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.
Grammarist.com 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 Wired.com 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!
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.