I have a couple of stories to tell you. The one now is a little darker, and the one near the end of this article might make you smile. However, both illustrations have important lessons.
I have a client I’ll call Allison. Allison has been married to a narcissist for over 30 years with no plans to leave him. Her sons are moving in with her again as they get started on the next chapter of their lives, and Allison doesn’t want to disrupt the family. She just wants peace.
Her husband has been vacillating between operating as a love-bombing machine then evolving into a demeaning, devaluing, passive-aggressive fiend. One minute he tells her she’s amazing and he couldn’t live without her. The next second he’s telling he’s using religion to dictate what kind of wife she should be.
Anyway, she reached out to me a few weeks ago and asked if she should get a private investigator. To understand exactly what she is dealing with. My answer? Yes.
I say this because as empaths, we want to believe the best in people. We look at life and others through our rose-colored lenses of kindness, empathy, and understanding. We often focus on our own character development, and we try to find the best in everyone else, no matter how many red flags we see in another person’s character. We want to love someone until they don’t hurt anymore. We want to fix it. We want to come to the rescue.
For years, if not decades, Allison thought her husband would never cheat, steal, or lie. Now, after looking at him through clear lenses of reality (with me holding her hand), Allison thinks her husband might be having affairs. She also wants to know if he’s spending exorbitant amounts of money on things she doesn’t know about.
You might be saying, “Wow, Laura, you sure are badmouthing her guy.” No, I am going by what we know about narcissists. They feel entitled to whatever they need. For many, that’s unlimited lovers, sex, money, attention, and adoration.
What would knowing more do? What if a private investigator followed Allison’s husband around and investigated his finances? It would give Allison knowledge. It would give her clarity. It would give her more direction on her future. You can ask the narcissist to divulge these things. But also ask yourself, “Will I get the truth?”
There’s a second way we sabotage ourselves with narcissists. As empaths, we are calm, compassionate, nurturing, caring individuals who easily have vulnerable exchanges with others. We want to connect. Shallow conversations aren’t in our repertoire. Empaths can read people beyond words.
For example, I go to the grocery store that’s about ½ mile from my home called Market Street. The other day, my son and I were grabbing things for dinner, and the man who usually helps me put groceries in the car made a beeline for me at the checkout line. We discussed his daughter who lives in France and a new granddaughter that he hasn’t seen in 18 months due to COVID-19. Travel restrictions have prevented this sweet, 80-year-old man from seeing his first grandchild. I wished him well and reminded him to eat his favorite cookies from Starbucks.
MY son asked me when Bob walked away, “How in the world do you know all that?” As empaths, we have a deep need for connection. I asked Bob several months ago how he was doing, and his response of “fine” wasn’t convincing. His nonverbal cues indicated a lot of pain. So, I started asking questions.
This is a sweet story, but compassion and the need to connect with others can get empaths in trouble.
Take a narcissist who needs to learn as much as that person can to hold it over your head next time you get in an argument. Maybe you and your mother disagreed and you’re estranged. You haven’t spoken to her in 5 years. You share this with a narcissist to show your vulnerability and that you trust this person. A toxic person may not share back, but you feel better because you feel like you’ve connected.
Empaths often divulge too much information too soon in conversations to connect. We don’t wait on someone to earn our trust. We just confide. We think the other person is as trustworthy as we are.
Sadly, life is full of people who aren’t worthy of your secrets. They don’t have your best interest in mind. You can’t safely confide in them. We must become more diligent with whom we share our biggest fears and failures. With a narcissist, it almost always comes back to haunt you.
Why did I share with Bob? If you look at the story, I didn’t and haven’t shared much at all. I listened. I gave Bob empathy and gentleness. Is he a narcissist? I don’t think so, but I don’t know so. I can be kind without giving him the gift of my secrets.
Here are some ways to protect yourself and your vulnerability:
- Wait to be vulnerable until someone earns your openness. Ask yourself, “Is this person trustworthy?” and “Does this person talk badly about other people?”
- Watch and see if this person demonstrates integrity before getting any closer. Ask yourself, “Have I witnessed anything that is a red flag?”
- Trust your intuition. If you are nervous or uncomfortable around this person, evaluate how much you want this person in your inner circle, especially as a keeper of your secrets.
The Bible verse Proverbs 4:23 reads, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” And sometimes this means guarding what we share. And more importantly, with whom.