Relationships: Narcissist vs. Empath
By Lou Dos Santos
In this article I want to discuss relationships. Now as we all know, there are many different types and forms. We have friendships, parents, children and spouses or partners in our lives. Each one is different and often times very complicated. What I would like to focus on is more on marriage and “life long” partnerships. The reason for this is because how complicated and difficult at times it can be for two strangers to meet, fall in love and make a life long commitment to one another. It can feel so wonderful, to feel so fortunate that you found “the one” you always wished for. But as we know, things are not as simple over time. In the beginning it’s about the love, that sense of curiosity to learn your partner, the “new car smell” if you will. The flaws, certain behavior issues that bother or hurt you tend to come a bit later on. Because in the beginning, there is no track record to go by. Early on in a relationship it’s about fun, spending time together and enjoy the other persons company. However, as the relationship grows, things do change, it’s inevitable because such is life. As two individuals make that commitment, decide to share a home, start a family, the “real world” starts to take hold. The stress of bills, health, family and many other issues and responsibilities enter into the equation. Issues that were not there in the dating stage. This is why there is such a high divorce rate. There are many relationships that struggle to survive and why? There are so many reasons, each relationship has a life of it’s own. We are all different as people and many cases (being brutally honest) there are many that should not be in a relationship. The words “there is someone out there for everyone” sound great and encouraging to someone searching for that special person. But a “healthy” relationship requires a lot of work, understanding, sacrifice, trust and another thing I want to get to “empathy”. Why do I say this? I will explain, so simple and yet so complicated and for some, impossible.
The Narcissist Partner.
Let’s discuss this individual and the results in a relationship or even a friendship for that matter. Ask yourself if you’ve had a friend or even a family member that has hurt you, repeatedly. Taken advantage of you to where you have even felt that the friendship or relationship is “one sided”? I do want to make something clear. I do not mean an incident, a weak or bad moment or hurtful words during an argument. I’m speaking of a pattern, on going and consistent one, long term, possibly the entire life of the relationship. This is an example of dealing with a person with a narcissistic personality. Now this needs to be said. There are many forms and degrees of narcissism. Some have a few traits and some are extreme. Nonetheless, narcissistic personalities can be very difficult to deal with and very hurtful to others as well. It’s simple. When ones thoughts and actions are entirely based on what they want or need without taking into account the consequences to others, even loved ones, this creates anger, pain and so many other emotions to the recipient of this behavior. In relationships, this behavior exists far to often. To understand degrees, there are parents that display this behavior with their own children. Parents that put themselves before the best interest of their child. You may not be able to grasp this, that it can’t be possible, maybe they will with others but not their own child. Well, yes it happens and the reality is that there are far too many that should never have become parents so imagine a marriage or partnership.
Can People Change?
How about this simple answer. YES and also NO. That is actually very simple and accurate. Yes people can change. We learn from experiences in life, hopefully. We grow as individuals through our successes and our failures as well. We’re expected to mature, grow as people, do better, understand more and therefore make better decisions for ourselves and those in our lives. However, to better ourselves, we have to take the initiative. We have to change those things we know we need to. This is why so many relationships fail, friendships fail, family members drift apart. Because that needed change never happened or a refusal to change even knowing that certain behaviors are hurting a friend or loved one. Think about alcohol or drug addiction. That is a situation of addiction. A serious often life threatening condition. Think of knowing someone going through this. You want them to stop, you wish they would and many do. But so many have been given a choice, your family or your addiction. Too many choose the latter of the two, yes the addiction is overpowering, controlling them. As much as we may want for them, ultimately they need to decide to make a change. Now in this situation a person may need help and treatment. Many have been forced to get help and then fail. Some have taken it upon themselves to change their lives on their own, I’ve known many and have tremendous pride and admiration for them conquering their addiction. However, we have to choose to change. In a relationship, dealing with a narcissist individual, they have to change themselves. The goal of I’m going to change another person is simply a recipe for failure. Yes we can help. It may require therapy, medication that of course would be dependent on the situation or condition. However, it still comes down to this, making a choice to change, to better our lives and therefor the lives of those around us.
The Empathetic Partner.
There are many that do not understand the difference between “sympathy” and “empathy” because they are both quite different. In a relationship or friendship for example, that person may hurt you repeatedly and feel sorry for you. They may feel sorry for the hurt they caused you. Is that comforting? Larger question, is it comforting to hear they feel sorry for you and continue the pattern? We all know it’s not. Those words are simply meaningless, they are empty words and even more hurtful at times. Because when you have been hurt many times by that same person who feels “sorry for you” yet they continue the same behavior, it may seem condescending and belittling. In other words “I feel sorry for how you feel because I hurt you” and eventually your mind says “but you don’t stop doing it”. This is the difference with someone who is empathetic. A person that has empathy, can try and put themselves in your shoes and attempt to imagine how it would feel to them and therefore there is more of an understanding that “I would not treat someone in a way that I would not want to be treated”. Think of the distinct difference between those two. Someone who feels “sorry for you” for what they’ve done to you and someone who avoids hurting you because they understand their actions are hurtful and they would not like that done to them either. Empathetic people tend to be more sensitive, however as in anything there are some that can be very extreme and over sensitive of course. However, to have the ability to think of how your actions to others would make you feel if done to you and therefore pause, make better decisions, consider the other persons feelings, perhaps more relationships would succeed instead of failing. And by the way, thinking of the feelings of others should apply not only to the few in our lives that we care about, but for everyone else we come in contact with, because this is at least one way to live with less chaos, stress, guilt in our lives. Something we should all strive for.
Lou Dos Santos
Life Coach, writer and co-founder of Depression-youarenotalone.com