Narcissistic lack of empathy
Do Narcissists Lack Empathy? It Depends
Let’s start right at the beginning.
Narcissism has fascinated us for at least two millennia. The myth of Narcissus is rather tragic and goes as far back as 43 B.C. – 17 A.D. Narcissus was a handsome youth whose love was sought by many men and women, but his pride was so fierce that no one was ever good enough. His demeanor hurt and destroyed many hearts. Eventually, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection that he saw in a pond. He was so infatuated by what he saw that he was unable to pull himself away, waning and slowly dying. He was sent to Hell, but even there he found a pond to gaze in. The myth of Narcissus illustrates the many difficulties that someone with narcissism and those around them may have to deal with on a daily basis.
In psychology today, it is generally agreed that narcissism is a personality trait and people can range widely in how narcissistic they are. At its most severe, a person’s behavior can meet the diagnostic criteria for a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Low empathy has been proposed as one of the reasons behind narcissists’ hurtful and callous behavior. And that is not surprising given the 2000-year-old myth of Narcissus, personal experiences, and clinical descriptions. However, what is surprising is that the scientific literature has not been able to consistently link the two together.
What Is Empathy, Anyway?
One of the main reasons causing this is disagreement about what empathy really is. Empathy is a broad term that means different things to different people. (See a Character and Context blog, “Empathy: A Word with Too Many Meanings” and “What is Empathy? You Thought You Knew.”) So, we will clarify how we defined the term “empathy” in our research.
Empathy is comprised of two components: one, termed Cognitive Empathy, mainly refers to thoughts about other people’s emotions, and the other, termed Affective Empathy, involves feeling others’ emotions—one might say these two encompass both “head” and “heart. ” To illustrate, for someone to be empathic, they must be able to recognize and understand other people’s emotions (Cognitive Empathy) and to feel them (Affective Empathy). For example, when you see someone in distress, you instantly recognize and understand that they are sad, and at the same time, you start to feel sad yourself.
Given the complexities involved in studying “empathy,” we examined the narcissism-empathy link separately for these two empathy components. Do narcissistic individuals struggle to understand others’ emotions (their Cognitive Empathy), do not feel them (their Affective Empathy), or both?
From Many Studies, Answers
We looked at every study conducted between 1979 and 2020 that reported the association between narcissism and the two empathy components in people 18 and over—for a total of 93 studies with 32,200 participants.
The results showed that the narcissism-empathy link is not “all or nothing,” and is more nuanced than some might think. Narcissistic individuals have both lower Cognitive and Affective Empathy, at least when they are asked to self-report about their general empathic tendencies. Furthermore, this association is the same for people of all ages, across both sexes and forensic (those charged or convicted of criminal offences), clinical (those with a diagnosis of mental disorder), and general communities.
However, when empathic abilities are assessed more objectively, for example with tests of relevant skills, a different pattern emerges. Narcissistic individuals perform worse on Affective Empathy tasks, but perform on Cognitive Empathy tests just as well as less narcissistic individuals. For example, when asked to look at pictures of people’s faces, or to watch video clips showing other people expressing different emotions, narcissistic individuals are able to identify each emotion as well as less narcissistic people, only they report feeling them to a lesser extent compared to less narcissistic people.
Thus, when narcissistic individuals are asked about their Cognitive and Affective Empathy, they tend to report less understanding, recognition, and feeling of others’ emotions. But, objectively, although they are capable of recognizing and understanding others’ thoughts and feelings, they may still not feel them themselves. We suggest that the deficits observed in the emotional aspects of empathy may be more pervasive, whereas the capacity to recognize and understand others’ emotions seems to be more intact, although may not always be engaged. It is likely that being able to understand others’ emotions but not feel them is one of the mechanisms by which narcissistic individuals (and the mythological Narcissus) are able to treat others in a callous manner.
For Further Reading
Urbonaviciute, G., & Hepper, E. G. (2020). When is narcissism associated with low empathy? A meta-analytic review. Journal of Research in Personality. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104036
Hepper, E. G., Hart, C. M., & Sedikides, C. (2014). Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167214535812
Greta Urbonaviciute is a doctoral student at the University of Surrey in the School of Psychology. Her research interests are in narcissism and empathy, and how perspective-taking and emotion regulation affect the association.
Do Narcissists Actually Lack Empathy?
We generally assume that narcissistic people lack empathy, and we employ this assumption to account for some of their undesirable behaviors and traits. However, there are circumstances where narcissistic individuals will display empathy, which can be confusing. Many narcissistic people who seem to lack empathy for other humans in their lives can express enormous compassion for their pets, and they may overtly express empathy to a sad child or to an injured animal. Thus, let’s consider the possibility that narcissists are consciously and unconsciously unwilling to empathize, rather than lacking the capacity to do so. If this is so, then how do we make sense of their unwillingness?
A lack of empathy is often considered to be one of the distinctive features of narcissism. However, this is not entirely the case. The criteria for the formal psychiatric diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association includes “lacks empathy,” but this designation has a critical qualifier: namely, “is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others."  An unwillingness to empathize with another person is not the same as being unable to empathize. The notion that a person has a capacity for empathy, yet is not empathically responsive, may be useful for understanding the personality characteristics of people we label as narcissistic.
Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.  Some regard empathy as a vicarious affective response based on the awareness of another person’s emotional state.  Many definitions of empathy include the concept of perspective-taking—emotionally or cognitively seeing things from the other person’s position.  Thus, empathy can involve both a cognitive process (the ability to understand another person’s view in terms of what the other is thinking or feeling) and an experiential process (resonating with another person’s emotional response).
Some researchers have found that the cognitive functioning necessary for empathy, such as the ability to role-play or take another person’s perspective, occurs in a different location of the brain than the emotional aspects of empathy, such as sensitivity to what another person is feeling or experiencing.  Whether one is narcissistic or not, our brains simulate the feelings of those around us. This ability to unconsciously mimic another’s feelings enables us to reconstruct within us what other people may be experiencing.  
Given the many and complicated interactions we have with others throughout our lives, the ability to automatically understand what is going on with someone else is a crucial skill for successful social functioning. Some studies have shown a relationship between narcissism and deficient emotional empathy, but that narcissists, nevertheless, can recognize and react to the suffering of others, even if they are motivated to disregard such distress in other people. 
The capacity to empathize does not preclude its use for bad behavior or destructive purposes.   Some people may consciously or unconsciously be motivated to withhold an empathic response to control a partner, or they may exploit their understanding of another person’s emotional state to manipulate them or to gain power. Using their empathy manipulatively, for example, people with narcissistic pathology know how to evoke insecurity in their partners and provoke attachment anxiety. 
Consider for a moment that narcissistic people do not really lack empathy, but instead, their vulnerability and need for self-protection limits their freedom to express it. Consciously or unconsciously they are unwilling to empathize rather than lacking the capacity to do so. In particular situations, someone with a narcissistic personality may feel emotionally safe and capable of vulnerability. The subjective experience of trust can be a powerful tool for narcissists that reduces perceived threats and allows them to attend to the needs and feelings of others.  There is evidence indicating that narcissistic individuals are hyper-sensitive to information that could cause them psychological distress, but at the same time, they may be oblivious to such information at the level of conscious awareness.  Interpersonally, where someone with narcissistic traits experiences helplessness or vulnerability, they are likely to withhold an empathic response automatically, appearing cold-hearted or as refusing to take responsibility for hurtful behavior.
How do we understand the personality development of someone who appears to lack empathy or has an unwillingness to empathize? The answer involves a personality organization that is scripted to avoid shame. Our lifetime of emotional responses and the responses of others to our emotional expressions script or automate our behavior in different ways.  When emotions occur in persistent or repeated forms, we consider them as dispositional characteristics of the individual or personality traits—situations that typically activate a coherent pattern of interacting emotions or scripted behaviors. Unfortunately, the language of personality traits overshadows the emotional states that motivate the behavior.  For example, we generally consider narcissism as having to do with behaviors or traits, such as grandiosity, entitlement, and a lack of empathy, but this obscures how these behaviors and traits are patterned responses to specific emotional experiences. Shame is the central emotional experience of narcissism, and narcissistic disorders reflect behaviors that disown or regulate shame.  
Since an empathic response often involves an unconscious assessment of one’s vulnerability to experiencing shame, the narcissist’s inhibition of an empathic response (“unwillingness”) may simply be self-protective. This also points to the affective limitations that accompany narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists do not consciously feel a lack of empathy or experience an unwillingness to empathize. Instead, in many situations where one might expect them to empathize, their limitations activate a sense of helplessness—an imagined vulnerability— followed by scripted responses to shame, such as shame-fear (fear of loss of face) or shame-rage (protection from some trauma or imagined trauma from the past). 
Thus, if you are involved with someone whose behaviors are motivated by shame-avoidance, your task is to protect yourself since they will be consciously or unconsciously unwilling to empathize with you. Commonly, heartbroken people explain their relationship rupture as due to their former partner’s “lack of empathy,” concluding they had been in love with a narcissist. However, it is possible to respond to our own shame by attacking the other who could not provide what we needed in the first place, given their restricted emotional freedom. Instead, by accepting our disappointment and misdirection, and looking inside ourselves, we can learn because we have the emotional resources and willingness that enable us to do so.
For information about my books please visit my website: marylamia.com
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 David, G. F. (2020, January 4). Personal email communication.
Essential Signs of a Narcissist: Evidence for a Personality Disorder
Narcissist and narcissistic disorder are words in the arsenal of professional psychotherapists and psychiatrists, but we often use them in everyday life. There are no blood tests or precise definitions that can unequivocally identify a narcissist. Even occupational therapists must simply observe a person's behavior and attitudes in order to draw a definite conclusion about him. In this material, we will give all the traits and behaviors that are signs of a narcissist.
Psychology of Personality
Not all of these traits need to be present in a person's personality and behavior to be labeled as a narcissist. According to the professional literature, 55% of the identification characteristics are enough to make a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
So, signs of a narcissist.
1. Confidence in one's own superiority
Superiority is the #1 sign of a narcissist. Confidence in superiority is different from mere confidence in oneself.
The narcissist's world consists of good/bad, higher/lower, and right/wrong. There is a certain hierarchy in his mind with himself at the top - this is the only place where the narcissist feels safe. Narcissists must be the best, the most right, and the most competent; do things your way; own everything and control everyone.
Interestingly, narcissists can have this sense of their own greatness, being the worst, the most wrong, at the bottom of the hierarchy. Then they feel entitled to receive care and reward and even consider it possible to hurt another or demand an apology in order to "even the score. " This is called vulnerable or covert narcissism.
2. Exaggerated need for attention and approval
Another key feature of the narcissist is a constant need for attention. The narcissist's need for recognition is like a funnel. You say positive, supportive words to him, but they just flow out of his ears and disappear without lingering. No matter how much you tell narcissists that you love them, admire them, or approve of them, they never feel it is enough because deep down they don't believe anyone can love them.
Despite being self-absorbed and feeling grandiose, narcissists are actually very insecure and afraid of not fitting in. They are constantly trying to get praise and approval from others to bolster their fragile ego, but no matter how much they are given, they always want more and more.
You can define a narcissist by their extremely high need for everything to be perfect. They believe that they should be perfect, other people should be perfect, things should happen exactly as they expect, and life should unfold exactly as they imagine. This is an agonizing, impossible demand that leaves the narcissist feeling unsatisfied and unhappy most of the time. The demand for perfection causes the narcissist to complain and be constantly dissatisfied.
4. Need for control
Constant manipulation and attempts to control everything is archetypal narcissistic behavior. Since narcissists are constantly frustrated by the imperfections of life, they want to do as much as possible to control it and shape it to their liking.
There always seems to be a plot in the head of the narcissist in which each character speaks and acts only in a certain way. When someone does not behave the way the narcissist expects, they become very upset and anxious. He does not know what to expect next if someone does not act according to the script. Any person is just a character in their inner game, and not a real person with their own motives, thoughts and feelings. By the way, this is why it is so difficult to break off a relationship with a narcissist - he simply cannot believe that such a grandiose uncontrollable failure can occur in his matrix.
5. Lack of responsibility
Lack of responsibility is a clear sign of a narcissist. While narcissists want to be in control, they never want to be held accountable for the results. When something doesn't go according to their plan, or they feel criticized or imperfect, all the blame and responsibility is placed on someone else. This is how the narcissist maintains his own sense of perfection. The fault is always someone else's, but not his.
More often than not, the narcissist blames one person for all his troubles and failures, who is the most emotionally close, most attached, loyal and loving person in his life. Victims of narcissistic abuse are the safest people who are most likely not to be rejected even after the most monstrous accusations.
6. No Boundaries
Many people lack boundaries or routinely violate other people's personal boundaries, but for narcissists this is the status quo. In this, they forever remain two-year-old children who believe that everything belongs to them, and people think, feel and want the same thing they want. The narcissist is genuinely shocked and genuinely offended when he hears no. He will continue to demand what he wants with the help of persuasion, demands, blackmail, manipulation, tantrums. In general, this car is hard to stop
7. Lack of empathy
Narcissists have very little ability to empathize with others. Lack of empathy is a hallmark of narcissism. Narcissists tend to be selfish and self-centered and usually cannot understand how other people feel. They expect others to think and feel the way they do, and rarely consider how others really think and feel. They also rarely apologize, repent, and even more so admit their guilt.
Narcissists have no understanding of the nature of feelings. They do not understand how and where they come from. It seems to them that feelings are caused by someone or something from outside, not realizing that in general the source of emotional life is their own biochemistry, thoughts and interpretations.
Lack of empathy makes true emotional connection and relationships with narcissists difficult or impossible. They just don't notice how others feel.
8. Perceive everything as a threat
As we have already mentioned, narcissists are very bad at empathy, they simply do not recognize the feelings and moods of others, so they read in advance the slightest changes in the emotional background of the interlocutor as a threat.
Narcissists often misinterpret sarcasm as factual agreement or take jokes as a personal insult. Lack of the ability to read body language correctly, a common narcissistic trait, is one of the reasons why narcissists are not empathetic or receptive enough. They don't see them, misinterpret them, and generally don't believe that anyone is capable of feeling anything else.
Despite the fact that things are not easy for narcissists with emotions, they make most decisions in their lives based on emotions, and not on logic or reason.
He simply must have this red sports car. Simply because it feels cool to be behind the wheel. And it doesn't matter that this purchase will become a hole in the family budget.
When narcissists get bored or depressed, they want to move, end relationships, or start a new business. They always turn to something or someone outside themselves to fulfill their needs. They expect everyone to agree with their decision, and get very angry if this does not happen.
The narcissist's personality is divided into good and bad parts, and they also divide everything in their relationship into good and bad. Any negative thought or behavior is blamed on others, while everything positive and good is attributed to oneself. They deny their negative words and actions, constantly blaming others for their disapproval. They also remember events and facts as perfectly good and wonderful, or as bad and terrible.
For example: a narcissist may call a vacation ruined and the worst of his life just because the hotel room did not live up to his expectations and the weather was not perfect every day.
Narcissists cannot see, feel or remember both the positive and negative sides of a situation. They can only deal with one point of view at a time—their own.
11. Fear of being rejected and ridiculed
The whole life of a narcissist is motivated and fueled by fear. But this is not so easy to discover, because the fears of most narcissists are deeply hidden and suppressed. They are constantly afraid of being ridiculed, rejected or misunderstood. This makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for a narcissist to trust anyone but himself.
But the narcissist cannot live without a relationship. The closer he gets to someone, the less he trusts that person. Narcissists are afraid of any real intimacy, and even more so of their own vulnerability, because they are afraid to show their flaws, afraid of condemnation and rejection. No words and assurances work, because in fact, narcissists deeply hate and reject their shameful imperfections. They are not able to believe in the love of another, they constantly test loved ones with more and more terrible deeds, in order to eventually be abandoned and say: "I told you so!"
Anxiety is a constant, vague feeling that something bad is happening or about to happen. Some narcissists display anxiety by constantly talking about the death that is about to happen, while others hide and suppress their anxiety. But most narcissists project their anxiety onto those closest to them, accusing them of being unsupportive, unresponsive to their needs, being too selfish. All this is designed to convey anxiety to a loved one in an attempt not to feel it on yourself. As the other person feels worse and worse, the narcissist feels better and better.
13. Very strong and very deeply repressed shame
Narcissists do not feel guilty because they think they are always right and do not believe that their behavior really affects anyone else. But they have a lot of shame in them.
Read also: 11 Signs You're Dating a Narcissist and How to Get Rid of It
Shame is the belief that there is something deeply and obviously wrong or bad about who you really are . Buried in the deeply repressed part of the narcissist are the insecurities, fears, and rejected traits that he constantly guards to hide from everyone, including himself. The narcissist is incredibly ashamed of all these rejected thoughts and feelings.
14. Inability to be truly vulnerable
Due to their inability to understand the feelings of others, lack of empathy, and constant need for self-protection, narcissists are unable to truly love or connect emotionally with other people. They cannot look at the world from someone else's point of view. This makes them emotionally disabled. When relationships are no longer satisfying, they often start new ones as soon as possible. They desperately want someone to feel their pain, sympathize with them, and do things the way they want.
15. Inability to communicate or work in a team
Thoughtful, productive collaborative behavior requires a real understanding of other people's feelings. How will the other person feel? Will this decision make us both happy? How will this affect our relationship? These are questions that narcissists don't have the opportunity or desire to think about. Don't expect the narcissist to understand your feelings or give up everything they want for your benefit. Never. He is simply not able to choose another and his interests.
Photo: Getty images
10 Facts About Empathy: Society Articles years. Developing empathy as an integral part of "emotional intelligence" is advised to bosses of any rank, politicians and marketers, as it will help them achieve their goals.Plus-one.ru has collected ten scientific facts about empathy, confirmed by scientific research.
Fact 1: Lack of empathy can be a sign of mental illness. Empathy is an emotional response, empathy for a communication partner. The term is a tracing-paper from the German Einfühlung, introduced in 1885 by Theodor Lipps when describing the impact of art on people.
British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen proposed a scale of empathy from zero (complete absence) to six (altruism). A complete lack of empathy is associated with various diseases (narcissistic personality disorder, psychopathy, and so on), and an excess of empathy, when a person is constantly focused on the feelings of other people, is commonly called altruism.
It is believed that a large number of people with a high level of empathy makes both people and entire societies virtuous. However, altruists themselves often face difficulties in building personal boundaries.
Fact 2. Empathy is innate and is associated with the work of mirror neurons . This is evidenced by the behavior of a baby who screams when he hears a baby crying from a nearby crib or copying the mother's emotions. This copying is an important part of growing up as a person “learns” emotions. Mirror neurons are involved in the neurophysiological mechanisms of empathy. During the experiments, it was found that if a person is told about something vile, they excite the very neurons that are responsible for disgust, and if they talk about someone else's pain, the brain reacts as if the pain is experienced by its owner.
Fact 3. Empathy is not unique to humans. The Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal describes examples of helping behavior in animals in the book In Search of Humanity in Primates. Just like in humans, empathic (helping) behavior is based on experience. In a number of experiments, it has been proven that rats try to help their relatives in danger through which they themselves have passed. In the course of experiments at the Japanese Kansei Gakuin University, one rat sank into a tank of water, while the other had the opportunity to open the door of this tank in order to save her. Behind another door, there was a chocolate treat nearby. The second rat first saved the first, and then shared food with her. Those rats that were already drowning in a tank of water reacted faster than the others.
Fact 4. Empathy is only partially transmitted genetically. This was shown by a study at the University of Cambridge, in which 46,000 people took part: each subject completed a survey and received an “empathy coefficient” as a result, and also passed saliva samples for a DNA test. In this experiment, scientists looked for differences in genes that could explain why some people are more empathic than others. Experience has shown that only in 10% of cases the ability to empathize in humans is genetically determined. At the same time, scientists have not yet discovered a specific “empathy gene”. AT 90% empathy is a cultural product.
Fact 5. Women are more empathic than men. Experiments by a group of scientists from the US, Italy and the UK show that women are more empathetic than men. However, this is due not so much to biological characteristics, but to cultural norms: gender attitudes, activities related to caring for loved ones.
Empathy also has a number of "politically incorrect" properties: we are more willing to show it in relation to outwardly attractive people, as well as to people of our own race and nationality. At the same time, in multicultural societies with rich experience in combating xenophobia, this gap is not so clear.
Fact 6. The level of empathy is not constant. Changes depend on many circumstances: experience, state of mind, external factors, and so on. The famous experiment of Professor Stanley Milgram of Yale University proved that people are highly dependent on authorities for manifestations of empathy. As part of the experiment, participants were asked to inflict pain (shock) on another person (in reality, an actor). Despite their doubts, most of the participants agreed to gradually increase the current and cause suffering, as a “scientist” in a white coat stood nearby and encouraged them with the phrases: “Please continue”, “It is absolutely necessary that you continue”, and so on. Of the 40 participants, 26 reached the end of the scale (when the suffering inflicted was the highest).
Subsequently, scientists repeated the Milgram experiment several times, and the results turned out to be close to the original ones. In particular, Jerry M. Burger repeated the experiment in 2009, changing several protocols in accordance with ethical requirements. During the experiment, participants could see how others refused to continue the experience, but even in this state, many obeyed the "doctors".
Fact 7. Reduced empathy does not lead to aggressive behavior. A study of several dozen violent offenders found reduced levels of empathy among perpetrators. Aggressive participants in the experiment had a decrease in empathic response to emotional videos of others suffering. However, in people suffering from narcissistic disorders and psychopathy, empathy can also be reduced, but they are not prone to violent actions. It turned out that the decrease in empathy in aggressive men was caused by alexithymia - the inability to describe one's own state, focusing on external events to the detriment of internal experiences, a tendency to utilitarian thinking with a deficit of emotional reactions.
Fact 8. The bystander effect reduces empathy. Empathy tends to "dissipate": hence people's idea of "loneliness in a crowd", of the rigidity of city dwellers compared to village dwellers. Psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latane conducted an experiment they called the "witness effect": experimental students were taken to different rooms, where they were offered to listen to how an actor (students did not know that he was an actor) played out a scene of an epileptic seizure. If the participant in the experiment believed that he was the only witness of the "attack", the victim received help in 85% of cases, if the participants knew that there were two of them - in 62%, if they thought that there were five of them - only in 31% of cases. Scientists have called this effect “responsibility diffusion”.
Fact 9. Empathy helps you be more successful. In today's business, empathy is becoming an important element of management. A joint study on the psychology of hedge fund managers by researchers at the University of Denver and the University of California at Berkeley found that people with reduced empathy and pronounced psychopathic traits are more successful in name than in deed. Ruthlessness and callousness in the modern world help business less. Psychopaths often cause chaos in the workplace, their actions lead to staff drain and reduced employee productivity.
Fact 10. Empathy and happiness are related. Happy people tend to be more altruistic and empathetic than unhappy people. Child behavior researchers have found that children who are often punished are less generous than those who are not punished at all or rarely punished.