Can Empaths Ever Be Manipulative?

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Empaths are very sensitive to the emotional responses and inner trauma of the people around them. It’s as if they can see right through you to your true inner self. As an empath interacts with people, they are able to quickly sense their responses to what they are saying or doing.

In fact, it may appear as though they are reading your mind. Most empaths want to use that ability to help people heal, but some use it for other reasons. 

Dark empaths are empaths who can be very manipulative. They often use sarcasm, bullying, and guilt trips to manipulate the people around them. They can be quite charming one minute but turn around and start gossiping about you the next, especially when they don’t get what they want. 

The problem with dark empaths is that they seem very emotionally tapped in, but a key difference is that they process emotions only at the level of the brain. They understand them but don’t experience them for themselves.

That makes them very effective at interacting with people because they seem so compassionate, but they are really gathering information to manipulate those around them. It’s vital to know the difference to avoid becoming the victim of a dark empath. 

What is a Manipulative Dark Empath?

Researchers in psychology from several prominent universities in the UK and New Zealand identified several characteristics of the dark empath in a 2020 paper published in the journal, Personality and Individual Differences

They found that people with dark personality traits, such as psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism (the dark triad), had low scores for empathy. That was something they had expected. What wasn’t expected, however, was a group of people they termed dark empaths, who had higher scores on both empathy and the so-called dark traits. 

“Being an Empath gives a person the potential to see from another person’s perspective and feel what they feel. At the same time, though, this does not mean that the Empath will offer them kindness and compassion.”

Misuchi Sakurai, Author and Blogger

These people had higher scores for both cognitive and affective empathy than people who were categorized as belonging to the typical group (not empaths and not characterized by dark traits). While dark empaths did exhibit the so-called dark traits, they were less aggressive than people with what the researchers considered traditional dark traits; that is, low on empathy. 

Dark empaths were, however, more aggressive than normal empaths and those in the typical group. The researchers specifically found that these dark empaths often used manipulation in the form of social exclusion, malicious humor, and guilt-tripping to get what they wanted. 

They also noted that empaths were the most agreeable of the four groups they identified, followed by ‘typicals.’ Next was dark empaths, and the least agreeable group was the dark triads. Another interesting finding was that the dark empaths were more extroverted than the other groups. 

So dark empaths can be distinguished from regular empaths by higher levels of extroversion, neurotic thinking (negative thinking), and aggressive tendencies. And, of course, they are manipulative. 

How Does a Dark Empath Manipulate You?

Part of the reason that a dark empath is so good at manipulation is that they appear to be invested in the relationship. They understand cognitive empathy, and they are, therefore, capable of mirroring back your emotions even though they can stay emotionally distant. 

Moreover, their higher levels of aggression often cause them to use what they learn about you with their apparent empathy to manipulate you when it suits their needs. In fact, they often use their skills to understand what makes you tick so that they can then take advantage of you. 

That’s why you’ll want to be able to spot one of these individuals to protect yourself from their manipulation. Here are several characteristics that are signs you’re dealing with a dark empath. 

  • Sarcastic Humor

Sarcastic Humor

Sarcasm is a common tactic this kind of manipulator will use to affect the behavior of other people. Their jokes are typically malicious and hurtful, and they are usually aimed at people they consider to be inferior by comparison. 

  • Dark Empaths are Unrepentent Gossips

A dark empath is the kind of person who will be agreeable to someone’s face but turn around and immediately begin gossiping about them behind their back. They focus on what they can get out of the interaction as opposed to the needs of the other person. 

Moreover, if they don’t feel their needs have been satisfied, they can be very vindictive. They will talk about people behind their backs without ever talking to them about why they’re irritated with them. 

  • They Use Guilt to Get What They Want

Dark empaths will often use guilt to get people to do what they want. They come to know what makes you tick, so they are easily able to guilt you into doing what they want. They will particularly use this tactic if you express disagreement with their point of view. For some tips on dealing with guilt trips, check out this video

  • Gaslighting is Another Favorite Tactic

Another common tactic employed by a dark empath is that of gaslighting. They want to make the people around them question their perception of reality. That gives them the ability to reframe the situation to their benefit. 

If you are around someone who commonly argues that something didn’t happen, that you’re too sensitive, or that they were ‘just joking’ when they said something malicious, they might be a dark empath. They are definitely employing gaslighting to manipulate you. 

  • They are Initially Very Charming

They are Initially Very Charming

Because dark empaths do understand empathy, they can be extremely charming when you’re first getting to know them. Like narcissists, they use that charm to get to know you and to get you to like them. 

Once you fall into their trap, they can use what they have learned about you to manipulate you to their advantage. If they don’t get what they want from you, however, that charm turns to aggression very quickly. 

How is a Dark Empath Different from a Narcissist?

How is a Dark Empath Different from a Narcissist

You might be struck by how similar many of the traits of a dark empath are similar to those of a narcissist. One of the main differences between a narcissist and a dark empath, however, is that the narcissist can’t feel the emotions they pretend to feel. 

Narcissists can portray emotion, but there remains a kind of coldness underneath, and this video explains more about it.

The dark empath does score highly on empathy. They are capable of being genuinely sensitive to the emotions of other people. The narcissist is not. 

“But when it comes to supporting a loved one, dark empaths don’t take action…”

Ramani Durvasula, Psychologist and Author

The dark empath understands emotions, but that doesn’t mean they can actually feel them. They score high on cognitive empathy as opposed to emotional empathy. Thus, they can sense your emotions and intellectually understand them and use them to their advantage. 

Another difference is in the focus of each. The narcissist is concerned about image control and their need for narcissistic supply. The dark empath wants to manipulate you to get what they want. Their focus is not on their own image as much as on getting what they want. 

Finally, the dark empath isn’t an energy vampire in the same way a narcissist is. They aren’t trying to get you to meet their emotional needs; they just want you to do what helps them the most. 

Final Thoughts

Some types of empaths can be very manipulative. These so-called dark empaths will charm you so they can get to know how they can manipulate you. They will then push all your buttons to get you to do what they want you to do. They identify your emotional triggers, and they use those to their own advantage. You can stop them by identifying and defusing your triggers. 

To help you do that, I have created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers. It’s a handy guide that will take you through the process of first identifying your triggers, followed by exploring their origins, and then, it offers a step-by-step guide for defusing the triggers and healing the wounds that created them. When you can do that, you can be free from that type of manipulation, whether from a narcissist or a dark empath. 

To get a free copy of this helpful document, just click on this link here, and I’ll send it directly to your inbox. 


If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel


Narcissistic abuse takes a terrible toll on your life. I’m Patricia, and my mother is a narcissist, so I know what you’re going through. These blog posts will help you understand narcissism better and give you tips for dealing with the narcissists in your life. Healing starts here!

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