Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Emotional Intelligence

When Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Narcissist's Target

Initially, your EI may make you vulnerable to a narcissist.

Key points

  • EI is a gift, but at the beginning of a relationship, it can make you vulnerable to a narcissist.
  • A narcissist, initially, may seem emotionally available because they love-bomb, idealize, and dote on you.
  • Believing you are with another EI person, you may invest in the relationship.

You may be a person who feels for others, “looks in the mirror,” and seeks to make others feel at ease. Your empathy allows you to really understand those around you and respond to them kindly. Although these are wonderful qualities, you may find yourself on the opposite end of a lot of drama. At times, it may be hard to trust your emotional intelligence when you feel continually targeted. It may help to understand the dynamic between emotional intelligence and narcissism.

Your emotionally intelligent qualities make you warm, genuine, engaging, and easy to be with. Your “non-defensiveness” and ability to be vulnerable allows you to establish genuine connections with others. This makes you an appealing person, especially to a narcissist, who may not, authentically, have these capabilities. However, the narcissist’s love-bombing, charm, and sense of humor, can make it seem like they are emotionally available, and because you trust and see the good, you think that the relationship is safe, and you invest.

It's at this point that the narcissist starts to target you. You realize that they are talking about you behind your back, telling untruths about you, excluding you from social events, saying toxic things to you, and emotionally abandoning you at the times when you need them the most. All the while they are telling you that you are the problem and deserve the treatment. It can be confusing, heart-wrenching, and maddening. The narcissist really amps up the drama when they play the victim with outside parties in order to get everyone against you. Now, you seem to be the target for quite a few people.

After a great deal of thought, time, and research, you may recognize that you are in a relationship with a narcissist. You get space and recover, but how do you stop this repetitive cycle from reoccurring? The first step may be to accept that a narcissist is envious of the emotionally intelligent. After all, EI is something they cannot lie, cheat, or manipulate to get, and it is a superpower. This explains why they are initially attracted to you but eventually turn on you as soon as they sense that they cannot take the gift from you.

To boot, a narcissist does not handle jealousy like an emotionally intelligent person does. An EI individual is usually aware of their emotions, seeks to understand them, and then finds a way to act on them constructively. For example, Lisa is envious of Cheryl’s LSAT score. She feels ashamed of her envy, so she talks to her mom about it. Lisa’s mom empathizes and says, “Sometimes it hurts to see someone get what you really want. I get it.” Lisa feels less ashamed and decides she is going to send Cheryl a card congratulating her. As soon as she shuts the mailbox, she feels better.

A narcissist, on the other hand, defends against feeling uncomfortable emotions, like jealousy. So, when they are envious, instead of recognizing what they are feeling, they immediately lash out, defensively, to extinguish the threat to their self-esteem. When a narcissist is jealous of you, they seek to undermine, sabotage, and exclude you.

This can make things hard for emotionally intelligent folks who just want their relationships to be healthy. You trust and see the good and do not want to believe that someone in your life is nefarious. It is often easier to blame yourself. Yet, this dismantles your mental health and prevents you from fully optimizing your emotionally intelligent powers. The answer may be to understand how your EI, initially, makes you vulnerable to a narcissist. Next, you may want to acquire and master the EI skills that help you deal with a narcissist quickly, effectively, and without a lot of collateral damage. In my new book, How to Outsmart a Narcissist, Use Emotional Intelligence to Regain Control at Home, at Work, and in Life, you will find all of the above.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Erin Leonard Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today