#1. Lack of Empathy

Posted on June 20, 2013

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Mother admonishing her daughter

If there’s one personality characteristic that almost often scares me off and sends me running in the other direction, it’s a lack of empathy. 

You know why? 

Because at the foundation of every personality disorder, every sociopathic intention and every psychopathic tendency is a lack of empathy. This doesn’t mean that a person who struggles with empathy is mentally ill, but someone who lacks empathy lacks a basic building block of forming healthy relationships. 

When I gave you a list of 15 Red Flags to beware of in every relationship, I put this one at the top of the list for a reason.

When you’re starting a new relationship, whether it be romance, a friendship, or even a work relationship, your well-being will depend on whether or not the other person has the capacity and the motivation to understand where you’re coming from. Some people are better at empathy than others and not everyone is able to be empathic all of the time. But when someone consistently downright refuses, or is unable,  to imagine how their words and actions may make another person feel, then you’re going to have a very hard time creating any kind of healthy partnership with him/her. 

So how can you tell if a person has a lack of empathy? You share a feeling or a situation with them and see how they respond. If they attempt to understand you, then the other person is probably attempting to connect with you in a healthy way. You may have to try this one out a few times, as few people are able to be consistently empathic in every situation, and there’s always the chance that the other person may miss the mark. But if the other person attempts to walk in your shoes, then they do not lack empathy. 

Here are some examples of how another person can show one empathy, without even knowing them that well: 

You: Sorry I’m late! I got caught in a huge traffic jam on the way over here.  

Other person:  The traffic on Highway 78 is so frustrating at rush hour.

You: I can’t believe the boss called me out in front of everyone at that meeting!

Other person: I know. How embarrassing. I wish he would be more professional. 

You: My mechanic just called. He said that not only is my transmission shot, but I probably need new brakes too.

Other person: Oh no! That sucks!

On an intuitive level, you’ll most recognize another person giving you an empathic response because you’ll feel heard and accepted. 

When another person lacks empathy however, their response usually makes you feel stupid, unheard, shut-out or misunderstood. Here’s how someone who lacks empathy may respond to the above situations: 

You: Sorry I’m late! I got caught in a huge traffic jam on the way over here.  

Other person: Yeah right. You probably use that excuse a lot, don’t you? (accusatory)

You: I can’t believe the boss called me out in front of everyone at that meeting!

Other person: If you had done the report like he asked you, he wouldn’t have to scold you in front of everyone. (condescending)

You: My mechanic just called. He said that not only is my transmission shot, but I probably need new brakes too.

Other person: That’s not so bad. It could be worse. You could be like my cousin who just totaled his car.  (invalidation)

See the difference? 

As you’re going out into the world, meeting new people and forging new relationships, make sure to check to see that another person has empathy. When you start to value yourself enough to surround yourself with only the best kinds of people, you’ll definitely want your nearest and dearest to be able to feel you. 

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