Characteristics of People Who Lack Empathy

Empathy is the ability to consider other people’s feelings. A person with empathy can share a friend’s grief, feel happy when a loved one receives good news, and consider other people’s feelings and well-being when making decisions.

Compassion is a key element in human relationships. Someone with empathy can connect with others and create an environment where they feel safe and loved.

Unfortunately, not everyone has high levels of emotional intelligence. Some individuals are oblivious to how others feel or choose to disregard other’s emotions due to a lack of empathy.

It’s essential to learn to recognize the characteristics of people who lack empathy so you can avoid toxic relationships!

What is Empathy?

As human beings, emotions play a crucial role in how we connect with each other. Another person’s feelings provide us with some cues about how we should act.

We also tend to mirror the emotions we see other people display. This behavior allows us to form strong social bonds. Compassion is what allows you to feel bad for a friend who is struggling and to share their joy.

Empathy also allows you to take other people’s feelings and reactions into consideration. Part of the early socialization process that children go through consists of learning to identify negative reactions and avoiding behaviors that cause negative reactions in others.

Researchers believe there are two main types of empathy:

  • Affective empathy causes you to mimic the emotions you observe in others.
  • Cognitive empathy is a more logical process that helps you consider other’s emotions.

There is a third type of empathy called somatic empathy. With somatic empathy, your body responds to the emotions you observe. If you have ever blushed due to second-hand embarrassment, you have experienced somatic empathy.

Why Does Empathy Matter?

Empathy is a building block for successful relationships. It’s not unique to humans since animals often display empathy, especially those who live in groups with complex social structures.

Empathy allows you to respond to situations in a manner that is socially acceptable. It helps you navigate social situations while forming meaningful bonds with other people.

Emotional intelligence is another essential concept that is closely related to empathy. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand how others feel, and to identify your own emotions.

Here are some examples of why empathy is so important:

  • It helps you resolve conflicts at work.
  • It’s necessary for nurturing and parenting a child.
  • You can build a fulfilling romantic relationship with empathy.
  • It’s easier to develop and maintain friendships.
  • Compassion helps you identify situations where others need help.
  • Being able to mirror the positive feelings you observe in others helps you get the most out of social activities.

Why Do Some People Lack Empathy?

People lack empathy for different reasons. It’s essential to establish a difference between individuals who are self-centered or oblivious to the way others feel, and individuals who suffer from a mental health condition.

Some people lack emotional intelligence because they grew up in an environment where feelings weren’t acknowledged or valued. Others are focused on themselves and don’t take the time to consider how other people might feel.

A lack of empathy can also be linked to a more serious issue. Individuals who suffer from psychopathy or sociopathy can’t mirror the feelings they see in others.

There are other mental health problems that can result in a lack of empathy and compassion. Mania and depression can cause a person to experience intense feelings or apathy. These feelings take over and prevent the person from having a normal response in a social situation.

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and narcissistic personality disorder are other conditions that have been linked to a lack of empathy. Individuals who suffer from PTSD or who experienced trauma sometimes disassociate themselves from others as a way of coping and avoiding negative emotions. This coping mechanism can look like a lack of empathy.

There is a common conception that individuals who are on the autism spectrum can lack empathy. However, recent research suggests that individuals on the autism spectrum have a hard time interpreting the feelings they see in others, which can be perceived as a lack of empathy, even though the issue can be resolved by communicating about feelings more clearly.

What Is the Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath?

These two mental health conditions are often associated with a lack of empathy. However, you should keep in mind that not everyone who lacks empathy suffers from one of these conditions.

There are some differences between these two conditions and how these individuals experience empathy. A psychopath typically won’t have a conscience that tells them a behavior is wrong. They won’t feel bad for hurting others and don’t fear the consequences of their actions.

A sociopath can usually tell right from wrong and understand when words or behavior are hurtful. They might experience negative feelings when they hurt others but will proceed anyway. They also tend to act without thinking.

Psychopaths often learn to act in ways that are socially acceptable. It can be difficult to notice these symptoms at first, and you might not realize that the person lacks empathy because they will act in a way that is caring.

You might get the impression that a psychopath has high emotional intelligence because they mirror the behaviors observed in others. It’s a calculated behavior that helps them get something they want.

A sociopath will be more upfront about what they want. They will sometimes express a lack of interest in socializing, and won’t hide their lack of empathy.

Characteristics of People Who Lack Empathy

These are the most common characteristics of people who lack empathy.

No Consideration for Other People’s Feelings

A telltale sign that someone lacks empathy is that other people’s feelings aren’t something they consider when they speak or act. They can say hurtful things, put their needs about others, and come across as rude or condescending.

A person who doesn’t have any empathy can cheat on their partner or display other abusive and toxic behaviors in the relationship. They can be very controlling and tell others how they should feel about a situation or explain that their feelings aren’t valid.

They will often make decisions without considering how it will affect other people. They will also make other people feel bad for expressing their needs or feelings.

Antisocial Behavior

You need empathy and emotional intelligence to connect with others. Someone who doesn’t have any empathy will not get anything positive out of socializing with others, and it might be difficult for them to form social connections.

Antisocial behavior often goes hand in hand with a lack of empathy. A person who lacks compassion might give up on socializing because it’s an activity that isn’t interesting or fulfilling.

Socializing can be difficult because they don’t understand what’s right or wrong in a social situation, or might not care.

Here are some common signs of antisocial behavior from individuals who lack empathy:

  • They are very cynical or opinionated.
  • They are irritable, hostile, or violent.
  • They never plan ahead and make decisions without thinking.
  • They don’t seem to experience remorse or guilt when they hurt others.
  • They’re not interested in pursuing friendships or other types of relationships.
  • They don’t learn from past mistakes.
  • Their behavior is often irresponsible.
  • They avoid responsibilities.

Lack of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is closely related to empathy, but it’s a slightly different concept. Empathy exists in the context of interpersonal relationships, while emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and express your own feelings.

Emotional intelligence is crucial in social settings. If you can understand and manage your own feelings, it’s easier to express yourself and to consider other people’s feelings.

People who lack empathy can lack emotional intelligence as well. A person who doesn’t seem to have any empathy is probably out of touch with their own feelings.

People who lack emotional intelligence will often display these signs:

  • They don’t show any emotions.
  • They never discuss their feelings.
  • They have a hard time identifying how they feel.
  • They might feel that they don’t have any emotions.
  • They have a hard time managing their emotions and can experience sudden outbursts.


Dishonesty is another common sign that a person lacks empathy. People who don’t feel bad for hurting others can easily lie to get what they want.

People who lack empathy don’t have any regard for the consequences of their actions and have no qualms about manipulating others.

Some individuals are dishonest because they want to project an idealized image of themselves and trick others into thinking they are good people. Some individuals have a compulsive need to lie, or use lies and other dishonest techniques to manipulate others.

If a person lacks empathy, you will often notice a pattern of lies and dishonest behavior. They might act in a friendly manner, use lies to get what they want, and turn cold once they don’t want anything else from you.


People with narcissistic personality disorder, and those who have traits of narcissism often lack empathy.

These individuals have a strong sense of self-importance and a distorted vision of themselves. They have a worldview that is based on their own vision of themselves and not on reality. They need to receive praise and attention constantly. Everything in their lives revolves around the fantasy that they matter and are entitled to things.

A person with narcissistic traits will often put their own needs above others because they see themselves as more important or more deserving. This behavior comes across as a lack of empathy because these people can be very cold and calculating.

They will often feel threatened by others who are more successful or talented, or by those who don’t give them praise and attention. They can be cruel toward these people.

In some cases, people who are focused on themselves can come across as lacking empathy because they are oblivious to other people’s feelings. They aren’t necessarily unable to experience empathy and connecting with others, but their own self-importance prevents them from valuing other people’s feelings.

Blaming Others

A common behavior of people who lack empathy is to blame others. They will do this for two main reasons.

Blame is a way of manipulating others. Constantly blaming someone for mistakes they didn’t make, or blaming them for expressing their feelings causes that person to start doubting themselves and question everything they do. It’s a common pattern in abusive relationships where discussions always turn into one partner blaming the other to gain control.

A person who lacks empathy can also use blame to change reality. If they hurt another person and start feeling bad about it or notice that there is a negative reaction from the other person, they can put the blame on the other person to feel guilt-free again.

Intimacy Issues

A lack of empathy can get in the way of intimacy. Some people who lack compassion have very little interest in developing meaningful relationships and will purposefully avoid intimacy.

It can also be difficult to open up and share their feelings with a partner because they are unsure of how they feel.

In order to develop intimacy, partners need to be able to talk about their feelings, feel safe with each other, and show interest in how the other person feels. Happy couples often discuss their feelings and adjust their behaviors to create a positive environment for each other. They’re able to see the world through the other person’s eyes and value each other’s feelings, thoughts, and opinions.

People who are in happy relationships have high emotional intelligence. They can tell how their partner feels and will respond appropriately, for instance, by offering support or affection.

Building that kind of meaningful relationships is very difficult for people who lack compassion. They’re unable to understand how their partner feels, don’t offer support when their partner needs it, and tend to value their own feelings over their partner’s.

Charming Exterior

People who lack empathy often develop a charming exterior. They act in a friendly and caring way to get close to others and manipulate them.

Individuals who have narcissistic traits can develop a charming personality as a way of getting the praise and attention they want. A charming personality is also a common trait among psychopaths.

Some individuals who lack empathy might learn to act in a friendly manner to blend in. Learning to act in a manner that is socially-acceptable helps them blend in at work.

This charming exterior can make people who lack empathy difficult to spot. You might fall for their act and get the impression that they genuinely care about you.

However, you will notice their behavior change over time. It’s difficult to maintain that charming exterior or to be consistent in the way they act. You will notice a pattern of toxic or harmful behaviors mixed with periods where they display a charming personality.

Lack of Guilt

Guilt is a normal feeling that we experience when we think we have done something wrong. You might feel guilty after hurting someone, disappointing them, or making a mistake.

When you’re guilty, you often experience regrets or feel the need to correct your mistakes. You might blame yourself and feel that you could have done better.

A person who lacks compassion will often lack guilt. They will not show any signs of guilt if you call them out on their actions. They might try to justify themselves and explain that they did no wrong.

If you are dealing with someone who is manipulative, they will probably look for a way of blaming someone else. They might make you feel bad for trying to shame them and cause you to feel guilty.

Confronting someone who lacks empathy can also result in an outburst of anger and other negative emotions rather than causing them to feel guilt.

A person who lacks empathy will often avoid thinking about the consequences of their action. Not considering how their words and actions affect others makes it easy to avoid feeling guilty.

In extreme cases, individuals who don’t feel empathy might realize that they’ve done something wrong and feel guilty, but they won’t change their behavior.

Lack of Emotions

People who don’t have empathy can come across as cold and distant. They might put on a front and act in a warm and caring manner, but eventually, they will reveal themselves as people who don’t experience or express genuine emotions.

Here are some signs that you are dealing with someone who lacks empathy:

  • They rarely talk about their emotions.
  • They don’t know how to respond when you talk about your feelings.
  • They don’t display emotions when they react to things.
  • They avoid situations where they would have to show emotions.
  • They don’t mirror the emotions of those around them in a group setting.

Keep in mind that not all individuals who lack empathy also lack emotions. A narcissist individual will talk about their feelings a lot, and often use them to manipulate others.

However, they will usually be inconsiderate of other people’s feelings. You might get the impression that they are very self-centered and only care about their own feelings.

Outbursts of Emotions

Emotional outbursts are another sign that someone might lack empathy. People with low emotional intelligence have a hard time managing and expressing their emotions.

They might go for weeks without dealing with their emotions, not expressing them, and not knowing how they feel. Emotions become more than the person can bear, and there is a sudden outburst to release them. A small event can trigger that outburst, but you might feel that these emotional outbursts happen for no reason.

These outbursts are often negative in nature. Outbursts can be a way of manipulating others since people will often yield to avoid another emotional outburst.

Individuals who lack compassion don’t care about the consequences of their actions and will not consider how their emotional outbursts can hurt others. If you see a lot of violent outbursts during which the person says hurtful things, it’s probably a sign that they lack empathy.


A person who lacks empathy might tend to avoid social situations. They will also avoid situations where they’re expected to connect with others on an emotional level. They will avoid conversations about emotions or stay away from situations where empathy is expected of them.

As a result, they might not be close to a lot of people. Some individuals are able to put on an act to fit in or manipulate others. If they get tired of putting on a front, they will avoid others for a while. They might also become avoidant once they get what they were after.

Others lack the ability to put on an act and tend to avoid social situations and emotional connections because they feel they don’t see the benefits of these activities.

Why Is It Hard to Tell When Someone Lacks Empathy?

Learning to recognize the characters of people who lack empathy will help you recognize them. However, it’s not something you can recognize right away. Some individuals have learned how to trick others into thinking they possess empathy.

You might notice that their behavior is fake or exaggerated. You might notice that their act isn’t consistent and that they’re performing and showing emotions when some people are present but will act differently around another group of people.

In the long run, you will notice a pattern of behavior. You will notice dishonesty, emotional outbursts, or a lack of emotional reactions. You might notice that they become cold and distant once they get what they were after.

In some cases, it’s difficult to recognize that a person lacks empathy because of their manipulative behavior. They will blame others for everything and cause them to question their judgment and feelings. If you fall into this pattern, it might become difficult to question the other person’s behavior and to assess it objectively.

How to Deal with People Who Don’t Have Empathy

Are there people in your life who lack empathy? Here are some tips for dealing with them:

  • Don’t let them make you feel bad about yourself. You might feel that their hurtful behavior is a sign that there is something wrong with you. Remind yourself that they’re the ones who have issues.
  • Don’t let yourself be manipulated. Learn to recognize manipulative behaviors. People who lack empathy will stop lying and trying to manipulate you if they know you won’t give them what they want.
  • Put your health and safety first. Cut ties with people who are toxic, abusive, or manipulative.
  • Set some boundaries. If you’re uncomfortable with a person’s dishonesty or other negative behaviors, let them know and establish some clear boundaries to limit your interactions with them.
  • Use facts over emotions. Explaining how their behavior makes you feel won’t help. You should use facts when talking about their behavior and setting some boundaries.
  • Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect them to change or to display genuine emotions.
  • Don’t blame or judge them. Blame and judgment won’t help them change.

How to Develop Empathy

Empathy is something that you can develop and nurture. If you feel that you have a hard time connecting with others, using strategies that will help you develop empathy could make a difference.

Working on your emotional intelligence is a good start. It will help you identify and express your emotions. Developing your emotional intelligence will help you identify and understand how others feel.

Here are some ways of improving your emotional intelligence:

  • Be more open to talking about your feelings.
  • Write about your feelings in a journal.
  • Take a few minutes to ask yourself how you feel and identify your current mood. Do this exercise several times throughout the day.
  • Use mindfulness or another strategy to be more present. It’s easy to overlook how you feel and how others feel if you’re distracted.
  • Work on being more positive. Identifying your emotions and understanding how others feel will be easier if you’re not overwhelmed by negative emotions.
  • Find a healthy way of expressing your emotions. You could explore creative hobbies to express yourself.
  • Look for ways of helping others. Volunteering can help you develop empathy and emotional intelligence.
  • Look for ways of connecting with people. Try meeting new people, making new friends, or getting closer to the people you see at work and in other settings.
  • Think about getting professional help if you have a hard time dealing with your feelings or feel that you can’t develop empathy.

Keep in mind that it’s essential to find balance. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed due to people demanding things from you, and from being constantly exposed to negative news stories that cause you to experience empathy fatigue. Don’t feel bad about taking a break so you can focus on yourself and work on developing your emotional intelligence and empathy.

You should have a better idea of what the characteristics of people who lack empathy are. Some characteristics are easy to notice, but others might not be obvious at first. Look for patterns in the behavior of the people you know, and don’t let their manipulative techniques cause you to question your judgment!

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