Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

A lack of empathy makes it hard to engage in a meaningful relationship with a person. Being empathetic is an innate human quality, whereby we can appreciate the feelings of other people, regardless of whether those feelings also affect us. What about those who lack empathy?

Why do some people lack empathy?

Being unable to show empathy is often linked to low emotional intelligence. This means that if someone in your life seems unable to relate to how you are feeling, it might not be deliberate.

Having low emotional intelligence means that a person does not have the resources to be able to grasp feelings outside of the spectrum of their own experience. This is similar to a very young child, who has not yet reached emotional maturity. They are the center of their universe and do not feel a response when somebody else is emotional.

In other cases, having little or no empathy can be a trait of a narcissistic person or somebody suffering from an anti-social behavior condition.

Signs of people who lack empathy and examples of their behavior in everyday life:

1. Lack of close relationships

Someone unable to relate to others will find it very difficult to establish long-term relationships. They may have no or very few friends and struggle to maintain a bond even with their immediate family members. This is because a lack of empathy extends to everybody. Thus, they might not feel the emotional bond or familial connection that most of us experience.

Have you ever had a colleague who doesn’t ever contribute to a birthday collection, or won’t bother to sign a card for a sick colleague? They probably don’t see why they should inconvenience themselves with the concerns of other people.

2. Unusual responses to grief

Having no empathy can show through in times of distress. If you have suffered a bereavement, and somebody in your life does not seem interested or offer any kind of condolences, they probably cannot relate to your grief.

As an example, if you have lost a pet that you loved very much, most people will feel sorry for you and understand the sadness and sense of loss you will be feeling. A person without any empathy will not understand why you are upset, and might even make unkind comments.

3. An inability to share in others’ happiness

Here is another example of a behavior that is typical for a person who lacks empathy. If you have had a baby, celebrated graduating, or become engaged, your friends, colleagues, and family will be delighted for you! If there is somebody who doesn’t seem particularly interested or has not offered any congratulations, they may lack the empathy to appreciate your happiness.

It is a sad by-product that someone experiencing this is unable to share in others’ joy. It works in a similar way to being unable to relate to grief.

4. A strong set of irrefutable personal beliefs

An individual who cannot relate to emotions often has a very firm stance on their own beliefs. Thus, they will find it extremely difficult to accept in any situation that they might be wrong. If you have ever had a conversation with a person who will argue black is white – seemingly for the sake of it – they might simply lack the capacity to relate to your argument.

Lacking any kind of emotional maturity renders a person incapable of reconsidering their ideas, or understanding that they might not be right.

5. Egotistical

With an absence of empathy comes a strong sense of self. A person who cannot empathize will likely be very egotistical, as they prioritize themselves in every situation. People may have an inflated ego for many reasons. However, in case of those with low emotional intelligence, this stems from emotional immaturity.

So an emotionally immature adult will often behave in a childish manner. These kinds of people crave attention all the time, act irresponsibly and are unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. This could apply to anything, and some examples of this behavior include pushing in the line at the coffee shop to driving inconsiderately.

6. A sense of entitlement

This trait is particularly noticeable in a group dynamic. A person who lacks empathy will often talk endlessly about him/herself. They will brush off any turn in the conversation that does not center on them. This behavior is known as conversational narcissism, and many people can have it without actually being narcissists.

You may know a few examples of such people in your life. You might notice a friend who will ask continually for favours, without any expectation of returning them. It might be that they simply do not understand why they should invest comparable effort into the relationship, and nor consider how their actions might be making you feel.

7. Reacting awkwardly to emotion

Whilst there are many reasons why people find it hard to know how to respond to emotion, people who can’t make an emotional connection will struggle to react in an appropriate way.

Sometimes, emotional outbursts might be a little over the top, and potentially embarrassing. However, hiding your feelings is never healthy, and a few tears to cope with a stressful situation is an ordinary reaction. People who cannot empathize will not know what to do in this circumstance, and will often try to distance themselves completely.

Life without empathy

It can be just as hard to try and get along with someone who doesn’t seem to care about anything but themselves, as it can be being a person who doesn’t grasp the basic human reaction of empathy.

Not being able to relate to your partner, not understanding why people feel a certain way, and being unable to consider any thought process other than your own is a very isolating way to live.

Try not to take it personally; not everyone has reached emotional maturity, and sadly, some people never will. A lack of empathy is not a reflection on you, or the authenticity of your feelings, but is an unfortunate inability to appreciate them.


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Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

You tear up when you see commercials for abused and neglected animals. You cry with a friend who shared her feelings about a recent breakup. You even feel “touched” when you meet a stranger who hints at being lonely. You are seemingly compassionate and moved when it relates to those outside your inner circle.

But then you get near those closest and things change. You are cold and intolerant. You listen to your partner or your children as if you were a robot. You find that you are withholding, judgmental and cut off. Frankly, you feel the opposite of compassionate: disconnected and bothered.

Your empathy tank is low for those closest to you. Suddenly you feel as much empathy for them as you would your common criminal. Your ability to understand and share their feelings seems gone. So why can you feel empathetic towards strangers, acquaintances,and animals, but not with your own inner circle? Obviously it is more complicated with those who are in your inner circle, but there are four core reasons why your empathy is lacking.

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

The first and greatest reason is ANGER. This emotion blocks off your capacity to feel warmth for those you are the closest to. Instead of concern, you feel numb when your partner tells you that he was demoted. He is crying, panicked, and worried — and you are cold. You feel like lecturing, perhaps scolding him, citing the reasons that he should have listened to you or followed your advice. Instead of empathy, all you can drum up is contempt.

The second reason that you don’t feel empathy for those closest to you is because you are too busy PROTECTING yourself. You ask yourself as you read this, “Why would I need to protect myself?” Imagine that your sister is crying and in pain. Unconsciously, you feel her pain is a kind of virus: You fear getting “close” to her feelings/virus because you imagine you will “catch” the same thing. If you allow yourself the luxury of supporting her and actually “feeling” for her, then you imagine that you are “closer” to experiencing pain.

The third reason for being emotionally cut off is to avoid IDENTIFYING yourself in the other. For example, if your child wasn’t invited to a party, you may try to talk her out of being upset. Her left out feelings hit too close to home. They remind you of your childhood. You remember all too well how it felt to be left out. On the other hand, you may be contemptuous of her social status because you were always popular. Therefore, you can’t afford to be empathic for fear that she will misunderstand your compassion for acceptance. Your attempt to rationalize her feelings away are an attempt to cut off your own painful feelings, either for her or for yourself.

The fear of INTIMACY is the fourth reason for being emotionally distant. It is much easier to feel distant from your loved ones than for us to feel close and intimate. Vulnerability to hurt and loss come with closeness. Risking yourself is what is needed to feel intimate and empathic with your inner circle. Often times, when it relates to our children, we have trouble separating and deciphering what is their pain and what is our pain, leaving us particularly blocked off from our own empathic capacity.

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

If you recognize that you feel empathy for what seems like everyone in the natural world except for those closest to you, there is simply a disconnect or a WALL. You are protecting yourself from hurt. You are compassionate, but you are blocked. There are ways to expand and unclog your empathy, but only if you understand and recognize the plaque in your feelings. The stints you need will be an outpatient procedure at your local therapist’s office. In the mean time, practice acceptance.

Be thoughtful. Notice your thoughts the next time a loved one is asking you to listen to them. What’s going on in your mind? Do you notice disapproval? Do you have any physical sensations? Can you symbolically put your detachment aside and remind yourself the meaning this person has to you?

Truly Listen. Don’t tune out. Instead, actually allow yourself to get into the other person’s shoes. What does it feel like? Do you feel like leaving the room? Is the sadness unbareable?

Resist the Urge to Fix the Problem. Sometimes when our loved ones complain or have a problem, our first instinct is to feel defensive. Or maybe we want to quickly solve the problem so the pain or sadness will go away. We all just want to be heard and understood. If this sounds too simple to work, maybe you are too comfortable being uncomfortable.

Why is A Lack of Empathy in Relationships so Hard?

The level of happiness, intimacy, and connection that you feel in your relationships will always be directly linked to the level of empathy that both you and your partner have.

The same goes for the relationship that you have with yourself. The level of confidence, self-love, and power that you feel is, one-hundred percent of the time, linked to the level of empathy that you have for yourself.

If you have no empathy for yourself, you’ll keep chasing love, acceptance, and validation from those who cannot empathize with you either (but that you somehow, continue to have an abundance of empathy for).

Empathetic bankruptcy is the common denominator of all toxic relationships.

So, what do you do when you’re in love with someone who lacks empathy? How do you deal with an unempathetic partner?

Is it even possible to date (or have any kind of relationship with) someone who has a lack of empathy?

What is Empathy?

Wikipedia defines empathy as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s about feeling and being there with someone – even if you haven’t been through exactly what they are going through. It’s also about being self-aware.

If there is a lack of empathy in your relationship, you don’t have a mutual and healthy relationship. You have a very painful transaction.

In the past, I would overly-empathize with others but continued to find myself in relationships where the other person had zero empathy for me.

We will only tolerate relationships with people who treat us no worse than we treat ourselves. You can’t give a dollar that you don’t have. I didn’t have any true empathy to give others because I had no empathy for myself. The “empathy” that I felt for others was nothing more than me feeling for them. I would make it all about me needing to “be good enough,” and then tie my worth to the impossibility of ever being able to do so. For me, empathy meant giving second chances that were never earned and excusing sh*tty behavior from toxic people. That’s not what empathy is about.

Empathy is when you can be there and feel with someone, not just for them.

I used to find myself in relationships and friendships where I felt more alone than if I were to be physically alone in a jail cell. This is because there was a lack of empathy.

If you’re involved in a relationship where you feel as though there is a lack of empathy, here’s what you need to know:

  • Just like you can’t be a millionaire and claim poverty when it suits you, you cannot be selectively empathetic. You can’t.

The reason why some people seem to “withhold”/have no empathy for you and so readily give it out to others is NOT because you aren’t good enough. They do this because, as long as they can prove to you that they have the capacity to “empathize” with others, they can keep you in a state of fear-based hopefulness that one day, if you are “good enough,” they will do the same for you. This is what makes you ignore red flags and stay in toxic relationships. You’re constantly trying to “be better” for and understand them on a deeper level.

These people aren’t truly empathizing because selective empathy is impossible. They have no empathy for themselves and therefore, give out selective validation wrapped in a cloak of pseudo “empathy.”

  • Empathy and vulnerability go hand-in-hand. If someone can’t be vulnerable, they have no empathy to give. In order to connect and empathize with you, they would have to be vulnerable enough to connect to something within themselves.
  • Just like empathy cannot be selective, it also can’t be conditional. If anyone puts conditions around their empathy, that’s not empathy. It’s “let’s see how desperate you are for my validation/approval.”
  • Judgment and empathy cannot coexist. To judge is to pedestal yourself while failing to see the very connectedness that empathy is defined by – the connectedness that we all share.

How do you deal with people who lack empathy?

Understand that without the other person being able to put themselves in your shoes, feel with you, and see themselves within you and your experience… a healthy relationship will never exist. Your love and devotion will never be enough to extract empathy from unempathetic people.

Yes, this can be very painful to acknowledge and accept but I promise you, the pain you that feel in that acceptance will be short-lived and will ultimately, translate into a lifetime of peace.

Accepting people for who they are is scary. It’s scary because the moment that you stop fighting it, tying your worth to it, and trying to make sense out of nonsense, you have to do the one thing that you’ve been avoiding at all costs…

Accept yourself for who you’ve become and use that acceptance as motivation to rise above your triggers.

If you find that you keep getting involved with people who have no empathy, the best thing you can do is start to work on empathizing with yourself.

And the only way to do that is through vulnerability. Be the advocate, best friend, and hero you needed when you were a child. Be vulnerable enough to acknowledge what your younger self needed and tied his/her worth to not receiving.

If you’re involved with someone who lacks empathy, let go of the expectation that one day, they will magically empathize for someone better. Let go of ALL expectations and remember…

Once you know that you’re dealing with an unempathetic person, if you keep re-engaging, that’s not them hurting you, that’s you continuing to immerse your head in the toilet and then cry because you’re sick and smelly. Keep your boundaries intact, enforce your standards, and understand that you wouldn’t be in this situation if you had more empathy for yourself.

Unempathetic people are all about themselves. This is why they’re so impactful on you and your emotions. They withhold from you and keep you in the emotional desert. And then, when they do give you a little drop, you overvalue it and mistake it for a gallon. It’s just a dirty drop.

And just because they appear to give gallons to others, that doesn’t mean that you’re only worth a drop (or that the gallons they’re giving out aren’t contaminated).

+ If you need further and more personalized help with your relationship, please look into working with me here.

Why friends sometimes shun each other when they should be there instead.


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“You OK? You seem distracted,” asks Alice’s coworker.

“Yes, I’m OK”, Alice responds. “It’s just that my mother is in the hospital again, and I’m not sure she’s going to make it this time.” Alice’s voice cracks, and she reaches for a tissue to wipe her tears. When she looks up, she is surprised to find her coworker has vanished.

To make matters worse, her coworker avoids her for the rest of the day. He is even hostile when Alice asks for information she needs to complete a report.

Later that evening, her coworker sends her an email that simply says, “Sorry. Couldn’t take it.”

Most of us have had interactions like this that leave us scratching our heads. We can reverse the sexes in the above scenario or have both parties be the same sex. It doesn’t matter. It still surprises and chagrins us when people we consider friends—decent, kind people—seem to abandon us when we most need emotional support. They are clearly not sadists who delight in the suffering of others or psychopaths who are indifferent to it. So their behavior is perplexing.

This kind of interaction can lead to anger, judgment, and recriminations—the “you don’t care about me” outrage response. But here is the problem: Both parties feel their feelings have been trampled.

The Empathy Response Can Lead to Emotional Overwhelm

Consider what happens inside us when we view the suffering of others. When we experience physical pain or emotional distress ourselves, a neural circuit becomes activated (anterior cingulate cortex—or ACC–and insula). Research shows this same circuit gets activated when we see others suffer pain or emotional distress. So seeing the suffering of others causes us to suffer as well.

Although this response is crucial for social interaction, it is indeed unpleasant. If that circuit is hit too frequently (excessive sharing of others’ negative experiences), it can lead to emotional burnout.

And so people develop strategies for protecting themselves. Some do what Alice’s coworker did—put physical and emotional distance between themselves and the suffering person. Some stay present but emotionally dissociate, which the sufferer usually experiences as emotional abandonment.

Coping with the Emotional Overwhelm of Empathy

A crucial part of socialization is learning how to protect oneself from being overwhelmed by the suffering of others while still giving them the support they need and deserve.

Research suggests that the answer to this dilemma may be compassion training. Compassion is defined as a feeling of concern for the suffering of others (rather than experiencing distress in the face of the suffering of others.) Programs aimed at training compassion have been found to foster prosocial (helping) behavior while evoking a feeling of emotional well-being.

Recent research led by Max Planck scientist Olga Klimicki showed that compassion training actually affects which neural circuits are activated when viewing the suffering of others.

This was the basic design of the experiment:

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

The affect group viewed three blocks of video clips that consisted of a high-emotion and a low-emotion video clip (10-18 seconds long). The clips were taken from newscasts or documentaries. The high-emotion video showed people suffering physical or emotional distress. The low-emotion vides showed everyday scenes that did not include suffering. fMRI brain scans were taken while the women viewed the videos. After each video, the women rated how much empathy, positive feelings and negative feeling they had experienced while seeing the video. They were told that “empathy” meant how much they shared the emotion of the persons in the video clips.

The first session was the baseline—the women simply viewed the videos and their natural responses were recorded. Following this pre-training viewing session, the women received “empathy training” to enhance their empathetic responses. This training consisted of instructing them to focus on resonating with the suffering they were viewing. The second viewing session followed this training. Following this, they received “compassion training” which consisted of meditation for directing love and compassion toward themselves and others. They then viewed the third and final set of videos. (A control group completed a memory task that consisted of learning lists of neutral words.)


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The results were quite striking: As expected, the women showed more distress to the high-emotion clips than the low-emotion ones, both in their fMRI scans and their own ratings. The scans showed activation of the “empathy circuit” (ACC and insula). Their distress was enhanced following empathy training—greater activation in their empathy circuitry, higher negative emotion ratings, and lower positive emotion ratings.

But importantly, compassion training reversed these effects: Negative emotion ratings returned to baseline levels, positive emotion ratings surpassed baseline levels, and a brain circuit associated with reward and affiliation became activated (medial orbitofrontal cortex and striatum).

The researchers concluded that compassion can be trained as a coping strategy to overcome empathic distress and strengthen resilience. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the suffering of others, those trained in compassion can offer help while simultaneously deriving peace and satisfaction from reducing the suffering of others.

Empathy Essential Reads

Understanding Others

Can You Have Too Much Empathy?

Final note: You may be wondering why only women served as participants in the study. The answer can be found here.

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

Last update: 12 September, 2020

Some people are lights in our lives, while others darken our path and make it difficult to travel. In the same way, there are people who would do unimaginable things to help us and others who wouldn’t move a finger if our life depended on it. The latter lack empathy.

There are relationships that enrich our path and others that don’t. Have you ever noticed that there are people who just can’t understand that you make mistakes? Have you talked to people who don’t take your thoughts and feelings into account? These people lack empathy. They’re not interested in putting themselves in another person’s shoes.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s reality while thinking about or being aware of their feelings. There are people who don’t have this quality. In this article, we explain what these people are like and what disorders are related with the inability to empathize. We also talk about how you can relate to people who lack empathy.

The less empathetic you are, the less friends you’ll have. Put yourself in other person’s shoes to help yourself grow as a person and allow your relationships to flourish.

Things that people who aren’t empathetic don’t do

People who don’t care about others don’t have the ability or interest to understand or perceive how another person feels. There are cases of disinterested people who lack empathy. Here are some of the things they usually don’t do:

  • Worry about you. They don’t pay attention to you, maybe because they’re too focused on themselves or because they just don’t care about what happens to you.
  • They aren’t sensitive. Even if you tell them how you’re thinking and feeling, they don’t show interest in perceiving and understanding what you’re going through.
  • They don’t trust others. By not perceiving what we think and feel, those lacking empathy don’t feel safe with others.
  • It’s hard for them to believe in others’ feelings. People who are disinterested in others’ well-being doubt their emotions. Therefore, they’re cold when others talk to them about how they’re feeling.
  • They aren’t compassionate. These people don’t feel compelled to relieve other people’s pain or suffering.

With these characteristics in mind, it may be easier for you to see which people in your environment aren’t empathetic. Keep in mind that there are nuances. There are people who lack empathy and people who have too much of it.

Selfish people who lack empathy

People lacking empathy don’t put themselves in another person’s shoes. Therefore, they disregard others’ feelings, thoughts, and desires. One of the most outstanding characteristics in people who lack empathy is their selfishness.

People who lack empathy can be very selfish. They think about their own well-being first without thinking about others’ needs. Also, they take advantage of situations and people for their own benefit.

In addition, they push the boundaries of reciprocity. This means they only give if they get something in return. They don’t do things disinterestedly. They relate to us in almost a standoffish way, making manipulation a way of life.

Therefore, those lacking empathy can be cold. When we experience an unpleasant situation with them, we’ll end up feeling misunderstood or that they don’t care about us. This is because they’re only concerned about their own well-being. These people are unfriendly and have a difficult time connecting with others.

Disorders associated with people who lack empathy

We can all be devoid of empathy sometimes. However, there are people who carry this characteristic around on a daily, permanent basis. Some psychological disorders are closely related to a lack of empathy. Here are three of them:

  • Narcissistic personality disorder. These people are self-centered and only care about themselves. In addition, they leave others behind. The lack of empathy in this personality disorder has to do with the fact that they can’t see beyond themselves.
  • Psychopathy. This disorder is related to the inability to adapt to social norms. It’s difficult for people with this disorder to connect with others.
  • Borderline personality disorder. People with this disorder usually have emotional instability, which makes it difficult for them to maintain stable relationships. It’s hard for them to understand and predict how others are feeling.

When you make an effort to explain to these people how their actions hurt you, they usually don’t understand your explanation and will even try and make you feel guilty. They may try and turn it back on you, telling you that you were the one who behaved badly. Be careful. A person who lacks empathy can inflict a lot of pain on those who are very empathetic.

How to deal with people who lack empathy

Some people who lack empathy not only have a hard time understanding us, but they manipulate us to get what they want. Here are some ideas on how to deal with these people:

  • Set boundaries. You decide how far these people can go with you. Don’t let them take advantage of you.
  • Choose your friends wisely. If you feel that the people in your life don’t make you a priority, leave them behind.
  • Be assertive. Communicate what you want to say in the best way possible. This way, they’ll know exactly what you feel.
  • Get away if you don’t feel an emotional connection with this person.

However, extremes don’t lead us anywhere. Sometimes we can make the mistake of only seeing our interests. This doesn’t mean that we’re not empathetic. In addition, the important thing is to choose the people we spend our time with wisely. We need to be careful.

People who lack empathy are truly disinterested in others. They’re not able to put themselves in another person’s shoes to understand how they think and feel. Also, they don’t see beyond their world so they stay wrapped up in themselves.

Flee from people who twist your thoughts to make you feel guilty. They’re just trying to take you into their world to get what they want from you. These people are controlling and cold. They have a hard time expressing how they feel and they won’t understand the situations you’re going through.

Some people are a real light on our path and others have turned into a growing darkness that makes our progress difficult.In the same way, there are people who would do everything for us, even the most unimaginable things, and others who would not even move a finger for our well-being. Each of us binds differently to others, depending on the context. As a result, some relationships enrich our lives and others, not so much. These can take place with people who lack empathy.

Have you ever noticed that some people do not understand that you can make mistakes? Have you ever become involved with people who do not take your thoughts or feelings into account?These are people who show no empathy and do not try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

Empathy is the ability to understand each other’s vision of reality by perceiving and becoming aware of one’s feelings.Some people do not enjoy this quality. We will therefore see more precisely how these people are, what troubles can be associated with them and how we can relate to them.

Things that people who lack empathy do not do

People who are not interested in others may not be able to develop certain attitudesbecause they are unable (or not interested in the fact) to understand and perceive the feelings of the other. There are cases of disinterested people who lack empathy and we are going to study some of the things they do not do:

  • Be concerned for yourself: they do not pay attention to you, either because they are self-centered or because what happens to you does not interest them.
  • Be sensitive: even if you tell them what you think and feel, they do not try to understand what is happening to you.
  • Trust: Because they do not perceive what we think and feel, people who lack empathy do not feel safe in their relationships.
  • Believe in the feelings of others: disinterested people doubt our emotions. They are extremely cold in front of them.
  • Show compassion: They do not feel an impulse to want to relieve the pain or suffering of others.

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

If you keep these characteristics in mind, you can easily recognize people who lack empathy in your surroundings.But remember, there are nuances in any type of relationship.Some people have a very weak capacity for empathy and others have too much.

Lack of empathy and selfishness

People who lack empathy never put themselves in the other’s shoes. They do not deal with the feelings and thoughts of others.One of the most egregious characteristics of selfless people is their selfishness.

Thus, people who lack empathy can be very selfish because they think only of their well-being and leave the needs of others aside. They take advantage of the situation to reap the benefits. And, at the same time, take advantage of us.

For them, relations must be reciprocal and they push this fact to the extreme.They give only if they receive something in return. Therefore, they do not do anything selflessly. They connect with others in a utilitarian way and turn manipulation into a lifestyle.

These people may seem very coldbecause we live with them unpleasant situations in which we feel misunderstood. They only pay attention to their well-being. They are unfriendly people who do not connect with others.

Disorders associated with lack of empathy

We can all, one day or another, lack empathy.However, some people clearly and consistently display this feature. Some psychological disorders are closely related to lack of empathy. Here they are :

  • The narcissistic personality disorder: people are egocentric and are extremely concerned for themselves. They leave the others aside. The lack of empathy in this personality disorder is related to the fact that they do not see beyond their own person.
  • Psychopathy: people can not adapt to social norms and have trouble connecting to others. It is obvious that they lack empathy.
  • Limit Personality Disorder: the person suffers from emotional instability and has difficulty maintaining stable relationships. She has a lot more trouble understanding and knowing how others feel.

When you make an effort to explain to them why their reactions hurt you, they usually do not understand it.They even make you feel guilty by returning their jacket and telling you that you did not do well. Be careful: the lack of empathy can do a lot of harm to those who are victims.

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

How to confront people who lack empathy?

Some people who lack empathy do not just have trouble understanding us; they also manipulate us to get what they want. Here are some ideas to better deal with these people:

  • Set limits: it is you who decide the line that these people can not go beyond you. Be careful !
  • Choose your friends well :if you feel they see only their own needs, stay away from them. They will cause you discomfort.
  • Use assertiveness: communicate what you want to say in the clearest possible way. The others will know how you feel. In this way, you will not confuse a person who lacks empathy with someone who has trouble adequately conveying what he means.
  • Stay away if you do not feel an emotional connection: if you do not perceive that a connection is taking place between your thoughts, your feelings and those of the other, go away. You may find yourself in front of a person who lacks empathy.

Extremes do not lead us anywhere.We can sometimes go wrong and see only our own interests but that does not mean that we are not people lacking empathy. The important thing is to know how to choose the people around you. Those in whom we will place our trust. We will know who we can count on during difficult times.

People lacking empathy are not interested in others at all.They are therefore not able to put themselves in our own skin to understand what we feel and think. They see no further than the tip of their nose and are constantly in their comfort zone.

Stay awayyou have people who make you feel guilty.They only try to take you to their field to make the most of your vulnerability. They are cold, manipulative people who do not really express what they feel and will never understand the situation you are going through.

An unwillingness to empathize is different than being unable to do so.


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We generally assume that narcissistic people lack empathy, and we employ this assumption to account for some of their undesirable behaviors and traits. However, there are circumstances where narcissistic individuals will display empathy, which can be confusing. Many narcissistic people who seem to lack empathy for other humans in their lives can express enormous compassion for their pets, and they may overtly express empathy to a sad child or to an injured animal. Thus, let’s consider the possibility that narcissists are consciously and unconsciously unwilling to empathize, rather than lacking the capacity to do so. If this is so, then how do we make sense of their unwillingness?

A lack of empathy is often considered to be one of the distinctive features of narcissism. However, this is not entirely the case. The criteria for the formal psychiatric diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association includes “lacks empathy,” but this designation has a critical qualifier: namely, “is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.” [4] An unwillingness to empathize with another person is not the same as being unable to empathize. The notion that a person has a capacity for empathy, yet is not empathically responsive, may be useful for understanding the personality characteristics of people we label as narcissistic.

Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person. [1] Some regard empathy as a vicarious affective response based on the awareness of another person’s emotional state. [2] Many definitions of empathy include the concept of perspective-taking—emotionally or cognitively seeing things from the other person’s position. [3] Thus, empathy can involve both a cognitive process (the ability to understand another person’s view in terms of what the other is thinking or feeling) and an experiential process (resonating with another person’s emotional response).

Some researchers have found that the cognitive functioning necessary for empathy, such as the ability to role-play or take another person’s perspective, occurs in a different location of the brain than the emotional aspects of empathy, such as sensitivity to what another person is feeling or experiencing. [5] Whether one is narcissistic or not, our brains simulate the feelings of those around us. This ability to unconsciously mimic another’s feelings enables us to reconstruct within us what other people may be experiencing. [6] [7]

Given the many and complicated interactions we have with others throughout our lives, the ability to automatically understand what is going on with someone else is a crucial skill for successful social functioning. Some studies have shown a relationship between narcissism and deficient emotional empathy, but that narcissists, nevertheless, can recognize and react to the suffering of others, even if they are motivated to disregard such distress in other people. [8]

The capacity to empathize does not preclude its use for bad behavior or destructive purposes. [9] [10] Some people may consciously or unconsciously be motivated to withhold an empathic response to control a partner, or they may exploit their understanding of another person’s emotional state to manipulate them or to gain power. Using their empathy manipulatively, for example, people with narcissistic pathology know how to evoke insecurity in their partners and provoke attachment anxiety. [11]

Consider for a moment that narcissistic people do not really lack empathy, but instead, their vulnerability and need for self-protection limits their freedom to express it. Consciously or unconsciously they are unwilling to empathize rather than lacking the capacity to do so. In particular situations, someone with a narcissistic personality may feel emotionally safe and capable of vulnerability. The subjective experience of trust can be a powerful tool for narcissists that reduces perceived threats and allows them to attend to the needs and feelings of others. [12] There is evidence indicating that narcissistic individuals are hyper-sensitive to information that could cause them psychological distress, but at the same time, they may be oblivious to such information at the level of conscious awareness. [13] Interpersonally, where someone with narcissistic traits experiences helplessness or vulnerability, they are likely to withhold an empathic response automatically, appearing cold-hearted or as refusing to take responsibility for hurtful behavior.


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How do we understand the personality development of someone who appears to lack empathy or has an unwillingness to empathize? The answer involves a personality organization that is scripted to avoid shame. Our lifetime of emotional responses and the responses of others to our emotional expressions script or automate our behavior in different ways. [14] When emotions occur in persistent or repeated forms, we consider them as dispositional characteristics of the individual or personality traits—situations that typically activate a coherent pattern of interacting emotions or scripted behaviors. Unfortunately, the language of personality traits overshadows the emotional states that motivate the behavior. [15] For example, we generally consider narcissism as having to do with behaviors or traits, such as grandiosity, entitlement, and a lack of empathy, but this obscures how these behaviors and traits are patterned responses to specific emotional experiences. Shame is the central emotional experience of narcissism, and narcissistic disorders reflect behaviors that disown or regulate shame. [16] [17]

Since an empathic response often involves an unconscious assessment of one’s vulnerability to experiencing shame, the narcissist’s inhibition of an empathic response (“unwillingness”) may simply be self-protective. This also points to the affective limitations that accompany narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists do not consciously feel a lack of empathy or experience an unwillingness to empathize. Instead, in many situations where one might expect them to empathize, their limitations activate a sense of helplessness—an imagined vulnerability— followed by scripted responses to shame, such as shame-fear (fear of loss of face) or shame-rage (protection from some trauma or imagined trauma from the past). [18]

Many of us have met with those who just can’t seem to connect with others. They act as if our problems just don’t matter. All they seem to care about is themselves.

It turns out, these are telltale signs of someone who has a lack of empathy.

But what makes people behave like this? And why?

What Does It Mean To Have A Lack Of Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to fully understand and share the emotions of others. Empaths are incredible at reading the thoughts and emotions of others, as they always seem to know exactly how you feel.

At the opposite end, to have a lack of empathy is to be uninterested, distant, and apathetic to the problems of others. This kind of behavior is often hurtful, which is why people with no empathy have a hard time building meaningful relationships.

However, these people shouldn’t be judged by this behavior alone. In most cases, they simply don’t have control over their emotional reactions. That’s because there are a number of reasons for a lack of empathy, and some are just beyond our power.

Is lack of empathy a disorder?

It can be. Empathy has many levels, and so does experiencing a chronic lack of empathy.

Believe it or not, many of those who lack empathy were once extremely empathetic. At some point, the trait spiraled out of their control and caused them serious harm. Those who genuinely feel the pain of others is often putting their emotional health at risk.

If burned one too many times, many of them go to the opposite extreme to protect themselves.

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

What Is Empathy Deficit Disorder?

In its most extreme form, an empath can be diagnosed with empathy deficit disorder (EDD). Suggested by Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., this disorder makes people physically unable to the emotions of others.

Those with EDD are hardwired with low emotional intelligence. They just can’t step outside of their own skin, which makes them appear to be cold and disconnected from others.

Thankfully, these cases are quite rare. Better yet, there are practices that can help EDD patients build empathy over time.

Why do some people have no empathy?

You are what you consistently do. Your habits shape your character.

—Jon Butcher, Author of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Quest

Many experts agree that empathy is one of the primary default states for humans. With that said, as we go through life, past negative experiences may make us disconnect from the potential effect that others have on us.

While in some ways, it may seem that disconnecting from your emotions and the emotions of others is a tactic of self-preservation, this behavior does more harm than good.

We are a social species. We need each other to survive. And it’s only through fostering healthy relationships with the help of empathy that we can safeguard our emotional health.

Final thoughts

As you can see, a lack of empathy is something that can be changed with practice. Even at its most extreme form, there are many techniques that can help increase the quality of life for apathetic individuals.

It’s important to practice empathy on a regular basis, as it’s one of the essential traits that help us create relationships others will want to nurture.

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Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

Have you met someone who’s lacking empathy? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

by Mindvalley
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Why some people have a lack of empathy (and how to deal with them)

Last update: 29 August, 2020

Lack of empathy can be a huge obstacle when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships with others. The concepts of “the self” and “the other” are realities that have a huge mutual influence, complementing and defining one another. As such, an inability to understand others is often an indication that you don’t fully understand yourself.

Self-interest and the failure to adopt different points of view are traits that often lead to negative and unhelpful behaviors. One of the qualities that has allowed humans to set themselves apart from other species and create huge and complex civilizations is cooperation. However, when we fail to empathize with those around us, it becomes far more difficult for us to work together effectively.

Many of us have very little understanding of what empathy actually is, and often confuse it with traits such as generosity. Therefore, it’s important to talk about some of the signs that indicate a lack of empathy. Read on to find out more!

“Empathy lies in our ability to be present without opinion.”

1. Using yourself as an example

Lack of empathy often goes unnoticed. It typically manifests itself in the form of an “advice-giving session”. For example, if someone tells you about a problem they’re having, you respond by talking about how you solved a similar issue in your own life.

Similarly, if a person has trouble doing something, you respond by talking about the virtues you displayed when facing a similar situation. All this is a clear sign of lack of empathy. True empathy means seeing situations from someone else’s perspective, rather than your own.

2. Lack of tact

Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon to encounter a so-called “sincericide”. Some people pride themselves on being frank and expressing their ideas carelessly, without thinking. In practice, they can be hurtful, rude, or simply inconsiderate towards others.

In human communication, who we’re speaking to, and the relationship we have with that person, matter a great deal. Language shouldn’t be used too bluntly unless it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, it becomes a means of imposing one’s own discomfort on others.

3. Stereotypes and prejudice – signs of lack of empathy

Stereotypes are about as far as you can get from empathy. The tendency to generalize and oversimplify the traits and qualities of others is a sign of a great inability to see people for who they are. While objects might have identical features, people don’t.

Prejudice relies on a similar mechanism, based on generalizations that lack any real foundation. They’re maintained only by a lack of knowledge and independent thought. In order to show empathy, you must be open to seeing another person’s reality, instead of clinging to superfluous labels.

4. Lack of empathy and spreading gossip

Gossiping is an act that shows complete disregard for others. By scrutinizing the personal lives of others, we demonstrate a lack of respect for their privacy. Spreading information about another person, whether out of curiosity, envy, or boredom, is the same as exploiting them.

Rumors are like a game of mirrors. Each of us sees ourselves reflected in the person responsible for spreading the rumor. We use what we see in them to discover what others might think of us if they were ever to become aware of our weaknesses and mistakes. The reality is that gossip only serves to satisfy a sort of childish egoism, damaging the reputation of others to boost one’s own self-esteem.

5. Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is sometimes expressed in behaviors that seek to turn others into instruments that allow us to achieve our own goals or satisfy our own needs. In other cases, it manifests as a biased assessment of others, based on how useful they are to the completion of group or social aims.

In both cases, this utilitarianism is a sign of lack of empathy. Every human has value and dignity – simply because they exist. We’re all part of the same species, and we all deserve the same level of respect and consideration from others. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in prison, in a hospital, or living in poverty.

The signs of lack of empathy are just that, signs. Everyone, to some extent, is capable of seeing, understanding, and accepting the point of view of others. By constantly seeking to understand and show compassion towards others, we can all learn to show more empathy. This will benefit you as much as those around you, opening the door to previously unknown worlds.