There are quite a few different signs you can look out for to understand whether someone lacks empathy. Along with that, it is essential to learn ways to handle this behavior and see whether you could have a future with this person.

Why is Empathy so Important in Relationships?

To put it in a few words and make it easy to understand, empathy is an ability someone has that allows them to sense and relate to another person's emotions, needs, or intentions, even when they haven't personally experienced these things. Empathy allows people to form close bonds with others and be supportive and caring in every situation.

Apart from showing understanding and all that, empathetic people oftentimes also act on this feeling and might want to offer help to others, or do whatever they can on a more physical level in order to help someone in need. These are great qualities that many people have who show the type of empathy they have developed.

Different Types of Empathy - Can Everyone Develop Them All?

Depending on the way someone acts, there can be three different types of empathy they have developed. These show how they will react in different situations and have a lot to say about their characters. These three main types of empathy are the following:

  • Cognitive empathy

This form of empathy has to do with being able to understand other people's feelings on an intellectual level. A person who has developed cognitive empathy is able to understand the way someone else sees or experiences a situation, without necessarily having experienced it themselves.

  • Affective empathy or emotional empathy

This type of empathy allows people to actually feel the way someone else does. This can also manifest on a more physical level, as an emotionally empathetic person can feel sad, cry or laugh the same way as the person that is sharing their experience with them.

  • Compassionate empathy or empathetic concern

Lastly, compassionate empathy is a form of empathy that essentially blends the two previously mentioned types together. People with empathetic concern not only recognize a person's feelings on a mental level but also form emotional responses to them.

The truth is that not every person will be able to develop compassionate empathy. Most people won't be able to develop both cognitive and affective empathy either, only one of the two.

Additionally, each individual might express these emotions on different levels, therefore, they might show higher levels of cognitive empathy than someone else.

Why do Certain People Lack Empathy?

Once you realize how much empathy is needed in our everyday lives, you will definitely start to wonder why some people seem to lack it. In most cases, a complete lack of empathy is pretty rare, but people develop empathy on different levels. Someone might show a low level of empathy and react differently to how you expect.

Psychologists classify a total lack of empathy as an actual disorder called empathy deficit disorder, which is also frequently tied to narcissistic or anti-social personality disorders. This is greatly linked to the emotional intelligence people exhibit and can create various problems in their day-to-day lives as these people have a very hard time forming strong bonds with others.

Empathy is considered to also be a learned behavior that people can develop throughout their lives, especially through their families as they grow up. This can mean that empathy is a quality that is acquired through both learned and automatic responses.

Therefore, some people might have grown up in families who were not able to teach them about empathy. Others might have had very bad or traumatic experiences after opening up to people. This could have caused them to shut down emotionally and appear as not empathetic. In reality, it can be a coping mechanism they have developed in order to protect themselves from further pain.

Signs Someone Might be Lacking Empathy

No matter the reason why someone might be lacking empathy, it can be very emotionally draining being around them. If you suspect someone you care about might lack empathy, here are some signs you should look out for.

They Have a Hard Time Maintaining Relationships

One of the most common signs that someone lacks empathy is that they have a very hard time maintaining friendships. Keeping people in your life and having meaningful and loving relationships with others requires the ability to empathize with them and be emotionally available for them when they need you.

This is a fundamental part of every relationship and it allows people to share experiences, create strong bonds and care for their emotional and physical well-being. Low empathy doesn't allow them to nurture relationships with others and this can lead to misunderstandings and other issues which cause them to constantly lose people from their lives.

They Constantly Criticize Other People

One of the things that can truly harm the social connections of a non-empathetic individual and can show they might have a personality disorder is that they always seem to criticize others. Since they are not able to understand or relate to other people's emotions and emotional situations, they often judge people too harshly.

This is simply happening because people with low empathy don't have the filter to hold back certain thoughts and their poor communication skills stem from the inability to understand when something they say will upset someone.

They Have a Hard Time Regulating Their Emotions

If the person you have in mind is oftentimes unable to regulate their own emotions, has intense anger outbursts, and is not very patient, it could mean that they may suffer from a lack of empathy or another mental health condition. Oftentimes, low empathy might make people get impatient, even with people they care about including family members and friends.

This can also be a defense mechanism people have developed due to stress or trauma, and it can also be linked to low empathy. When someone is unable to regulate their emotions, they might not be able to know how to express themselves in certain situations and therefore have outbursts frequently.

They Always Seem to Start Arguments

People who lack empathy have a hard time understanding how other people feel around them. This can mean that they might not be able to understand when their actions actually offend others. This can lead to them not only losing friendships and annoying people frequently, but it can also mean that they tend to start a lot of arguments.

Since they have a hard time reading people's feelings, they don't really care about figuring it out either as it might be too much mental work for them. Therefore, they would rather fight about something than try to understand the other person's feelings and this can lead to frequent arguments.

"The opposite of anger is not calmness, it's empathy." - Mehmet Oz

They Think Others Are Too Sensitive

If they are not able to experience certain emotions to the extent others do, non-empathetic individuals might not be able to understand why someone is very upset over a certain situation. This can make them think that people are overly sensitive in certain situations as they can't put themselves in other people's shoes.

This is another troubling behavior that can lead to them losing personal bonds with people as not everyone will tolerate someone criticizing them at their most vulnerable moments. On the contrary, they might show a lot of self-compassion when they go through something difficult and might expect others to be there for them.

They Never Think Certain Things Will Happen to Them

A person who lacks the ability to feel empathy will have a very hard time relating to someone unless they have had similar past experiences. This can create challenges for them in the future, as they usually don't expect that certain things would ever happen to them. Not being able to relate to other people's life experiences shows that they also don't believe they would ever have to go through these either.

It is extremely important to view certain situations as lessons though, especially when others go through them and one can avoid them. These people are not to do so and this can be a big problem when they are faced with similar situations, as they won't know how to act even if they have seen someone else struggle with the same problem before.

They Bring Out The Worst in You Without Trying

People who lack empathy often accuse people of being too sensitive or just don't want to accept a different point of view than their own. This absolute behavior can upset people greatly, and it can be rather draining being around them if you know that every discussion will lead to an argument you can't win.

When it's their way or no way, and they don't have the ability to understand that this is not one of the helping behaviors that can allow them to keep a friendship, they will inevitably irritate those around them. If you end up always being angry or upset around them, it can definitely be a sign they lack empathy.

They Can Never Read Body Language

Being disconnected from how another person feels and not being able to pick up certain nonverbal cues is a big sign that someone might lack empathy. Therefore, they might oftentimes make someone feel uncomfortable and still not be able to understand that something is going wrong.

This is another reason why people might choose to avoid them. A more empathetic individual will easily be able to understand when someone feels uncomfortable or sad or upset, but someone who lacks empathy will easily confuse or miss these cues.

They don't know how to respond appropriately

If you watched the Big Bang Theory, you might remember Sheldon Cooper always patting people on the back saying "there, there" when they started crying or offering them a warm beverage when they seemed upset. Seeing as he was not able to feel these emotions as they did in the time that they did, he picked up the cue from his mother to be empathetic towards others by showcasing actions that seemed appropriate when someone was in distress.

An individual that struggles to feel empathy will definitely miss these cues unless they are pointed out to them and they will most likely not know how to act around people who are upset. This is a very confusing situation that can make them look uninterested in people they form personal bonds with.

They Are Pretty Self-absorbed

You probably expect less empathetic individuals to only care about themselves and this is indeed a true quality of such an individual. They tend to be very self-absorbed and selfish, and often have higher self-esteem and self-worth, especially since they are not able to relate to others and only experience what they go through on their own.

This can make them especially difficult to be around as they might tend to speak more about themselves and not pay much attention to what others experience. When someone only cares about themselves, it is more than normal for them to lose friendships and people, as not many want to be around someone who doesn't seem to truly care about them.

They Never Admit to Their Mistakes

Another quality that can give away someone who lacks empathy is their inability to admit to their mistakes. Since they are not able to relate to people and understand how their behavior affects others, they never think they are in the wrong.

This is very difficult to deal with and can be something that contributes to the plethora of arguments these individuals find themselves in. When you get in an argument with someone, knowing they will never admit to having done something wrong can be very exhausting.

β€œShe might have been born this way, without an empathy gene and other essentials. In that case, she would interpret any kindness as weakness." - Dean Koontz, Forever Odd

How to Deal With Someone Who Lacks Empathy

All of the previously mentioned signs paint the picture of someone who can be very draining to be around. When you know they will never be able to relate to you or offer you the emotional support you need, you should be ready to make changes in the relationship in order to protect yourself.

Establish The Right Boundaries

First and foremost, you need to make sure that you protect yourself if you are a more empathetic person. If you still have to be around them occasionally, if, for example, they are a close family member, make sure you limit the personal information you share with them.

This will protect you from unwanted comments and show them you don't want to take the relationship further. They can only comment on what you allow them to and this boundary is an important one to set.

Remember This Has Nothing to do With Your Actions

Always remind yourself that when someone acts a certain way in their personal bonds, it has nothing to do with you. You are not boring or overreacting when someone with low empathy is not able to give you the attention or encouragement you need.

Don't Look For Their Validation

There are so many more people who can relate to your feelings and give you the validation you need. A non-empathetic individual will most likely not be able to help you feel validated and safe no matter how difficult the situation you have found yourself in.

Don't Expect Them to Change

Another important thing to keep in mind is that while empathy can be taught, certain people can simply not acquire this skill. Oftentimes, even if they do, this might not be a genuine emotion but rather a set of learned words and actions which can replicate what someone empathetic would feel.

Talk About This With Someone You Trust

Whether this individual you trust is a mental health professional or a close friend or family member, make sure you talk to them about this. Being around someone who lacks the ability to feel empathy can be very draining and make you feel insecure in the long run.

You Don't Always Have to Stick Around

Last but not least, always remember that no matter who this person is, you don't need to stick around. Even if they are a parent or someone you deeply care about, you don't deserve to be treated in a way that constantly makes you question yourself and the way you feel.

Your personal relationships with other people should make you feel happy and fulfilled and like you have someone close to you that understands and supports you. Otherwise, this will be very draining on you and you can choose to walk away before it gets too difficult for you to do so.

Finding The Right Balance in Difficult Situations

Staying close to someone who lacks empathy can be absolutely exhausting. They might be a close friend, lover, or even a parent and you might have a very hard time letting go of this relationship. You need to remember though that your own mental health should come first and there is no reason for you to keep trying for someone who is not willing, or even able to change.

This doesn't mean they are a bad person by choice. Sometimes, a lack of empathy is a result of just the way they are and you can't affect it. Focus on establishing healthy boundaries and making sure you are able to put yourself first, even when your own empathy makes you feel guilty for not doing more to help someone who isn't able to see things differently.


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