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New Study Says Narcissists Choose Not To Have Empathy

Narcissists May Have the Ability to Learn Empathy, but Not the Desire.

If it is clearly important for the narcissist to take another person’s perspective, then they can do it, although most of the time, they do not.

—Dr. Art Markman, in Psychology Today

One of the main factors in determining if someone has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a lack of empathy. Researchers say narcissists don’t necessarily have an inability to be empathetic, but an unwillingness. Unless, of course, they think they’ll gain something from it.

So, in theory, narcissists can learn empathy. But just because they can doesn’t mean they will.

In theory, I can climb Mt. Everest. Will I actually do it? Not likely. For one thing, it would require an enormous amount of time and effort to train for something like that, and I don’t have that much energy. Plus, I’m scared of heights, and freezing my butt off really isn’t my thing.

Now, let someone offer me a million dollars to climb Mt. Everest, and I might be willing to try. Similarly, if narcissists think they’ll benefit from showing a little empathy, they might give it a shot. Otherwise, they won’t bother putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, since theirs are the only shoes that matter.

Narcissists See Empathy as a Sign of Weakness

Narcissists view empathetic people with contempt, and consider kindness and compassion to be weaknesses. I know this from experience, thanks to my Malignant Narcissist ex-husband. He often called me stupid, weak, and gullible for showing empathy to others. He even told our autistic son that idiots like me shouldn’t be allowed to live.

Individuals with pathological narcissism may be capable of processing affective information, but don’t want to engage in empathetic processing, so as not to lose control or appear vulnerable.

—Arielle Baskin-Sommers: Empathy in Narcissistic Personality Disorder: From Clinical and Empirical Perspectives
alt= Every day is Halloween for a narcissist.

Receiving empathy is generally considered a positive experience. It’s comforting to feel connected to another human being on a deeper level. Narcissists, on the other hand, have an attachment disorder, so they’re unable to bond with others in this way.

And since they can’t, they don’t want anybody else to, either. Not surprisingly, a 2015 study showed narcissists reportedly had negative reactions to seeing others having positive experiences.

They think showing empathy will make them seem vulnerable, which they go to great lengths to avoid. After all, that’s one of the reasons they hide behind a mask every day.

What’s the Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy?

People sometimes confuse sympathy and empathy, but there’s a distinct difference. Sympathy is having an idea of how someone feels from how you imagine you’d feel about it. It’s a surface-level understanding of a person’s circumstances.

You can feel bad for someone, but not actually understand how they feel. While being sympathetic, people may pass judgment, and offer advice without being asked for it.

Empathy means actually feeling what someone else feels. To be empathetic is to actively listen, without judgment, to what the person is saying. It’s putting yourself in their shoes, and acknowledging their feelings, without offering unsolicited advice.

Empathetic Capabilities Vary, Depending on the Narcissist.

Narcissism is on a spectrum, and severity varies, depending on the individual. Ongoing research suggests that empathetic functioning varies, as well. Oddly enough, narcissists have a tendency to overestimate their empathetic capabilities.

From a real-world perspective, narcissists are pretty good at acting empathetic at times, particularly during the love-bombing stage. But later on, you’ll realize there’s no way it was real. Unfortunately, by the time you figure it out, the damage is done.

About the Author

Serena Prince is a life coach, specializing in narcissistic abuse recovery. She answers questions about NPD on Quora, and is the author of What You Need To Know About Narcissists and They Said It Best.

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