People who lack empathy often display these 9 character traits

by Isabel Cabrera | June 4, 2024, 9:21 pm

Empathy is what unites people. That’s why a lack of it tends to tear us apart.

It’s the reason that empathy is believed to be a biological quality that’s imprinted into us.

We need to be able to relate to one another to come together. And that’s something human beings have relied on for our very survival.

But some people have far more empathy than others, and it shows.

Those who lack empathy have a hard time connecting to how other people feel.

This, unfortunately, makes it harder for them to understand different perspectives, share in others’ experiences, or respond to others’ emotions sensitively.

If someone is seriously lacking in empathy, you’ll probably notice the following traits in them…

1) They are self-centered and tend to put themselves first

It’s a tricky balance to keep.

On the one hand, we don’t want to become people-pleasers who always put our own needs and wants last.

Yet neither do we want to be totally selfish individuals who don’t give a damn about others.

Those who lack empathy tend to fall too much into the second camp.

They are more likely to prioritize their own preferences and desires above those of others, and they do so on repeat.

In the process, they can display an alarming lack of concern for the well-being of those around them.

It can feel like they have the attitude that all is well in the world just as long as their needs are getting met.

The focus seems solely on their own interests and concerns, and they show little genuine interest in the lives of others.

2) They are oblivious to how others feel because they can’t read the signs

We’re talking about non-verbal cues.

Most of us read these without giving it too much thought. We walk into a room and sense the vibe.

We can tell whether the person we’re speaking to is in a good mood or a bad one. We feel their energy levels.

We pick up on signals if they’re feeling distracted or down, without them needing to say a word.

So much of human communication is intrinsically non-verbal and most of us are masters at subconsciously picking up on it.

Yet those who lack empathy struggle. They don’t notice these cues in the same way.

They are fixated on their own little world and miss the signals others send.

This makes it much trickier to be sensitive to other people and assimilate into social situations, as we’ll see next.

3) They are socially clueless and often say or do the wrong thing

When you are oblivious to what’s going on with the people around you, you’re far more likely to put your foot in it.

People who lack empathy also lack sensitivity for that reason.

Not only do they not tune into other people, they are seriously lacking in self-awareness.

They don’t stop to think about how their words and actions might impact people.

They are the type of people who say whatever they want, with zero thought to the consequences.

They may excuse this lack of tact or consideration, protesting that they are “just being honest”.

What they can’t see is that it is their own version of the truth and not a universal one.

To them, their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs are always the correct ones.

4) They are stubborn and automatically assume they’re right

Empathy ultimately comes down to understanding.

It’s being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how you might feel and think if you were them.

When you can’t do that, it’s perhaps unsurprising that you always think you’re in the right.

You are only capable of seeing one side of the coin — your side.

That means those who lack empathy are quick to dismiss different viewpoints.

They struggle to understand differing opinions or beliefs in the world around them.

Life becomes as simple as very clear black and white, right or wrong to them. They cannot visualize the grey area in between.

This means they usually show deep resistance when it comes to considering any alternative perspectives.

This can give them quite a hard demeanor, as we’ll see next.

5) They are harsh and judgmental

As we’ve started to see, one of the side effects of a lack of empathy is a more rigid approach to the world around you.

We’ve all heard the saying:

“Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”.

That’s very difficult for someone lacking in empathy to put into practice.

If someone lacks empathy they cannot imagine themselves in situations they haven’t been in.

So they may lack compassion when someone falls on hard times.

Rather than feel sympathy and pity for others’ distress, they jump to conclusions.

They are more likely to victim blame or assume someone did something wrong to account for their misfortune.

They are often quick to point out other people’s perceived flaws, yet never truly reflect on their own (as we’ll see later).

This can make them quite unforgiving of people’s mistakes. People who lack empathy are far more likely to carry a grudge. 

6) They are awkward around other people’s displays of emotion

A lot of people who lack empathy can find emotions very uncomfortable.

So when faced with other people’s feelings they can come across as very dismissive.

Let’s say a friend starts to cry in their presence, they may not have a clue what to do.

Whilst the answer comes naturally to someone with empathy — try to comfort them — someone lacking in empathy can be quite dumbfounded.

They are often far more likely to play down someone else’s feelings.

That’s because other people’s pain, hardships, and suffering is not something they can really grasp.

Yet when it comes to their own emotions they give themselves full permission to thrust them on to others, whether it’s appropriate or not.

7) They’re grumpy and fly off the handle

We all have bad days and bad moods.

When that dark cloud descends on us, we can also all be guilty of taking it out on someone around us too.

What helps to keep this in check is self-awareness. We can recognize when we’re doing it, and see the unfair impact it has on people.

But those who lack empathy lack this consciousness.

Without a clear understanding of their own emotions, they find it harder to regulate them.

This means they’re more likely to overreact or let their negative emotions get the better of them.

8) They’re unreasonable and expect one rule for them and another for other people

As we’ve already noted, when you can only ever see your side of things, it turns you into a very selfish person.

Putting your own thoughts, beliefs, preferences, and needs consistently above everyone else’s starts to become automatic.As it does, a two-tier system is created.

There is you at the top, then everyone else below that.

In the mind of someone who lacks empathy, special rules apply to them.

When something doesn’t go their way, it’s because they are the wronged victim.

If something doesn’t go someone else’s way, it’s because they probably did something to deserve it.

People who struggle with empathy become very demanding and entitled. They expect favors but don’t dish them out.

9) They prefer to talk more than listen

When we seek to understand others, we have to hear them.

Not just on a superficial level, but really listen to what they have to say.

That’s why you can usually spot someone who lacks empathy by their poor listening skills.

They are the person in a disagreement who is shouting over everyone else.

Getting their voice heard is all they care about.

They have no interest in seeking compromise and understanding.

They only want to “win.”

The good news is, we can increase our empathy

Getting through to someone who lacks empathy can feel impossible.

After all, it’s like they are trapped in their own little ignorant bubble.

If somebody can’t even see the error of their ways, how can they change?

But the silver lining is that empathy is a skill as well as an in-built human quality.

That means we can all improve at it.

Research has shown that actively trying to learn other people’s perspectives, connecting with more diverse groups in society, and consciously giving others the benefit of the doubt are some of the ways we can all become more empathetic.

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