I was watching these videos by Dr. Abdul Saad, an Australian clinical psychologist. He describes the dynamic between a narcissist and what people have been calling an empath.

When I look at the description of an empath, it sounds like a person with a typical experience of empathy who has trouble regulating emotions, so this experience of emotional contagion is very upsetting and difficult to manage. When you have regulation problems, you can try to control everything about your life so that events don’t lead to difficulties, but you can’t control everyone around you and they have feelings too.

Anyway, when I listen to him talk about a narcissist and an empath, that’s what I assume he is talking about: a narcissist and someone with a more typical capacity for empathy who has difficulty managing emotions. I think these pairings can be common, because the narcissist actually doesn’t catch the empath’s dysregulated states. It creates a container. If someone with trouble regulating is around other people, the contagiousness of the dysregulation can be explosive.

That said, he talks about the empath’s unspoken agreement: that the empath will give in hopes of eventually having unarticulated needs seen and acknowledged. It’s a pattern that works with a narcissistic parent: your best hope of getting them to meetyour need for attention and interaction is to appeal to their grandiosity. It’s the only way to keep them engaged with you.

I don’t think I am like this. I think I learned to give only late in my life, because nothing I gave was ever right or good enough for my mother. I became afraid to give anything at all. Part of the experience–the healing–of giving to C is that I have to live with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about what I am giving long enough to choose something that might please her. I have to be brave over and over and deal with my shit.

But the narcissist does demand control, and if you have grown up with one, that’s what you learn: people want control. If you want people in your life, you are going to have to allow them control. I am familiar with that one.

The psychologist says the only way out of this is for the empath to stop giving, so that the contract isn’t entered into. I think regardless of what you actually do in relation to the narcissist, the only thing that helps is to become more aware of your own internal states so that your needs and desires eventually become apparent to you.

But the Boyfriend makes me think of something else, because he seems to be emotionally about three. He apologized without ever being able to say what he was apologizing for. He seemed to believe I had a lot of hurt feelings. It made no sense to me.

However, if I began to imagine that he had not progressed to a moral level where general principles are at work and it is instead the whim of a powerful person (I threatened him with the principal’s wrath if he didn’t behave), then what he wrote made sense. Just beg for mercy.  I have displeased you is reason enough.+

Well, then, the point is to gain power so that it is your whim which counts. To me, this explains the empath’s behaviour. If I want your affection, I can gain it by conforming to your whims. In a world like that, everyone will want to have their whims granted. It’s like a smile. Can’t go wrong.

I am going to break off here and say it’s incredibly hard to concentrate on writing this, because it is really about my dad and to some extent also about Yuri. My whole torso is tense, waiting for some kind of blow.

In that case, where right and wrong are determined by power, it becomes important to be in power. I remember the sense of competition with my ex–why did my attempts to clear the air and communicate always seem to lead for tit-for-tat exchanges? Because if I was wounded, she needed to be more wounded. She might publicly be proud of my accomplishments, but privately undermine them.

I remember reporting to a couples therapist that I was never allowed to speak in the car. My ex always wanted to listen to the radio, and she was angry at me for trying to discuss the events of the day on the way home. (We worked at the same school and earned various rewards for carpooling.) I was chided for using absolute terms, and yet I am precise in my language. I meant there is no give-and-take in this whatsoever and that is weird to me. I understand sometimes not wanting a conversation or even preferring it, but I don’t understand not relenting ever, just out of a sense of fairness or decency.

That pattern was about power. I had no conscious idea of why having power was important, but if I think of my homelife, oh, yes, then it makes sense. The person in power gets to have what they want. That is your moral sense when you are three. It is bad because I was punished.

If you believe that as a grownup and especially as someone who experienced abuse, then it means you privately live in fear that someone more powerful will come along and punish you viciously for all the things you did before they noticed you were not complying with their wishes.

I can imagine my dad as a frightened man-toddler, torturing me to prove how much power he has to someone who doesn’t even really exist.

It’s a pretty terrible image.

 

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