The Two Types Of Sensitivity
And how they can help us understand why narcissists are emotionally unsafe
Posted Sep 13, 2018
Imagine, for a moment, a person’s sense of self/identity/ego has a structure inside his or her chest. A person with deep capacities such as insight, introspection, accountability, remorse, humility, empathy, and open-mindedness, has a “wooden box” inside their chest. An individual with a profoundly fragile identity, on the other hand, has a “glass box.”
When life flings negative material at the person with a wooden box, the structure may take a hit. The assault may leave a notch, knock down a panel, or even take out an entire side, but the box still stands. In other words, the person may feel a great deal of emotional pain, but they remain intact. The pain may feel intolerable and unbearable at times, but the individual survives it. They are able to feel the pain because they are secure enough to tolerate it.
Yet, the individual whose sense of self is a glass box cannot allow anything with an element of pain to enter, as it would easily shatter their identity. So, this person is acutely sensitive to negative material approaching their ego. He or she immediately deflects it and hurls it back into the world. Their defense mechanisms act like a force field around their ego. Any threat to their ego, like insight, accountability, remorse, empathy, and humility (anything with an element of pain) is deflected and projected back into the world—usually aimed at someone else. For example, a narcissist’s most common defense is to accuse someone else of being a narcissist.
The defensive force field is comprised of multiple defenses such as projection, projective identification, denial, narcissism, displacement, regression (victim stance), idealization, and intellectualization. These defenses are utilized to protect a narcissist’s profoundly fragile ego. Often, when the threat encroaches on the ego, the narcissist acts out in rage, blaming and attacking someone else.
It is important to note that everybody utilizes defense mechanisms. However, a narcissist employs them to an extreme, preventing him or her from having a realistic view of themselves, others, and the world. Thus, when you are involved in a relationship with a narcissist, because of their distortions, projections, and extreme need to always be the good guy, they frequently attack you, attempting to frame you as the bag guy. In fact, their distortions are often so significant that they seem to create an alternate reality; a reality in which the narcissist is always right, upstanding, and innocent and anyone who disagrees is crazy.
The tricky thing is that narcissists can function pleasantly with people whom they are not close to. Intellectually, they know how to behave in order to be perceived as kind and accountable. They are good at garnering favorable public opinion. It is behind closed doors that they continually oscillate from cruel/abusive to nice. The flip-flop game aims to fool the people they are close to.
If a person is in a relationship with a narcissist and he or she is not a narcissist, it is the individual’s very nature that threatens the narcissist’s fragile ego. They are deep and the narcissist is not. Obviously, the narcissist is unaware of his or her envy because they lack self-awareness and insight, so they unconsciously sabotage the person they are jealous of. Narcissists desperately want to be viewed as deep, so they project and distort, perceiving the deep person as crazy and in need of straightening out. Then, they feel like the upstanding and honorable person in the relationship.
In summary, there are two distinct types of sensitivity, one that revolves around sensing possible threats to the ego and one that involves depth of feeling.
It is the second type of sensitivity that allows a person a keen awareness of other people's feelings as well as their own. This individual is introspective, conscientious and empathic. They are not immune to blows to the ego because they are human, and intense anger is experienced in relationship to unfairness, disrespect, and cruelty. Yet, unlike a narcissist, the intensity of their anger is in response to a genuine threat to their humanity or the humanity of others.
Because one type of sensitivity is strictly ego driven and produces dysfunctional defense mechanisms, it is not a positive attribute. Yet, the second type of sensitivity, feeling deeply, allows humans to constantly grow, evolve, and have empathy for others. The second type of sensitivity is what heals the world. It is a gift.