Many of you find difficulty in interpreting behaviours to determine whether you are dealing with a narcissist, a normal or an empath.
This is understandable for two reasons :-
- A lack of understanding about the behaviours of the various groups of people; and
- The presence of emotional thinking which clouds the application of logic.
To help you gain some understanding and to marshal logic for the purposes of controlling The Enemy Within (namely emotional thinking) it is time to talk cake and one cake in particular The Empathy Cake.
To understand the various layers of the Empathy Cake, we are going to use a straight forward scenario. Paul works in an office. He works with Linda. Linda has a rather large nose, so Paul always calls Linda ‘Babs’ after Barbara Streisand whenever he sees her. Linda does not like this. It upsets her being called ‘Babs’, she is sensitive about the size of her nose and wishes it was smaller. Her feelings are hurt by this label.
Layer One – Instinctive Emotional Empathy (“IEE”)
Here Paul is an empath. He does not know Linda very well, but he knows her well enough as a colleague. He would not call her Babs. He sees she has a large nose but it never occurs to him to call her by a name. Why is this? Paul, as an empath, has Instinctive Emotional Empathy which means he just does not do certain things which would be problematic. Accordingly his IEE means he respects boundaries, does not behave with a sense of entitlement, he demonstrates accountability, he takes other people into consideration, he acts with honesty and decency. He is not a saint but he has this instinctive behaviours because as an empath he has IEE. He has a natural ‘buffer’ which means that he does not engage in particular behaviours which would be viewed as problematic, harmful or difficult. He does not have to think about how he behaves, he just behaves in this way.
This is not to say that he always behaves this way. His IEE can be affected adversely, so that he might insult somebody, however this would be for instance
- His IEE is reduced by a sporadic external agent such as bereavement or fatigue
- His IEE is reduced by the application of an external abusing agent, namely the behaviour of a narcissist
- The IEE is reduced because the target is well known to Paul and he knows that this person is not offended by the label/insult because he has used it many times before, the target has always laughed at it and is a longstanding friend for example.
Paul as an empath operates in an instinctive manner, without having to think about it so that he avoid causes problems and therefore he never calls Linda a name.
Layer Two – Safeguarding Emotional Empathy (“SEE”)
This is applicable to both empaths and empathic people.
In this instance Paul sees Linda and thinks
‘Blimey she has a big hooter, just like Barbara Streisand’. He considers calling out to her and saying ‘Hey there Babs’. However, his emotional empathy kicks in through an active thought process and he thinks to himself,
‘Wait a moment. She might not like it if I say that. Plus, I would not like it if I had a big nose and someone called me Barry Manilow or Cyrano De Bergerac.’
Accordingly, he does not call her a name. He reigns in the behaviour by a braking effect on his thoughts and actions as his emotional empathy safeguards his thoughts and behaviours. This applies to empaths, thus they have the first two layers of the Empathy Cake influencing their behaviours and also to empathic people (who are not empaths).
So such a person might find a wallet with money in it in the street and they think about keeping the money but then consider this might cause particular hardship to someone and that they would prefer it if someone found their wallet that they would return it with the money intact.
Layer Three – Activated Emotional Empathy
In this instance, Paul does indeed call Linda, ‘Babs’ and does so each time he sees her. He says it with a grin and he intends it as a joke. He does not realise that it is troubling to Linda. Linda decides to act and takes Paul to one side. She, as an empath, empathic person or normal person, does not need to exert control over Paul but she wants the behaviour to be addressed to stop herself feeling hurt. She approaches this desire to resolve the matter in a constructive and low-key fashion. The conversation proceeds in this fashion :-
Linda “Paul, I wonder if I could just have a quick chat about something personal with you in the break-out room?”
Paul – ” Sure, that’s on your mind?”
Linda – “I know you call me Babs and I am sure you do not mean anything by it and just mean it as a joke, but I would prefer it if you didn’t say it to me. I am a bit sensitive about the size of my nose, you see. Is that okay?”
Paul – “Oh sorry Linda, I didn’t realise it was upsetting you. Sorry about that. Sure, I won’t say it again, I’m sorry I’ve hurt your feelings. No problem, Linda it is from now on and thanks for raising it with me this way, I appreciate you coming to me and explaining.”
Linda – “Thank you. That’s okay, I prefer to work things out in a low-key manner.”
Paul was unaware (as he lacks Instinctive Emotional Empathy and Safeguarding Emotional Empathy) that his behaviour was hurtful. In any way, his emotional intelligence was lacking. He neither had a built-in buffer which meant he just did not behave in this way, nor did his mind alert him to the fact that his intended jokey epitaph might not be well-received. However, when he is alerted to the fact that his behaviour is upsetting someone, his emotional empathy means that he responds in a positive fashion and he is genuinely remorseful and thereafter adjusts his behaviour as requested.
This is the behaviour of normals. They will behave in a particular way and the response to that behaviour of course depends on circumstance and the type of individual or individuals on the receiving end, but where they are alerted to the fact that their behaviour is causing a problem, they will respond with Activated Emotional Empathy. In a way, normals are somewhat short-sighted but not ‘bad’ people and when ‘bad’ behaviour is pointed out to them, they will adjust, but otherwise if there is no complaint they will carry on. They are not oblivious to their behaviour but do not regard it as problematic, witness Paul didn’t think Linda would be upset because he meant it as a joke, but his emotional empathy is not developed sufficiently to cause him just not to behave like that to begin with or to arrest his behaviour by considering how Linda might feel about being called ‘Babs’ before he started doing it.
Layer Four – Minimal Emotional Empathy
Paul has been calling Linda ‘Babs’. She does not like it. She approaches him about it in the way describe in Layer Three above. This time, when she flags it with Paul, he respond thus :-
‘Oh come on, don’t be such a softy, it’s only a joke.’
‘Well,” says Linda, ‘you may see it as a joke, but I do not like it. Please stop it.’
‘Really? It’s just a joke you know, there’s no need to get so worked up about it.’
‘I can see why you think it’s just a joke, but it upsets me, Paul, so I am asking, politely, for you to stop it.’
‘Well, if it really is such a problem for you and it’ll stop you getting your panties in a twist, but it is just banter.’
‘Not to me it isn’t Paul and if you keep doing it, I will have to raise it with HR.’
‘Alright, alright, calm down, no need for that. I won’t say it again.’
Paul took longer to appreciate Linda’s feelings, he was dismissive of them and needed both persuading that it was problematic to her (in effect he struggled to understand why it was problematic owing to his Minimal Emotional Empathy) and also the potential issue of HR getting involved (which Paul did not want) meant he eventually agreed about it. Paul wold likely moan about Linda being over-sensitive, to his friends, still call her ‘Babs’ behind her back but stop doing so in front of her. He does not have a need to control the situation (as a narcissist ) would when she challenges him about his behaviour, but his response is one of resistance and disbelief owing to his Minimal Emotional Empathy. This is the response of someone who is narcissistic but not a narcissist, they have some emotional empathy, but not a lot.
Layer Five – No Emotional Empathy
Linda again raises the issue with Paul. Paul responds as follows :-
‘What are you talking about, I’ve never called you that name.’
‘Er, yes you have Paul, you say it every time you see me.’
‘Nonsense, you are mistaken.’
‘No, I am not, you call me Babs because of the size of my nose.’
‘No I don’t, I’ve never said it all. Why are you being like this.’
Paul has no emotional empathy at all. He is a narcissist. Linda is challenging him. Her annoyance and upset is fuel to him, but her insistence that he has done something wrong offends Paul’s sense of entitlement (to do and say as he pleases), offends his lack of accountability (by trying to make him accountable), demonstrates his lack of boundary recognition and feels to Paul (unconsciously) that Linda is trying to exert control over him. Being a narcissist, Paul MUST reject this control over him and therefore his First Narcissistic Line of Defence (denial) is activated. Since it is a ‘he said/she said’ scenario, this First Line of Defence is applicable.
Linda will not withdraw the challenge however, so Paul (genuinely believing he has never said it because his narcissism blinds him to having done so in order to exert control) continues to deny. Linda must back down so Paul has control.
‘Look Paul, I know you might be embarrassed about this but you have said it and I am asking you politely to stop it, please?’
More Challenge Fuel.
“And I am telling you that I have never called you this name, right?’ Paul responds as his narcissism defends him and presses to cause Linda to withdraw her challenge. Linda pauses and feels this is going nowhere and she is feeling more upset by Paul’s denial and also confused. Has he said something else that sounds like Babs perhaps.
‘So you’re saying you’ve never called me Babs?’ she asks.
‘That’s what I am saying.’ Paul says firmly. His tone is aggressive as is his stance.
‘Right, okay, well, if you say that’s the case, then we will leave it.’
Linda backs down, unnerved and uncomfortable with the experience. Paul lets her walk away because she has backed down, he has control and all is well in his world. Linda remains upset. Paul as a narcissist and lacking emotional empathy has not helped her.
Let’s examine some alternative outcomes.
A. Linda Stands Firm
‘You have said it Paul and if you do not stop, I am going to tell HR.’
‘I have not, but go ahead and tell HR, they will do nothing.’
Maintained denial. Grandiosity (‘HR cannot touch me’). Lack of accountability (to Lind and to HR).
‘Then that is what I will do.’
‘It’s your funeral’ says Paul and he walks off. By walking off he is in effect giving Linda a Silent Treatment and asserting control over her by declaring ‘this is over, I have won because I do not care’. It also shows once again his lack of emotional empathy, his sense of entitlement and lack of accountability. He has however asserted control and Linda’s rebellion is quashed in that instant. He may have something to deal with later but that is not his concern, he needs control NOW.
B. Linda Brings An Ally
Paul maintains the denial so Linda turns to Meghan.
‘Please tell Paul, Meghan, that you have heard him.’
‘You say it all the time Paul, I have heard you repeatedly.’
More Challenge Fuel. Paul may maintain denial (First Line of the Defence) or if his narcissism feels that this corroboration (particularly let’s say if Meghan is of seniority to Paul) breaches the First Line of the Defence, he unleashes the Second Line (alternative manipulation).
‘Well, she started it, she calls me names, so I am just giving her back what she says to me.’ (Projection)
‘I am not saying Babs, I am saying Dabs, as in Linda’s surname (she is called Dabrinski) so it’s just a short form of her surname.’ (Lie/Deflection)
‘I am not saying Babs, I am saying Dabs, as in Linda’s surname (she is called Dabrinski) so it’s just a short form of her surname. Jesus, why so sensitive. That’s the problem with having so many women in the workplace, you get on your PC horses far too often. (Lie/Deflection and Insult)
‘She has never complained about it before, she usually laughs at it. I think she is only complaining about it now because I knocked her back when she asked me out. (Lie/Blameshift)
There are a variety of differing outcomes based on circumstance and the school of narcissist that Paul is, the fundamental point however is that he lacks emotional empathy so he has no instinctive buffer against this behaviour, his sense of entitlement, need for control and lack of boundary recognition cause him to call Linda this name and when it is pointed out to him, his lack of emotional empathy and his need for control result in the outcomes described.
Accordingly, you can use this Empathy Cake across a wide range of interactions with people to help you assess where they fit on the behaviour spectrum and as always, I, as your expert, are on hand through consultation to assist you fine tune and interpret what is really going on and what you can do about it.