Many people who get caught up with a narcissist for any length of time are highly sensitive or empathetic. They are the kind-hearts who empathize with others and forgive easily. Being highly sensitive is not the same as being overly sensitive. It doesn’t mean you are weak or a pushover; simply that you’re more aware of what is going on around you.
It is estimated 20% of the population are born highly sensitive. In olden times, they would have been the scouts sent ahead of the army to suss out the dangers because they’re acutely aware of and can pick up the subtle nuances of everything that is going on around them.
If you are an HSP (highly sensitive person) or empath, you are naturally attuned to other peoples’ energy. An empath can feel peoples’ emotions, both good and bad, so if another person is hurting or fearful but expressing it in anger, the highly sensitive person will pick up the base energy beneath the anger and is likely to be more tolerant because of that. They don’t only witness another person’s emotion, they ‘feel’ it. This can make an HSP or empath struggle to set boundaries and take care of their own needs, because they are so tuned in to the needs of others. There is every chance that those who become narcissists were actually born highly sensitive but in order to cope with the sensory overwhelm, or perhaps because they were told to ‘toughen up’ by a domineering parent, they shut down their sensitivity and empathy at a very early age in order to cope. For many women the natural maternal instinct rises up when encountering a man, who on the surface appears to be very confident, but who underneath that confidence exudes a little-boy-lost energy. Empaths can sense the narcissist’s underlying vulnerability which can often lead to forgiving him, even when we know we shouldn’t. Unfortunately this only compromises our boundaries. We have to learn to accept that we are not responsible for his pain and as much as we would like to, we cannot fix him. Instead we must work on ourselves.
The highly sensitive person is often the narcissist’s ideal target. The very traits he is missing, or has shut down in himself (empathy and kindness) he is attracted to in you. In your compassion you become vulnerable to his exploitation, as he knows he can push boundaries and you will be more than likely to forgive him. Here are some common signs that you might be an empath or highly sensitive person:
You can walk into a room and immediately sense the vibe
You find it difficult to say no to people (failure to set boundaries)
You try to lift people up and make them feel good
You feel great compassion for people, animals, the planet
When you love, you love deeply
You try and see the good in everyone or put yourself in their shoes
You don't hold a grudge and forgive easily
You take on other peoples’ problems and try to fix them (the rescuer)
You are sensitive to light, smell and sound
You often feel drained or overwhelmed in large groups
You need to spend time on your own to recharge
Being born highly sensitive can be a real blessing as long as we remain in emotional balance and take care to protect ourselves. By putting ourselves in other peoples’ shoes or feeling their pain, we can sometimes become too empathethic. By all means empathize but not to the point where you tolerate unkind behavior.
We can use sensitivity to our advantage at the beginning of a new relationship as it means we can pick up the most subtle of shifts in energy. In other words our intuition is very strong. If you hear the warning bells at any point when dating someone new, be sure to heed them, especially if it happens more than once. This is the time to listen to what your senses are telling you – if it feels wrong, it generally is. Once you start to make excuses for another’s behaviour (‘Oh he’s just had a bad week at work, he’s under stress’) and go further into the relationship, you become emotionally invested and the signals start to become muddled. Listen to your highly sensitive intuition right from the start and if something feels off, pause for consideration. Learn to say no to things that don’t feel good and to discern when you are perhaps giving more chances than might be deserved. Make sure to stand up for yourself and to walk away from any kind of emotional manipulation.