Is the Empath Really an Introvert Narcissist?

Contrary to the title of this post, I am not suggesting that Empaths are in fact covert introvert narcissists. The title was just to grab your attention.

The reason being, last week an article came to my attention that made me stop in my tracks and was the cause for a lengthy conversation with myself about the traits of an introvert narcissist, and how they could be confused with the traits of an Empath.

As you read on you will understand why I felt the need to write this post.

There is much written about Empaths and narcissists and the toxic relationships that can result from these encounters. But I have had many comments on my site (which I don’t publish if they are overly negative or attacking) comparing Empaths to narcissists and this is why I would like to discuss the subject.

Narcissism is defined as a psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation and incredibly high self-esteem with a distinct lack of empathy.

The origin of narcissism stems from the myth of Narcissus, the youth from ancient Greece who fell in love with his own reflection in the water, only to drown in the process.

Narcissists see themselves as more important and deserving than others and have an air of outright grandiosity. They have big egos, which they expect others to pander to. They pay special attention to their appearance, often wearing expensive designer clothes and are constantly polishing and refining their appearance. A narcissist will not be able to pass any mirror without taking a look.

We live in a society that promotes narcissism. You only have to look at the media online or social media outlets to see evidence of this. The endless selfies people post, the obsession with how celebrities preen and pamper themselves and the message that to be thin and beautiful is the most desirable thing in life, are all evidence of this. It is deemed ‘quietly’ acceptable to be excessively vain (a form of narcissism) and to be overly preoccupied by one’s appearance.

As you will see, the above portrayal is a far cry from how most Empaths would describe themselves. However, there is also another form of narcissism that you may not have heard of, that goes by the title of introvert, covert or hyper-vigilant narcissist. Here’s a brief list of some of their traits:

  • Being hypersensitive to criticism.
  • Fearing rejection and abandonment.
  • Avoids attention, but can quietly crave the spotlight (quiet grandiosity).
  • Always engages in the Fight, Flight, or Freeze theme when feeling/fearing rejection.
  • Life decisions are made to avoid the pain of rejection and failure.

I became aware of the term introvert narcissist when I came across this article 7 signs of a covert introvert narcissist by Preston Ni M.S.B.A.  on Psychology Today. It is a very interesting read and well worth a look.

The article made me question my behaviour and motives, to see if I had any hidden narcissistic tendencies. I wondered if my intolerance of narcissism perhaps stemmed from having hidden narcissistic traits that I disliked.

After some introspection, I came to see my Empath ways don’t stem from narcissism, but I can see how an Empath could be pushed into this category.

I have lifted relevant extracts from the article to show how an Empath could easily be mistaken, by others, to be an ‘introvert narcissist’. The passage in red is extracted from the article referring to an introvert narcissist, the writing in black is my explanation how confusion could occur between an Empath.

  1. Showing Quiet Smugness and Superiority

Introvert narcissists tend to observe (judgmentally) and listen (half-heartedly) rather than speak. Yet, their quieter brand of superiority complex betrays itself through aloof detachment.

Not all Empaths are introvert, but many will behave in an introvert way, especially when they have taken on too much from the world in the way of energy and highly charged emotions. In these cases the Empath can become excessively quiet and appear aloof. This can be mistaken, by others, as superiority or even smugness.

Most Empaths observe all their surroundings. It is something they just do without even thinking about it. They notice things others don’t. They are natural watchers.

There are some who will confuse observing with judging, but there is a big difference. When you judge you look upon something, or someone, with a critical eye, looking for flaws and faults. An Empath may see/feel the flaws in others but this doesn’t mean they were looking for them and they don’t use them to make themselves superior.

It is an inbuilt trait for an Empath to listen to others. However, sometimes they do have to tune others out and listen half-heartedly. The reason they do this is when they realize the other is an energy drainer.

If an Empath listens intently to those who act as energy drainers, they find themselves being drained of energy and washed out. Tuning out is a form of self-protection for the Empath and not something they do out of lack of interest. They do not want to offend another by cutting them off, so they may mentally detach from a conversation that is one-sided and draining.

  1. Self-Absorbed

Introvert narcissists show a withdrawn self-centeredness and tend to focus on what they selfishly want and find agreeable.

An Empath has little choice but to be withdrawn, especially is social situations. Sometimes they just need to close down and this can be mistaken for being overly self-absorbed and self-interested.

  1. Lack of Empathy

Introvert narcissists are often oblivious to, or dismissive of others’ thoughts and feelings. Such is the self-absorption.

The quiet and sometimes distant ways of an Empath may be mistaken for a lack of empathy towards others.

An Empath has tons of empathy, too much for their own good. However, if someone repeatedly hurts them, lets them down or act as a fountain of negative energy, they have no choice but to disconnect in order to protect themselves. This may be misconstrued as them having no empathy, being cold and uncaring.

People notice when an Empath disconnects from them, but choose not to see what they did to make them detach.

  1. Passive-Aggressiveness

Some introverted narcissists deal with disagreeable people or circumstances in passive-aggressive ways.

Empaths get angry, irritable and impatient just like everyone else. However, they are also aware of how damaging anger could be if fired off at others uncontrolled. For this reason they may try to contain their anger, as the last thing they want to do is hurt someone with an angry outburst. Unfortunately, the anger they contain may make them excessively quiet, which makes them seem sulky, and may be mistaken for passive-aggressiveness.

  1. Highly Sensitive

Introvert narcissists handle criticism poorly. Typically, they will not let on how much the negative experience bothers them, and hide behind their well-rehearsed aloofness.

It is true that introverts and Empaths do not like to be criticized. That said, there aren’t many people in the world who do like being judged or criticized. To the Empath, criticism will hurt more than it does others because they feel everything so deeply. They may not show how much it hurts when they are critical towards them, because they may fear it will be seen as a weakness and used against them.

  1. The “Misunderstood Special Person”

The self-perceptions of some introverted narcissists include notions such as: “I’m special,” “I’m one-of a kind,” “I’m ahead of my time,” “I’m so unique no one understands me,”

One thing that is for sure, Empaths are misunderstood. But that does not qualify them to be a narcissist. What they feel makes them behave in ways others just don’t get. The Empath fatigue alone can make them seem cold, dark and uncaring.

They know that if they try to explain why they are the way they are, they may end up hurting or insulting another (what person wants to be told they are draining), so they keep their ways to themselves. Unfortunately, it is one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situations: if they chose to explain themselves it can backfire or if they stay quiet, others make wrong assumptions.

And as for being special, I for one believe it is far better to see oneself as being rarely unique, as opposed to feeling insignificant (a way many Empaths may feel about themselves).

  1. Impersonal and Difficult Relationships with Others

Introvert narcissist’s aloofness and/or smugness serves as a defensive mechanism, keeping people away.

An Empath would love to be able to connect with others and have closer relationships with more different people than they do. Unfortunately, the way they feel, when around others, makes this difficult.

They may not rush into any relationships or friendships, for many reasons, and this might be taken as a form of rejection or coolness, towards others, and an inability to connect. Because they need more down-time to recharge, and have a dislike of talking on the phone, they may not seem to be readily available for friend/relationships and, as a result, are spurned before a friendship has had chance to blossom.

An Empath may tread carefully when entering a new relationship as a form of protection, especially if having previously experienced pain from a break-up. Once in an established relationship, the Empath is loyal and often remains lifelong friends with those whom they develop friendships…

Hopefully, this will give you a better insight about why the Empath could get confused for being an introvert narcissist. An Empath may hide aspects of their traits from others, as a form of protection, but not to manipulate or seem mysterious or special.

I would just like to point out that I am not suggesting Preston Ni, the author of ‘7 signs of an introvert narcissist’ is in any way suggesting that Empaths are introvert narcissists. I just wanted to explain how easily an Empath could be mistaken for one, when their whole story is not taken into consideration.

It seems most people will display narcissistic tendencies at some point in their life (especially in the teenage years and twenties). They are traits we can all easily lean in and out of, if even from time to time, depending on life circumstances.

I also believe that, unless someone is pathological or a psychopath, narcissistic traits can be overcome once recognized. There is much to learn from narcissistic behaviour, in ourselves and in others. And as we are all here to learn, if it is something thrown on our path, it will definitely be for a reason.

Hope this helps on your Empath journey.

Until next time


For more life-changing information for the Empath click here.

©Diane Kathrine at Empaths Empowered

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36 thoughts on “Is the Empath Really an Introvert Narcissist?

  1. I starting to think I have narcissistic traits I can be cold and aloof. This is off topic but a lot of aquarians get these traits you mentioned. I liked reading this article it opened my eyes up to thing I need to fix about myself and help others too.

  2. Thank you for this. After a day spent battling pretty much everything you describe, your article was a validating and reassuring thing to read.

  3. Thank You, your seven points are positive traits that can be misinterpreted. They essentially are the points to a long and painful road to enlightenment of the Empathic and the Narcissistic. I’ve been on that road for about three weeks now and I now stand beside myself. Though, the though that lingers after reading your post is, is it possible for an empath to turn into a powerful narcissist? Is it possible to shed light and shield dark at the same time? I guess that would require a rip in the universe.

  4. This was insightful for sure!

    I do have question: Why do you think our first instinct is to critique as opposed to standing side by side with those who’s actions we do not agree with or understand?

    As empaths, it’s almost in the handbook to feel deeply and be more sensitive than most. It’s not a weakness, it’s a function. One that allows us to be great counselors, but one that may feel pain in a way that can feel as if it consumes if we let it. So, our job is simply to learn how to navigate that part of us. In my perspective, that’s a part if the path.

    Perhaps empaths or introvert narcissists may have a problem with criticism because they feel they should never be criticized. That could be the case for some. On the other side, perhaps, it wouldn’t hurt to consider that insight, understanding, and engagement could be more helpful when an empath/or anyone encounters a problem.

    For the above example: “I told him that he needed to have more of a backbone.”This Could be true and helpful advice. And yet, that statement may be interpreted as “Here is what you should do because you are doing it wrong and how you feel about that doesn’t matter.” Once again, may or may not be correct the intention. But may not be the best delivery.

    But consider another approach I learned from training on a crisis intervention hotline:

    what if those who want to actually help engaged the empath/introvertnarc in need. “It sounds like you may be feeling like your voice isn’t heard. What do you think would improve your relationships?” More energy, but it helps by meeting them where they are instead of over them. The power is put back in the hands of the one who has to actually deal with it. The empath. Somebody hears them and redirects them to their own answer. Isn’t this what most healthy empaths are gifted in giving others?

    I understand the world doesn’t always work like this, but could that be a reason why some empaths might keep their frustration hidden (or learn to move through their feelings themselves in their own way).

    Maybe taking a step to Offer insight before assigning criticism would actually help an empath/introvert narc get back to empathing in a way that’s better for all. Or anybody. That whole path of empathing is already a learning process in itself. Empaths who mastered it would do well to stand beside fellow empaths, remember what it feels like, and show a better way.

    • Hey TJ,

      Perhaps it is a kneejerk reaction. When something causes pain it can be an inbuilt reaction for some to lash out first and think about it later.

      And in regards to Empaths not believing they should be criticised, I would say that very much depends on the circumstances. If, for example, a criticism is more of an excuse form someone to attack an Empath then it would be seen as unjustified. But for some, a criticism may reinforce a belief (pain) of one not being good enough.

      Discovering the root cause behind what pains an Empath, and fuels their reactions, is a huge part of their journey. Emotional pain can keep us very much trapped inside our heads and often holds us back from truly living. It is easier to understand any reaction if we know what is triggering it.

      Thanks for sharing your insights.

  5. Man. I fit the definition of an introvert narcissist based upon your description yet my behavioral therapist states I’m an empath. I tend to think the world revolves around me because I confuse others emotions as my own. Until I realized this I was constantly in a state of fight or flight , somatic illness , all types of mood issues etc.
    The definition of narcissism from what I have experienced in other people ( I always tended to attract narcissists and be attracted to them ) is the triangulation and abuse they dish out to demean you and chip away at your self esteem. Being self obsessed in and of itself can be displayed by a number of other personality types and mental maladies. It’s really difficult to tell unless you truly know a person.
    The real differentiator is the abuse and how it is applied. Many borderlines also act similar to narcissists but the underlying disorder is far different. Borderlines if they really work hard can be great friends and companions, NPD is a far tougher path.

  6. thankyou this helped me greatly, i kept wondering if i am being narcisisstic but i really am the empath type. I could never hurt someone on purpose like the introverted narcissist does

  7. I have just come across this article searching for answers to my very confused state.
    I have just ended a relationship with someone I wonder if she was a covert narcissist or certainly on the spectrum. She was self centred as I was self abandoning. When we got together she told me how sensitive she was, how she’d been used by other partners; how scared she was of intimacy and how much she wanted to do things differently. I felt the same. The mirror!! I tried to show she was a good person as I believed that. I stayed stable thinking it would help her feel secure. I’m very aware now I was displaying codependent behaviours.
    She put herself first in everything – so much so I regularly told myself I could do with learning from her! She only called me if she wanted to and only after she’d done all her own activities such as going to the gym or watching films. My cry was ‘I’m not important to you’ and even now as I go over it all with a fine tooth comb I am telling myself that I’m the unreasonable one; I expected too much – perhaps I was the narcissist?!
    I am highly empathetic but the last few months in this relationship left me so confused as to what I was feeling; so much projected onto me; fights about things that came out of the blue and starved of attention I became needy and resentful and acting out just to feel loved by her.
    I have no idea if she was a covert narcissist or not. There was criticism of me early on but I was so willing to believe what she said. She acted so vulnerable and seemed to be wanting an intimate connection. She told me I was cold and I shut her out which was usually my way of protecting myself from the constant drama of her life and how distressed I felt but at the same time I was telling myself I was wrong to feel that way and I needed to be more understanding. She would constantly talk of her exes; I asked her not to but she never stopped but if I got upset I was the one who was wrong. In the face of her anger I would try not to do the things that she said were wrong and make myself available all the time. Even as I type this I am so upset and confused at whether I have been unreasonable and demanding. I can’t bear it. If I was I didn’t mean to be.
    She ended things twice and came back with a fortnight. There was always some drama, illness, or melancholy. And I behaved similarly because that seemed the only way to get attention. Towards the end I felt like a parent – a container for all her ‘bad’ feelings- a place to go when she felt bad that she could offload and then go away feeling better whilst I’d be left feeling rubbish and lonely and crying a lot. If I needed her she was never there It culminated in her sleeping with someone else, giving me an infection and then getting angry with me when I wouldn’t reassure her that it was ok that I got infected too. I left.
    But since I left I’ve been spinning thinking perhaps I was the narcissist. I lost all ability to empathise with a lot of people although it is starting to return as I look outward. I have NEEDED attention from my friends which I find myself hating how needy and self centred I feel right now. I have contacted her as I feel so sad but she is doing no contact with me. Maybe I’m the narcissist because I went back to her – she isn’t contacting me and narcissists are supposed to. I see myself doing a lot of self centred things.
    Your article is very reassuring and made me cry with the compassion I feel.
    I don’t know if she is a narcissist or perhaps sensitive and in pain and I just misunderstood her. It has helped me be compassionate with myself and her and realise I need to build my own self love, know myself better and build boundaries and then I won’t question myself but will have enough regard to see others more compassionately instead of being afraid of narcissism.
    A long winded way of saying thank you. Very very helpful.

    • Dear Jane,
      You dodged a bullet there. Run far! Run fast! Maintain the no contact. This is a toxic person. If you were the narcissist, you wouldn’t be questioning yourself and blaming yourself because they pathologically refuse to accept blame for anything ever. It’s always someone else’s fault! Sound familiar? If someone loves you it should feel like they love you! Your description doesn’t sound like feeling loved. It’s more like “door mat”. Be happy that you’re away from this person. Sorry you ended up with an STD. I’d imagine there was more than one infidelity which you probably didn’t know about. When they check out with the silent treatment and/or disappearances it’s usually them grooming or screwing others… seeking other sources of supply. Entertainment while you sit there suffering… alone. You’re nothing but a convenience item. Just get away from that abuse.

  8. I honestly believe empathy and narcissism are two sides of the same coin. Narcissists are able to show empathy and they often appear warm, generous and loveable. Psychologists say birds of a feather flock together that’s why we often seen empaths attracted to narcissists! Sounds a bit crazy! The difference between a narcissist and an altruist lies in the fact that the former is always calculating how much they can get out of their “love” invested in their victims (in the future) while the latter love other people without calculating their future profits! Narcissists need a constant supply of affection, caring, attention … from their victims they fear rejection and they can’t stand alone on their own feet for a prolonged period of time.

    • I feel its an insult and unfair to compare an empath with a narcissist. Perhaps you could do that being an outsider, if you are not an empath yourself. But being an empath and having experience with a narcissist, I can clearly say the two are total opposites. Far ends of a spectrum. A clear separation and distinguishing trait is the manipulation and control of the narcissist. Along with their mind games and need for drama. Empaths do not engage in such behavior. They are thinking of the world at large, wishing to help and connect with others. Narcissists cut them off from everything. How can you compare someone with such traits to a person who does not even care about anyone other then themselves? A victim of a narcissist is already suffering why make it harder on them by putting the blame on them? And no, not in all situations empaths have chosen to be with the narcissist. Please be considerate.

  9. Wow. I seem to have many traits of both, empath AND introvert narcissist. How do you decipher which you are? Or, could I be both, intertwined?

    I have all these that you listed in beginning of article :
    Being hypersensitive to others.
    Fearing rejection and abandonment from others.
    Avoids attention, but can quietly crave the spotlight (quiet grandiosity).
    Always engages in the Fight, Flight, or Freeze theme when feeling/fearing rejection.
    Life decisions are made to avoid the pain of rejection and failure.

    AND, most traits of an empath.
    Confused!! 🤔

    • Hi Majaca.

      At first glance, the traits of a covert narcissist look very similar to those of an Empath, but the motives behind the behaviours can differ greatly.

      The driving force behind most humans is to experience more pleasure and avoid all pain. Because the Empath experiences pain more powerfully than most, their driving force tends to be focused on avoiding pain and their life decisions and actions reflect this.

      The behaviours you listed above clearly show you experience a lot of emotional pain and will try to shape your life to avoid it. This is a survival strategy and a form of self-protection. I believe many humans ‘quietly crave the spotlight’, in the belief it is a way to find more pleasure and a path of least pain.

      A narcissist is hypersensitive to criticism off others because they do not believe they are wrong or in any way deserve to be criticised… they are always right. They put themselves first in all situations and secretly believe they are better than others. If rejected, this makes them ‘less special’.

      Hope this helps you decide.

      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  10. I’ve been very confused about this!! My ex- boyfriend was so sweet, caring, and kind-hearted when I met him…even a bit of a weakling when it came to speaking his truth and standing up for what he believed in. I encouraged him to develop a backbone because I didn’t want him to end up feeling like a doormat in our relationship the way he did with his ex-wife. He ended up resenting me for this and soon enough, developed all the traits of a covert narcissist (which I had never heard of, or read about, prior to this relationship). He would declare his undying love to me one day and stone wall me the next. He put me on a pedestal one day and kicked me to the curb the next. He blamed me for everything (and I fell for it). He was extremely sensitive to the slightest critique, no matter how harmless, and told me how perfect his family was growing up (even tho it soon became very clear that he didn’t know his family very well).

    But we had a connection unlike anything I had ever known…we could feel each other’s feelings and read each other’s thoughts. (Even now, after being broken up almost a year, we can still feel each other like that.) His loving thoughts heated me to the point I would kick my blankets off and open the window. His fearful thoughts made me freeze…literally. So when I learned about empaths and realized I was one, I became very confused as to whether he was also an empath or a covert narcissist. Or both??? Cause he can feel me too…

    • Yes, there is every possibility, he could also be an Empath.
      Experiencing a lot of emotional pain (as many Empaths do) can darken people. We all have to stay vigilante to stop this from happening. Empaths will experience many “wrong” people in their life, who cause them much anger and upset, but we cannot allow their ways to darken us.
      I have seen some hypersensitive people who allow their pain to make them bitter. If they believe another has betrayed or acted insensitively towards them, they then go out of their way to hurt them back. This then sets them off on a darkened path. Karma is real. What goes around comes around.
      What stops many Empaths from turning to the dark-side is their strong Knowing (intuition) screaming at them that this is the wrong path. However, some Empaths can become good at tuning out and ignoring their intuition…which never turns out well.

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. I’ve just discovered you and you appear to have labelled me . Empath? I think I prefer the plain old empathetic person , but hey , you seem to be a similar thinker to me and that I find that hugely intriguing 🙂

  12. Thanks Diane….This article gave me food for thought….I have bought into some of these traits when people display them. Now, I am prepared to see more clearly thanks to you, those people and the processes they are going through….Blessings, thanks again, Barbara xxxxx

  13. I always enjoy your posts. When I see one pop up in my email I’m excited to read because I know it will give me a moment of peace and comfort. A line in this article struck me today “empath fatigue”. Is this a real thing? I struggle so much with fatigue and feeling off and this line made me feel like I need to learn more and I need a mentor that is ‘like me’ or understands me to help me out of this place I’ve been stuck. Thank you for your wisdom and sharing yourself with us.

    • Hi Miranda,

      You’re very welcome.

      Yes, Empath fatigue is very real. In fact, I’m just editing a section in my book that explains it in great detail. It can be caused by a myriad of things but the biggies are over-stimulation and the diet. I would say it is one of the worst aspects of being an Empath. I have written about the fatigue on this blog in the past although, off the top of my head, I am not quite sure on what posts.

      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

      • That’s great to know. Do you currently have any books out? If not when will we be able to purchase more of your wisdom?

      • I’m hoping to be published within the next couple of months. I thought this particular book would have been finished last year but more info keeps coming to go in. Will keep you posted. 😀😀😀

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