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.


Icarus, shadow child.

Most of us know the story of Icarus, the boy who flew too high to the sun on wings made of vulture feathers and wax..

him fell an’ drown.

There is a back story that puts the tragedy into some perspective. Its a salutary tale about the fate of children raised by narcissists.

always, with the back story.

The back story is where meaning lies…

Daedalus, Icarus’ father, was a master craftsman, a vain man who ended up being imprisoned in a tower by Minos, king of Crete.

a poetic fate..

Icarus was imprisoned with him. He was a dark and moody boy who liked his own company and showed little interest in his father’s crafts. His adopted brother Talos, back home and waiting for them to return was very different, outgoing, bright and ever at Daedalus’ side in his workshop.

These two boys and the polarised differences between them represent a common underlying dynamic in the children of narcissistic parents.

What happens is that the children embody the parental split between the idealised self and the shadow, relieving the parent of the burden..

and the responsibility..

of having to deal with their own internal divisiveness.

Narcissists idealise themselves. In order to do this, they must hive off their shadow onto others. When this happens in the family..

as it does..

you will often find one of the children inexplicably slow and clumsy, a bit stand-offish and perhaps socially arkward.

if there is another child you will also often find that this one is apparently brilliant and can do no wrong. They are smart, popular, sporty and attractive.

What is going on?

Narcissists don’t do relatedness particularly and have this black and white attitude of ”you’re with me or against me”…

identify with me and how great I am or get out…

Other people, especially impressionable children, wind up either having to carry the parent’s shadow, or they are persuaded to identify with the parent’s more expansive, solar qualities.

They get to be the ‘golden child’ in the equation and are often treated very differently from the one delegated to carry the family baggage.

The dark scapegoat builds a defensive wall around themselves, sealing their status as aloof and uncouth,

”to ward off the pains of the toxic shadow material” Sylvia Brinton Perera.

Interestingly, Perera also describes the clumsy,  guilt laden child as one who’s experience..

”leads to generalised panic and flight.”

And, of course, this is Icarus’ fate.

When Daedalus comes up with his plan to escape the tower, he forgets how well he’s schooled Icarus in being slow and dumb. He can’t take in the hasty, impatient instructions not to fly too high or too low, the irritated sub-text that says he’s too stupid to take in even simple things and so he faithfully lets the warnings go unheeded and his panicky flight soon ends in tragedy.

Once Daedalus returns home, Talos fares as badly.  You might think the blue-eyed favourite would get a better deal but he too soon winds up dead at Daedalus’ hands.

Apparently, the exuberant Daedalus is swinging the boy around and around at the top of a tower..

not another tower!

But he’s so carried away with his idealised and co-dependant relationship that he forgets about practical things like gravity  and games you shouldn’t play at the tops of towers…

His grasp on the boy slips…

he falls..

you know the rest.

The golden child of the narcissistic parent is strangely prone to accidents. He’s been raised in a rarified atmosphere where the normal checks and balances aren’t in place, indeed, they don’t apply..

And because he’s had to identify with his parent’s inflation he’s had to disregard his own destiny and sense of self-preservation.

The tragic fates of these two boys is well portrayed in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by the characters of Borrowmere and Farrowmere, sons of the narcissistic Steward and pretender to the throne of  Minas Tireth, Denzil. They both die, the golden child, Borrowmere, by over-reaching himself, imagining he can use the ring of power, the dark and clumsy Farrowmere, sent to his doom by Denzil who refuses to heed the impossibility of retaking the lost town of Osgiliath.

Sometimes the roles of Icarus and Talos are lived out in the same child, alternately idealised and dumped on, or praised to the world but vilified behind closed doors. I once knew a mother whose ‘amazing’ son was bound to win X factor one day because of his incredible, extra-ordinary musical ability but wouldn’t pay the pittance his school required for violin lessons because he was, ”too stupid to learn’.

Such a child internalises this contradictory split, entertaining grandiose fantasies and un-realistic expectations of himself alongside self depracatory feelings of failure and incompetence.

Nor does Daedalus escape unscathed despite the various uses to which he has put his children. His shadow projection onto Icarus means he can’t grow, cannot integrate his own darkness and can’t stand back enough from Talos to enjoy the child’s own unique journey. He becomes increasingly childlike himself and ends his days eternally carving the figure of a winged boy….

Wiki equates the figure of Daedalus with the term ‘disambiguation’.

yes, I had to look it up too..

Its a poetic link. It means not to be ambiguous -to be single minded, and of course he can be once he’s foisted off his divided self onto his kids. But even then, and without reference to the fate of his offspring, it ain’t always a good thing..

no matter what Wiki says..

Why? because the compulsively single minded has no internal dialogue..

no conversation between I and me..

no reflecting and musing, no looking at stuff from different points of veiw, no variation in feeling, no living with the manure of paradox. His mono-voice, his one track mind, his single point of veiw ends..

in madness.