This is one of those phenomena that boggles my mind equally as much as it pains me. You see, the spectrum of empathy to narcissism is strange indeed. Where one falls on that spectrum will depend upon how much wounding you have incurred in this life (and others), how much personal work you have done, and how susceptible you are to outside energies/forces. That means, you can be an empath with narcissistic traits. Or, there can also be narcissists (and there often are) who mimic empathic traits to get what they want. It takes a very well-discerning eye to be able to read the soul’s vibration in order to understand where someone falls on the spectrum, for what reasons, and their true soul’s intention.
I have come across several empathic people, with whom I have had close relationships, who vibrate an empath energy from their soul, but who have taken on the adaptive methods and tactics of narcissism because of their indoctrination and upbringing (abuse), lack of guidance from other empathic people in their lives, and self-worth issues. They possess a high degree of consciousness and do in fact have a conscience (narcissists do not). They are able to observe from a spiritual lookout point, so to speak, and assess who people really are and what their given intentions are in a situation. They are very good at discerning right and wrong, and therefore the truth. They posses third eye activity but they often doubt themselves because no one has ever affirmed they are correct.
The problem is, because these people are lost souls, floating from one relationship to another, one group to another, desperately seeking ways to fit in, desperately wanting to feel like they belong, they are willing to do anything to get the love and affirmation they desire. And that includes losing pieces of their soul for social acceptance. That includes mimicking behavior they deep down know is not healthy. But they are too scared to take a stand and act from their soul because their soul has never been acceptable in this world. These people will go huge portions of their lives exhibiting narcissistic behaviors because they have been taught these things are normal, in fact — it was done to them, and since they don’t trust their first reaction or innate knowing, they discount their soul in favor of societal norms and expectations.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who act like empaths a majority of the time (serving others, helping others, loving others), but when a major stressor arises in which they would need to put their foot down and make an ethical decision that would not be popular with the “crowd”, they forgo the right choice and their inner knowing because they do not want to feel left out, or because they are coerced into it. This is where they have only been partially confident in themselves and the slightest stress pushes them over the edge into cognitive dissonance, and because the crowd appears to have so many “intelligent, qualified” people affirming a certain decision (or trying to convince them to do so), they think they themselves must be wrong in their assessment and everyone else must be correct. Or, there is some sort of benefit they will receive from their “handler” if they act like them or agree with them (social standing, money, work, love, affection, friendship, etc).
Here’s an example: I’ve written before about abuse and the phenomena called “flying monkeys“. This is where an abuser utilizes friends, family, acquaintances, and business associates to taunt, shame, threaten, or guilt a victim so that the victim either can’t leave the abuse or is punished for doing so. As a result, an entire group of people are reinforcing the idea that the victim is at fault for the abuse and the perpetrator is innocent. It is complicity and turning a blind eye to abuse. An empathic person who is strong and confident in their discernment abilities would be able to feel the soul vibrations at play for the truth. Does the victim radiate fear, shame, or hopelessness? Does the perpetrator radiate the energy of acting, putting on a show, pretending? A strong empathic person would trust their first instinct about this and stand up for the victim.
On the other hand, the “lost souls” would forgo their inner knowing and put themselves into states of cognitive dissonance in order to be able to follow the crowd, play along, and please those around them. It’s like they were on the road to shedding the ego but a huge bump in the road throws them off course and they go back into an egoic monkey brain state. Because society is comprised of such a high narcissist to empath ratio, no doubt this empath would have to begin to emulate narcissistic attitudes and behaviors in order to fit in. Over time, this empath learns the only way to get the love and acceptance they so desperately seek is to act like a narcissist. When this pattern is engaged in for years and years, the inner knowing of the empath, their moral compass which has so strongly lead and guided them internally, becomes quieter and quieter until it cannot be heard at all. The empath then goes on to abuse people the way a narcissist would because the pull between the inner world and outer world is too much to handle.
In both of these cases, I don’t believe the empath ever stops being an empath. The tragedy is they are still empathic but have taken on adaptive methods to act like a narcissist. You can feel their conscience, you can see their soul behind their eyes, but their ego has imposed so much pain and suffering onto them, they are willing to do anything to try to get rid of it. And that usually involves trying to become someone else. Sadly, nothing can save these people except themselves. There is no amount of love, information, or acceptance you can provide these people to get them to see the truth of who they are. Those things are a good start, but ultimately they have to remember that there is another way; that there is a soul inside of them who wants to be themselves.