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Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy (And How to Deal with Them)

Written by Patricia Young
Certified Professional & Holistic Coach, bestselling author, host of the Awakening to Life podcast
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We all have interacted with some people that seem to have a lack of empathy, at some point of our lives. It can be someone at work, within our personal relationships, and even within our friend group. Those experiences can leave us feeling frustrated, unsettled, angry, disappointed, and even betrayed, especially when we need support.

It gets especially painful if you are in a relationship with someone who is unable to put themselves in your shoes. Especially when we consider some of these people our friends, or maybe even worse, when those people are family members and we have to be in contact with them frequently.

In this article, I will share with you the signs when someone is lacking empathy, why some people seem to lack it, how to deal with them and introduce you to Empathy Deficit Disorder, which occurs in some people. This insight will help you so that you don’t feel so frustrated and disappointed, help give you meaning and help you lead a happier life.

Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy?

What Exactly Is Empathy?

According to Dictionary.com, Empathy is:

the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

The word originates from the Greek word “empatheia”, meaning physical affection or passion.

PsychologyToday.com defines Empathy as:

the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.

They go on to say that empathy facilitates prosocial (helping) behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that we behave in a more compassionate manner.

In other words, empathy is when you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s position, both at an emotional and intellectual level.

Additionally, Empathy is one of the defining characteristics and foundational pieces of emotional intelligence. Mental Health America defines Emotional intellegence as


the ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you

Of the five key elements of EI (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills), empathy drives one’s ability to have strong interpersonal skills.

True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it — Daniel Goleman

An important note, empathy can often be confused with sympathy, which is not the same thing. See 7 Intricate Differences Between Empathy And Sympathy for a fantastic comparison between the two.

In short, empathy means that you understand the feelings of someone else, whereas sympathy means that you share the feelings of someone else. Sometimes, sympathy can come across as unintentionally judgmental to the other person because it lacks having you put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Signs That Someone Lacks Empathy

Even though human beings are social creatures by nature, empathy doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Some people are more empathetic than others. In more extreme cases where people lack empathy, some people suffer from Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD).

As Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC. said,

Empathy Deficit Disorder is a pervasive but overlooked condition. In fact, our increasingly polarized social and political culture of the past few years reveals that EDD is more severe than ever. It has profound consequences for the mental health of both individuals and society.


He explains that when you suffer EDD, you are unable to step outside yourself and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from yourself. That makes it a source of personal conflicts of communication breakdown in intimate relationships and of adversarial attitudes – including hatred – towards groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life from your own.

Here are some signs that will help you identify if someone around you lacks empathy:

  • They jump fast into criticizing others without putting themselves in other people’s shoes.
  • They seem to be cold or just out of touch for people that are suffering or are less fortunate.
  • They believe 100% in the rightness of their own ideas and/or beliefs, and judge anyone who does not hold their beliefs as wrong, ignorant or stupid.
  • They have trouble feeling happy for others.
  • They have trouble making or keeping friends.
  • They have trouble getting along with family members.
  • They feel entitled to receiving favors and use you to serve their needs without showing appreciation. They will even get offended if they don’t get their way.
  • In a group setting, they will talk a lot about themselves and their lives without really caring about what other people share.
  • They do or say something that hurts a friend or a loved one, and tend to blame his/her actions on them. They truly believe that the fault is in the person receiving the hurt because they reacted poorly, were rude or were oversensitive.

The truth is that without empathy, it is hard to connect with others and create deep emotional connections. This can cause problems in relationships, as people aren’t felt seen or heard.

Why Some People Lack Empathy

Empathy is an innate and learned skill that is shaped by how we are wired when we are born, and our own environment and life experiences. To experience empathy to some extent, it means that we have to get in touch with our emotions.

Many people who lack empathy were raised in families who avoided getting in touch with their feelings and even condemned others for feeling their emotions. People in that environment have learned to shut down their feelings early in their lives to such a degree that they closed off their hearts and struggle to connect to their own feelings. An inability to connect to their feelings positions them to have difficulty relating to other people’s feelings.

As a result, these people end up lacking self-compassion and self-love, and are disconnected from their authentic selves and divine connection to source. They are probably not even aware that such disconnection is like a defense mechanism from their ego because if they empathize, they need to relate, get in touch with their feelings and feel the pain.


In most cases, developing and cultivating empathy is possible only if the individuals are willing to change how they relate with others. People who want to change are in for a journey of self-discovery and take important steps to consciously retrain their brains and alter their behavioral preference. Human’s are fortunate to have a high degree of brain neuroplasticity, allowing us to create new brain patterns.

However, there are other cases in which lack of empathy is associated to severe disorders such as narcissism, anti-social personality disorders, and psychopathy. In these cases, these individuals are most helped by seeking advice and guidance from a professional who specializes in these disorders.

How to Deal with People Who Lack Empathy

I know how difficult it can be to deal with people who lack empathy when you are a sensitive and caring person. When you try to express your feelings, instead of compassion and understanding, you get anger or judgment back. This can cause a great deal of stress when you need support the most.

It’s painful because sometimes we can get stuck in a vicious cycle where the more someone doesn’t understand you, the more you feel hurt, and the more you want them to understand your feelings. It’s almost as if you are pleading for validation.

Here’s the thing:

Most of the time, talking with these people will lead you nowhere, and will leave you feeling completely depleted.

Here are some easy-to-follow steps, so you can deal with people who lack empathy:

1. Don’t Take Their Anger or Judgments Personally

By doing this, you can get off the emotional roller coaster. It’s not about you. Remind yourself that they are the ones that have a problem connecting emotionally with others at a deeper level. There’s nothing wrong with you! This can be super challenging to not take their actions personally and may take a conscious effort to set aside your initial emotional reaction.

Sometimes, adopting a mindset of empathy towards that person can really help you rise above your own feelings about the situation. If you can take comfort in the fact that you are the bigger person, this can help you set aside your emotions and not take it personally.


2. Don’t Try to Make Them Understand Your Feelings

Trying to instill empathy or insights in them is a waste of your time and energy. This will only increase their anger and judgement. It will become quite cyclical, as you try to make them understand you and having them react without empathy.

Trying to force understanding will leave both you and them disappointed, which is counterproductive.

This can be challenging, though important, as you are giving up on expecting empathy from the person.

3. Talk About Facts with Them

Instead of talking to them about how you feel, or how something they did or said made you feel, talk about facts and what you think. It’s easier to communicate this way because they won’t feel blamed or shamed. This is critical for keeping lines of communication open.

Lower your expectations of the person. It can be easy to hold the person to the same standard as. you might hold yourself, but their lack of empathy will continue to leave you feeling disappointed. Setting reasonable expectations on your interactions with the person will help you manage your emotions when dealing with them.

When speaking facts to the person, try to modulate how you display your emotions. It can be especially challenging, as you might be going through a difficult time, but try to remain neutral and limit large displays of emotions.

4. Create Distance and Space

You don’t have to end the friendship or stop visiting your family member, but you need to set some boundaries and be mindful of your interaction with them. Keep the connection superficial to avoid arguments and don’t expect depth and understanding.

If you must keep this person in your life, adjust your expectations of your ongoing relationship. You will need to come to terms with the idea that you may on have a superficial relationship with this person and that they may not meet the needs you expected.


It is okay to transition this person from friend to acquaintance. Shared friend groups can create challenges when trying to limit contact with someone, so making your relationship very light and surface may be the best way to go.

Distancing yourself from family can be more challenging emotionally, depending on your situation. You deserve to have supportive relationships in your life and that includes family. We often have complicated histories with our family members, making it challenging to create the distance we need. Be mindful that you deserve nothing but the best from your relationships, as you navigate limiting contact with relationships that aren’t serving you.

5. Cultivate or Nurture Relationships with People Who You Trust

To fill your emotional cup, it’s. a great idea to spend time with people who you trust and who make you feel safe so that you can feel comfortable sharing your inner world and your feelings with them. These are people who might have shown signs of empathy in the past.

These are the relationships that will help you work through the feelings you are experiencing from the challenges you are having from the person who isn’t showing empathy.

Also, take time to reflect on your experience, as you cultivate new relationships throughout your life. Watch for signs within your new relationships that the other person is empathetic, so you can prioritize this in your life.

6. Know That Your Value Does Not Depend on Their Validation

While it’s so easy to try and get validation from others, our self-worth should never be based on approval from others. Your value comes from within you and it doesn’t matter what others think about you. This can take some practice and might be a skill that requires some practice.

Understanding and connecting with your own value can be challenging. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you realize your true value: How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power)


7. Take Loving Actions Towards Yourself

Maintaining self-love is critically important when navigating a relationship where you are dealing with someone who is lacking empathy.

Offer yourself kindness and practice doing things that reflect self-love – eat healthy, get enough rest, pursue your dreams, work on yourself, develop a spiritual life, surround yourself with loving and positive people.

8. If You Feel Too Overwhelmed, Get Professional Help

Getting professional help, where possible, is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself.

Find a caring and compassionate therapist or life coach who can be there for you and offer guidance during painful times. Getting help from a professional is common and more accessible than ever, with both in-person and virtual options available. Many professionals will communicate over video chat and even text messages.

While we want to lean on our personal relationships where possible, unfortunately, our friends and family can’t always provide all of the emotional support that we need at times.


If the person that you’re dealing with shows a willingness to be more open to change and become more empathetic and caring, then you have a real opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy (And How to Deal with Them)

Some people are just less empathetic than others. Don’t take it personally if it’s with close loved ones and understand it can be due to their unique life experiences or upbringing.

Your worth and value do not depend on how they react or treat you. While it is difficult, prioritizing your well-being is the most important thing so focus more on your physical and mental health.

Don’t force your feelings on them. Instead, use facts and communicate with others using logic rather than emotions. It can be more time-consuming but lowering your expectations and remaining neutral urges them to understand you without feeling shamed or blamed.

 Seek professional help if you feel it is necessary. These are trained professionals who know how to deal with these situations and can help you navigate as you control your emotions and maintain relationships with the people you love.

Focus and nurture relationships that fill you up emotionally; this can also help you cultivate and strengthen newer relationships and friendships.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why some people lack empathy. Dealing with these people is not easy and may leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed. While you navigate these challenging relationships, it’s important to prioritize your own wellbeing. With my advice, you’ll learn that you can’t change someone, however, you can change your attitude towards them. Shifting your mindset will be one of your biggest tools in successfully dealing with people who lack empathy.

Remember that you can’t save everyone, and that while some people are willing to get help, not everyone will and don’t have control over that. You can love yourself enough to not let people who lack empathy to overpower you. Set boundaries and do what makes you happy. Ultimately, don’t be afraid to get professional help when you are overwhelmed.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

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