A lack of empathy makes it hard to engage in a meaningful relationship with a person. Being empathetic is an innate human quality, whereby we can appreciate the feelings of other people, regardless of whether those feelings also affect us. What about those who lack empathy?

Why do some people lack empathy?

Being unable to show empathy is often linked to low emotional intelligence. This means that if someone in your life seems unable to relate to how you are feeling, it might not be deliberate.

Having low emotional intelligence means that a person does not have the resources to be able to grasp feelings outside of the spectrum of their own experience. This is similar to a very young child, who has not yet reached emotional maturity. They are the center of their universe and do not feel a response when somebody else is emotional.

In other cases, having little or no empathy can be a trait of a narcissistic person or somebody suffering from an anti-social behavior condition.

Signs of people who lack empathy and examples of their behavior in everyday life:

1. Lack of close relationships

Someone unable to relate to others will find it very difficult to establish long-term relationships. They may have no or very few friends and struggle to maintain a bond even with their immediate family members. This is because a lack of empathy extends to everybody. Thus, they might not feel the emotional bond or familial connection that most of us experience.

Have you ever had a colleague who doesn’t ever contribute to a birthday collection, or won’t bother to sign a card for a sick colleague? They probably don’t see why they should inconvenience themselves with the concerns of other people.

2. Unusual responses to grief

Having no empathy can show through in times of distress. If you have suffered a bereavement, and somebody in your life does not seem interested or offer any kind of condolences, they probably cannot relate to your grief.

As an example, if you have lost a pet that you loved very much, most people will feel sorry for you and understand the sadness and sense of loss you will be feeling. A person without any empathy will not understand why you are upset, and might even make unkind comments.

3. An inability to share in others’ happiness

Here is another example of a behavior that is typical for a person who lacks empathy. If you have had a baby, celebrated graduating, or become engaged, your friends, colleagues, and family will be delighted for you! If there is somebody who doesn’t seem particularly interested or has not offered any congratulations, they may lack the empathy to appreciate your happiness.

It is a sad by-product that someone experiencing this is unable to share in others’ joy. It works in a similar way to being unable to relate to grief.

4. A strong set of irrefutable personal beliefs

An individual who cannot relate to emotions often has a very firm stance on their own beliefs. Thus, they will find it extremely difficult to accept in any situation that they might be wrong. If you have ever had a conversation with a person who will argue black is white – seemingly for the sake of it – they might simply lack the capacity to relate to your argument.

Lacking any kind of emotional maturity renders a person incapable of reconsidering their ideas, or understanding that they might not be right.

5. Egotistical

With an absence of empathy comes a strong sense of self. A person who cannot empathize will likely be very egotistical, as they prioritize themselves in every situation. People may have an inflated ego for many reasons. However, in case of those with low emotional intelligence, this stems from emotional immaturity.

So an emotionally immature adult will often behave in a childish manner. These kinds of people crave attention all the time, act irresponsibly and are unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. This could apply to anything, and some examples of this behavior include pushing in the line at the coffee shop to driving inconsiderately.

6. A sense of entitlement

This trait is particularly noticeable in a group dynamic. A person who lacks empathy will often talk endlessly about him/herself. They will brush off any turn in the conversation that does not center on them. This behavior is known as conversational narcissism, and many people can have it without actually being narcissists.

You may know a few examples of such people in your life. You might notice a friend who will ask continually for favours, without any expectation of returning them. It might be that they simply do not understand why they should invest comparable effort into the relationship, and nor consider how their actions might be making you feel.

7. Reacting awkwardly to emotion

Whilst there are many reasons why people find it hard to know how to respond to emotion, people who can’t make an emotional connection will struggle to react in an appropriate way.

Sometimes, emotional outbursts might be a little over the top, and potentially embarrassing. However, hiding your feelings is never healthy, and a few tears to cope with a stressful situation is an ordinary reaction. People who cannot empathize will not know what to do in this circumstance, and will often try to distance themselves completely.

Life without empathy

It can be just as hard to try and get along with someone who doesn’t seem to care about anything but themselves, as it can be being a person who doesn’t grasp the basic human reaction of empathy.

Not being able to relate to your partner, not understanding why people feel a certain way, and being unable to consider any thought process other than your own is a very isolating way to live.

Try not to take it personally; not everyone has reached emotional maturity, and sadly, some people never will. A lack of empathy is not a reflection on you, or the authenticity of your feelings, but is an unfortunate inability to appreciate them.


  1. Very Well Mind
  2. Psychology Today

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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. oeNo_oNeo

    Too much empathy can make one lonely too.

  2. Stephanie Shaw

    I have found people who lack empathy and emotional intelligence are more likely to partner with/marry someone similar. This can have a profound effect on children and siblings. It has taken me 30 years to recognise that I cannot turn to these people for support. When I have tried I am met with guilt tripping, silence or plain rudeness. It causes pain in myself and others and can me generational. I have to find the strength in myself to believe I can move forward to live my life in a positive friendly way.

  3. greg

    strength in myself to believe I can move forward to live my life in a positive friendly way.

  4. Rossella Giordano

    Fortunately, I have never met people who lack empathy with everyone. But I have noticed that the vast majority of people have empathy with some and with others not. So empathy is triggered only when there is a convenience? Bho! Interesting theme offers many insights. Thanks

  5. Alexandru

    Empathy is a weakness. Humans emotions are chaotic and stupid. Without empathy, people can focus on improving their own lives without putting others before them. When people cry to me, I keep a straight face and I tell them I am not interested, because I have never been in grief and I don’t know what it feels like. It just sounds weird to me that you would cry because of someone else.

    1. Jos

      Narcissism personified here maybe??

  6. Gary

    The desired trait of being a military sniper is having no empathy. When you do not value life, it is not hard to take it. Try living with that after several tours. The demons come after every second, and any way they can. No empathy allows some people to live with the mental trauma of seeing life or death through a scope. Your mind tells you if you love no one, then no one who loves you can hurt you.

    1. Rick (Roc) Stephenson

      Gary, you have my empathy because in a way I know what you are describing. You did your job, you followed orders and you will not be held accountable. Those who directed you are the ones who will have to explain their reasoning. Be safe and be happy! Roc

  7. Kim

    This is exactly the man I’ve been married to for 11 years and have 2 daughters and 2 step-daughters with…
    I’m finally beginning to accept this, after years of feeling like I’m just watching him go thru the motions, feeling nothing coming from his heart to mine.
    It’s been quite a lonely and isolating experience. Yet I still love him so deeply; my heart yearns for his, to finally connect to his heart and really get to FEEL his love…
    I’m tearing up writing this because I realize that if this is the truth for my husband, I’ll NEVER get to feel his heart hugging mine… and he will NEVER perceive my love in his heart…
    So all of his actions, mainly lack of them, that made me feel like he doesnt love me, it really IS the truth… Is it??
    Is it possible for someone who lacks empathy to LOVE another person, on any level?
    He always says he loves me, and sometimes tries to say and do “the right thing”. But it’s always so obvious the thoughts are coming from his mind; it’s never feelings coming from his heart.
    Would he be able to love his children? Would he even be affected at all if anything bad happened to any of us?
    I guess at least it’s not who I am personally that causes him not to feel love for me, if it’s just how he’s wired. He most likely isnt choosing to be this way.
    I would have to accept him as he is, even if that means I have no one to send and recieve love signals with. He accepts me, being highly sensitive and emotional. And I KNOW that isnt easy!

  8. mik

    showing empathy is not a sign of weakness, remember we are human not robots, god gave us this emotion for a reason.

  9. Diana

    Kim, thank you for your insight on this post, as you made me realize that l Lack Empathy. Wow, what a revelation about myself and the need to correct this dreadful behavior. My poor wife of thirty has had a difficult time understanding my thoughts and how to get me to emotionally connect. She is an Empath and Highly Sensitive. You are correct, that being with a Highly Sensitive is not easy!
    It’s been so stressful on my wife and has taken a toll on her dwindling health. I need to get help fast and I just hope it’s not to late to help my wife, the love of my life, my soulmate. I’m so sorry my dear love.

  10. beth

    Almost every man I dated is this way. My boyfriend now is like this. My whole life fell apart and i was crying and he went outside and left me to cry by ,myself. He asks me to do everything for him but wont do anything for me.
    I am ready to leave

  11. No name for me

    Just a reminder: lacking empathy doesn’t make someone automatically a bad person; it just makes it harder to understand/identify someone’s feelings. They can still love, and be kind, wonderful people to be around.

  12. Delta

    People who are devoid of emotional empathy are parasites in that they benefit from other people’s empathy but they don’t reciprocate. They take but they don’t give.

  13. Bobbie Reynolds

    This article does not seem to be about empathy in any sense that I have seen the word defined. Instead, it seems to be about the ability to use empathy to connect with other people. The latter is a more complex ability requiring the use of social skills to effectively connect with others and derive emotional gratification from relationships. This is a high level skill not possessed by some people who are either immature or mentally ill but who nevertheless possess and demonstrate empathy.

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