About 10 years ago I had to break off a friendship when I finally realized how badly A. was manipulating me. I wish I had then known about these five signs to watch for:
(1) Knowing they’ve manipulated others.
This wouldn’t have helped me, at least not initially, with A. because I didn’t know about her past relationships with other people. But I did begin to wonder when I found out that she had been divorced three times.
(2) They’re the fast moving fast talking types.
A. did seem eager to pull me into a close relationship. I met her not long after my two closest friends had died, when I was looking to cultivate new friendships.
(3) They get impatient fast.
This is the one that should have set my alarm bells ringing. Whenever A. and I were together, we talked about her issues and did what she wanted to do. As long as I commiserated with her, everything was fine. But if I broached some other subject or started to talk about something that was happening my life, she’d quickly dismiss me with a cutting remark or her need to depart.
(4) They make you into the bad guy.
And if #3 didn’t alert me, this one certainly should have. Once I realized how self-centered A. was, I began trying to tell her how her actions hurt me. Her response: “Anything I do is neutral. It’s up to you to decide how you want to interpret it. So if you’re hurt, that’s your problem, not mine.”
(5) They play to your feelings.
This was the one that finally made me realize nothing was ever going to change with A. Once she learned the things that hurt, she routinely did them over and over again. And at times when one of her adult children had pushed her buttons, she’d turn on me viciously. She seemed to think that making me feel bad would make her feel better.
It took me a long time to figure out that my relationship with A. had to end because I first needed to come to two realizations:
- I am an empath.
- A. is a narcissist.
Although I usually try not to label people, in this case understanding and applying these two labels was exactly what I needed to do.
An empath is someone who feels other peoples’ emotions along with them. The empath doesn’t merely understand another person’s emotions but actually shares in experiencing them. We’re the ones who cry at sad movies and experience our friends’ grief, sadness, and joy.
A narcissist is in many ways the opposite of an empath. As psychiatry professor Thomas G. Plante explains:
You know you are around a narcissistic when someone brings all conversations back to them and their stories and interests. They really can’t listen for more than a mere moment to others (unless the topic is about them). Sure, they’ll ask about you or listen to your story or needs for just a minute but then they’ll get that glazed over or distracted look pretty fast or change the topic to something about them. They can’t put themselves in the shoes of others and can’t experience empathy in a sincere manner.
The following article explains why meetings between these two types can be so explosive.
Like me, Alex Myles realized she was an empath after she got involved in a “highly destructive relationship with a narcissist”:
The narcissist’s agenda is one of manipulation, it is imperative they are in a position whereby they can rise above others and be in control. The empath’s agenda is to love, heal and care. There is no balance and it is extremely unlikely there ever will be one. The more love and care an empath offers, the more powerful and in control a narcissist will become.
In my case, I kept trying to explain to A. how certain of her actions hurt me. The first few times she apologized, but the apology was always qualified: “I’m sorry if I hurt you” rather than “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” But before long she would treat me the same way and I’d be deeply hurt all over again.
I kept wondering why A. didn’t learn from what I explained to her. This is one of the characteristics of narcissists: They can’t learn from their mistakes because they don’t believe they make mistakes. Everything is always all the other person’s fault.
I finally realized that A.’s behavior would never change and that I had two choices: (1) to remain in the friendship and continue to be hurt frequently or (2) to exert my own right to be respected. In the end, I decided that I had to either change this relationship or break free of it. After one particularly hurtful episode, I told her that we had to talk about how she had treated me. Her reply was that she didn’t want to do that.
For a while she continued to email me, acting as if nothing had happened. I told her a couple of times that she should let me know when she was ready to talk about how she had treated me. She tried for a while longer to act as if nothing had happened, and eventually I stopped responding to those overtures. It has now been almost 10 years since our last communication.
Yes, A. treated me badly, but I continued to allow myself to be treated badly for much longer than I should have. I have since realized that empaths must learn to exert themselves by setting their own boundaries. A. was never going to stop abusing me as long as I let myself be abused. In the end, I had to require respect from her in order to maintain my own self-respect.
At first I thought I’d miss our friendship. However, I soon realized that I didn’t miss the emotional roller-coaster ride of interacting with someone whose approach to self-esteem was to demolish my self-esteem. In the end, this empath had to give herself permission to pursue self-protection.