Why Do Empaths Attract Narcissists?

Psychotherapist Terri Cole helps answer this age-old question.

One of the best parts of my job is connecting with and learning from some seriously inspiring people. And one of those is psychotherapist Terri Cole, who co-leads Crushing Codependency with me. In the course, we break down how to stop cycles of over-functioning, over-delivering, people-pleasing, and learning how to identify and meet your own needs in order to finally live the life you love and deserve. During one of our jam sessions, I asked Terri about the dynamic between empaths and narcissists. 

Why do people who identify as empaths tend to attract narcissists? And what makes narcissists appealing to empaths, besides the fact that they’re unattainable or unable to hold space for others? 

For starters, Terri says it’s “an irresistible force of attraction.” Empaths are naturally attuned to the wants and needs of other people, and feel compelled to provide or fill those needs — often at their own expense. Terri says the empath in this situation practically can’t wait to do everything for this new partner, “to organize their whole friggin’ life around them.” They learn all the things they love, remember those things, and make sure the narcissist receives what they love, all the time. 

Meanwhile, the narcissist is thinking, “Perfect, I can’t wait for you to organize yourself around my whole friggin’ life and fulfill all my needs, whenever I want.” 

On some level, this is exactly what the narcissist has been waiting for. And Terri notes they’ve probably just left a relationship with someone else, discarded them, and are now starting the process over with a new partner.

In the beginning, the narcissist lays it on thick: “I’m taking you to Paris! You’re perfect! I’ve never met anyone like you! Nobody understands me like you do! I love you! Here are some big presents! You complete me! No one compares to you! I just got invited to a wedding in Tuscany next spring and I would really love for you to come with me!” 

And that’s just on the second date! 

Terri says anyone who has been love bombed like this just knows what’s up, and finds themselves thinking, “this motherfucker has got to be too good to be true.” It’s like a red flag overload combined with the honeymoon phase and encased in a pile of honey. And it can be just as addicting as sugar. 

As Terri points out, it can be especially addictive because the narcissist is usually really judgemental of everyone else. They might talk about how they don’t like anyone else, or everyone else is an idiot or whatever. But not you! You’re not an idiot! You’re so special, and they’ve chosen you because you’re so special. 

But once the love-bombing phase is over, watch out! Terri says it’s like you turn the corner and you’re hit with this “devaluation” phase. “There will be a moment where you do something, maybe something you’ve done many times before, and they’re like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” 

It could be something that seems small or simple, like asking, “Are you really gonna wear that dress to this party? It makes you look big. I dunno. It’s not good. I would get rid of that dress.” 

You might feel devastated, but like a bad hangover, we keep chasing the high of the drug — in this case, the love-bombing phase. We want to believe it’ll go back to that honeymoon phase encased in honey. We think it was just one instance or moment of disagreement. Or maybe they had a bad day or were tired. Or maybe they really do love us — maybe the dress does look bad and they were being honest and thoughtful. 

Empaths attract narcissists because they fit into corresponding roles. One over-functions and the other under-functions. But you don’t have to be stuck in this pattern forever, and it’s up to you to choose a different dance. Our Crushing Codependency course teaches people how to spot these red flags, run in the other direction, and start building a life with the kind of love they truly want and deserve. End the apparently endless rollercoaster of being built up and shut down, and step back into your power.