Dark Empath: A Dangerous Personality Type
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People typically associate empathy with compassion, healing and holding emotional space for others who are hurting. An empath’s ability to understand and feel what another person is going through can be a great strength that helps make the world a better place. However, just because someone can understand another person’s experience and emotions doesn’t mean they will use this skill for the good of the other person. Dark empaths may have a level of empathy that only serves themselves.
The Three Types of Empathy
Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman determined that empathy is complex and multifaceted. Their work has outlined three different forms of empathy:
- Cognitive empathy: This refers to a person’s ability to understand how other people think and feel. An individual with this type of empathy can see and understand others’ perspectives.
- Emotional empathy: This involves one’s ability to feel how other people feel. This may include experiencing emotions and physical sensations.
- Compassionate empathy: This type of empathy is what we usually think of when we think of the word empathy. It involves helping someone when we understand and share their emotions.
What Is a Dark Empath?
A dark empath is a term that describes someone who exploits their ability to understand how other people think and feel. They can recognize another person’s perspective while also showing signs of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.
The term is relatively new and is not included in the DSM-5 as a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, it has become a popular way of understanding those who exhibit antisocial behaviors but are also skilled at a component of empathy.
Dark Empaths and the Dark Triad
The dark triad refers to a grouping of three negative and potentially harmful personality traits:
- Psychopathy is characterized by a lack of remorse, impulsivity, emotional coldness, surface-level charm and antisocial behaviors.
- Narcissism involves feelings of entitlement and superiority, a need for admiration, a lack of empathy and hypersensitivity to criticism.
- Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulative and deceptive behaviors, immorality, self-interest and callousness.
People who display these personality traits often lack empathy. This deficit is believed to be connected to their harmful behaviors towards others. In recent years, psychologists have worked to identify and understand the individuals who present dark triad traits and empathy. When paired with dark triad traits, a dark empath’s ability to understand someone else’s perspective can lead to more manipulative and exploitative behaviors towards other people.
Signs and Traits of a Dark Empath
Dark empaths are often individuals who:
- Guilt trip
- Gaslight (lead a person to question their own sanity, feelings and decisions)
- Charm to get their way
- Use sarcastic and hurtful humor
- Are emotionally intelligent; can tell what others are feeling
- Use manipulative tactics to gain and maintain control in relationships
- Have low self-worth and seek validation
- Struggle with anxiety or depression
- Behave vindictively
- Talk about others behind their backs
Dark Empath vs. Narcissist
While dark empaths and narcissists may both share dark traits, there are slight differences. A dark empath will likely appear to be more invested in a relationship than the narcissist. However, this is still done out of a root desire to gain and maintain power and control in a relationship. These individuals have higher emotional intelligence than narcissists, and they can read people well and understand their points of view. Dark empaths may also be more critical of themselves.
Why Are Dark Empaths Dangerous?
Dark empaths can control and manipulate others by using their feelings against them. The victim may be left questioning their own feelings, thoughts and behaviors while believing they are at fault. Dark empaths may also be even harder to identify than a narcissist.
People often let their guard down around dark empaths because they appear to be understanding and truly empathic. However, this is a facade that dark empaths use to connect with others and then exploit them.
How To Tell if You Are a Dark Empath
Signs that indicate you may be a dark empath include:
- You’re able to connect to people easily and get them to lower their guard.
- You’re able to read people and understand what they may be thinking or feeling in a given situation.
- You don’t handle criticism well.
- You have low self-esteem.
- You love bomb a partner to draw them into the relationship with you, and then you stop the affection and attention.
- You use gossiping and bullying to get what you want.
Can a Dark Empath Change?
The dark triad traits have long been thought to be extremely difficult to treat. Individuals with dark traits are not likely to seek therapy to reduce their dark traits. However, they may seek treatment for other related concerns, such as anxiety or depression. A recent study found that therapeutic interventions focusing on agreeableness showed some reduction in all three dark traits.
Did some of the traits of a dark empath resonate with you? If you’re looking for help or support, check out the free-to-use Nobu app. Nobu was designed by The Recovery Village, a physician-led treatment facility, and offers clinical videos, goal-tracking, self-assessments, mindfulness activities and more. You can also pay an additional fee to start telehealth sessions with a licensed therapist. Download the Nobu app today, available for free on the Google Play store or Apple Store.
Take Control Of Your Mental Health
- American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5” 2013. Accessed August 10, 2022.
- Goleman, Daniel. “Hot To Help: When Can Empathy Move Us To Action?” Greater Good, 2008. Accessed August 10, 2022.
- Heym, Nadja; et al. “The Dark Empath: Characterising dark traits in the presence of empathy.” Personality and Individual Differences, February 1, 2021. Accessed August 10, 2022.
- Hudson, Nathan. “Lighten the darkness: Personality Interventions Targeting Agreeableness Also Reduce Participants’ Levels of the Dark Triad.” Journal of Personality, March 14, 2022. Accessed August 11, 2022.
- Lyons, Minna. “Chapter Two – The Dark Triad Within a Clinical Framework.” The Dark Triad of Personality, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2022.