The Empath's Guide to Surviving a Narcissist

Are you an empath in a relationship with a narcissist? If your answer is yes, then I have a suggestion for you right off the bat—get out. 

Wait, I’m sorry, that isn’t how I meant to say it.  What I meant to say is PLEASE, GET OUT, RIGHT NOW! That is the best piece of advice anyone, anywhere will give you, I promise.

But we all have different situations and different ways of dealing with the journey we are on. If the narcissist in your life is a brother, child, boss or someone else that you cannot or will not cut ties with, then you need to think about how you will work on the relationship—knowing that it will be you who is doing all the work. It’s monumentally important that you take VERY good care of yourself while you are dealing with the situation.

In this article, we will explore empaths and narcissists and the dynamic between them, and why self-care must be your go-to, every single day. The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and getting there is worth all the effort.

So what’s an empath, and what’s a narcissist?

Empaths are emotional sponges. You are highly sensitive to the emotions of others, and you often take them in as your own. You absorb both the good and bad feelings of the people and environments around you, and you have an abundance of compassion. You are sensitive and caring and you tend to put others’ needs above your own.

A narcissist is your opposite. Not only are they insensitive to the feelings of others, they are incapable of empathizing with them. Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance, but underneath the surface they have very low self-esteem. They use people to feed their own egos by requiring admiration and praise, and they become angry if they don’t get it.

What happens when empaths and narcissists connect?

The empath is very vulnerable while connected to a narcissist, and it’s easy to see why. The empath is a natural nurturer and giver who will often sacrifice their own well-being to help others. The charming narcissist can spot this vulnerability and will waste no time exploiting it. 

The result is a bunch of manipulative and gaslighting behavior. The narcissist may degrade the empath until very little self-worth is left. The emotional carnage left in the wake of narcissistic abuse is devastating, and the empath who lacks awareness about these issues is always at risk.

Now that the scene is set, let’s look at some of the ways you can manage your relationship with a narcissist when, for whatever reason, you cannot leave. 

While you are in the relationship

#1: Don’t neglect your supportive friends and family

Remember, the narcissist is threatened by people that recognize their narcissistic abuse. If they suspect that your friends and family see them for who they are, they may try to isolate you. This can happen subtly, at first, with casual comments criticizing them or not telling you when they call. You must recognize this right away and be sure that you maintain the relationships that bring you comfort with people that care about you.

#2: Keep tabs on your emotional state

Check in with yourself regularly and ask yourself what you are feeling. Do this while you are alone, and again when you are in the presence of the narcissist. Is there a big difference?  Does your emotional state take a dive when they are around? If you are feeling positive by yourself, and then negative while you are with them, you are soaking up some very bad energy that is not your own. At the very least, find activities and people that provide the positive energy you need to recover.

#3: Get familiar with the narcissist personality

Learn all you can about how narcissists operate. The more you know about them, the easier it will be to recognize their abuse. It’s important that you know when your feelings of hurt and confusion are a result of their manipulation, and that you don’t blame yourself. You are less likely to be in their crosshairs if you can identify their M.O. before you suffer more damage.

#4: Spend time alone

This tip is not about introversion. I am not suggesting that you need time alone to regenerate, although that may be one welcomed outcome. You must spend time alone to identify and feel your own emotions so that you will get better at knowing what belongs to you, and what belongs to the narcissist. It’s not likely that you will be able to think clearly around the narcissist, and sorting your feelings in their presence is hard. So you must take time to be alone as often as you can.

#5: Don’t expect them to change

If you plan to interact with a narcissist on a regular basis for any reason, it’s important that you have realistic expectations and that you don’t expect them to change – they probably can’t, at least not to the degree you are hoping. The emotional roller coaster you will be on by hoping and then being disappointed, over and over, can do extensive damage. The narcissist will not suddenly recognize all your love and attention and then appreciate you. You will need to live with this.

Recovering from the relationship

Empaths who recognize that they are dealing with abuse may decide to leave the relationship. When that light finally goes on, you’ll need to pluck up the courage to walk away. These tips will help:

#1: Eliminate or reduce contact

If possible, break off all contact with the narcissist. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, if the person is your ex-spouse and you have kids you will need to interact, but you can reduce your contact with them to minimize the abuse. Either way, setting clear boundaries is a must, and the sooner the better. If you are sucked back into the confusion by the narcissist, old wounds will open and you will have to start all over again. Remember that the narcissist will do what it takes to keep you in their snare not because they value you, but because they need the adoration you give them.

#2: Lean on your tribe

You know those same people that stood nearby and supported you through the abusive relationship? That’s your tribe. Lean on the people in your life that value you and want your happiness. When you first leave it’s very hard to see things clearly, and your tribe can give you a more objective view. They can help you set appropriate boundaries and their love will help you heal. 

#3: Learn what healthy relationships look like

When someone leaves an abusive relationship it’s hard to recognize healthy behavior at first. The psychological damage caused by the narcissist can keep the empath from recognizing a healthy relationship. It’s best to see a mental health professional to help you identify healthy, loving people before you make ties with someone new. 

#4: Make a plan for self-care

Most likely you have not been used to caring for yourself because you have been busy caring for the narcissist. That’s why I say make a plan, or you may not find the time to do this. You may “busy” yourself with a to-do list to keep from dealing with the pain, but you should slow down and feel your feelings. Then plan for self-care each day until it becomes second nature. Make a plan for anything that nurtures, comforts or elevates your self-esteem. Make this plan a priority.

#5: Forgive yourself

Even though you did nothing wrong, there may be a tendency to blame yourself for allowing the abuse. The narcissist is skilled at gaslighting and may have convinced you that it was all your fault. You may feel shame, or you may be angry at yourself for staying as long as you did. But unless you forgive yourself you will never fully heal. Treat yourself the way you would treat someone else in the same situation—with love and compassion.

Reclaiming your independence from a narcissist

Once you are on your way to healthier relationships and independence, you will feel the heavy burden of abuse being lifted more and more and healing will happen. You will become wise and able to help other empaths through this situation. Nothing is better than the joy and fulfillment that an empath can experience when living their best life, and this will become available to you. My wish for you is that you will learn to care for yourself the way you care for others, whether you stay or leave, and that you will come to treasure your gift as an empath.

Becky Green
Becky Green is a Social Worker and MBTI® Practitioner certified by The Center for Applications of Psychological Type. Becky loves to explore human differences, and she is convinced that proven typology tools can help us foster compassion today when it's sorely needed. Her INFJ happy place is writing in her home office with 432 Hz music playing and a dog named Rocker on her lap.