Sense and Sensitivity

The ups and downs of daily life as a Highly Sensitive Person

The Highly Sensitive Person and the Narcissist

Ask anyone who is a highly sensitive person and they will tell you that at some point in their lives, they have been in a relationship with a narcissist. Most did not know it at the time, but increasingly, they began to feel taken advantage of, used and then wonder how to get out. They couldn't always put a name to it or even expain what was happening. Read More

Energy Vampires

Thanks for this valuable post. Judith Orloff MD talks about a variety of narcissist in her article "Protect Yourself from Energy Vampires," in which she explains, “Energy vampires are people who suck our energy dry. You can especially benefit if you are an ‘intuitive empath’ who absorbs the pain and negativity of others into your body, and become exhausted by it.”

From my post Energy vampires can suck our life energy

HSP's and Narcissists

Thank you for this excellent article. As an HSP with narcissistic parents, I have had a lot of experience with this problem. It gave me such a feeling of failure as a child not to be able to get to a positive place with them. I think that is a high priority subject for HSP, and plan to share your article.

Maria Hill

HSP's and Narcissists

Maria wrote:
Thank you for this excellent article. As an HSP with narcissistic parents, I have had a lot of experience with this problem. It gave me such a feeling of failure as a child not to be able to get to a positive place with them. I think that is a high priority subject for HSP, and plan to share your article.

Maria Hill

narcissists are also "highly sensitive"

In a couple of ways narcissists are "highly sensitive". They are highly sensitive to criticism, a tiny bit can wound them deeply. And I believe they are sensitive to who will make a good source of "narcissistic supply" (attention and praise). They especially like to get praise from people who they think are smart because it's not good enough for them to get praise from a person they judge as being not smart.

I don't think of myself as having extra-sensory "gifts" or anything like that, but I am very sensitive to negativity and to too much sensory input. Both of my parents were narcissists, it was a bad deal for us, their children.... but these parents own childhoods were nutty, so maybe we need to judge them with that in mind.

I find some narcissists very attractive at first. They know how to hook their audience with charm and I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they are being "up front". I have a hard time seeing how it could be just a façade (I have been very naive). Other narcissists set off major alarm bells for me immediately. They start with being bossy and try to set up a hierarchy in which I usually fall to the bottom. I don't like it. I want everyone to be equal. I have enough narcissism in myself to find their superior attitude offensive and I usually put as much distance as possible between me these ones as soon as I can. They are energy vampires, for sure.

Its so funny that you said

Its so funny that you said that narcissists especially like praise from people that they deem as smart. Im in a semi(?) relationship with a narcissist. Recently he has been telling me how smart I am. Coming from him a compliment is a really big deal. As he is highly critical of other peoples mental abilities this came as a big surprise to me.
I think that narcissists are extremely sensitives to others around them too. I also find the way a narcissists mind works extremly fascinating. They are smart, manipulating, cold, calculating, charming and although they can come across as quite shallow I suspect there is a deep well of intense emotion under it all.
Maybe I have been completely sucked in.....

its so funny....

My experience was that he wanted famous people who he admired, to admire him. This was never going to happen -the well known want fans, not to be a fan of a narcissist themselves.
In my case he would praise me and my appearance often, but subtly would say things which made me feel he thought I was stupid. I never felt unintelligent, because I am not, but was aware that if I made a spelling mistake he'd laugh at me, and so when in the death throes of our relationship he told someone that I was 'super bright' and someone else that 'you couldn't meet anyone nicer' I was really taken aback, because in 27 years,I never knew he thought that way!!
He kept me believing because he did compliment my looks and my skills from time to time, which lead me to believe he valued me. This is typical of a manipulative person- they keep you guessing and thinking you are mistaken if you feel uneasy.
There is an intense well of emotion - he did 'love' and then absolute hate extremely deeply and still manipulates our children in subtle ways....beware of being 'sucked in'

it's so funny that you said....

Narcissists are extremely good at finding the people who are gullible enough to be taken in by them.I have recently met the new woman in the life of my ex....I was fooled for more than a quarter of a century...she seems nice and trusting. There's nothing I can say to her, but I wonder if she'll call me one day, when she too sees the real man?
Yes there is a huge well of emotion underneath....a lot of it very negative and destructive so beware.

I met the new girlfriend too

Angela, I met my ex's new girlfriend accident. She's lovely, nice, warm, friendly, easy to talk to. Unfortunately, when we were talking and figured out that my ex was her current boyfriend, she asked me questions. I wasn't going to answer but she asked me again. So I talked....too much. Boy, did that create some undue drama for me, her and friends. I don't care about him. What a mistake. He did some fast talking because she is still with him. I would feel so vindicated to hear from her one day (when they break up)that I was right about all those things I said. I believe as you do that there is a lot of anger, negative and destructive emotions within a narcissist. I think a lot of them seethe.

No! They do not have deep

No! They do not have deep emotions, quite the opposite.


Having spent 27 years and raised three children with a narcissist, I think I am still in shock to have discovered that was really who he was. I believed for years that he loved and adored me, and wondered why I was so exhausted and depressed.Eventually when he turned against me, the scales dropped from my eyes, and all those people who had taken against him for 'no reason' seemed to be the sane ones.
With my youngest son at home, I am now still having to cope with aggressive emails and undermining comments regularly. My children are the most precious people in the world to me, and i cannot bear them to be taken in by this most nasty and persuasive of men.
Is there a self help group for people who have been through similar stuff? i don't think anyone who hasn't dealt with this can really understand how awful it is, so to know others in the same position would be such a comfort.

Hi Angela, you are not

Hi Angela, you are not alone:)
I spent 13 years and had two children with a narcissist and only recently realised, after a two year battle in court, who/what he really was. Until you are on the outside of it, you can't see it. My ex is under conditions (after finally being arrested for Criminal Harassment with Intent to Intimidate) not to communicate with me other than via email in relation to the kids. But he continues to harass me, with the intent to intimidate...only he is still technicaly not in breach of his conditions. The mind games and constant fear is exhausting. And what's worse, he is taking away my ability to parent my kids, after being home with them full time and doing 110% of everything, by attempting to control and manipulate everything - and do the opposite of what I beleive, every time, just to continue to keep me engaged. Find a help group on your area for sure, call interval house or call the local police station and ask who you can talk to. My ex was a police officer so I had to be way mroe careful of confidentiality everywhere! Good luck, and protect/take care of yourself first always. Your kids will be fine.

thank you

Thank you for your message.I could cry with relief! You are the first person I have ever had contact with who has had the same experience.My ex is doing his utmost to undermine me as a mother.I have been a full time mother for 26 years,and to have my children doubt me, is so upsetting.
I too never saw what he was until we separated....thank you again for your kind words.

There are many more in your position


There are many,many more in your position -- perhaps thousands -- women and men. Look for internet forums on narcissists or NPD. You'll find a few with so many facing what you are facing and they provide an online support group.

I was married for almost 25 years to my undiagnosed, but strongly suspected, NPD husband, now ex. HIs narcissism started out subtle and reasonable and over time got worse and worse until it was intolerable. I also came close to getting a restraining order based on harrassment, and his borderline illegal communications resulted in the judge asking for a psych evaluation. Post-divorce, these have not fully stopped. We also had two children with the youngest still at home. And my shared parenting challenges and communications with the ex suffer from similar problems to yours.

The kids do eventually figure out who's who and what's what, in my experience, especially when we are no longer there to provide a buffer for them. You can continue being a great mom by being there for them, and providing a good (or at least better) example of normal life.

20 years & marriage with a Narcissist

Wow, thank you for sharing your experience. I met my husband at 16, married at 23, had 2 kids and he divorced me when I was 36. Throughout our dating life, I broke up 4 times, due to Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde behavior, and sought advice from friends and family for criticism. But as a loyal highly sensitive person, I would be sucked back in by his sweet talking. He was charming, and all I'd every known. I would figure that ugly behavior would stop, surely this time. After being married, I stayed home for 10 years. He constantly criticized my cooking, housecleaning, but would mix it up with compliments about my appearance or goals. He supported me in law school but I could never pass my bar exam and it took its toll on our marriage. Two years ago he had an affair and filed for divorce, as he neared 40. He claimed it was a midlife crisis, but I discovered all the evidence of the affair; I prayed to God constantly. This is when I truly became aware of the manipulative and controlling behavior as he sought everything in the divorce agreement to his advantage and hated me hiring lawyers. He tricked me twice into letting an attorney go, first saying we were "reconciling", then he went out of the country for 3 weeks to visit the other woman. Then called to apologize but I told him off, when he returned the hurtful behavior continued. I hired another lawyer and after months of fighting to get his way, and my sudden skin cancer diagnosis, despite my legal training, I was emotionally exhausted and signed unfair papers to "get it over" with. He said the divorce was "on hold", then pushed it through and went right back to the other country! Furious, I hired another attorney, getting deeper into credit card debt, only to have him return and want to "reconcile", and so it's been the past 6 months. I totally see the abusive cycle and how being a HSP made me so vulnerable all these years. Like you said, everything was a fight to achieve. and I truly did not realize the gravity of his behavior until my divorce was final, and he still tries to woo me back. He's so selfish! He doesn't care that I financially paid for the divorce HE wanted so dearly, because I can now see narcissists only care about themselves!

Look for protected forums

Look for protected forums (and don't pay attention to anything Sam Vaknin - a narcissist himself). Read through them and try and estimate how healthy they are (some are occupied by not so intelligent people) before engaging.

For others in relationships with such people: delete the pages you have viewed in browsing history etc

Angela, I am in the boat with

Angela, I am in the boat with you..for 22 years now


I read Dr. Elain Aron's book on HSPs this weekend and was so relieved to finally find an explanation for why I am the way I am. I scored so high on the self tests for HSP. I grew up with narcissistic parents who ruled the home with an iron fist and it has obviously effected me much more than my sibs. Also, every relationship I have been in has been with a narcissist or a sociopath. I am relieved to know who I am but also feel very down about it. I feel like I will never have a successful relationship in my life, and it's worse because I am a lesbian. I recently fell for my next door neighbor who I now believe is a narcissist and I am emotionally drained and nauseated by her. I am also so tired of being so heavily influenced by other people's moods and opinions. I hate that one phone conversation with my father can make me anxious, depressed, angry and overstimulated.

Nanissist Controls the Relationship-Not Sexual for 6 years of a 10 year relationship

Not sure what to do. I am a pediatric RN which probably says a lot about me. I've rescued countless people in my professional & private life. I became involved with a woman who described herself as a Narcissist in the beginning of our relationship. I really didn't think much about that. Four years into the relationship,I found at least 2 years of communication with her ex-Much of it trashing me. I cried my heart out & she just stared at me. I really don't think she even felt any emotion. I own my home (no house payment) & now it is 10 years later. I started an internet business that she runs. I recently became unable to work as a RN due to severe back &knee problems.I did work as a RN for 32 years.She is never intimate in any way...says she loves me, our dogs, & doesn't want to leave. I desperately want to feel loved again, both intimately & sexually. How do I end this personal relationship? I love her but it's been the same story over & over again. We went to therapy but she rarely talked there. Something obviously leads back to her past but when I ask questions she usually blankly stares at me or says she doesn't know. I am interested in getting to know someone else but she states she will not accept that.I really do love her. She is 12 years younger than me. We also share business debt together,a business" & 2 Dogs.I reminded her that essentially all we have been in friends for 6 years. Why would she care if I met someone else? I would help her get set up in an apartment. We could continue to run the business together,& she could go back to School to do something she wants to do. She came close to an English degree but stopped before she achieved it. I have hoped our relationship would change,but 6 years later, we are in the same place. I'm almost positive she isn't cheating since we are together almost constantly.She is a Beautiful Woman, but keeps herself walled off. I've met her family. She acts worse with them. In fact I don't think she has spoke to her Dad or Brother in many years.

Time to go

Dear Nurse B. I'm very sorry to hear that you've been struggling with a narcissist for so long. It sounds to me like she doesn't care about you very much, so you need to ask yourself why you'd want to stay with someone who doesn't care about you. You deserve to be loved. Research shows that narcissists rarely change because they don't think they're doing anything wrong. They know you're suffering and they just don't care. For you own sake, it might be best to leave the relationship. Once you do, you will find one that offers the love and support you deserve. Best wishes, Deborah


Do you know if you are being controlled by a Narcissist?

I just wanted to thank

I just wanted to thank everyone for all the comments. I'm really glad that this post has generated so much interest and has been helpful. That's my goal. I want to break down some of the misconceptions about being an HSP and to help HSPs build up their self-esteem by understanding all the positive qualities we have. I'm planning to write a series of articles related to dealing with narcissists and how sensitive people can protect themselves. I've been in several relationships with narcissists myself and it wasn't pleasant. But there is a way to change your life and avoid those kinds of relationships for good. Stay tuned!

Please do write more articles on this topic! They're sorely needed!

Two topics of interest that can help are just why HSPs are attracted to narcissists -- why and how that happens.

And the victim impact on HSPs, which is I would guess, worse than on those less sensitive. Our energy and resilience is taken, and many of us end up with complex PTSD. (And yes, I know the name complex PTSD is being changed, but I think it is very apt for the death of a thousand cuts ways that we are emotionally abused in these relationships with NPDs. It's not the same as a one-off event such as a natural disaster or rape, and so many of the therapies that work for these may not work for complex PTSD.)

We are left largely without answers, and people around us can not conceive of how we feel. So, we are left without understanding just when we need it most. I hope there will be better psych resources in the future both to spread understanding of what the HSP victims and victims with complex PTSD go through, and also that more effective therapies and in-person support groups will be developed on this topic. I have been unable to find any and I live in a pretty large city.

HSP's & Narcs

I agree Escaped', that there should be more available help for complex PTSD after escaping a Narc. I was a HSP with a heart of gold but after going through a lifetime of loving Narcs and even raising a Narc son, I'm one tired cookie.
I was forced to disengage from all relationships due to health issues for many months now and it has helped me to understand the truly destructive influence of Narcs. I think I may offer counseling to those who need a listening and caring heart as they come out of the twisted relationships.
To all those who feel scared and foolish, BE STRONG! You deserve to get free and focus entirely on that and step by step you can be soon.
Life is infinitely better on the other side of the Narc! You will be dance again! You will laugh and giggle and enjoy life again, I promise you.

Reply to Escapefor1

I have found the same to be true where I live. Victims of this type of abuse are left in a fog and have no idea what they just went through. How do you get help recovering if you don't know that the abuse you endured has a name and a post abuse course that includes continuing self doubt, guilt and shame despite the fact that you did nothing wrong? If mental health professionals are not trained to recognize and treat this type of abuse, how do victims find help? This is a serious problem! What aren't more professionals paying attention to this? There are so many victims out there who are still struggling to even understand what happened to them. It took me almost a year to understand the reality of what I went through and during that time I was seeing a psychologist. She didn't recognize the abuse for what it was. I found it while searchng online for answers becuase I knew some parts weren't making sense. It shouldn't be this hard to get help. I have since learned that this type of abuse is more common than I would have ever imagined. It happens in so many different settings and to really good people who would never have imagined that what they were up against was as ugly and destructive as it was. Victims who do know the truth to what happened must make more noise. The victims who are still in a fog (and voiceless) are counting on us to bring more awareness ot this problem!


thank you for comments - resonates - sucked the life after 9 narcs in a row - ordinary men - no chivalry

Deborah Ward- Please keep talking about this type of abuse. Victims need you!!!

I truly wish more people were talking about this issue. So many people who have endured abuse like this have absolutely no idea that this type of abuse has a name and a certain type of abuser. Instead, because they have never heard of this type of abuse they carry the guilt and the blame of what happened on their own shoulders. Mental health professionals are not always equipped to recognize this abuse for what it is or to understand the rather predictable pattern of self-destruction after the victim removes him or herself from the abusive relationship (if they are strong enough to even do that). This type of abuse is extremely destructive because of the fact that so little is widely known about it. Victims buy into the abuser’s constant refusal that anything was the abuser’s fault. I don't know if preventing people from becoming involved in relationships with these people is realistic. I want to believe it is possible to prevent this type of abuse, but for now I would really be comforted by knowing that victims can get the help they need to recover from it. I was horribly emotionally abused by a psychologist I had originally taken my 2 small children to see. He wasn't overtly abusive at first and it was because I trusted him (because he seemed competent for so long) that I ignored alarm bells that were going off in my head when the abuse started (or at least when I recognized it was starting). After I refused to see him any longer I eventually got up the courage to see a new therapist (at this point I had CPTSD but didn't know it). Despite the fact that the subsequent therapist was very supportive, she didn't recognize the abuse for what it was. At one point she even told me that the grief I was experiencing was similar to that of a break up. That made me even more upset with myself because I couldn't seem to handle "the breakup" the way I was "supposed" to. I would spin my wheels nearly every minute of the day trying to understand what I missed that could help me understand what happened and why the relationship ended the way it did. I kept thinking I just didn’t try hard enough to understand him. (The last time I saw the therapist he was in his office yelling, cursing and throwing things telling me there was something seriously wrong with me that he had never mentioned in the nearly 2 years I had been seeing him and that he couldn’t tell me until I came back the next week to the next session). Actually I still don’t know what he was yelling about because when I saw the new therapist, the notes she got from the abusive therapist lacked a diagnosis, treatment plan and diagnostic work. The session entries were all nearly illegible. It wasn't until I found a victim's advocacy group and began reading what Narcissistic Abuse was that I began to put the pieces of what happened together. Finding the book “Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity” was one of the most important turning points in my life after I left the abusive relationship. Every destructive, manipulative thing that man did to me was identified, defined, explained and stripped of its confusion. But that was nearly a year after I left the abusive relationship. It shouldn’t have taken me that much time and energy to understand what happened. I was doing all of the things a “good client” should do. I finally saw a new therapist and tried to have her help me understand what happened. Even when she helped me file the complaint with the Board of Psych, that was a dead end. The Board of Psych doesn’t understand this type of abuse. The case was dismissed despite me providing them with hundreds of email messages, phone messages and messages from group members who saw the abuse in the group he led. I even gave them the insurance statements where the insurance company demanded their money back for false claims I later learned this therapist filed. All of it was dismissed. What’s worse is that I am not even allowed to know how what he did was ethical. Wouldn’t the profession want me to understand why this wasn’t abuse if the professional board came to the conclusion that he wasn’t trying to harm me. It’s as if it’s all a huge secret. Even my treatment notes he provided the board are being kept from me. To this day, I still don’t know what he is saying my diagnosis is. I didn’t have a therapist prior to taking my 2 kids to see this man. However, I have needed ongoing support for the CPTSD that developed as a direct result of seeing this man. And because so few people even understand what this abuse is he is now free to continue to hurt people. No one will listen to me.

fact or fiction?

ah-hem, true narcissism is rare.

sounds like most pop psychologists posting here are encouraging one thing and one thing only: paranoia.

narcissism gets you your job, partner, success and heard.

the last time the UK government gathered a collection of dangerous and severe personalities (350) only 4 had narcissism proper.

HSP AND narcissism

I have to strongly disagree with that comment. Most people are underdiagnosed with NPD because Narcissists don't think there is anything wrong with their behavior so they don't seek treatment. I would bet everything in my bank account that my next door neighbor is a true NPD-she f***s with my head and plays daily mind games, gaslights people. She is also extremely paranoid. She has ZERO empathy. She is completely superficial and name drops all the time about all the important people she is surrounded by. I couldn't begin to describe here in a post all of the things that she does. She needs to be studied. I am not aware of how things are in the UK since I live in the United States, and I believe that just because I feel paranoid doesn't mean she ISN'T out to get me. She lies about everything. How do you know when a Narcissist is lying? When their lips are moving!

HSP AND narcissism

I absolutely agree with everything you say....

I agree with you; you must

I agree with you; you must remain on the alert if you are dealing with a person such as your neighbour. I have liberated myself from a 10 year marriage to a man who is just like your neighbour. I am a sensitive person and even now just one phone conversation about the children will leave me more stirred up than it should. I am well free of him and my old self now but the sick thing is he is attractive and evil at the same time.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Deborah Ward's new book, Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness, is available now.


Subscribe to Sense and Sensitivity

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.