I am a recovering empath.
There is no 12-step system that I follow, only my desire to take full responsibility for my adult life, after spending much time defining myself by the sad stories I can tell.
We all have similar “romance-gone-wrong” tales involving empaths and narcissists. I know the stories by heart. He was the big, bad wolf to my sweet, little-red-riding-hood self. After all, I was innocently skipping through a forest, warm treats in a basket, on my way to visit grandma, when he—tall, dark, and handsome with a charismatic smile—leapt into my path.
Bloody hell. I’m not sure who exactly is the narcissist anymore.
Is it the obvious victimizer, who plays on the emotions of the unguarded empath? Or the victim, who ignores all the warning signs along the way, just to fall prey half way down the road? And once fully down the dead-end road, stays to try and “fix” or “heal” the red-eyed, sharp-toothed wolf?
They may just be different sides of the same coin.
This is the dangerous, fine line we walk, taking utmost care of our precious, empathetic selves or allowing ourselves to be swayed by others, then blaming them for our choices.
I say this, acknowledging myself as part of the tribe of empaths who exhibit normal narcissistic traits. There is a difference between exhibiting traits and having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. For one, people with NPD are capable of little real humanity and little to no empathy. Every action is a play to keep up their self-image. They are looking for what they can get out of every relationship, not what they can give to it.
Those with NPD don’t take responsibility for their poor decisions. Before I became a recovering empath, I used to share the dismal details of a long-term abusive relationship I was stuck in, to any friend who would listen.
Yes, he did things like drinking all day, throwing the empty bottles at the walls inside of our house, and leaving the floor covered in shards of glass for me to come home to. But I stayed. We weren’t married. No kiddos to use as an excuse. I stayed. My poor choice. But you wouldn’t have guessed it was my choice by the way I focused on the story of my victimhood.
I believe it is at home where empaths and narcissists alike fine tune their relationship skills. I have an NPD parent who taught me how much I am loved and needed—until I am not.
Having someone in your life who changes history to fit their better self-image, and tries to upset you by bringing up topics they know will hurt, can make an empath feel like there is no ground under their feet. I lived that way for most of my life— ungrounded.
As an empath in recovery, I choose to no longer give the power of gravity to my NPD parent. I choose to be aware of NPD people and steer clear as much as possible. I no longer play those records on repeat.
It’s hard at times to take the needle off the record. But my mental health and happiness are worth it. I don’t want to be just another empath with a sob story, so these days, I mostly take my own council. I stop myself when I hear my own lamenting about a narcissist I encountered during the day. Sometimes I fail, so I try again. I’m okay with failing now.
I learned to be honest with myself about how my lofty, empathetic nature was sometimes an excuse to not be fully accountable for my own wellbeing. Like when I stayed too long in a highly sensitive job, didn’t fill up my reserves, and felt emotionally beaten to a pulp.
It took me months to recover, once I finally quit. Was it my employer’s fault he was practically living off my energy? I don’t think so. Us empaths are told we have great energy. He took exactly the energy that I was giving, which was all I had.
We empaths are hardwired for feeling others’ energy and moods, but we don’t have to take on those energies and often, no one is really asking us to. I try turning “you”-statements into “I”-statements to help me become better at taking responsibility for my life.
For example, I can say someone totally drained me. Or, I can find a solution like excusing myself and leaving when I feel that my boundaries aren’t clear and my shield is not up. I don’t believe others drain us, rather that we allow our reserves to be depleted.
I remind myself that many people get energy from others. It is natural to do so for some, and natural to get energy from being alone for others. Two-sided coin again.
I also remind myself that most people are not looking for anyone to fix them, they just wanted an ear—something I as an over-functioning empath was tone deaf to at the time.
Finally, it is my duty to myself and others to be discerning. I remember a time when I thought my sensitivities meant I could walk into any situation and safely feel it out, only to be swallowed whole by the stronger energies surrounding me. That is when I learned that having empathy and extra sensory qualities do not mean that I can allow just anyone into my energy field. If I sense murky energies, I now trust myself and leave.
As empaths, we almost seem drawn to situations or relationships in which we gladly lay down our energetic shields. But it is exactly then that we need to support ourselves the most through discernment, honesty, and self-care.
We never know who we are going to meet on the road to grandmother’s house, but we mustn’t walk into the wolf’s lair, then blame the wolf for being a wolf.
Best to keep on our own path, basket filled with all the energetic tools we need to take care of our exquisite selves.
Author: Lori Stitt
Editor: Sara Kärpänen