I have a special talent to pick up men. I always fall for the same psychological type and, although I thought I had done my homework and completed the lesson, I ended up repeating the same scenario: girl meets boy who seems genuinely interested in being the best version of himself, exploring the world and what life entails… to only find out that he is actually a covert narcissist. In other words, someone who is good at pretending that he is all that you ever wanted in a partner, until he starts stonewalling, ignoring or even hurting you by being insensitive towards your feelings and experiences.
It’s not a guy’s fault that we ignore the redflags. We play a part in this dynamic and we are equally responsible for depositing hope on someone whose heart is actually full of pain, confusion and misunderstanding. Our hearts are often filled with the same energy and that’s why we attract such type. Like many of us, it’s not their fault either that they were brought up in a messy and painful home environment. The worst part is, nonetheless, our tendency to project on them what we really want to see in a partner and what we try to nurture within ourselves: compassion, empathy, sensitivity, self-awareness, kindness, understanding.
In my experience, overt narcissists are easier to identify than covert ones. A covert narcissist is usually quieter and more of an introvert type. They sit at the back, observing and judging what’s going on. They can listen to you but you somehow feel that you are either boring, or that you are unworthy of their full attention, because they rarely interact or make questions related to what you say. If you don’t know your worth, you may feel stupid or inadequate. And when you share how something made you feel happy or upset, you also usually get zero emotional feedback from them: they easily skip whatever you said and they move on to something which interests them most.
Empaths and narcissists have something in common though, and I think that’s what makes this kind of pairing so strong and so destructive. Both empaths and narcissists share the childhood traumatic experience of being emotionally neglected or poorly attended to. They lack a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-worth. More often than not, they struggle to know who they are, because they didn’t have a chance to complete their individuation process, a process through which we understand that we are differentiated individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
Besides the common shared trauma, empaths and narcissists offer each other a familiar way to relate. Empaths are keen on validating others by standing beside them even when it’s self-destructive, and narcissists are keen on removing their approval and attachment. Both need to heal their relational dysfunction by drawing attention to how much their boundaries and sense of self are unhealthy. For instances, empaths need to know that it’s not ok to stay or pursue someone who continually hurts you by making you invisible, and narcissists need to know that it’s safe and necessary to tackle the pain they want to forcefully dismiss and hide under the carpet.
On an endnote, I would like to say that these dynamics are a simulation of what we observed and learned from our parents when we were just very tiny pumpkins. In my most recent experience, I refused to play the role my dad usually plays, the codependent one, and I also refused to put up with the role the other person was playing for me – my mother, who gives and takes her affection in a blink of an eye. I have also repeated to myself that I want and that I deserve healthy relationships, so this time I didn’t allow myself to stay for far too long in a situation that was self-destructive and in which I used to wait for the guy to change or suddenly realise what he was emotionally doing to me. I chose my wellbeing first.