What Are Dark Empaths: The People With High Empathy But Dark Traits

Many psychologists have dedicated their careers to studying the so-called “dark triad”, a mix of maladaptive personality traits like narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. The textbook description of a dark triad individual is manipulative, exploitative, often charming, and constantly seeking admiration, validation, and special favors from others.

Most defining of their personality is that they do so in a callous way with little consideration for others, lacking remorse. But then there are also dark empaths. According to a new study, these people display the dark triad traits to a degree except they actually have the capacity for empathy — and that may make them much more dangerous.

Psychologists Paul Ekman and Daniel Goleman, the foremost emotional intelligence ‘gurus’, have outlined three distinct types of empathy. Cognitive empathy is the ability to recognize someone’s perspective and thoughts without being actively emotionally involved. It’s an intellectual acknowledgment of the other person’s emotional state; you know what they think and why they might feel the way they do.

Emotional empathy, or affective empathy, refers to going through the same emotions someone else is feeling as though you were the one going through their experiences. If you feel sad and then my state changes and I feel sad too, that’s affective empathy at play. And then there’s compassionate empathy, which is a combination of the former two.

Some people lack any of these, a hallmark of clinical psychopathy. This explains why psychopaths often engage in violent behavior, sometimes physical violence. But there are also dark triad people with average or even above average empathy, which allows them to be even more capable manipulators. If you want to manipulate someone, it helps to understand them at an emotional level and then use that against them.

In their new study, psychologists Nadja Heym and Alexander Sumich from Nottingham Trent University asked almost 1,000 people to complete a series of questionnaires that measured dark triad traits and empathy. The researchers found patterns in the replies that separated the participants into four groups.

The traditional dark triad group with low empathy scores comprised about 13% of the sample, which was expected. People with lower to average levels of all traits (empathy but also narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) comprised 34% of the participants — these were the “typicals”. About 33% of the sample had low dark triad traits and high empathy, the “empaths”.

But much to the researchers’ surprise, about 20% of the participants scored high on both dark triad traits and empathy. In fact, this latter group scored higher on both cognitive and affective empathy than the typicals.

The dark empaths were not as aggressive as the traditional dark triad group. That makes sense since they’re less likely to hurt other people if they feel guilty doing so. However, the dark empaths nevertheless were more aggressive than typicals and empaths, in the sense that they were more inclined to inflict emotional harm or manipulate people through social exclusion, malicious humor, and guilt-induction.

Dark empaths display a form of soft aggression, one that can still be dangerous in combination with their other traits.For instance, dark empaths were the most extroverted out of all groups. Their heightened empathy likely helps them to connect with others and be social. But the researchers add that they may be secretly motivated by a desire to dominate others.

“Though the aggression reported by the dark empaths was not as high as the traditional dark triad group, the danger of this personality profile is that their empathy, and likely resulting social skills, make their darkness harder to spot,” Heym and Sumich wrote in an article for The Conversation.

“We believe that dark empaths have the capacity to be callous and ruthless, but are able to limit such aggression.”

The findings appeared in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Tibi Puiu

By: Tibi Puiu

Source: What are dark empaths: the people with high empathy but dark traits



One of the most common characteristic trait out of all dark empath traits is an open behaviour. They are usually extroverts who have an abundance of social skills and hence, never tend to shy away from expressing their thoughts, views or even their perspective of Someone

They are not the type of people who can easily be pushed over instead, the presence of dark traits can make it the other way around. It is also noticed that instead of normal empathy as we have come to know of it, these people experience what is called cognitive empathy.

In simple terms, they are able to understand someone’s emotional state very well but instead of connecting with them like normal empaths they generally tend to exploit it. Now given the fact this is a pretty basic characteristic Trait which means it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person who is an extrovert must be a dark empath too. A person must at least have 3 or 4 traits from this list to qualify as a dark empath.

Most people enjoy and want power, what’s different here? Sure. But at the same time hunger for power (went a little more dramatic than required) is something that majorly dominates the key characteristic Traits of traditional dark triads.

They have a need for power and usually have a huge liking towards being the leader all the time. What sets dark empath from the classic dark triads is the fact that even though dark empaths wants power, he/she enjoy a rather participatory leadership.

As Interesting as it may sound, not everything is negative about this personality type. On the very contrary these people are found to have remarkable talents in certain aspects of life. They don’t give up on their goal, and have the ability to make quick decisions hence they are proven to be great leaders, they understand people well and therefore don’t have difficulties in connecting with them.

This does not in any ways mean they are perfect because talent and perfection certainly are two different things.


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