Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Highly Sensitive Person and the Narcissist

Protect yourself from narcissists with your own natural abilities.

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 wondered how to get out.

They couldn't always put a name to it or even explain what was happening. But it didn't feel good. And the harder they tried, the worse it got. One day you meet someone who seems perfectly nice, funny, charming, and rather appreciative of your sensitive, caring, giving nature, and before you know it, you are living with someone who only wants you to cater to their every need.

HSPs don't consciously choose this kind of relationship, but they are particularly vulnerable to it. Fortunately, there are ways that HSPs can steer clear of these toxic relationships and find the love they deserve.

For someone on the outside looking at a relationship between a highly sensitive person and a narcissist, it's all too easy to blame the HSP. How and why would anyone want to stay in such a relationship? And why did they get involved in it in the first place? Surely it was obvious that this person was taking you for a ride.

But of course it isn't always obvious. Long-standing narcissistic behaviour is not always immediately apparent and the narcissist often becomes highly skilled at getting what they want through charm, deception, passive-aggression, control tactics, and manipulation. Narcissists feel they are superior to other people, although it may manifest itself in subtle ways, such as complaining about hotel service or ignoring expert advice. They are preoccupied with achieving success, power, beauty, fame, and wealth, although whatever they achieve is never enough. They have a lack of empathy for others, including their own family and friends, so that they will take advantage of people to get their own needs and desires met, even if it hurts someone.

Unfortunately, highly sensitive people are often their targets. HSPs are highly empathetic and care deeply about others, sympathising with their troubles. They are sensitive to other people's feelings and often feel the urge to help. The narcissist creates a relationship with the sensitive person that essentially allows them to feed off the kindness of the HSP to satisfy their insatiable appetite for praise, attention, admiration, power, and material things until the highly sensitive partner is left emotionally drained, exhausted and powerless.

This feeling of helplessness often explains why it is so hard for HSPs to leave. Highly sensitive people are generally very conscientious and hard working and they often feel, tragically, that if they just tried a little harder, and became just a little more compassionate, understanding, and loving, everything would work out. Unfortunately, narcissists will only take advantage of that compassion and will take more and more of everything the HSP is struggling to deliver.

While it may be difficult to avoid narcissistic individuals completely, highly sensitive people can protect themselves. It can be difficult to spot a narcissist as they are masters of deception. They know what you want to hear, how to make you feel good, and how to say just the right things. Beware of people who seem a little too preoccupied with their appearance, their status, and what people think of them.

The key is to realise that you, as a highly sensitive person, are vulnerable in ways that others are not. But that does not make you powerless. You are a delicate creature and so you must protect yourself. Instead of seeing your sensitivity as a fault, use your unique qualities to see others for who they really are and trust your own amazing sense of intuition and awareness of your own and others' feelings.

You can develop your sense of self-awareness and intuition by spending a few moments alone each day, especially when you feel overwhelmed or upset. If you don't know what you're feeling or why, sit down somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and ask yourself, "What am I feeling?" Don't think, just listen. Trust your instincts. The answer will come to you, perhaps as an image or maybe a word or a feeling. And then base your actions on that trusted information, and not what someone else is telling you. They may not have your best interests at heart.

Highly sensitive people can become targets for narcissists, but that does not mean you are powerless. Knowing who you are and what you need will make it easier to draw the line between a first date with a charmer and a relationship from hell. And if you find yourself in such a relationship, the best solution is to leave. It's not your job to fix someone else. All you have to do is look after yourself.

More from Deborah Ward
More from Psychology Today