"All doubt, despair, and fear become insignificant once the intention of life becomes love." ~Rumi
Here's an outline of the basics of the empath/narcissist dynamic, and hopefully it will add to your current perspective and help you process your experiences within the dynamic.
Everyone has narcissistic traits, so they say, and they exist on a spectrum. What is perhaps less discussed, is that empaths also exist on a spectrum, and it can be viewed as an extension of the narcissistic spectrum. Everyone is somewhere on the continuum, with 'normal' people in the middle or neutral position.
A person is not considered a true narcissist (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders - DSM), unless they exhibit the qualities on the far right of the spectrum, and are diagnosed by a psychiatric professional. For those of us who have dealt with a narcissist however, we can often draw our own conclusions about why our loved one or coworker is abusive to us. If you are unsure, please look into researching the Dark Triad and/or Cluster B personality disorders, and see if you think your situation relates.
Here is what I've learned so far about the traits as they fit into the spectrum. I'll start with the high-functioning empath, and work my way to the high-level narcissist:
High-functioning empaths could be considered the true altruists (givers) of this world. Their distinguishing feature is that they know their inherent worth as divine beings, and they have a high sense of self-love (not to be confused with selfishness or self-importance). They give because they know it is their birthright to share their unconditional love with the world, to spread what overflows from their hearts and the the joy of the soul. This is Joie de Vivre, innocent, as a child who picks wildflowers for his mother. High-functioning empaths do not seek recognition, accolades, or anything in return, not even subconsciously. They also have the quality of a spiritual life, with purpose and meaning. They are not cynics, and their giving does not define their worth. One does not have to be a saint to be a high-functioning empath, they must simply have an unwavering sense of self-love, and thus are able to ask for their own needs to be met, without shame. They know they are worthy.
Mid-level empaths are also givers, they may volunteer often, give to the poor, pick up hitchikers, etc. They do a good job. They may also follow a spiritual path, or they may not. There is however a pattern stemming from an unconscious motivation which underlies the giving. Mid-levels may identify as givers, caring people, nurturers, and healers. They may believe these acts define and exemplify their worth. They may believe that they can fix or heal others. They are often highly motivated to do so, and may even overstep the boundaries of other people for this reason. They may think they know best, may give unsolicited advice, and may meddle in the affairs of others because they truly do want to help. (Does this sound like anyone's mom?). The reason these empaths are not considered high-functioning has to do with the emotion of pride, and the emotion this pride masks, which is shame. Pride says "I can fix this for someone else, I can heal them with my love, I can right the wrongs of the world." It is a noble enough thought, but it belies a hidden and unconscious shame, which is where the lack of inherent self-worth comes in. There is a touch of unfulfilled self-love. It says, "I do not think my needs are worthy, because I am not worthy, and I can therefore not ask for my needs to be met. I am ashamed of my needs. If I give, others will see my worth, and they will give to me in return so that my needs can also be met." What happens when the recipient of this giving does not meet the unspoken needs of the giver? Displaced anger and resentment. Edit: It has recently been brought to my awareness by a friend that giving where it is not asked for or welcome is actually a matter that violates consent. It is contrary to creating a strong consent culture. Thoughts?
Low-functioning empaths lack self-love and self-worth. Of course their ego may tell them they love themselves, but their actions and behaviors do not convey that. A major symptom of self-love deficiency is extreme codependency. Often this codependency comes with sex or relationship addictions, and/or drug and alcohol abuse. They are most likely to be involved in abusive relationships or sketchy sexual interactions. They are incredibly self-sacrificing, and may have even been religiously or culturally programmed to submit to man and god unwaveringly. They also exhibit a great deal of pride in their belief that staying with an abusive partner, self-sacrificing, or martyring themselves will heal their partners and secure their redemption in paradise. They may believe they are doing God's work. But as mentioned before, this pride masks a great amount of shame, maybe even (subconscious) self-hatred. They will give without return until they simply shut-down. They often end up hospitalized if they are being drained endlessly as a primary source by a narcissist or abusive partner, and they may lack the will or desire to live. Low-functioning empaths are quintessential and die-hard enablers.
Neutral/'normal' people have equal amounts of empathic and narcissistic traits. They are not likely to become involved with narcissists, as neither themselves nor the narcissist will have much interest. These people probably have decent boundaries and trust structures within their personalities.
Low-level narcissists, as all narcissists, lack empathy and the ability to take authentic accountability for their own actions. They act instinctively from a 'dark place,' or 'dark presence,' and generally have lower cognitive function than their mid and high level narc counterparts. They are most likely to react with brute force and violence than a more subtle manipulation tactic. They are essentially wife-beaters.
Mid-level narcissists are a bit more cunning. They may have high cognitive function, be intelligent, and highly skilled in their manipulation and abuse tactics. They also may act from a 'dark inner presence,' as they cannot take genuine accountability, yet they are not self-aware. They do not realize what they are doing, and while they may scheme and plot, they do not do so with full intention. Their disordered personality acts instinctively, which is how they have honed such sophisticated abuse tactics. It's simply what they have done throughout their lives, and it's all they know. They have no desire to change and thus will not change. They may resort to violence in many cases, but often covert tactics are employed first.
High-level narcissists are self-aware. As such they may be highly intelligent, and highly capable of conscious manipulation. They may take great enjoyment from watching other people suffer, and also feeding their incessant need for power as a result of this awareness.
Narcissists use others as appliances to draw fuel from. They grossly objectify other human beings, and will even use their own children as pawns for triangulation. They may use gaslighting, blame shifting, physical violence, love-bombing, seduction tactics, romance, and other means of emotionally hooking others into their harem. They will always seek to serve themselves, and any seemingly contrary action is only employed to get something they want. They sit on gunpowder. and are potentially very dangerous if their facade or fuel sources are threatened.
Information here is taken from numerous personal experiences, information from survivors, and the work of various professionals including Abdul H. Saad, a clinician with Vital Mind Psychology, and psychotherapist and author Ross Rosenberg, who developed a theory of self-orientation I find to be very useful.
Eden is a quantum and shamanic practitioner and herbalist who enjoys exploring interdimensional realms, earth-based spirits and practices, planetary gridpoints, shadow integration, and Inkan medicine ways of Q'ero lineage. She identifies as empath, high-sensitive, and starseed. Eden works in service to spiritual evolution through love, and the reclamation of spiritual sovereignty.