What Is a Dark Empath? (2023)

For dark empaths, being able to identify other people’s needs can become a way to benefit from a situation.

The ability to relate to other people’s circumstances can be a powerful tool. In fact, empathy is often a personality trait among people driven to help others.

Sometimes, however, having the ability to understand what someone else is going through may be used for personal gain or as a manipulation tactic. This is what some people refer to as “dark empathy.“

A dark empath is someone who uses cognitive empathy at the expense of others, often for personal gain. They can recognize someone’s situation without sympathizing with them.

Cognitive empathy is one of three types of empathy outlined by researchers Paul Ekman and Daniel Goleman. It’s the ability to see someone’s perspective without necessarily feeling the emotions that come with it.

In other words, you identify what they’re going through, even if you don’t feel sympathy for them or the desire to support them.

Dark empathy isn’t a formal mental health symptom or diagnosis.

The three types of empathy

Cognitive empathy. The ability to understand someone’s perspective and thoughts without emotional involvement.

Emotional empathy. Being able to feel the emotions someone else is feeling as though you were going through their experience, too.

Compassionate empathy. A combination of cognitive and emotional empathy where you understand another perspective and your emotions respond as though you were in that situation.

(Video) 5 Signs of a Dark Empath - The Most Dangerous Personality Type

Research suggests a dark empath often feels:

  • a lack of pleasure from social rewards, despite feeling the need for attention
  • high attunement to others’ experiences and circumstances
  • emotional distance or detachment
  • a drive toward grandiosity conflicted by intense self-criticism

The same research identifies these common behaviors among dark empaths:

  • vindictive behaviors, such as gossiping, bullying, or intimidating
  • use of emotional manipulation tactics or taking advantage of others
  • physical aggression toward others
  • extroversion

Cali Estes, a positive psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist from Miami, Florida, explains that the most common behaviors in dark empathy are based on dishonesty.

“They may love bomb you, act amazing around your family, and appear the perfect partner to your family, but inside they only want you for your money or value you can give them,” she says.

Nicole Cain, an integrative mental health expert from Phoenix, indicates manipulation tactics used by dark empaths vary widely; however, they tend to be indirect and subtle.

She explains this subtlety may be due to a dark empath’s ability to logically understand psychological interworkings.

Their insight allows them to identify ways to manipulate social situations in a way that makes them appear blameless.

Common tactics of manipulation may include:

  • gaslighting
  • love bombing
  • ghosting
  • playing the victim
  • sarcasm
  • intimidation
  • gossiping

“They can be very charming and put you on a pedestal and then be the very person who will knock that pedestal down,” adds Mary Joye, a mental health counselor and Certified Florida Supreme Court Family Mediator in Winter Haven, Florida.

(Video) 7 Traits of a Dark Empath - The Most Dangerous Personality Type

Example of a dark empath’s manipulation tactic, according to Joye

“That’s a beautiful dress on you. I bet you’ll be glad when you lose 50 pounds so it looks even better.”

According to Cain, dark empaths possess what she calls “fractured empathy,” a type of empathy missing critical aspects of what it means to be fully empathic — like concern for others.

This so-called fractured empathy occurs alongside three traits known in psychology as the dark triad:

  • narcissism
  • psychopathy
  • Machiavellianism


Narcissism is a trait that exists on a spectrum. It can also be a mental health diagnosis. Narcissism often presents as:

  • an inflated sense of self
  • a need for attention and admiration
  • feelings of grandiosity


Psychopathy isn‘t a diagnosis recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). In clinical settings, traits of psychopathy are covered under a condition called antisocial personality disorder.

The main characteristics associated with psychopathic traits include:

  • indifference toward someone else’s needs or well-being
  • use of manipulation tactics
  • low impulse control
  • inability to feel remorse


Machiavellianism isn‘t a formal mental health condition. It’s a combination of personality traits and behaviors that might include:

  • cynicism
  • abusive behaviors
  • vindictive behaviors
  • use of emotional manipulation tactics

Dark empaths usually experience cognitive empathy only, which allows them to maintain their distance emotionally.

(Video) The dark empath

While cognitive empathy is one of the three types of empathy outlined by Ekman and Goleman, some experts believe dark empathy is not accurate terminology because empathy, in general, involves a concern for another’s well-being.

“I am of the ilk that a dark empath is just a new term to call someone with dark emotional intelligence something palatable,” says Joye. “In reality, this term desensitizes us.”

Joye believes most empaths want to help people, and that dark empaths don’t fit the mold of what’s traditionally known as an empathetic person.

She says of empaths, “They comprise about 20% of the population and keep people safe. This is the opposite of what we now call a dark empath.”

The exact cause of dark empath traits is unknown.

Many theories exist on how personality develops, but most experts agree it’s a complex mixture of worldly experiences, disposition, and innate biological function.

When it comes to empathy, a 2007 study revealed that structural or functional changes in the brain can alter how empathy is perceived and expressed.

Narcissism is one of three traits contributing to the dark empath personality.

According to Cain, people living with narcissistic personality disorder also live with a sense of grandiosity, entitlement, and superiority, as do dark empaths.

The difference, however, can be that someone living with a narcissistic personality may not be as self-critical as dark empaths tend to be.

A common symptom of narcissism is that people lack the ability to evaluate themselves or be insightful.

People with narcissistic personality disorder are also typically low in all types of empathy.

(Video) The Dark Empath VS the Narcissist: The Signs

In addition, Cain points out dark empaths express components of all three dark triad traits, not just narcissism.

The difference between dark empathy and psychopathy is not well understood.

Some experts, such as Joye, believe there’s no difference.

“I know many of my colleagues may disagree with me,” she says, “but a dark empath and a sociopath and psychopath are interchangeable terms. I have deduced this from research and in professional practice and private conversations.”

Cain agrees that the exact point of separation between dark empathy and psychopathy is a gray area that requires more research.

From her view, she indicates dark empaths possess traits of psychopathy, but psychopathy does not necessarily embody all the traits of a dark empath.

“For example,” she says, “the dark empath may be strategically malicious and cruel, whereas the psychopath tends to not be able to comprehend or even be aware of the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others.”

Dark empathy can describe a form of emotional intelligence that allows you to identify the thoughts and feelings of others and then use them for personal gain.

When you display dark empathy traits, your focus is often on how a situation can benefit you, and not how it will affect the other person.

While dark empathy can be considered a form of cognitive empathy, some experts believe this terminology is misleading, and that in general, being an empathetic person means having a benevolent mindset.

Dark empathy is not a mental health disorder, and it features traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.


What exactly is a dark empath? ›

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.

What are the signs of a dark empath? ›

Research suggests a dark empath often feels:
  • a lack of pleasure from social rewards, despite feeling the need for attention.
  • high attunement to others' experiences and circumstances.
  • emotional distance or detachment.
  • a drive toward grandiosity conflicted by intense self-criticism.
Feb 8, 2022

What are dark empaths good at? ›

Going back to our earlier descriptions of the different types of empathy, dark empaths typically are highly skilled at cognitive empathy. They understand emotions very well, but struggle to translate that emotion into a motivation to help, and instead use it to their advantage.

Are dark empaths rare? ›

New research suggests that while they are a minority of the population, dark empaths exist. Nadja Heym and her colleagues looked at different profiles of personality traits across a total sample of 991 people. They found four profiles. The two most common profiles were the “typicals” (34.4%;) and the empaths (33.3%).

Are dark empaths insecure? ›

You may experience anxiety, self-doubt, insecurity, diminished confidence and self-esteem, confusion, guilt, and even trauma, Berman says. Relationships with a dark empath will likely involve lots of manipulation. “Their partner tries to strategically play on their emotions and use them to their advantage,” Moore says.

Is a dark empath the same as a psychopath? ›

Dark empaths show emotions, while psychopaths lack them.

According to a 2014 study by Martens in Psychiatric Times, psychopathy is generally characterized by features such as an incapacity for love and a lack of remorse or shame. This is different from dark empaths who do show emotions no matter how fake they may seem.

Can a dark empath love you? ›

Dark empaths can be loving and give us the relationship goals we've always wanted. Yet, under the surface, their actions are designed to manipulate us — not so that we can have what we've always wanted but so that they can achieve their own ends.

Is a dark empath a sociopath? ›

But, while some experts consider the dark empath a personality on its own, other experts say that the dark empath is a narcissist or sociopath who can feel some empathy towards others.

Are dark empaths aware? ›

They repress their mental health problems.

In addition to being highly aware of emotional complexities, dark empaths are also highly self-aware. For this reason, those with this personality type tend to understand but repress mental health issues like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and low self-worth.

What is a dark empath vs narcissist? ›

What is a dark empath? While it's common knowledge that avoiding dark triad energy vampires is wise, a dark empath is different. This type of person doesn't drain human energy the way a typical narcissist might; rather, they just brood while caring about others' feelings.

What is the rarest type of empath? ›

Heyoka empath: Heyoka empaths are one of the rarest and most powerful kind of empath.

What is a toxic empath? ›

Toxic empathy is when a person over-identifies with someone else's feelings and directly takes them on as their own. For example, feeling anxious for a friend when they're facing stress at work can be normal.

When a dark empath meets a narcissist? ›

Narcissists and dark empaths are no strangers to lying and being in control. Their absence of guilt and hunger for power makes them masters of manipulation. When a narcissist and a dark empath meet, they may immediately try to bring each other down through passive-aggressive means.

What happens when an empath meets a dark empath? ›

Emotions Between the Two May Escalate.

He found that empathy is highly involved in behaviors meant to help others. However, empathy can also provoke cruelty and aggression. It can also lead to burnout and exhaustion in the TE from all the extra feelings they're feeling.

Is A empath A narcissist? ›

Empaths are the opposite of narcissists. While people with narcissistic personality disorder have no empathy, and thrive on the need for admiration, empaths are highly sensitive and in tune with other people's emotions. Empaths are "emotional sponges," who can absorb feelings from other people very easily.

How many people are dark empath? ›

Heym and associates recently found that Dark Empaths made up 19.3% in a group of 991 people. Traditionally, we think of people with Dark Triad personality types as being high in dark traits (DT) and low in empathy (E).

What is a powerful empath? ›

Empaths are highly sensitive individuals, who have a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term empath to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.

What is a high level empath? ›

People with high empathy, or empaths, are more likely to feel, recognize, and mirror another person's emotions or movements. This mirroring can be both beneficial and disadvantageous, so it is important for empaths to take time for themselves as well as helping others. Last medically reviewed on October 30, 2020.

Are empaths born or made? ›

From what I've observed with my patients, some forms of sensitivity may be genetically transmitted. Highly sensitive children can come from mothers and fathers with the same inborn traits. Therefore, it is possible that sensitivity can also be genetically transmitted through families.


1. 5 Signs Of A Dark Empath, Not Psychopath
2. 5 Signs You're Dealing With A Dark Empath
3. 5 Things Dark Empaths Don't Want You To Know
4. Psychopaths, Sociopaths, Narcissists, Dark Empaths - Who's More Mentally harmful?
5. 10 Signs of a Dark Empath – The Most Dangerous Personality Type
6. What Happens When A Narcissist Meets A Dark Empath


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