Dark Empath: A More Fitting Label for The Diabolical Abuser?

Preface: The theory of the Dark Empath diagnosis is still in it’s infancy. Studies have been done and it has really only gained traction within the past year. For the sake of breaking down one of the most complicated concepts I have encountered, I’m going to focus on narcissism as the jumping off point. This is a narrow take, as the whole of the dark triad (machiavellianism, psychopathy) are applicable. To understand the depth of the potential Dark Empath diagnosis, I have drawn a comparison that may read as minimizing narcissist abuse. Please Understand the Intent is to Emphasize the Difference & in no way Minimize Any Type of Abuse💚

Reminder: Although I have extensive knowledge about mental illness and suffer from it, I am not a licensed practitioner. The following is merely my opinion on why this working theory should be further explored and likely will be solidified.

It’s human nature to simplify. Even therapists are not immune to the desire to put people in tidy, little boxes. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but for quite some time I’ve found “if you were abused, a narcissist or an addict must have done it” has become a simple explanation to a massive problem. Applicable at times, but is it really suddenly the diagnosis for every abuse scenario? Operating from that base belief seems to ignore nuances of abuse that victims have tried and failed to have addressed.

For instance, many experts will maintain if you believe your abuser displayed genuine feeling at times that’s really a byproduct of ego. Basically, your inability to accept you got played and played well. An assessment that actually seems counterintuitive, as the prevailing thought is empaths are more likely to suffer from abuse. There are two primary types of empathy, affective and cognitive, and the former is characterized by an actual ability to feel what someone is feeling. Thus if you can feel what your abuser is feeling, then how is it possible they manufactured it? A narcissist may understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking, cognitive empathy, but how can they truly project a manufactured emotion?

Therefore if we operate from the perspective of an empathic victim, the assessment of a feeling person presenting at times by an abuser should be taken seriously. This calls into question the assignment of narcissistic abuse as a “catch all” diagnosis for abusive relationships. After all while narcissists do have a modicum of empathy, this is not their go to abuse tactic. In reality our societal perception of abuse aligns with their standard tactic of fear mongering, so this trend is understandable.

I have dated narcissists, but I have also dated something worse. The narcissists had, if you will, a superficial bite to them. There was more physical violence and verbal violence, such as blatant insults and name calling vs innuendo and verbal evisceration. Of course there was “love bombing”, but in hindsight many tells existed early on. In the moment, I obviously missed them. The narcissists I dated also really thrived on people’s positive perceptions of them and myself until they began really losing grip. Me looking good made the narcissist look good and they wanted everyone to know they treated me well. Even when a narcissist begins the process of isolating you, he wants it to appear you’ve made the choice to distance yourself from everyone. Then when the situation further deteriorates, choice gets taken away completely. Do as I say. Even within the honeymoon period, their behavior hasn’t altered. They are just buying you off with gifts and false apologies, while still explaining why it’s your fault these things happen. They also may use the fear of abandonment as a tactic, but how many of them really leave when they are incredibly angry? Why would they when they can stay and fuck you up one way or another?

So how does a relationship with a Dark Empath differ from the above? Essentially, it’s far less superficial and far more complex. Once you have fallen victim to a narcissist or each time you do, “love bombing” becomes easier to spot. The intensive attention, the fast pace, the hearing what you want to, and so on. So, what if your abuser actually feels some of what they are telling you and you actually feel it from them? What if they have a twisted moral compass which allows them to believe they are here to right the all wrongs, but above all to right the wrongs that have effected them? Like I said, gets a bit complicated. Imagine someone with a hero complex so extreme they are willing to crucify anyone they perceive as a threat to and you can’t escape that you will become a perceived threat. In the beginning they not only know how to play a part, but they do feel the part. It’s almost as if their narcissistic traits are at war with their empathic capabilities. FYI: The narcissistic traits tend to win out.

Back to superficial abuse vs complex (there isn’t a clinical distinction here, I have created one for the purpose of explaination), try to think of narcissitic abuse as brute strength. Force, not necessarily physical, is involved in the majority of their tactics. Forcing their will on you one way or another. Even gaslighting is an attempt to force their reality on you. Dark Empaths appear to have far more self control and more effective methods. For instance, it wasn’t until the fourth year of cohabitation with one that I experienced physical violence, no escalation, just one attack that almost killed me. How about that I was actually the first person he laid hands on even though he’s 42? Just to allay any questions, no I didn’t attack him and have never physically attacked anyone. Do you know why it finally happened? He empathized with his side-piece. He couldn’t believe I hurt her by informing her husband, who contacted me, that I had just found out about the extent of their affair. How dare I hurt her that way!? He, the hero, would right that wrong and I paid for it in blood.

The reason a narcissist attempts to accelerate the dating process it to expedite their ability to be their abusive selves. Yet, it’s possible a Dark Empath never will display abuse at the level a narcissist inevitably will. A Dark Empath is actually capable of living a life in which they only encounter those submissive enough to never set them off. Their approach to domination and abuse may parallel with many aspects of the narcissist, but it is far more insidious.

The Dark Empath’s cycle of abuse has an added layer of complexity . They don’t “make things better” by scape-goating you or continuing to push their agenda. Instead, they let you talk. They “really listen” and take responsibility for the abuse. They show epic remorse and work with you to ensure it never happens again…until it does. Not every conversation becomes a matter of what you’ve done wrong. Tears are shed and you can feel that they feel. Perhaps now you understand why I feel this is far more dangerous than narcissistic abuse? Though there is a divergence of thought here, as some experts believe it is less damaging because it’s not as repetitively overt. I think those experts are forgetting to take into account the likelihood of exposure to prolonged abuse when an abuser shows authentic change and accountability (lacking in narcissistic abuse) for a period of time.

Cue the guilt. Yes a narcissist may try to and succeed at making you believe you deserve what you get, but the Dark Empath has a more convincing passive aggressive approach. Imagine if guilt trips are a constant tool used to shift a power balance that shouldn’t exist. Rather than the “episode” of abuse, it’s actually a game. If you’ve ever made a point, you better be prepared to pay for it later. The next mistake will be a permission slip to explain why you’re the uncaring one, how they already are trying to “do better” and here you are trying to ruin everything with your selfish behavior.

The Dark Empath thinks everything is a competition. An idea they carry over to appearances. Unlike the narcissist, the Dark Empath doesn’t care how you’re perceived. As a matter of fact, they may actually abandon you when they’re angry just so they can go to a buddy’s house or the mistress’s and tell them what a “whack job” you are. They have a different power play. Rather than worrying about appearing weak, they may want people to believe they are the victim and they are the ones that have been wronged early on. Maybe within weeks of meeting you, they’ll begin laying the groundwork for this by mentioning things like, “I can tell she’s a crazy one but I really like her”. They achieve their goal of isolating you by telling the world you’re a “crazy bitch”, rather than caring if it looks like you decided to withdraw on your own.

Ultimately, the Dark Empath doesn’t just want to control you. What the Dark Empath wants is to always be number one in the eyes of everyone. They’ll even subtly step on others that have nothing to do with you to achieve this. From what I can tell, there are two things to really watch for if you have concerns. One, do they thrive off malicious humor? Making off color jokes, saying “just kidding” when they clearly aren’t, bashing minorities or those they view to be of “lesser status”… Two, are they the person you always turn to and the only one that can help? That’s great, truly, unless you’re turning to them constantly because they’ve caused you to need help. Both characteristics are boldly displayed across the few studies that exist.

The long overdue Dark Empath diagnosis addresses previously dismissed victim accounts. It makes perfect sense, as universal truths go, that an abuser capable of empathizing exists and is dangerous.

“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” -Sun Tzu

Raw. Ruined. True. The Real Me.

CONTENT WARNING/ TRIGGERING: PLEASE KNOW THIS IS UNFILTERED, UNCENSORED. INCLUDING ABUSE AND IDEATION!

I’ve died. I don’t need the ideation or the actual act because I’m already dead. I look around and all that’s left is an actress. All there is? The [insert appropriate response] shell of what I was. Those that knew me when I existed? They’re all gone. I’m so close to losing the need to even play a part. I have to though, I have to parent, to show that I’m not a cliche. I’m not “the Bipolar, man reliant, single mother that fucks up her kid.”

I chose to have a child, he didn’t choose to have me. I won’t punish him for that and make my life his problem. I’m me even less everyday. My son gets older every day. I can’t stop it and I can’t cling to it. I have to celebrate the process. I have to smile at the voice cracks and his willingness to talk to me about everything. I have to say with all the enthusiasm in the world, “Absolutely! Have a good time!” and let him leave. Only then can I safely count the days until he returns because he’s all I am now, all that’s left of me, and he can’t know. I won’t be that mom.

I can’t leave. I can’t even sit alone at a bar and drunkenly find someone to take me home. I can’t be seen this way, teeth missing and dark circles. I am an eyesore with nothing to offer. I’m a joke and he won. Not my son, the one that put the staples in my head. He always said he loved me for the “right reasons”. Then he quit trying to pretty it up. Then it became I was too ugly to ever be “fuckable”. Too ugly to kiss. So ugly that “if you won’t kill yourself, I’ll do it for you.”

I didn’t used to be this ugly. I didn’t used to have to change in another room. I used to believe he must be wrong. I used to believe what I lacked in looks, I more than made up for in personality. Even before I became as ugly as I am now, he had already convinced me I had always been grotesque, how absolutely nauseating to look at I was.

When you’re a parent, if you’re capable, you have a moment of clarity. A moment where you realize no matter how much better off you believe your child will be they won’t. They would always blame themselves if you decided living isn’t important anymore. I hate my ex for this. I hate him because he could have done me one favor. One single mercy. He could have actually finished bashing my skull in. He could have actually followed through and not left me alone. Not alone because he’s gone, alone because I lost everyone by being with him. Alone because now I am as ugly as he always said. I’m all he told me I was for the past five years. It’s been two years. I can’t “fix” this. The relationships, friend and family I tried to repair, they can’t and won’t be. They’ve made that clear. The long time fuck buddy? The one from highschool? The one who I saw whenever we were single? Well we’re both single, but I’m ugly now.

Even the treatment, the proven trauma treatment, has stripped me of something I needed so badly. Everyday more of that veil disappears. I’m drowning in unwanted memories and feelings without the support or skills I need to survive it. I’ve never had nightmares. Now they’re so bad I’ve had to subtly ask my child if a benign detail from a horror story of a dream happened or not. Why sleep? I write, I read, I walk, I parent. Trauma tripping hypomania then swinging to depression. Not a break, not just a couple times a year, just a day or two of normalcy if I’m lucky. Episode after episode. I see my therapist every week and that’s it. Outside of her and my son, I speak to no one face to face. How could I? Like I said, I can’t be seen.

I’m dissociative, but my personality hasn’t fractured. I don’t have alts. I had the ability to at least watch everything wrong in my world from a distance, to watch myself get beat instead of feel it. To run my fingers through blood saturated hair and think it’s just wet. I could always take refuge in my dissociation. Now I’m stuck in neverending episodes without an ounce of hope. What I have is the act. The moments I seem to be me, well the old me. The joke cracking, psuedo-intellectual with sex appeal, but that’s the girl that exists in the digital world.

I’m the parent everyday, a damn good one actually, but I’m nothing otherwise. I live in the abstract. You don’t know me. You can’t. But really what’s there to know? I couldn’t see you if you wanted to see me because I can’t be seen like this. I can’t watch someone look at me like he did. Look at me the way I never used to be looked at or talked to. So there it is. There’s the truth behind the act. That’s what I am. Not who I am because I’m not a “who”, I’m a ghost. Just the ghost on a platform.

If you feel this, if you’ve felt this, if it brought you pain, or even pity… whatever your response..take one thing from this, take the only message that matters from this… someone feels the pain you do. Someone is drowning too, or even more, but there is ALWAYS one reason you are needed here. Maybe it’s not a child, hell maybe it’s a pet, but maybe it’s the person you forgot about. The one who’s life you changed. What if they end their’s because they realize you were a fraud? A hippocrite. What if someone you didn’t even realize took hope from a moment that you didn’t even register? Then you’re gone, unknowingly validating their belief that death is a better option.

You might think this is a stretch. Check this: I once received a thank you message on facebook from the guy my classmates had always called “the fat kid”. We weren’t close, but I accepted the message and found a thank you written. He went on to say he would have put the shotgun his grandfather owned to his head had I not told one person to fuck off when they made a fat joke. He added that no matter what I always said hello and never treated him like “the fat kid”. I can happily say I remembered him, but if you think I had any idea that I had a profound effect on his life your sorely mistaken. It was surreal.

Since then? 7. I’ve come to find out seven people opted out of suicide because of me. Not because I gave them treatment or even had a conversation with them about their mental health, just talking or defending. Even if you haven’t had that effect yet, or you don’t know if you have, what if someday? About now you’re probably questioning how I could write all that I have. Like I said, playing a part now. Maybe I always have been. I guess at some point you have to wonder if anyone will ever save you. I’m touched that I’ve effected change. Probably one of the only things that can give me an additional motive to live, knowing maybe I can help a few others. Doesn’t mean I want this existence, or rather non existence anymore. Living is hard, no one can promise a better tomorrow, but living is necessary.

Bipolar, Cyclical Relationships, & Why I Quit Love

DISCLAIMER:I couldn’t quite figure out why collecting my thoughts to write this piece was proving to be far more difficult than I had anticipated. I realized there is an aspect of this topic that I can’t speak to…healthy relationships. Sure I could apply research findings and cliches, but I felt that would be hollow and not me. My hope here is to show solidarity and maybe offer some insight on how to avoid certain pitfalls.

It always amazes me how many people diagnosed with Bipolar have had such similar experiences with relationships. Yet while our experiences and out-comes may align so much, the hows and whys can be very different. Mostly, this divergence seems to stem from our relationship to our diagnosis.

Some of us are just ashamed. We guard the status of their mental health for as long as we can. Often, convincing ourselves the stranger turned lover need not ever know it at all. Just the word Bipolar could send them running, so why risk it? We know this is the quickest route to disaster, but we still hold onto false hope. It takes a lot of work, but if only we can stop people from leaving all the time.

Some of us can’t comprehend how anyone could last a single moment denying their Bipolar status and believing maybe no on will notice. I fall into this category. We are the socially awkward Bipolar crew. Why not get the potential rejection out of the way as soon as possible:

“By the way, I’m Bipolar. I take more pills than a geriatric patient with a heart condition, but the good news is I’ll keep you guessing.”

Yes, it’s important to fight stigma. However, just like a cancer patient wouldn’t announce the news while giving a speech at a wedding…time and place matter. We’ve also mastered the art of the single statement, awkward silence inducing, conversation killer:

“Oh! I have a funny story about that! Once I was in the hospital after a suicide attempt…”

The funny part of that story goes unheard as those around us are focused on the lead. But what we do best? We avoid letting people know who we really are by distracting them. Personally, this is my favorite go to when I’m nervous. I want to know everything about anyone else so no one can see just how boring I am. On the flip side, if it seems people have become curious about me, I go for shock value. Sex is usually a safe bet if I want to spark a conversation that won’t expose how boring I am. I mean who doesn’t have thoughts on the subject, right? I say things women “shouldn’t say” to complete strangers coupled with over-shares, just to keep my audience from realizing I don’t have anything to offer on the topic of daily life:

“No, I don’t work.”

“Yeah I never actually have money to go anywhere, so my summer was okay.”

“Oh, I missed that event because I slept that week.”

I’m sure there is a happy balance between these two ways of getting to know someone, I just haven’t negotiated it yet.

Still isn’t it great how those of us with Bipolar Disorder seem to initially connect with people easily, no matter our approach? Obviously, what’s mentioned above is fraught with generalizations and won’t apply to every person diagnosed with Bipolar. That said, chances are pretty good you’ve been able to make stronger connections with more people than those who aren’t coping with a mental illness. After all, why wouldn’t someone you meet enjoy talking about themselves with someone who’s just happy anyone is talking to them at all? One would think being able to build rapport with almost anyone would lead to a very busy social life, but then this is how it plays out for a lot of us…

Yay! Someone wants to hang out! Every-thing seems so easy. They can’t believe how intuitive, compassionate, and wise you are. Plus, so generous and already willing to give ’em the shirt off your back. It takes so little time for you to learn all about the new person in your life. Although, at this point they can’t say they know you equally as well.

Thus, the cycle begins:

Our “Honeymoon Period” is pretty much the time to keep what they know about us very surface level, just enough to keep them interested. It’s a fairly easy task as we distract them by making everything about them. Side note: sadly, this is why so many of us are preyed upon by narcissists, although they may eventually realize we are far more work than their average victims.

The next stage, I like to call the “Flood Gate” stage. As in, we’ve grown comfortable and have stifled ourselves for so long that we suddenly can’t stop sharing. If you’ve met someone that genuinely cares about you, they’ll actually be relieved and happy to see the real you. If not, potentially irritated things are no longer only about them, they may cut and run or (as a narcissist would) try to put you back in your corner. If ever there was a time to take control of the way you participate or decide if you even still want to participate in this relationship this would be it, mostly because this is usually when full disclosure occurs. Yes, you may have already mentioned your illness but it probably was almost in passing.

I have learned the hard way, more than once (I’m a slow learner), there is a very real communication breakdown that can occur at this stage. It’s truly a problem when you’re new partner just doesn’t get it. A sure indicator your partner isn’t picking up what you’re throwing down is an immediate response like:

“Thanks for telling me, no big deal, I think you’re great.”

“Well you’re lucky you met me then because I can really help you.”

“There’s nothing you could say to change my view of you.”

The problem? Either you haven’t explained enough or you’re not being heard. When someone your building a relationship with finds out you are suffering from any mental health condition, such as Bipolar, they must be made to realize you aren’t telling them something as benign as you bought a new hat. It needs to be abundantly clear you’re disclosing this because it won’t ever be just a “you problem”. If they want to be a part of your life, it’s a “we problem”. Not in the way the second, potential response above implies. You’re not looking to be saved or taken care of, but you’re Bipolar episodes will effect them. They will effect your relationship. It’s not something you will be quietly dealing with on your own when they aren’t around. If they get it, they’ll have questions. Hopefully, they’ll do some research and/or ask if you have any resources to share. Honestly, if they ask for time to process it’s a good thing. They are demonstrating some understanding of the gravity of the situation and a willingness to take the time to figure out how to proceed or if they even want to, shows they care. If they opt out, they’ve saved you a lot of heartache.

Should your new partner choose to stick around the “Tense” stage will begin, a time period difficult for even two healthy people attempting to navigate a relationship. Those of us with Bipolar add a layer of difficulty to the navigation. Likely we’ve had at least one episode by now, maybe more. However prepared they thought they were, we already knew they couldn’t be prepared enough. If you’re relationship survives this stage, you may have found the right person to have in your life. On the other hand, if your partner begins responding with questions and/or statements such as:

“Why can’t you just not?”

“I guess I just thought with me around you’d be able to control yourself better.”

“I mean I get it, but there really has to be a way for you to get better and stop these fits.”

Of course, there are the far more hostile comments:

“I don’t have time for this crap, call me when you’re sane again.”

“Take some more pills, because those ain’t working.”

“Well I’ve already told everyone you’re crazy, but good in bed.”

As much as we may want to keep hope alive, it’s a matter of theory being put into practice. The first set of responses may just be indicative of a need to adjust and become even more informed. Whether or not we should still remain hopeful kind of depends on the delivery and if the comments start to lessen over time. The hostile comments? Well If we were wise, we’d cut and run before the end of the cycle.

The end of the cycle, the final stage, the “Grand Finale” is usually painful, erratic, heartbreaking, and sometimes completely on us. For instance, the partner we chose may have survived all the stages and love us with their whole heart. They are supportive and even grounding. They are a threat to our carefully constructed walls and must go. Whoa! That escalated quickly, right? Did it really though? I mean most of us aren’t even cognizant of this thought as we begin to self-sabotage, pushing them away before they can abandon us like everyone else. Maybe just letting that insecurity rule us will be the very thing that makes it impossible for them to stick around. Really, how many times can someone explain to you that they aren’t going anywhere and reassure you they love you?”

Personally, I find this to be more depressing than the other potential outcome. The one where superiority and resentment become a problem. Neither feeling has to be something you’re partner is cognizant of, maybe they are even oblivious to the related behaviors they are displaying. Whether aware or unaware, subtly or overtly, behaving as if they know best or taking shots like, “oh it’s going to be one of these months, huh?” becomes passive abuse. Although not as depressing, this turn of events can be far more damaging. It can also lead to an extremely volatile situation. You may find your episodes are worsening, maybe they are becoming more frequent. You start to feel like less of a partner and more of a child. It will only get worse because the roles have been assigned and cemented now, you realy no longer have a voice. The fights can get ugly and the fear of abandonment really isn’t just fear. They have one foot out the door or they’re already gone.

I’d love to tell you, “You can fix this!” The truth is a lot of this isn’t because you have Bipolar Disorder. Sure it’s not ideal but that part is something within your control, in so far as you are the only one who can put the work in to manage your own illness. Reread. What’s the biggest problem here? It’s not even willful ignorance, necessarily. The reality is no matter how much we educate others or people educate themselves, it’s not going to help most. People who don’t have Bipolar Disorder can say they are “woke” and understand, but when they are confronted with someone struggling they can’t stop themselves from reverting back to their “sane people” logic. They can’t comprehend how society views “mind over matter” as a simple idiom, but for us it’s a very literal nightmare we live “brain over everything”. You can either take that as a reason to lose hope or you can take as a life line. I choose the latter. I like knowing that just because I am Bipolar doesn’t mean I’m always the problem and I always will be.

Wazzup? Or, you know, hello there!

Hi, I’m Megan. I’m the odd one in a room full of odd ones. I’m the hot mess, the bleeding heart, the bitch, the slut, the nurturer, the hate group antagonist, the knowledge seeker, and the ride or die. You know, the one you call in an emergency even if we only met one time for 10 minutes or you had a falling out with me 10 years ago?

I’m a single mother. I’m a victim of narcissistic abuse, domestic violence, and verbal abuse. I’m a suicide survivor 4 times over, legally dead twice. I went untreated until I was 27. I’ve been misdiagnosed, given the wrong treatment including the wrong meds, and have never quit trying. Mostly, I am the one who’s perpetually pissing people off.

I have Rapid Cycling Depressive Bipolar II. By Rapid Cycling, I mean I have monthly swings vs. the more common four episodes a year. Due to the excessive abuse in my past and the rareness of my type of Bipolar, I was mis- diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder in addition to Bipolar by some. A dual diagnosis that is almost unheard of. Some of my behaviors never really aligned with the latter diagnosis and I started doing my own research after falling victim to yet another abusive narcissist. My behavior had become well… bizarre even for me. I took what I found to my psychiatrist and it was as if a light bulb lit above her head.

I’m Dissociative. To be exact, I have Non-Specific Dissociative Identity Disorder due to Complex Post- Taumatic Stress Disorder. I’m the embodiment of rare mental illness manifestations.

Since “perfecting” my diagnosis, I’ve taken what professional skills I do have and supplemented them with extensive research on all things mental health. All things, meaning not just my own battles. My passions are supporting, educating, listening, learning, and destigmatizing mental illness. Although my biggest love is parenting my gifted, challenging son. Nice to meet you 😉