The Narcissist and Their Lack of Empathy

If you liked our content please help us sharing it

Narcissism is a broad term that includes narcissistic traits on a continuum from “healthy with extreme self confidence” to the severe personality disorder known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Empathy involves the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes; i.e., the ability to imagine yourself in their position and imagine how you would feel, think or want. 

Our empathy allows us to imagine how other people feel and allows us to see them as human beings rather than objects.

Lack of Empathy or No Empathy at all?

Some people have very little capacity for empathy and appear to be cold and unfeeling; narcissists have little or no empathy (empathy makes it difficult to be cruel to other people or disregard their humanness). 

Even people who do have a capacity for empathy can easily lose the ability in certain times and places.

Certain defenses, such as intellectualization (‘she is not a person-she is just a body in a vegetative state’) or rationalization (‘she won’t feel anything’) allow us to distance ourselves from the awareness of another’s suffering and humanity. 

Narcissists, on the other hand, are often keenly aware of their lack of empathy but do not care- sometimes they even proclaim it as a virtue.

Lack of empathy is a quintessential hallmark of people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

They simply do not care about the thoughts and feelings of others, especially if they conflict with their own.

Do not expect them to listen, validate, understand, or support you. Here are some typical examples from partners of narcissists:

  • He would actually get mad at me if I was sick. I said, “I sat here with you for days when you were depressed and couldn’t get out of bed. And now you can’t even be a little nice to me when I am sick?” 
  •  My partner would hurt my feelings just when things were going well. When I would question him about it, he would make up excuses and tell me I’m wrong for feeling the way I did, and if I didn’t like it there was something wrong with me. 
  • I could spend an hour detailing how I felt hurt and she would sit there, cold as ice. When it was her turn to speak, she tore down every word that came out of my mouth until I had to apologize for expressing how I felt. I ignored this red flag and made excuses to myself and others.

Can Narcissists Fake Empathy?

It is important to understand that narcissists can “fake it” when it benefits their agenda.

Besides the need to look “normal” and magnanimous, they also expect to get something back. Partners of narcissists have said:

  • He has made adaptations that allow him to “appear” to be thoughtful and concerned about others. Early in our marriage, he would ask me what I would like to do. Then one day it dawned on me that while he asked, we never ended up following my suggestions! When I mentioned this to him, he had a crestfallen appearance and behaved like a child who had been caught doing something wrong.
  • I think that faux empathy stems from a number of things. A need to fit in, socially–to appear like a feeling, caring person is certainly one of them. In some cases, it’s probably an acquired social skill, albeit a superficial one. Like learning which utensil to use when dining in polite company. In other cases, it’s a means to getting what you want from people.
  • She had “intellectual” empathy:  almost as if she knew she should react that way. She didn’t feel it at the soul/being level. She knew the words, but couldn’t hear the emotional music of our relationship. 

This lack of empathy is so alien to us (after all, even some animals show evidence of empathy) that obvious incidents can break through our denial. It may leave us outraged, hurt or feeling betrayed.

It can also be an eye-opener that we need to acknowledge the significant limitations of individuals with NPD.

As painful as it can be, coming to terms with their lack of empathy toward us dissipates the confusion caused by their cycle of “push-pull” (or in some cases, just the push).

Narcissist and author, Sam Vaknin, writes in his book Malignant Self Love–Narcissism Revisited:

I am aware of the fact that others have emotions, needs, preferences, and priorities – but I simply can’t seem to “get it into my mind.” There is an invisible partition behind which I watch the rest of Mankind and through which nothing that is human can permeate. I empathize more with my goldfish than with my “nearest and dearest.”

To me, all people are cardboard cut-outs, sophisticated motor contraptions, ersatz and robotic. I know how I should feel because I am well-read–but I cannot seem to bring myself to emote and to sympathize. I care more about my material possessions and belongings than [almost] any man or woman alive.

Over the years, I have deciphered the code. I have learned to imitate and emulate expertly the more common affect and expressions of one’s inner landscape. But this veneer is easily breached when I am frustrated or humiliated (“narcissistic injury“): the mask slips and the real Me is out: a predator on the prowl.

The Narcissist and Faux Pseudo Empathy

The narcissist (especially ‘high-level narcissists’ who are very successful in the world) is skilled at faux empathy or what some call pseudo-empathy.

“The socially gifted narcissist is an expert at convincing others that he/she cares deeply about them.

Pseudo empathy is exquisitely designed by the narcissist to manipulate others so they will fulfill his narcissistic needs.

The narcissist is always filtering his world, honing in on ways to fill his need for Narcissistic Supply including his need for money, power, adulation, praise, and attention.

He seeks intelligent, highly motivated people that he can delegate most of the work to and then turn around and take the whole credit himself.

In his personal life, the narcissist is attracted to a partner(s) who enhances his image of perfection, self-entitlement, and power. These partners are emotionally pliable and mesmerized by his wiles and charm.

The narcissist ensnares his victims by appealing to their needs which include: to be wanted, to be cared for, and to feel valuable, attractive or powerful.

When a narcissist turns on his well-practiced fake empathy, the unsuspecting and vulnerable victim feels singled out as a Very Special Person (often for the first time in his/her life).

Many of the narcissist’s followers and victims never see through his phoniness. They continue to be selfless servants, unable to psychologically or physically separate themselves from him.

Those who do become aware of the price they are paying (giving up their own lives and needs), either leave or make the Faustian bargain i.e., decide that the lifestyle and perks connected with being a part of the narcissist’s world are worth it.

17 thoughts on “The Narcissist and Their Lack of Empathy”

  1. Interesting (and sad) see that someone else was punished for being sick.

    After a long period of worsening depression ending with about six weeks in bed, I told my SO (and father to my son) that I had decided to go to The Menninger Clinic for for several days for an extensive evaluation. For years he had called me bipolar, crazy, schizo, possessed, PMDD, a malingerer, “not accepting my illness,” just everything. I knew I did not have those things, but was scared because the depression was starting to feel more like a physical illness.

    When I told him he said “You are a very selfish person.” So I was selfish for seeking treatment for myself. I couldn’t even process his response for days.

    • Wow. You were sliding into what must have been a crushing depression, and you were criticized and beaten down for it. My own big wake-up call came when I was in the hospital in acute renal failure. The doctors did not know if I would regain any kidney function, so I really didn’t know if I would live a much shorter time than I’d even imagined. My mother emailed me to tell me someone her age shouldn’t have to lose sleep worrying about someone my age. I’m convinced this NPD is where evil comes from.

  2. The lack of empathy and compassion can often be pretty striking. When the father of a narcissist I know died, her comment was a nonchalant “Everybody has to die sometime”. She then wanted to go to a party that night.

    • More than likely she was either regularly harshly criticized or was often smothered with love as a child. It’s believed NPD develops during childhood or adolescence due to dangerous abuse, neglect, or severe treatment by caregivers.

      So it’s not surprising your narcissist acquaintance didn’t care about her own father’s death. Either she hated her father (for setting normal/social restrictions on her, that she resented him for) or she never loved him (since narcissists can’t love anyone, not even themselves).

      Truly sad.

      • Not sad at all. This person is free from the unnecessary emotional pain that the death of a family member usually causes. Death is inevitable, there is no point in wasting our time while alive, missing a person who no longer exists. If anything, be happy for her because she is capable of moving on with her daily life and enjoying the time she has left to be alive.

  3. I am an empath and have been pursued to several narcissists. is says in the article that narcissistic people will lure you and or entice you with something.My experience is that no one ever lured me with anything , or tried to entice me. they only was very persistent for my did I miss anything?{:

    • Same with me. He didnt offer anything that could be considered a lure. Maybe sex. But even that was complicated, and the onus was always on me to make sure he was pleased. In the 6 years of our relationship, he never bought me a gift or observed any special occasion such as Valentine’s.

      He was critical of everything I did, showed no emphathy, sympathy, and got upset if I was sick or needed help. I was in a relationship with this man but kept having to ask neighbours, friends, etc for assistance if I needed assistance with anything (flat tyre etc). He was cold, and animated only when it suited him. He did nothing for me. So there was no lure….yet, i was like a moth to a flame.

      I dont understand it. Each time i started ignoring him, to help myself pull away, that is when he would start showing attention, or be self-deprecating, saying how he knew he was nothing to me, that he served no purpose etc (all of this to pull me back in, and he was usually successful). Sexually he was a vampire. He wanted what he wanted, God forbid I should try get some pleasure out of it too. On top of it all he was a womaniser and a complete liar. He led multiple lives.

      Being around him made me feel burdened and heavy. He would brood for hours and refuse to say what was wrong, blamed me for any and everything, absolutely refused to take responsibility for anything he did wrong, or for hurting me, and would often tell me that it was me who was hurting myself.

      Instead of apologies, he would say, “well I’m sorry that you feel that way”/ “Im sorry you DECIDED to interpret what I said in a negative way” etc, and the list goes on. The worst was “I see” after i had just explained how hurt i was over something he had said or done.

  4. This is a very important thing to grasp:

    “The narcissist ensnares his victims by appealing to their needs which include: to be wanted, to be cared for, and to feel valuable, attractive or powerful. ”

    This reveals not only a lack of empathy, but the presence of contempt. Ensnaring someone is an action borne out of bad intent.

    I do have a question…. Narcissists like to blame and accuse the victim, and victims are susceptible to confusion in this area anyway. So, how can a person distinguish between a craving for narcissistic supply, and the legitimate needs the victim has. My wife has gaslighted me frequently. How can I know, or help friends/counselors make that distinction?

    • Excellent question, OOC – I’ve been wondering the same thing. In my case, my narcissistic ex left me (blindsided and confused) when I made a comment he didn’t like. It didn’t matter how much I apologized or vowed to work on never hurting him again – in one (relatively inane) comment, I had become a villain. I miss him, but I’m grateful that his disorder ended things. Who wants to go through life as an object of contempt, being made to walk on eggshells and endlessly apologize for perceived injustices?

      Funny side note – one of the first things my narcissistic ex said to me was that he had “mutant level empathy”. He was *bragging* about being empathetic! I’m embarrassed to say it didn’t occur to me until months later what a true, thorough narcissist I was dealing with.

    • A narcissistic parent will most likely use their special needs child as a pawn to get whatever he/she wants. The narcissistic parent might guilt a perspective mate (ie. unsuspecting victim) into providing shelter, food, health care, etc.) all the while putting their needs (more specifically the needs of the narcissist, not necessarily the child’s needs) above all else.

      A narcissistic parent of a special needs child could possibly allow their child with Autism Spectrum Disorder to develop a close bond with a potential wife/husband/partner. Once that close bond has been established, and once the unsuspecting partner sees the narcissist for what they really are (a controlling, umempathic, selfish individual who cares only for THEIR agenda, not the welfare or sanity of the partner or anyone else) and tries to leave the toxic situation, they might guilt the partner into not leaving them or their child. “But you can’t leave us NOW! Little [so-and-so] thinks of you as a father figure. You’ll scar him/her for life. Do YOU want to be held responsible for being such a horrible human being to my autistic child???”

      So I leave these final thoughts in a form of a few questions: Can an incurable narcissist who believes they have the right to abuse others for their own “betterment” be a shining example to a child who has their own challenges in life, challenges that are hard enough without their own biological parent being an abuser of other peoples’ time, kindness, and other resources? If children learn from their parents, what does this teach a child on the autism spectrum? That it is okay to be manipulative and abusive to others as long as you get what you want from them? How does this type of behavior teach ANY child about the respect for personal boundaries and limitations of others?

  5. It is important to avoid narcissists at any cost in a relationship. Once they aren’t beneficial to health from the beginning, they are not going to be useful to you in the end.

  6. In actuality, narcissists have absolutely no empathy whatsoever. If you say that Narcissists have low empathy, you are wrong. Narcissists pretend to empathise with someone in order to use them for their own selfish ends.

    • Hi Cagan. Human personalities and traits are always on a scale from very low to very high. So you can be a little bit Narcissistic ( like almost everyone) or you can be very Narcissistic. of course there is also a lot in between. This is the same for empathy, they still have it, but not at the same levels as people who are not Narcissists.


Leave a Comment