Four tendencies, which are sometimes misinterpreted as co-dependent, may actually be emotionally intelligent. Focusing on the good in people, admitting fault, empathy, and fighting to remain close are healthy and essential capabilities. Yet, a narcissist may easily manipulate these traits. An awareness of how and why these qualities are exploited may help an emotionally intelligent person protect himself or herself.
First, an emotionally intelligent person is usually warmhearted and sees the good in people. This is sometimes referred to as emotional unity. He or she desires harmony and wishes for everyone to get along. Frequently, this allows him or her to overlook flaws in others. Non-judgmental and understanding, this person is usually emotionally safe. Unfortunately, this attribute is quickly exploited by a narcissist.
For example, Lisa discovers Mike said unkind and untrue things about her to mutual friends. Although she is upset, she excuses Mike’s actions because Mike is under pressure at work and is reeling from a recent divorce. She thinks to herself, “He is a good friend most of the time, so I am going to assume he is just going through a difficult time.” She sweeps the incident under the rug because she is empathic and doesn’t want to add to his distress.
Although it is virtuous to see the good in people, this tendency may backfire with a narcissist. A narcissist may realize a person like Lisa is easily manipulated. This may fuel his or her need to continue hurting Lisa to gain the power in the relationship. Unfortunately, a narcissist may derive satisfaction from wounding a person with whom he or she is envious, and often narcissists are jealous of emotional intelligence.
Second, an emotionally intelligent person is self-aware, which means he or she routinely looks at herself or himself. This introspective tendency, although uncomfortable at times, allows him or her to take responsibility for a mistake in a relationship. Authentically owning a misstep, feeling intensely remorse, and actively repairing the damage by communicating a full understanding of how a selfish moment hurt a loved one, allows this person to maintain trust and closeness in his or her relationships.
In addition, the tendency to look inward helps a person understand his or her part in a conflict with another. Ownership of his or her role in a dispute usually leads to healthy conflict resolution. If the opposite person is equally emotionally intelligent, he or she may engage in self-evaluation and respond by taking responsibility for his or her wrongdoings during the spat. Both people move forward positively, knowing more about themselves and the other.
Unfortunately, this may not go as smoothly with a narcissist. He or she tends to immediately deflect and project accountability instead of looking in the mirror. The disagreement typically escalates because the narcissist’s projections are unfair and lethal. Understandably, the person reels under the attack, and immediately self-reflects. Uninformed about the narcissist’s distorted viewpoint, he or she views herself or himself through the narcissist’s skewed lens and is then manipulated into believing he or she is ultimately at fault.
Thus, the emotionally intelligent person in the relationship who already looks at herself or himself is manipulated into taking the blame for the narcissist who rarely self-reflects. This cycle may cause an emotionally intelligent person to begin doubting his or her own reality, despite its validity.
Third, a cornerstone of emotional intelligence is empathy. Empathy is frequently considered a necessary element in close and healthy relationships. An attempt to understand how a loved one feels while honoring that emotion may do wonders for an individual who feels alone in his or her plight.
For example, “You are disappointed. I get it. I would be too. But you got this. You are a good writer. Keep at it.” Conversely, a response that lacks empathy, “You should’ve given it to a professional editor before you submitted. I told you. You are not going to be upset today, are you? We have my work function. If you are going to pout and feel sorry for yourself, maybe it’s best that you just stay home.”
Despite its healing benefits in a relationship, a narcissist may exploit a person’s empathy. One of a narcissist’s most prominent cognitive distortions is the victim stance. He or she may be prone to re-writing history and altering reality to make himself or herself the victim. This usually occurs when he or she is confronted or after he or she acts out aggressively or passive-aggressively.
For example, Ben discovers Ellie is accruing debt on a shared credit card. He is sickened because he is not sure how to pay the enormous balance. Distraught, he calls Ellie to confront her and discuss a plan to handle the situation. Ellie immediately begins sobbing on the phone. She says she feels invisible to Ben and shopped to combat feeling alone in the relationship. She claims she is too upset to talk about it. When Ben arrives home and attempts to re-address the issue, Ellie escalates. She screams and cries and tells Ben, “This is your fault. You make me feel small.” Next, she whips a bowl across the room in Ben’s direction and storms up the stairs, yelling, “Narcissist! You are a narcissist!”
Ben is baffled. He looks at himself. He asks, “Am I a bad partner? Am I a narcissist? Have I been emotionally neglecting Ellie? Is this my fault?” Ben racks his brain. He wonders if he is too self-absorbed. He does spend a lot of time at work. Ben decides the situation is his fault. He approaches Ellie and apologizes, taking the blame.
The narcissist in this scenario, Ellie, successfully shifts the blame in the relationship by playing the victim. She avoids looking at herself and owning a mistake, and instead revises history, making herself the victim and Ben the villain. In doing so, she successfully evades accountability. Utilizing a past hardship to actively excuse a mistake in a present relationship is a common tactic of a narcissist.
Alternatively, Ellie feels invisible in the relationship. She makes herself vulnerable and identifies how she is feeling to Ben. Ben empathizes, “I have felt unimportant in many of my relationships. It hurts. I don’t want you to feel like that with me.” He makes a concerted effort to spend more quality time with Ellie and they move forward happily. In this depiction, Ellie is able to identify her feelings and discuss them in a healthy way in order to regain closeness with Ben.
Fourth, an emotionally intelligent person usually attaches securely and heartily. He or she cares deeply about a loved one and longs to be close. In most relationships, this tendency is admirable because the person remains emotionally attuned to others and senses when a loved one is struggling. Utilizing social awareness and empathy, an emotionally intelligent person can be caring, selfless, and accountable in a relationship. Unafraid to identify feelings, admit fault, and offer empathy, the person regularly succeeds in sustaining closeness with loved ones who share similar emotional capacities.
Unfortunately, a narcissist may easily exploit an emotionally intelligent person’s need and capability for closeness and connection. Superficially attached and fixated on control rather than closeness, a narcissist treats the people in his or her inner world more as objects there for his or her gratification than human beings with their own feelings and opinions.
However, the narcissist is able to somehow sense that the emotionally intelligent individual may be deeply hurt if he or she withdraws, so he or she uses this to gain emotional control. He or she emotionally abandons the person and drops him or her like a hot potato, knowing the partner will clamor and claw to regain closeness with him or her. The narcissist dangles the possibility of closeness in front of the partner like a carrot.
Panicked and stunned at the unexplained emotional abandonment, the individual with EI oftentimes fights to regain the closeness by sacrificing aspects of himself or himself to preserve the connection. Of course, this is what the narcissist demands and wants.
Frequently, a person with emotionally intelligent gifts is misperceived as wearing rose-colored glasses, being a pushover, and being too sensitive and needy, however, this may only be true with regard to a narcissist. In most cases, these tendencies are sophisticated, mature, and emotionally evolved. An understanding of how a narcissist manipulates emotional intelligence may help people uphold a true gift and see through narcissistic manipulation.