Having empathy is part of being human.
Unless you have a major psychological disorder such as narcissism, you have some ability to put yourself in the place of other people and imagine what they are feeling.
In scientific circles, this is known as theory of mind, and is a trait we share with some other intelligent animals. Experiments have shown that children as young as 18 months old can put themselves in the position of others and use that knowledge to manipulate their parents.
But although empathy allows us to manipulate other people, it’s also one of the most admirable traits a person can have.
The thing is, we all have different levels of empathy.
From the narcissists and psychopaths who feel nothing at all for other people up to the super empaths who feel everything a little too deeply, we all fall somewhere different on the spectrum of how well we can imagine ourselves in the position of other people.
And there are some sure signs that can tip you off to a person who lacks empathy.
Sometimes, they may not even realize it themselves. Keep an eye out for these signs that will show someone who doesn’t have as much empathy as they probably should.
1) Disregard other people’s feelings
For someone who lacks empathy, other people are more like objects than they are fully-realized individuals with their own thoughts and beliefs.
People who lack empathy are perfectly capable of feeling their own feelings, but they struggle to appreciate that the people around them have feelings, too.
Often, this leads them to disregard the feelings of others.
They may be dismissive when people tell them that they are upset by something. They may act as though people are making a big deal out of nothing, as though their feelings can’t possibly be as important or as powerful as those of the un-empathetic person.
As psychologist Kendra Cherry writes, these people may be easily confused by the feelings of others. If they can’t pick up on the emotions of the people around them, they often act as though those emotions don’t matter or don’t even exist.
2) Fail to think of others
I’ll admit, I’m sometimes guilty of this one.
The truth is, some people are just more thoughtful than others.
It’s not that I don’t care about how other people feel. It’s just that it doesn’t occur to me all the time to do nice things for them.
People with a strongly developed sense of empathy want those around them to be happy. That means they are often very considerate and generous, and are always asking themselves how they can make other people’s lives better.
On the other hand, people with limited empathy rarely think that way. Instead, they are much more focused on themselves.
3) Struggle in social situations
Interacting with other people means at least making the effort to understand their feelings. And the better we are able to do that, the easier it is to relate to them.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why people lacking empathy struggle in social situations.
“Someone with low empathy may joke about someone’s emotions or circumstances. They may also have a difficult time actively listening to you,” according to health and wellness writer Kimberly Drake on psychcentral.com. “They could also act chirpy or indifferent after you just expressed feeling sad or stressed.”
As you would imagine, this doesn’t make them great people to spend time with.
And it can mean that social situations are especially difficult for those without the empathy it takes to understand where others are coming from.
4) Put themselves first
People who have a hard time understanding the feelings of others often fail to take them into account. And that can make them extremely selfish.
It’s not necessarily a deliberate thing. It’s just that they aren’t thinking about how their actions will affect others. Instead, they focus only on what they want.
Unfortunately, that sometimes comes at the expense of everyone around them.
5) Make insensitive remarks
It’s easy to upset others, even when we don’t mean to. An off-color joke or insensitive remark can easily hurt the feelings of people, especially if they are going through a hard time.
The trouble is, people who lack empathy also lacked the ability to understand when their remarks can be harmful. Because they can’t put themselves in other people’s positions, they can’t understand how something they say might have a negative effect on another person.
This often makes them come off as rude and uncaring, making it even harder for them to get along with others socially.
6) Take pleasure in the suffering of others
Sometimes, people without empathy can display even more obnoxious traits.
This is definitely one of them.
We all have people we don’t necessarily get along with, but that doesn’t mean we wish them any harm. However, if someone you know actively takes pleasure in other people’s misfortune, it’s a sure sign they lack empathy.
The thing is, bad things can happen to any of us. What we deserve and what we get in life have very little to do with one another.
So when bad things happen even to people we don’t like, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective and remember that wishing further people to suffer does damage to our own souls.
7) Manipulate others
Another of the darkest sides of a lack of empathy is manipulation.
As I mentioned earlier, there are certain psychological disorders that can cause a person not to have empathy. These include:
- narcissistic personality disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- antisocial personality disorder
Some of these, particularly psychopathy and narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, are also linked with manipulative personalities.
These are people who only want to use others for their own gain. They know exactly how to manipulate the emotions of others, even though they don’t feel them for themselves.
That makes them extremely dangerous people to be around.
8) Refuse to accept responsibility
How we accept responsibility for what happens to us determines so much in our lives.
And when you are willing to accept responsibility for your own destiny, you learn a powerful lesson in empathy.
Often, when people lack empathy, they also refuse to accept that responsibility.
Instead of focusing on their own actions, they will look around to blame others for everything that happens to them.
Whether it’s their partner, their friends, their boss, or the government, they will always find someone to blame so that they don’t have to deal with their own shortcomings.
9) React emotionally
Even though these people have a hard time understanding the emotions of others, they often center their own emotions to the exclusion of all else.
This can cause them to react emotionally, with outbursts of rage or exaggerated sadness when things don’t go their way.
According to happierhuman.com, when a person can’t understand why others act as they do, they often lose control of their own emotions. And their tendency to make every situation about them and what they feel will make them feel justified in their emotional outbursts.
10) Struggle to maintain long relationships
By now, you’ve probably gotten the impression that people who lack empathy are extremely difficult to get along with.
So it’s probably no surprise to hear that a lack of empathy is often linked with an inability to maintain long-term relationships.
Not being able to understand where the people are coming from and often saying hurtful or insensitive things means that people low on empathy are constantly upsetting others. And over time, that can show itself in a reluctance for anyone to be around them for long.
Unfortunately, the person who lacks empathy often won’t understand why this happens to them. Instead, they will blame the people who have distanced themselves instead of looking within for answers.
Dealing with a lack of empathy
We all have different levels of empathy. Fortunately, it’s a trait that can be developed in almost anyone.
The first step is understanding you lack empathy in the first place.
If you know someone who does these things, it’s a good sign that they don’t have as much empathy as they should.
And if they don’t want to live a difficult and lonely life, they need to start working on understanding the feelings of others.