Empathy and Narcissism

Our Thanksgiving was lively and rich with family. Kids running around, dogs misbehaving, food heated and served in abundance. But it was particularly intense this year. Within the past few months a close family member had a recurrence of a disease, another was raw from a divorce in progress and my daughter came with her four-month-old son. I felt like I was participating in extreme aspects of life all in the same room, simultaneously challenging, sad and joyful, scary and hopeful.

I felt empathy for each person. In watching a youtube video by Dr. Greg Hamlin, psychologist and life coach, talk about dealing with a narcissist I became aware of how that was applicable and what it means to be present with loved ones in their life experiences. He cites two traits of a narcissist – continually bringing the discussion to her/himself and a true lack of empathy for others.

Even a person without narcissistic tendencies can find it difficult to know how to act around grieving or traumatized people. I believe that allowing the person to her feelings is helpful, even if it is difficult to us to tolerate. Holding the space without talking the person out of her experience lessens the time and severity of her feelings. There will be a time for suggestions, but not right away. Listen first. If I can tolerate her sadness and rage then maybe she can, too. If her emotions didn’t shatter those around her then maybe she can pick up the pieces and begin to put them together. That is how empathy and non-action can help to heal.

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