8 common behaviors of people who lack empathy, according to psychology

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Ever just get the feeling there’s something off about someone? They’re nice enough, but there’s just something about their behavior that makes you feel strange.

People who lack empathy aren’t always easy to spot. They seem like everyone else – totally normal and polite as anything.

But when you get to know them deeper or have experienced a few hard times with them, you get the feeling that maybe they aren’t that nice.

In fact, you feel like they don’t even care about you at all!

According to psychology, here are the 8 most common behaviors of people who lack empathy to watch out for – so you can figure this person out once and for all.

Up first:

1) Making jokes about your insecurities

Highlighting the shape of your nose for a laugh? Bringing up how flushed your cheeks went in that meeting over and over again? Poking fun at your weight and saying mean things about your clothes?

Yeah, these aren’t good people. No one likes someone who highlights their insecurities and flaws, let alone makes jokes about them in a crowd!

Yet people who lack empathy do things like this a whole lot. Sometimes they think it’s funny and genuinely don’t get why it upsets you. Other times, they know what they’re doing. They just don’t care that it hurts your feelings.

2) Dismissing your feelings

Changing the subject when you try telling them how you feel? Saying nothing after you’ve opened up in the hopes you stop talking about it? Brushing you off and telling you “It’s not that bad” or “You just need to get over it”?

These are all dismissive behaviors – and it’s a common trait in people who lack empathy. Because their brain works differently to us empaths (and simply anyone with more emotional intelligence than them!), they really don’t care about your feelings.

In fact, they sometimes see people who talk about their emotions as weak, annoying, or “too sensitive” – which, of course, couldn’t be further than the truth!

When you talk about how you feel, you’re actually normal and very in touch with your emotions – which is a healthy way to be.

3) Gaslighting you and calling you crazy

Ever had someone tell you during an argument that, “You’re crazy”? Or had someone forcibly try to convince you that you’re imagining things when you confront them about something they definitely said?

That’s gaslighting behavior.

People who do things like this have low emotional intelligence and low empathy. They’re also very insecure. When they display this kind of behavior, it’s usually because they feel threatened and want to protect their image.

Which is why they’ll say, “You’re crazy!” or “That never happened” when 1) you aren’t certified insane and 2) that definitely did happen – they just don’t like the way it makes them look if they admit it!

4) Acting selfishly and always putting themselves first

I’m all up for putting yourself first sometimes, but there’s a difference between self-care and selfishness!

Someone who says no to people occasionally, sets boundaries, and takes time to enjoy their own hobbies isn’t selfish. They’re simply looking out for themselves and it’s normal.

But someone who only ever does what they want – never caring about others or the consequences of their actions? That’s selfish, and people who act like this definitely lack empathy!

5) Never offering help to others (unless it benefits them)

Speaking of selfishness, people who lack empathy aren’t givers! They do what they want and never make sacrifices for the greater good (or even people they claim to love).

They’d never offer to help a friend in need, even with just a small gesture. The only time they’ll offer help is if 1) they know you’ll decline, 2) they know they can get out of it later, or 3) they get something in return for helping you.

Otherwise, they just ain’t interested!

6) Zoning out when you’re sad or stressed

I think we’re all guilty of zoning out when our friends or partners talk to us sometimes. I know when I’ve had a long day, I do this all the time!

But zoning out for 10 seconds while your partner talks about their latest work drama is totally different from zoning out whenever they’re sad or stressed.

Someone who does this doesn’t really care about you or your feelings. They’re bored by your emotions or simply don’t have the empathy to understand them. So their brain just wanders away whenever you open up…

7) Putting you down whenever they can

People who lack empathy can’t help who they are and how their brain functions. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing.

Just because someone lacks compassion for others, that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize or understand when they’re being mean. They might know exactly how they’re being and how it’s making you feel.

They just don’t care. If anything, they get a kick out of it… Especially when they’re quite insecure themselves. So they’ll put you down and they’ll do it often. And in honesty, it makes them feel good.

8) Always wanting more (and feeling like they deserve it)

When someone who lacks empathy wants something, they want it yesterday. Patience really isn’t their strong suit. Neither is humility or austerity.

Generally, they have a grandiose sense of self. They think highly of themselves and poorly of others, which leads them to possess a warped sense of entitlement.

They want, want, want – and nothing they get is ever good enough, not even the people who love them!

They’re incredibly materialistic and focus on the value of stuff rather than people. Which is mostly because they can actually understand the value of their possessions. Whereas people? Not so much…

Final thoughts

People who lack empathy really aren’t the best people to have in your life. Sure, they aren’t all bad. Some people just can’t help the way they are.

Even though their behavior is a little frustrating, it isn’t overly damaging when you understand where it’s coming from!

But beware – because people who lack empathy aren’t always as naïve and innocent as they appear. Sometimes, they know exactly what they’re doing and how they’re hurting you – and they genuinely don’t care.

So even though you can be understanding of WHY someone acts the way they do (i.e., they lack empathy), that doesn’t mean you have to put up with their destructive behavior personally. 

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is a content writer from London working with international brands. As an empath, she loves sharing her life insights to help others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys a simple life of reading, gardening, and making a fuss over her two cats.

Women who are only nice to you when they need something usually display these 7 behaviors

9 signs you’re a highly independent thinker, according to psychology