Empathy is part and parcel of being human. With the exception of some serious psychological disorders such as psychopathy, empathy, or the ability to understand the emotions of others, is as natural to our species as walking on two legs.
With that said, it’s also true that different people have different levels of empathy. Some people, often called super empaths, are so empathetic they actually feel the emotions of other people around them.
Other people lack empathy to the point where it starts to affect their relationships with others.
One of the most annoying things about people who lack empathy is that they are often unaware of it. Because they don’t pick up easily on the feelings of others, they often don’t understand why they have problems getting along with others.
There are some other character traits that can show you that a person lacks empathy, too.
Keep an eye out for these behaviors both in the people around you and in yourself. Because if you see a few of them together, it may be a sign that you or someone you know is lacking in empathy.
1) They blame others
We all get tempted sometimes to blame others for things that go wrong in our lives. This is a behavior we develop in childhood, and one that responsible parents will try everything they can to discourage.
Unfortunately, people low on empathy often carry this bad habit into adulthood.
The thing is, it takes a certain level of empathy to accept responsibility. Being able to see ourselves as others see us requires us to put ourselves in their shoes, and that’s exactly what people who lack empathy are unwilling or unable to do.
So when they do something wrong, they will often try to shift blame. They may blame their partners, their parents, their boss, or society in general.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who they blame. What matters is that they shift responsibility for their actions from themselves to others.
2) They get uncomfortable in emotional situations
People without empathy feel emotions just like the rest of us. What they struggle with is understanding the emotions of other people.
That means they are often extremely uncomfortable dealing with emotional situations.
No one enjoys a funeral, but they are especially difficult for those who lack empathy, since they are unable to understand the feelings of people grieving. The same is true at happy occasions like weddings and birthdays.
Neuroscientist Denise Cummins points out that sometimes, people can seem to lack empathy and be uncomfortable in emotional situations because they are afraid of getting their own emotions entangled with those of others.
On the other hand, some people simply lack the basic empathy that would allow them to understand the emotions of others.
Instead of understanding the emotions of those around them and even sharing them, they may try to distance themselves and avoid occasions where human emotions are likely to be involved.
3) They argue
Lacking empathy can give you a lot of disagreeable character traits. One of the most noticeable is being argumentative.
There’s nothing wrong with standing your ground and disagreeing with other people. But people without empathy don’t leave it there.
They see every human interaction as a contest, and every argument as a challenge to them personally. Therefore, they have to win at all costs.
As psychologist Kendra Cherry writes, people without empathy are more likely to have problems in their relationships than other people do. They often end up in arguments because those around them don’t feel that their needs and feelings are being respected.
When you lack empathy, it can be very difficult to see things from somebody else’s point of view.
That means you’re more likely to argue and less likely to come to an understanding because you can’t appreciate why anyone would have a different view from you.
4) They are judgmental
Another unpleasant quality of those without empathy is that they are often judgmental.
We all judge each other unfairly from time to time. But that impulse to judge is lessened by our empathetic understanding that other people have their reasons for behaving the way they do.
People who lack empathy don’t see it this way at all.
Because they can’t imagine what other people are feeling, they make no allowances for their behavior. Instead, they judge everyone by their own standards.
And because their lack of empathy makes them bad at reading a room, they are often more than willing to share their judgments with everyone around them.
5) They react emotionally
It might seem strange that people who have a hard time dealing with the emotions of others are often emotional themselves. But this is another sign of low empathy.
As this study by RJR Blair shows, people with reduced empathy tend to have a higher level of aggression. That means they are more prone to angry outbursts when people disagree with them or they don’t get their way.
You see, for a person who lacks empathy, nobody else’s emotions are as powerful or as important as theirs.
Because they can’t understand where other people are coming from, they think the rest of us don’t feel just as much as they do.
This causes them to prioritize their own emotions over those of everybody else.
Often, they lack self-control and allow their emotions get the better of them.
6) They play the victim
People who lack empathy often see themselves as perpetual victims.
That’s because they can’t understand why other people do the things they do. Unable to pick up on the emotions of others, they fail to understand the reasons why act the way they do, and instead see everything as being about them.
Simply put, that means if somebody does something that isn’t in their interests, they assume it was done specifically to harm them.
Ultimately, this is just another way for an un-empathetic person to avoid responsibility for their own actions.
Playing the victim allows them to blame other people for their situation in life so that they can keep seeing themselves as a good person.
7) They accuse others of being too sensitive
When you can’t understand the emotions of other people, it can seem like everyone is too sensitive.
And often, a person who lacks empathy will tell those around them exactly that.
You see, people lacking empathy will often say insensitive things because they can’t understand the effect that words have on others.
Then, when people get offended by the things they say, they will cover themselves by saying others are being too sensitive.
Being unable to understand the emotions of others means every emotional reaction by other people seems out of proportion to them.
8) They don’t listen
Do you ever get the feeling during a conversation that someone isn’t listening to you?
This happens to all of us from time to time. But often, if a person never listens to other people, it’s a sign they lack empathy.
Not listening to others when they talk is more than just rude. It demonstrates that a person sees no value in what others are saying.
Because they don’t pick up on the emotions of others, people who lack empathy often don’t realize how hurtful it is to be ignored.
Not appreciating the feelings of others often makes people without empathy extremely selfish. They are only interested in themselves, and have no interest in what other people might say.
Therefore, they often don’t listen, and don’t even bother to hide the fact that they are not paying attention.
9) They struggle to maintain long-term relationships
By now, if you’ve read this far, this probably won’t come as a surprise.
People who lack empathy are often argumentative, judgmental, selfish, and rude. Therefore it’s not surprising that they have trouble maintaining long-term relationships.
No one wants to be around someone like that.
Of course, the person who lacks empathy won’t see it that way. Because they can’t understand how others feel about them, they will often be mystified why no one seems to like them.
Thanks to their victim complex, they will often blame others or even the entire world for their own failure to get along with others.
Do you lack empathy?
As you can see from this list, lacking empathy can make you a hard person to be around. No one wants to think of themselves like that.
Unfortunately, it’s possible to lack empathy without necessarily realizing it.
These character traits can tip you off that someone has an empathy deficit. And if you find that some of these traits are uncomfortably close to your own personality, it might be time to work on your own empathy.
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