Empathy is the ability to comprehend the feelings of another; to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. For a Narcissist this ability is impaired. What this means is that entering into a relationship with someone who lacks empathy is setting yourself up for feelings of pain, hurt, grief, confusion, betrayal and shock.
“Being in a relationship with a Narcissist is like turning on a faucet and wondering why no water is coming out. You can pretend that there is water there for a while. They can lie and tell you there’s water there and try to make you feel like you’re crazy for not seeing it. You can even go through the motions of washing your face, but no matter how much you wish it, you’re never going to get wet.”
Unlike their psychopath cousins who have no empathy, the word, impaired, is used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to describe the Narcissist’s empathetic abilities. Getting an accurate measurement of someone’s ability to feel empathy is near impossible. It’s perhaps easiest to think of a Narcissist’s ability on a scale. You have altruistic, empathic and highly sensitive people on one side and you have people who have an impaired ability to feel empathy, and others who have none at all, who are capable of causing immense human suffering.
What that means is that depending on the severity of the impairment, they either cannot, or they have a very hard time considering other people’s needs and feelings. I refer to it as being emotionally color blind. They are missing colors on their emotional color palette, and this causes them to behave in ways that are baffling to those intimately involved with them.
A friend of mine applied to the Police force and only after he went through all of the testing, did he find out that he had difficulty identifying reds and greens. I cannot fathom what that must be like, because I am not color blind. In the same way that I cannot fathom his perception or lack of perception, he cannot comprehend the way I see colors because of his impairment. I believed that everyone saw colors the same way that I did and he similarly believed that everyone saw colors the same way he did. The bottom line is that empathy is an integral part of a relationship and you cannot have a healthy, respectful, reciprocal, mutually fulfilling relationship with someone who lacks empathy.
A Relationship without Empathy
A big part of the process for victims is to over analyze every bit of the relationship and try to make sense of their partners behavior. This is a futile endeavor because like the example above, you have empathy and you have no idea what it’s like to walk the earth without it, so how can you make sense of something that you cannot experience. You can’t, so let it be enough to know that there may be a very real impairment that makes them unquestionably poor relationship partners.
What does a relationship look like where a partner does not have empathy?
• Everything is about them
• Everything is on their terms
• Feelings are generally lacking in depth, superficial
• They do not do nostalgia, or remember the good old times the same way empathy feeling people do
• They are always the victim – unable to see from your point of view
• Partners are typically objectified and classified by what they can give and provide, rather than loved for their individuality and uniqueness
• They believe that their partner’s/other people’s purpose is to serve their needs
• Maintain the relationship through control and manipulation
• Show little to no appreciation
• They think nothing of ruining birthday’s, holidays and special events – especially when they will not be the center or attention
• They are emotionally unavailable and you will never really know them, get close to them or have a truly intimate relationship with them
• They have no problem crushing your self-esteem, starting a smear campaign against you or getting revenge, regardless of how much time you’ve been together, how much they claimed to have cared in the past, or whether or not others will be hurt in the crossfire
• Everything is a game of one-up-manship and you will always be called upon to prove how much you love them
• They will never give you the relationship they know you crave. Instead they will dangle it in front of you to see just how much they can make you dance for it. Whenever you think you’re close they will always throw another hurdle in your path.
• They keep you invested and stuck in the relationship because it suits their needs. The moment it doesn’t they can drop you like yesterday’s new, without guilt or remorse.
• They try to erode your self-esteem so that you believe you deserve their poor treatment and that no one else will want you
Self-doubt plays a big role in why people stay with an abuser. They may research and come across many descriptions and criteria, that they can truly identify with, but this doubt keeps them there, keeps them stuck. Most people recognize when they are being mistreated. The difference is usually dependent upon whether or not they posses the self-worth to act upon it.
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Jacqui, all of the above is true. And like you I’m still stunned by what I put up with. Mine twisted my mind to an extent he had me believing everything was my fault. Logically, I knew this couldn’t be true! But he knew the triggers and played upon them. Such a cruel thing to do and so far removed from what love should be about. However, it’s very hard to recover from after so many years of this kind of abuse and it didn’t start with your partner.
I like the fact that Savanah says not to try to understand them because you never will be able to!!! The problem is we as humans, always want to make sense of situations and there just isn’t any with them. Run away from them. I’ve got the divorce but with children there’s still too much connection. My next step is to actually leave the city…
I agree. Covert ones are very difficult to spot.
At the time, I thought the fault was all mine.
Five years without him in my life and I still slap my forehead in disbelief at what I put up with. He reduced my confidence, spoiled family and friend relationships and had me wringing my hands and pulling at my hair whilst I wailed.
I finished the relationship before he made me really ill.
Subsequently I write the successful book he said I needed a ghost-writer for. It was the best revenge!
I didn’t have a choice about staying with an abusive N because I was a child. I thought that this weird warped reality WAS reality. It has taken me into my fifties to finally see that I didn’t have a normal parent and why something seemed to be missing. I liked your analogy about being colorblind. I truly can’t put myself in my father’s shoes but when I try it seems awfully sad to me. He never could make any relationship work. All he had was manipulation to try and get people to stay. He bullied us all until all of us left. A very lonely man who deeply messed us all up but I am gradually coming to understand and forgive and — most of all — rewire my own thinking. Thank you, Savannah.
I was with a covert narcissist for 15 years. It’s true about the wolf in sheep’s clothing . When they finally reveal themselves it’s like the devil just came into your life. It’s so true that they have no empathy, N dump,you like a sack of potatoes and think nothing of it. I was dumped In the middle of a major illness. Never saw this coming. But I was of no use if I was ill for them. Example of the narc. I was so I’ll,had to go to,the emergency room. Said they’d take me but not stay …why…because it takes too long to sit there. Mind u I had never been sick in 15 years and was psychology very healthy prior. R relationship was very normal no fighting never saw it coming. Covert narcissist r crazy and true monsters that walk this earth. U will never know u r with a covert narcissist until they let u know. Extremely devious and cunning!
Like Andrea, I had fallen on a Saturday morning about 1:30. I knew I had broken my wrist. With a swollen wrist and in pain my narcissistic husband of 15 years refused to take me to medical care. I firakky got to the emergency room on Monday about 11:00 am. My wrist was shattered with multiple broken bones. That was the finale straw.
Now after 18 months and 4 surgeries, the removal of a bone my wrist is finally fixed. But my emotional health is not. I have separated my self, sought out professional help and am on the rough road to healing. At age 73 it isn’t easy. I still love him but can’t live with him, after all his lies, abusive emotional and verbal actions.
It took a long time to get where I am today but the scarring will never go away.
Narcissism is a true illness that destroys lives!