Empathy, Forgiveness, and Narcissism

Probably the most quintessential characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder is the lack of empathy.

Ironically, it is –to me, anyway– the most important tool I have in dealing with a narcissist, particularly in combination with forgiveness.

For every interaction with my ex, I try to think about where he’s coming from, what’s happening for him and why is he reacting the way he is.  This doesn’t mean he isn’t FULLY responsible for his actions, but it does help me in changing the way I react to him.

For example, narcissists regulate by what’s going on around them, externally.  “Healthy” people regulate internally – they use their core sense of self, morals and experience to determine how to react to their environment.  Narcissists regulate by that environment.  So, when the environment changes around them – they react.

When I learned that, it was like a new breaking dawn.  All of a sudden, so much came clear for me.  I understood why he would rage at me for things that made no sense.  Just recently – he asked me for 2 hours on my Saturday, and I offered we exchange Friday to Saturday nights instead, and he went into shut-down mode.  Why?  Because the environment he knew and what he was asking for… changed.  And he couldn’t handle that.

Using this type of empathy – understanding where he’s coming from and why he’s reacting as he does, helps me to change my reaction to the situation.  My having a deliberate, calculated response helps ME.  It helps me keep my own emotions in check and helps me to get to what I believe will be a better solution for my kids in situations with him.

Forgiveness is also key.  I try to remember that he is a person.  Literally!  How often does he feel like a looming, sucking field of negative energy that is in my life to drain me of everything I have?  Ok… so, yes… he’s actually that too 🙂  But he’s also a person, and there were at least a few decent times in the beginning which made me wind up in a relationship with him — even if those times were really a false portrayal of a self that doesn’t really exist in him 😉

Interestingly, forgiving someone isn’t for that person’s benefit.  It’s for our own benefit.  It’s also important to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we make – like getting into a relationship with an abusive person.  When we carry around rage, hate and resentment for others, it harms us.  I truly believe it is a negative energy in our own body and that it eats away at us physically.  We become sick from this emotionally, mentally and physically.  Whenever I feel frustrated with my ex – like clockwork, I get a sinus headache or infection.  At first, I thought it was a fluke.  I now realize that I bring it on when I focus too much on the issues he causes us or the resentment that I feel as a result. Sometimes, I’m even worried about focusing long enough to write a post that I know others may relate to or perhaps learn from my own experience.

So.. ironically, I wasn’t setting out in this article to write about how narcissists are void of empathy and that they are totally unable to forgive and move forward.  Instead, I was looking inward at myself and how these two things matter most to me.


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