How to know if you lack empathy

Lack of Empathy: What it Means and How to Deal

Empathy is a fundamental part of building meaningful social connections. For some people, though, developing it may be a challenge.

Understanding another person’s feelings and experiences, even if opposite to ours, may allow us to respond in a supportive way and regulate our own emotions.

What happens when you don’t feel it? Is it possible to lack empathy altogether? And if so, is this a sign of a mental health condition? There are many possible answers to these questions, even though this is still an evolving area of research.

In general, empathy is the ability to understand or sense another person’s perspective, feelings, needs, or intentions, even when you don’t share the same circumstances. It can sometimes involve acting on that understanding, including offering help.

But empathy doesn’t always lead to action. It may depend on the type of empathy you’ve developed.

According to psychologists and researchers Paul Ekman and Daniel Goleman, there are three main types of empathy:


Cognitive empathy

This type of empathy is an intellectual understanding of someone else’s feelings. It’s the ability to consider other perspectives without sensing or experiencing them yourself.

For example, if a colleague loses their job, you may recognize what emotions they could be feeling. You could also understand how their emotions might affect their behavior. This doesn’t mean you experience distress yourself.

2. Affective or ‘emotional’ empathy

People who have emotional empathy tend to feel another person’s emotions. Although not always the case, this may also include physical sensations consistent with such emotion.

For example, if you see someone under great distress after losing a loved one, you feel sad yourself and could experience chest or stomach pain while sensing that emotion in the other person.

3. Compassionate empathy or ‘empathetic concern’

Compassionate empathy is a combination of cognitive and emotional empathy. You recognize and understand another person’s emotions and also feel them.

Taking on another person’s challenges and hurt may end up taking a toll on you. This is why some people may not develop this type of empathy.

However, relating to other people’s suffering may also lead you to consider helping. And research suggests that when you do help, your body produces more dopamine — a “feel-good” hormone. This then leads and motivates you to continue acting on your cognitive and emotional empathy.

Examples of compassionate empathy include stopping your car to help if you see someone fall or donating to a cause after a natural disaster.

Can you have one type of empathy only?

Not everyone develops compassionate empathy, and there are also different levels of emotional or cognitive empathy.

For example, you could feel sad that your partner is experiencing a challenge (emotional empathy). It hurts you to see them hurt.

Yet, you may not really understand why they feel this way. Or you may even feel that their reason for feeling sad isn’t serious enough to warrant these emotions. You may have difficulty seeing the situation from their perspective (cognitive empathy).

Because of this, you may not experience compassionate empathy.

Empathy exists on a spectrum, and in most cases, it isn’t entirely absent — it’s just diminished.

Because empathy is an ability, most people can develop it. Having low empathy doesn’t mean you’ll feel this way forever.

In some cases, due to illness or trauma, some people may have extremely low empathy and a diminished capacity to develop it. However, they still have the capacity.

Because everyone is different, and empathy is a spectrum, low empathy or lack of empathy can be challenging to spot.

In general, some of the signs someone may lack empathy include:

1. Being critical and judgmental

People who have low empathy may excessively criticize other people for experiencing or expressing emotions in certain scenarios.

Someone with a lack of empathy may also blame the person for what they’re experiencing. For example, they may say things like, “If you didn’t do those things, you wouldn’t be in trouble now.”

Someone who isn’t empathetic may also label people or behaviors without considering the context. For example, they may criticize a colleague for being late, without realizing or appreciating that they have a sick child at home.

2. Thinking it wouldn’t happen to them

Someone with low empathy may have trouble connecting to other people’s circumstances.

They may believe that a certain event would never happen to them, or that they could handle the situation “much better.” Because they feel this is the case, they won’t be able to understand or feel the other person’s distress.

3. Calling other people ‘too sensitive’

Because they have difficulty understanding another person’s perspective and sensing their emotions, a person that lacks empathy will sometimes think emotional reactions are not valid, or they may act in dismissive ways.

They may think people’s feelings are optional or come from what they may perceive as an emotional deficit. “You’re feeling that way because you want to or because you’re too sensitive, not because it’s really that bad.”

4. Responding in inappropriate ways

Someone with low empathy may joke about someone’s emotions or circumstances. They may also have a difficult time actively listen to you. They could also act chirpy or indifferent after you just expressed feeling sad or stressed.

Someone who is empathetic might try to cheer you up if they see you down. But someone who isn’t may ignore how you feel altogether.

5. Having trouble understanding how their behavior affects others

Often, low empathy may result in a person not realizing that their actions can affect others. Other times, they may understand that their behavior impacts other people, but they may not feel remorseful about it.

This means that someone may act in selfish or vindictive ways without realizing or caring if that hurts you.

6. Difficulty maintaining relationships

Low empathy may lead to constant friction in relationships or a lack of meaningful bonds.

When someone has a difficult time understanding other people’s feelings or acting in helpful ways, they may end up with few or no meaningful connections. Sometimes, they’re not even aware this is happening.

Everyone may experience low empathy at times. For example, it may be natural to have difficulty feeling and expressing empathy toward someone who has harmed us.

There is some debate on whether a person is born with low empathy or if upbringing, social factors, or life experiences may hinder their ability to develop it, or even limit it. Genetics may also play a role.

Other possible factors associated with low empathy include:

Personality and developmental disorders

  • narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
  • Machiavellianism
  • sociopathy or antisocial personality disorder
  • borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • alexithymia
  • autism

Among these conditions, levels of empathy can vary. Among individuals, levels can vary even more so.

For example, research suggests that some people with BPD may have difficulty developing emotional empathy but may display cognitive empathy.

Machiavellianism (a personality trait) and NPD (a mental health condition) have long been associated with a lack of empathy. However, one study suggests that people with these traits and disorders actually have a certain degree of empathy — they just may lack the motivation to show or act on it.

Additionally, autistic people can sometimes have difficulties with cognitive empathy. However, they may develop emotional empathy but face challenges with expressing it. A 2018 study suggests that possible low empathy among autistic people is not related directly to the causes of autism but rather to the co-occurrence of alexithymia.


Because empathy is partly a learned behavior, you may not be as empathetic if you didn’t experience much empathy while growing up.

Also, if you were alone much of the time, you may not have had the opportunity to practice empathy. This, too, can lead to a reduction of empathetic expression.

Low emotional intelligence, burnout, and stress

Emotional intelligence may be linked to empathy. If you haven’t developed this type of intelligence, you may also have low empathy.

Being under prolonged stress may also lead someone to be less tolerant of other people’s behavior and have lower cognitive empathy.

In some cases, emotional avoidance may also be a reason why someone may not develop or practice empathy. If someone is emotionally burned out, they may avoid all additional sources of distress, including relating to someone else’s difficulties.

In general, research also shows that some people may not develop compassionate empathy because of its perceived costs, like mental effort, time, and emotional weight.

Empathy can be developed. Here are a few tips for working on it:

Building cognitive empathy

Consider asking questions whenever you feel you don’t understand what the other person feels:

  • “How do you feel about this?”
  • “What were you hoping for?”
  • “Is there anything else going on in your life you may want to talk about?”

You could also work on being more observant of body language. You may be able to tap into someone else’s emotions if you notice a change in their expressions. This may also include focusing on nonverbal cues like tone of voice and change in habits.

Learning more about what’s important to those around you may also help you notice when their mood changes, even if you don’t feel the same way they do.

For example, if you know this person cares a lot about their pet — even if you don’t like animals — you may understand why the loss of their companion is devastating to them.

Increasing emotional empathy

Working on recognizing your own emotions may help you connect with other people. Not everyone will recognize how they feel at all times or why they act in a certain way.

For example, you may act irritable and impatient today without realizing it’s because you’ve been sad about an argument you had yesterday.

Learning to connect your emotions with your actions may help you connect with other people’s emotions, too.

You could also practice listening more attentively and resisting the desire to tell the other person about your personal experience when they’re talking about themselves.

When you do, consider focusing on how they feel and why they may be feeling this way.

Enhancing compassionate empathy

As you develop both cognitive and emotional empathy, you’ll be more likely to have compassionate empathy and step into action when you see someone having a difficult time.

There are many types and levels of empathy. How much empathy you have depends on many factors, and may vary according to the situation.

Empathy may help you exhibit more helping behaviors and could also improve your relationships.

If you feel you could be more empathetic, you’ve taken the first step. Empathy is something you can develop, and it starts with awareness.

If you feel you’re having a challenging time developing empathy, you may want to seek the support of a mental health professional who can work with you in practicing a few techniques that may help.

21 Lack Of Empathy Signs

Do you know how to tell if someone doesn’t have empathy for others? 

Maybe you’re thinking of someone right now.

You’ve noticed how perceptive they are about other people.

But empathy is about more than noticing things. 

People who lack empathy aren’t necessarily oblivious to what others are feeling. 

They can pick up on the signals that go with another’s emotions without actually sharing those feelings. 

And, unfortunately, that makes hurting people easier. 

What’s in this post:


What Is Empathy? 

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to feel what they’re (probably) feeling.

When you really “feel for” someone else, you empathize with them. 

Genuine empathy is linked to feelings of connectedness, solidarity, and compassion.

So, a lack of empathy for others has a real impact on your ability to build and nurture healthy relationships.   

It’s harder to care about others’ feelings when you either don’t perceive or don’t understand them. 

What Causes a Lack of Empathy? 

It needs to be said: lacking empathy (or seeming to) doesn’t make you a bad person.

Empathy exists on a spectrum, and while some are at the low end, that doesn’t mean they’re wholly incapable of empathizing. 

They may respond to another’s suffering with cognitive empathy — understanding why someone might feel the way they do but not feeling the same emotions on their behalf. 

Or they might, through affective empathy, feel overwhelmed by another person’s emotional pain without understanding what’s behind it. 

Compassionate empathy is a combination of cognitive and affective empathy: you understand why someone feels the way they do, and you share those feelings with them. This type of empathy makes it easier to be there for your friends when they’re hurting and helps them feel less alone. 

Someone with low empathy may seem either incapable of empathy or pathologically averse to it, when it’s more likely they feel overwhelmed or confused by another’s emotions and simply “can’t take it. ” 

A lack of empathy for others doesn’t look exactly the same from one empathy-challenged person to the next.

But the following signs remain fairly consistent. 

Which ones sound familiar to you?

1. Quickness to Criticize

With lower empathy comes a stronger need to criticize people who don’t meet your expectations or your ideas of how people should be. 

You’re less likely to bother trying to understand why someone thinks or acts the way they do when you don’t feel the slightest connection to them. 

As far as you’re concerned, their differences from you make them a threat. 

2. Intolerance of Opinions that Don’t Match Your Own

If you’re low on empathy, everyone is entitled to your opinion, but you don’t really have time or headspace for theirs—unless, of course, they agree with you 100%. 

Opinions that run counter to your own deserve only contempt and ridicule. Why sugarcoat it? If they were as intelligent and perceptive as you, they would agree.  

3. Difficulty Reading Body Language

Low empathy makes you less able to interpret someone else’s body language unless you see something in it to take personally. If you see something that feels like an inside joke at your expense, you might ask the offending person to say what they’re thinking. 

Then, if it’s not complimentary, you can return the favor. 

4. Refusal to Apologize

Low empathy means never having to apologize for the way your words and actions affect others. Apologizing feels too much like admitting you were wrong. And you’ve yet to see any proof of that. If someone is offended, you have an answer for that, too. 

5. Seeing Other People As “Too Sensitive”

People who are offended by something you’ve said or done are clearly overreacting and being oversensitive. It’s not personal. It’s just how it is. You’re one of those rare people who aren’t afraid to risk offending someone to say what “needs to be said.” 

Other people need to toughen up. If they were more like you, they’d understand. 

6. Narcissism

This one should be fairly obvious by now. The low empathy person is more self-focused than people with more empathy. They don’t feel an inward push to understand others. 

And if they weren’t even thinking of you, why should you take their words or actions personally? 

Except, sometimes—if it suits the narcissist—it is personal. 

7. Difficulty Keeping Friends

Just when you think you’ve found a friend who “gets you,” you find they have other friends they’d rather spend their time with. You’re someone they’ll hang with if those other friends aren’t available. But there’s no real closeness there. You just “get along.” 

Until you don’t. 

8. Insecurity 

You see how others write you off without bothering to understand why you are the way you are (it’s a fascinating story, really). And you don’t get it. 

While you might dismiss their opinion of you as shallow, you can’t help wondering why most (if not all) people eventually give up on you.  

9. Judgmental Attitude

Low empathy leads to a lack of interest in understanding other people. If they don’t act in a way that matches your expectations, you’re quick to condemn them for that. 

You don’t see a point in understanding someone’s rationale for acting in a manner opposite to your own. If they don’t do as you do, they deserve exile. 

More Related Articles

Dealing With A Lack Of Empathy From Your Partner or Spouse

12 Of The Worst Negative Personality Traits That Are Truly Nasty

What Are Superficial Relationships? 17 Signs You May Be In One or More

10. Tendency to Blame Others (for Everything)

If you’re low on empathy, you don’t want to believe anything is truly your fault — at least not exclusively. Others must share the blame when something you’re involved in goes sideways. And if you can shift the blame entirely onto others, so much the better.  

11. Tunnel Vision

People with low empathy have a hard time seeing outside their own narrow perspective. They won’t allow that perspective to broaden by openness to other people’s ideas, cultures, and perceptions. 

If you don’t focus on realizing their vision, you have no place in their world. 

12. Rejection of Other Points of View

Low empathy people prefer to surround themselves with like-minded individuals or “yes men” who agree to everything they say. If your boss is low on empathy, you’ve probably picked up on how dangerous it can be to your career to disagree with them — on anything. 

13. Avoidance of Emotional Situations

Low empathy people prefer to avoid being drawn into other people’s emotional drama. In fact, they’ll do everything possible to steer clear of it. 

Two people at odds over something the low empathy person doesn’t care about is obnoxious to them. And they’re more likely to dismiss emotional “leakage” as weakness.  

14. Refusal to Allow Your So-Called Needs Burden Them

If you’re low on empathy, you’re less likely to feel invested in other people’s happiness. 

If someone else’s needs conflict with your own desires, you’re more likely to downplay the former or even accuse the other person of trying to sabotage your happiness. Anyone who dares suggest your wants matter less than the real needs of others is just wrong. 

15. Difficulty Being Happy for Others. 

The more narcissistic you are, the harder it is to feel happy for others and to celebrate their wins with them. Because if your focus is on yourself and on what you’re feeling, you don’t feel invested in other people’s successes. 

Their triumph is an unwanted distraction.

16. Aversion to Grieving with Others

If you’re low on empathy, condoling with those who are suffering isn’t really your thing, either. When you pick up on sadness or emotional pain in others, you suddenly want nothing more than to be far away from them.   

You want no part in it—unless it somehow serves your interests.

17. Allergy to Good Moods in Others

Having a good day so far? They’ll fix that. People who have little empathy for others either don’t feel or don’t understand your good mood—or any mood that doesn’t match theirs. 

Another person’s lightheartedness is more likely to confound and irritate them than to lift them up. After all, if they’re not in a good mood, it doesn’t make sense for anyone else to be. 

18. Tendency to Bring Out the Worst in Others

If you know someone low on empathy, you’ve probably experienced this firsthand. They have a knack for bringing out the worst in you. So, who can blame you if you prefer to spend as little time as possible around them? 

Whatever you might gain from being in their company, the downsides catch up pretty quickly. 

19. Difficulty Reading Between the Lines

Someone with low empathy has a hard time reading between the lines when others are speaking. Just as they’re disconnected from body language that conveys emotions, they’re less attuned to subtext. 

They’re more likely to seize upon something that interests them personally and block out everything else. 

20. Lack of Interest in What Matters to You

Someone with low empathy just isn’t all that interested in hearing about your problems. 

The exception, of course, is when you mention a problem they feel uniquely qualified to fix. In that case, they’re happy to share their ideas, ostensibly for your benefit but mostly to demonstrate their superior knowledge and usefulness. 

21. Loneliness 

Surprised? Probably not. People with low empathy often end up alone. They’re not great at building and maintaining relationships that last. 

Even those with shared ideals tend to gravitate toward people with more empathy. And the low empathy person can’t help noticing the continual exodus from their social sphere. 

People might venture into it out of curiosity, but they don’t stay long.  

Lack of Empathy Examples 

Knowing the signs of low empathy is useful in its own right, but if you’re still wondering what this looks like in real people, check out the following examples; 

  • You want to talk about a devastating loss, but your low empathy friend would rather distract you by talking about their interests or doing something “more fun”;
  • You mention something your friend said the other day that hurt you, and they accuse you of misunderstanding them and being too sensitive or judgmental; 
  • Your friend is off doing their own thing when you need them, but when they want you for something, they expect you to drop everything and put them first. 

Now that you have some idea of how low empathy manifests in people, who comes to mind? And what will you do differently this week? 

6 signs that you have problems with empathy - HEROINE

The main function of empathy is to build mutual understanding between people. This is why the weaker our ability to empathize, the more difficult it is to build healthy relationships. You may not suspect that the cause of many failures is not bad luck, but bad empathy. Heroine will tell you how to understand that you do not feel other people.

1. Poorly developed intuition

People often present you with surprises: they suddenly get offended, then they betray or disappear. More than once it seemed to you that this happens for no reason. In fact, most likely, you feel badly for others and do not notice warning signs in their behavior. nine0003

You can consider a person a good friend without noticing that he treats you superficially. You are easily deceived, so there are always so many rascals around. People who have poor empathy can behave rudely themselves, not thinking that their actions can hurt others.

You don't know if you have that premonition, and you don't know how to listen to yourself.

2. You do not know how to take responsibility for your emotions

You do not separate your emotions from the actions of other people. If something upset you, it means that the person intentionally wanted to offend. nine0003

Verbally this is expressed as follows: you attack others, and do not talk about your emotions. Instead of saying, “I feel hurt by what you did,” you say, “You hurt me with what you did.” The thought seems to be the same, but the way it is expressed can say a lot about a person.

3. Suspicious

You constantly need to hear from a person that everything is in order. Look for confirmation from your girlfriends that your relationship with a guy is normal. decipher his actions. Even if a partner says in plain text that everything is fine with you, this will not completely convince you. nine0003

Such suspiciousness is taken again because of problems with intuition. You need facts and words because you have a problem with feelings.

1Read on the topic: 9 signs that you are a hypochondriac in a relationship

4. During a quarrel you want to offend a person

You do not treat conflicts as a way to find a compromise and solve a problem. This is a fight in which you need to defend and attack. Therefore, you are not trying to convey anything concrete, and even more so, you do not listen to your partner, but only blame. You do not hold back in expressions and do not think that the words spoken in anger will affect the relationship after you make peace. nine0003

If you want to build healthy communication with others, you will have to learn how to conflict properly. Express your opinion, talk about your own emotions without attacking the interlocutor.

5. You measure everything with your emotions

If everything suits me, then everything suits him - typical thinking of a bad empath. Such a person projects his emotions onto everything and does not allow the thought that others may feel differently. Therefore, for those who are weak in empathy, partners always suddenly run away, although everything was fine. In fact, such situations are rarely unexpected. If you feel a partner, you are unlikely to notice that he is unhappy. nine0003

6. You don't understand how you can worry about something that doesn't concern you

This sign is the easiest to notice. It’s hard to pity you with a movie, and even more so with a book. Laughing at your mom crying in front of the TV. You don’t understand why, in the days of mass tragedies, hundreds of people from different cities weep, although grief did not affect them in any way.

This is not a disadvantage, because it is easier for you to keep your cool and not waste emotions than an empath. Excessive sensitivity takes a lot of energy. nine0003

If you recognize yourself in these signs, don't be upset. Empathy can always be developed, and we've already covered how to do it.

Are you good at feeling other people's emotions?

Add to favorites


Related articles:

(Not) sympathetic: determine your type of empathy

(Not) sympathize: determine your type of empathy

Empathic people are able to respond to other people's feelings, empathize with them, form strong connections, and be aware of their own emotions. Human beings are empathic by nature. However, some empathize with their hearts, others with their heads, some practically do not feel other people. T&P have compiled a test that can determine your type of empathy.

Start test


If I see a person who is very upset or crying, it hurts me too

It is hard for me to feel the pain of another I not only feel his pain, but I can also imagine and understand what feelings he will experience later I worry about this person and understand his pain, but I don’t feel it myself I feel almost the same as him, and I feel in his place


as well as others I feel this tension and understand how the mood of others will change I do not always notice that others are nervous I see and understand that other people are nervous, but this state is not immediately transmitted to me


I often feel that something is wrong with a person close to me, even at a distance

I live this state together with him and I can predict what emotions we will experience later I understand that a person close to me something has happened, but without explanation it is still difficult to realize what state he is in. Unfortunately, without explanation, I won’t even notice it Yes, I don’t even need explanations, his state is immediately transmitted to me

emotions when watching a movie or reading a fiction book and often worry about the characters

I understand the feelings of the characters, and I know what they will experience in a given situation. I see the feelings of the characters and observe them, but I do not always feel them. It's just a movie, just a book. Characters are fictitious, coincidences are random Yes, I definitely feel everything and transfer it to my life


When I make a decision that affects other people, I am very worried about how it will affect them

I feel like “ forward” and I know how others will experience in a given situationI understand that my decision has consequences, but on an emotional level I do not empathize No, I do not worry about others and concentrate only on my decisionYes, it is difficult for me to predict how they will feel, but i feel i am responsible for others


I often feel embarrassed if a friend tells me about his problems

I am always ready to listen and find ways to solve the problem, to look at it from the outside Yes, it's really embarrassing, it's not easy for me to listen to other people's problems I know what will happen test my friend if the problem persists No, I immediately start to worry about my friend


Someone else's laughter is contagious

Definitely! And you can laugh for a long time if other people pick up this mood.

Learn more