The Relationship Between Sensitive People and Narcissists
Why HSPs attract and are attracted to narcissists and other negative people.
by Deborah Ward
Many highly sensitive people have asked me why they so often end up in relationships with narcissists or other negative types of people, who take advantage of us, drain our energy and take our kindness without giving anything in return. Whether these people are co-dependents, addicts, abusive, or narcissists, they disrespect our boundaries, blame, criticize and make us feel so bad about ourselves that we don’t have the energy to leave. So what is it about sensitive people and narcissists that creates such an attraction and leaves such a trail of destruction?
HSPs are compassionate and empathetic by nature. We feel other people’s pain instinctively and want to help. In addition, narcissists are experts at manipulation and control, so they will use your big heart for their own ends (see my post The Highly Sensitive Person and the Narcissist). HSPs can feel such intense love and compassion for people that we can believe our love can heal others. And often other people are so amazed and relieved by receiving this much love and understanding, they respond with enormous gratitude and often flattery. Sensitive people respond to this praise by feeling good about ourselves and feeling needed and so we give more. But as this pattern continues, we end up giving until we’ve got nothing left and getting nothing in return, under the mistaken belief that if we just give a little more, it will be enough. But it’s never enough because the narcissist is an empty vessel, a bottomless pit of need.
What’s important to remember is that it’s not your love they need. It’s their own. You will never be able to ‘fix’ anyone. What’s more, you shouldn’t. Everyone has their own path to follow and to become a whole and healthy person, everyone needs to walk that path on their own, making their own mistakes, learning to pick themselves up, and discovering how to love themselves. Without those valuable lessons, a person will never have enough love to give to someone else. Trying to get a narcissist to love you is like carrying a baby around in your arms and waiting for them to start walking. Sometimes helping too much can leave the other person crippled. They need to learn on their own.
Unfortunately, without learning to love themselves, hurtful people spend their lives trying to get the love they’re missing inside from someone else. That someone else is often a sensitive person because we have Compassion written all over us. But don’t let it be you. You are not responsible for someone else’s journey. What you are responsible for is your own journey, your own feelings, your own life. You don’t need to feel good about yourself by depending on others to tell you you’re a kind person or thanking you for helping them or making you feel needed. Relying on someone else to make you believe these things will only make you dependent on them, and then you will become a victim once again. You need to give all that to yourself. Show up with everything you need in your own back pocket. Know that you are a good and kind person, know that you are capable of enormous compassion and love and know that you are deserving of love yourself. If the other person doesn’t reflect that in the way they treat you, it’s time to leave.
The following are further reasons why HSPs are often attracted to narcissists:
1. Our giving nature means we often put other people’s needs before our own.
2. We’re so open we take on other people’s stuff like emotional storage containers.
3. If you have low self-esteem you can overlook the signs that things aren’t right, that you aren’t being treated right and so you ignore the injuries to your self and let it continue.
4. If you feel like a victim or have been victimised in the past, you will project that belief outwards. Narcissists will pick up on it and home in on you as a target. (See my post Feeling Like a Victim)
5. HSP’s sensitivity to other people’s feelings means it can feel wrong to say no. We think since we can feel it, we must do something about it. But we are not responsible for other people’s feelings.
The way to stop attracting narcissists is to change your beliefs about yourself and the way you feel about yourself. Here’s how:
1. Set up boundaries to keep yourself safe. Learn to let in people who will be there for you and keep out the people who only want something from you. I highly recommend the book Boundaries(link is external)for specifics on how to set and enforce your boundaries and keep negative people out of your personal space.
2. Focus on your positive qualities and feel good about yourself, by yourself. Write in a journal to get your feelings out and develop an awareness of who you are, your feelings and your beliefs. Read back over what you’ve written over a period of weeks or months to see how you’re responding to situations and you’ll begin to see patterns in your behaviour and your beliefs about yourself and your relationships.
3. Learn how to use your sensitivity and empathy for the good. Two of the best uses are helping other people in a volunteer or charitable role and channelling it into a creative pursuit. Using your creative energy, in either volunteering or creative ways, will help you to feel grounded. You will feel a sense of belonging and connection to the wider world, and that you have an essential place in it. By shifting your energy into an activity you are passionate about, you will also give yourself something positive to focus on so that you’re not focusing solely on giving to someone who is making demands of your energy and attention. At the same time, you will be filling your life with positive feelings. Without this connection, you can feel frightened and alone and afraid to let go of what’s bad for you and too easily forget that you are connected to everything and that you are loved and safe.