If you’ve ever had to deal with a narcissist, you know that they are very good at manipulating you and putting on a show for others. Everything always has to be about them, and it seems as though they never care about you or anyone else. The problem is that for those that suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), they tend to lack empathy. But can they help this? Is there hope for narcissists to be able to relate and feel empathetic towards others? The answer might have to do with their level of NPD.
Just like all mental health disorders, the severity of narcissism can vary. For those that have been clinically diagnosed with NPD, they are more likely to be volatile and unpredictable and refuse to see the problems and seek help. Subclinical NPD, on the other hand, can be much more manageable. This type is more common, and many with subclinical NPD even go on to live normal, successful lives.
In various studies involving subclinical narcissists, it was made clear that these narcissists didn’t show empathy when exposed to a saddening story – such as a harsh breakup or domestic abuse – while non-narcissists did.
Except! – when the narcissists were prompted with a comment such as “imagine how they feel in this situation,” or “put yourself in their shoes.” When subtly ask to do these things, the reaction of the narcissists changed.
When the non-narcissists were prompted with the same comments, they didn’t react because they were naturally inclined to put themselves in the other person’s shoes in the first place. This did not come naturally to the narcissists, but when prompted, they were capable of doing so.
This shows that, at least for those with subclinical narcissism, there is hope that they can learn to feel empathy towards others. We can see that this is especially true because our bodies physically respond to feeling empathetic as well. Your heart rate changes and increases when you feel empathy for another person.
During the studies and experiments with the non-narcissists and subclinical narcissists, we might’ve expected the empathetic responses from the narcissists to only be external, as narcissists have a tendency to be manipulative and say what they think others want to hear in order to reap the benefits. But monitoring heartrate disproved this, and we could see that what they were feeling was true and honest empathy for the people in the sad stories.
So the answer is yes – many narcissists are able to feel empathy. They just might need some help to get there. Giving them support and encouragement can go a long way in helping them learn to recognize when they should be empathetic, but the first step is for them to realize that they need to work on things and be willing to receive the help they need. A great option is to get therapy, as a therapist is going to be more experienced with narcissistic behavior, and know the right way to approach the entire situation.