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Are relationships between empaths and narcissists always toxic?

Are relationships between empaths and narcissists always toxic?

As the adage goes, opposites attract… or do they? From horoscopes, classic rom-coms, and even our dating app preferences, many of us seem almost obsessed with our personality types and who we are (and aren’t) compatible with. 

Now consider an unlikely romantic relationship between two people with personality types that couldn’t be more mismatched—an empath and narcissist. They’re two individuals connected by temptation: The temptation the empath faces in attempting to “fix” the narcissist, and the temptation of the narcissist not to take full-blown advantage of the empath’s kindness. 

If they have the willingness to address their toxic traits, especially with assistance from a mental health professional, narcissists can change. But just as important as it is for narcissists to get help, empaths must remember that it’s not their job to “fix” other people. 

What Happens When an Empath Meets a Narcissist?

First off, the terms “empath” and “narcissist” (at least in this context) aren’t proper psychological terms or conditions, but more general descriptions for personality types that are essentially opposites. 

To understand what might happen when an empath and narcissist meet, it’s important to know the general characteristics of both personality types. 

Empaths are often: 

  • Highly sensitive to the emotions and energy of others, experiencing them as if they’re your own 
  • Wanting to provide comfort and support when needed
  • The friend or family member that others “go to” for advice or comfort
  • Naturally caring

In comparison, narcissists are typically: 

  • Cunning 
  • Insensitive
  • Insecure on the inside but can come across as suave and confident 
  • Likely to be emotionally manipulative
  •  unreasonably high sense of self-importance and requiring constant attention and admiration

Because of the heightened sense of emotional intelligence empaths have, when they meet a narcissist, they might sense that inner emotional trauma or posturing and try and comfort the narcissist, taking on their natural “nurturing” role. 

The narcissist may recognize this as an opportunity and can use charm, money, status, or feigned acts of selflessness to win the empath’s trust. This behavior is also known popularly as love bombing. 

Can an Empath Be Happy with a Narcissist?

It’s possible for an empath and narcissist to make it work. But as the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship begins to fade, the relationship between an empath and narcissist may become more toxic.

The empath in the relationship wants to help the narcissist—who typically won’t use that surplus affection and devotion to make personal improvements or give back to their partner. Instead, a narcissist might simply seek to soak up the attention while ignoring, or remaining oblivious to the needs of others—at least until conflict arises and they’re in danger of losing the relationship.

One of the issues in a relationship between an empath and narcissist is that the empath may be resistant to the idea that their partner’s behavior is primarily to blame for the relationship’s unhealthy nature. They may also refuse to accept that they can’t “fix” the other person.

Narcissists can change. After all, our personalities are malleable, if we’re willing to grow and develop them. But if a narcissist isn’t willing to get help for their dysfunctional behavior, it’s likely that the relationship between an empath and narcissist will be tumultuous, painful, and could even result in a trauma bond.  

If you’re an empath in a relationship with a narcissist, it may be difficult to accept this reality, but it’s important to protect yourself and your own well-being. Unless your partner is willing to change and get help, you’re likely to continue to suffer. 

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Who are Empaths Attracted to?

There’s no concrete research as to who in particular empaths are attracted to. However, evidence does suggest that as people, we tend to gravitate toward people with the personality traits that we admire and possess. 

Our common values, in other words, often drive us to be attracted to people that we’ll have things in common with. In the case of a narcissist, they often present as unusually confident, driven, and often quite charming around others. 

An empath may interpret this charismatic energy as compassion. And what at first seems to be emotional availability is actually an emotional manipulation tactic—but a trusting empath may not always recognize this at first sight.  

How Do You Tell If You're an Empath or a Narcissist?

Both an empath and narcissist are very sensitive individuals but in different ways. Empaths  may internalize what other people are going through, blaming themselves for being unable to make others feel better. 

And on the other hand, narcissists tend to intensely dislike criticism or feelings of inadequacy. Because of this, their feelings can get hurt easily and they may say or do things that burn bridges, creating a pattern that they come to regret. 

Qualities of Narcissists

  • An overinflated sense of self-importance 
  • Belief that they’re exceptional
  • Inability to celebrate the accomplishments of others
  • Tendency to think they’re misunderstood by everyone
  • Few long-term friendships

Qualities of an Empath

  • Tendency to try and “fix” other people’s issues
  • Lack of personal boundaries
  • Sometimes referred to as “too nice” or forgiving
  • Has lots of friends and social connections
  • Naturally generous and supportive of others 

Can Someone Be an Empath and a Narcissist?

No. Someone can think that they’re an empath, but in reality, they’re narcissistic—and narcissists can be empathetic at times. Despite what we commonly think, narcissists may be more emotionally aware than presumed, which means that they may be entirely conscious of how uncaring and ruthless their actions and words can be. 

But usually, most people aren’t entirely narcissistic or empathetic. We may be more of a mix of both, depending on the situation and circumstances we encounter.

What Happens When an Empath Leaves a Narcissist?

The most dangerous time for an empath is right after they leave a narcissist. Narcissists are notorious for overreacting to even the slightest bruising of their ego, and the retaliation could potentially impact an empath’s career, social circle, and housing. If children are involved, they may also be used as a way to manipulate the empath. 

But eventually, if the empath decides not to return to the relationship, the narcissist will move on. This can be difficult for both individuals. An empath may wonder if they were the ones that overreacted, or feel guilty that they “gave up” on their partner. 

Is There Treatment for an Empath and Narcissist?

Both an empath and narcissist can benefit from mental health services after splitting up, but for different reasons. Breakups are a time of stress and crisis: Therapy can help you achieve and maintain your goals, post-breakup. 

A narcissist may benefit from talk therapy, such as dialectical behavior therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help them understand their toxic behaviors and ineffective coping mechanisms. Psychiatric care can also be a successful tool to manage any underlying mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that may be aggravating their narcissistic tendencies. 

Empaths may need help processing the relationship they’ve endured. Trauma therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and psychiatric care to recover from narcissistic mistreatment, depending on the severity of the situation. Empaths may also find shelter and solace within a support group of individuals who have also survived narcissistic mistreatment or abuse

For an empath and narcissist who are currently still together, relationship counseling could offer the relationship a better chance of enduring. Relationship counselors can identify and help partners eliminate the dysfunctional or even codependent behaviors that are pulling them out of sync. 

Overall, no matter how hard they might try, an empath can’t make a narcissist change their behavior. But narcissistic behavior appears to be a learned set of traits; which means they’re correctable. By working together as a team (and with a narcissist’s commitment to change), and seeking couples and/or individual counseling, the empath and narcissist can create a happier ending for their relationship. 

  • Clinical reviewer
  • Writer
Christine Ridley, Resident in Counseling in Winston-Salem, NC

Christine Ridley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in adolescent and adult anxiety, depression, mood and thought disorders, addictive behaviors, and co-dependency issues.

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Jason CrosbyMental Health Writer

Jason Crosby is a Senior Copywriter at Thriveworks. He received his BA in English Writing from Montana State University with a minor in English Literature. Previously, Jason was a freelance writer for publications based in Seattle, WA, and Austin, TX.


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