This could be one of those posts that stirs up some controversy. Right off the bat I am going to put a disclaimer; this is just my opinion, who knows I might change my mind on it down the road; so if anyone has a different theory, please……. tell us what you think.
I received this comment from Safirefalcon on my post about sharing your pain. I could feel a very long reply coming because it is something I have thought a lot about, so decided to make it a post. Here is the comment and my reply below that.
Re: the quote by Brene Brown though (and I love Brene Brown btw) I don’t think empathy is necessary a choice. I see it as a type of emotion and those aren’t always choices, especially when speaking of empathy in the context of narcissism. That’s not to say that everyone who’s eyes glaze over when telling of an experience is a narc.
But pertaining to narcs, their lack of empathy isn’t really a choice is it? Serious question.
They do however have a choice how to be and ‘act’ when told about something that could invoke an empathic response from someone who isn’t a narcissist. They could pretend to care or they could do what would be easier and make it clear that they don’t.
I know this post doesn’t necessarily have to do with narcissism or NPD but when I read your blog it’s where my mind goes. Lol.
Safirefalcon, I seem to view everything in terms of narcissism now LOL so I know what you mean. lol
As far as choosing to be empathetic, I think some people are more empathetic than others and it can be a curse; I wish I wasn’t as empathetic sometimes because it can be very taxing and I get sick of being told I am too sensitive. I don’t know how to be any other way, it is fine for someone to say not to take things so seriously, it is a lot easier said than done.
I think where the choice comes in is how we deal with that empathy. The empathetic person has to realize that it is not their issue, they can empathize with another person but not take it on and own it themselves. I think also that some times we are projecting what we would be feeling under the same circumstances but the other person may not be having the same reaction. We assume everyone feels the same as we do but many people are not affected as strongly as we would be and don’t even understand why we are so upset for them. We may not be able to help feeling empathy but it is our choice to act on that empathy. I think empathetic people tend to want to fix things for people and sometimes our help is unwanted and often times not in our best interest. With the narcissist, he is using our empathy to get what he wants, so it is never in our best interest.
To ensure we are not taken advantage of is not lacking empathy, I have a hard time drawing that line myself. I find myself thinking I am better able to cope than the other person, ie: I will give my last $5 because I know I will find a way to get by; so in essence I am saying the other person is incapable. In the case with our children, we want to save them from hurt so badly that we rescue them and they never learn to stand on their own two feet. It is where empaths run into trouble with narcissists, they act helpless and put it on us to fix the messes they invariably get themselves into. Or we assume they are feelings the same we would feel and we assign them emotions they are not having.
I have been working on not assigning people emotions that I would be feeling and trying to just take a person at face value. If they act like they don’t care, believe they don’t care and not assume they are embarrassed to admit their feelings, or they are a male and afraid to show emotion, or his guilt is making him act the way he is. I know the wospos’s mother and I assigned him emotions he wasn’t feeling and he just road with it. Like his mom thinking he was so sensitive because he removes himself from emotional situations, ie: missed his grandma’s funeral because he was too upset to be there. NO he didn’t give a shit and he was going to get laid by some chick at a party and didn’t want to leave.
As for the narcissist feeling empathy and whether he has a choice. I have read a lot on this one and I think the verdict is still out. We all know that the narcissist appeared very empathetic when we first started dating them and when they would try to pull us back into the web. From my experience, the wospos could seem very empathetic and do really thoughtful things for me, things that a lot of other men would never think of; the absolutely most considerate thing that only I would appreciate. On the other hand there were times I knew he was trying to appear empathetic and totally missed the mark, so what is it? Does the N play a guessing game as to what the right response to a situation is or does he say the cruel things he says knowing it will hurt the other person. Did the wospos not go to his grandmother’s death-bed because he just didn’t care and felt nothing or did he not go because he knew he would be expected to show emotions and it was too much work, or did he not go because by not showing up he had everyone thinking about him, even his grandma who was the one dying was wondering way the wospos was. I guess in the end it really doesn’t matter why they don’t show empathy, all we need to do is accept that they won’t and stop trying to teach them how to be considerate people.
But, in order for the narcissist to manipulate others like they do, does it not require empathy? If he was incapable of understanding other people’s emotions then how would he know exactly what to do to cut someone to the core?
I think the problem is the definition of the word, to me Empathy is an emotion, not an action.
Empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling. Is it something a person can learn, or is it a natural instinct that we are born with?
Babies show empathy, if they see a child crying they will cry, I have seen YouTube videos of babies that cry when they hear a sad song or watch a sad cartoon.
I think we all agree that some people are just born empathetic and others not so much, the not so much people are not narcissists by nature but can be easily mislead by a narcissist and coerced into doing the narcissists dirty work. These people are usually the ones who are weak and lacking in self-confidence, they get off on the attention they get when they spread rumors, they see the narcissist as powerful and it is an ego boost for them to be the narcissists “best buddy” or they will spy for the N to get in his good graces where an empathic person would have stronger morals than that. The one fellow that did a lot of the wospos’s dirty work was Jim and he knew what JC was, he bitched about him all. the time, he was forever being ripped off by the wospos and knew he was a lying cheat, yet he would get sucked in by JC all the time and relished sharing any new gossip he had on JC and couldn’t wait to inflict pain on me by sharing new info he had even after I told him I didn’t want to hear it, it was as if it was out of his control, he would explode if he couldn’t tell me JC was happy with the new woman. I don’t understand that even more than I don’t understand the narcissist.
What about the narcissist, if a person can’t feel how can he have empathy? Isn’t empathy being able to put yourself in a person’s situation? feel their pain? I know I have cried many a tear reading women’s stories in here but that is because I have been there and can relate to what she is saying. Prior to meeting the wospos I would not have had the same level of empathy because I was one of those people who thought, “Why don’t they just leave?” “I would never let a man abuse me”, “He would never get a chance to hit me twice.” There are certain things a person doesn’t have to experience in order to empathize, a parent can imagine what it must be like to lose a child.
If a person has experienced the control and cruelty of a narcissist we can empathize but if they haven’t, they can’t understand why we didn’t leave, even some of the stories sound bizarre to our own ears, imagine how unreal they must sound to a person who has never experienced the crazy world of a narcissist. No one can understand what it is like to live in a world where there is no reality and you can count on nothing, not even what you see with your own eyes.
I have read that narcissists actually have a very high level of empathy, I have heard it called “cold empathy”, they know what a person is feeling, that is why they can zero in on a person who is vulnerable so well; they just choose to use their ability to feel empathy to their advantage. That is where the lack of conscience comes in, they don’t feel guilty so there is nothing to stop them from using their empathy to better themselves, if it does not benefit them they can shut it off and feel nothing. To feel emotions is a waste of time to the narcissist, it is a weakness they leave to commoner, it is beneath them and would leave them vulnerable to be taken advantage of like they take advantage of people’s emotions.
In many ways the narcissist IS like the rest of us, he also assigns emotions to people that they don’t have, only in his case he is assuming all people feel as he does and are just waiting for him to show weakness so they can take advantage of him. JC even said to me one time that he didn’t like to share anything from his past because I would use it against him later, I couldn’t understand why he would think that, I didn’t even know what he meant by that. But I do now.
Or after we split and he came to me saying he always loved me and didn’t I know that? He said, “You knew I had lost my job, that the place was infested with mice, I had to move.” as if that should have explained why he had to find another woman to feed off. And was he meaning to be cruel when he said that M didn’t want him talking to me and I should be able to understand, how would I feel if I was in the same position? knowing full well I had been in the exact same situation and it HAD hurt like hell but he hadn’t stopped talking to other women. Was it a totally innocent remark because he couldn’t relate or was it a purposeful comment meant to hurt me?
People in my life have hurt me badly, people I love and expected to be there for me no matter what, and had been up until I met the wospos, turned their backs on me when I needed them most. It was not because they didn’t care or love me, they just could not empathize and so had no idea what I needed and did what they thought was the right thing to do. It doesn’t make them a bad person, it just makes them unable to relate to my situation and mindset because they have never been there. That is why sharing our stories are so important, not just to warn others about the getting involved with a narcissist but also to give them insight into what to do if someone they care about is involved with a narcissist.
I think there are many reasons why a person’s eyes glaze over when a victim starts to share their story;
They simply do not understand and see the victim as responsible for their own abuse
It is too scary for them and if they don’t hear it they don’t have to admit it could happen to them
People in general want happy stories, they don’t know what to say or do to help the victim and they don’t want to say the wrong thing so they avoid the situation all together. Like when you are walking down the sidewalk and see a friend coming towards you who is going through a bad time and you want to cross the street and pretend you didn’t see them. It is not that you don’t care, it is that you don’t know what to say or how to comfort them so you avoid the situation totally. Is that lack of empathy or lack of experience?
Then, there are people who are afraid they have turned into a narcissist. Is it possible for a person who once felt empathy to turn into a narcissist? I think it is possible for a sensitive person to be so badly hurt that they shut off their emotions so they are not vulnerable, yes. I believe that children who are severely abused can become narcissist and self-centred and I believe that society as a whole is becoming more narcissistic BUT that does not make them a narcissist. What makes a narcissist who he is, is the lack of guilt more than the lack of empathy. I think. The lack of a conscience does not automatically mean a person does not have empathy, it means they will use their empathy to take advantage of people.
I don’t think I have answered the questions, I just reread this post and I went around in circles.
If a narcissist does have empathy, he uses his powers for evil and not good; we are polar opposites, I just hope we don’t cancel each other out. I hope the empaths of the world don’t become cynical and instead join forces to support each other and teach the rest of society how to use their empathy for good.