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Written by Patricia Young
We all have interacted with some people that seem to have a lack of empathy, at some point of our lives. I know that those experiences can leave us feeling frustrated, unsettled, angry, disappointed, and even betrayed, mainly when we need support.
It gets even harder and more painful if you are in a relationship with someone who is unable to put themselves in your shoes. Especially when we consider some of these people our friends, or maybe even worse, when those people are family members and we have to be in contact with them frequently.
In this article, I will share with you the signs when someone is lacking empathy, why some people seem to lack it, and how to deal with them so that you don’t feel so frustrated and disappointed, and you can lead a happier life.
What Exactly Is Empathy?
According to Dictionary.com, Empathy is:
the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
The word originates from the Greek word “empatheia”, meaning physical affection or passion.
PsychologyToday.com defines Empathy as:
the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.
They go on to say that
empathy facilitates prosocial (helping) behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that we behave in a more compassionate manner.
In other words, empathy is when you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s position, both at an emotional and intellectual level.
Additionally, Empathy is one of the defining characteristics and foundational pieces of emotional intelligence.
True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it — Daniel Goleman
Signs That Someone Lacks Empathy
Even though human beings are social creatures by nature, empathy doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Some people are more empathetic than others. In more extreme cases, some people suffer from Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD).
As Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC. said,
Empathy Deficit Disorder is a pervasive but overlooked condition. In fact, our increasingly polarized social and political culture of the past few years reveals that EDD is more severe than ever. It has profound consequences for the mental health of both individuals and society.
He explains that
when you suffer EDD, you are unable to step outside yourself and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from yourself. That makes it a source of personal conflicts of communication breakdown in intimate relationships and of adversarial attitudes – including hatred – towards groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life from your own.
Here are some signs that will help you identify if someone around you lacks empathy:
- They jump fast into criticizing others without putting themselves in other people’s shoes.
- They seem to be cold or just out of touch for people that are suffering or are less fortunate.
- They believe 100% in the rightness of their own ideas and/or beliefs, and judge anyone who does not hold their beliefs as wrong, ignorant or stupid.
- They have trouble feeling happy for others.
- They have trouble making or keeping friends.
- They have trouble getting along with family members.
- They feel entitled to receiving favors and use you to serve their needs without showing appreciation. They will even get offended if they don’t get their way.
- In a group setting, they will talk a lot about themselves and their lives without really caring about what other people share.
- They do or say something that hurts a friend or a loved one, and tend to blame his/her actions on them. They truly believe that the fault is in the person receiving the hurt because they reacted poorly, were rude or were oversensitive.
The truth is that without empathy, it is hard to create deep emotional connections with others.
Why Some People Lack Empathy
Empathy is an innate and a learned skill that is shaped by how we are wired when we are born, and our own environment and life experiences. To experience empathy to some extent, it means that we have to get in touch with our emotions.
People who lack empathy were probably raised in families who were avoiding to get in touch with their feelings and even condemned others for feeling their emotions. Some people have learned to shut down their feelings early in their lives to such a degree that they closed off their hearts and can’t even feel their own feelings – they certainly can’t relate or feel other people’s feelings.
As a result, these people end up lacking self-compassion, self-love and are disconnected from their authentic self and divine connection to source. They are probably not even aware that such disconnection is like a defense mechanism from their ego because if they empathize, they need to relate, get in touch with their feelings and feel the pain.
In most cases, developing and cultivating empathy is possible only if the individuals are willing to change how they relate with others, and consciously choose to retrain their brains. Due to our brain’s neuroplasticity, we can create new brain patterns.
However, there are other cases in which lack of empathy is associated to severe disorders such as narcissism, anti-social personality disorders, and psychopathy. In these cases, these individuals need to get professional help if they are open to it.
How to Deal with People Who Lack Empathy
I know how difficult it can be to deal with people who lack empathy when you are a sensitive and caring person. When you try to express your feelings, instead of compassion and understanding, you get anger or judgment back.
It’s painful because sometimes we can get stuck in a vicious cycle where the more someone doesn’t understand you, the more you feel hurt, and the more you want them to understand your feelings. It’s almost as if you are pleading for validation.
Here’s the thing:
Most of the time, talking with these people will lead you nowhere, and will leave you feeling completely depleted.
Here are some easy-to-follow steps, so you can deal with people who lack empathy:
1. Don’t Take Their Anger or Judgments Personally
By doing this, you can get off the emotional roller coaster. It’s not about you. Remind yourself that they are the ones that have a problem connecting emotionally with others at a deeper level. There’s nothing wrong with you!
2. Don’t Try to Make Them Understand Your Feelings
Trying to instill empathy or insights in them is a waste of your time and energy. This will only increase their anger and judgement.
3. Talk About Facts with Them
Instead of talking to them about how you feel, or how something they did or said made you feel, talk about facts and what you think. It’s easier to communicate this way because they won’t feel blamed or shamed.
4. If You Don’t Live with This Person, Try to Distance Yourself from Their Company
You don’t have to end the friendship or stop visiting your family member, but you need to set some boundaries and be mindful of your interaction with them. Keep the connection superficial to avoid arguments and don’t expect depth and understanding.
5. Cultivate or Nurture Relationships with People Who You Trust
Spend time with people who you trust and who make you feel safe so that you can feel comfortable sharing your inner world and your feelings with them. These are people who might have shown signs of empathy in the past.
6. Know That Your Value and Worth Does Not Depend on Their Validation and Opinion of You
Our self-worth should never be based on approval or validation from others. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you realize your true value: How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power)
7. Take Loving Actions Towards Yourself
Offer yourself kindness and practice doing things that reflect self-love – eat healthy, get enough rest, pursue your dreams, work on yourself, develop a spiritual life, surround yourself with loving and positive people.
8. If You Feel Too Overwhelmed, Get Professional Help
Find a caring and compassionate therapist or life coach who can be there for you and offer guidance during painful times. Unfortunately, our friends and family can’t always provide all of the emotional support that we need at times.
If the person that you’re dealing with shows a willingness to be more open to change and become more empathetic and caring, then you have a real opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them.
There are many reasons why some people lack empathy. Dealing with these people is not easy and may leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed. But with my advice, you’ll learn that you can’t change someone, however you can change your attitude towards them.
Remember that you can’t save everyone, but you can love yourself enough to not let people who lack empathy overpower you. Set boundaries and do what makes you happy. Ultimately, don’t be afraid to get professional help when you are overwhelmed.