5 Ways The Narcissist’s Lack of Empathy Harms Us


Human conscience, separateness, accountability and reciprocity are normal expectations in a healthy relationship. Empathy is tantamount to humanity. Human beings don’t by nature prey on each other. We arrive in adulthood expecting that most people are fully developed and “Safe” human beings. Not so, as we’ve learned there are a group of people who have not developed normally, who in fact ARENT SAFE and their character disorder renders them abnormal and caustic to us.


Narcissists did not successfully resolve their independence from their primary caregivers as they passed through the early stages of development. As such, they arrived into adulthood needy beings with fusion fantasies and a complete lack of boundaries. Because their needs for identity are based on external approval & applause, they don’t see others as separate from themselves. When they say “clothing makes the man” it’s referring to the same principle at work in a narcissist. “Others validation makes the man / or woman. “ If the validation of external sources is so critical to their identity and survival needs, we can easily understand the view they have of others as existing solely for the purpose of shoring up the narcissist’s identity. You hear this in the narcissist’s speech, “MY WIFE” “MY KIDS” with emphasis on MY. Narcissists own and possess others as objects, they don’t exist in their own right and thus can’t possibly have feelings and needs that are separate from the narcissist’s control.

For example, if the child or spouse of a narcissist is hurt by the narcissist’s actions, we experience betrayal, sadness, loss or rejection. We attempt to communicate these feelings to the narcissist because we are led to believe that we are in a caring relationship. In caring relationships, we trust that our feelings will be heard and responded to so that our friends, family or partners can come to know who we are, what we feel, what we need and want and what our boundaries are and how to respect them.

The narcissist however doesn’t care. They didn’t feel the sting of the hurt, betrayal, loss or rejection they did to us, and since we’re part of them (identity fused) they delude themselves into acting as if the hurt doesn’t exist at all; afterall, How could it, if the narcissist doesn’t feel it?  Additionally, the feelings of others when verbalized are viewed as character criticisms (narcissistic injuries) and the narcissist’s defense against shame kicks in, and the criticisms along with the messenger that delivered them are to be anhialated, attacked or altogether ignored. Narcissists cannot afford to allow the objects of their possession to have independence because that is a threat to the narcissist’s identity. Feelings, thoughts and individual decisions must be entirely punished and controlled by the narcissist. Only THEY decide what we can and can’t do; whatever is NOT a threat to their existence is allowed – and that is NOT MUCH.


It won’t be long before these constant refusals to acknowledge the feelings of others begin to break down the normal give and take and sharing of genuine feelings that makes relationships healthy. The only people that will be feeling the pain of this relationship are targets; the once healthy people that are no longer capable of sharing their thoughts and feelings openly. The healthy urge to share will be muted and replaced by fear of reprisal, punishment, denial, twisting blame and responsibility, gas lighting, word salad, excuses, justifications and ultimately in a state of learned helplessness, we will shut down our emotions and cease to exist as an authentic human being; just as the narcissist lives their very empty existence.


Those who haven’t seen this trait in action, need to understand that this trait makes the narcissist a danger to all of society not just the victims they can easily blame for having brought on their own abuse.

When a healthy individual behaves badly towards another person, we experience a sense of guilt. If the person we harmed approaches us, we typically don’t deny it, but rather, listen and try to understand the nature of their feelings in order to accept some responsibility. Once we accept responsibility we feel remorsefully and go about behaving differently to avoid doing something to another person that we care about, knowing that to do so, will cause them pain, and we are committed to not causing others pain.

Narcissists do not experience the same responses. First, there is no guilt felt because the lack of separateness prevents the narcissist from acknowledging the reality that separate feelings could possibly exist. However, they aren’t deaf – and can hear the complaints. The complaints are deflected. The feelings are twisted and put back on the person speaking. The narcissist is absolved of responsibility and thus feels NO REMORSE. They look at any consequences incurred by the target as a result of THEIR OWN choices or behavior (blame / justification) and then go about behaving as if there is NOTHING to apologize for. This invalidation and acknowledgement of reality, is a mind screw to the target. The blame and shame for having or causing the feeling is often internalized and the target begins to be the scapegoat of the narcissist’s inability to feel empathy.

The narcissist will go on offending – with the expectation that there will be NO CONSEQUENCES. Our prisons are full of dangerous offenders with the same anti social refusal to take responsibility for their actions and feel remorse.


None of us would have knowingly involved ourselves with a Ted Bundy, a Hitler or Saddam Hussein, because their lack of empathy and the consequences of their bad deeds were widely publicized and accepted as dangerous.

We were knowingly manipulated by a person who actively masked their empathy deficit. Did they tell us they’ve had a long history of people accusing them of being abusive? Did they tell us they can’t feel for us? Did they outright tell us, I don’t care how you feel, just do as I tell you to do? No. None of it. They didn’t overtly show us their lack of empathy in the beginning because they knew that doing so, would NOT get them what they wanted.  Instead, they carefully chose words to flatter , blind and distract us from their actions or lack thereof.

They aped & mirrored our empathetic actions and words to appear as if they themselves were sensitive, thoughtful, and caring. They talked up their sensitive behaviors and altruistic campaigns to lull us into a false sense of security that we were sharing our innermost thoughts and feelings with a person who could respond to them empathetically. It’s why the cognitive dissonance was so confusing and flooded our minds when the abusive behavior began – we just couldn’t merge the two faces of the narcissist together; the talked up, false version of the empathetic narcissist with the reality of the sociopathic, conscienceless person we had before us.

It isn’t until the narcissist feels comfortable in their control over us and the fact that we won’t abandon them for abusing us, that they allow their mask of empathy to slip. They know that we’re stuck and hooked because we hadn’t stood up to them in any real way for each and every boundary violation they committed against us throughout the course of the relationship.

Due to the punishment, blame and learned helplessness as a result of the control, power and abuse of the narcissist, we stay in the toxic relationship far longer than is healthy to the soul and ultimately pay the price of narcissistic abuse. Our emotional, mental and physical health declines and our safety and sanity are hovering on the brink of no return if we don’t escape.


Most of us have never been accosted by a predator. We may watch television crime shows where people are victimized by frauds who hid the evil sides of themselves from their victims and feel naively protected that we haven’t encountered one of “those people”. However, once we’ve had a close personal relationship with a malignant narcissist, our feeling of safety is forever shattered and altered.

Once you live with someone who you watch dupe people, fool the masses, and completely defraud a community, a mate, a child, friends, a congregation, you begin to look at others suspiciously. When we realize that people who invest their entire lifetimes creating and perfecting masks, we will NEVER look at anyone the same again. We recognize that even with taking things cautiously and slowly that sometimes the mask wearing narcissist can wait us out longer.

Our skepticism doesn’t go away. We approach good, trusting people with suspicion because we’ve seen people fake entire relationships. We’ve seen people PRETEND to be good and we’ve been burnt when we found out they were lying. We worry that we won’t be discerning or careful enough. It can stunt our future relationships and intimacy if we let it. The work that has to be done to have us feeling safe to “get back in the saddle again” knowing and trusting ourselves to protect ourselves is the hardest recovery work I’ve ever had to do as a human being. Like food, we need fellowship; healthy relationships sustain us and provide community.

There’s no way to ever return to that safe, innocent, Pollyannaish, feeling that we wont encounter a predator in our lifetimes. We are forever aware of the fact that we may; that predators exist and they are looking for good people just like us and hoping that we aren’t savvy or loving ourselves enough to say NO and stop their exploitation of us.

Our only saving grace is that we promise ourselves, if and when we discover that the person we’re trusting turns out to be a fraud that no matter how long or how deep the investment, we are  firmly committed to ending it immediately and walking away.

We must do our part and recognize that a lack of empathy is a sign that a human being has the capability of hurting and damaging us greatly. Such people are unsafe and dangerous. We must escape. If there’s a valid reason that the relationship is impossible to escape, we must learn to protect ourselves from them at all costs. Your sanity and health will thank you!

Posted on August 21, 2015, in Narcissism. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. I have been in that exact relationship, for 28 years, including our dating period. My soul was stripped, my trust was abused and I constantly struggled with reality. How could a man who people always said was a great guy be so dysfunctional and abusive to the one person who he was supposed to love? I got out, ended the marriage and endured the true effect of his actions by smearing my reputation, my sanity, and my children’s trust as deeply as he could. I have no interest in another relationship and I know why now too from this article. He moved on in 3 months and I see the same routine I went through. I pray for her to see the real person he is but I can’t save everyone.


  2. I am a man recovering from a two-and-a-half year relationship with a narcissist woman. Everything I’ve read here not only confirms my experiences but seems like a guided tour to all that happened in the relationship. Thank you very much.

    My advice to anyone in a relationship with a narc is to get out. Unconditionally. What I had to learn might help others, and it is this: I compromised my core values because I wanted so much to have love and closeness. And this is the weak point that a narcissist can take advantage of. You must become aware of your needs for love and closeness. You must also learn that adults have to earn your love and trust. A narcissist can only get to you through your own unresolved “child”: pass it on!

    The second thing I learned is harder to express but may be helpful to others too: I never really “found” her in our relationship. I thought I was dealing with a real person who empathized, like me, but I started to see that this was not true. She was never really “present” as an integral human being. Her own world view and what she was concerned with was so small. And it all revolved around her. Consequently I started to realize that our “relationship” was built on my ideas, desires and expectations (held together with the erotic glue) but didn’t actually exist in reality. I had to admit it had no basis. When you see that, you see how false it all is and it’s easier to get out.


  3. y dad knew I had surgery (mastectomy) on August 18. was busy that day …. No phone call, no visit when I came home,. so I sent him a text..
    Dad, I was hoping you would call to see how I was doing after surgery. im ok. Very sorry you did not think to call. Hope all is well with you. I know I have disappointed you in many ways..
    It is what it is. right? ?
    His reply ….
    Hi D
    I had many thoughts to call you, but no excuses.
    You have never disappointed me, I know
    a lot of what you have been through and I will love you. no
    matter what! I am very interested and concerned in what you are experiencing now!
    Please update me soon.
    And I feel hurt, angry that he has not bothered to reach out to me.
    He lives 5 mins from me. His church where he is so dedicated, is 2 mins from my house.
    .. And I start feeling I shouldn’t be upset, guilty cuz I’m angry at him? S1988 He has never attempted to have a decent relationship w me. I said some things about NM and I think he feels guilty about the past. Not being there for me…..They divorced when I was 13. Sad huh? He has his own demons to deal with. I don’t think he wants to hear heartfelt feelings from me, or have a close relationship. –
    eep me updated, keep in touch, keep me posted.” Then he can appear to be in contact with me when he talks to others, or is asked


    • I realize that this is almost a year later. I hope you’re doing better! Your father’s response and behavior was inexcusable. YOU ARE HIS DAUGHTER AND YOU HAD JUST HAD AN OPERATION! How does a parent NOT reach out to their child??? Oh honey, please get counselling. Please have a professional tell you that the problem is NOT YOU! For a parent to not be there with concerns when their child when their child has surgery. .I don’t care if it’s a root canal. .is NOT NORMAL HUMAN BEHAVIOR.


    • Let me get this straight, you had a mastectomy and this man couldn’t even call you to see how you were doing? Honey, it’s not you, there is something very wrong with him. Even the worst behaved child or children growing up are still loved and cared about and shown concern for by their parents. Do not ever ever ever think that it was your fault in any way that he did not show any concern. Please talk to a licensed counselor so that they can let you know that this is not your fault and you need to stop carrying any blame around for your lack of relationship with your father.


  4. Interesting timing. Last night my narc sensed my readiness to leave, and purposely stated, “I’ll say it is my fault, but no one will believe that it isn’t you.”

    In terms of “What can we do?” I believe the first priority is to avoid the first temptation to respond in kind to narcissists. I made that mistake at first and I responded to her cruel comments in kind. Soon I began to realize that I was losing myself in doing this and was taking in the toxins. I had to resolve that “I just do not do this any more” and have been able to keep from doing so for several weeks now. In doing so, I sense I am regaining more of who I used to be before I was gaslighted.

    We can disclose what is happening to us by affirming the actions–the emotional neglect, the shunning, the gaslighting, the constant criticisms and put-downs, the treatment we receive in comparison to the charming act put on for others without trying to undermine the reputation of the narc. We can disclose this with our counselor, who needs to be a good one who understands narcissism. If your counselor does not, and Christine Louis De Cannonville, author of The Three Faces of Evil affirms that too many counselors are too ignorant of narcissistic abuse to give good counsel. If you have one of these, get a better qualified counselor.

    Other persons to share with is your health care providers who see the effects of continual stress on us. Let them know of the stressful home environment. It is relevant to your health. In my experience, my narcissist sees my friends as inferiors, just as she sees me. It is a pretty safe bet that they will not try to befriend your friends and that the narc will compartmentalize you from her/his friends. So seek out the support of your friends that are truly YOUR friends. It is not safe to initiate sharing with mutual friends, who may serve the narc in the role of “flying monkeys” (look it up). If the narc is working to destroy your reputation, but you are not seeking to gossip or undermine theirs, that is eventually recognized by perceptive, thinking adults as disclosing the kind of persons they are really dealing with. Sometimes a short summary of “The fact is, I loved this person and she/he did not love me. The situation was destroying me daily, so I had to leave.” is truthful but does not degenerate to toxic gossip.

    I think in recovery, one needs to rid her or himself of the poisons by rejecting engaging in the actions of a narcissist. That can be hard to do after living any extended time with one.


  5. Excellent articles you have here. A resource of so much knowledge and feeling that is rarely found in one place.


  6. There is so much discussion of narcissism online. Since July of 2014, the classic cycle that began with my devaluation about 18 months ago has moved to discard. There are many traits that seem to be associated with narcissists. In my experience, I could boil it down to these.

    1. They cannot empathize with affect or affection. Importance of touch, affection, supporting another, building an inclusive life is simply not on their radar. It is not within their capability, so they can cause hurt with total abandon. If you call them on that treatment as inappropriate, their rage will manifest in an abusive monologue.

    2. Claims of compartmentalization seem real. Narcissists are not people who share their friends. If you are with their friends or family, they will not include you in ongoing conversations and talk as though you are not even there. They will avoid sharing your friends and will have little good to say about them. The message communicated is that you cannot have friends who are normal or successful–you are inferior, so your friends are too. Introduce your friend, and within 48 hours they will say something negative about the person. “Oh, he is overly sensitive.” “That egotist?” “I cannot stand to be around her for long.” “He’s your friend, not mine.”

    3. No hugs are initiated, no compliments and no recognition is given no matter what you do. They have no interest in supporting whatever gives value to your life.

    4. Narcissists in the devaluation stage are relentless in seeking out your ordinary human imperfections, and they use these as their validation that you are crazy and not worth caring about. They never apologize to their victim for being abusive. The feel of walking on eggshells only goes away when you begin to recognize that making others walk on eggshells is their standard mode of operation.

    4. They tolerate no disagreements. They are never wrong in any argument, and presenting evidence to the contrary brings rage.

    5. They will act differently when their victims are alone or not alone. They are charming when there is an audience. Even then occasional cracks appear in the mask to third parties who are perceptive.

    6. They will deprecate any suggestions for counseling in relationships or communication. “You go. There is something wrong with your brain.” “Those people don’t know anything. It’s not science.”

    7. They answer questions with questions in order to avoid engaging in real discussion.

    8. The common observation that narcissists engage in shunning and silent treatments is true. Rather than recognize shunning as an act of emotional abuse, they will try to justify it through labeling you as inferior. “I am a person of peace. I cannot have peace if I communicate with you, so I will continue to shun you.”

    9. A manic agenda of scheduled activities avoids dealing with a relationship. A personal relationship is just too much work.

    9. After a year of living in a toxic home that was never really a home, I developed heart arrythymia and woke up sweating and feeling the tremors as result of stress. The stress they create is toxic. It will destroy a feeling person’s health and happiness.

    10. You will need any emotional support from the outside, because home with a narcissist offers none. When you travel, you come to realize that you do not actually have a home to return to.


  7. Some people become lose trust in others after narcissistic abuse, others lose their sense of boundaries and trust too easily.


  8. Great article. I have being out off the relationship with a narc for almost three months. Now I’m outside of the toxic relationship I’m clearly seeing what he was. A predator, creepy old man with no empathy and a man who has no boundaries. He has not shown me any empathy or taken any responsibility for his controlling behaviour. Now, I will be careful when it comes to meeting the right man for me, but I won’t close myself off for loving the right man. I lost my voice, he took my power but now I’ve had no contact with him, my closure. He can’t hurt me anymore. I have my voice and power back and I’m the healthy one with the desire to live my dream, which will be my reality. living my passionate life with myself and my family. thank you again for your great article Ana, it helps with the healing. God Bless


  9. My husband is a Narc so I am very interested in any info


  10. For you Jill !


  11. All that I would only add to this amazing depiction of the narcissist is that the end of the relationship many times unleashes hell on anyone who attempts to get away. That some narcissists are, in fact, also sociopath who actually only live to inflict harm on others. When they are in fear of losing their target–even if they have another target already–they attack with a vengeance that only destroys the person even further. That degrades any hope they have to survive this contact. These people live to damage and once the mask is completely removed–you must be destroyed for seeing that. Just like you are to blame for eth verbal, physical, and emotional abuse they heap on to their victims, the victim is responsible for the narcopath having to fully reveal themselves–and for that–death is certain for you. They destroy reputation, credibility, families, finances ,hope and children. Destroying the children of taking them and damaging them is the main revenge that these monsters inflict. It is tragic and it is a nightmare that you cannot wake up from. They position themselves so well. They tell people you are mentally ill. The lie. They manipulate. The gaslight. The never stop until you stop breathing. It never ends for the malignant narcissist’s victims or for the sociopaths victims. It just never ends.


  12. Hi Ana! Your article is so on the ball that I would love to read more… especially how to cope with parenting young children in this context. I have recently separated but the children continue so see their Dad.


  13. Im loving this site with all the ecard saying s ,and all the eye opening information. this is the 2nd time i am what people would call the “outsider” . the 1st time was my fault and i have said it was and said i was sorry.. not making excuses here but my behavior was bad i was so mad and hurt and confused and lost, for i had just lost my Dad, my very best friend ever and another friend all in the same month it was too much hurt and grief to handle, the most horrible month of my life, and you would think that people you have been around all your life would see that your just not being yourself and wonder why you did such a out of character thing.. but they didnt and we didnt talk for 7yrs. it took me years to get through all that pain but i did it . now being the 2nd time i chose to walk away for i kept feeling that drain , that frustration and lied to left out misunderstood very sketchy for people who should love you no matter what , that should have your back no matter what because no matter what i had theres. i walked away from my mother , and my three sisters and although there are times i am so sad for having to do this , other times i feel so free from the toxic people that knew nothing about me nor did they care to find out . my feelings are valid , i am worthy to be loved unconditionally, to have loyalty, respect and more.. im a firm believer that you treat people the way you want to be treated.. although lately i have been feeling just how they like me to feel “less then zero” I will get through this an i will survive, with sites iike this, that anyone can obtain the knowledge to heal ones self and of course my wonderful friends who KNOW HOW I AM AND WHO I AM AND WHAT IM ABOUT and yet they still love me for being ME.. thank you for the great article for without the knowledge you give i would had never thought i was being infected by my own toxic family.


  14. Almost 2 months out of a toxic relationship with a toxic narcissist. One of his lines….”now remember, woman was made for the man, the man was not made for the woman….that’s Bible.” I’m still in shock with how it came to an end- in one of the most cruel and hateful ways. Talk about lack of empathy, this man wins the prize.


    • First of all, “Woman was made “FROM the man”, not FOR the man. Woman was made to be a HELP MATE, not a slave. This guy needs to reread the Bible.


  15. I really enjoyed this!🙂


  16. Wow, this article is pretty much a history of my life up until I escaped 2 years ago.


  17. All I can say is thank you. Thank you very much, that was very informative.


  18. i love this it’s exactly how i feel….just not safe and violated. Thank you so much for this site…..it has really been a beacon of sanity for me!


  19. What a great article! It so precisely explains how being duped by a person who lacks empathy completely destroys our previously held views of humanity and forever changes our mental schema. As well as, the reasons why we stay in the relationship longer than we should. Not anymore!


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