Understanding Narcissism 1—Empathizing With the Need for Empathy

For those who are enjoying Mother’s Day, I wish you a wonderful day! The blogs I am posting today are for my ACON* Friends who need comfort or help explaining their pain and hopefully it will help some who are apathetic to the damage of narcissism.

This is a part of a series I am posting in response to a friend’s comment on my blog about Mother’s Day being painful. I know my friend’s mother is NOT a narcissist. From what I know of her mom, she is very loving and interested in her children’s lives. One reason why some people seem apathetic to the pain of ACONs* could be they have either not experienced narcissistic abuse or they are still in denial about their own wounds. I hope this series will help people like my friend to better understand narcissism.

Oh the joys of explaining narcissism— sometimes it feels like putting your head into a vise!

If a friend of yours was in a car accident and sustained a broken leg because another driver hit them, would you lecture them on forgiveness and positive thinking? You would probably ask about their injuries and wish them a speedy healing. It’s different with an emotional injury for two reasons—emotional trauma can be invisible and it often takes years for the injured to discover their festering wounds.

Perhaps one reason people have a midlife crisis is because they don’t recognize their emotional wounds sustained in childhood until they realize they aren’t going to live forever and start to question why they have made bad choices and in the process they realize that everything shapes us—and that the addictions and ineffective coping methods they used to survive in childhood are no longer serving them today.

Those who have no wounds or have not processed their own trauma often have a need to quiet those who are finally finding their voices. They are apathetic because they aren’t dealing with the pain and really just want everyone to smile and be happy, but those who are processing pain can’t fake happiness any more than the friend with the broken leg can get up and walk out of the hospital without a cast or pain meds. In the case of narcissistic abuse empathy acts like one of the “meds.”

The opposite of empathy is apathy. Many people feel apathetic because they are ignorant about narcissism. I can hardly blame them because just a couple years ago if you had asked me to define narcissism, I would have told you it’s someone who is vain about their looks. Now, after some counseling and reading several books on it, I realize narcissism is on a scale. We all have a little narc in us, but toxic or malignant narcissism allows parents and spouses to abuse others without regrets. Dealing with the aftermath of narcissistic abuse is a very complex and complicated situation and if you are going through this I recommend you find a good therapist to help you sort it out because many of your friends will be apathetic—they don’t mean to be, but they are just ignorant.

Here is part of the recent blog comment that inspired me to write this series because it seemed to be lacking in empathy:

“I am sorry you are having a hard time as Mother’s day approaches. I praise God for such a wonderful mother and father too!”

Whenever anyone has pain, it might sound empathetic to say, “I am sorry you are having a hard time,” but what people say next usually shows what they are actually thinking. It’s sort of like saying, “I’m sorry, but…” Can you imagine meeting someone who has a broken leg and saying, “I’m so sorry you’re in pain, but I sure praise God that both of my legs are working fine?”

The problem with downplaying an ACON’s pain is equivalent to seeing your friend with a broken leg and telling them to get up and walk on. The leg needs casting and possibly surgery and then there will be a time to take pain meds before rehab and complete healing can take place. Emotional wounds can be even more painful than physical wounds. Studies have shown the brain processes both in a similar way. The difference is when we meet someone with emotional wounds we can’t see them, so we have no idea at first glance what stage of healing they are at.

This is why the best response when you meet an ACON or anyone who has lived through a traumatic event, is to show empathy. Empathy needs to be our first reaction because we can’t help people unless we empathize with them first. This is especially true for ACONs because the first clue and hallmark of narcissism is the narcissist’s inability to have empathy for their victim. Because of this, ACONs are very sensitive to those who lack empathy—we can smell them coming from a mile away.

So if you have a friend who had a rough childhood, please show some empathy by taking some time to listen to their story and find out where they are in their healing process. Your kindness and empathy might even be a catalyst for their healing.

*ACONs—Adult Children of Narcissists

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