I’ve got two questions for you. Are all empaths codependent? Are all codependents empaths? I think it’s time we clear up some confusion for our community. You often hear people in the narcissistic abuse community talking about empaths and codependents as though the terms were interchangeable. The thing is, they aren’t. What I mean is that while some codependents are empaths, not all empaths are codependents. In other words, they are two separate concepts that some people have mistaken for synonyms. Let me explain.
There are three types of empathy – cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. Emotional and compassionate empathy seems to be intrinsic for most people, and cognitive empathy can be learned. So, an adult empath would be able to logically understand what a person would feel, be emotionally affected by what they feel, and also be moved to take action to help them deal with what they feel. For example, an empath might, at the age of 3, notice when someone is hurting and try to comfort them, even if that person doesn’t say anything about it or indicate directly that something is wrong. The child might not understand logically or have the vocabulary to describe what they do understand, but when they instinctively comfort someone, there’s no question that they understand. At the same time, an adult narcissist, who would not be considered an empath, would be able to logically understand what you feel, but they wouldn’t be emotionally affected by it for the most part, at least not in a normal way, and they would not be moved to help you deal with it unless it benefited them to do so in some way.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is when you are dependent on another person in unhealthy ways. It seems to be, in most cases, affected by some form of trauma that often occurred in childhood. It is also considered a behavioral condition as it inhibits your ability to have a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. A good synonym for codependency might be “relationship addiction” because codependents tend to be perpetually involved in relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive.
The Differences Between Codependents and Empaths
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s discuss empaths and codependents. We understand that empathy and codependency are different. So, why do people in the narcissistic abuse recovery community so often confuse the term “empath” with the term “codependent,” if they’re two distinct terms that aren’t synonymous? The answer is as simple as it is complicated. It’s because there are many codependents who do happen to be empaths. But then, there are many who are not.
And, of course, just consider the definition of codependency. As it turns out, toxic narcissists can also be considered codependents, given their excessive need for attention, adoration, and narcissistic supply. They clearly need to be dependent on others for their emotional validation and all of that tasty, tasty supply. But even though they require so much of your emotional energy, they do not have emotional or compassionate energy, so they do often emotionally neglect and abuse their so-called loved ones. Therefore, by definition, they are codependent, but they can’t be considered empaths.
What is an empath?
If you are an empath, you’re highly sensitive to the emotions and energy of the people around you. Empaths tend to be very intuitive and may also be spiritually inclined. In other words, if you’re an empath, you’re someone who naturally “feels” the emotions of other people and acts in accordance. Empaths, however, seem to have a more natural inclination toward naturally understanding the psychology of both humans and animals.
Are Empaths Rare?
Most humans above the age of two or three have some ability to show empathy, which is, on its most basic level just the ability to perceive what other people feel on some level. And many animals seem to have some level of empathy, even for humans, as evidenced by pets who appear to show concern when their owners are feeling blue. But there are different levels of sensitivity when it comes to empathy, and those who are at the highest end of that spectrum might be rare. Still, even the most basic understanding of and concern for others’ feelings makes life easier for everyone.
Are Empaths Real?
Some people seem to think that empathy is a supernatural ability. But while on some level, there are things we don’t understand about empathy, there is a lot of scientific research that explains how it works. In fact, a study focused on a specific type of empathy called mirror-touch synaesthesia offers some very interesting insight that supports the idea that empaths exist. Mirror-touch synaesthesia is the ability to feel a sensation of touch when you see someone else being touched. Study authors Dr. Michael Banissy at the Goldsmiths University of London, along with researcher Dr. Natalie Bowling, the research found that up to 2 percent of the population could be considered empaths.
Why Do Some People Have More Empathy Than Others?
Clearly, there are some people who seem to be more personally affected by empathy than others. For example, someone who might be considered a natural empath would have a clearer and more comprehensive intrinsic understanding of how people feel. Using this natural ability, empaths can quickly interpret a person’s thoughts and feelings.
“The scientific studies that are often used to demonstrate that empaths exist, however, provide indirect evidence,” said Kristen Milstead in a 2018 PsychCentral article.”This includes research showing the existence of mirror neurons in the brain, which are said to enable us to read and understand each other’s emotions by filtering them through our own. Other studies used to explain empaths include the concept of emotional contagion, which is the idea that when people synchronize their attitudes, behaviors, and speech, they also synchronize their emotions both consciously and unconsciously.”
Milstead noted that while the studies explained the existence of empathy as a concept, they didn’t make it clear why some people seem to have a higher sensitivity to it than others. So for now, the idea that there is a supernatural element to being an empath isn’t completely disproven, but that doesn’t mean that scientists won’t decode it in the future. After all, there were once people who worshipped the Sun. Science has a way of explaining things we don’t understand.
Signs of Being Codependent
If you really want to understand the differences between codependents and empaths, it can help to see the signs of each. While you may be both, you may also just be one or the other. People who are codependent typically have the following behaviors.
Codependents struggle to make decisions alone, especially where their decisions would affect their partner in any way.
Codependents may find themselves having a hard time identifying their own feelings.
Codependents might have a hard time communicating in their relationships – even if they’re really good at communicating in other ways and with other people.
Codependents are more concerned with getting the approval of people outside of themselves.
Codependents have low self-esteem.
Codependents may not trust their own instincts and intuition.
Codependents may have an unhealthy level of fear of abandonment.
Codependents may need approval to the point that they’ll even go against their own ethics in order to get it.
Codependents might feel overly responsible for the actions and behaviors of other people.
Codependents are inevitably miserable if they’re not in a relationship, and they’ll stay in a relationship that is harmful to them because they might feel as if it’s better than being alone.
Any of that sound familiar to you? Now, let’s talk about the signs you’re an empath.
Signs You’re an Empath
How do you know if you are an empath? While there are no easily available scientific tests that would prove your empath abilities, there are empath self-assessments, such as the one here, that will help you to recognize yourself as someone who might be an empath. There are, of course, both positive and negative sides of being an empath – and some of them overlap.
1. Empaths Can Be Targeted by Toxic People
Empaths often deal with overwhelming feelings as it is, so when a relationship is toxic, they will feel like they are in agony. They often end up going numb because they feel like they might not survive otherwise. Narcissists and other toxic people seem to be drawn to empaths. Most likely, that’s because empaths are generally moved into action by the emotions of other people. So, when the empath knows you are sad or upset, they do what they can to comfort you. When someone screams and yells at an empath, they will do whatever they can to resolve whatever the person is screaming about.
It doesn’t occur to an empath to feel angry at someone who is so clearly distressed. THAT is what attracts toxic people – the fact that the empath is so focused on making sure they are comfortable and happy in any given moment. It makes for an ideal source of narcissistic supply. And, since an empath is completely focused on them, they won’t have to do much to keep them happy.
See, if an empath is feeling needy and reaches out for validation, they will quickly forget their feelings if the other person expresses strong feelings of their own in the moment. This nature leads empaths who aren’t aware of these types of manipulations to miss the fact that they’re actually not being nourished in the relationship.
They end up starving for validation – giving and giving until they sort of burn out (literally in some cases through adrenal fatigue associated with C-PTSD). The empath ends up drained of their so-called light: they have little energy – they literally are almost “not even there” in some ways. They have grown so emotionally broken that they have literally stopped experiencing these emotions.
2. Empaths Find Large Crowds Are Draining
You will not find a happy empath at a Black Friday sale. In general, empaths can only take crowds in small doses, if at all. That’s why a lot of them don’t like large parties or concerts. And when an empath does spend too much time in crowds, most of them really need to take some time alone before and afterward in order to recharge. If they don’t, they will feel exhausted and tired for days or weeks afterward. In some cases, they may even physical effects, which brings me to my next point.
3. Empaths Need Plenty Of Time Alone
Most empaths require time alone to recharge, especially when they’ve dealt with emotionally difficult situations such as crowds, but also through various interpersonal interactions with people in their lives. An empath who is also an introvert may prefer to be alone more often than not. But even empaths who appear to be more outgoing will still need that alone time – or become unbalanced without it. However, an introvert that is not an empath would need, in general, less alone time for winding down. And in the case of codependents, whether they’re empaths or not, they may feel that they don’t want time alone at all, for any reason. This is one way that an empath can manifest emotional and/or psychological damage caused by their toxic relationships.
4. Empaths Feel Their Way Around New Places
Empaths seem to feel the energy of any location in which they happen to be. In a calm, clean, and organized place that is lit with candles and has soft colors, for example, an empath might feel calm. They might sense relaxing and positive energy. On the flip side, if an empath walked into a room where a crime was committed (sometimes even if they were unaware that a crime was committed there), or if they walked into a room directly after a confrontation as small as a marital spat – they would FEEL the energy buzzing without question, They’d even ask something like, “you guys okay? or “should I come back later?” They might feel uncomfortable or be physically affected, but not be able to put their finger on WHY they know something is wrong. They just know. Ya know?
QueenBeeing has a new group coaching option to help you through narcissistic abuse recovery!
Can’t afford private coaching but you still need personal attention in your recovery? Looking for a more supportive group environment but prefer to speak instead of type? We have great news for you! Our brand new group coaching program is live!
That’s right: for only $25 per session, you can chat personally with our very own narcissistic abuse recovery coaches, Colleen Brosnan and Lise Colucci, during your group coaching sessions – once, twice or several times per week, if you like.
Plus: we have several times to choose from. A group approach to healing can give you the added support needed to help you recover and thrive.
Do you ever feel like you’re just not good enough? If you do, you aren’t alone. When you’re involved in physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive relationships with narcissists, you will begin to lose your self-worth very quickly, if you had any to begin with. And while you try to maintain a good front, and though you might be you’re keeping up the facade of a really healthy relationship to most people in your life – you secretly feel like there’s something not right about you. Or at least something that isn’t quite good enough.
Do you ever ask yourself questions like, “Am I unlovable?” If you’re feeling like you’re unlovable after you’ve been gaslighted, discarded, and devalued by a toxic, abusive narcissist. Or, if you feel that you’re not good enough, please take a minute and watch this video. I made it for you.
It is so confusing for their friends and extended family who can sometimes see that something is wrong in the relationship. They don’t understand why you stay when, as far as they see it, you clearly deserve better. But for some reason, you aren’t on the same page. You aren’t sure you deserve better at all.
For the record, I want you to know that I am absolutely positive that you do not deserve to be abused. I am positive that you deserve to be respected just like every other human on the planet does. The abuser in your life wants you to think otherwise because it keeps you more firmly in their control. It keeps you feeling stuck – and it keeps you from leaving them. Even if friends and family beg you to leave, you stay because at least some part of you truly believes that you really don’t deserve better at all.
And, if you’re being honest, even if you can SAY that you don’t deserve to be treated that way, and even if you recognize it logically, you continue to tolerate it because you genuinely don’t think you’re worth more, or maybe you are worried because you think you’ve done something – or that you ARE something – that somehow justifies the abuser’s behavior. The truth is more likely that you are actually not the problem in your relationship at all. Normal people don’t behave the way that narcissists do with the people they claim to love.
There is No Legitimate Justification (and Absolutely NO Excuse) for Abuse.
I want you to read this next part really, really carefully. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for physical, psychological, emotional, financial, or relationship abuse of any kind. No amount of personal flaws could possibly offer any justification for disrespect, rudeness, yelling, screaming, belittling, projection, gaslighting.
You must accept absolutely no form of abuse for any reason. Because of this, before anything else, you need to start planning your way out of this toxic and abusive relationship. Now if you have kids or other issues that will make leaving more complicated, you might be tempted to wait until the kids are gone or the credit cards are paid off, or whatever it is that’s holding you back.
You Do Not Have to Accept Narcissistic Abuse.
Now listen, my friend. I want you to take a deep breath, and as long as physical abuse isn’t part of the equation, I want you to recognize that you don’t have to be out tomorrow or next week or even next month. It might even take a year or two. It doesn’t feel like an option at all, maybe. But don’t stress yourself out – know this: some action toward getting free can be almost as good as actually getting free.
Knowing you are planning to leave can make you feel more powerful day-to-day, and it can be a good thing to think about during the times you might otherwise dissociate or space out. What I mean is: knowing you have a plan to leave can help you feel less overpowered when you are tolerating narcissistic abuse in order to keep the peace.
Above all, remember that it’s important to be kind and compassionate to yourself now. If you’ve just discovered that you’ve been dealing with narcissistic abuse, you might get angry at yourself for not seeing it sooner. Don’t do that. Give yourself a break – none of us realized we were dealing with this until we realized it!
I don’t want you to feel pressured and rushed. I just want you to recognize that, if you really want to be able to be happy or at least to live a peaceful and even fulfilling life that doesn’t suck, you’re going to have to find a way out of this relationship eventually. And in my experience, that can begin with taking just one small step toward the life you want and deserve. Maybe that just means you start thinking about the possibility of it today.
So, now you know you don’t want a toxic relationship, right? This means that, as you’re moving forward in your narcissistic abuse recovery, you have to start figuring out what you actually do want in your life. This is the key. When you feel like you’re not good enough for the things you want and need in your life, you project that to the universe – and that’s what you get back – more feelings of being (and reasons to feel) “not good enough.”
First, Change your Mind: Realize You’re Already Good Enough.
As like attracts like, when we KNOW that we ARE good enough, that we’re “worth it,” we attract the things and situations we desire. Contrary to the teachings of many societal groups, suffering is not necessary in this life. You don’t have to wait until you’re dead to enjoy your life.
Whatever your reason for feeling that you’re not good enough – your past mistakes, negativity from others in your life – whatever it is – I’m here to tell you that you can change your mind. The power is within you. It’s not up to your mom, your boss, your spouse – it’s up to you. You are the sole individual who has the right to decide who you are, and who has the right to decide whether you’re good enough.
The first step to recognizing that you’re good enough is to identify and release negative self-perceptions. So, in short, stop believing what everyone else says about who you are.
The next part is the fun part.
Next, Decide What (and Who) Comes Next for You.
You get to decide who you want to be. Take the parts of you that you like, and focus on them. Then, think about who you want to be – and become that person.
As you take inspired action to fully express your new self to the world, you must believe that you are already your ideal version of yourself. As Robert Anthony once said, “You can have anything you want if you will give up the belief that you can’t have it.”
Toxic Relationships Make You Think You’re Not Good Enough
Do you feel bad about yourself? Do you feel like you’re not loveable or like you’re just not good enough? Watch How to Stop Feeling Like You’re Not Good Enough – Do This One Thing and Never Doubt Yourself Again: Codependency Recovery on YouTube.
Narcissists Exploit You in the Worst Possible Ways
You have more than one particular quality that narcissists use against you in toxic relationships – and you might be surprised when you learn exactly what it is (and how they use it against you!). Knowledge is power – and learning what the number one mind game narcissists play with you actually is can help you learn to outsmart the narcissist for good! This video will help you to understand the #1 way that narcissists will exploit you.
Be Aware of This Possible Complication in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
If you’ve asked yourself why you’re still obsessed with the narcissist, and what you can do to STOP that, here are the answers you need. You might find that you get a little obsessed with researching and figuring out what you’ve been through when you finally discover that you’ve been dealing with narcissistic abuse. You’ll want to know everything you can about narcissists and narcissism. You’ll be digging into your own psychological issues and trying to figure yourself out too. All of that is normal and healthy. But at some point, you might get stuck and feel almost addicted to checking on the narcissist, what they’re doing, who they’re with, what they’re posting on social media.
That’s normal too, but only for a while. You’re going to want to let go of this a quickly as you can if you want to be able to heal and to move forward.
Here’s what you need to know about healing and letting go after a toxic relationship with a narcissist.
Why You’re Obsessed With the Truth About the Narcissist (And How to LET GO and Move Forward)
If you are experiencing trauma bonds you may notice how difficult it is to put any attention on yourself except to feel the pain of the trauma bonds. One effect trauma bonding to a narcissist has on you is that it creates an overwhelming impulse to be thinking about the narcissist or trying to rationalize what happened in the relationship.
The gripping emotional pain and the way your mind wants only to think about the narcissist or the pain they caused you can make it feel impossible to even try when a suggestion of self-care is given. There are ways to help you through this and ideas for self-care which can be done simply throughout your day.
Self-care can take many forms, the more commonly thought of things like pampering yourself or treating yourself to something nice may not work for everyone when deeply trauma bonded. It may feel artificial or be hard to enjoy when your mind is on the narcissist. When things are really at a low point you may not even have the energy to do extra pampering things and think self-care will come later, once you feel better.
One thing to remember is self-care works, it just takes repeated efforts and many types of care to get there for some of us. A big piece of breaking trauma bonds is in taking back your life. Once you begin to feel your own joys and your own excitement about life and your activities you will begin to focus more on self and less on the narcissist.
Over time, and with healthy amounts of self-care the bonds lessen and you will feel your focus shift onto things you want to think about instead of things you have been in a sense forced to because of trauma bonds.
Here are 5 ways to use self-care in your everyday life:
Nurture yourself in everyday activities.
As you go about your day barely functioning it may seem impossible to think you can use any amount of self-care or add in anything new because of the exhaustion you feel. This is the perfect time to learn how to make self-care a lifestyle. One of the good things that can come out of being a survivor of narcissistic abuse is you can learn to care for self in a more compassionate, mindful and deeper way through your healing process.
What works great here is to look at the things you will do in a day and add some positive thought or intention to a few of those things. For instance, you are likely to shower or at least brush your teeth, Instead of going about these tasks in a business-like way and letting them just be tasks, use the time to experience self-care.
As an example, try adding in positive intention before showering by thinking something like, “I will let this water wash away a layer of my pain .” Before you get in set the water temperature to just the way you like it and allow yourself to feel the care you are giving to self through small gestures.
Appreciate yourself and try noticing things like the scent of the soap. Understand that you are taking the time for you. It only takes a few seconds and with practice can become a part of your daily routine. Try this when you eat, when you dress, when you take a walk (even if it’s just from your house to your car). Pretty much any activity can have an ounce of self-care added to help you regain your sense of self again.
Use your senses
Using your senses for self-care can be the most nurturing thing you can do for yourself. It is especially useful when trauma bonded because it directs the attention, without words, to a more nurturing experience and reaches your emotions without the need for a lot of thinking,
The fastest way to the emotions is through the sense of smell. Since the sense of smell can trigger emotions it’s important to find positive scents that please you to have around. While scent may get to the emotions the fastest, all of your senses are important for self-care.
If you can think of ways to use all of your senses to truly nurture yourself, you will be showing yourself love and care in easy to do simply ways. It’s the kind of care that needs no words and is simply felt. After all the thinking you are likely doing while healing from trauma bonding it can be the perfect break from thought.
Here are a few for using your senses:
Get out in nature and experience the sights, scents, and sounds.
Walk barefoot in the grass or soft dirt/sand
Choose a favorite food and really let yourself taste it as you eat
Light scented candles
Put on your most comfy outfit
Curl up in a cozy blanket
Pet an animal
Sip your favorite hot drink
Wear your favorite color
Get yourself flowers and put them where you can enjoy them
When you’ve trauma bonded, your mind can feel stuck on thinking about the narcissist or the pain they have caused you. You may feel almost obsessed with understanding what happened and why.
Understanding is so important and I think for some people, critical to not only healing but to their not allowing another narcissist into their lives. Seeking understanding, however, needs breaks of focus so that you are also getting the nurturing you need in your day.
One way to get a break from the thinking about the narcissist is to find an outside focus to learn about or revisit. Maybe it’s a thing you used to love and have not done in a while that you might take up again, or perhaps it’s something brand new.
Taking time each day to seek out not only new things to learn or try but to revisit old things you once did and loved will help you to create a thriving self as the trauma bonds heal. It is never too soon to start this, even if you are still with the narcissist.
Self-care in this way helps us have a sense of who we are which is so quickly lost to narcissistic abuse. That sense of self, as it is restored or maybe gained for the first time will bring you a freedom that is totally separate from the trauma bond and help to allow those bonds to be less intense and eventually heal.
Allow for your feelings but add in breaks for your nervous system
The feelings you are experiencing are real and need validating but after a lot of time feeling so bad it can be extremely draining. By giving yourself breaks from the stress you will build hope for healing.
Taking a break will also calm your nervous system some and bit by bit this will add up to feeling better. I am not suggesting dissociating but rather shifting focus for a limited time to get some relaxation and relief from the trauma bonds. Some ways to get an emotional break in healthy ways might be:
Set a task to do that will take ten-15 min and do it with all of your attention
Take a nap
Gently tell yourself it is ok to have a break from the pain then take a walk
Create art- paint, draw, photograph, anything that allows you to create
There is a lot of adrenaline and cortisol coursing through you when being abused and that can cause a lot of issues for your health and body. Movement can help to begin healing that. It may feel impossible to get out and exercise and if that is the case do it right where you are.
At any moment stretch, move your arms around, do a squat or two, try a plank, or just touch your toes (or knees if bending hurts). Work within your physical limits and move!! your body care at the same time. Your body takes on a lot of stress from emotional abuse, things, like dancing or even swaying to music, may give you nurturing care. You may find that yoga, Pilates. dance or another exercise class which includes core work and stretching very beneficial. For now, if that is too much to add to your day, just move your body with love and intent on healing.
What are self-care ways that help you to get through emotional pain? Can you think of things you might do to nurture another person and then try them on yourself? What will your life look like once you are healed and thriving?
Thanks for reading this post! My name is Lise Colucci and I am one of the certified life coaches at QueenBeeing. Learn more about me here or schedule a one-on-one coaching session with me here.