Mental Health

Psychology: why ‘dark empaths’ may be even more dangerous than psychopaths and narcissists

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Lauren Geall
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Recent research has unveiled a new personality type that shares similarities with psychopaths and narcissists, but may prove to be even more dangerous.

One of the most common assumptions about people who exhibit the ‘dark triad’ of personality traits – Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism – is that they lack empathy. 

It’s why these people are considered to be more dangerous and antagonistic than your average human being – their dark attributes, coupled with the fact that they have very little regard for other people’s feelings, makes them unpredictable and aggressive.

But according to a recent study, this might not always be the case. The research, published in the journal Personality And Individual Differences, found that some people who possess the dark triad of personality traits also have high levels of cognitive empathy – the ability to share other people’s emotions – and affective empathy – the ability to understand other people’s minds. 

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Nadja Heym and Alexander Sumich, the authors of the study, described these people as ‘dark empaths’. And while they found that these people tend to be less aggressive than the traditional dark personality types, they discovered another aspect of their personalities that makes them just as dangerous, if not more so.

“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 about the study for The Conversation

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

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

In this way, dark empaths may not be as routinely callous and ruthless as someone who solely possesses the dark triad of personality traits, but they may have more potential to manipulate others for their own gain – especially because they’re able to understand and use people’s emotions against them. 

They may also have the ability to draw people closer – a skill that could make it easier for them to hurt those around them.

Indeed, as Cali Estes, a positive psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist from Miami, Florida, recently told PsychCentral, the most common behaviours exhibited by dark empaths 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 explained. 

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So, since it’s pretty clear that dark empaths are bad news for everyone around them, how can you ensure you’re avoiding them at all costs? While a dark empath’s more dangerous side may be harder to spot than that of someone who possesses the traditional dark triad of personality traits, there are some key signs you can look out for.

According to the study, which was based on the survey results of 1,000 people, dark empaths tend to be more extroverted than most, and they also score a little higher in neuroticism – a trait researchers believe may reflect sub-traits of anger, hostility or self-doubt. 

Dark empaths also tended to report an instinct to judge themselves more harshly – perhaps indicating a sense of self-loathing, too.  

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.