Lack of Empathy: It’s Not Always Obvious

-Lenora Thompson

Lack-Of-Empathy: It’s always cited as one of the chief characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But what is it really? What does lack-of-empathy look like when it’s at home?


I always thought that narcissistic lack-of-empathy was not kissing boo-boo’s. No feeling of sadness and sympathy on behalf of the bereaved at a funeral. The inability or choice not to imaginatively put yourself in someone else’s emotional shoes.

And all-of-the-above is true. But those are the obvious, in-your-face examples of lack-of-empathy. In this article, let’s explore the more subtle manifestations of lack-of-empathy.

No! Say It Isn’t True!

As my regular readers know, I hail from a family that, on the surface, was über-loving, über-caring, über-helicoptering. My boo-boo’s were kissed and my tears dried. Nonetheless, I was often deeply miserable. When I discovered narcissism in 2013 and saw the reflection of my relatives in the popular lists of attributes, lack-of-empathy was the one trait I set aside as “not applicable.”

But now, I’ve changed my mind because lack-of-empathy wears many subtle faces.

Be Happy!

One of my Facebook friends recently PMed me and said, “My [narcissistic spouse] yells at me. Half an hour later [they] ask what the hell is wrong with me. If I’m not happy and smiling I get yelled at again…”

Typical narcissistic lack-of-empathy! They can lecture you, shame you, yell at you and verbally destroy your soul only to turn around and demand that you put on a happy face, seemingly oblivious to how they destroyed you. “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,” they say cheerfully to your curled-up-in-the-fetal-position wracked-in-sobs form.

That’s lack of empathy!

The Quick Fix

Even if they aren’t the ones inflicting pain, narcissists still don’t allow misery in their presence. Your sadness about {insert situation here} is unacceptable. So they impatiently, unsympathetically and even codependently throw all kinds of “quick fixes” at you to “solve” your problem.

There’s only one problem: their “quick fixes” don’t work.

Lack of empathy again.

“What Could YOU Do Differently?”

Let’s say you’re experiencing conflict, perhaps with a coworker. The narcissist will never be on your side. Appearances are paramount. Pleasing everyone is essential.

Although they may privately agree that your coworker is in the wrong, their question will always be, “Well, what can you do differently?”. You must change to accommodate other’s disapproval. You must change to make the peace. You must change to manipulate others into proper behavior.

Appearances and pleasing others are paramount. This too is lack-of-empathy.

Follow the Money Trail

In any situation where money is involved, the greed and lack-of-empathy of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are especially vivid. Everything else, including you, is secondary compared to their love, their need and their enthusiastic hope to acquire money, money and more money.

Let’s say you hate your job and your abusive boss. The narcissist’s response will be, “What can you do differently?”. They don’t care about you! They care about retaining access to your income.

Let’s say there’s a possibility you just might be in the Last Will and Testament of an abusive relative. Suck it up, buttercup! Swallow the insults and ignore the pain, the narcissist advises. Mental health be damned. It’s the money that matters. They’re willing for you to tolerate anything and everything in hopes of a future windfall.

Lack of empathy yet again.

We Just Love and Care About You

Although the person with NPD might appear to care about you and make a show of loving you, even these altruistic emotions deserve a second glance.

Does their care make you miserable? Does it countermand your wishes, your desires? Does it contradict normal human development and activities? Then scratch under the surface and I bet you’ll find some selfish motive behind the crazy-making love and care, probably monetary.

As my regular readers know, I was forbidden from moving out ’til my 31st year under the guise of love and care for my safety. In retrospect, I believe it had much more to do with the rent I paid, the errands I ran, the caretaking I provided and the many other services I provided for free. My misery was of no moment; merely a great inconvenience to them.

Lack of empathy indeed.

Attack the Whistleblower

Perhaps the greatest litmus test of narcissism is their reaction when you dare to speak openly about the narcissistic abuse you endured and the pain they caused you. Do they react with openness? Soul searching? Regret? Apologies? Empathy?

Oh aye…and the moon is made of lemon meringue!

Prepare to be attacked, immediately and aggressively. You’ll be labeled as the crazy one, the troubled one. All of their wrong-doing will be projected onto you. You’ll be called a liar six ways from Sunday. And anything they ever gave you, which I consider blood money to buy your silence, may be demanded and recalled.

Ah, ye olde lack of empathy, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal.

Love Shouldn’t Hurt

In retrospect, I suddenly see how much of the thing narcissists call “love” actually hurts quite badly. I was always told that “love must be tough.” (No thanks to you, Dr. James Dobson! Your child-rearing techniques are awful when interpreted by narcs!) Another lie was that only those who love you are honest enough to hurt you.

Since marrying my wonderful husband, I’ve discovered that the oppposite is actually true.

Sure, love hurts, but only when your loved one is suffering. It hurts because you have empathy for and with them.

Sure, love is tough, but only when standing up for your loved one when they’re being attacked, abused, cheated. That’s true empathy.

And yes, love is honest. This means it does not project it’s evil onto you.

So I guess the lists were right all along. Narcissists are indeed lacking in empathy. It’s not always obvious, not always in-your-face and downright confusing and convoluted.

But it always, always hurts.

Published by Meg Duke

💪🏼 🍕 Fitness + Pizza —> It’s all about balance! 🧠 Licensed Psychotherapist 👋🏼 Get info on becoming my Client or a Coach!

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