Empathy capacity is central to healthy emotional, spiritual, and character development. Some equate this capacity with what it means to be truly human. But these days many among us have an impaired capacity to truly care. The reasons for this are many and varied. And as I’ve written about before, how impaired a person is in their empathy capacity has a lot to do with where they might fall on the character disturbance spectrum.
Impairments to Empathy
Some folks have an innately impaired capacity for empathy. That is, the manner in which their brain is “wired” impairs their ability to appreciate how others feel and how their behavior might others’ feelings. Some folks on the Autistic spectrum have this natural empathy capacity impairment. But that doesn’t necessarily such a person will inevitably form abusive or otherwise toxic relationships. Other variables factor into how someone – even someone with natural empathy deficits – comes to relate to others.
Only a few among us simply have no ability to care. Such folks not only can’t care but can’t really learn to care either. This makes such folks dangerous. And as they go through life, they might well gain some insight into what caring is all about. But that still doesn’t mean they can actually care themselves. Moreover, being innately heartless, discerning the nature of caring only makes them more dangerous.
Just having the ability to care doesn’t make us caring creatures. Like all natural abilities, our capacity to care needs to be mindfully developed, nurtured. Good modeling by parents and other mentors helps, of course. And it also helps if our environment promotes our empathy growth. Sadly, however, too many environments these days don’t adequately help us develop our empathy capacity.
(See also: pp. 93-95 in Character Disturbance.)
When Narcissism Enters the Picture
Narcissism and empathy capacity have an interesting, complex, intertwined relationship. Diminished empathy capacity can play a significant role in whether someone develops narcissistic traits. Similarly, already existing narcissistic traits in an individual’s personality can arrest their empathy development. And perhaps the most troubling characters out there are those who are both inordinately self-absorbed and have little or no capacity to care.
The most malignant narcissists among us not only don’t care but also don’t care to care. And they don’t care to care because they feel superior to those who actually can and do care. Malignant narcissists see those who actually do care as weak, inferior, and, therefore, expendable. They therefore feel entitled to use, abuse, exploit, and prey upon such folks. And they hold nothing but disdain for the very qualities in people that most of us highly value.
Narcissists come in several varieties. (See, for example: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) And each type poses problems for relationships. But heartless narcissists are a special breed. They’re extremely dangerous. And we should care never to enable such individuals to corral any measure of power. They are sure to relish lording it over us. And they are sure to abuse it in ways that only aggrandize them and senselessly injure others.