How Your Empathy Keeps You Stuck Or In A Relationship With A Psychopath/Narcissist

 I see patterns in survivors that prevent them from moving forward and where they often get stuck: When you project your empathy onto a parent, partner, child or friend, who doesn’t have it, the disordered one considers this a continued “win’ and will move further to exploit you. If you are dumped by a psychopath, it’s either because he’s found a new victim or you begin to see what he is. You’ve stopped empathizing with him and buying his constant, steady stream of BS. This is a GOOD SIGN!
Look at the dissolution of your relationship with a different perspective: All your fighting with him, all of your questioning of him, all of your suspicions, during the relationship that heightened as you were about to be dumped or escape, were the healthy parts of you reacting to a very unhealthy person.

The projection of your empathy upon a psychopath, is why you cannot move forward. It is the source of all of your pain with regards to the ‘good’ memories you have of him, that drag you down and keep you stuck. It’s the idea that you ‘thought’ you were the only one who really understood him, even if you knew he was ‘sick’.

When it is a disordered parent you’re empathizing with, this will have you ‘putting yourself in their shoes’ and cause you to remain in fear, acting in obligation, and putting up with abusive behavior out of your perceptions of what it is to ‘respect’ them. Your empathy projected onto a psychopathic/narcissistic parent is the reason you cannot let go. For example: If your parent becomes ill and is elderly, your first thought is to feel sorry for them. You know what it would be like to be in their shoes, so you act accordingly, fulfilling all the ‘requirements’ of an adult child who (without realizing it) is acting in childhood dependency. You care take.  Feeling sorry for someone who has abused you, is projecting your empathy onto them when they do not possess this ability. You cannot ‘hurt’ the feelings of a person who has no empathy and no conscience. They will try to manipulate you into believing you can, but you CANNOT.

When we are face to face with a disordered one that we see in the flesh, no matter what role they play in our lives, it’s even more difficult to imagine that this person cannot feel what you feel, cannot empathize with you, given your own high level of empathy. We cannot ‘see’ someone’s capacity for conscience or lack thereof. What we see is our projected empathy, our capacity to recognize them as ‘human’, and not the empty shell that they really are. This is another reason that no contact is so critical to recovery.
There was a time I confronted my ex psychopath and told him that I felt there was something very ‘mentally wrong’ with him. His response was to admit that he knew there was. This was brilliant on his part, as he was appealing to my empathy in feeling sorry for his mental illness. At the time, it still did not dawn on me that, without empathy, he didn’t care that he had a mental problem, and as with any disordered individual, it’s all about what is occurring ‘in the moment’ and the conversation, from his disordered perspective, when reintroduced by me, never happened!

One of the biggest hurdles to recovery is to work very hard at understanding the simple truth that these people are incapable of being the parent you want, the partner you want, the child you want. The friend you hoped to have. Instead we pull out our magnifying glass, focus on every single ‘good’ behavior we see out of them and, like helium for a balloon, we blow them and their ‘good’ behavior (manipulation) up in our minds to something that we can live with. When we do this, we create a distortion, a reality of them, a fantasy that doesn’t exist. We hurt for them, ‘sense’ them on a deeper level. Even if we know that ‘something’ is wrong, but not what, we will continue to project our empathy onto them in futile attempts for change.
Psychopaths know this. Whatever role they play in your life, they know you feel sorry for them. Your empathy is a weapon in the psychopaths hands.
To invest more of your empathy and energy in a disordered individual is a waste of your time, a waste of your talents, a waste of your gifts.

So how do you ‘temper’ your empathy in a way that creates emotional detachment? The only way this can be done, is to remove yourself from the psychopath/narcissist with NO CONTACT. It is not possible to continue in any relationship with someone who has no empathy, because their survival, re: power, dominance, control, abusing and manipulating depends upon you or others who have high levels of empathy to exploit. They are addicted to our empathy, much like we are addicted to their disorder and trying to ‘understand’ them. The psychopath is on automatic pilot at all times. This means that no matter what you do, if you are in their presence, their addiction is to abuse and cause pain. Survivors misread this addictive quality for harm in a psychopath each time the psychopath manipulates to draw the survivor back into the relationship. Her empathy sees only the ‘good’ of him when he is in the manipulation phase. You cannot be in the presence of disorder without it affecting you. Even for very brief periods of time.

Like an alcoholic must stay away from alcohol, away familiar places that allow access to it, away from drinking buddies of the past in an effort for recovery, so must a survivor stay away from a psychopath/narcissist, in staying ‘sober’ from exploitation, abuse and pain. Your empathy for a psychopath, is like alcohol for an alcoholic. Like a drug for a drug addict. YOUR drug is the psychopath/narcissist and the hope for change when it isn’t possible. Your drug is the ‘good times’ you’re perceiving as real, when it was not.

If you are an adult child of a psychopathic parent, your levels of empathy may be particularly high. Your high level of empathy may be the direct result of having to survive your pathological upbringing in ‘care taking’ your parent. You may have been a child who did everything and anything to appease your parent, to avoid abuse. As children we didn’t have awareness about our higher levels of sensitivity and empathy, but it is a guarantee that no matter how hard you tried to avoid your abuse, it didn’t matter. Your pathological parent targeted you because you were sensitive. There is no way as a child to know that your pathological parent would use your empathy and sensitivity to cast you into the role of scapegoat in which you took on all the psychopath’s projections, as well as perhaps blame for the family dynamics. As an adult, we take our high levels of empathy and sensitivity directly to what is familiar: another pathological. The habitual desire for love and validation that we did not receive from the parent, is now a reality in our adult relationships with those who have no empathy and no conscience. We can often find ourselves in a double bind in adulthood in not only are we still projecting empathy onto our parent and still trying to win their validation and love, but we are also doing this with another psychopath or narcissist in our intimate relationships and sometimes, even our friendships too.

This is why, when we begin the healing process, it can feel and be, so excrutiatingly painful to extricate ourselves from so many toxic individuals who are without conscience. We often find that we have more than one we are dealing with. We can also discover that we have absolutely no boundaries, or few. Our high levels of empathy and sensitivity, utilized as coping skills in childhood, do not work in adulthood without appropriate boundaries. We often believe that empathy = love = reciprocation. Without boundaries, our empathy looks like empathy = love = projection = abuse.

Psychopathic and narcissistic people have no boundaries either. They are boundary violators in chief!

Love is not pain. It is not a lack of respect shown in constant pursuit of someone who violates your boundaries. Empathy is not given to those who do not have the capacity to receive it, nor to reciprocate it. When you have healthy boundaries with regards to your empathy and high sensitivity, a healthy relationship will not look one-sided. It will not look like dependency. Your empathy will not feel like a waste of time. It will not make you look and feel, more resentful and like a martyr, than a human being who is being loved, appreciated and respected.

When you are ‘fighting’ in your relationship with a disordered individual, this is the healthy part of you fighting with a very abnormal, very unhealthy and toxic person. Your high levels of empathy and sensitivity will eventually change in the relationship to resentment and as this builds, the healthier parts of you will begin to respond and react to the disorder. The psychopath will make sure you feel bad about the fact that you’re attempting to stand up for yourself. This is your empathy evolving into what it should have been in the first place, LOVE FOR YOURSELF.

While our empathy can keep us trapped in the relationship and in rumination afterward, if we can look at the relationship realistically in that as you began to see the slip of the psychopath’s mask, and reacted to it, your empathy began to shift from him to yourself. As you move through this process, and your memories of him become more bad than good, this is an indication that you are seeing him in an accurate light, that you’re becoming healthier and that your empathy can no longer be targeted by him.

Your empathy and sensitivity are precious gifts. We do not give our gifts away to people who cannot appreciate what is given. So many people could benefit by you’re loving and giving nature. As you create boundaries for yourself in the healing process, at first this will feel ‘mean’, more than self protective, but if you adhere to them, eventually it will become a natural and healthy part of your recovery.
Your escape from the relationship, and subsequent survival, is the healthy you that got away from a very sick, abnormal individual. Consider yourself blessed!

If you were as “sick”, “crazy” and “mental” as he said, you’d still be there.

Celebrate your freedom!


Follow me on Twitter: Kelli Hernandez@theabiltytoluv
And on facebook: The Ability To Love Page.
Note: There are female psychopaths who destroy the lives of men. These articles are applicable to male survivors of psychopaths.



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3 Responses to How Your Empathy Keeps You Stuck Or In A Relationship With A Psychopath/Narcissist

  1. Great article and you put the spath adication to empathy and our addiction to the understanding of the spath in a very clear and concrete way.

    thank you


  2. Chris Barnard says:

    I just went through one of these situations recently I am glad I found this site and the description, now I know

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