Dark empath traits

9 Warning Signs of a Dark Empath (And All You Need to Know)

What if the narcissist and the empath are the same person? In this article we will talk about nine signs of a Dark Empath.

The narcissist-empath connection is frequently trod ground in popular articles and blogs. It is believed that selfish narcissists and sensitive empaths are deeply attracted to one another.

Empaths seek to save the narcissists while narcissists seek to use the empath for their own ends. It’s a vicious cycle that often leaves empathic individuals heartbroken and depleted.

Yet, there is a personality that combines the selfish traits of the narcissist with the emotional intelligence of the empath.

This type of person is known as a Dark Empath.

What Is a Dark Empath?

Research has revealed that the personality type of the dark empath has the dark triad of traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic tendencies.

Yet, Dark Empaths balance these traits with empathy for others and a self-awareness of their tendencies. This is a dangerous combination with a strong potential for manipulation. 

What Are the Signs Someone Is a Dark Empath?

Dark Empaths are more adaptive than their narcissist counterparts — and much harder to identify. They blend into society easily and skate through life on their charm.

What follows are a few signs someone might be a Dark Empath.

1. They display heightened sensitivity

Narcissists are often well-versed in how to portray emotional sensitivity, and yet they possess a coldness beneath the surface. They can mimic emotions but not feel them.

Dark Empaths, however, actually possess heightened sensitivity. Their emotional intelligence is on par with fellow empaths. 

Why, then, are they considered Dark Empaths as opposed to Empaths? They have the full range of empathic emotions and an ability to experience the emotions of others — although experts are unsure if their emotional intelligence is cognitive, affective, or a combination of the two.

The key difference is how they use emotions.

Dark Empaths have real feelings but use their Dark Triad traits to manipulate others.

In fact, their very understanding of how other people feel makes it even easier for them to exercise control in their relationships.

Recommended read: 39 Toxic Relationship Quotes – So You Don’t Feel Alone

3. Relationships revolve around their wants and needs

Dark Empaths’ highly manipulative and controlling nature often manifests in more subtle ways.

Take note: a relationship with one will likely revolve around their wants and needs to the exclusion of their partner’s.

If it seems that all “compromises” are stacked in their favor, it’s possible that they could be demonstrating the narcissistic side of their personality. 

This side of their identity might be dismissed as immaturity when paired with their sensitivity. Some partners may simply lack the relational development to compromise in ways that suit both parties.

Pay attention to how often it happens and how they respond to being called out on any unfairness in the relationship.

If they continue to exert subtle control to keep the relationship in their favor, this might be a sign that they possess Dark Empath traits. 

3. They have low self-worth

It’s interesting that a personality with strong narcissism can also display low self-worth. It’s certainly a paradox.

On the one hand, their egos can be enormous. Yet, they tend to need constant validation.

On the other hand, they are self-aware and emotionally intelligent enough to see their own manipulations and to consequently feel as if they are unworthy of love or healthy relationships.

A negative self-perception often follows. Narcissists often display grandiose ideas of themselves, but the Dark Empath will be more likely to have the strong ego paired with a lack of true self-esteem.

Don’t be surprised if they’re the ones who point out their flaws, as they are especially sensitive to them.  

This low self-worth could have you dismissing them as being narcissists. Yet, if you pay careful attention, you’ll see that their actions still center their wants and needs in the same selfish way.

While they have the benefit of self-awareness and a conscience, they still possess a larger-than-life ego and sense of entitlement. 

4. They struggle with their mental health

Because Dark Empaths understand the complexities of their own personality, they tend to struggle with anxiety and depression.

Their awareness of a tendency to manipulate and control others can war with their ability to feel and understand others’ emotions.

The balance between the Dark Triad traits and empathy can make it easier for them to make friends and establish relationships, but it can also make it harder to maintain them. 

Keep in mind that although Dark Empaths are aware of their controlling tendencies, it doesn’t mean they’ll stop using them. Despite their emotional capabilities and self-awareness, they’ll likely continue manipulating others.

They often pair this with self-loathing and a negative self-perception that opens them up to a wide variety of mental health struggles. 

5. They use your feelings against you

Their very sensitivity is what makes the Dark Empath so dangerous. Being able to tune into the emotions of others can be dangerous in the hands of an Empath with a dark side.

They’re likely to be prepared for your emotional reactions and to time their own actions accordingly.

It can leave many of us feel like we’ve been played like a violin — and we can be sure we have when a Dark Empath is involved.

They are skilled at being perfectly charming and getting their way without making a noticeable fuss.

In fact, it’s unlikely most of their victims will even realize they’ve been played for a fool until it’s far too late. 

Recommended read: 9 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never Ignore

6. They have a dark sense of humor

Dark Empaths speak fluent sarcasm and tend to have a dark sense of humor. They are sometimes known to bully others or to have fun at someone else’s expense.

While their gallows humor often gets a laugh, it can be particularly cruel to anyone who finds themselves the butt of a Dark Empath’s joke. 

Their sense of humor may initially be part of their charm.

Because they can make a cutting remark with a smile or laugh, many may not realize at first the vicious intent. It is often in retrospect that we realize that the joke was on us — never on them. 

7. They are experts at using other people 

Dark Empaths are perhaps even more skilled than narcissists at using other people. Because they are sensitive, they know intuitively exactly how to get others to do what they want.

They know exactly what to say and do to stay in control of the situation at all times. 

Because the Dark Empath reads people so well, they can sense what others need and play the role that is best suited to getting what they want.

While they have deep emotions, they can lack sincerity when it comes to expressing them to others. Yet, their feeling and charm could mask any manipulation in play. 

In fact, their need for control feeds their desire to understand people. Figuring out what makes people tick is essential to using them effectively.

Their people skills are extraordinary. They are capable of plying others with compliments, attention, and charm if it suits them to do so.

Because they see the big picture with all the subtle nuances that shade situations, they can alter their behavior to influence outcomes. 

8. They guilt trip and gaslight you

While compliments and attention can get them far in life, Dark Empaths won’t hesitate to use guilt trips and gaslighting to stay in control.

Their emotional manipulations require that they keep you off balance and unwise to their behind-the-scenes machinations.

If you figure out what they’re doing, they’re more likely to question your sanity in a gaslighting attempt than to admit that you’ve caught them out. 

Just as they’ll gaslight you to keep you in line, they’re equally likely to use a guilt trip and prey on your feelings for them.

Dark Empaths often use this strategy when they encounter boundaries in personal relationships.

A little emotional blackmail can go a long way when the Dark Empath is pulling the strings. 

9. They keep an emotional distance

Despite their sensitivity, Dark Empaths are never completely vulnerable with others. They are, in fact, often emotionally unavailable in relationships.

The Dark Empath keeps a certain emotional distance and disguise what they’re doing with energy and attention as necessary to maintain the status quo. 

This can initially be difficult to see, especially when they’ve shown us their low self-worth or mental health struggles.

We may believe that they are being completely open, but most Dark Empaths are unlikely to fully disclose the extent of their control over relationships.

They’d much rather lead with charm, seduction, and more subtle manipulations than to bare their souls to anyone else. 

Dark Empaths aren’t as aggressive as others who share Dark Triad traits, but they damage others in their own way.

While they may sometimes see their manipulations as harmless, their ongoing need for control can come with a sense of betrayal when partners discover the inequities in the relationship.

Because they can read the room, they’re capable of adapting to changing emotions — and even showing that they can change. 

While their attempts at being on their best behavior can be convincing, you can never be sure if the Dark Empath has changed or is simply evolving to better achieve their own ends.

These personality types can often deplete true empaths at a level on par with pure narcissists. Having to question someone’s sincerity and motives can be exhausting. 

Final Thoughts

Spotting the signs of a Dark Empath can help prepare you for dealing with them.

This dangerous personality type can be easily masked behind a charming smile and easygoing demeanor.

Dark Empaths have the advantage of an emotional depth that keeps their more manipulative traits in check, but it isn’t wise to underestimate them.

These narcissistic empaths function with a self-serving mindset. Recognizing the early warning signs could be just what you need to avoid getting played. 

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

Manipulative Personality Type More Covert Than Narcissism

  • Dark empathy is a trait describing someone who understands another's emotions but can't feel them.
  • People with dark empathy could use gaslighting and charm to manipulate the people close to them.
  • A dark empath may also tell a lot of sarcastic jokes, gossip, and bully others.
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Researchers say there is a personality type that may be more dangerous than narcissism because it's harder to spot.  

In 2020, psychologists coined the term "dark empaths" to describe people who tend to have trouble with emotional empathy or physically feeling the emotions someone else is experiencing. Dark empathy isn't a diagnosable mental-health condition but a personality trait that people may embody to different extents, according to PsychCentral.

People with personality disorders, like narcissism, are characterized by traits that include charm and disregard for the feelings of others, but dark empaths may have dark traits associated with those conditions, while still coming off as emotionally tapped in.

Ramani Durvasula, a therapist, told Well and Good that dark empaths could cognitively understand someone else's emotions and therefore seem invested in a relationship. But when it comes to supporting a loved one, dark empaths don't take action, Durvasula, who wrote the book "'Don't You Know Who I Am?': How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility," said.

Since they process empathy only on a brain level, a dark empath could use what they learn to manipulate you, while keeping an emotional distance, Durvasula said. Their less obvious and more covert tactics can be difficult to spot compared with a narcissist's.

"It's giving a surgical, almost razor-precision focus on another person to understand what makes them tick with the goal of almost mining data that could be used to the advantage of the dark empath," she said.

The traits and signs of a dark empath are subtle, but can include love bombing, galighting or sarcasm, Cali Estes, a cognitive-behavioral therapist in Miami, told PsychCentral. Pointed jokes and guilt trips may be signs you're dealing with one, experts say.

Their jokes are always sarcastic

Dark empaths gravitate toward manipulative tactics, including biting humor, since it's an indirect yet effective way to affect someone else, according to PsychCentral.

If you notice someone relies on sarcasm to write off hurtful or malicious comments as jokes, it can mean they have dark empathy as a personality trait.

If someone often jokes about people they deem inferior, that may also suggest they're a dark empath, Well and Good reported.

They try to guilt-trip you often 

Guilt is another common manipulation tactic for dark empaths, researchers say.

If you notice someone always attempts to guilt-trip you when you don't agree with what they say, think, or do, it can mean they're a dark empath.

They're constantly gossiping

If you notice someone act kind and agreeable to others, but they turn around and gossip, it could mean they have dark empathy, Estes told PsychCentral.

She said dark empaths tended to focus on what they could get out of relationships. When they don't like what they get, they can act in vindictive ways, like talking about loved ones behind their backs instead of being honest about the cause of their dislike.

They're charming until they don't get what they want

A dark empath can seem agreeable until things don't go their way, Mary Joye, a mental-health counselor and certified Florida Supreme Court family mediator, said.

"They can be very charming and put you on a pedestal and then be the very person who will knock that pedestal down," Joye told PsychCentral.

6 subtle signs that you are a dark empath (and what it all means)

Empaths are people who have an exceptional ability to recognize and understand the feelings of another person. Empaths are often inclined to help others, but there is a downside to the coin. So-called dark empaths use the same abilities to manipulate others.

The Dark Triad is a personality scale that measures psychopathy (emotional coldness, ruthlessness, and impulsiveness), narcissism (vanity, superiority, and grandiosity), and Machiavellianism (manipulativeness, intrigue, and lack of morals). A dark empath is a person who has all three of the negative traits, but who also has the traits of an empath. Empaths are known to be extremely sensitive to the feelings of others, so much so that they absorb other people's emotions and become exhausted when they spend too much time in public.

The difference between the two, according to a 2020 study from Nottingham Trent University, is that dark empaths have a high level of cognitive empathy, meaning they are able to understand someone's emotions and perhaps even anticipate them. Regular empaths have higher affective empathy, which is the ability to actually feel someone's emotions. The phrase “dark empaths” sounds rather ominous, but these people also have positive traits, which makes their intentions sometimes difficult to detect. As empaths, they may even feel some shame about how they manipulate people. They can also be very talented and extraordinary personalities. One of their positive traits is the ability to disengage from the heavy emotionality of the situation and perform work that others find too draining, such as the work of a detective or an emergency doctor.

A recent study of 991 people estimated that about 19 percent of the participants in each group were dark empaths. It seems that meeting secret manipulators is not as difficult as one might think. Here are six signs of this personality type to consider in yourself or others.


Dark empaths are definitely not the movie villains who sit alone in a dark room plotting how to harm others. On the contrary, they act openly. People of this type usually turn out to be extroverts with excellent social skills, and they can have many friends.


Narcissism is one of the most obvious traits of an empath. Of course, different personalities will have different levels of narcissism. However, dark empaths definitely don't like being talked about negatively, and they can't handle rejection. They do not even mentally allow themselves to be rejected. Dark empaths tend to put their pride above all else and internally believe they are above everyone else.


Dark empaths are great at manipulating emotions. They can understand the emotions of another person and change them according to their own wishes. They can also easily find a common language with others and communicate with everyone kindly, which makes them even more persuasive and helps to camouflage their true motives.


Dark empaths effectively use their capacity for empathy to understand what their victim is feeling and then make them feel guilty about things they may not even be involved in. Usually these people do not care about others and can easily distort other people's feelings to their advantage.

Malicious intent

Dark empaths are malicious, and this often manifests itself in what they find amusing. According to Freud, malicious humor is laughing at someone who, in the opinion of the laugher, is inferior to him, and it is absolutely destructive in nature and non-objective. Such behavior includes things like banter and other hurtful jokes to put someone down in order to feel better or superior to them.

Rapture of power

The desire to control everything and have power is at the very top of the list of traits of a dark empath. It's pretty easy to draw the line here: they want everyone to know they're the boss, but they don't always want to take part in any processes or take on any responsibilities.

Photo: Stock Adobe

life between good and evil

They seem cold and masterful in the art of manipulation, but they are also kind and compassionate. Here is such an unexpected paradox...

Author Kluber To read 6 min. Views 5.9k. Posted by

It is believed that all psychopaths, Machiavellians and even narcissists are basically incapable of empathy. However, this issue is somewhat more complex than it might seem at first glance. For example, in recent years, psychologists are increasingly writing about a previously unexplored personality type - a dark empath. This really is a riddle of riddles.

Who are these and what are they - dark empaths? In percentage terms, there are not so many such people, but they exist. The peculiarity of this type of personality is that it simultaneously has both "classic" dark features and a bright side - understanding and compassion. This fact seemed so surprising and interesting to the experts that the number of studies on this topic is growing year by year.

Some scholars compare them to "anti-heroes" such as Severus Snape, a character in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. They, like the literary prototype, look very cold and master the art of manipulation, but in fact they are caring and kind. Such a strange and unexpected talent...

What is dark empathy?

In the field of evolutionary psychology, it is believed that "dark traits" are not so bad. For example, they stimulate the development of mankind, they are a kind of catalyst for change. After all, people who possess them effectively and easily resolve conflicts, know how to lead others, make quick decisions in difficult conditions and never deviate from their goals. A dream, not a "kit" for success, right? . .

What is meant by "dark traits" of personality? These are characteristics that are part of the dark triad, as it is called in psychology: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. In other words, these people are characterized by emotional coldness, aggressiveness and insincerity. These traits are literally striking, but at the same time, both kindness and a tendency to sympathy are observed.

Psychologists for a long time could not understand how these traits "get along" with each other. And only recent research has shed light on this phenomenon: we are dealing with dark empathy.

Let's try to figure it out.

High sensitivity and dark personality traits

A study on this topic was published not so long ago - in July 2020. Scientists from the Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand), the University of Nottingham and Bishop's University of Grosseteste (UK) set out to find out what role dark empaths play in the above triad.

According to a fairly common assumption, neither psychopathic nor narcissistic and Machiavellian personalities are capable of empathy. However, in reality, everything is much more "confusing".

The fact is that most of these personality types are not inclined to sympathy, but they understand others very well. Another thing is that they perceive the emotional reality of other people as a resource with which you can better manipulate others. In other words, empathy for them is just a “magic key” to achieve their own goals.

However, during the study, the sample of which was about 1 thousand people, a striking thing was discovered. 19.3% of people who had the characteristics of the dark triad clearly showed the ability to ... empathy! They not only sensitively captured the mood and feelings of others, but also sincerely sympathized!

People of this type break out of the classic dark triad and are called dark empaths (DE).

How is this possible? How can you be, for example, a sympathetic psychopath? What about a compassionate narcissist? According to research, yes. People with psychopathic, Machiavellian, or narcissistic traits can show empathy and are called dark empaths.

Also Read: 10 Things Empaths Hide From Others

Characteristics of a Dark Empath

Mostly men. By the way, there are a lot of them among the main characters of modern movies and books. This is such a typical mysterious or evil character, who, after a series of adventures, eventually turns out to have a good heart. He is a vampire who does not drink blood; or a cold sociopathic detective who always protects and cares for those in need; a prudent thief who robs solely for the sake of some noble goal, and so on.

All these dark empath prototypes show that the dark side of a person's personality is not always terrible. Sometimes it's quite the opposite. That is why, from the point of view of psychology, these types are of particular interest. After all, they have traits that are vital for certain occupations. For example, for intelligence officers, military, doctors and even government officials.

How do you tell if someone is a dark empath?

Extroverts and neurotics

Dark empaths tend to be extraverted. They are proactive, open and express their feelings very easily.

Also, such people in 9 cases out of 10 are pronounced neurotics. In other words, they are more likely to experience strong emotional ups and downs (such as anxiety, depression, and phobias). Often they themselves suffer from emotional pain.

They are friendly and sociable

Their kindness is real and genuine. They don't pretend to pity or sympathize with anyone. They like to communicate with people, listen to them, support and help.

Dark empaths love power, but in the name of a common cause they do not usurp it in their own hands, but know how to work well in a team. They like to lead, ignite, motivate, point the direction. And, it should be noted, they cope with this excellently.

It is precisely because they are dark empaths that they have a clear advantage: they become wonderful "humane leaders." Such individuals are indispensable when it comes to the common good and success.

They are vulnerable narcissists

Another characteristic of this personality type is vulnerable narcissism.

Learn more