Why do I feel sorry for my abuser?
What is this power narcissists, our abusers hold over us? Why do we feel such a pull towards them? I’m not talking about when we first meet them. When they sweep us into their orbit and bomb us with love with such an intensity. No, why is it we still feel such a pull towards them even after abuse?
After violence, when they flood us with their tears of remorse, why do we feel sorrier for them? Why do we care more about their pain than our own or the abuse they’re just dished out to us?
If we’ve found the courage to leave them, why do we feel sick to our stomach over them? Guilty about what will happen to them now we’ve left them? Why do we long for the person who has hurt us to make us feel better again?
I’ve been speaking with some fellow survivors and victims of domestic abuse of late. They tell me they are struggling with empathy and have asked me to talk about it. It’s a battle I know only too well. I know how hard that internal struggle is.
One says, it’s when they see their ex (having not seen them for a while). When they are winning in court and their ex is looking a shell of himself. It’s confusing, she says. Why am I feeling so sorry for him? Despite the years of abuse he put me through? That is when her strength starts to fail her, she tells me. The time she starts to become unstuck.
I recall that pull towards my ex. Feeling so sorry for him, even after he could have killed me. Putting his needs and feelings above my own when he said how sorry he was, how much he loved me. I felt guilty for leaving him, when I finally did so. What would happen to him? I’ve abandoned him when he needed me! Forget about the fact I now faced life as a young, single mother. My own struggles and pain were beside the point.
Our empathy is one of the main reasons they’re attracted to us. Why we are with them in the first place. Narcissists lack empathy. They don’t understand the implications of their actions on others. They never take responsibility for them either. They need to feed their inflated sense of self, or entitlement and their ego off others. And the person they prey on is someone whose capacity to empathize with others is so great. To the point where they put the narcissist above themselves.
We do this is we have low self-esteem. With little self-worth, we’re not good at setting healthy boundaries. Or caring about ourselves first. So, we are ripe for manipulation by them. We believe them we they tell us their behaviour is our fault. We put their needs above our own.
Narcissists detect we have an inner void of shame that tells us we are not good enough. It comes somewhere from our childhood. They know exactly what buttons to press. The ones that wound that damaged inner child. Also, the ones that soothe us and make us feel special and good again.
When they love-bomb us at the start. When they pour out their love for us after abusing us, we’re grateful for it. It fills that void. It makes the emptiness go away.
That hole inside us was dug out in childhood. Somehow our emotional needs weren’t fully met, so we don’t feel good enough. We also fear abandonment. How ironic that we then pick someone without the capacity to fulfil those needs. Who abandons us emotionally.
When we go into that cycle of abuse. One minute we get the rush of their adoring side, the next the pain of them pushing us away. Like a drug dealer, they meter out doses of love and then abuse to us. When they take it away, the pain we feel is so great. This is because it taps into our deepest childhood fears. That fear of abandonment comes rushing to the fore.
We need them to soothe that inner child with love. We need them to tell us we are good enough, we are loveable. So, we become ever needier on them. The one who has hurt us to heal our pain.
What makes this cycle even more dysfunctional, is that they are the same as us. Although they are the inflated ego, to our lack of self-esteem. They also have an inner void of shame. They too fear abandonment. Why when they start to reveal their vulnerable side to us, they push us away. Just as we think the relationship will work and we’ll find happiness again, they sabotage it. Self-destruct any happiness. Trying to end it, before we abandon them. Gaining control over us to put those fears at bay.
We can see this vulnerability beneath the arrogant, abusive exterior. This is what makes us feel the need to rescue them. They need us to fix them. And by finding someone we feel is more vulnerable than we are, we’re also putting a Band-Aid over our own inner turmoil.
We are attracted to these types as we are subliminally recreating feelings and patterns that are familiar to us from childhood. To conquer them. While we put all our focus on their pains, their needs, we can avoid facing our own. If they need us, they won’t abandon us. So, our childhood fears at kept at bay. We’re in control of them.
This is what pulls us back towards them. Why we feel sorry for them. When we see them in their vulnerable state, remorseful after abusing us. When we feel guilty after leaving them and they are down and out. When she was winning in court and he was down, as that woman recently said to me. It’s just pressing those childhood buttons. That need to be needed, to hide our inner pain.
Those of us, known as Empaths attract Narcissists who lack empathy. We fit in a destructive way. The only way to break that power a Narcissist has over us is to fill that void of shame with self-love. To see the cycle for what it is and understand this has nothing to do with love, but control.
How do you stop feeling sorry for them? That’s a more difficult one. Narcissists manipulate us to feeling this way so they can continue to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
They press those buttons of fear we have, so that we accept the blame. By doing so, we convince ourselves there is hope to change them. If I do this or that, then things will be okay.
But that is false hope. Only they can change themselves. Nothing we say or do can affect that. Especially when we’re dealing with someone who convinces themselves they’re the victim.
We must learn to let go. Recognise what those feelings are that they are stirring in us so intensely. Take our focus off trying to rescue and fix them. Heal our inner wounded child instead.
Once we do this, time eventually heals. The power they have over us dilutes in its strength. As my friend once said, it’s like a plant. Stop watering it and eventually it withers away. We start to feel less sorry for them, more ‘they’re not my problem anymore!’ Those buttons can no longer be pressed.
Let me know if you’re struggling with empathy in the comments below.
If you need professional help, advice or support please see Domestic Violence resources here .