People who lack empathy, or the capacity to feel and understand the emotions of others, often behave in ways that can be harmful or violent towards others. This is a concept I have studied for many years, and have been involved in research around this topic.
In particular, to gain a deeper understanding of the individual characteristics associated with a lack of empathy, I have conducted three studies looking at the personality traits and other psychological factors that may be linked to this condition.
The first study was a self-report questionnaire completed by university students, asking them about their levels of empathy, as well as their levels of certain personality traits such as improving their speaking skills and. This first study showed that there were certain patterns in the personalities of people with a lack of empathy, most notably that these individuals had higher levels of narcissism and psychopathy. In particular, they were more likely to agree with statements such as “I like to be the center of attention” and “I am a born leader.” In comparison to other participants in the study who demonstrated normal levels of empathy, these individuals also scored higher on antisocial personality traits.
The second study was the same as the first one, except this time participants were asked to complete a task measuring their levels of cognitive empathy, or their ability to imagine what is going on in the minds of others.
In the third study, undergraduate students were assessed for their propensity to identify with characters in three different story scenarios. People that lack empathy were more likely to identify with a cold and ambitious character. People that lack empathy also reported higher levels of narcissism compared to people with high empathy.
What is empathy?
It’s the ability to understand how people feel and think about things. It enables people to predict people’s thoughts and feelings accurately so that they can better respond to people in a way that will help them. For example, if someone becomes aggressive when feeling threatened, knowing this can help people act in ways that will de-escalate the situation.
Before we look at the common characteristics people with a lack of empathy often share, it’s important to note that people who display these traits often do not meet clinical diagnosis for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – even though they still display some of the NPD symptoms such as entitlement and lack of empathy. For this reason, people with a lack of empathy are often referred to as ‘covert narcissists’ (Hudson and Fraley, 2010).
Covert narcissism is a term used to describe people who display fewer traits than people who meet clinical diagnoses for NPD.
Signs of people who lack empathy
“When people behave in ways that are harmful or violent towards others, it can be difficult to understand why!!! But people with a lack of empathy often behave in these ways, so understanding the reasons behind this lack of empathy may provide us with insight into how people’s brains function differently. When people feel and understand the emotions of others, they are better able to predict their behavior and can act accordingly.
How do people gain empathy? When people see another person who is distressed, sensors in their brains detect this distress and mirror these feelings by creating an internal representation of how they themselves would feel if they were experiencing similar emotions. This allows people to understand people’s emotional states
1) They get into many arguments
People who lack empathy often start arguments with people, and often say things that are insulting or harmful. They may not intend to harm people but because they struggle to understand how their words can hurt people, they unintentionally cause this distress.
2) They think others are too sensitive
Lack of empathy may make them think people are too sensitive when other people express hurt or distress, and they may give such responses; “don’t be so sensitive” or “stop being a baby!”.
3) They are insecure, self-involved, and people-pleasers
These people often feel insecure about themselves. They are overly concerned with what others think of them and need to feel accepted by people around them. This relates strongly to people that lack empathy often being covert narcissists because they have an inflated sense of their own importance, but this has also been found in people who lack empathy not exhibiting narcissism at all. Another reason people without empathy are people-pleasers is because they need to feel liked by people, and so do what people want so they don’t lose people’s acceptance.
4) They have impaired communication skills
People lacking empathy often have trouble with communication because it is hard for people without empathy to understand what people mean when they use non-verbal communication. This is because people who lack empathy often do not know how people’s body language and facial expressions indicate their emotions, in addition to people lacking empathy not being able to relate to people having feelings or understanding how people behave in different situations.
5) They have trouble keeping friends
It’s obvious that we make friends connect with people but people with a lack of empathy don’t feel the same. Despite that, they make distance from people. They don’t feel engaging with others. They want to be with themselves, in some cases, they don’t want people surrounding them.
How to deal with those people who lack empathy?
These people without empathy can be difficult to handle, especially since they may lack the ability to experience any guilt or shame for their negative actions. If you know someone like this or are close to them, it is important that you learn how to help them if possible (for example, if they should require professional assistance). Help them by doing things like:
- People who lack empathy often feel very uncomfortable when others see them in an emotional state (for example, sadness or anger).
- If you notice someone behaving in an unkind way towards another person while they are experiencing strong emotions themselves, take care not to express your concern publicly.
How to Develop Empathy
Those without empathy often behave in ways that can be harmful or violent towards others (Hudson and Fraley, 2010). For this reason, it is important that we understand the people who may pose a risk of causing harm to others. This article presents an overview of some of the characteristics and traits people with a lack of empathy may display. It’s better to concern a specialist for them.
One can develop empathy by making listening to a priority. For example exchange of thought.
Humans with less capacity to feel and understand the emotions of others, often behave in ways that can be harmful or violent towards other people. This is a concept I have studied for many years, and have been involved in research around this topic. In particular, to gain a deeper understanding of the individual characteristics associated with a lack of empathy, I have conducted three studies looking at the personality traits and other psychological factors that may be linked to this condition.
People who lack empathy often struggle to hold down jobs or relationships, find it difficult to make friends, and are likely to end up socially isolated.