feel emotional or mental suffering if the person they are empathizing with is suffering—this is why it is imperative to have a sound understanding of a narcissist’s empathetic capacity.

As stated earlier, those who are not narcissistic usually empathise to put the person suffering first—narcissists usually empathize purely to put themselves first.

Narcissists can accurately read the emotional, mental, or physical states of other people without actually becoming emotionally, mentally, or physically affected. To put it simply, they understand other people, but they do not necessarily feel with them.

Many narcissists become aware of their ability to empathise due to some form of emotional, psychological, or even physical injury or trauma.

It is believed that many narcissists became narcissistic due to some type of abuse, neglect, rejection, or abandonment. When a narcissist was in the presence of someone causing them harm, they often learned to either, consciously or unconsciously, tune in to the other person’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior so that they could gain insight into their mindset and then emotionally and mentally prepare themselves for potential trauma.

When someone is highly sensitive to energy, which the majority of narcissists are, and they are also immensely observant of other peoples’ energy, tone of voice, and body language, they then have the ability to empathise with those who are abusive to them.

Often people who have suffered from abuse learned to become highly empathetic so that they can easily resonate with the person abusing them. This allows them to be able to read their abuser well enough to grasp an understanding of how and why they operate so they can safeguard themselves by being somewhat emotionally, mentally, or physically prepared for the abuse.

When someone is being abused, often their senses become alerted and they observe and pay great attention to detail so that they learn to recognize ingrained patterns of behavior, thus allowing them to become more aware of what might trigger abuse. This offers the person being abused precious moments to rationally consider the available options they might have in order to protect themselves.

Generally speaking, being empathetic does not mean that compassion and consideration are always shown. In some circumstances, it is possible to tap into other people’s energy to potentially keep ourselves safe from harm without then being genuinely outwardly compassionate. Empathizing can become a form of self-preservation, and ultimately, in more serious cases, a vital method of survival.

We can feel into something and sense energy without it resulting in us then feeling any emotional reaction and without feeling the need to respond by expressing what we have sensed.

When someone is highly sensitive to energy, attentive, and aware, they can sense what is going on around them without feeling emotional. They are then in a position to keep their mind clear without their emotions interrupting and triggering their behavior.

Therefore they have the opportunity to respond in ways that are well thought out, rational, reasonable, and beneficial to the situation, rather than reacting in ways that are a byproduct of chemical and hormonal disruptions in our physiology. However, they may also behave in ways that are all of these things, but that result in a benefit that solely serves themselves—and this is generally how narcissists function.

Many people empathize and become emotionally affected, therefore, they do not always think clearly as the chemicals that the emotions are evoking can cloud the mind. As narcissists empathize and do not become emotionally affected, it offers them a way of remaining aware of what is going on around them, enabling them to easily control and manipulate others.

When we understand other people’s emotions, feelings, and intentions, it gives us an in-depth insight into their emotional, psychological, or physical state. This benefits narcissists, as they are then able to work out how someone is feeling so that they can structure the quickest and easiest plan of control and/or manipulation.

Narcissists finely develop the skill of empathy by scanning the stimuli radiating from other people until they detect what they perceive as a weak and easy to penetrate link—and when they pick up on it, they will focus in on it with masterful skill and strength.

Never underestimate a narcissist’s abilities in honing their empathetic skills, especially if they stand to gain in ways that feed their ego. They will go to great lengths to tune and master those skills, as it then enables them to play an ego-feeding game in which there will only ever be one winner. If anyone else stands to win, the game is over—often much to the relief of those who narcissists choose to play with.




Author: Alex Myles
Image: Pexels
Editor: Travis May
Supervising Editor 1: Nicole Cameron
Supervising Editor 2: Yoli Ramazzina



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Alex Myles

Alex Myles is a qualified yoga and Tibetan meditation teacher, Reiki Master, spiritual coach and also the author of An Empath, a newly published book that explains various aspects of existing as a highly sensitive person. The book focuses on managing emotions, energy and relationships, particularly the toxic ones that many empaths are drawn into. Her greatest loves are books, poetry, writing and philosophy. She is a curious, inquisitive, deep thinking, intensely feeling, otherworldly intuitive being who lives for signs, synchronicities and serendipities. Inspired and influenced by Carl Jung, Nikola Tesla, Anaïs Nin and Paulo Coelho, she has a deep yearning to discover many of the answers that seem to have been hidden or forgotten in today’s world. Alex’s bestselling book, An Empath, is on sale now for only $1.99! Connect with her on Facebook and join Alex’s Facebook group for empaths and highly sensitive people.

Cristy Holden Aug 29, 2018 5:55pm

A powerful distinction, Alex. Thank you. As Scott Peck said, Narcisism is the modern form of Evil. It is the misuse of intelligence and empathy, for control over others. Not the absence of empathy, but the mis-use.

Jahan Nab Aug 22, 2017 3:33pm

the empathice .. is ability to feel others ppl pain ,,, ok what if brining that other person's paine within and live that pain as it is yours . living a pain that is not yours .... by drowing that linethere dose that make me a narcissist ????? if not how far can i go before others pain to become my pain ?????

Mawr Gorshin Aug 11, 2017 8:39pm

The difference between cognitive empathy, which narcs have, and affective empathy, with truly compassionate people have. :) I discuss that here:

Jared Clark Jul 25, 2017 1:29pm

The biggest question ? Why point the problem out in such masterly detail yet over no solution ?

Lee Marshall Jun 18, 2017 9:10pm

I suggest you are describing a narcissist who is sociopathic and /or machiavellian.

Eric Erslev Jun 18, 2017 5:55pm

Thanks for your insights on narcissism, Alex. The hypothesis that there are 2 elements to empathy - understanding a person and "feeling with" a person - makes perfect sense to me. I do think that overt narcissists actually lack ability on both counts. My father's overt vicitimization of my sisters lacked crucial elements of both. Covert (AKA stealth) narcissists do understand people pretty well - they typically rank quite highly in HSP (highly-sensitive people) tests - but when the s__t hits the fan, they are all about their own needs. Thus, your observation that they lack the ability or motivation to "feel with" others makes sense.

Nicole Tietje Jun 18, 2017 2:39pm

���I feel like everything you write is exactly what I wish I could articulate and have it actually land on my husband!! Thank you so so much for your amazing insight and the ability for 30 seconds not feel like I'm losing my empathic mind!! You are a Goddess!

Mark Anaidun Jun 17, 2017 2:05am

Just wanted you to know that this really helped me to answer some of the harder questions that I have struggled to resolve completely. It's not an easy concept but I needed it and you explained it well enough for me to grasp it. Thank you! Made a difference for me in my healing journey. <3

Dr. Lisa Vallejos Jun 16, 2017 10:59pm

Very good point! Narcissists have difficulty actually feeling empathy but are GREAT at picking up from others what it should look like and mirroring it back.

Sema Sariyildiz Jun 16, 2017 1:22pm

Too much wrong information!

Missy Glenn Jun 15, 2017 8:56pm

This is spot on for someone in my life that continues to use my Empath gift as a weapon against me. Thanks for sharing this insightful look into a different kind of narcassist; it makes so much sense and helps along the healing process. ��

Danni Wiggill Jun 14, 2017 8:13pm

Many thanks for the reply. I went and read some of your other articles and have a much bigger picture on your general view. Thank you for the wisdom - I now understand where you are coming from as a whole. May you be blessed and bless others.

Alex Myles Jun 14, 2017 6:20pm

This is amazing to hear, thank you Kindra for explaining this. Truly grateful for you and all the support you offer with my writing and thoughts, and I'm honoured to hear that what I've shared has helped you overcome things in your life. So thankful to you for letting me know this! Sending blessings and love back to you! <3

Alex Myles Jun 14, 2017 6:16pm

Hi Danni, Thank you for reading and responding to what I shared. Appreciate your thoughts here. I most definitely don't think that what is described here determines outright whether someone is a narcissist. There are many types of personality disorders and personal characters and there are going to be others who express themselves this way for different reasons. Narcissists however, in my opinion, express themselves in the way I've described for personal benefit - soley to feed the ego. I've described narcissism and abuse in various other articles. In one article it's difficult to give a full description of everything when we only have limited space. As you are aware if you've researched narcissism etc.. one trait alone cannot make up the entire DSM's, this is just one part of it.

Alex Myles Jun 14, 2017 6:13pm

Thank you so much for reading this and for taking the time to share part of your experience. Really appreciate you sharing it onwards, and I agree, that learning from what we have been through and passing that learning onwards is an amazing way to turn something that was temporarily negative into a permanent positive! <3 Sending much love your way - and amazing to hear you're also a Reiki Master and Life Coach! <3

Kindra Robles Jun 14, 2017 1:52pm

I didn't know that the Narcissist has the ability to have empathetic skills. You helped make sense of so much that happened in the past. Also how by being around a Narcissist how we learn to emphasize deeper due to possible trauma. Your insights have helped me overcome the old memories in my mind. Reading this feels like a big chunk of my brain just got light up and can take in New memories. Thank you for this.You make it simple to understand when you break it down like this. Blessings to you Alex! Keep em coming.

Danni Wiggill Jun 14, 2017 11:34am

While I agree with a considerable amount of your article (and found it very informative) I have a slight addition to make. I am a survivor of abuse (physical and sexual with added mental) from caregivers, partners and employers. As a result of this, I have developed the above behavior in entirity. I tend to attract many broken souls and then proceed to place their happiness above all else in my life - until I reach breaking point (at which time I either crush them to destruction, or shut off all feeling). I have also been typed as an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs spectrum which, if you look into details of this personality type, you will note they tend to possess the same ability to empathise on one side, but destroy those that harm them (or their loved ones) on the other). I am quite aware of the body language, word choice, anger points, positive traits and weak points of those I interact with. As a result, I can now defend myself in a ruthless manner as an adult. I also deal with all arguments in a detached, logical manner because of my high T function and my desire not to be vulnerable in an argument. Where my addition comes, is that you need to possibly be a little clearer on what you portray as an abused person, a personality type and a narsasist (three different elements). Perhaps I am a blind narsasist myself and thus this is the reason I am offended (I so not discount this possibility), but I think that if you look into the psychology of abuse you may find most abused children/adults will act in the above manner in an survival effort. Most of this you have touched on in your article very well, but it's unfortunately still not quite clear to me - are you saying that if you possess the above behavior traits and development in full, you are in fact a narssasist? Why this bothers me to such a way is not that it changes my opinion of myself. It is that it portrays to those who are not aware of the full psychological implications and identifiers of NPS, a stand point to wrongly assess people they personally believe are narsasists and hurt them in the process. For example, I guarantee that if someone who I have stood up tp we're to read this, they would instantly declare myself (and others like me) a narssasist, despite my lack of desire to hurt others or place myself above other in any way. So much so that it can be seen as acting in a self destructI've manner now. Nonetheless, this is your article and your right to say what you wish. I appreciate your stand point and you have given me a lot to think about, thank you. Bless

Melissa Bachand Peshka Jun 14, 2017 11:27am

Beautifully written!! I was with a narcissist for many years. My kids and myself suffered the abuse, then we got strong and smarter!! Still even apart he tries to manipulate us. To no avail he looses! I loved your article and am goin to share it, if you don't mind. I too am a Reiki Master/teacher and Life Mastery Coach! Striving to help others goin thru this abuse! Blessings of peace & love!!���