21 Stages of a Narcissistic Relationship with an Empath

Did you hear the one about the narcissist and empath who lived happily ever after? 

No, you didn’t because it never happened. 

My friends, it never will. 

The toxic relationship between an empath and a narcissist is an emotional hazmat situation that no first responder can fix. 

Consider this your 911 call, whether it’s for yourself or a loved one who is in a narcissist empath relationship. 

Nothing about this is normal, and standard relationship CPR won’t suffice.

What Happens When an Empath Falls in Love with a Narcissist?

Two powerful forces are at work when narcissists and empaths meet.

Like the warm feel of the first spring sun on a winter-weary face, it gives both people what they need.

Then a slow, methodical burn settles into the empath, and the narcissist wields fiery power.

  • The empath is full of compassion and selflessness; the narcissist has neither but is attracted to those who do.
  • The empath openly shares feelings, dreams, and goals; the narcissist mimics those to create an illusion of compatibility. 
  • The empath will give beyond reasonable boundaries out of an innate desire to help; the narcissist needs unwavering support to fulfill their distorted sense of importance.
  • The empath keeps giving despite setbacks; the narcissist uses every ounce of giving to yield control over the empath. 

When an empath falls in love with a narcissist, it eventually becomes a relationship death by a thousand paper cuts. 

As long as the empath is powerless and striving toward the unattainable ongoing narcissistic needs, the relationship will continue with a powerful force that is many things – but it is not love. 

21 Stages of a Narcissistic Relationship with an Empath

The fact that there are (at least) 21 stages of a relationship is an early indicator of the complexity and drama that lie ahead.

The stages aren’t even an evolution. It’s a revolving carousel of chaos. 

1. The First Meeting

The first time the two meet, it gives the feelings of butterflies in the belly or a sense of innate connection between two people.

It’s hard to pinpoint a narcissist at this stage, although the empath’s sense of compassion and endearing devotion becomes evident quickly. 

This is when phrases like “I just knew right away you were someone special” can be exchanged by both parties. 

2. The Montage

Think of this as the “falling in love” montage we see in romantic movies. This is beyond the “honeymoon” period, as in normal relationships.

It’s the empath running past responsible boundaries and the narcissistic mirroring all empath’s interests to create a sense of connection. 

The narcissist gets a fresh ego supply, while the empath—even when this happens at an abnormally frenetic pace—becomes hooked on the “love.” 

3. The Devaluing

Every relationship will settle into patterns after the initial rush, but this is more strategic for the narcissist. Little by little, they’ll break down any success or topic focused on the empath. 

In an ongoing effort to bring back the love bombing that united the couple, the empath will become more determined to keep the narcissist happy. 

4. The Gaslighting

As the empath struggles to find their voice and stand their ground, they’ll be met with gaslighting statements like, “You’re overreacting,” or “You always get mad when I work late.” 

The empath, still drunk on the “never felt like this before” potion, begins to hopscotch to keep the narcissist happy. At this stage, the empath is still ignoring cracks in the armor. 

5. The Narcissist Lies

Since narcissists are only self-serving but can’t keep up the Prince Charming act for long, they’ll resort to lies.

From little white lies about why they don’t want to be intimate (for the third week in a row) or big lies like being seen holding hands with another partner in public. 

The flame of suspicion, along with the fuel of gaslighting, causes combustion. The empath sees the truth but feels the love bombing. Which part of their partner is real? 

6. The Rage

Rage is likely to follow when a narcissist is finally called on the carpet by their once-adoring empath. Sure, rage can be the typical yelling and screaming, causing the empath to cower away. 

woman hugging someone stages of a narcissist relationship

It’s also behind a costume of contempt, silent treatment, and passive aggression. In their ongoing attempt to solve problems with support, empaths will cower from confrontation.

7. The Second-Guessing

By the time points 3-6 have happened, the empath is in a mental tailspin. They question everything they know about themselves, wrongly assigning blame to their own actions instead of realizing the narcissist is just going through a standard cycle of abuse. 

While people who aren’t empaths will usually run for the hills, the empath digs in with determination to get the relationship back on track. 

8. The Discard

To the empaths reading this, when the narcissist leaves you (for the first time or the 15th), it has nothing to do with you. Louder for the empaths in the back: IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU

No supply keeps a narcissist’s attention for long, and they will disappear overnight as if they vanished into thin air. 

9. The Begging

Of course, it has something to do with you – you say to yourself as a frantic urge takes over to fix the situation. That’s how empaths are wired – to feel the pain or unhappiness of others and fix it. 

Empaths text, call, give gifts, make grand gestures, and apologize all to stabilize the universe back to the picture-perfect world.

10. The Reunion

The reunion happens down one of two trails. Either the empath begged enough to rekindle the romance but signed a verbal contract to stop doing all those things wrong that annoyed the narcissist. 

This also happens when the empath is trying to heal and move on. The narcissist comes back with love bombing to once again control their prey. 

11. The Remorse

Once the two settle into a new set of assumed rules, the empath feels that nagging feeling they’ve dealt with before: sacrificing themselves to keep someone else happy.

They start to feel bad about themselves, thus justifying all the crappy things the narcissist is saying about them anyway. Empaths begin to feel they aren’t a valuable human except for the narcissist’s (rare) accolades. 

12. The Eggshells

Empaths will spend a great deal of time walking on eggshells around their narcissistic partner.

They might know the person lied, cheated, or demanded them, but still question their own perceptions and actions. 

Empaths can systematically be separated from friends and family who don’t support the relationship, again with the blatant manipulation of the narcissist.  

13. The Empath Lies

By this point, the empath feels they have too much skin in the game to walk away. They start to lie to themselves, their loved ones, and even their financial managers to keep the peace in their relationship. 

Since empaths are so hyper-sensitive to other people lying, this is a gutting moment for them as their own lies eat away at their human nature.

14. The Big Talk

Every empath will have a breakdown (or breakthrough) where they call bull$#hit on the relationship.

Without specific, guided training to address a narcissist, this is usually the apex of notable emotional outbursts from the empath to the narcissist. 

wife trying to talk to husband stages of a narcissist relationship

Every little lie, gaslit moment, and demeaning ammunition blows up. The empath is done and walks away. 

15. The Backstabbing

What happens when you turn your back on a narcissist? They grab the verbal abuse knife and just start stabbing.

They’ll tell your friends how cruel you were and even resort to tears to show them how wrong you were. They might even let your boss know you’re unstable. 

This is also not about you, even though it impacts you. This cruelty comes from narcissists trying to regain their power.

16. The Accordion

Once an empath has a little distance from the narcissist, an accordion of facts unrolls now that the empath is out of the narcissist’s control. 

Empaths see all the things they overlooked, ignored, or made excuses for, and they feel even more insecure than they did during any other phase. 

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17. The Prisoner of War

At this point, an empath is a prisoner of relationship war.

They debate getting the narcissist back to stop the backstabbing, living in an isolated prison of home to avoid the intense emotional waves sweeping through them, or trying to fight back with facts. 

The benefit is that an empath realizes the love bombing wasn’t real, but they also know they can’t escape easily. 

18. The Sides of War

This stage is also eye-opening for the empath to see how many people they’ve pushed away during their narcissistic control. 

The friend who was always there for a good gab session isn’t responding to cries for help.

The co-worker who always wanted to collaborate shies away. Empaths start to see who is really on their side and who is working with the opposition. 

19. The Wonder Woman Bracelets

The escape from a narcissist requires something similar to those deflecting bracelets Wonder Woman wore. 

You will have to escape your emotional prison to face the world, ready to deflect everything from “Where is Bob? He was so great!” to “Bob told me you were thinking of hurting yourself. Please get help.” 

husband trying to talk to wife stages of a narcissist relationship

Nothing challenges an empath’s kind and compassionate nature more than holding their head high while shrapnel from the narcissist relationship flies at every turn. 

20. The Protection

A delicate balance begins for an empath to regain control of their life. For those who dealt with narcissistic rage, it’s time to consider getting a restraining order or paying extra attention to locked doors and windows. 

Empaths should break their habits and go out of their way, within reason, to avoid running into the ever-triggering narcissist without sacrificing their own quality of life. 

21. The Gray Rock

The sad truth is, as much as narcissists want attention to build their self-esteem and regain control, it really doesn’t matter to them how they get control. 

You’re hiding at home because you’re so mind-boggled? Look how much control they have over you. Are you yelling at them to leave you alone? Wow, they can easily control your emotions from a distance. 

The only way to finally escape is to become “Gray Rock.” Be as boring, indifferent, and unemotional as humanly possible at every interaction with them. 

Why Are Narcissists Attracted to Empaths?

Narcissists love empaths because the empath is already not serving their own needs. There’s less effort required for the narcissist to get a supply, and there are plenty of opportunities to bamboozle this emotional sponge of a human being. 

Narcissists also see an empath as everything they are not. While narcissists do not desire to be compassionate, empathetic, or vulnerable, they adore those who have those traits. 

Empaths also offer unwavering support and adoration, which narcissists need to keep up their facade. Empaths also lack self-esteem and confidence, which makes them moths to the narcissistic flame.

They so badly want confidence, charisma, and control they will seek out people who exude what they lack. 

With the narcissist clawing toward exemplified compassion and empaths unable to resist the confidence of a narcissist, there are few relationship dynamics this powerful. It is also an example of why “opposites attract” isn’t always a good thing. 

How Narcissists Destroy Empaths

The damage of a narcissistic relationship can last for years. This end of this toxic connection isn’t just recovering from heartbreak; it shatters every belief system an empath had in themselves and other people. 

  • ENERGY: A narcissistic relationship drains the emotional and physical energy of an empath. The constant worry and accommodations needed, mixed with manipulation, sends all of their already heightened emotions into overdrive. 
  • POWER: The beauty of empaths comes from their innate ability to recognize emotions and attempt to heal others. That power is lost when they realize some people can’t be saved. It rots away their sense of purpose. 
  • CO-DEPENDENCY: When you’ve spent so much time trying to keep someone happy, it can turn into a lifetime of co-dependent relationships with friends or partners. 
  • SURRENDER: When it seems there is no way out, an empath can just stay in a narcissistic relationship to avoid the emotional torture of leaving. 

Can Empaths Become Narcissists?

Empaths can sometimes exhibit some of the same toxic behaviors as their narcissistic partner when the empath has reached the end of their emotional tether. They may lash out temporarily, but this behavior isn’t in their nature.

As far apart as an empath and a narcissist are on the emotional spectrum, the same childhood trauma can trigger one or the other down very different paths.

Let’s take the made-up example of Jack and John, two brothers who grew up in a household with hyper-critical and easily outraged parents.

To adapt, Jack started living in a fantasy world. He couldn’t handle the feelings of shame and fear, so he created steel emotional armor. Nobody would ever make him feel less-than-perfect again. 

John felt the same shame and fear but turned into an overachieving people pleaser. He became ultra-sensitive to any tension (intuition), and his over-charged empathy for others came at the expense of his own needs.

Since narcissists cannot feel real emotions, and an empath can’t let go of deep-rooted emotions, the two will never meet on a level playing field.

Final Thoughts

The solution to this mismatched magnetic draw lies with the empath since the narcissistic is rarely going to ask for help. An empath needs to work on boundaries with everyone, but the narcissist exploits those boundary gaps at every turn. 

The only way to win a battle with a narcissist is not to engage at all or get out at the first warning signs.

What are the stages of a narcissist relationship? Find out the different stages in this post, especially with an empath.

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