6 signs you’re dealing with someone who lacks empathy

People who lack empathy can wreak havoc on your life (trust me, I know).

I was with my ex-boyfriend for six years before I realized he had absolutely zero empathy for others (a fact he fessed up to during our breakup).

Knowing whether someone you’re dealing with lacks empathy isn’t always black and white.

These people (especially those aged 20+) are used to pretending like they have compassion. Sometimes, they know all the right things to say or do.

But something won’t feel quite right about them. And it can cause a ton of confusion and heartache for you if you keep them around. 

I’d always suspected something wasn’t quite right with my ex-boyfriend. I only wish I’d dug a little deeper into my gut instinct.

I would have saved myself a ton of heartache and healing later down the line!

If you think you’re dealing with someone who lacks empathy – whether it be someone you’re dating, a friend, or even a work colleague – read on to learn the 6 signs you may be right.

Because once you know what you’re dealing with, you’re better equipped to get out of the situation or protect yourself whenever you encounter them.

1) You never fully believe their words of support

When you’re dealing with someone who lacks empathy, something will just feel off about them.

If they’re trying to show affection or offer words of support, it won’t feel completely genuine.

It’s hard to explain why or how this happens. But something just won’t feel right.

Like if you tell them you’re feeling sad, you won’t feel like they really care.

Or if an event upset you, like something that happened at work or school, they may forget about it minutes later.

If you mention it again in the future, they won’t know what you’re talking about – even if it was something very, very significant to you at the time.

And it’s not because they have memory issues.

It’s because they don’t feel the same level of compassion as you might feel for them, so it’s not something they’d ever commit to their long-term memory.

2) They don’t really like animals (even if they say they do)

This is usually a pretty obvious sign that someone lacks empathy.

According to research, we are biologically oriented toward loving and helping our children, and animals feel like children to most of us.

Not to pick on my ex-boyfriend again, but there was always something a bit off about the way he was with our cat.

He said he loved cats – a lot. He’d pet her and laugh at her when she did weird stuff.

But he also had no problem shouting at her about the slightest of things.

He wasn’t compassionate when she’d been sick on the carpet. Or when she’d been in a fight and had scratches on her nose.

He wouldn’t even be worried when she was struggling to breathe during very hot weather once.

Instead, he’d get annoyed about the noise of her breathing or the mess she’d made.

Most people who lack empathy won’t say they don’t like animals. Because it’s a pretty obvious red flag to most people.

But watch carefully how they respond and treat the pets they encounter.

If their actions don’t match their words, they may not be as empathetic as you originally thought.

3) They don’t express their emotions

Another sign someone lacks empathy is if they never ever express their emotions or how they feel.

They never seem to get angry or sad.

They don’t even talk about feeling sad or angry about anything.

Because they don’t generally feel any of these feelings.

This one becomes pretty obvious when you’re in a relationship with someone who lacks empathy.

Because everyone argues in relationships. And romantic love (according to experts) brings out our deepest darkest insecurities and childhood trauma.

So it’s normal to feel things toward your partner that you wouldn’t normally feel in a friendship – even if the exact same situation occurs.

But people who lack empathy won’t often argue with you. They won’t cry, get sad, hurt, angry, upset, anxious, or any other emotion, really.

Because they don’t have the capacity to feel things so deeply that they need to express them.

4) They’re extremely critical of others and their emotions

traits of someone who lacks empathy 6 signs you're dealing with someone who lacks empathy

When you’re an empath, you have a unique ability to feel the emotions of other people at a deep, deep level.

You are so in tune with the energy of the people around you that the slightest change in someone’s behavior sparks your attention.

But when you lack empathy, you don’t feel this way at all.

In fact, you hardly ever understand people and why they do things.

And that’s because people with little empathy have trouble processing their own emotions.

According to experts, they think emotional reactions are not valid and act dismissive towards them.

So, they’ll rarely ever be understanding toward others.

And they’re more likely to be very critical instead.

You may hear them calling people (including you) “too sensitive”, “too emotional” or “weak” – instead of showing compassion.

5) Everything is “I want” and “Look what I’ve got”

People who lack empathy care about one person and one person alone: themselves.

Because they don’t feel much compassion for others, they can be very selfish and self-absorbed in how they speak, act, and live.

In conversation, they’re always using the words, “I want” or “Look what I’ve got”.

They’re never satisfied with what they have, and they always want more.

They’re not sensitive to how other people may be feeling or that they may not have as much as them.

A former friend of mine would often gloat about what he had – even when out with friends who had lost everything.

He wouldn’t be sensitive when talking about his job successes when a friend had suddenly lost theirs.

He wouldn’t tone down the talk about the latest things he’d bought because he had a promotion, when other friends were having money issues.

He wouldn’t even talk sensitively about his family when a friend had just lost their mum.

And the worst thing was that he wouldn’t even notice that he was doing it.

Because people who lack empathy don’t tend to think about others as much as they think about themselves.

And talking about these things makes them look good – which is the thing they care about the most.

6) They have friends, but no close friends

Another sign of someone that lacks empathy is if they don’t have many friends.

They may have lots of acquaintances and some people they call friends. But they don’t really have any “close” friends.

They don’t have friends that they text to see how they are.

Or friends that they’d call their best mates.

Or even anyone that they’d meet up with one-on-one when they’re going through a rough time.

My ex-boyfriend had a big friendship group. But he’d never text, call, or meet up with any of them individually.

When one of his friends opened up to everyone on a night out to say he had depression, he never checked in with him afterward.

When I asked him about it, he said he just didn’t get why his friend was struggling. That his life was alright and he just needed to “get over it”.

Because people who lack empathy can’t empathize with others. So it’s generally harder for them to keep close friends.

Final thoughts

Individually, some of these things may not seem like such a big problem.

Like if someone doesn’t have that many friends, that doesn’t automatically mean they lack empathy. They may just be an introvert or have trouble making new friends as an adult.

Likewise, if someone doesn’t really like dogs, they may have had a bad experience years ago that’s left some scars (and a ton of anxiety).

But always trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right.

Because altogether, these signs can only point to one thing: the person you’re dealing with lacks empathy.

As I said earlier, people who lack empathy can bring you down and make you feel crazy – especially the longer you spend with them.

While it’s important to understand that not everyone has the same level of empathy as you do, it doesn’t mean you have to tolerate feeling bad around them (at least until they work on building their empathy levels).

If you think you’re in a relationship with someone who lacks empathy, it may be better to quit while you’re ahead.

If you think a friend, friend’s new partner, or work colleague lacks empathy, consider cutting them off or minimizing your interactions with them.

Picture of Amy Reed

Amy Reed

Amy Reed is a content writer from London working with international brands. As an empath, she loves sharing her life insights to help others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys a simple life of reading, gardening, and making a fuss over her two cats.

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