Can empathy be taught to a narcissist? (A Complete Guide)

In this article, we will discuss Can empathy be taught to a narcissist?. We will initially discuss the difference between empaths and narcissists.  We will then discuss whether empathy can be taught to narcissists, whether empaths and narcissist’s relationship can work, whether both of them can be friends, and finally, whether empaths can become narcissists.

Can empathy be taught to a narcissist? 

Yes, empathy can be taught to narcissists. Studies have shown that narcissists are able to learn empathy. However, they are only motivated to learn empathy and see the world from another person’s perspective when they are told to or when it lies in their self-interest. They are not able to be empathetic automatically.  They can learn empathy best using a skill-based approach in which they show empathy by imagining what another person is going through emotionally. This is followed by feedback on how appropriately they picked out the emotions of the person and whether they responded empathetically or not.

Empaths vs Narcissists

Empaths put the needs of other people before their own and are motivated by the need to help others. In contrast, narcissists put their own needs before others and are driven by self-interest.

 Narcissists and empaths have high emotional intelligence. However, narcissists are higher in intellectual or cognitive empathy and empaths have higher emotional or affective empathy. Both of them can understand people and their emotions. They can understand the vulnerabilities and insecurities of others. However, the difference is that narcissists use this information for fulfilling their own needs whereas empaths use such information to help others.

Empaths, Narcissists & Empathy

Narcissistic personality disorder refers to a condition in which a person has a lack of empathy, disregards others, acts in their self-interest, and needs constant admiration from other people.

Narcissists are people who feel like they are entitled to receive attention and special treatment from other people. They brag about their achievements and accomplishments and want other people to admire them. They can be understood as self-absorbed personalities who have high confidence. However, they lack empathy and are faced with the difficulty of understanding the emotions of other people.

Narcissism may have multiple forms. It is described by the Mayo clinic as “an inflated sense of importance and a deep need for admiration”. People with this disorder believe they are above everyone else and belittle the feelings of others. They prefer to fulfill their own needs rather than focusing on another person. Even though they have a facade of high self-confidence and self assurety, these people have low self-esteem and are vulnerable to criticism. In order to maintain or protect themself from low self-esteem, they compensate it by seeking flattery and attention from others.

 There are many individuals who are not narcissistic at a clinical level. However, they still exhibit symptoms of Narcissism and it is difficult for them to maintain healthy relationships. These people also try to compensate for their low self-esteem.

“The major distinction between the narcissist and the narcissistic personality disorder is that the narcissist is not mentally ill, does not have a personality disorder, and is most interested in gaining power, money, and prestige,” clinical social worker Dr. Allan Schwartz told MentalHelp.

 Both types of narcissism have reduced empathy and cannot understand the feelings of others.

 Studies have suggested that people with a narcissistic personality disorder can learn empathy if it acts in their interest.  It is important that they learn about the function of emotions and the importance of understanding the perspective of other people.

 Empathy is an integral component of being able to maintain healthy social relationships.  A study conducted on narcissistic people revealed that when they were given instructions to imagine how another person might be feeling, they were able to empathize with others. However, without instruction, they could not imagine the perspective of someone. This means that people with narcissism can be moved by another person’s perspective. So, unless narcissists have a very strong reason to empathize, they won’t do it on their own. If empathizing with someone lies in their interest, they will engage in empathy and exhibit prosocial Behaviour. In order to help narcissists empathize with others, it is important that we give them reasons to understand the perspective of another person. They can learn empathy using a skill-based approach by practicing how to respond empathetically and receiving feedback on their performance.

Can an empath and narcissist work?

 An empath and narcissist are attracted to each other because both of them have internal voids. Where empaths struggle with fear of rejection and abandonment,  a narcissist suffers from fears of vulnerability and commitment.

 Both people enter into the relationship without boundaries and it becomes a dysfunctional relationship since one person uses the other to fulfill their needs, whereas the other push their own needs aside and prioritizes the needs of their partner. Narcissists are not in touch with their empathic side because they think it is a weakness that must be controlled. 

Both empaths and narcissists can make their relationship work by creating a balance. The victim (empaths) needs to set limits and the narcissist or abuser needs to get in touch with their feelings and deal with the root of their problem. Healing using self-awareness and self-management can be done by both people. However, it is difficult to do so and easier said than done. 

Mindfulness and acceptance of one’s weaknesses can transform both empaths and narcissists into aware empaths who can use their emotional intelligence for the good and contribute to society.

Can an empath become a narcissist?

There is no scientific evidence yet that suggests that empaths become narcissists. However, the world is a place of possibilities and anything can happen. We cannot rule out the idea of empaths turning into narcissists. There are, however, some empaths with negative traits. They are called empathic narcissists who believe they are victims because they can detect the emotions of others and feel them strongly. Yet, in reality, they lack care and compassion for others. They don’t have any real depth in their understanding of people.  

Can an empath and a narcissist be friends?

Yes,  an empath and narcissist can be friends.  There are three types of patterns of narcissistic friendships. Group 1 is called the takers and they basically ask their friends for favors and money they cannot pay back. They also complain a lot about their problems and make excuses when it comes to them to return the favors.  The next type of narcissist is givers. These people can be overly generous and try to compensate for their low self-esteem through this.  They feel happy when people praise them for their gifts and showers them with gratitude.  

Another type of narcissist is ‘victims’. They are also over givers but selectively choose who they give to and how much. They expect the other person to be grateful to them and reciprocate them in the same manner. There are also narcissists who are wealthy, generous, and consider you their toys as long as you let them control you. The third group of narcissists includes people who are not concerned about reciprocity and fairness. They are ok with give and take but need the other person to reassure them when their self-esteem is low.

 For an empath and narcissists to be friends, there needs to be a balance. An empath needs to learn to establish boundaries and be ok with confronting and being assertive with their narcissistic friends.

FAQs: Can empathy be taught to a narcissist?

What turns a narcissist on sexually?

Narcissists are turned on when their partner praises them and their abilities in the bedroom. They use this behavior to emotionally and physically manipulate their partners especially n their sexual relationships.

 Do narcissists hangout with other narcissists?

Yes, it is possible that narcissists hang out with each other and are friends.

What does a narcissist want?

A narcissist wants to have their own way, control their life and the life of others. They are rule-oriented people who can be rigid in their approach. They work best with partners who are willing to go along with their way of dealing with things and never stand up to them.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed Can empathy be taught to a narcissist?. We found that empathy can be taught to narcissists. Studies have shown that narcissists are able to learn empathy. However, they are only motivated to learn empathy and see the world from another person’s perspective when they are told to or when it lies in their self-interest. They are not able to be empathetic automatically.  They can learn empathy best using a skill-based approach in which they show empathy by imagining what another person is going through emotionally. This is followed by feedback on how appropriately they picked out the emotions of the person and whether they responded empathetically or not.

 I hope you found this article interesting. If you have any queries or comments, please state them in the comment section 😊

Citations

https://www.insider.com/can-narcissists-learn-empathy-2018-8#:~:text=New%20research%20suggests%20that%20narcissists%20might%20be%20able%20to%20%22learn,other%20people%20are%20coming%20from.

https://lonerwolf.com/are-you-an-empathic-narcissist/

https://lolapickett.com/how-to-recognize-a-covert-narcissist/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-narcissism/201812/can-you-be-friends-narcissist

Divya is currently a Clinical Psychology Trainee in a Master of Philosophy program and holds a Master’s in clinical psychology. She has a special interest in Personality studies and disorders, having researched the subject before, and Neuropsychology; with an additional interest being Mood disorders. She likes to write about Psychiatric issues, having worked in multiple specialty setups during her time as a clinical psychology student, and in her free time she likes to cook and read.