It’s normal to want to feel heard, understood, and valued. Whether by a friend, parent, or partner.
But more often than not, we don’t.
People who have empathy tend to be better humans. And while it would be great if everyone had it, the reality is that empathy exists on a spectrum.
Some people lack it completely. Others have moments where they could do better.
You might think someone with low empathy is being mean or cruel, but it’s so much more than that.
No judgment, okay?
I get it.
But understanding that some behaviors aren’t intentional will help you recognize when someone is really just struggling with the emotional side of life and not meaning you any harm.
If someone genuinely lacks empathy, though, you’ll notice that…
1) They struggle to connect emotionally in relationships
Most people who lack empathy really want close bonds. But when it comes to emotions, everything gets tricky.
It’s not that they don’t feel things or can’t understand that you do. They just have a hard time putting those feelings into words, making it difficult to place them in their reality.
If you’re dating someone who lacks empathy or even just trying to be friends with them, it’ll always feel like they’re creating distance whenever you want to connect more intimately.
This makes forming a genuine relationship that’ll last almost impossible.
And because they have such a hard time connecting emotionally…
2) They almost never understand different perspectives
Ever come across someone who seems to view the world through a single lens? You know, that person who can’t step into someone else’s shoes, even for a second?
Well, it’s probably because they lack empathy.
People who stay in one lane have trouble understanding that people don’t think the exact same way they do.
The thought of this is confusing to them – like an unfamiliar path.
If someone has low empathy, they need a little help seeing in color. It’s not always that they’re unwilling – black and white just makes more sense to them.
Want to know what’s terrible about being friends with or dating someone like this?
3) They downplay unfamiliar emotions or experiences
People who lack empathy have no idea how an emotion feels unless they’ve experienced the exact same one.
So unless they’ve felt what you feel or been through what you’re going through, they’ll downplay your feelings or the situation you’re in.
Connecting with someone over something they’re unfamiliar with simply makes them feel uncomfortable. So, they stick to what feels safe and known.
Expressing your feelings gently and patiently could help them realize that some people experience things or react differently than they do.
4) They judge quickly
Someone with low empathy always has a snap judgment ready to go! It’s like they form opinions in the blink of an eye without giving things a good second thought.
They usually judge surface-level details, so if you’re the victim, don’t take what they think too seriously.
But if you’re a friend who wants to help, encouraging them to hit the brakes and consider different perspectives is an excellent way.
5) They avoid eye contact during conversations
For some people, keeping eye contact feels intense and uncomfortable. They prefer focusing on something else every few seconds instead of staring straight into someone’s eye.
This quirk is common and not a definite trait of people who lack empathy.
But if it seems like someone is trying to find the nearest exit with their eyes when you’re talking about heavier stuff, it might be the case.
Guess what else empathy-deficient people do in conversation besides avoiding eye contact?
6) They interrupt
Ever talk to someone who doesn’t let you finish sentences? Like they can’t contain their excitement or think they’ll forget their point?
This sense of urgency can be just that. But it could also signal that someone lacks empathy.
Interjecting might not be a deliberate attempt to dominate the discussion, but it’s possible that someone who lacks empathy simply has a disregard for what others are saying, so they automatically do it.
Having a fair conversation with someone like this is possible if you can stand strong and remind them that you are still talking.
This constant reminder could also help them recognize what they’re doing and help them learn the value of pauses and turns.
Keep in mind:
People who lack empathy will have an even harder time giving you a turn to share if you’re talking about deep feelings because…
7) They don’t have patience when someone expresses vulnerability
A giveaway behavior of people with low empathy is their hastiness when someone opens up.
Instead of being a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear, these types of people will try to get you to speed through your feelings until they reach a more comfortable emotional level.
I used to date a guy like this.
He missed a really important event I invited him to because he got stuck playing video games with a friend.
When I told him that I felt hurt because I’ve always struggled with a fear of rejection, he said I just had to get over it.
In a healthy relationship, your partner is supposed to try to understand when you open up to them like this and be patient if you need time to work through the hurt – even when they disagree with how you’re feeling.
8) They don’t remember important life events
A lot of people who have empathy have a terrible memory. But they usually make notes or set alarms to help them remember stuff they know is important to other people.
Those who lack empathy? Well, they don’t.
It’s not that they hate celebrations – they just don’t care that much when people don’t celebrate.
They put stuff like birthdays and anniversaries in their selective memory vault because they don’t really see the importance of always remembering it.
If you know someone with low empathy who does this, reminding them of how much these life events mean to you could help.
But just remember:
If they keep forgetting and you’re feeling hurt over this, there’s no guarantee you’ll get an “I’m sorry.”
When someone lacks empathy…
9) They struggle to apologize
Don’t get me wrong: empathy-deficient people know when they need to apologize. They usually just don’t know how.
Sincere apologies involve emotions, and the mere thought of this makes them uncomfortable.
They might really want to say sorry but avoid doing it because they can’t channel that genuine emotion an apology needs.
So, instead, they go about the day attempting to show you that they’re trying to be a good friend or partner in other ways.
Now, if you ask them to apologize or get angry at them for never doing it, they probably will. But you’re sure to hear and feel that they don’t really mean what they’re saying.
A calm conversation with them explaining your need for an apology when they’ve hurt you might be the best way to approach this.
10) They’re rarely excited when someone succeeds
That little green monster can creep in whether you lack empathy or not. Seeing someone else succeed while you just can’t get it right can be frustrating. I get that.
But someone who lacks empathy always greets success with a lukewarm response.
It’s not that they don’t wish others well or always harbor jealousy – being in a celebratory mood over things that don’t directly benefit them just doesn’t come naturally.
If you ever share good news with an empathy-deficient person, the last thing you should expect is fireworks.
They’ll express their happiness for you in their own way, but it’ll rarely be how you want.
11) They have a habit of criticizing
You know the type: always finding fault or focusing on the negatives, regardless of the situation.
This isn’t just about giving constructive feedback.
People who lack empathy have a radar for imperfections, and they don’t hesitate to point these out.
Whether it’s about someone’s work, appearance, or choices, their comments can be sharp and sometimes hurtful.
But why do they do it?
Well, it boils down to their lack of understanding someone else’s feelings or perspectives. And this is what empathy is all about.
If someone has low empathy, they don’t grasp how their words can impact someone.
Usually, they have no intention of being mean. They think they’re just being honest or realistic.
And if you show them how hurt their criticism left you, they’ll probably bail.
Because when someone lacks empathy…
12) They typically don’t respond appropriately to others’ pain or suffering
Instead of offering comfort when they’ve hurt you (or you’re just dealing with hurt in general), an empathy-deficient person will act cold or out of touch.
Connecting with the emotional weight of a situation is hard for them.
Being indifferent, dismissive, or even making a joke out of it just makes more sense.
And while you might think they’re being cruel, understanding their disconnect can help you not take it personally.
While you’re looking for a listening ear, someone who lacks empathy might change the subject or offer a logical solution without thinking about the emotional aspect.
I know it can be confusing and sometimes painful when someone does this.
You have every right to leave relationships where someone’s constant lack of empathy and refusal to do better brings you down.
But if someone wants to change, having an empathetic friend who’ll guide them might be their best shot.
Sometimes, people struggle with empathy because of how they grew up, things they’ve experienced, or even neurological differences.
And most of the time, they don’t even realize that their behaviors are unsympathetic.
If you have the patience and, ironically, the empathy to help, you could be why someone with low empathy develops some, too.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.