This question was somewhat addressed by me in my post, They DO Have Empathy...Just Not for You
. I mentioned that the narcissist has oodles and bunches of compassion (empathy) but only enough for themselves. You don't get any.
The "Do They Have Feelings?" question is answered in the same way: Yes, they do, but only for themselves.
In my experience with narcissists (which includes a larger circle than just my mother and sister for you folks who think I extrapolate off of only those two) the more narcissistic a person is the easier it is to hurt their feelings
. They have the tenderest
little feelings. Boo, f8&king, hoo. They can be the biggest ass about your
feelings, but watch the tears (or rage) start when you accidentally bump into one of theirs!
I feel the need to ask (and answer) this question even though it appears to be the same question as to whether or not the narcissist has empathy. They are essentially the same question, but not everyone realizes that fact. Sometimes phrasing things a little differently can allow the lights to come on for someone who didn't get it on the first pass.
The sensitive, tender little feelings that the narcissist has for themselves is an extension of the empathy they have for themselves. They refuse
to feel your pain, but they expect
you to feel theirs! I use the word 'refuse' advisedly. It is a willful act on their part to unacknowledge the pain they inflict upon you. They know what they're doing. Their empathy allows them to know how you feel. They simply refuse
to feel anything for your sake.
I'm going to cast the net a bit wider than just narcissists here. Anyone who is in a relationship with an abusive
person has seen how sensitive the abuser's feelings are. People who stay in abusive relationships seem to be those who can't see the huge disconnect in their own thinking. The disconnect is this wide gulf between the abuser's lack of empathy for you at the time they're abusing you and yet how carefully you have to step around the abuser's feelings at all times
! The common refrain among those caught in abusive relationships is "walking on eggshells". The abuser's feelings rein supreme at all times. Everyone else is expected to cowtow to, step around, coddle, soothe, and respect the feelings of the abuser at all times. Yet, when the abuser needs to unload, he or she reserves all rights to decimating and destroying your
feelings and self-respect until they
feel better. It is a sick, sick dynamic. And it is perpetuated by largely by the victim's non-recognition of the absolute unfairness of this system.
I somehow doubt I can cut through the rationalizations of someone who is currently in this dance with an abusive person since I've so recently failed to with someone I know and care about. The armor-plating around some people's reasoning centers are fairly well-fortified. Maybe I can make a dent though.
I have been using the term "abuser" instead of narcissist because I am personally aware of the fact that some who are intermittently emotionally cruel and abusive to someone close to them may fall short of full malignant narcissism. I want to catch all
abusers in my descriptions in this post, not just those who are full-blown narcissists. I have observed through my nearly half-century of life that those who are capable of being cruel and abusive emotionally to someone they ostensibly "love" are the exact same people with very tender regard for their own feelings. They are so easy to offend unintentionally by a look or a word. Keep in mind as you continue reading that I'm talking about those whom we find ourselves time and again unintentionally
setting off. That is a red flag. Someone who is easily offended for reasons that are never clear to you at the time.
Have you ever noticed how an emotionally well-balanced person is very easy to be around? When we describe someone as being easy to be around we are describing someone who is not prone to having their feelings easily hurt among other characteristics. People who are very insecure as well as immature are the easiest to offend unintentionally. Of course, that describes all malignant narcissists, but it can also include those who are very narcissistic but are not a full-blown case of NPD.
Let me say it another way. The more self-involved
someone is, the more hyper-sensitive their feelings become. Many teens are a good example of the combination of insecurity and immaturity which makes it very easy to step on their feelings before you realize what you've done. Adults who are emotionally arrested at their teens will continue to be very easily offended and will often justify being at least occasionally abusive to those close to them.
Don't confuse my use of the words "hyper-sensitive" to mean what the narcissist means when they accuse you
of being hyper-sensitive because your feelings are hurt by their cutting remarks or cruel behaviors. I'm talking about the kind of sensitivity we call "walking on eggshells" which describes how people act when they never know what will set that person off. Which means that offense is taken where a reasonable person would never even think to get offended over such things. Narcissists often pretend to be offended in order to steer the behaviors of those around them to suit their purposes. It is a manipulation tactic to constantly be looking for reasons to be offended as the narcissist does. But, in addition to the intentional offense that narcissists take over what would never be perceived as a slight by a normal person, the narcissist is easy to offend in actuality. Pop their grandiosity bubble, fail to reflect their illusion of themselves back to them as they want you to, remind them of reality in any way they have chosen to ignore, fail in any way to give them what they want even if they haven't told you what they want, and you'll find yourself dealing with the intensely offended narcissist. Most times you've unintentionally done it. That never gets you off the hook.
The brilliant and incisive Kathy Krajco asks the question "Do They Have Feelings?" in her book What Makes Narcissists Tick
. And she answers the question:
Yes! Very, very tender feelings!
She proceeds to tell a story about a narcissist husband/father who was demonstrating the most insensitive and uncaring behavior while his wife lay dying in the hospital. All his behaviors were focused on not giving an ounce of attention to his dying wife. His eldest daughter was outraged and angry enough at his behavior to toy with the idea of literally kicking him in the ass as he stood there with his back to both his wife and herself. A look from her mother indicated the mother appreciated that the daughter could see what the father was doing and appreciated the solidarity of feeling with the daughter. It was enough. The mother waved her hand in a way that indicated he wasn't even worthy of their contempt. So the daughter kept her foot to herself, but she opted for another way of giving him some of his own medicine back.
The narcissist had no idea what had gone one behind his back in silence and how close he had come [to getting a foot in his ass]. A minute later he left for another buzz around the hospital. Another daughter arrived, and when he came barging back in loud-mouthing to interrupt their conversation and command all attention, the older daughter kept right on talking as if he were not there. The mother and the other daughter glanced back-and-forth between them several times before they caught on and nearly blew it by laughing at this chance to give the unfeeling brute a dose of his own medicine. They played along, as though intently interested in whatever trivial thing the older daughter was saying just to keep talking through him as if he were not there.
His reaction to this teeny-weeny dose of his own medicine? You should have seen the hurt and devastated look on that poor little kicked puppy-dog's face! He was deeply, deeply wounded by this callous treatment! He acted like a sheepish little boy who could not imagine why or how people could be so cruel to him! He just hung his head and walked back out of the room like someone in utter dejection who wants to go crawl in a hole.
Yes, a narcissist has very, very tender feelings. But only for himself. For anyone -- anyone -- else he is as devoid of human feeling as a brute, cold-blooded, predatory beast. Think of the inhuman, mindless, machinelike look in the eye of a snake slowly, slowly swallowing whole it's live, wriggling-in-agony prey.
That's how much "feeling" your narcissist has for you -- exactly as much as that snake has for it's prey = zero. "What Makes Narcissists Tick" pgs. 286-287
This is cold, hard reality with the malignant narcissist and abusive types some ways along on the narcissitic continuum.
Do you find yourself flagellating yourself when you "hurt" the feelings of someone who regularly abuses you and your feelings? What is up with that??? Why would you waste one more moment telling yourself you're a mean, "bad" person when you see that hurt puppy-dog look in your abuser's eyes? I know people who beat themselves up for simply pointing out REALITY to their abuser only to have REALITY hurt the little abuser's feelings. For instance, "I am going to be really busy today so you won't be seeing much of me on your day off. Don't expect me to have time to sit down and chat with you because I have today scheduled to get ready for Christmas." This statement sent a dear friend of mine into paroxysms of regret because she felt like she was being "mean" and a "bitch" because she knew even before she said it that it would offend the hearer. Even so, the words came out of her mouth matter-of-factly. She saw her matter-of-fact statement of TRUTH as being deliberately hurtful to this person because she went ahead and said it anyway knowing it would 'hurt' his feelings. She was all over herself for being "mean". Just a day or so before this person she was addressing had emotionally abused her for an hour over the most unpredictable and irrational thing until HE felt better. Nothing she said or did could assuage him. He simply had to abuse her until he started feeling better. Yet, she makes this matter-of-fact statement and because REALITY sucked for him...his feelings were 'hurt'. She told me in agonizing tones how horrible she felt immediately after saying it because she could see the 'hurt' in his eyes as he toddled off to his bedroom. She was fearful she said what she did in partial retaliation for what had happened a day or so before. Hyper-conscience at work here.
I am close to this person yet I am fairly sure I could say nothing to convince her that she didn't say something mean. I couldn't seem to convince her of the absolute absurdity of having to be so overly careful of his widdle feelings when he demonstrates over and over and over again that HER feelings don't matter one shit as far as he's concerned. How do I break through? Is there even a point to this blog post that will penetrate such thinking? I have no idea. But I'm trying.
Please, please do not overlook the huge disparity in your relationship between how that person treats your feelings and how you're expected by them to treat theirs.
By no means am I sanctioning being cruel (for cruelty's sake) to them. But denying someone the attention they expect (tacitly demand) is not "mean". Telling them you're going to be forced to deny them attention because of other demands on your time and energy is not mean. Being matter-of-fact about something you know will "offend" them is not mean. If a grown adult can't handle REALITY without getting their feelings all bent out of shape then you're dealing with a very, very selfish and immature person at the very least. And likely you're dealing with a narcissist since you're reading here at my site, "Narcissists Suck".
I'd like to insert at this point that abusers will act like they care about your feelings. This is strategic, intermittent, and shallow. Whenever the rubber hits the road, for all the times the abuser has acted concerned about how you feel, you find yourself once again treated like crap on his or her shoe when you most need a kind word or some concern. They will sometimes, maybe even often, mouth words of caring and concern about you and your feelings, but it never seems to translate into something real when you most need them to give a damn. Remember my maxim: when the words stand in contradiction to the behaviors you must believe the behaviors! What we do (or refuse to do when action is called for) is the measurement of our character and our intentions. Our words don't mean jack if they are not followed through with and supported by our action.
You may be someone with an overly honed conscience. Like my dear friend above. She has a conscience big enough for several people! Abusive types get away with a lot when they have your very sensitive conscience to manipulate. There is such a thing as having an ill-informed and hyper conscience, and it needs to be corrected at times. Hyper consciences usually translate into you allowing yourself to be used and abused time and again because standing up for yourself somehow feels wrong. Putting your foot down feels wrong. Making some clear boundaries feels wrong. All this misplaced guilt stems from wrong-thinking. Our consciences are influenced by our thinking. When we think in wrong lines it will negatively impact our conscience by either damping our conscience down (as narcissistic thinking does) or it can put our consciences into over-drive (neurotic thinking).
Consciences aren't infallible measurements of morality or duty. Conscience must be tested against reason and objective standards to be properly calibrated. It is not reasonable to have to tiptoe around another person's feelings all the time. Neither is it automatically immoral to 'hurt' someone feelings. And just because something 'feels' wrong doesn't automatically mean it is wrong.
If you've been raised by a narcissist the narcissist worked your conscience over pretty good. They miscalibrated your conscience intentionally so it would tell you that you're being "mean" or "bad" simply because you've not given them what they want. (Even just living a long time with a narcissist will likely cause you to miscalibrate your conscience so it aligns with the narcissist's demands.) Rationally, you can think this through. Is it automatically wrong to deny someone wants or wishes? Rationally, you can say "no". Is it automatically wrong if someone's feelings get hurt because of what you've said or done? Again, "no" is the logical answer. If you're going to free yourself from an abusive relationship you're going to have to work on re-calibrating your conscience so it works properly and doesn't keep you enslaved to the abuser's whims. You do this by examining your thinking. By reassessing the premises you base your thinking upon. This calls for some introspection...you know, that quiet activity a narcissist never engages in. Sites like this one attempt to help you in that process of getting your thinking straight. Your conscience will follow.
But today's thought is simply this: the narcissist/abuser has tender feelings that they coddle and caress and expect you to do the same for their poor little feelings. Conversely, they will trample, disregard and spit on your feelings. This is a sign of their basely selfish and corrupt natures and isn't your cue to capitulate. Expect them to be 'hurt' when you state reality. Expect them to look wounded to the core when you don't perform properly your "duty" by them. Remember 'til your dying day that the narcissist and the abuser are filled with the tenderest sympathy for themselves, but can spare none or little for you. This is a grotesque reality you mustn't pretend away. Stop the crazy bus and get off! There is something seriously wrong with a person who has feelings only for their own pain. Period. Every psychopath has feelings for himself. The same psychopath gets a total thrill from hurting your feelings. Even if we're only talking about someone who emotionally abuses you on occasion so they can feel better it is the same principle. Someone who ignores your pain but has all kinds of compassion for their own pain is a sick sonafabitch. Steer clear.