The Vicious Game
Throughout our lives, highly sensitive people (empaths) tend to be confronted with a certain personality type all too often. A character guided by a moral compass so in need of calibration that while thinking they’re headed True North they wind up in North Korea.
It’s the woman who belittles and criticizes others in their absence, then humors them in their presence. The one who sees flaws in every successful person or business they know and finds a sense of superiority in expressing those views. The guy who has to one-up every opinion you voice. The boss who furtively manipulates people and situations to suit their own agenda. The ‘buddy’ who will talk about themselves for hours, days, weeks and never even think to ask how you are. The entrepreneur who unabashedly promotes themselves in a false light. The boyfriend who lies so well that he no longer knows the difference between fact and his own bull…
Oh you know this person, eh? It hardly comes as a surprise. It is my understanding that we all have narcissistic or egocentric tendencies, but just to be clear, those I am addressing here are pathologically consigned. Unfortunately our success-driven society provides many safe places for this personality type to slip under the radar, often even becoming strong leaders with successful careers. The Alpha, power tripper, egoist – I’m talking about the Narcissist.
Most people are living alongside those with a narcissistic disorder without being too clued into their darker underlying motivations. It is the disempowered Empath, the highly sensitive person, who most deeply experiences the repercussions of associating with them.
As ironic as it seems, empaths are easily enchanted by the Narcissist, often enamored and whisked away upon meeting them. Being dynamic, passionate and full of conviction, narcissists create a space of inspiration and intrigue. They love to hear the sound of their own voice, so they are easily drawn to people less outspoken. Because empaths believe in the good nature of these beings they will quiet down, hold space, nod and lend an interested ear. We think we have a new friend, and though we can see these dangerous traits in them, we think, “but they would never turn on me“, “just give them a chance” or “they’re fun, so a little extra drama in my life won’t kill me”. So we lounge in the vivacity of this strong and intense personality, as they feed our imaginations with their stories and ideas.
Slowpoke Rodriguez and The Narcissist
In my experience, as a highly sensitive person with a strong awareness of my own unhealed egocentric traits, I found myself involved with this dynamic all too often over the years. I quickly become enamored, and then due to the volatility of the narcissist, I inevitably (yet naively unsuspectingly) become the object of their criticism. A mistake, some form of miscommunication, or some perceived flaw in my character triggers the beast. As healers, our immediate instinct is to talk it out or try and understand the other’s perspective. But I quickly learned how these conversations go, and often become too paralyzed by genius attack to make any effort to reason. I then retreat knowing that the more I say the more my perspective will be manipulated, one-upped or disregarded at best. The narcissist has no intention of letting their guard down, seeing another point of view, or forgiving “mistakes” — let alone having an understanding conversation. All they want is to be affirmed in their rightness.
With so much left unsaid and so much resentment in the air, I get deeply disappointed and spend days or weeks with a sense of being let down. Baffled, I ask again and again, why are people so cruel? Why do even well-intended people show such little integrity? Suddenly my friend is now my enemy and every charming thing that sparked my interest in them begins to feel like another deception.
When I focus on what they’ve said and done, I stumble around my mind thinking of all the reasons why this person can’t be trusted, and as they speak I listen with that filter. See, manipulation! See, criticism! See, deceit! I then find myself hating this person, resisting them, feeling a strong sense of distrust when they come into my physical space. And of course they notice my discomfort, they even seem to thrive off of it, leading them to provoke more uncomfortable emotions. It’s the classic cat and mouse chase… and in these moments I can best be likened to Slowpoke Rodriguez.
In my mousy state I quickly head to safety and start running my rusty wheel with all my might. What’s happening here?! How can the arrival of one person take me from my inspired, happy state and turn me into a bumbling fool?
It’s a confusing state of mind where the same questions seem to emerge. What did I do wrong? What’s wrong with me? How did I allow myself to trust this person in the first place? I’ve probably found a million different answers to these questions throughout the course of my life, but not a single one of them has helped me better handle the situation.
I tried empathy, the deep fishing and reflection that makes Highly Sensitive People so unique. It always lead me to understanding their point of view to such a degree that I would disregard my own, allowing for another painful go at the relationship. I tried forgiveness, which would calm things for a bit, until the narcissism struck again, taking me back through the whole process. I tried conscious communication, speaking my truth from vulnerability and honesty. Oops! Just gave them more fuel to burn me with.
Liberation from the power struggles
Exhausted from my inability to make peace in these relationships, new questions started emerging for me. What is my role in this? What is my responsibility here?
Of course! It was only by asking empowered questions could I hear an empowered answer.
Without the mouse, there is no chase!
In this cat and mouse conflict there are two indispensable parts to the equation: the aggressor and the victim. So in a squeaky mousy voice I now had to declare it: I was playing victim.
Somehow, when you’ve allowed your personal power to be stripped away by this dynamic, the seemingly logical “walk away” ceases to become an option. So in this prison I considered myself an innocent bystander to the cruelty and manipulation of others. And as victims tend to do, I hid, I blamed, I got angry, I judged and I held a grudge; and in doing so, I perpetuated the abusive ego-driven cycle. I shut down my empathic heart and became narcissistic myself.
There are many people who take pity on mice, even find them adorable, so empaths are easily validated in their victimhood. Just like there are no social systems in play to keep a narcissist in check, the victim continues to be chased down without the slightest awareness of their responsibility. The “gift” of the narcissist is that they already have enough validation and conviction within themselves that even if standing alone, they will not lose a chase. Chances are a true Narcissist won’t be reading this post (they’ll be too busy pushing their own agenda), so it’s up to the empaths to empower ourselves enough to take responsibility and step out of the the chase!
We must learn the difference between empathy and compassion in regards to others and begin acting accordingly. Once freed from this power dynamic, we can use our own powers of empathy and forgiveness for a greater good, as opposed to running around in circles with people who abuse us. We are healers, nurturers and supporters, and our energy is best spent on healing ourselves while surrounded by those who respect us and have our best interest at heart. We easily see everyone’s longing for love and acceptance, including the Narcissist’s, but if we continuously find ourselves in this cat and mouse chase, it means we have forgotten our own boundaries, true compassion, self-reliance and self-love. We can understand them, but until we apply that same empathy and forgiveness to ourselves, we will not be able to set the proper boundaries we need in order to shine to our fullest.
May we all find the power within us to step out of the power struggle!