The Shadow of Empathy.

I once found myself in a relationship..

”what, just like that? You found yourself…., like some amnesiac that suddenly slid out of a coma?”

ok, I wound up in a..

”what, as a result of an accident or… like falling down a hole?”

ok, I was once in a relationship..


It was terrible. She was the Narcissistic Control Freak from Hell. It was so bad I went back into therapy to get support and perspective..

I dreamed that I was riding her like a witch on a broomstick. My analyst had a gift for describing without interpreting overly, ‘well Andy, you’re riding her and there is something witchy in what you are about..’

not to mention adrenalin and white knuckles…

The dream was telling me I was not some innocent party. I had a hand in what was happening. More than that, I was on some kind of dark mission.

What I found was that hanging out with hard core Narcissism reproduced a very particular set of experiences for me; isolation, feeling unvalued, desperation to be seen and acknowledged, stuff that was so deep in my psyche I could scarcely find the words for it.

All shmeered over with being the riteous grown-up  in the equation, ever ready to wag a finger at bad behaviour.

”There is nothing so dangerous as a mild man.” CG Jung.

Why? Because his shadow is free ranging the corridors of the unconscious.

I was offloading my own early traumas, my inner vulnerability and chaos left, right and centre. But I was doing it so unconsciously that all the impotence and emotional deprivation I was so keen to export just kept blowing up in my face.

”That which cannot come in through the door will sneak in by the window.’ African Proverb.

So, if you have a pattern of going out with people who prove to be exceptionally self centred and controlling, you are the common denominator in the equation.

What’s your mission?

It must be important if you’re putting yourself through Hell to acheive it.

It seems like the Empath is more evolved than the Narcissist. You might say that they/we at least have a sense of centre, a connection to self and others. But sometimes the caring has a carnivorous quality to it, or perhaps the sense that it is part of an undeclared campaign.

The work of psychoanlyst Karen Horney is useful in leveling the playing field between the seemingly eternal attraction of Narcissist and Empath, necessary for attending the unconscious factors involved. She suggests that children deal with the basic anxiety of being insufficiently nurtured in one of three strategic ways. They either move Towards, Against or Away from the world.

These strategies need not be mutually exclusive, but for the precarious child of parents..

”too wrapped up in their neuroses to love the child or consider him as an individual…’ K. Horney.

..these strategies then become extreme and sedimented. For the child whose inclination is ‘Towards’, affection can become clinging, compliance can become appeasement,  unselfishness can become sacrificial saintliness…

The empathic Towards and the narcissistic Against are likely to find one another more easily than Away. They are at least both headed in the same direction and neither depressed nor resigned like Away.

Sylvia Brinton Perera takes this all a step further. She demonstrates the unconscious martyrdom that lurks in empathic Towards’  experience of being victimised by the narcissistic Against.

Towards, by her compliant nature, makes a devil of aggression and ‘negative emotions’, all of which threaten the basis of primary bonds rooted in the self effacing solution. She has..

”no experience to distinguish between power as an ego necessity and its misuse in crushing punitive destructiveness.” S. B. Perera.

But being a Redeemer permits at least some expression of her vital self…

”rationalised with riteous indignation…. ” ibid

and shores up an unrealistic persona of noble innocence and virtue.

Whilst defending against the anxiety of an independable world she becomes indispensible to it, a mistress of defusing ‘negativity’ she elects/is elected to serve transpersonal atonement for the family by allowing herself to be laden down with the ills of others like the sin-eaters of Old…

As such, she is also a ‘Chosen One’, whose self-sacrifice to collective ideals..

”finds expression in loyalty and service to the family that has rejected her..” ibid

repeated later in life through loyalty and service to the narcissistic Against who happily loads her down with shadow projections.

Towards, whilst attracted to healing and therapy finds it difficult to sustain ( I had eleven analysts, nine of which I ate for breakfast) because of the paradoxical agony inherant in being both pure victim and designated sin carrier to be cast out into the wilderness. The pharmacon, as both ill and cure, is potentially torn apart by the contradiction of their position, unfairly loaded down one moment and yet drawn like a moth to the flame the next when needed as a repository by their narcissistic partner/boss/colleague.

Its difficult to address because of the insinuation that Towards is just a masochist..

” Don’t make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change it or accept it. All else is madness.” Eckhart Tolle

No, all else is Unconscious.

which might drive you crazy…

What gets forgotten is the deeply held belief, instilled from birth and reinforced throughout life, that value and atonement are to be had in being of service to the Collective to the point of abdicating one’s own destiny.

The redemption provided to others, the sense of being chosen, and the  virtue of a profoundly personal dedication to the Collective cause will go some way to off-setting the  isolation, inhumanity and degradation of this unholy…. arrangement.

but not much.

”Such perverted affirmation – being needed because one is [considered] inferior or hateful and loathsome is deeply felt by many who have carried the collective shadow of heroic western consciousness..’ ibid.

an ideal best embodied by the immaculate, careless, disdaining Against.

My narcissistic father had such a flair for enactment that his scapegoating of me took on literal proportions. I was sent to fight and die in a war that had nothing to do with me, in a unit that was renowned for its losses in combat…

the real horror was that I went so willingly, happy to fight and die, to sacrifice myself on the altar of Against’s cause. What else was I worth…? How else would I be loved?

Those that avoid the fires of self immolation reserved for the hard core ‘Towards’ become healers of one sort or another in due course. But only by realising the careless, precarious, conditional basis upon which we entered the world and the dark underbelly that is the legacy of Empathy.


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Psychotherapist/writer/artist/ author of, 'Going Mad to Stay Sane', a psychology of self-destructiveness, about to come into its third edition. Soon to be printed for the first time, 'Abundant Delicious.. the Secret and the Mystery', described by activist Satish Kumar as, ' A Tao of the Soul'. This book documents the archetypal country through which the process of individuation occurs and looks at the trials and tribulations we might expect on the way. In the meantime..... Narcissisim is the issue of our age. This blog looks at how it operates, how it can damage and how we may still fruit despite it.

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