10 signs that somebody isn’t being empathetic (they just pretend to care)

If you’re a positive person who believes there’s good in everyone, I admire you.

It means you haven’t become cynical yet – it means you’ve retained a childlike innocence.

But here’s the problem: Not everyone is what they seem. Some people will try to take advantage of your trusting nature by putting on a show of caring.

Now, it’s not always easy to tell when someone is being real and empathetic, and when they’re just pretending, which is why I’ve decided to write this article.

Don’t let yourself be played, find out how to tell when someone is only pretending to care.

Here are 10 signs that someone isn’t being empathetic:

1) They don’t really listen

When it comes to genuinely empathetic people – they truly listen when someone is speaking.

They don’t nod their heads and half-listen because they’re genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.

It makes sense if you think about it, I mean, how can you empathize with someone if you’re not hearing them?

That being said, if someone is just pretending to be empathetic, you’ll notice that they aren’t paying attention, keep interrupting, or keep bringing the subject back to themselves.

True empathy requires a curiosity and desire to understand the other person’s point of view and feelings, and that has to include active listening.

2) Their body language is off

Did you know that we say a lot without using words?

That’s right, I’m talking about body language!

It turns out that non-verbal cues often reveal more about a person’s true feelings than their words.

Someone who is pretending to care will probably exhibit inconsistent or inappropriate body language.

For example, they’ll be saying all the right words to show you that they empathize with you, but something in their facial expression or posture might be off.

It’s like their words say one thing and their body another.

Pay close attention to body language because when something doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t.

3) What they say sounds superficial

I get really annoyed when someone tries to console me with empty, generic, or even rehearsed phrases such as, “It will be alright” without delving deeper.

I feel like replying, “WILL IT BE ALRIGHT? HOW DO YOU KNOW?”

Maybe I’m being too harsh, and maybe they mean well… but if I’m in crisis mode, I need someone to help me process what’s going on and help me deal with it, not pat me on the back and say, “There, there”.

All in all, a true empath will make a real effort to give you a thoughtful and helpful response.

4) They make it all about themselves

So, I have this aunt who pretends to care about other people when the only person she really cares about is herself.

How do I know?

Because whenever someone has anything to say she will find a way to redirect the conversation to focus on her.

Even when someone talks about their physical ailments, she’ll make it about her.

She’ll say stuff like, “It’s terrible that you have COVID, my back’s been killing me for days”.

She’s always minimizing and overshadowing the feelings and experiences of others – I’ve even heard her dismiss other people’s grief!

This kind of self-centered behavior is another sign that someone lacks true understanding and compassion for other people and that they’re only pretending to be empathetic.

5) They tend to dismiss and invalidate feelings

I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like, “You’re being too sensitive” and “Come on, you’re exaggerating, it’s not that big a deal.”

We all experience the world in different ways so what hurts one person may not hurt another.

That’s why dismissing and invalidating the feelings of someone else is a clear sign of someone who lacks true empathy.

The wonderful thing about empathy is that it means recognizing and acknowledging the validity of someone else’s feelings, even (and maybe especially) if they differ from our own.

6) Their support is … conditional

When someone cares about you, they care, no matter what.

They’re there to offer their support regardless of the circumstances.

For example, say you get yourself into some sort of trouble. A true empath will be there for you.

They’re not there to judge you because they get that we all make mistakes.

Someone pretending to care will say, “That’s terrible, but you should have known better” and leave you to sort out your own mess, whereas someone who’s actually empathetic will ask, “How can I help?”

7) They don’t follow-through

Ever heard of the expression, “Actions speak louder than words?”

Well, actions are a great way to tell when someone really cares and when they’re pretending.

That’s because some people are all talk and no action.

They’ll make a big show of being there for you – they’ll promise to help you with this and that – but won’t follow through.

For example, say you lost your job. They’ll make you believe that helping you find work is their number one priority.

They’ll tell you not to worry, that they’ll talk to their boss about you because there’s an opening at their workplace.

And then?


You’ll wait and wait and when you finally ask if there is any news, they don’t remember saying any such thing!

8) They like to play the hero

Sadly, some people have an ulterior motive and only pretend to be empathetic to look like the hero or savior.

They’re not being friendly or supportive out of genuine concern for you but because:

  1. They want something from you
  2. They want to look good in other people’s eyes
  3. They want to feel superior

Watch out for people who like to make a show of “saving the day” because authentic empathy is selfless and focused on the well-being of others, not looking good or personal gain.

9) They’re emotionally distant

If you feel like there’s a wall between you and someone, like they’re emotionally distant and never open up, it could be another red flag.

True empathy requires an emotional connection with other people.

If someone is consistently keeping an emotional distance or avoids engaging in meaningful conversations about feelings, it could be one of two things:

  • They were hurt in the past and are afraid to open up again
  • Or, it could indicate a lack of genuine empathy.

Either way, the wall they’ve put up prevents a true connection and understanding between you.

10) They’re not empathetic toward everyone

Look, either you have empathy or you don’t.

When someone displays “selective empathy” it’s not genuine.

People who really care demonstrate compassion toward everyone – irrespective of their gender, race, religion, beliefs, or background.

In other words, if someone appears empathetic in certain situations but lacks empathy in others, it could be another sign that their empathy is performative or driven by external factors.

The bottom line

Empathy is a powerful human trait that allows us to understand each other’s feelings and perspectives and to connect on a deeper level.

And while we’re all born with the capacity to be empathetic, not everyone has developed this ability.

Some people have learned to mimic empathy, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that their actions and words betray their true intentions.

Paying attention to these 10 signs will help you figure out who’s genuine and who’s not – helping you navigate relationships more effectively.

Jelena Dincic

Jelena has a background in photography and film-making and has spent the last few years as a content editor and copywriter. Jelena is a citizen of the world who is passionate about travel and learning about new cultures. She’s a foodie who loves to cook. And, as an art lover, she is always experimenting with new art mediums. When she’s not at her computer, she’s usually out and about in some forest with her dogs.

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