By Annie Lane
Dear Annie: I am writing in response to the letter from “Concerned Care-Daughter,” who said she was approaching caregiver burnout. It sounds to me like she is very empathic, and her older sister may have some narcissist traits. Narcissistic traits include being dismissive of other people’s points of view and being very controlling.
My mother had many strong narcissistic traits, and I had to learn to set boundaries the hard way. I’ve found healing through understanding by reading books and watching videos on this topic, including on YouTube. I might not have a professional background in this, but I have learned a great deal.
Narcissists believe they are special and think they know more than others do. When problems come along, they blame other people because they don’t make mistakes (or so they believe). They can be ridiculously defensive. They cannot say phrases like, “You make a good point,” or “Thanks for the input,” or “I was wrong,” or “Can you help me understand?” Instead, they mismanage anger and can have temper tantrums, or they can be passive-aggressive if you don’t agree with them. They don’t care how you feel, or how or why you prioritize things the way that you do. Narcissists will wear out their relationships. They’re exasperating and frustrating to take care of, so they have a lot of broken, strained and difficult relationships, especially later in life.
Empaths, on the other hand, intuitively pick up on other people’s feelings. They can deeply understand another person’s point of view. They have a passion to be helpful; they are sensitive and are deeply moved by beauty. They love to help the underdog. Empaths tend to be idealists. One of their favorite phrases is, “Why can’t we all just get along?”
Unfortunately, the narcissist tends to be exploitative and highly controlling. And when they meet an empath, they can think, “Now what can I do with that person that’s going to make me feel better and will help me?” They can try to take advantage of the empath’s desire to help people.
So it’s important for the empath to learn to set boundaries with a narcissist. It won’t change the behavior of the narcissist, but the empaths can learn to protect themselves from that behavior and not have the words of a narcissist carry much weight. By doing this, empaths can practice emotional detachment from narcissists, unhooking from caring what they think. They should not let the narcissist define who they are. It’s OK to decide how much to do as a caretaker and stick with it. I find phrases like, “That doesn’t work for me,” and, “Well, it’s not going to work out, is it,” very helpful. — Empathic Daughter of a Narcissist
Dear Daughter of a Narcissist: I am very sorry that you had a mother like that. But talk about making lemonade out of a lemon. You healed yourself by understanding your mother’s way of being and all the while setting boundaries to protect yourself. I commend you fully. Thank you for your letter. I hope it helps other people dealing with narcissists in their lives.