I Was A Narcissist With No Empathy — Until My Father And Brother Were Murdered

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woman with broken mirror

I used to have no empathy or ability to feel anything but my own needs and wants.

I was raised in a physically and sexually violent and traumatizing household starting from a very young age.

As a result, as a child, I never got to work through the stages where one develops essential developmental skills such as empathy. Even basic cognitive skills like multiplication or whole years of memories are missing because I wasn’t home in my own body for many years. 

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Instead of having the capacity and presence to learn those basic developmental skills, I learned strategies that helped me adapt and survive a traumatizing upbringing. And what those survival adaptations ended up turning into were narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders.

On a certain level, life was easier to navigate when I could not feel empathy or compassion. My decision-making was clear. It was reptilian, calculated, and bloodless, and the only question I ever needed to answer was, “How will this benefit me?”

And then I acted and behaved accordingly.

Sorting relationships and making decisions was also much neater because everything and everyone was something I commodified or used.

Getting what I wanted was the only goal that mattered. Lying, cheating, betraying, stealing, manipulating, and conniving — all behaviors I did a lot of at the time — was fair game because my agenda was unhampered by feelings.

Like most callous and entitled people, I didn’t care about consequences unless it got in the way of me getting what I wanted. Or if it got me in trouble. And I never got into serious trouble. 

By serious trouble, I mean prison. 

Emotional and relational troubles, yes. But I didn’t consider those issues trouble. Besides, I believed at the time, if I did experience any of those issues, it was everyone else’s fault, not mine.

That’s not the case anymore. I have intricate and more subtle feelings and emotional and affective empathy now. 

To be clear, most people who have personality disorders or adaptations that skew towards narcissism or schizoid rarely, if ever, develop cognitive empathy (the ability to recognize and understand another’s person’s mental state or emotional state and respond accordingly), let alone develop emotional/affective empathy.

Emotional/affective empathy is the ability to emotionally “resonate” with someone else’s feelings while simultaneously understanding that those emotions are distinct from one’s own. 

To repeat, developing anything close to these skills is rare for someone who started where I did.

This didn’t come easy.

I was in therapy for many years, starting at around age 17. But the emotional and psychological Kevlar that are the cornerstones of narcissism made any honest self-awareness or responsibility on my part impossible.

What changed me and made actual psychological health and self-awareness possible was the blunt force of another trauma: specifically, my father and brother's sudden and violent murders.

This happened almost 25 years ago. At the time, I was on the road performing in a show. And one night, I got a call at 3 am and learned that my father and brother were both dead and that I needed to come home. 

Frantically, I began to pack. But five minutes in, on some long-abandoned level, I realized that despite all the cruelty and abuse I had suffered at his hand while growing up, I somehow still loved my father. This was entirely beyond my comprehension. But the reality that I somehow still loved him was inescapable.

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That realization brought me to my literal knees and started to rip through my narcissistic defenses. The love I had for him underneath my defenses was a death blow to how I had organized myself to survive.

In the decades since, that reality has systemically torn down my narcissistic armoring. It forced me to build the middle ground or die and turned me into a human being.

After decades of building neuronal pathways that didn’t exist and moving through the sometimes excruciating process of developing the grey between the black and white extremes of my disorders, I now can have, hold, and feel feelings.

Miraculously, I am in a peaceful, loving relationship with my husband. Our relationship is intimate and fulfilling.

I can experience genuine happiness and joy, and I feel happiness and joy for others.

I can sincerely celebrate when people have good things happen to them and grieve with them when something tragic or terrible befalls them.

And I feel peace and a profound rightness with my emotions and in my body, something I never used to feel. My feelings are complex and nuanced.

But most remarkably …I experience love and connection and understanding in a way that I never knew I needed — need like one needs food or water.

Over the decades, through a lot of therapy, commitment, and very, very hard work, I’ve gone from being a cold, malignant narcissist with no actual ability to feel for anyone to being empathic and sensing people and things around me deeply.

At this stage in my life, I have spent as much time in the feeling/empathy/connected world as I had previously in my reptilian world. And to be perfectly honest, there are days,  weeks, really, when I wish I could somehow go back to just feeling …less.

That I could, like in the Matrix, take the blue pill and go back to being contentedly ignorant and delusional and forget the unsettling red-pill-reality of how not in control I am of most things.

I sometimes yearn for the times when I was blissfully unaware of how inherent in having anything (love, joy, success, peace, etc.) lies the mournful and sometimes terrifying specter of losing it all.

Now that I feel things deeply, what I’ve discovered at times is a sort of dreadful, chasm-like difference between getting (conniving, manipulating, doing, etc.) and having (receiving, opening, accepting, surrendering, etc.).

Having  —  truly having  —  feels like I am forever holding the most precious things to me, like an egg, in the palm of my hand. And I cannot clutch them or chuck them away out of fear. 

It’s work. It’s a lot of gruesome work.

But being reptilian in human skin is costly, and I wouldn’t trade it.

When I was without empathy, my level set emotions were emptiness, dissatisfaction, boredom, malcontentedness, and a quiet, constant bitter, seething anger. That emotional cesspool was a river that ran under my life all the time. 

Only I had no idea that was how I felt. 

When I was a cold-blooded mercenary, I never had to care or risk feeling vulnerable.

But the act of protecting and shielding myself with my own rigid, cold, self-righteousness also destroyed the possibility of my ever being happy or feeling any amount of love.

That life is hell.

No. Having empathy is better.

With all its risks, ongoing surrender, and complications, having empathy is much, much better.

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Ana Del Castillo is a women’s Rightness Expert and Certified Empowerment Coach with over 20 years of experience. Follow her on her website.