If you've done much research on malignant narcissism you've seen it stated that narcissists (and psychopaths) lack empathy. This is only partially true -- not because of what it states but because of what it omits. To say they lack empathy is erroneous because most will take that to mean the narcissist lacks empathy in any capacity. They are capable of empathy, but like everything else having to do with the narcissist their empathy is perverted.

Narcissists have vast reservoirs of compassion (which is an outgrowth of empathy). Here's the problem though. All that compassion is turned inward i.e. used completely selfishly. They save their empathy for themselves. You, on the other hand, are out of luck.

On the geocities webpage where the author Chris brilliantly outlines "Characteristics of Narcissist Mothers" she captures the essential elements of the narcissist's perverted form of empathy. Read it and relate:

Sometimes she seems to have no awareness that other people even have feelings, and yet she is brilliantly sensitive to other people’s emotions. Every child of a narcissist recognizes this contradiction because narcissistic mothers do possess the ability to exercise empathy, and in abundance. Sometimes this ability also leads them to identify emotionally with people who are suffering and to express caring for them. When caring about anothers suffering interferes with something the narcissist wants, though, the caring vanishes. When a narcissistic mother wants validation, when she feels like eliciting some emotional pain, when something she wants hurts someone else, the empathy is turned off as though it never existed.

From the perspective of ability, narcissists are extremely empathetic; indeed they have a gift of telling what other people are feeling and thinking. Their skill at discerning and guiding the emotions of other people is the basis of many characteristically narcissistic interactions. Narcissists are very socially adept which is why no one ever believes their children when they complain of their mothers. They know just how to make everyone think that they’re delightful. Narcissistic mothers are exceptional manipulators, and manipulators must be extremely aware, on a moment-by-moment basis, of the emotions of their targets. If you don’t know what people are feeling, you can’t push their buttons. Their exceptional sensitivity to the feelings of others is also the wellspring of their pleasure in inflicting emotional pain through dramas and no-win scenarios. Narcissistic mothers enjoy inflicting emotional pain and they do it very well because they know just what their target children are feeling. That exquisite sensitivity is the reason they don’t need to batter. They can inflict agony without lifting a finger, so why risk exposure and waste effort with beatings when they can elicit the same emotions with words alone?

What narcissistic mothers lack is concern for the consequences of their actions, a behavior that seems rooted in profound selfishness, rather than in the absence of empathy. Mothers with NPD are certainly capable of feeling for others: they’re always feeling for the people with whom their scapegoat has conflicts. They feel for their fellow narcissists. They feel for people who have validated and praised them. They even feel for their child when it doesn’t cost them anything to do so. They just don’t feel for their child when they’re abusing him. They don’t feel anything that interferes with their absorption in their own wants and needs. Because they scour their environment for validation of their own abusiveness, they defend their fellow abusers, so they don’t have any empathy for the victims of those abusers, as the following story shows:

A four-year-old had come to school with a hand print on her face, which had been inflicted as the result of a slap by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. As a mandated reporter my mother had called the authorities, but she told me that she could understand why the boyfriend had hit the child: she was so annoying. Then she said in a dramatic tone dripping with sympathy “You should have seen the parents. They were so ashamed!” In outrage I said “What difference does that make to the child?” Her mouth dropped open and I realized she not only didn’t care at all about that poor little girl…it would never have occurred to her to care.

-Chris

This story shows the misplaced empathy of the abuser for other abusers. There was no empathy in Chris’s mother for the actual victim. Instead it was reserved for the woman who let her boyfriend batter her child. Chris’s mother identified with the abuser, a mother like herself, afflicted with a child who didn’t meet her needs. Her empathy actually attributed virtues to her fellow abuser and faults to the victim that weren’t merited in reality. Someone who hits a small child hard enough to leave a hand print, then sends them to school, isn’t ashamed, and the personality of a four-year-old is not the fault of the child!

The selfish empathy demonstrated by narcissistic mothers contrasts with the genuine empathy shown by normal people. Sometimes a normal person will give up something they really want for themselves because they come to recognize that it will hurt another person. A narcissistic mother will relentlessly go after something she wants even if it isn’t worth the pain she has to inflict to get it.

There are several statements in the above which put the finger on where the perversion has occurred:

When caring about anothers suffering interferes with something the narcissist wants, though, the caring vanishes.

They even feel for their child when it doesn’t cost them anything to do so. They just don’t feel for their child when they’re abusing him. They don’t feel anything that interferes with their absorption in their own wants and needs.

A narcissistic mother will relentlessly go after something she wants even if it isn’t worth the pain she has to inflict to get it.
The moment empathy would require the narcissist to extend herself for another human being, the instant some self-sacrifice would be called for, the minute the narcissist would have to take a stand against evil to protect the innocent is the very time her empathy stops flowing outward. This is absolute proof that the narcissist uses their ability to empathize only to serve themselves. They use their ability to intuit the emotions and reactions of others in order to manipulate them to their own ends. The only other real use of empathy they employ is to expend it generously upon themselves.

Chris has nailed another important point on whom the narcissist will bequeath her empathy: other abusers. This is a fundamentally selfish bestowal of empathy just as much as giving herself undeserved empathy is because by bestowing her empathy to the abuser what she is really doing is granting absolution and empathy for herself. She recognizes the kindred spirit in the other abuser and by excusing their behavior she excuses her own.

When I was forced to admit by dint of my father's letters to me over the summer and fall of 2005 that his sympathy was all for my mother I labeled him an abuser from that point onward. This is because of the bedrock reality that those who excuse abusers are themselves abusive. No matter the appearance of a mild-mannered nature -- if a person excuses abusers it is because there is some space in their minds which accedes to the notion that in at least some cases abuse can be justified. In the case of my father there was some evidence of aptitude for abuse, but it was rare enough that I could easily forget and thereby resume my opinion of him that he was not abusive. His unmitigated support of my mother, his lack of having ever protected myself or my daughter from my mother's abuses, his absolute demand I be the one to apologize, move on and forgive my mother in the absence of any sincere effort on her part to make things right, his unsubtle reminders of the sins of my youth to try to prove I had no right to hold my mother to any account...all these things proved to me once and for all that he is an abuser himself. Only abusers are willing to grant other abusers the right to abuse! It is at its very root a pass they are giving to themselves. Excusing abuse is abuse in itself. It is a red flag that the person has themselves a propensity for abuse. Granting absolution to abusers is always an extremely selfish thing to do; it ignores the humanity of the person abused and preserves compassion for the one doing the abusing and by doing so gives the person excusing the abuse a pass for the abuse they may decide to dish out themselves. Did you follow that sentence? If so, you get a gold star on your paper today.

In another blog post I wrote early this year I talked about the play on your empathy that disordered characters (including psychopaths) exploit: the pity party. The pity party is an exploitation of your empathy. They could only accomplish this by understanding what empathy is on an emotional level themselves. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the narcissist is incapable of empathy. The harsh reality is that you will only be the recipient of empathy from the narcissist if they feel it will cost them absolutely nothing to give it to you. Those moments will be rare.

Allow yourself to really think about the selfishly evil use of empathy of the narcissist. They use it to know (and enjoy) exactly how they are making you feel as they use and abuse you. That is what we call sadistic. They use it to manipulate you to their own ends. Or else they will use it to feel for their sorry-assed selves. These uses of their ability to empathize are profoundly selfish and often cruel.

There is no merit whatsoever for the fact that the narcissist is indeed fully in possession of the ability to empathize. In fact it is a solid basis for our condemnation of them. They pervert their ability to empathize and use it to selfishly exploit others to their own ends, to find pleasure in the pain they inflict, as well as to grant themselves pity when they least deserve it. If the narcissist was incapable of empathy we could grant them a pass for having some sort of disability. We must acknowledge the reality that the narcissist is all the more evil because they do possess this ability but choose to use it for their own selfish ends against you. They have managed to completely pervert their ability to empathize.

Narcissists are the embodiment of perversion. This is simply another facet of it. They can take any good thing and completely misuse it which is the definition of perversion I'm using, "Wrong, often corrupt use". A broader sense of the term than just sexual perversion as the word is often applied.

I'll close with a statement I wrote to my sister in April 2006. I hope you all will take the same stance with the narcissists in your lives:

"Your compassion you save for mostly you. I don't need to spend my compassion on someone who is so generous with it on themselves."

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