An empath is someone who is highly sensitive to external stimuli. This does not only make them feel the emotions and pain of other people but they also get affected by external factors that hardly affect normal people. For example, raising your voice at an empath can badly hurt them, let alone yelling at them. On the other hand narcissists are known to lack empathy and to be insensitive to other people’s pain. For this reason, most people assume that an empath is the exact opposite of a narcissist.
But, is this true? Does this mean that an empath cannot be a narcissist?
What empaths and narcissists have in common
In some of my previous articles, I said that narcissism is a defense mechanism that a person develops after going through a painful life experience such as being raised by neglectful parents. This defense mechanism helps the narcissist protect themselves from experiencing the same pain they experienced earlier in life. To understand well how this works let me give an example.
If a person was always rejected by his peers at school, he may grow up fearing rejection. To make sure that this experience won’t happen to him again, he may develop arrogance as a defense mechanism. By treating other people with arrogance and disrespect, he does not only feel superior to them but he also denies them the chance to reject him. In my article: are narcissists confident or insecure, I said that an arrogant person rejects people first before they reject him so that he won’t look bad in case they reject him first.
So what about empaths
Actually an empath can be someone who has gone through the same painful life experience earlier in life just like the narcissist. But instead of developing an unhealthy defense mechanism such as narcissism, they develop emotional sensitivity and high empathy. In other words, an empath can be someone who has a subconscious goal of preventing other people from going through the suffering they went through. For example, if the empath lost their mother in childhood due to a certain disease, they may grow up with a passion of being a doctor so that they will save lives. However, this is not the only reason why people become empaths.
Having a sensitive nervous system can also make someone become an empath even if they never went through a painful life experience. According to Sheldon’s somatotype theory, people who have the ectomorph body type are usually highly sensitive. An ectomorph has a slim body, longer limbs, thin facial features such as thin eyebrows and they have a hard time gaining weight or muscles. People with this body type are usually highly sensitive compared to people of other body types. This high sensitivity makes them become empaths.
Can an empath be a narcissist
Unfortunately, being an empath does not prevent a person from being a narcissist. In my article: Do narcissists ever feel guilty, I said that narcissists don’t actually lack empathy or the ability to feel other people’s emotions, but rather, their empathy shuts down when their defense mechanism is triggered.
For example, if the narcissist sees you as a good narcissistic supply, they may treat you so nicely and empathize with you but as soon as they believe that you’re challenging their superiority, for example if you started ignoring them, their empathy for you will automatically shut down and they will start being mean to you without feeling remorse.
So yeah, an empath can be a narcissist but you will only see their narcissistic side when you are not on good terms with them. Although, empaths are very less likely to develop the grandiose type of narcissism; instead, they develop the overt, vulnerable type of narcissism.
Empaths develop narcissism to protect themselves
As I said, narcissism is just a defense mechanism that a person develops after going through a harsh life experience. This means that the harsher the life experience is the higher the degree of narcissism the person will develop.
The fact that empaths have a very sensitive nervous system makes them feel emotional pain in an exaggerated way. A normal person may go through a life experience that gives them a moderate emotional pain but for an empath the same life experience can be devastating.
So does this mean that empaths are more likely to develop narcissism than normal people because they are highly sensitive? The short answer here is no.
This is simply because narcissism is not the only defense mechanism a person can develop after going through a devastating life experience. Two empaths can go through the same harsh experience but one of them might develop narcissism while the other might develop anxiety disorders or a different coping mechanism. See: can living with a narcissist make you a narcissist.