It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Empathetic Narcissist = Oxymoron

From House of Mirrors:

Let’s take a look at why malignant narcissists not only don't change but become worse. Keep in mind, they have mastered a lifetime of this twisted way of being in the world, and are always pushing their warped behavior to the limits...

Narcissists lack empathy. A lack of empathy means that they don’t know what it feels like to be human. They are oblivious to the feelings of others because they have none. They are incapable of seeing how they hurt people. They lack the underlying compassion for others that keeps actions or behaviours more or less in check. So when they find themselves abandoned because they’ve hurt everyone around them, the narcissist simply denies, dismisses, and minimizes the gravity of their actions. Hurt feelings? What does that mean? No big deal. Narcissists are coldblooded. I cannot stress that enough.

The only so-called feelings the narcissist understands are their own. For example; the sting of a bruised ego; the frustration that comes with not being in complete control; anger from not getting their way; envy from wanting what others have; jealousy from not getting all the attention; fear of exposure; hatred of all their inferiors; pity for themselves; smug satisfaction. defines empathy: “When you understand and feel another’s feelings for your yourself, you have empathy. It’s often spoken of as a character attribute that people have to varying degrees. For example, if hearing a tragic news story makes you feel almost as if the story concerned you personally, you have the ability to empathize.”

And says “…empathy—our tendency to ‘resonate’ with the emotional and physical states of other people. For example, if you’ve ever had a friend who’s both clumsy and culinary, chances are you’ve seen that friend burn himself on a hot stove accidentally. Watching this, you likely felt a pang of discomfort, and maybe even pulled your hand back, as if you, and not your friend, had been burned. My research and that of others has demonstrated that when we watch others in pain, we activate some of the same brain regions that are also active when we experience pain ourselves, suggesting that we really do ‘feel their pain.’”

Narcissists lack this ability. The may feel sympathy for someone, which is something that goes on in the head only, but more likely, sympathy from a narcissist is feigned. They simply do not feel anything outside their own selves, nor do they care to (part of the lack of empathy). Furthermore, their lack of empathy causes them to fail to understand empathy in others, mistaking it for stupidity or weakness or gullibility. It is beyond the narcissist to grasp the feelings of others.

You cannot teach a narcissist a lesson by “giving him a taste of his own medicine,” either, because he won’t get it. Either he will simply view it as being unrelated to anything he does, see it as a personal attack, or—rarely—feel the desired feelings but without any epiphany as to the feelings of his victims. He doesn’t care how his victims feel, he only cares how he feels, and if you make him feel bad, it could mean retaliation, making the only lesson learned your lesson not to antagonize a narcissist.

My mother was completely lacking in empathy. If there was any one trait that convinced me that she was narcissistic, this was it. Even real, physical hurts she downplayed to the degree of taunting or, if it was going to cost her money, rage. When I was six I fell off the jungle gym at school, whacking my chin on the way down. I needed stitches to close the jagged wound. She screamed furiously at the school for letting it happen, screamed at me for being clumsy, and told me to shut up and stop blubbering while she drove me to the doctor’s for those stitches.

I had a miscarriage at five months and was hospitalized with a massive infection—so bad that they put me in isolation. After several delirious days in the hospital I received a phone call from her, berating me for “gold bricking” in the hospital and telling me that the miscarriage was a good thing, that I didn’t need any more kids.

When her younger brother and his wife were found to be infertile, she decided my children would be better off living in their affluent home than in my poor one (she had the means to help me rather than steal my children, but declined to do so). She spent two years engineering a campaign to separate my children from me, gain a guardianship of them, and then turn them over to her brother for adoption. That my uncle's home state had failed them on the home study for a state adoption was of no import; that I did not want to be separated from my children was of no consequence; that the children did not want to leave me also did not touch her heart. She would be a “hero” in the eyes of the family if she could pull this off—a hero for rescuing those babies from the depraved environment she had convinced them I provided, and a hero for getting her darling baby brother that which he wanted most and nobody else could provide: kids. If she could have felt my pain, the pain of my children, or even related to the pain the rest of the family would feel once her lies and subterfuge came to light, she could not have possibly done what she did. But lacking empathy, her only focus was on getting what she wanted: the adulation that would come to her for her heroic deed.

My ex-Nhusband was no better. A malignant narcissist like my mother, he once told me he thought of himself as a single man who happened to have a wife. It did not occur to him that such a thing might hurt me—and if it did, he would not have cared. He was a minor executive at a major Silicon Valley high tech company, high enough in the ranks to decides on his own business travel rather than be dispatched by his boss. And so he chose to spend our tenth wedding anniversary in Washington DC, with some “hired companions,” a lot of champagne, and one of his juniors who happened to be both a friend and a neighbour, a young man who had a conscience and who came to me a few months after the event to tell me what went on and how badly he felt to have been a participant. “Drink up,” he told me my husband said to one of the escorts, refilling her champagne glass, “tonight’s my tenth anniversary!” I, on the other hand, sat alone at home waiting for the phone call that never came and he, once home, seemed baffled that I was hurt by his failure to call. “I was out of town,” he told me. “I was busy.”

Narcissists have an infinite variety of ways in which to display their lack of empathy. As I write this, Belvedere Vodka is under fire for putting out an ad that “showed a smiling man grabbing a woman, who appeared to be in fear, from behind…‘Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly,’ the ad’s caption read.” To their credit, senior management pulled the ad immediately and apologized, but obviously someone in the organization lacks any kind of sensitivity towards or empathy for women and their innate fear of rape. No one with an ounce of empathy could countenance such an ad and, if fact, would recoil from the very thought of it. A Turkish shampoo, Biomen, is currently under fire for running an ad using old footage of Hitler giving a speech as their “spokesperson.” Any kind of empathy for the dead, the survivors, and the descendants of Hitler’s victims would have stilled even the first thought of such an ad. Only people lacking in even a modicum of empathy could have gone forward and not only produced the ad, but aired it as well.

It is hard to figure if narcissists lack empathy because they don’t care about the feelings of others or if they don’t care about the feelings of others because they lack empathy. Personally, I don’t think it matters—what matters is that they don't care about anyone’s feelings but their own even though, intellectually, they comprehend that the society expects this of us. Courtesy and manners are based on empathy, and altruism and a sense of justice as well. How many people have you come across in your life who are rude, mannerless boors not because they were never taught better but because they don’t give a shit? Cut in front of you in the queue at the market, swoop in for the parking space you have been patiently waiting for, talking loudly in movies, smoking in non-smoking areas, making their cell-phone conversations matters of public consumption…they simply do not care how you feel, how they impact you, how you perceive them. They care only how they feel, how they are impacted, how they perceive themselves.

Lincoln told us “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” meaning that we must stick together, work together, care for each other, if we are to survive and prosper. The narcissist, in his selfishness, takes the opposite view because anything you get, be it time, attention, money, advancement, esteem of others, is just that much less for him. One could say the narcissist operates on the “finite pie” theory, the idea being that there is just so much of anything to go around and any bits you get are bits he cannot have, rather like the little kid’s jealousy of the new baby because he doesn’t understand that the love his mother gives to the new sibling is not love stolen from him. The narcissist has never emotionally matured to the age at which children begin to learn empathy for one another.

Have you read the story or watched the video of Fiona, the dog found blind and nearly dead in a trash heap in LA? I could not even watch the video, the story was enough to put an ache in my heart and tears in my eyes. A narcissist, however, would be unable to relate to the dog and her heartbreaking story—the narcissist’s heart would not break. Oh, s/he might be motivated to do something—to donate money, to help another dog, even to take a dog in—but not out of empathy for the dog but rather to get the Nsupply of praise for the deed, to get bragging rights, to feel superior to others or to make others feel inferior for their inaction. It wouldn’t be about feeling for the poor dog, it would be about self-aggrandizement for the narcissist.

I suspect Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA, of being a narcissist based on her attempt to present herself as a saint for “saving” animals while, behind closed doors, the animals surrendered to PETA by unsuspecting owners are almost universally destroyed, sometimes in “kill vans” right outside the owner’s homes! By their own admission, in documents filed annually with the Commonwealth of Virginia, in 2011 PETA put to death more than 95% of animals surrendered to it, three times the kill rate of the public shelter only a few miles down the road. Newkirk, however, surrounds herself with an air of sanctimonious self-righteousness, believing her—and only her—beliefs about animals are correct and having no compunction about violating the beliefs and feeling of others on the way to bludgeoning them with her vision. She demonstrates no compassion, no empathy even for the animals she purports to champion for, instead of spending PETA’s $37M+ budget on rehabilitating and rehoming animals like Fiona, instead of cuddling and loving and healing the hurts of abandoned and unwanted animals, she just has them killed. Her bizarre vision, totally at odds with reality, is that animals would be better off turned loose in the wild than living as “slaves” of humans. Yah, right—my 15-year-old toothless, half deaf, arthritic Maltese who takes heart, kidney and arthritis medication daily would be much better off out there in the wild without his meds, his fleece jersey, his snug little house, and soft food delivered to him daily. Ingrid’s vision, her self-image as a rescuer of abused and enslaved animals everywhere, had nothing to do with reality, has everything to do with self-aggrandizement, and displays an almost-criminal lack of empathy where the animals themselves are concerned.

When my husband Charlie died, you would have thought his mother was the widow, not me. She made demands about his funeral and at the funeral she seized my place leading the rituals at the grave. In the first couple of days after he died, when I had had no sleep and was trying to make arrangements and still work, Charlie’s mother had to be tended. She was with me at the funeral home, at the hospital, picking out caskets, making demands about the eulogies, requiring me to dance attendance on her. I had to borrow money from Charlie’s millionaire brother, Alvin, to pay for the funeral because I did not have access to that much cash on short notice, and before he handed me the check, he narrowed his eyes and asked “when am I going to get this back?” He asked me again after the funeral. Neither his mother or his brother showed any empathy for my pain at the sudden and unexpected loss of my beloved, larger-than-life husband. In fact, his mother actually criticized me for how I told her of his death, and that I should have told her beforehand that he was “that sick.” (Even his doctor didn’t know he was “that sick!”)

I didn’t know about narcissists back then, but if I had, I would have expected this instead of being blindsided by what I took then to be abject boorishness. His mother did not shed a tear at Charlie’s funeral, dressed in black slacks and a bright lime green jacket, and simply behaved like she was the hostess at a party! Alvin tastelessly remarked “Oh, look, all of Charlie’s wives are here!” when he realized Charlie’s first wife had come to support their daughter and that I was burying Charlie beside his second wife. Because I did not expect this kind of thoughtlessness—the few funerals I had attended in the past were solemn affairs with the widow given due consideration for her grief—I was simply in shock, and when Alvin’s wife invited me to lunch after the service, I declined, went straight home, and slept for 20 hours.

One can argue that they were grieving too, as Charlie was a family member, and that we all grieve differently. What one cannot argue, however, is that my grief was not treated empathetically and after I has spent twelve years with the man, their behaviour was, at best, thoughtless. Had they had any empathy, had they been capable of it, they would have been no less solicitous than my and Charlie’s friends.

Empathy is that quality that allows us to identify with the feelings of another. It informs and mitigates our behaviour, not for gain or reward, but because we know how they feel because WE take some of that feeling ourselves. Narcissists don’t know how to do this—they don’t have the capacity and because of that, they find no value in it. They can feign sympathy, if it will help them get something they want, but to actually feel for another? Not bloodly likely!


  1. I think funerals bring out the inhuman in narcissists. My mother recently buried her mother, and I likened my mother's behavior to a girl at her sweet 16 party, flitting around. Ugh.

    And that stuff about PETA.... yikes! I had no idea! I always thought they seemed sanctimonious, but that takes the cake.

    I don't want to be a jerk, but do you mean "oxymoron" rather than "non-sequitur" for your title?

  2. I have always had an extreme distaste for others trying to force their opinions and values onto me. I find it exceedingly disrespectful (as if they don't think I have the brains or moral fibre to make good choices without their "guidance") and just brings back unpleasant memories of having to deal with a malignant narcissist of a mother.

    So, PETA's heavy handed tactics have always repelled me and while their message may SEEM lofty enough to set aside my repugnance, it just didn't set right--so I decided to do some research. What I learned, as a result of that research, I took with a grain of salt until I came across the documents PETA themselves filed with the Commonwealth of Virginia. There it was, PETA's own admission on an official document, that they killed more than 90% of the animals surrendered to them. My personal opinion now? PETA is evil.

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  3. Dear Violet
    You hve hit the nail on the narcissists' head. My father in law did the same during my mother's funeral, he was dancing in joy that his help was solicited in organisaing the funeral and he started acting indispensable. The first thing i did was kicked his ass out of my house. A mere act of courteous help was regarded by him as indispensability.

    Along with PETA you can add "Mother" theresa's missionaries of charity, it operates along the same lines. The only difference here is children are tortured instead of animals.

    1. Very interesting about Mother Theresa. I've heard rumblings about such a thing recently...I am going to have to check it out.

      I am sorry to hear your father-in-law was such a dick with respect to your mother's funeral..but happy to hear you had the strength to give him the boot. Isn't this what it is all about, in the long run, is finding and being able to use our strength to take care of ourselves and our loved ones?

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  4. Not just that, he is so sadistic he told my toddler son that both me and my wife are going to die soon. This is because we insulted the golden child. Why did i insult the GC because she had the audacity to send us an wedding anniversary wish, but the hidden meaning was a bereavement anniversary which was clearly intuited by me.

    The next step i dragged the inlaws to court for death threats and he was no show for three occasions, the last occasion he was produced before the police and the indian police being so corrupted he had to bribe them heftily and come out of it. He had the audacity to send my wife a threat mail asking her to walk out on me with her children. I have been no contact with them. He tried stalking my children at school but was kicked out.

    Being reared by a Narcissistic mother who did not want me to exceed her golden child i.e. my elder brother. She wrote all her inheritanecs in his name. My GRE scores were in the 98% and i was a gold medallist at baccalaureate level, my mother pulled my educational prospects down under the pretext that she was a poor. In fact later things came to light that she was in millions.

    Providentially the Golden child expired because of a heart attack. My mother was kidnapped and died a excruciating death at the hands of her own brother another cirminal and owing to severe alzheimers.

    Violet two things that i have personally experienced is that Narcissistic dogs usually die a pathetic death, watch saddam, hitler, mmussolinin, gadaffi, pol pott and many others. The golden child is usually ruined in every way and most cases precedes the narcissistic in going to the grave.

    Thanks for your kind words. You can google mother theresa fraud or hell's angel by christopher hitchens, the missionary position, the final verdict is the best book by dr. chatterjee, you can also join the site of responsiblecharity, The exposures are graphic.

    I dont know if you are into astrology. Pls google the words i would rather be dateless than date a virgo in the site and read my thoughts blogged under kenyanscorp. Initially i had posted articles under some famous astrology sites about narcissism, but astrologers need to sell the politically correct truth.

    Thanks for your invite i would definitely join your list.

    1. Well, in my family, my NM died peacefully in her sleep and her GC son and GGC granddaughter are still alive. But my family lives in America (I do not--I am in South Africa and married to an Indian gentleman whose family came from Chennai several generations ago).

      I am sorry to hear that your NM put you through such terrible experiences but the good news is, if she is gone and the GC is gone, you need only concern yourself with your own family and with healing the hurts they imposed on you during their lives. Part of my healing path is to operate this blog, to give to those who need the enlightenment. There are many books and blogs and forums, therapists and meditation--many paths are available out there. Not all of them are right for everyone, so I put out information often available elsewhere but with commentary and examples that may make the information easier for some people to take on board.

      Two women, Joanna Ashmun and Kathy Krajco, left wonderful legacies for the victims of narcissists in the form of websites and blogs. After their deaths, their family members have kept their writings alive on the web and I strongly urge you to Google their names and read what they have left behind for us.

      May you find peace.

    2. OMG. The malignant narcissist in my life told my husband that he would be dead before he was 50 because all the men in her family die by the time they're 50. It's false. Most of them live until their 80s, except for the ones with multiple addictions. She also said her pre-school grandson would die before he got to first grade.

      This is one of those common signs of a malignant narcissist: going around telling everyone they're going to die. Well, duh. Everyone dies eventually. But should you be predicting a child's death while he is standing there listening? The child is an adult now. How did having a toxic grandmother alter his life?

    3. Oh man, I will. I am very interested in the overlap of narcissism and astrology! My maternal grandmother is a narcissist, and my mom ... is not, but has a lot of bad habits. (Fleas, I guess that's called?)

      I recently started studying astrology, and have been wondering about the overlap between astrology and other, less frequently discussed things like narcissism, learning styles, fetishes, etc. I actually found your comment here by googling the search terms 'scapegoat golden child lost child astrology'.

      When I started to read about Virgo, it really struck me how much it sounded like my mother. Look it up and sure enough, she has 3 planets in Virgo, and if she'd been born just 2 days later, her sun would be in Virgo too. If there's a connection between narcissism and Virgo, I would find that very interesting.

    4. There is no overlap or relationship between narcissism and astrology. Astrology is not real. If i was, my father and cousin, who share a birthday, would be alike...they are as different as chalk and cheese.

      My father, cousin and I are all the same is my nephew, his father (my brother-in-law), my best friend's daughter, and all three children of a woman I went to university with: we all have distinctly different personalities and views on life. More to the point, I know identical twins, born only minutes apart, who are complete opposites.

      If astrology was valid, then everybody born on June 5th would be a raging malignant narcissist, like my mother was. It's just not true.

      As it can be best understood, narcissism comes about as a combination of nature (genetic predisposition) and nurture (how a person was raised). People far wiser and better educated than you or I have been studying this for years and they don't have any definitive answers yet. And simplistic answers involving mythology don't do anything but waste your time and mislead.

  5. Thanks violet,

    I am from chennai too.

  6. A miscarriage is an invitation to attack for the malignant narcissist. Example: deciding to come for a visit, although previously banned from visiting. Telling the husband of wife who suffered complicated miscarriage involving three hospital stays, to tell his wife to "snap out of it" (a couple of weeks after last hospitalization, when the emergency room doctor said she was so severely anemic it would take months to recover) so that she can come for a visit. MN saying, "she's just faking". Haranguing said husband that it's "my right" to visit. During past visits she expected to be waited on like a queen by said wife, thereby negating claims that "I'm only trying to help." That comment backfired when she was told, "Great, if you're only trying to help, don't come." Husband realized that his wife was serious when she said that if the MN showed up anyways, wife would take child and move into a nice hotel at husband's expense for the duration. Years later, MN later denied everything, including knowledge of miscarriage, and offered a fake apology for "whatever is wrong with you". Confronted with her lies, she began her internet blackballing campaign, including false claims of child- and spouse-abuse, which has lasted for 12 years so far. It makes you wonder what people like this could accomplish if they diverted their energies to something productive, like getting a job, or even finishing high school. Idle hands make work for the devil.

  7. This is my mother. I always suspected this, but this actually confirms. She stole my children from me 3years ago and constantly denies me visitation. She doesn't care whos feelings she hurts or how much pain she causes us. She only cares about her gain. And telling her that never works, she sees right thru it, like everything she is doing is for a purpose. This was wonderfully written.

  8. How do you know if there is low empathy or if its feigned a little with none? My husband does seem to try to figure out what is bothering my non verbal daughter, usually based on his experiences like scrstchy tags or tight clothes. However, he seems more annoyed and concerned about himself when something happens that puts someone elses need before his. So if I get sick, I am supposed to hurry up, suck it up and get well. He also threatened me when I wanted to go somewhere to train to take care of my child better for five days and caused a panic attack which he never apllogized for. I feel like he has a little empathy, but it seems surface level and for only certain people, mostly strangers or his kids.


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