Why are narcissists and codependents attracted to one another? Here’s the TRUTH from Ross Rosenberg

Why are narcissists and codependents attracted to one another? Here’s the TRUTH from Ross Rosenberg

This is part two of my interview with Ross Rosenberg. Today we’re talking about how attachment theory and Human Magnet Syndrome go hand in hand, as well as how Rosenberg has redefined codependency and developed a process to help codependents, or SLDs, to heal and resolve their codependency (or self-love deficiency disorder), so they can go on and live the lives they want. See part one here.

See part 2 of the Ross Rosenberg interview on YouTube.

Why are narcissists and codependents attracted to one another?

There IS a toxic and magnetic attraction between narcissists and codependents – but WHY? Ross Rosenberg, the author of The Human Magnet Syndrome, explains the truth about why narcissists and codependents are so attracted to each other and why, if you don’t take the time to heal before getting into another relationship, you’ll end up with another narcissist.

Plus, we’ll talk about the chemical attraction between SLDs and narcissists and why we are so likely to want to stick around, as well as why the words codependent and empath are not synonymous.

How does attachment theory relate to the Human Magnet Syndrome?

Rosenberg said he has an intense fascination with attachment theory and that he uses it to explain why children grow up to become adult codependents, or SLDs, or pathological narcissists.

“I rely on attachment theory in order to explain the process,” he said. “(To put it) simply, attachment theory explains that our psychological health or ill health is caused by the manner in which we were loved, respected, and cared for during our critical ages of development, between birth and up to eight years old.”

“And if we endure psychological harm. abuse, neglect, mental manipulation – or we are deprived or neglected or abandoned, we don’t get to attach to a nurturing parent figure,” Rosenberg continued. “Without that attachment, we don’t develop the potential to be healthy high functioning adults. So if you were raised by a narcissist and loved conditionally and had to mold yourself into the type of trophy the narcissist needed in order to get anything, you will not have experienced positive and nurturing attachment.”

That, he said, will impact your psychological health, while your adulthood experiences would also have an impact on your adult relationship choices.

“So attachment theory explains through my Human Magnet Syndrome book why SLDs or codependents always choose narcissists – because they only experience that type of love,” Rosenberg said, adding that SLDs or codependents tend to respond to and are attracted to people that fit what he calls the relationship template that they experience in their childhood.

“That’s how chemistry is,” he said. “If a child who was brought up by the pathological narcissist and who did not attach in a way that would be healthy is going to find the narcissist as familiar and paradoxically safe because they know and have experienced their whole life living with that person and they know what to do.”

Why did Ross Rosenberg create the term human magnet syndrome?

The book cover on Rosenberg’s The Human Magnet Syndrome is symbolic, he told me, as it features hearts coming together and trapped within barbed wire.

“I came up with the term to explain why codependents or SLDs predictably reflexively fall in love with narcissists,” he said. “Talking about attachment, there it is the matching of relationship templates.”

What is the narcissist/codependent relationship template?

Rosenberg explained that most codependents or SLDs would have an intrinsic understanding that to love someone and to be loved, “you have to be silent, acquiescent, constantly vulnerable, and moldable.”

“You also need to be constantly interested in a person who’s not interested in you,” he said. “That’s just the way you understand relationships.”

“And then a narcissist understands relationships (will believe that) that people want to hear what they have to say. (People want) to enjoy their accomplishments; that they want to be told how great a person is – which of course is not true – but that’s what narcissists think.”

“So when the two people meet their opposites, one gives away love, respect, and caring. And (the other) one needs all the love, respect, and caring, these two opposites, through this unconscious process – chemistry – come together almost all the time,” Rosenberg said.

Codependents, Pathological Narcissists and Chemistry

“Codependents, SLDs, will almost always be attracted to through chemistry to a narcissist and narcissist to a codependent,” Rosenberg explained.

“That pull is the attraction process of two people feeling so comfortable,” he said. “Like a dance partnership, the leader needs a follower, the follower needs a leader, and the recognition of that on unconscious levels brings them together like two magnets.”

Rosenberg explained that he chose to reconceptualize and then rename codependency in a way that actually makes sense to people who are suffering from it. He wanted to identify the problem (of codependency) so that people could intuitively connect with and understand and offer them direction on what to do to deal with it.

Are codependents (SLDs) blameless victims of pathological narcissists?

“One of the things that sets me apart from most of my contemporaries talking about the subject is (that) I hold SLDs or codependents responsible,” Rosenberg, a former SLD himself, explained, adding that, “You cannot solve a problem if you share the responsibility, don’t know it or are in denial about it, and want to just blame the perpetrator.”

He said that focusing on being a victim is not helpful in recovery, so taking responsibility for your part in the relationship is key.

Are all codependents empaths?

Rosenberg strongly stated that not all codependents are empaths. And that, in fact, there’s no true connection between the two. So to understand the difference between empaths and codependents; first, we need to define empathy and codependency.

What is empathy?

There are three different types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. Emotional and compassionate empathy seem to be intrinsic for most people, and anyone can learn cognitive empathy. So an adult empath would be able to logically understand what a person feels and be emotionally affected by what they feel. That person’s emotions would also move them to take action to help them deal with what they feel.

What is codependency?

Codependency is when you are dependent on another person in unhealthy ways. In most cases, it seems to be affected by some form of trauma that often occurred in childhood; it is considered a behavioral condition as it inhibits your ability to have a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. A good synonym for codependency might actually be relationship addiction because codependents tend to be perpetually involved in one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive relationships.

Rosenberg on Codependency vs. Empathy

“I completely do not support the term empaths (in relation to codependency) because it’s a candy-coated term that makes the SLD or codependent feel good about themselves, when in fact SLDs have significant psychological problems. Significant!” Rosenberg said. “Without the resolution of that. they will always choose the narcissist – and they will over and over again.”

“They will almost always stay with the narcissist despite the fact that they’re not happy and they’re being hurt,” he said. “And then if they should leave or should be left, they will then choose another narcissist,” he said.

This is why it is so important to understand that self-love deficit disorder or codependency is a psychological disorder that is motivated through volition, he explained, adding that while there’s absolutely no excuse for abuse, as long as people play the victim card and look to books and videos that focus on demonizing narcissists and glorifying “the sacrificing poor SLD or codependent, no one gets better.”

That’s why people so many people say they find Rosenberg’s material so helpful.

“It holds them accountable in a non-judgmental empathetic, and compassionate way,” he said. “In my book, I explained this is why you are an SLD or codependent. You were hurt badly, and until you saw that trauma that happened when you were a child, you’re going to play out that script for the rest of your life.”

How can you learn more about healing after narcissistic abuse from Ross Rosenberg?

If you’re interested in hearing more about what Ross Rosenberg has to say about healing after narcissistic abuse, please subscribe to this channel and stay tuned for the rest of this series. Of course, you can also visit the Self-Love Institute, get his book, The Human Magnet Syndrome, on Amazon, and attend his upcoming 50 Shades of Pathological Narcissism event.

Question of the Day

Do you see the connection between how you were raised and nurtured as a child and how your adult relationships developed? Please share your thoughts share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it. 

Get help with narcissistic abuse recovery right now.

 

Divorcing a Narcissist

Divorcing a Narcissist

Divorce is always difficult and life-altering. When you’re divorcing a narcissist, there’s a whole other layer of manipulation and controlling behaviors involved. And, as painful as it is, it is less uncommon than you’d hope.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost half of all marriages end in divorce. If you are planning, experiencing, or have recently gone through a divorce with a narcissist, there are things you should know about starting over.

How Divorcing a Narcissist Affects Your Health

Research tells us that while most people are resilient after a divorce, surveys indicate that 10-15% of divorced people find it very difficult to manage to start over. If you’re dealing with a narcissist during divorce, you’re probably in that 10 to 15%, sadly. This means that your divorce was or will be quite traumatic. You may be feeling stuck, confused, lost, and abandoned.

Mental Health and Stress Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist 

You might feel like dealing with narcissistic abuse for as long as you have could leave you without the skills to cope with loss and start over. And you would not be alone in that feeling – as it turns out, we have seen thousands of narcissistic abuse survivors struggle through divorcing a narcissist. You might suffer from increased anxiety, depression, and a variety of symptoms related to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) related to narcissistic abuse in your toxic relationship, both during and after the relationship.

You might also feel excessive stress that can lead to additional mental and physical effects. Due to the rejection you feel during divorce, you might struggle with even deeper mental health and emotional wellness issues. In a study published by Ovid Technologies, researchers found that oxytocin, a pleasure hormone associated with social bonding, may have protective health benefits. A separate study published in the American Journal of Science showed that the brain areas that sense pain are also activated with social rejection.

And, according to one researcher, dealing with your parents’ divorce as a child increases your risk for divorce. This makes sense for narcissistic abuse survivors on a deeper level, as a large percentage of narcissistic abuse survivors are also the adult children of narcissists, according to my own research and experience.

The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which measures the relationship between life events, stress, and illness, tells us that divorce is rated as one of the top stressors – and this is just general divorce – not necessarily divorce involving a narcissist. Divorce is topped only by changing jobs in the list of stressors. Other top stressors include moving to a new place

Physical Health Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist 

Divorcing a narcissist can be all-consuming, but it’s very important that you put yourself and your health first if you’re going to survive this safely. If you’re not careful, divorcing a narcissist can have serious physical health ramifications. Not only could your brain health be affected in surprising ways, but you might even die earlier than you would have otherwise. A study published in the Association for Psychological Science journal shows that people who are separated or divorced have a 23% greater mortality rate than married people.

With that being said, ongoing narcissistic abuse is known to cause mental and physical health issues that might even be more profound – and divorce may be the first step you must take in order to begin to heal yourself from the long-term trauma you’ve been dealing with. In any case, when you’re dealing with divorcing a narcissist, you’ve got to take good care of yourself.

Research tells us that staying physically healthy and mentally positive are the most effective ways to overcome the health risks associated with divorcing a narcissist.

Starting Over After Divorcing a Narcissist 

Staying mentally positive can help you overcome challenges and be resilient when starting over after a divorce. You can do some basic things to help yourself be resilient.

  • Do your research
  • Let yourself feel
  • Get professional help
  • Self-care
  • Practice coping skills
  • Embrace challenges

Research is a really easy way to empower yourself during any stage of a divorce. I always say that knowledge is power, and that is definitely true when it comes to divorce. There are many amazing self-help books you can read that are specifically related to overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships, including some on divorcing a narcissist (see our favorites here), a variety of narcissistic abuse recovery support systems you can engage, and professional legal resources available to help emotionally, mentally, and financially.

Learn What Other Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Have Experienced in Divorcing a Narcissist 

Since divorce with a narcissist might be more common than you’d expect, there are many others who have survived it. Their stories, ideas, and advice can help you start over. See some narcissistic abuse survivor stories here.

But be careful here and don’t allow anyone else’s experience overshadow what you are going through. How you feel may be different from what others have experienced, and my friend, that is completely okay. You are not required to relate or to do anything because of anyone else’s experience. Divorcing a narcissist is difficult and painful and the experience, as well as the healing, is going to be completely individualized for each person who experiences it.

That’s why it’s so important that you give yourself time to process your feelings instead of bottling them up or pushing them aside. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my own recovery from divorcing a narcissist was not allowing myself to take the time I needed to grieve the relationship. I thought that because I was “out,” things would just immediately get better. And in some ways, they did – but I needed to take the time to mourn the relationship.

Things to Avoid When Divorcing a Narcissist 

Going through narcissistic abuse is, on its own, an extended trauma in your life. Pile divorce on top of it, and you’re looking at a whole new level of concern. It is never easy, and we all make mistakes in the process. But if you are at all able to avoid the following, you will be doing yourself a big favor when it comes to your narcissistic abuse recovery process (not to mention the process of moving on after your divorce).

  • Avoid doing anything, especially making life-changing decisions, out of desperation. Always take time to THINK before you act, even if that means you refuse to make any decision related to the divorce on the spot. Get away from the narcissist and take some time to think in a stress-free zone.
  • Don’t allow the narcissist to treat your children as negotiation or manipulation tools. Do your best to keep any kids you have out of discussions that do not involve custody or the business of raising them. Stay calm and only focus on FACTS when you must communicate about the children. Try to keep your emotional energy to yourself during the divorce – at least when it comes to the narcissist and their flying monkeys.
  • Don’t share everything on social media. Be careful with how much you share about your divorce and/or your soon-to-be-ex on social media. Rather than posting on your persona page, consider joining a private online narcissistic abuse recovery and/or divorcing a narcissist support group.
  • Be careful to avoid developing or resuming bad habits or addictions. This one is harder, but while occasional indulgences might not hurt, long-term bad habits can be hard to break. Focus instead on what you can do to make yourself and/or your life better in this process. So, rather than eating ice cream every day to feel less stressed, or having a glass of wine (or three), maybe you could add in a stress-relieving walk or a daily meditation session. (Or if you’re like me, your walk can BECOME your daily meditation!)
  • Avoid becoming a hermit. Divorce can lead to social isolation. Don’t get back together with your ex or date anyone available out of desperation or loneliness. Try socializing with friends or using your time for medication and self-care instead of engaging in risky behaviors. I suggest you wait a minimum of one year beyond the finalization of your divorce to allow yourself to have plenty of time to heal.

Divorcing a Narcissist When You Have Kids

If your divorce will involve children, you might be interested in getting this free toolkit designed to help you smoothly transition into being a single parent.

Get the Help You Need When Divorcing a Narcissist 

You should not be going this whole “divorcing a narcissist” thing alone. There are plenty of resources available to you, whether you’re looking for one-on-one coaching narcissistic abuse recovery coaching, one-on-one divorce coaching, a support group, or even a therapist. In any case, it definitely helps to talk to someone, be they a coach, counselor, or another mental health professional during a divorce. In some cases, you might even be lucky enough to have a friend or family member who is willing to listen and who may understand.

Since divorce is one of the top life stressors, don’t take this lightly – your health is essential, and NOT getting the help you need can put you at unnecessary risk. Even just talking out your problems with a friend can make a difference and allow you to develop resilience.

Remember too that self-care should have a space on your priority list. While there may be practical issues to manage, like living arrangements and dividing property, do not forget to make time to allow yourself to heal. You will need to practice your coping skills to start over and seeing a professional can help you build the resilience you need. Embrace the challenges of starting over with the knowledge that you are creating a new, different, and better life for yourself.

Divorce is almost never easy, and narcissists make it miserable. At times, it may feel like your whole world has changed, and that’s because it has – but my friend, that can be a very good thing if you allow it to be. Point your eyes toward your future and start intentionally choosing what comes next. You can take charge by starting over with an intentional mindset with focused and specific goals as you move forward. You might even want to consider strategizing your own personal “comeback” with one of our coaches.

Resources for Divorcing a Narcissist

 

Narcissism – Are The Parents Always To Blame?

Narcissism – Are The Parents Always To Blame?

Is toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder always caused by bad parenting? Is it possible that a person raised by healthy, loving parents in a good, decent home could become a narcissist? Could someone turn into a narcissist as an adult? I’ll answer all of your questions in this video.

If you are in any way related to or otherwise involved with a narcissist, you’ve probably asked yourself at one time or another how they got that way, right? What made them a narcissist? How did they GET LIKE THIS?

And, if you’re like me, you needed to know in order to heal. So, you did your research and you found out that in most cases, it is related to their parents – and sadly, most often, to their mothers or primary caregivers and their attachment styles. That’s why, when you think of any narcissist, the first thing that likely goes through your mind is how badly their parents messed them up.

Because of the fact that most narcissists seem to stop developing emotionally when they are toddlers or middle schoolers at best, and because most research points to the fact that their parents did not give them the love and attention they needed in order to evolve, which led to their emotional immaturity, it’s easy to blame their mothers or parents in general.

But if you’re the parent or sibling of someone who might be a narcissist, and you know for sure that these issues don’t apply to them, you might doubt this theory and find yourself digging for an alternative possibility. And what about those families that have more than one child, and only one turned out to be a toxic narcissist? Or what about people who had good families and didn’t suffer any trauma in childhood?

You want to know if it’s ALWAYS the fault of the parents, right? Well, let’s talk about it.

Are parents always at fault when someone develops narcissistic traits?

Even though more often than not narcissism is the result of the fact that those who turned out that way were neglected or abused by their parents, that is not always the case.

Published research studies tell us that the area of the brain that controls emotional empathy and compassion is thinner in those who have NPD than in those who don’t. So, neurology as well as genetic predisposition will have an effect on how a person’s personality turns out.

And then you have situations where their parents who really did their absolute best to raise their children right, but due to their jobs or other responsibilities, might inadvertently neglect their emotional needs, which leads to their child developing a narcissistic personality.  They may be clothed and fed well and taken care of when they are sick, and they may have all of the material things in the world – but the parents may not have given them the love and attention they felt they needed.

In these cases, the parents were clearly not in any way abusive. It may have been due to the fact that they had other kids, or they had a sick parent to take care of, or they had a demanding job that was necessary to support the family.

Of course, there are also times when narcissists end up becoming that way because of parents who were, believe it or not, overly validating (such as praising a child when the child may not have deserved it) and overly permissive. These parents may have not provided enough limits or discipline for their kids. And while some kids will sort of naturally self-limit, others won’t, and in some cases, they may become narcissists themselves as a result.

Research on How People Who Weren’t Abused or Neglected by Parents Can Become Narcissists

A 2015 study points to the fact that some parents might have overly praised their kids when they might not deserve it, or have always focused on how much “better” their kids were than other kids. And in some cases, they might have simply given too much attention and indulgence and not enough discipline.

“Loving your child is healthy and good,” as one of the study authors, Brad Bushman, a psychology professor at Ohio State University points out, “but thinking your child is better than other children can lead to narcissism, and there is nothing healthy about narcissism.”

In these situations, kids will often develop an overblown sense of entitlement, which they carry into adulthood. In many cases, they were also not required to show any empathy, nor were they asked to check their egos at the door.

This can happen in a number of situations, for example, being overly permissive with and over-praising children are often reported with only children. Please note that this isn’t always the case and that in fact, it is relatively rare. In some cases, though definitely not all, it can be a bigger issue when parents have struggled to get pregnant or when they’re adopted after a long struggle with infertility, or when they are born prematurely or with other issues that caused their parents to fear for their lives .among others.

And of course, in both the case of the adopted child who is older than newborn at the time of adoption and in the case of the premature or otherwise sick child who spends weeks or months in the hospital after birth, their attachment styles can be affected. That’s because parents aren’t able to connect on the same level as they would normally, so they develop a less healthy attachment style, which goes back to the original theory of the attachment style predicting narcissism.

Sometimes, people become narcissistic that has nothing to do with the parents at all. For example, if a child was ruthlessly bullied at school, or if someone else in their lives caused trauma in any way for them. In these cases, while their parents could have been loving and caring, the trauma they experienced at the hands of bullies or other outsiders could certainly have also been a risk factor for them becoming narcissistic.

And then there are those who end up with something we call acquired situational narcissism.

What Is Acquired Situational Narcissism?

So, we know that it might be possible that someone who was raised in a relatively healthy home by decent parents, but who had other traumas and issues, to become a narcissist. But what other situations could lead to toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder?

And if so, what other types of situations and factors can play into it? Let’s talk about it.

Research on Acquired Situational Narcissism

Research published back in 1996 points to a condition that is referred to as transient, temporary, or short-term narcissism.  And even before 1996, psychologists often recognized something they called “reactive narcissistic regression,” which meant that when someone was dealing with a big life crisis, they might end up going through a sort of temporary narcissistic phase where they’d behave like a toxic narcissist until the crisis was over.

And, according to what I’ve found in this and other published research papers, these types of temporary narcissism can also be triggered by medical conditions and even injuries. For example, traumatic brain injury (TBI) has often been linked to narcissistic behaviors and antisocial traits in people who had not previously displayed them.

How to Identify Acquired Situational Narcissism

So what does acquired situational narcissism (ASN) look like in real life? Well, do you know someone who is normally quite humble, but who ended up getting a high-end job and makes a lot of money, or who suddenly ranks high socially, or who ends up gaining celebrity status out of the blue? In these situations, many people are able to keep their heads on straight, but others will seem to sort of lose their humility.

In fact, according to Robert B. Millman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, this is what acquired situational narcissism looks like. He points to known narcissists who are among the billionaires, people who become suddenly famous or who manage to rise to aspirational levels in their careers who develop narcissism in adulthood.

Millman adds that celebrities and other suddenly wealthy people will often have lives that are outside of what we’d consider typical. Plus, they might be surrounded by “yes men,” who will ensure that they are given filtered feedback, excessive admiration and are never told “no” for any reason. Plus, anytime someone is a celebrity or a CEO or otherwise wealthy, they might be sought after in ways that will cause them to feel more important or better than others. All of this is like narcissistic supply on steroids if you think about it.

And, let’s not forget celebrities and other public figures might feel a certain amount of pressure from the public – fans and haters alike – to present a certain image and to live a certain lifestyle.

An Example of Acquired Situational Narcissism

A good example of this is the guy you grew up with who was considered a nerd and who was often picked on, but who grew up and invented some big app, or he created a YouTube channel that somehow got a bazillion subscribers and brought him fame, or he became an actor or singer – or who otherwise found himself a celebrity. In any case, this formerly geeky guy managed to attain success to the point he began to be recognized in public, or he suddenly became a member of the social elite for whatever reason.

As soon as he found himself outgrowing that geeky, quiet image, he suddenly felt like a whole new person. Maybe he went a little overboard and started to focus too much on his self-image, and on his own needs and wants. This, along with the fact that his life is very different from the average person’s (as the lives of all public figures will be), might cause him to lose any sense of compassion and emotional empathy he once had. That might lead to him being unconcerned with the “little people” to the point that he would end up inadvertently or directly abusing the people closest to him without remorse. So, while his transition wouldn’t happen as a child, he still would essentially have developed his narcissism the same way that any other narcissist did – just not in childhood.

But why does this happen to some people and not others?

Well, according to Millman, while it is possible to develop narcissism in adulthood for these reasons, among others, acquired situational narcissism is most likely to happen when there were already some pre-existing factors that would have led to narcissism under the right circumstances. All of this means that, at least in some cases, narcissism can be developed by people who had good, healthy upbringings – and that it isn’t, in fact, always the fault of the parents.

Question of the Day: What do you think about this? Do you know someone with acquired situational narcissism? Share your thoughts, share your ideas and share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.

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Narcissists Fool You With False Empathy

Narcissists Fool You With False Empathy


(Prefer to watch or listen rather than read? See video on YouTube)

I’ve often discussed the fact that the defining quality of a narcissist is the lack of empathy. Not only is this the one quality shared by all toxic narcissists, but it is also the “tipping point” into the “toxic” side of narcissism.

The fact is that narcissists cannot put themselves into your shoes and they cannot understand any type of pain you feel because they are not capable of it on an emotional level. But this explanation isn’t quite thorough enough, because it leaves so many of us wondering, “but what about all those times they did seem to be empathetic?”

For example, if your ex is a narcissist, they probably seemed to be fully aware of your feelings when you first started dating. After all, they very clearly knew what you liked. They made sure to give you what you liked, and they did their best to steer clear of what you didn’t like.  This is one of those little things that made you feel like you’d finally found your soulmate – at least, at first.

So, I know what you’re thinking. If narcissists are not empathetic, then how could they ever act like they are? Isn’t this how empathy works? To be aware of and to choose your actions based on someone else’s feelings? Well, yes, and no.

Before we get into how narcissists are able to show empathy when it’s convenient for them, it’s important to understand what “real” empathy is, so let me define it for you.

What is Real Empathy?

My shorthand definition is that empathy is the ability to feel and care about how other people feel, and to act from that perspective. To be a little more clear, real empathy is the ability to sense, understand, and feel the emotions of someone else, even if you haven’t had an identical experience. It means being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. You can feel what they are feeling even if you cannot relate to what they are going through directly because you can sort of imagine how they must feel. You feel compassion for them and you care about their feelings because of this – and then you act accordingly.

What is False Empathy?

False empathy is sadly used as a manipulation tactic by narcissists when they want something from you. Since you value connection and empathy, as most non-narcissists do, the narcissist knows it will help them get what they want from you. So they pretend to care how you feel. See, when it comes to narcissists, they are unable to feel emotional and compassionate empathy. But at the same time, they are well-aware of the fact that other people value empathy and because of that, they might demonstrate false empathy. (Wait, what?) This is why it is so confusing and so difficult to detect a narcissist early in a relationship.

False Empathy: Understanding the Narcissist’s Empathy Deficit

Here’s the thing. When we say “narcissists have no empathy,” we don’t necessarily mean that they’re not capable of figuring out what you’re feeling. What we mean is that narcissists don’t FEEL empathy in the same way as most people do. They have no compassion, no remorse and they don’t feel regret – unless they regret a choice they made because it negatively affected them directly.

To put it more specifically, when someone feels compassion, it means they are sympathetic toward someone’s situation and they feel sort of compelled to help that person fix whatever is wrong or to at least not make anything more difficult for that person. When someone feels remorse, it means that they feel really guilty about something they did that they see as wrong. And when someone feels regret, it means they recognize that they made a choice or took an action that led to a negative consequence, and they wish they hadn’t done it or even that they could go back and change what they did.

So, in other words, the narcissist is capable of understanding exactly what you think or feel on a cognitive level, but not on an emotional one. They can “think about” what someone else is feeling, but it doesn’t affect their emotional state directly, nor does it play a part in how they treat the other person. The exception is when the narcissist thinks someone feels negatively about them. This situation will make them feel angry, offended, and generally upset – and that usually manifests in narcissistic rage and/or narcissistic injury.

The truth is that while narcissists find it easy to learn the motions on how to appear to be empathetic, they are usually just imitating what they’ve seen others doing – and that is when they use false empathy.

Types of Empathy

A lot of people don’t realize that there are different types of empathy as defined by psychologists, including cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. And what is even more perplexing for a lot of us is that it is totally possible to demonstrate one or more of these types of empathy without actually caring on an emotional level what someone is feeling or going through.

Cognitive Empathy

As defined by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, cognitive empathy is “simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking.” He adds that cognitive empathy is also sometimes called “perspective-taking.” In other words, it means being aware on an intellectual level of someone’s emotions and likely thoughts about any given topic or situation.

It’s like understanding that a coworker is sad that their grandma died, but since you didn’t know her, you might not feel personally sad about it. You tell them you’re sorry for their loss and offer to help them keep up on their workload while they attend the out-of-town funeral, but you don’t necessarily go home and cry about it.

Narcissists will use this kind of empathy as a way to manipulate you in the same way that a used car dealer would try to get you to buy an over-priced, underperforming vehicle. The salesperson doesn’t really care about the fact that you’ve got kids or that your budget is stretched. They’re more concerned about moving inventory and getting paid.

Yet, on an intellectual level, they can read you well enough to understand your thought process and what you’re looking for in a vehicle. And they can gather that you’re emotionally tied to this decision in some way, whether it’s due to a desire for a safe, dependable vehicle, or a desire for a pretty and stylish vehicle, or one that is super extra fast and powerful.

If they don’t have something in stock that fits your needs perfectly, the ethical thing to do would be to say so and possibly recommend another car lot. But they have the goal of moving their own inventory and making money, so they’ll do what they need to to make something they have work for you.

And while the car they ultimately talk you into buying may or may not be right for you, they will use this understanding of what you want to make it seem like exactly what you need. Sure, maybe it’ll cost way more than you can afford, or maybe it’ll have 300k miles on it – but these things aren’t a concern for the salesperson. They just want to sell you a dang car so they can go out to lunch, or buy that boat they’ve had their eye on, or whatever.

This is a great example of how a narcissist, while they have the ability to see things from your perspective, will always act in a way where they will benefit the most. In other words, they use cognitive empathy to get what they want by understanding what is important to you or what your perspective happens to be.

In fact, Daniel Goleman also notes that this is the kind of empathy used by people who use torture tactics. It allows them to understand what makes a person tick without feeling any sympathy toward them.

So, narcissists can and will use cognitive empathy to get what they want. But it doesn’t mean they can feel anything you feel, you feel me?

A twist on cognitive empathy is “agenda-driven” empathy. See, when the narcissist is getting what they want from you, they will pretend to know that you are making sacrifices for them. And they think by acknowledging that, they can convince you to be more willing to give up what you want for them. For example, let’s say you’re excited about your upcoming friends’ night out. You’re going to see a movie you’ve been DYING to see. At the last minute, the narcissist you work with asks you to fill in for them the same evening, even though they were well aware that you wanted to go. They will say things such as “Oh I know you were looking forward to this but if you do this favor for me I will be forever grateful.” How can you turn that down?

Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy is the type of empathy most of us think of when we call ourselves empaths. It means that you can sense and in some ways, actually feel what other people around you are feeling, even when they’re a stranger. For example, if you watch someone on television stub their toe or get kicked in the shin, you sort of “feel” it along with them. It’s what makes us cry at movies and what makes us feel sad when someone we love is sad. It’s sort of like the feelings of other people become almost contagious for you. This can be seen in humans as early as two months old, when a baby will smile back at their mother smiling at them, or when the baby will cry when hearing another baby cry. Narcissists do not feel emotional empathy.

However, they might feel a sort of shallow empathy, which is when the narcissist shows a degree of softness for you. This happens most often early in a relationship during the love-bombing phase, and even then, if you look hard enough, you’ll see that they continue to show their true colors elsewhere. And of course, they will show their true colors to you eventually. It’s kind of like a doctor who has an amazing bedside manner but who is a total jerk to his wife and kids. Same deal.

Compassionate Empathy

Compassionate empathy is exactly what it sounds like – being aware of and feeling for a person’s situation, and feeling moved to do something to help. It means keeping your head on straight but also caring about the other person’s feelings. It doesn’t necessarily involve being overly emotional, though you might be driven by emotion. It doesn’t necessarily involve being overly analytical or intellectual, though you might use your intellect to help them solve the problem. It simply means you understand what someone is experiencing and you might help them take action to resolve the issue. Narcissists do not generally have compassionate empathy, though they can be good at faking it when it helps them get what they want from you.

Question of the Day: Have you experienced a narcissist who used false empathy? What was that like? And when did you recognize what was happening? Share your thoughts, share your ideas and share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.

You might also like to watch these narcissistic abuse recovery videos.

What is a covert narcissist?

What is a covert narcissist?


Prefer to watch or listen? See video here to learn more about identifying a covert narcissist

When I was younger, I had a thing for a certain type of guy. I was seriously into these “dark and disturbed” types. The rebel without a cause. The guy who wrote poetry, who was probably a starving artist of some kind, and who hated the whole world and like 99 percent of the people in it. He would always have some cause he was super passionate about, and often called people “zombies” or “sheep.” He wasn’t super friendly and being the codependent I was, I would take pleasure in finding this kind of guy in dark corners of parties or other gatherings, and sort making it my mission to get inside his head and make him like me. We would end up having these deep, intellectual, and philosophical conversations that left me feeling like I’d had some sort of religious experience. I’d always be all googly-eyed, thinking that he “saw me” and that we were connecting on some deep level. The only thing was that after an initial couple of meetings, I’d always be left feeling like I’d been duped, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.

Can you relate? Let me ask you: Have you ever met someone who seemed to be sort of an introvert – they might have been a little shy, and might have even talked about how they were a highly sensitive person or even an empath, but the more you got to know them, they also seemed to kind of show a weird sense of selfishness and low-key egocentricity?

If so, you might have been dealing with a covert narcissist. This is what we call someone who is sort of an “incognito” narcissist. They might act like an introvert as far as most people can tell. People who don’t live with them might even assume they ARE an introvert – just a little shy, maybe a bit too sensitive.

Think you’re dealing with a covert narcissist? Take the covert narcissist test and find out.

How do you Identify a Covert Narcissist?

So, how can you tell someone is a covert narcissist? What are the signs and how are they different from introverts and “regular,” more overt narcissists?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about – how to identify covert narcissism. And, we’ll cover the traits you will see in a covert narcissist.

Covert narcissists are also often referred to as vulnerable narcissists, closet narcissists, and introverted narcissists. This is likely due to the fact that they don’t appear to have much self-confidence, as opposed to their overt counterparts. They are the eternal damsel in distress or the martyrs of some oh-so-noble cause.

What is a Covert Narcissist?

In a nutshell, a covert narcissist is someone who has narcissistic personality disorder (or might, if they’d ever go see a psychologist for a diagnosis), but who doesn’t seem to have the obvious grandiosity factor. They don’t always seem to act as self-important as the more overt narcissist. They don’t appear to feel like they’re better than everyone – at least not before you know them well.

They appear to be vulnerable and oversensitive, which will often manifest in their behavior as hostility and defensiveness. They will be the one who is quietly looking down their nose at you, judging you and everyone else around them harshly and often unfairly.

Covert Narcissist vs. Overt Narcissist: The Similarities

They do have a few things in common with overt narcissists, including:

  • A huge sense of (often unearned) entitlement
  • Grandiose fantasies about their life
  • Willingness to exploit others to get what they want
  • Seeking power and control
  • And of course, the trademark lack of empathy.

But how does a covert narcissist differ from an overt narcissist?

Covert Narcissist vs. Overt Narcissist: The Differences

Unlike the overt narcissist, the covert narcissist will not necessarily display narcissistic behavior that is immediately recognizable. You might even think they’re an empath because they seem so modest, so sensitive and so very unsure of themselves.

While they will have the standard grandiose fantasies for their life – all of which are sure to be unrealistic and self-centered, not to mention ridiculously over-inflated, they will believe that their dreams are unrealistic and unattainable. They will blame the world for somehow holding them back, but secretly believe they are a fraud. You see a lot of “imposter syndrome” in people like this.

Ironically, the covert narcissist will even feel guilty for wanting what they want, and somehow this inner conflict leads them to suppress most of their true feelings.

This leads to the inevitable for a covert narcissist: their inner conflict translates into outer behavior, such as:

Covert Narcissists Play the “Poor Me” Game

Your average covert narcissist spends a lot of time feeling sorry for themselves. They practically invented narcissistic injury. But why do they do this? Why does the “vulnerable narcissist” play the “poor me” game so well?

It all comes down to one thing: covert narcissists hate themselves. In fact, they seem to believe that it is possible to hate yourself BETTER.

Though they continue to demonstrate the behavior they loathe, the covert narcissist is powerless to control their thoughts – and their deep inner conscience is NOT okay with the person they are (or have become).

Unlike their more overt counterparts, covert narcissists actually judge themselves more harshly than anyone judges them. And on a deep level, more harshly than they judge other people (at least those outside of his immediate inner circle).

Either way, while they seem to be outwardly unconcerned with the world, they certainly have quietly high standards for their lives. But these may be outside of “normal” high standards. For example, the covert narcissist might be broke, but he might claim that this is because he doesn’t believe in capitalism, and then he will feel superior to anyone who he considers a sort of “servant to their jobs” or who wants and obtains things of monetary value.

So, they will quietly stick to this unreasonable standard to the best of their abilities, happy to secretly look down their nose at the people they deem “lesser” or otherwise inferior to themselves.

For example, let’s say the covert narcissist is a passionate but broke musician who plays exclusively in basements and backrooms, and who does so because they claim they want to stay true to their art and they don’t want to “sell out.” And one evening after a gig, a record executive comes up to them and asks if they have a demo because they think they might be able to get a recording contract. The covert narcissist at that moment is likely to jump at this opportunity – because who doesn’t want a chance to be rich and famous?

But then, once they take the time to put together a demo and send it to the record exec, the guy either never respond or realizes he was more intoxicated than he thought that night and tells the narcissist that the deal is off. This sends the narcissist into a spiral of self-loathing.

And, of course, anytime the covert narcissist fails to meet these so-called “standards” and behaves in any way that their inner critic deems bad or not desirable (by, in this case, agreeing to “sell out” and sending the demo, rather than snubbing the commercial industry that they’ve always claimed to hate), they’re back to square one: hating both themselves and the “zombies” or “sheep” who caused them to fall off-track.

Now, they hate the industry, and especially the music executives who they say always want to commercialize everything. They even justify their rejection by saying that the exec in question just didn’t get their music because it is somehow above their level of understanding.

Later, they might even make up stories about how they were offered a record deal and turned it down because they wanted to avoid becoming a sellout. 

Why the Covert Narcissist Lives with Self-Hate: Distorted Self-Awareness

It all boils down to one thing: a covert narcissist understands on some level that their self-inflating ideas are not quite realistic – at least on some level.

So, though they continue to have narcissistic thoughts and even occasional external behaviors, they are always holding himself to a very high standard. They spend their lives competing with the one person they’ll never be able to beat: themselves – or some version of that.

At the same time, they are incapable of openly accepting blame or responsibility for anything that isn’t positive, and in fact they relate any such admission to weakness and “badness” of other people – which, most likely, is because of the angry kind of envy that psychologists say is involved in the creation of any narcissistic behavior.

The Covert Narcissist is a Perpetual Victim

The covert narcissist is often mistaken for an introvert or a shy person because to the untrained eye, they appear to be a pushover who is generally unassertive. They see themselves (and others see them) as victims or as people who aren’t able to obtain what they should have or deserve. People who don’t really know them may say things like, “oh, they’re just a big teddy bear” or “oh, their bark is worse than their bite!”

They will also:

  • Have outrageously adolescent daydreams about being a big famous something-or-other
  • Have feelings of being worthless, countered by feelings of being different, separate or “better” than other people
  • Have a somewhat questionable grip on reality, leading to personal guilt and self-hate.
  • Claim to be “a little OCD”
  • Call themselves a perfectionist

What do you think?  Any of that sound familiar to you?

Are you concerned that you might be a covert narcissist?

If you’re worried you might be a covert narcissist, but you thought you were a highly sensitive person (HSP), please check out this video: Covert Narcissist vs Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Being Sensitive – The Psychology. It will explain the difference.

Question of the Day: Have you ever met a covert narcissist? How could you tell? What characteristics do you think most clearly identify the covert narc? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section, below this video.

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