People With These 5 Personality Traits Have No Idea What Empathy Means

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woman with a lack of empathy

A critical factor in all relationships, romantic or otherwise, is the ability to understand and be sensitive to the other person's feelings, whether or not you feel the same way about the same things at the same moment in time.

Empathy is one of the most important traits for you to have and know how to identify. In fact, being empathetic is a fundamental aspect of intimacy and emotional intelligence.

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According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of empathy is "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner," as well as "the capacity for this."

If you hope to keep healthy interpersonal relationships, it's important to look for others who can empathize with you and what you are feeling (and that you do the same).

Unfortunately, sometimes you may encounter individuals who lack empathy.

What is a lack of empathy?

A lack of empathy, known as apathy, is the inability to consider the emotional state of others. That is, they can't comprehend what other people are feeling.

People who lack empathy might joke about someone's emotions or circumstances and could also have a difficult time actively listening to others. Unfortunately, there are men and women who go through life with a complete lack of empathy.

Unempathetic people simply do not understand the meaning of empathy or why it's important to empathize with others. For a variety of reasons, empathy remains completely beyond their frame of reference, and they are simply incapable of — or even disinterested in — grasping the feelings of others.

Causes of a lack of empathy:

  • genetics
  • socialization
  • Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Signs of a lack of empathy:

  • being critical or judgemental
  • inappropriate responses
  • blaming the victim
  • not understanding how their behavior affects others
  • difficulty maintaining a relationship

A lack of empathy is actually a pretty major characteristic of several personality disorders including narcissism, antisocial personality disorders, and psychopathy. That means people who lack empathy can also be narcissists and psychopaths.

To help you quickly identify a lack of empathy, keep an eye out for (and stay away from!) people with these personality traits, because they have no idea what it means to be empathetic.

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5 Personality Traits Of People Who Lack Empathy

1. Unempathetic people are stoic and cold.

People who are unemotional are fundamentally not equipped to understand what empathy means.

People who are unemotional do not feel their feelings themselves. When they are struggling with sadness, anxiety or depression, they do their best to stuff their feelings down. They "keep busy" or "suck it up" and push through whatever it is that they are feeling.

And if people can’t understand their own feelings, it is impossible for them to understand the feelings of others. They expect others to also ignore their feelings, pack them away, unexamined, and go on with their lives.

So, if expressing emotions is important for you, stay away from people who are unemotional. If they are that way now, they will never change.

2. Unempathetic people are self-absorbed.

People who are self-absorbed think of themselves, their issues, and their place in the world first. Sometimes, they can think of no one other than themselves. They put their needs above the needs of all others.

Imagine sitting across from someone who is concerned only with themselves and trying to get that person to care about how you are thinking or feeling. You want them to work to understand your emotions and support you in them. Impossible, doesn't it seem?

People who think only of themselves will always put themselves first and never give you the empathy you need.

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3. Unempathetic people are judgmental.

People who are judgmental tend to judge everyone around them harshly. They are sometimes even overly judgmental of themselves. As a result, their first instinct is not to empathize with how someone is feeling but, instead, to judge them.

Imagine trying to explain to someone how devastated you are that your boyfriend is fooling around on you again. You are so sad and confused and need empathy.

Most likely, a judgmental person isn't going to feel your pain, but is going to judge you for being such a loser that you keep going back to your guy. They will tell you to suck it up and move on and don’t look back. How helpful will that be?

4. Unempathetic people are insecure.

Many people who just can’t understand the meaning of empathy are people who are fundamentally insecure. And people who are insecure have a hard time connecting with the emotions of others because they are so unsure of who they are in the world.

Someone who is insecure struggles with their own feelings of self-worth and the validity of their own emotions, so trying to understand and feel the feelings of another will be almost impossible.

Don’t seek empathy from someone who isn't happy with who they are in the world. They might mean to be empathetic and work hard to be so, but, fundamentally, they just won’t have the capacity to be so... at least, not right now.

5. Unempathetic people are selfish.

The personality trait that is most prevalent in people who don’t understand the meaning of empathy are people who are selfish.

People who are selfish often also exhibit all the traits above plus an overwhelming tendency to not care about anyone other than themselves. Not only are they not capable of empathy, but they aren't even interested in trying to be empathetic in any way.

First and foremost, their needs and emotions are center stage and how anyone else is feeling doesn't even register on their awareness meter. So, if you need empathy, stay away from that friend who always thinks of herself first. Find someone who is willing to think of others first, at least some of the time.

For many people, understanding the meaning of empathy is impossible because emotions are scary and the emotions of others are even scarier.

Those people are not only unhelpful when others need empathy, but they can often cause more harm than good because their inability to connect can make the other feel neglected or abandoned.

So, as you pick your romantic partner and your friends, stay away from people who display personality traits that have no idea what empathy means.

If they are self-absorbed, selfish, insecure, emotionless, or judgmental, they might be fun to hang out with but they are not the people you can trust when you are at your most vulnerable.

And remember, people are as you see them today. Don’t expect anyone to change just because you need them. So be cautious. You will be glad you were!

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Mitzi Bockmann is a certified life and relationship coach. She has over 10 years of experience helping people find happiness in life and love.