When someone is narcissistic, not only can they not experience empathy, they are incapable of receiving it. To experience empathy is to understand that someone other than the narcissist is feeling pain and they don't like the chance of the spotlight being taken from them. The whole argument that "You don't know what I'm going through" is an indicator of this. You try to offer them support and they throw it away at the same time they are saying they need to talk to you. You try to share you're experiences with them as a means to express empathy and understanding, but they think that you're trying to make it all about you. They might know that they need the help, but they are unaware of how to receive it or, especially, how to appreciate it. Their pain is their own. Their struggles are their own. Nobody knows what it's like to go through what they are going through and they create their own isolation by refusing to accept that others might have or be experiencing their pain. That would take some of the focus off of them. They want all of the focus and all of the attention and any thing that could prove that they are not the only ones experiencing those troubles is a threat to their "special self." Anything less that total focus on them, they translate that as nothing at all.
They believe they are special, that this could only happen to them. My wife has repeatedly told me that there wasn't any room for her and her trauma and that it was all about me. I know that this isn't true and have told her that it is about both of us. Tonight, she talked to me, more like at me, about some recent deaths in her family. I listened for a long while and expressed "I understand" only for her to tell me that I couldn't possibly understand. She has only recently just experienced death of a close loved one, while I have experienced it many times in my life. I was trying to comfort her by telling her that what she felt and what she was going through was normal. She's experiencing the 5 stages of grief. She got angry at me for that. She told me I couldn't possibly empathize with her and then changed the subject multiple times. It's typical avoidance. I understand that she's hurting and confused. I expressed that, which only upset her even more. Then she started saying hurtful things toward me. I identified that and compassionately called her out on it, repeating that I understand that she's upset and hurting.
She's the same way with her son, believing that, some how, his form of autism is a special case that only she knows how to deal with. I've met parents like her before while working in the field as a professional in applied behavioral analysis. Their narcissism transfers onto their children. What would be more threatening to a narcissist than the possibility that they are not the expert on their own children's behavior, but also that their experience is not a singular case. For the average, healthy mind, this would be relieving. "I'm not alone in this. I can ask others for help and insight." The narcissist doesn't want to admit that they could learn something from someone else.
The sad thing is that narcissism is a psychological defense mechanism. It is the opposite of guilt. After so many years of depression and guilt, it is replaced with narcissism by the psyche as a means to protect the self from any more internal harm from regret. It can come from trauma, either extreme (punctuated) or compounded over time. Only when they can come down from whatever stress continues to feed this anxiety driven defense will they be able to release enough to acknowledge that they might have been wrong. The only problem is that this mental health issue is persistent and creates anxiety out of anxiety.
How do you deal with a narcissist? Almost every thing I've read and ever lecture I've listened to has said, "You don't. You run." The more you push, the harder they push back. By bringing up a single bit of something that might indicate that they were wrong at any point only feeds the beast. The more loving and caring you are, the more guilt they feel and that get's translated as resentment because they "can't be the one at fault." If you try, they blame you. If you leave, they blame you. If you fight back, they blame you. If you love them unconditionally, they resent you. It only gets worse as their own history of deplorable behaviors grows. I don't know of any way to get through to them. Just like addiction, it is something they need to realize is an issue and seek help for it. They can't/won't listen to anyone else about that. What makes it worse than an substance addiction is that there is nothing physical to point a finger at. It's all internal and they've gotten really good at not looking at that part of themselves.
I'm sorry if this hasn't been helpful for anyone dealing with this. The only help writing this has offered me is just venting and repeating things to myself I already knew, but was reluctant to accept because I didn't want to view her in this light. I love her, but love has its blind spots. I wanted to see the best in her and I still do. This is just a MAJOR barrier to that and it frustrates the hell out of me to see her continue in the downward spiral.
A study has concluded that the majority (90+%) of people with substance abuse issues also suffer from narcissism. I've known this for a while, but, recently, it's been manifesting more and more. I feel guilty because I've been letting "us" go. I want her to get help. I don't want this to happen to her and I feel like I should be holding on, but I'm not. I feel like I should be trying, but I'm giving up. I've even started talking with someone new romantically and have felt completely guilty about it. My wife and I are separated. She has told me that we are "never getting back together," but I still feel intense guilt like I'm cheating on her. I haven't physically cheated, but it feels horrible even romancing the notion of someone else. I'm not ready to move on and I'm not about to jump into another relationship, which I've been clear about, but that time isn't very far off and I feel guilty for even a gradual giving in and letting go.
I know I've posted a lot about anxiety. My anxiety has switched to depression. I'm depressed because I'm starting a new life without my wife. I'm depressed that I'm actually doing well without her by my side. I'm depressed and feel guilt that I'm seeing success while she's spiraling. I haven't been offering her any more financial help because I know that only enables her addiction and I feel guilty about that. I need to get some sleep.