Once upon a time I believed that having a disability was the hardest part of my life. I thought it intruded on every aspect of daily living, and I thought that it was the ultimate yoke to bear. Reflecting back on everything I’ve been through, specifically due to disability, I realize that me thinking that disability was the toughest part of my human experience was naive.
Empath: (noun) – em·path/ˈempaTH/plural noun: empaths. 1. (chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual. (See also, Empathic)
Narcissist: (noun) – nar·cis·sist/ˈnärsəsəst/ plural noun: narcissists. 1. a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.
The chances of a narcissist and an empath crossing paths, I am pretty damn sure is near 100%. The likelihood of their entering into some sort of serious or consistent relationship is about 150% — whether romantic, professional, relative, or familial. Harder (by far) than any disability diagnosis I could conjure, is the longterm relationship between an empathic person and a narcissistic/sociopathic personality.
I have been in such a relationship for almost two decades that entails so many intricate social rules of engagement, that defining and maintaining boundaries that both work and are socially acceptable have been literally impossible. It has been a relationship that has demanded loyalty on many levels, it has been one of the highest callings of responsibility and self-sacrifice than any I can think of, and socially-speaking — it is a relationship that is completely taboo to complain about, seek help for, extricate yourself from in one piece, and find support for when you’re remotely able to begin healing.
Typically the empathic-narcissistic relationship is generated based on attraction — dating, marriage, partnering, etc. But not all of them. My situation has not been one based on attraction or romantic love interests. Thankfully I have had a strong (but tested) marriage to carry me through when I didn’t think I could get to the end of the day, the week, or the month. My husband has been the only person in my life who has been able to be supportive in the most literal sense, and this was only after he briefly experienced for himself what I had been dealing with; it totally revealed to him what my own constant environment was, and from that moment on his support has been invaluable. The years prior to his experience and recognition of the truth felt like a chilly winter solitude to me. It was incredibly confusing.
True to form in the empathic-narcissistic relationship paradigm I felt guilt, embraced blame, and took gaslighting and public humiliations as truth. Over time it eroded me into an echo chamber in my head of worthlessness that was compounded by many social and environmental situations that , now with clear eyes, I am able to distinguish as the work of the energy vampire that ran the environment and the optics. The unspoken social norms we are all bound to culturally tend to keep people in toxic relationships, or keep from them being able to enact healthy boundaries so they can find respite and outlets to gain inner balance.
Recently the blinders were peeled off my eyes in a rip-the-bandaid-off sort of way — traumatic but necessary. This was due in part to real-time circumstances and in part to finally getting out of an environment that had supported nearly two decades of intense struggle. Funnily enough, the blinders peeled off while the actual narcissistic person screamed at me in erratic swipes to maintain the status quo, even as they realized this was the end of the gravy train and they were not going to get their way, regardless of what they said, regardless the depths of the low-blows they stooped to in their desperation.
Painful? Yes — excruciating — especially when by nature, you’re tuned in to and dialed up for helping, rescuing, caring, and sacrificing your own health, needs, common sense, and security for someone mentally and emotionally bleeding out in front of you. It is in those moments as an empathic person that you viscerally know their pain because you instantly relate to it and recall it as your own pain from a time when you yourself were in need. Empaths never want others to ever feel the pain they themselves have felt, and by God…narcissists innately know this, and they take full advantage of an unchecked emotional and energetic fuel pump.
As I was being screamed at, insulted and blamed…something in me switched from sacrificing more of myself to a bottomless pit of their take-and-no-give policy; I miraculously shifted into harnessing my strength back to Me, to begin putting Me back together. It had finally become so out of touch with reality and exhausting enough that I hit a brick wall. I emotionally and mentally slammed into a stopping point that should have been met years ago with peaceful loving intention. I placed the sole responsibility of this person’s situation back into their hands with love for them and love for myself…cap on fuel pump. In fact…pump closed. When that metaphorically happened, it felt like a puzzle piece of my inner-self snapped into place, and when it did, this is the thought that occurred to me for the first time in over 15-years:
I am worthy.
I am worthy of self-love. I am worthy of self-preservation where it harms none. I am worthy of love from others, family members, friends, strangers, society, and (for those that need it put this way) God-energy. I may be a grain of sand in the grand scheme of things, but my fleck of existence adds to humanity. Without it (or the millions of other grains of sand that have also been led to believe they are worthless), there would be even more imbalance in the world. It means everyone matters — even the narcissist. The difference is now they have to take responsibility for their place in the cosmos based on what they’re contributing, versus what they’re siphoning away.
In the middle of the berating that flowed at me like a torrent, I suddenly felt real love for myself. In that moment I released all of my expectations I held over myself and others in my life that was based on my own pain and isolation from this relationship. Ultimately, what other people think of me is their lens — their love or hatred of me has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with themselves. The same goes for myself…my judgements and discernments are nothing but projections of my best and worst self fobbed onto others.
When I realized, “Hold on a minute! This is not my shit show, and I am worth more than what I’m experiencing right now!” I experienced a sudden moment of recognition: I suddenly recognized positive, loving emotions, as feelings and emotions from some distant healthy past — possibly as far back as childhood. In Nancy Meyer’s film The Holiday, when Cameron Diaz’ character is leaving Iris’s cottage to fly back to L.A., she starts to cry for the first time since childhood. The narrator says in a warm bemused voice, “Welcome back, Amanda Woods!”
That? That is exactly how I felt. I came face-to-face with this little towheaded blonde tweety-bird of an inner child that just had pure love in her heart for everyone, and it was reciprocated.
Reciprocated!! Bam! I know her! She’s so cool!
“Welcome back, Bethany Hoppe….”
There is no love reciprocation in the empathic-narcissistic relationship paradigm. But the nature of the empath is to keep pouring their love into the relationship in often desperate (always self-sacrificial) ways to garner a glimmer of love in return. Unfortunately, small tokens and examples of what appears to be reciprocated love by the narcissist almost always have strings attached to either get something that they want, or buffer a wrong they have already done. The moment the empathic person in the relationship acquiesces or forgives, and the need of the narcissist is fulfilled, they drop the demonstrations of love and often become more rude or brutal out of what is actually their own self-loathing (which they must reject out of self-interest and self-survival and send outside of themselves to their “loved ones”). The poor empath tries harder. Fuel cap off. Tap on full.
Expressions of love from the narcissist — all of them — are manipulations and nothing more. They don’t love you. They love what they can get from you. And when the well is tapped dry they move on. If they’re told “No!” they turn on you viciously, desperately, and intentionally. What’s more — no one — NO ONE outside of the relationship dynamic sees it happening. In fact, the empathic victim is often the point of reference for blame and social humiliation because they are not the ones in control of the optics, and optics are everything for the narcissist. By contrast, empaths almost never try to control the optics, because to them controlling the optics feels unethical and untruthful. The narcissistic person knows this. The result is lost healthy relationships which compounds the isolation of the empathic person, while reaffirming to them the gaslit beliefs the narcissist feeds them.
Why am I writing this?
To be honest, it probably still has a lot to do with being empathic, or at least compassionate. I know that millions of people on this planet are in true pain because of the toxic relationship dynamic resulting in self-hatred, lack of boundaries, and the super loud echo-chambers of their thinking brain keeping them in an unsustainable place. If there weren’t millions of people sucked into this nasty vortex we would not have these terms and definitions; but we do. The terminology is real because the number of people experiencing it are real. I write in hope that my tiny world experience and my personal Oprah “A-Ha! Moment” might be a small flashpoint of recognition for others stuck with the awful lie that someone else’s life and problems are their fault, when in fact, they’re not. If you are not actively out there intentionally finding ways to hurt others (and believe me, those bastards exist, too)…but instead you find you’re putting yourself last, taking on someone else’s pain while they flit around doing more harm, or if you’re more worried about the life and safety of a person more than they are for themselves, and you blame yourself for their predicaments…this is for you.
You are worth more. You are not here to solve someone else’s problems as they gleefully create more. You are free from their choices, good or bad. Social norms be damned…do what you can to lovingly let them go to figure it out for themselves. Do what you can to stop enabling them. Do what you can to begin to care for and love yourself so you may enjoy the healthy love and relationships that are all around you, still. I know what it is like to believe loving and balanced relationships don’t exist because you are in such a fog from an all-encompassing bad relationship . I know what it is like to firmly believe you are alone and disliked because your self-esteem is so wrapped up in a losing battle that it permeates all of your other relationships — but I also know what it is like to come to the realization that your isolating beliefs are not true. It is a glorious emotion that brings you to your knees in thankfulness and relief. The clouds clear, the sun shows up, and you suddenly see people who have been beside you without access to you, the whole time. As a bonus, you get your healthy compassion for humanity back, too, because you see the big picture again, not a single focal point that blocks out the sun.
What you are worthy of is love, compassion, time, personal peace, zero baggage, creativity, freedom of expression, and self-responsibility to yourself and your environment.
You are worthy. Just you. For you.
I am worthy. Just me. For me.
We are worth it.