In the beginning of a romantic relationship it can be exceedingly difficult to determine whether someone is a Narcissist, and also rather challenging to discern if a person is a true Empath.
Why is this so?
Who people believe themselves to be, can be dramatically removed from who they ACTUALLY are. Traits that one possesses, that lead them to believe they are an Empath, or a regular, normal, healthy person, may actually not make them so, when these traits are paired with the totality of who and how someone is.
I am stating the obvious, above.
The purpose of this article is to allow the reader to explore one of the main similarities between Empaths and Narcissists- the False Self, and how this might lead to people misidentifying themselves or others as an Empath or a Narcissist.
In literature about Narcissists, the concept of the “False Self” is rather prevalent, as a defining feature. The False Self is a constructed, ever-changing, chameleon-like sense of identity. The Narcissist is allegedly so delusional, they believe this False Self is actually their real self, and they will use it to have a reason to convince themselves they are good, amazing, special, psychic or omnicient, above reproach, and attractive. They also shift their False Self to become who others would like them to be, or whom others might find attractive. This is why, when others join in romantic relationships with Narcissists, they may get to know and be committed to an entirely different, romanticized image of the Narcissist, and only after a period of time has gone by, and the person is already attached to the fantasy person the Narcissist helped to curate, does the Narcissist shock and surprise their partner with horrible and offensive behaviors, and becomes a different person altogether.
There is no literature, as far as I am aware of, that states that Empaths also have a False Self. Given that I have a whole lot of experience working with common, run-of-the-mill, Narcissists and Empaths, I want to be the first to state that both types of people have a False Self. But, they both project this False Self outward, differently.
Empaths do not use the False Self to manipulate and exploit others, and even have some awareness of not having a strong sense of self. Whereas, the Narcissist is delusional, and is often not aware of the extent to which they don’t have a sense of self. A Narcissist either justifies harming and exploiting others with the use of this self, or they project their behaviors and intentions outwards, and thus believe others are deceiving, exploiting, and manipulating them.
So, how does the False Self manifest in Empaths?
Empaths tend to have very little sense of self, and instead have extremely porous boundaries of identity. They tend to be so sensitive, they feel others feelings and states, and tend to begin to mirror them, or morph into people they are around. They do this because early on in life they learned that to remain connected, they needed to be incredibly tuned in to others and their environment. They genuinely feel and take on states of others, and are moved with others, and are somewhat of an empty vessel to be filled. They do not use their False Self, which is also ever-changing and chameleon-like, to promote their ego, power over others, or an elevated sense of self-worth, as the Narcissist does, but rather they use it to be intimate, connected, to find purpose on the planet, and to heal others.
When first interacting with a Narcissist (especially a Covert Narcissist) and an Empath, they may actually appear the same, as they both mirror back the person they are interacting with, and may be extremely complimentary and attuned. But, a Narcissist initially uses the act of attunement to hook in their sources of supply, while an Empath is naturally attuned as a means to connect and heal. You may experience a sort of fusion or immersive experience in interacting with both, on the account that there is very little Self there to bump up against, the focus tends to be on their admiration of you, and instead you feel quite warm and pleasant connecting with someone who has so little boundaries and is able to get “so close”.
As a caveat, this internal experience of having a False Self, and sense that one doesn’t have much of a self, can often mislead Narcissists who have encountered spiritual texts about ego, to believe they are enlightened (due to having No-Self experiences), and lead Empaths to also believe they are spiritually advanced enough to bypass their own anger and discomfort, because they also have No-Self experiences, and don’t need boundaries, because they are an expression of ego attachment.
Additionally, this lack of self, and the False Self, can confuse Narcissists into believing they are in fact Empaths, as they attempt to find the most desirable and flattering label and understanding of why they feel themselves to be so sensitive, are chameloen-like, the world doesn’t understand them, and they have so little boundaries. And, Empaths tend to question their identity, and when seeing they can sometimes be self-absorbed or cause harm, because of having their False Self and thus very little boundaries, wonder if they are in fact a Narcissist.
When a Narcissist is with an Empath, it becomes a confusing experience for both, as the Narcissist will believe after a while that their Empath partner is the Narcissist, as the Empath starts to mirror back Narcissistic traits, and also reacts to being treated poorly. And, the Empath, not having a sense of self, begins to wonder if the Narcissist is in fact, right.
So, if you are an Empath, or if people have accused you of being a Narcissist, it is a good idea to investigate your experience of having a False Self. Then I recommend doing what you need to do to build a true Self. This heals and bring balance to the lives of both types of people. For an Empath, the goal is to become an even more emotionally stable, healthy, self-loving, boundaried, self-aware individual, who uses their sensitivity to both care for their own well-being, as well as to care for others. For a Narcissist, the the goal is to become more emotionally stable, build greater humility and boundaries, develop true self-love and self-esteem, and learn to deal with one’s shame enough to heal one’s wounds, and build a true sense of Self.
So, get on with it!