Is there a personality type that is more dangerous than a psychopath? It turns out that scientists just discovered one, and it’s called the dark empath.

If you are interested in the darker side of human nature, then you have probably heard of the Dark Triad. The Dark Triad describes the three shared character traits of psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellism

By contrast, an empath is the exact opposite of these dark traits. Empaths are sensitive, compassionate and can easily become overwhelmed by the feelings of others. 

But recently, a new study suggests that some empathic people might also share Dark Triad traits. These are the Dark Empaths, and it turns out they can be far more dangerous than your average psychopath

Dark Empath Definition

A dark empath is someone who understands someone else’s emotions and uses it to manipulate and take advantage of other people.

Anyone scoring highly in the Dark Triad Traits will also share one other common characteristic; a distinct lack of empathy. So how can the two become intertwined and connected?  

It helps to know more about empathy in general if we want to understand the dark empath. Specifically, there are two types of empathy: cognitive and affective. Researchers believe that cognitive empathy is associated with dark empaths. 

Here’s why.

Cognitive Empathy and the Dark Triad

Two types of empathy – cognitive and affective. 

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand a person’s emotions. Affective empathy is the capacity to feel a person’s emotions for themselves. 

In other words:

  • Cognitive empathy = I know your pain
  • Affective empathy = I feel your pain

“Cognitive empathy refers to the capacity to know and understand another’s mental state (e.g., the ability to perspective take; seeing from another’s viewpoint), whereas affective empathy is the capacity to resonate with another person (or situation) on an emotional level (i.e., vicarious sharing of their feelings.” Heym, et al. 

People can feel cognitive or affective empathy or a combination of the two. However, cognitive empathy is associated with dark empaths. Cognitive empaths can know and understand how you feel, but they don’t necessarily connect themselves with your emotions. 

Cognitive empaths are objective and logical. They often make good mediators because they can view an emotional situation from both sides without getting emotionally involved. 

On the other hand, affective empaths are more subjective. If you are hurting, so are they. They have the capability of becoming completely immersed in your pain and often suffer burnout in caring roles because of this. 

So what are the signs of a dark empath? 

8 Signs of a Dark Empath

In the 2020 study, Heym, et al, conducted surveys of over 900 participants, all within 20-30 years of age and around 30% male. The participants completed several personality questionnaires, including the Big Five Personality, Dark Traits, and Empathy. 

They discovered that some participants shared Dark Traits along with enhanced empathy characteristics. They called these Dark Empaths.

The study reported several personality indicators associated with dark empathy.

  1. They have a malicious sense of humour
  2. They like guilt-tripping you
  3. They are emotional manipulators
  4. They like to antagonise people
  5. They are passive-aggressive
  6. They are highly self-critical
  7. They enjoy other peoples’ discomfort
  8. They get moody when other people are having fun

As a group, dark empaths have several defining character traits. 

Character Traits of Dark Empathy

  • Selfish extroverts

Although they are typically extroverted and find pleasure in social activities, they have poor close relationships with family and friends. Despite their preference for social contact, they tend to be selfish and untrusting. They can be contentious to those around them. 

  • Passive aggressors

Perhaps because of their enhanced empathy factor, dark empaths did not score highly on aggressive behaviour. That’s not to say that they don’t participate in passive forms of aggression. In fact, they produced higher scores on the subscales of aggression, such as malicious humour and generating guilt

  • Spiteful sadists

Typically, an empath will respond to another person’s pain with sympathy and compassion. But this is not always the case. Sometimes experiencing these feelings produces the opposite reaction of sadism and pleasure in another person’s distress. For example, instead of sympathy, the dark empath feels a sense of Schadenfreude.  

  • Self-critical neurotics

It appears that all this insight into other people’s emotions produces a more self-aware and critical person in the dark empath. They are more likely to worry and become stressed than a light empath. They are also much more likely to think harshly of themselves and play the victim

  • Emotional manipulators

Because dark empaths know exactly what you are going through, it makes it easier for them to manipulate you. They won’t ever resort to physical violence, but their knowledge and perspective give them valuable insight. They’ll know just which buttons to press that will cause the maximum damage.

  • Malicious jokers

You can tell a dark empath by the type of things they find amusing. Many have a particularly dark sense of humour that goes well beyond sadistic. They are the ones making hurtful jokes at other people’s expense. They’ll be the first to laugh if someone hurts themselves. 

Should We Be Worried about Dark Empaths?

So why are dark empaths so dangerous? Because, unlike the cold, calculating psychopath, this personality type knows exactly what you are feeling, and they use this information to manipulate you.

Whereas a true empath feels your pain and wants to help, the dark empath understands your pain and wonders how they can use it to their advantage

Final Thoughts

I think it’s important to realise that empathy can have a dark side. We need to be aware that just because someone feels empathy, this doesn’t necessarily mean they automatically feel compassion or sympathy.  



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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jade

    Hmmm…There are a lot of Narcissi tic traits here as well. Or, I suppose any kind of “label” could apply here.

  2. Rachelle

    I’m finding it disturbing that more and more often now I’m running into these types of “empaths” in narcissistic abuse awareness and support groups on Facebook. One recently responded to a question I asked looking for support and totally invalidated me and taunted me and my pain, they acted much like a narcissist while claiming to be a victim of narc abuse themselves. The admins of the group tried playing the neutral card but I left the group because it was toxic. I think it’s crucial admins for these groups and pages be made aware of this, I don’t hear much about it but it explains why I ended up leaving some support groups.

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