When someone lacks empathy, they are incapable of understanding or sharing the feelings of another person. Or, they don’t even bother to try. The clinical definition for these types of people is “self-centered jerk.”
OK, it’s not, but it should be.
A lack of empathy is the root cause of many of many interpersonal problems. If you can’t, or won’t, try to understand the emotions of those close to you, how can you even know how to respond?
Un-empathic people may not even realize how hurtful their words or actions are to others. Since they lack the emotional maturity to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, they may not be aware of how callously they’re behaving.
Or they simply don’t care.
Let’s take a look at my ten favorite phrases people lacking empathy love to spout, and how it hits people who actually have empathy.
1) “Whoa, you’re way too sensitive.”
“Am I, now? How kind of you to inform me. The thing is, I’d rather be way too sensitive than uncaring and heartless any day.”
They don’t see themselves as the problem for being out of line, you are the problem for being a big, fat, baby instead of just tolerating their reprehensible behavior.
2) “Get over it and move on.”
*How utterly helpful. Yes, I’ll just pull myself up by my bootstraps and bury the issue deep in my psyche so it can come back to haunt me years later just to ensure your happiness in this fleeting moment.”
Let’s face it. A lot of people who lack empathy are narcissists, or at least have narcissistic tendencies. Once the conversation starts from being all about them, they lose interest.
3) “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
“Oh, it is? I bet if it was your cookie crumbling in this manner there would be much pitiful wailing and gnashing of teeth. But since my experience is alien to you, it’s OK to dismiss me with a trite cliche.”
If your experience is something foreign to someone lacking empathy, they will often dismiss it as invalid.
4) “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”
“What the heck does this even mean? I deserved what I got because I’m stupid and deserve misfortune? Or are you just trying to sound edgy and hip while you disrespect my feelings?”
These are the kinds of things self-absorbed people say to end that line of conversation and bring it back around to themselves.
5) “It’s really not that big of a deal”
“Oh, thank goodness. Here I was thinking I had a real problem, a serious problem, but luckily you’re here to tell me how badly I’m blowing this out of proportion. After all, half of marriages end in divorce. Thanks for enlightening me.”
Now I’m not saying that we don’t all act disproportionately from time to time, and we need a good friend to talk us down sometimes. However, minimizing someone’s pain means you’re doing it wrong.
6) “I hate to say I told you so.”
“No, you don’t. You love to say you ‘told me so’ because you think it showcases your superior intellect. You’d rather remind me you were right than be the supportive friend I need at this moment.”
This is another strong indicator of emotional invalidation, which is the offhand dismissal of someone’s feelings.
This person is really saying:
“Your feelings don’t matter. You deserve to feel bad for not listening to me in the first place. What matters here is that I was right.”
7) “Suck it up.”
“Yes, you’re right. I have no reason to feel as upset as I do. People lose beloved pets every day. I’ll just suck it up like an adult and insist my young children do the same.”
“Suck it up” is narcissist for “I am bored with this discussion because it doesn’t revolve around me.”
They may try to sell it as ‘tough love’ if called out, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s just rude and jerkish.
8) “Everything happens for a reason.”
“Thank you for your trite, meaningless platitudes. Now that you’ve told me my young child’s terminal illness is part of some secret, unknowable plan I feel so at peace.”
In my humble opinion, this dopey statement is the worst of the worst. If this is all you can think of to say in a tragic situation, just say nothing at all and send over a casserole.
9) “Stop being a drama queen.”
“A thousand apologies, your Majesty. How dare a peasant such as I try to usurp your drama queen crown?”
The funny thing is, the people most apt to use this phrase scream for paramedics when they get a hangnail or take to their beds when someone does harshly to them.
10) “It could be worse.”
“Yes, thank you Captain Obvious. Instead of merely losing my job that keeps my family housed, clothed, and fed, I could’ve been covered in beef gravy and dropped into a tank of starving alligators.”
When I’m out on the street dumpster diving for sustenance I’ll be sure to remember it could be worse and stop feeling sorry for myself. I am not worthy to receive your sage advice, but thank you for the reality check.
So, are there people who completely lack the ability to empathize with other people’s suffering?
The experience of genuine empathy may be rare for some people diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, but it’s still possible, especially if the person wills it.
I think Maya Angelou expressed this perfectly:
“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”