We can encounter dark empaths, almost anywhere guised in an attractive and friendly demeanour. In that relative or friend, who seem concerned about our well-being, listening wholeheartedly and then using the information to create stories or rumors. Understanding the nature of dark empaths is vital to prevent ourselves from being a victim of their malevolent designs. Most of us would like to safeguard ourselves before they cause us emotional damage. The best option one would like to opt is to avoid or distance oneself from such a person. This may, however, not always be possible because the person could be your boss, colleague or someone in the family with whom cutting off ties is not an option.
Empathy is one of the most desirable human traits. Listening to someone without judgment seeing things from their eyes is not only comforting to the speaker but enhances the worldview of the listener. Hogan defined empathy as ‘the intellectual or imaginative apprehension of another’s condition or state of mind’ that builds trust, understanding and connection. But before confiding your life matters to an amiable person exuding warmth, be double sure he/she is not a dark empath or someone with empathy alongside ‘dark triad’.
The dark empaths successfully deploy empathy with dark triad traits making them vicious. The term “Dark Triad” coined by researchers Delroy L. Paulhus and Kevin M. Williams in 2002 refers to a trio of negative personality traits, namely narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy.
Have you come across a person with a heightened sense of self-regard seeking self-admiration with a constant need for being in the spotlight? Probably you have encountered a narcissist who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance. To satisfy their constant need for attention when faced with a situation that makes them envious, or their position insecure, without guilt, they engage in desperate measures to elevate their position or put the other person down. The second dark triad machiavellianism based on the political philosophy of 16th-century writer Niccolo Machiavelli is characterized by manipulating others using deceit, flattery or lies to meet one’s personal goals. The third dark triad psychopathy may appear to be seemingly normal and friendly, but they operate with an element of detachment, disturbing others affective states without any remorse.
Combine these dark triad traits with empathy and the outcome of this fusion can be the perilous dark empaths! What makes them far more dangerous is that you can’t categorize them as a villain, unlike the dark, deceitful individual. Dark empaths impressing you with their warmth, charisma are those vampires that will feed on you while pretending to care about your feelings. They may first seek to understand others emotional state, relying more on cognitive empathy and then act in manipulative ways harming their target. Once they have a good understanding of the nature of their target, their fears, weakness, sensitive points and what triggers them; they use it to provoke, nurture or further the negative states in the other person while coming across as someone who is with you not against you. While empathy is characterized by an intrinsic desire to comfort the other person, dark empaths delight in playing with the emotions of others.
We can see dark empaths in action at the individual and group level. For instance, a hugely followed media house makes this statement; ‘The untimely death of this celebrity has left us deeply shocked. We empathize with the pain of the family and will make sure that justice is served!’ However, what it does is that in the garb of empathizing with the victim’s family, they actively keep creating catchy content around the possible ‘accused’. The unfortunate incident is advantageously used by them to distract the common man from the real economic and social challenges facing the country. While they efficiently capitalize on someone’s pain for personal gain be it TRP or covering the fallacies of the ruling party; its sometimes quite late when the target realizes that their emotions were manipulated to keep them away from asking uncomfortable questions.
At the individual level, it can be recognized in this workplace instance where members of a team, work sincerely for a month on a project to complete it with perfection. They are stunned in the meeting seeing that the boss knew everything about their work before the presentation and that the least contributing member Akash, is announced as their team leader. It soon dawns on them that while they were toiling hard with work, Akash was actively communicating privately with the boss striving to earn brownie points. No doubt, he walked away with all the credit and the reward!
We can encounter dark empaths, almost anywhere guised in an attractive and friendly demeanour. In that relative or friend, who seem concerned about our well-being, listening wholeheartedly and then using the information to create stories or rumors. Understanding the nature of dark empaths is vital to prevent ourselves from being a victim of their malevolent designs. Most of us would like to safeguard ourselves before they cause us emotional damage. The best option one would like to opt is to avoid or distance oneself from such a person. This may, however, not always be possible because the person could be your boss, colleague or someone in the family with whom cutting off ties is not an option. The response of the target may vary depending on individual differences and the situation.
In this article, I attempt to propose a model comprising of four possible alternative ways of responding to a dark empath (Fig 1). This could fall under two categories in a continuum:
Active to Passive is about the degree to which a person may choose to engage oneself. The degree of engagement will depend on the relationship and emotional involvement one has with the dark empath. While Assertive to Aggressive refers to the communication style a person may choose to respond to the dark empath.
Combining the above two there could be four possible alternatives when one falls prey to the designs of a dark empath.
- Active assertive: Individual opting for this response might choose to have a dialogue with the dark empath, discuss the trouble areas and seek clarification.
- Active aggressive: In this kind of response, the individual may adopt a combative stance and confront the actions or behaviour of the dark empath.
- Passive aggressive: Such a response maybe chosen by a person grievously and emotionally hurt by a dark empath. The person might be brimming with aggression inside but adopts a passive yet extreme response of zero stroke severing all communication.
- Passive assertive: The target may choose to adopt a passive response where he continues to remain assertive in voicing his grievances but uses smart distancing and limiting interactions to avoid conflict.
The choice of the response can be strongly influenced by ‘dependence’ and the nature of relationship with the dark empath. High dependence relationship at work could be with one’s manager or colleague, where one has to collaborate to achieve goals. For instance, if the dark empath is ones’ boss, the person may not have the courage to opt for active aggressive response owing to the power quotient associated with the boss. Passive aggressive may again not be possible for communication is essential when working together. The person may adopt a passive assertive response keeping interactions to the minimum and communicating with caution.
In family or social circle, high dependence implies emotional dependence or attachment by virtue of role or emotion. So, if the dark empath is a distant relative or friend who has been a source of emotional harm, an individual may opt for the passive aggressive response for the sake of inner peace. The suitability of any given response will be strongly influenced by the nature of the relationship, dependence, power quotient and other factors associated with the target and his/her situation.
Living in a world driven by accelerating culture, high competitiveness, the mad chase of the rat race, people desperately trying to maintain the desired public image for personal gains the dark empaths seem to be on the rise. Did you ever have a rendezvous with a dark empath? If yes, how did you respond? Next time you come across a dark empath maybe reflect and build on your specific response/strategies to protect yourself from undue harm and preserve your well-being.
Delroy Paulhus Kevin M. Williams (2002).The Dark Triad of Personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality 36(6):556-563
Heym et al.,(2020). The Dark Empath: Characterizing dark traits in the presence of empathy. Journal of Personality & Individual Differences. Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110172
Hogan, R. (1969). Development of an empathy scale. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 33, 307–31
The article has been published in Business Manager HR Magazine, Jan 2021 Issue. Click on the link below to access it on Business Manager Website