The Emotional and Interpersonal Aspect of “Lack Of Empathy”


The Emotional and Interpersonal Aspect of “Lack Of Empathy”

Psychopaths show a lack of feelings towards people in general; they are cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate and tactless (Hare, 1999).

This lack of empathy is the base of many of their characteristics—pathological lying, shallow emotions, chilling violence, shamelessness, egocentricity, lack of remorse, deceitfulness, manipulation, etc.

With their empathy effectively switched “off ”, they callously think only about themselves.

It appears that having no empathy arises from abnormalities in the empathy circuit of the brain, leaving psychopaths underdeveloped in empathic responses.  Therefore, they can be single-minded and callous, and indifferent to the rights and sufferings of others.  They are as emotionally famished as androids.  Without the ability to experience real emotional attachments, they have no sense of moral duty to anyone beyond their own self-interests.

They treat the vulnerable with disdain because psychopaths see vulnerability as weakness.  To them, whoever is weak deserves to be exploited.  Unbelievably, they can justify their actions, and even rationalize that they, in some way, are in fact the victim. This lack of empathy allows them to dehumanize people into mere objects to be manipulated.  Psychopathy begins early in life (in what is labelled “childhood conduct disorders”).

These individuals may have tortured animals, abused family members or committed cold-blooded acts against others while growing up.  It seems that this lack of empathy leaves them unable to figuratively step into the shoes of another person in order to understand and identify with their situations and feelings.  It is as if psychopaths simply lack the ability to construct mental and emotional facsimiles of another person.  Because of a lack of empathy, psychopaths are very drawn to highly empathic people as a source of supply.

Empaths are able to put themselves in the narcissist’s shoes, giving them the concern, warmth, comfort and attention they crave.  Unfortunately, the victim’s empathy also sets them up in a way that feeds the psychopathic need for power and dominance, giving the psychopath control over their victim’s emotions and keeping them hooked into the relationship.

However, I am not convinced that the psychopath’s empathy quotient is stuck on zero. In all probability, psychopaths know how to turn “on and off” their empathy switches, and even conflate empathy for grasping another’s emotional state. This makes them more efficient when it comes to knowing which buttons to push for baiting and hooking purposes.

They also seem to know how to use empathy as a solvent for resolving interpersonal problems and getting into the minds of others.  In fact, their understanding of empathy allows them to use it to their own full advantage for becoming highly skilled and effective in their range and scope of abuse.  But empathy is a complex emotion, so it must be understood at the outset that people can do the most horrible things, identify closely with their victims, and learn to live with the angst that accumulates (Turvey, 2012).

There are many incidents of psychopaths having shown empathy towards their victims at the scene of a crime. For example, a rapist laying down a coat for their victim, or the abductor deciding not to harm a victim when they have cried, and even returning them back to where the abduction took place. Sometimes the psychopath will agree to accommodate the victim’s request, such as using a condom during a rape, untying their hands or apologizing after the offense.

What the psychopath really lacks is generally a sense of compassion.  Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist, states that psychopaths use empathy to their advantage.  Even serial killers know that when a child cries they are in distress probably because they’ve been separated from their mother.  Where the compassionate person feels sad for the child and takes measures to reunite the two, the psychopath uses the opportunity to take the child by the hand and pretends to get them back to their mother, but instead kidnaps them (as was the case of two year-old Jamie Bulger, who was murdered by two ten-year-old boys, Venables and Thompson).

Lack of empathy is a core feature of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), and it is what keeps the pathological narcissist locked into their constant adversarial and oppositional positions.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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