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HSP and narcissists: a hell of a tandem

Highly Sensitive People tend to attract narcissists because their natural empathy is an inexhaustible source for them. They feed on it and abuse it with only one goal: to destroy the highly sensitive person.

HSP and narcissists

So why does this hellish tandem seem to be not only unavoidable but also repetitive?

There are several patterns that can trigger this fatal attraction. One explanation is that HSP often have the “savior syndrome” which makes them believe that they will be able to heal or change others through their love, compassion and dedication.

A second explanation is the problem of their personal boundaries which are often porous or not defined by themselves. For narcissists, who are great manipulators, HSP are a great playground for their sick game. And the game can last for years… up until HSP sees them for who they are. But when HSP gives up hope of saving the narcissist, the damage is already done and disastrous. Let’s keep in mind and not lose sight of the fact that the tandem, as the name indicates, is led by two people, the hypersensitive and the narcissist. Now, don't jump at my throat, it's math! The relationship is danced by two, it is nourished by two and it is perpetuated by two if a decision does not occur from one side or the other.

So why do HSP get into this messy duo? And here I only am talking about relationships or friendship, by no means I am talking about a child raised by a narcissistic parent who has done nothing to be in that type of situation, and is a real victim. So, this being clearly defined, why would HSP attract more narcissistic people than others? I can come up with a few explanations.

The first one would be to wake them up to their own struggles and broken parts and push them to take some crucial steps in their life, like to build a more mature, more autonomous Self, and to define healthy and solid personal boundaries. In practice, it is about learning to say “no” and developing a better ability to read and understand their own emotional world. Because, let’s face it, behind the “savior syndrome” often hides a certain immaturity, mistrust or even arrogance. And it's not a judgment! It's an observation after having been in unhealthy relationships many times myself, it is obvious today that these feelings were underlying, without me recognizing them. I know now that I didn't have the necessary emotional maturity back then. And I realized that I had the conviction that “I” could make a difference in my friends or partners life... which is not always free from narcissism, let’s be honest! Of course, not in terms of narcissism disorder in the pathological sense, but as a tendency to narcissism that we all have within us to a greater or lesser extent. Something along the line: “I know best what this person needs, if anyone can change/heal/save them, it’s me, so I’m going to do it without them even noticing and without their consent!”

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So what is the motive behind all of this? Somewhat to buy ourselves a place in paradise, to receive all the recognition from others, to get the palms of merit and the applause of those around us? But what about when failure occurs and is messy and sour? What tactics are we going to use then? Manipulation, blame, perhaps even blackmail? Or will we choose the last option of avoidance: to sink into victimization!?!

Keeping on our blindfolds will not help and the show will go on with others, in different relationships, until we finally get it and see our role in those toxic connections. By continuing to deny our contribution in this infernal dance, there is no chance of evolving at the level of personal development, no chance of taking responsibility, no chance of finally growing emotionally in order to gain more personal sovereignty.

Certainly, we must not only neglect but also take into consideration that HSP’s exacerbated focus on others may also hide a trauma, a trauma that has weakened the Ego, has completely damaged it or has become almost non-existent. You will tell me that this strangely resembles the description of pathological narcissism. Of course, somehow, the comparison is tempting and the reflection relevant, because isn't pathological narcissism just as much of a traumatic origin? Yes, in the majority of cases, but let's not forget that the tango of hypersensitive empathy and narcissism is danced in pairs, it feeds each other, it supports each other, if no decision is taken by one of the antagonists.

However, generally and surprisingly, the narcissistic person is not the one who will make the decision to break up as one might imagine. Narcissistic people, because of their appalling sense of superiority and inflated ego, will completely slip through what is brewing in the HSP’s mind. They won’t see the denouement coming that will hurt them… as HSP were enduring their manipulations, they transformed their emotional pain and suffering into a ticking time bomb. The only goal of narcissists is to make the life of the other more and more unbearable overtime, and it effectively becomes so, until the day when the other "explode", out of despair, as a last resort for their own survival. That’s when they finally make their first steps towards maturity that they can no longer avoid. This is when the realization will come, as painful as it may be, that it is time for them to define their own Self, and establish healthy and strong personal boundaries.

Often unfortunately, it is through difficult relationships or hopeless situations that we gain maturity, begin the path of inner healing and move forward… because it is the only option and only way of survival.

So we just went through the infernal tandem of the hypersensitive and the narcissistic, but highly sensitive people do not only attract the narcissistic, as if that were not enough!!! Energy vampires are also very fond of them. And now what? We also throw ourselves in the arms of Dracula, the famous Romanian foodie or was he a vampire? :))

This kind of person comes in all shapes or sizes as for example a very self-centered person, who likes to talk, to hear themselves talking and only thinks of having an audience without worrying about opening a possible dialogue. That's not their goal! Other common traits of energy vampires include also being highly critical, dominating conversations with their own opinions and beliefs, or being overly demanding of your time and attention which can leave anyone feeling drained and exhausted after spending time with them. So, because of their heightened sensitivity, the influence of energy vampires makes HSP particularly vulnerable as those creatures will feed on their energy without their knowledge.

Discovery Call

Here again, if the highly sensitive person does not set healthy boundaries with these people, it becomes an inexhaustible energy well for the egocentrics of all kinds. So to prevent this from happening, you must be very careful not to feed and support this type of unhealthy behaviors just because you don’t stand up for yourself. I know that this is not an easy task for you as you dislike so much any confrontations and also have a sickly tendency to please everyone, but look for your own demons and the buried parts of yourself, and you too will become immune to these types of people, narcissists, manipulators or energy vampires.

At this point and before concluding, I would like to make a short parenthesis on a big detail that seems important and necessary to me to mention: Beware of the use of the word “narcissistic”! Nowadays as soon as someone has a conflict or a misunderstanding with anyone else, the heavy artillery of mental disorder names comes out. And more than often, some people start bombarding their ex, their mother-in-law, their neighbor, the basketball teacher or who knows who… with “cute” labels, and “narcissistic” has been one of the most carried around lately. It is a pretty heavy label to wear and not the nicest one! So I grant you, we live in a narcissistic society, but the whole Earth is not populated by narcissists… or if so, I will start to pack to live elsewhere!

To close the parenthesis, making a psychological diagnosis of those who have disappointed, criticized, left or even hurt us, in order to defame them, has become very fashionable. The word "narcissistic" is peddled wrongly and through to blame the other for our sentimental failure. Be careful before labeling others with the “narcissistic” stamp, take a deep breath and step back to take a closer look at your own narcissistic inclinations and behaviors… we all have them to a greater or lesser extent.

The takeaway

The HSP-narcissist dynamic is a difficult one to navigate and manage, but by taking certain steps to protect yourself and recognize when it’s time to disengage, you can protect yourself from any potential harm. When the show is over, take a long look at the parts you were bringing to the table too in this toxic relationship, and dive deeper into them to heal them so you won’t fall again into another toxic cycle with someone else.

The key tips you should keep in mind are: set boundaries, pay attention to the red flags, remember that self-care should always be a priority and take a good look at your own contribution in the relationship, heal that part… and you should become immune to any toxic relationship, at least in your personal life!


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