How much is too much when you're empathizing with a narcissist?
March 9, 2013 7:50 PM Subscribe
My BFF and former FWB-type is most likely a narcissist (*My untrained diagnosis). With every argument, fight, or disagreement, I find myself resolving things on their
terms, usually because I can empathize with their emotional state and/or their "situation." So I find the logic in their position, however skewed, and I stop being upset. Probably unhealthy? To a point? ... Where's the line?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This question isn't so much "What do I do with this person?" because honestly, I think that's basically out of my hands at this point. But I'm wondering in general -- how much empathy is too much empathy? Is there even such a thing as "too much empathy?" My thought is that one should never compromise oneself in the name of "empathy," but it seems that empathy, by its very nature, alters the emotional state of the empath. Am I wrong?
Without too much backstory -- Someone in my life that I care very deeply about and that I feel very close to (in some ways) is extremely selfish and exhibits some seriously messed up and at times just plain mean, narcissistic behavior. This is someone that I've had a very complicated relationship with, from a basic crush to casual friends with benefits, to BFFs w/o B, to essentially pulling back on all fronts (and everything in between)... They're in no position to be in a relationship right now, and our "relationship" crossed the line into that forbidden territory. I get that it's messed up, and really, I've accepted that there's nothing to fix, and it'll never really be "good" -- that part was never totally in my control, anyway.
But I have found that in this relationship, more than any other, I've been able to set aside some of my earlier relationship tendencies (that I determined to be selfish or unproductive or ego-driven) and really be the one who was the "bigger man" as much as possible. I have consistently been the person to reach out after a disagreement. I've been extremely understanding when this other person has been reactionary, abrasive, and defensive. I've taken deep breaths and set aside my immediate defensiveness in favor of a quicker resolution and finding common ground.
And in each individual circumstance -- this new M.O. has worked! I did find quicker resolutions and seemingly common ground at times. I was able to see past a lot of immature behavior because I could empathize with this person and feel like, "It's not personal / This isn't about me / They're being reactionary/defensive / They're going through a lot / I see where they're coming from / I feel for them." And so I've been able to reach out or pull back and do things on their terms, because their terms seemed "okay," even if not ideal.
I read that and think maybe there's some Stockholm Syndrome here. I care about this person who is emotionally reckless, and emotionally reckless with me. While I get that they're messed up, I still believe they deserve empathy. Don't we all?
How does one draw that line? How does an objective party draw that line? Can that line even been drawn objectively?