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 a 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 and address this subject. There is much written about Empaths and narcissists and the toxic relationships that can result from these encounters. But I have had 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 address this 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 seen as 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-vigilante narcissist. Here’s a brief list of some of their traits:
- 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.
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 that 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.
- 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 easily be mistaken, by others, as superiority or even smugness.
Most Empaths observe all their surroundings. It is something we just do without even thinking about it. We notice things others don’t. We are natural watchers. There are some who will confuse observing with judging, but there is a big difference. When we judge we 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 we were looking for them and we don’t use them to make ourselves superior.
It is an inbuilt trait for an Empath to listen to others. However, sometimes we do have to tune others out and listen halfheartedly. The reason we do this is when we realize the other is an energy drainer. If we listen intently to those who act as energy drainers, we will find ourselves being drained of energy and washed out. Tuning out is a form of self-protection for the Empath and not something we do out of lack of interest. We do not want to offend another by cutting them off so we may mentally detach from a conversation that is one-sided and draining.
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 we just need to close down and this can be mistaken for being overly self-absorbed and self-interested.
- 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 us, lets us down or if they act as a fountain of negative energy we will have no choice but to disconnect in order to protect ourselves. This may be misconstrued as us having no empathy, being cold and uncaring. People notice when we disconnect from them, but will chose not to see what they did to make us detach.
Some introverted narcissists deal with disagreeable people or circumstances in passive-aggressive ways.
Empaths will get angry, irritable and impatient just like everyone else. However, we are also very aware of how damaging anger could be if fired off at others uncontrolled. For this reason we may try and contain our anger as the last thing we may want to do is hurt someone with an angry outburst. Unfortunately, the anger we try to contain may make us excessively quiet, or make us seem sulky, and may be mistaken for passive-aggressiveness.
- 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 for their endeavors. To the Empath, criticism will hurt more than it does others because we feel everything so deeply. We may not show to others how much it hurts when they are critical towards us, because we may fear that it will be seen as a weakness and used against us.
- 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 us to be a narcissist. What we feel makes us behave in ways that others just don’t get. The Empath fatigue alone can make us seem cold, dark and uncaring. We know that if we try to explain why we are the way we are, we may end up hurting or insulting another (who wants to be told that they are draining), so we keep our ways to ourselves. Unfortunately, it is one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenarios, where if we chose to explain ourselves it can backfire on us or if we stay quiet, others can make wrong assumptions about our ways.
And as for being special, I for one believe it is far better to see oneself as being rarely unique, as opposed to how many Empaths may feel about themselves.
- 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 more with others and have closer relationships with more different people than we do. Unfortunately, the way we feel when around others can make this difficult. We may not rush into any relationships or friendships, for many different reasons, and this can be taken as a form of rejection or coolness towards others and an inability to connect. Because we need more down-time to recharge, and have a dislike of talking on the phone, we may not seem to be readily available for friend/relationships and in turn 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 very loyal and will often remain lifelong friends with those whom they develop friendships…
Hopefully, this will give you a better insight as to 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 when in our teens and twenties). They are traits we can easily lean in and out of, if even from time to time, depending on our 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 that is thrown on our path, it will definitely be for a reason.
Until next time
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©Diane Kathrine at Empaths Empowered
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