Can You Teach A Narcissist Empathy?

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One of the main characteristics of narcissism is a lack of empathy, but that doesn’t mean that narcissists are completely devoid of this important trait. Often, what they lack is emotional empathy, but they do have the capacity for cognitive empathy. So does that mean you can teach a narcissist empathy?

You can teach a narcissist emotional empathy, but the narcissist has to be willing to learn. Narcissists that possess cognitive empathy at least have the capacity to understand the function of emotions, and teaching them emotional empathy may be easier. Still, the key is their willingness to learn.

Let’s talk more about the role of empathy and how you might be able to teach people with mental disorders to have more of it.

What is Empathy?

What is Empathy

Emotional empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is a vital social skill that allows us to connect with the people around us, build healthy relationships, and navigate the complexities of social interactions. 

Empathy is a multifaceted concept that includes both emotional and cognitive components. Emotional empathy involves feeling the same emotions as another person, while cognitive empathy involves understanding and recognizing the emotions of others. The latter is usually accomplished through facial expressions and body language. 

Empathy is a key aspect of social intelligence and emotional intelligence, both of which are critical for success in personal and professional relationships. Empathetic people are able to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion, making them better friends, partners, parents, and colleagues.

There are many different types of empathy, including 

  • Affective empathy, which involves feeling the emotions of others 
  • Cognitive empathy, which involves understanding the emotions of others
  • Motor empathy, which involves mirroring the physical movements of others 
  • Compassionate empathy, which involves feeling the desire to help others who are suffering

Empathy is not only a key aspect of healthy relationships but is also essential for maintaining mental health. By being able to understand and share the feelings of others, we can develop a strong sense of social connection and reap the psychological benefits of being a part of a supportive community.

What About Narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality disorder marked by an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy towards others. While narcissism can be difficult to diagnose and treat, it is believed to have both genetic and environmental causes, as researchers from various universities in the US and Norway have found.

One of the primary causes of narcissism is believed to be a person’s upbringing. Children who are raised with an overly permissive or indulgent parenting style may internalize a sense of entitlement and develop an inflated view of themselves. Conversely, children raised with overly critical or neglectful parenting may develop a strong need for validation and attention, leading to narcissistic tendencies.

Other factors that may contribute to the development of narcissism include environmental factors such as exposure to trauma or abuse, as well as genetic or neurological factors that may affect a person’s ability to regulate their emotions and respond to others in a healthy manner.

Overall, while the causes of narcissism are complex and multifaceted, the factors that create the disorder often lead the sufferer to focus on their own needs and lack the ability to understand the emotions and needs of other people. By working to understand and address the underlying causes of narcissism, individuals and their loved ones can work towards developing healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

What are the Symptoms of Narcissism?

What are the Symptoms of Narcissism

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration and attention. While everyone may have moments of narcissistic behavior, it becomes a disorder when these traits become persistent and interfere with relationships and daily functioning.

With that in mind, the following table lists several symptoms of narcissism.

Symptoms Pathological Narcissism

1. Lack of Empathy

Difficulty understanding and responding to the feelings and needs of others.
2. Sense of Entitlement Belief in being special and deserving special treatment or privileges.

3. Grandiose Ideas of Self

Inflated sense of self-importance, exaggerating achievements and abilities.

4. Manipulative and Exploitative Behavior

Using others for personal gain, manipulating situations to their advantage.
5. Sudden Explosive Outbursts of Narcissistic Rage Intense anger and aggression when facing criticism or perceived threats to their self-image.

Narcissism typically develops in childhood, as the video below explains. It’s important to note that not all narcissists exhibit the same behaviors and traits. There are different types of narcissism, including vulnerable and grandiose narcissism, each with its own unique symptoms and challenges. 

How Does a Lack of Empathy Affect Narcissistic Behavior?

Lack of empathy is a common trait of narcissistic personality disorder and is an important factor in prosocial behavior. Without empathy, it becomes difficult to connect with others on a deep, meaningful level and to navigate the complexities and nuances of social interactions.

Individuals with narcissistic tendencies may struggle with both emotional and cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy is the ability to feel and respond to the emotions of others, while cognitive empathy is the ability to understand and take into account the thoughts and perspectives of others.

Both types of empathy are essential for healthy social functioning, and a deficit in either type can have significant negative consequences.

Compassionate empathy is another type of empathy in which the empathic person not only senses the emotions of other people but is also motivated to help. They are able to understand the affective responses of others, that is, their general emotional state, and they want to help them feel better.

Difficulties in Interpersonal Relationships

Difficulties in Interpersonal Relationships

A lack of empathy can lead to difficulties in interpersonal relationships, particularly romantic relationships, but it can also contribute to antisocial behavior. Individuals who struggle with empathy may have a difficult time understanding why their bad behavior might be hurtful or harmful to others, and this can lead to a disregard for the well-being of those around them.

Research conducted by psychologists at the University of New England in Australia has shown that the capacity for empathy is not fixed and can be developed and improved with practice. In effect, there are different levels of empathy that are evident in different personality types, but anyone can develop more empathic responses and behaviors. 

Some strategies for improving empathy include 

  • Practicing active listening 
  • Seeking out diverse perspectives
  • Consciously reflecting on the thoughts and feelings of others

Antisocial Behavior and Poor Impulse Control

Antisocial Behavior and Poor Impulse Control

Antisocial behavior and poor impulse control often go hand in hand, leading to a variety of negative consequences for the individual and those around them. Antisocial behavior can be defined as the violation of social norms, rules, and laws, and can range from minor offenses to more serious crimes. Poor impulse control refers to the inability to resist immediate impulses or temptations, often leading to impulsive, risky, and sometimes dangerous behaviors.

Individuals who exhibit antisocial behavior and poor impulse control may struggle with a lack of empathy, disregard for the feelings and needs of others, and a tendency to engage in manipulative or exploitative behavior. They may exhibit aggression, defiance, and a disregard for rules and authority.

Research done by psychologists in Germany has shown a strong link between antisocial behavior and poor impulse control and mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These individuals may struggle with emotional regulation, leading to impulsive behavior and a lack of consideration for the consequences of their actions.

Such behavior can have a significant impact on personal relationships, leading to a breakdown in communication and trust. In terms of professional relationships, individuals with poor impulse control may struggle to maintain stable employment or advance in their career due to a tendency to make impulsive decisions or act without considering the consequences.

Can You Teach a Narcissist Empathy?

an You Teach a Narcissist Empathy

The question of whether or not you can teach a narcissist empathy is a complicated one. On the one hand, research has shown that individuals with narcissistic tendencies may have a reduced capacity for empathy due to certain brain differences.

However, recent studies have also suggested that narcissistic individuals may be able to develop aspects of empathy through certain interventions. This video provides an explanation on how to accomplish it.

One study conducted by Erica Hepper and colleagues found that individuals with narcissistic tendencies were able to develop a greater capacity for empathy when they were given a perspective-taking task that required them to imagine the feelings and experiences of others.

Additionally, research has shown that narcissistic individuals may be more likely to display compassionate empathy, which involves feeling sympathetic toward others and wanting to help them, particularly when they are given empathy prompts that help them imagine how the average person might feel in a given situation.

While it may be possible for some narcissistic individuals to develop empathy through certain interventions, it is important to note that research is still in its early stages, and more studies are needed to fully understand the relationship between narcissism and empathy.

Additionally, some individuals with narcissistic personality disorder may not be willing or motivated to participate in interventions aimed at developing empathy.

Ultimately, it may be more productive to focus on promoting healthy relationships and communication skills rather than solely addressing the lack of empathy in narcissistic individuals.

By working on building empathy and emotional intelligence in yourself and promoting healthy relationship practices, you can create an environment that encourages positive growth and development in both yourself and the people around you.

Research on Teaching a Narcissist Empathy by Erica Hepper

Research on Teaching a Narcissist Empathy by Erica Hepper

Erica Hepper, a social psychologist at the University of Surrey, has been exploring the possibility of teaching narcissistic individuals empathy. Her research, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, suggests that while it may be difficult, it is not impossible.

Hepper explains that empathy, defined as the ability to understand and share the emotional response of others, is a crucial aspect of healthy social interactions and relationships. Narcissistic individuals, on the other hand, tend to display a lack of empathy and are often focused on their own needs and desires, leading to challenging and sometimes unhealthy relationships.

Hepper’s research found that although narcissistic individuals may struggle with affective empathy, they are not completely incapable of it. With proper guidance, they can develop and improve their empathy skills. Here are a few steps for how to teach a narcissist empathy. 

  • Help the Narcissist Develop Cognitive Empathy

The first step in teaching empathy to narcissistic individuals, according to Hepper, is to help them develop their cognitive empathy. This involves encouraging them to understand and recognize the emotions and needs of others through facial expressions and body language, even if they do not feel them on a personal level.

By teaching them to intellectually understand the emotions of others, they can begin to develop a sense of perspective-taking and consideration of others’ feelings.

  • Teach Them Practical Skills for Developing Empathy

Often, the child without empathy has parents who don’t mirror the child’s emotions or listen when they try to express what they are feeling. Thus, the child never learned to do the same. They never understood the concept of the emotional contagion, because no one ever mirrored their emotional responses as a child.

By teaching them how to practice skills like active listening to ensure they understand what other people are expressing, they can learn the basics of the empathy relationship. From that base, they can learn more skills associated with empathetic behavior; they can learn to actually feel similar emotions to what the people around them are feeling. That’s the essence of empathetic behavior.

  • Help Them Enhance and Strengthen Their Emotional Intelligence

This can be done through various exercises, such as practicing identifying emotions in others based on nonverbal cues or working on emotional regulation techniques. The development of empathy is a learned response, and many times, the narcissist just needs to learn the cues that indicate various emotions in others.

Once they can do that, they can then use empathy prompts to understand how they would feel in a similar circumstance. That will help them to further understand the relationship between empathy and prosocial behaviors. 

  • Understand the Limitations of Teaching a Narcissist Empathy

While there is hope for improving the empathy skills of narcissistic individuals, it is important to note that not all individuals are open to change. Narcissistic individuals may resist attempts to teach them empathy, seeing it as a weakness or threat to their sense of self.

Therefore, it is important to approach such individuals with patience and understanding and to recognize that change may not happen overnight.

In short, narcissistic individuals can learn and develop their empathy skills, and there are even some things they can do to reduce their narcissistic tendencies overall, as the following video shows. This is crucial for their own well-being as well as for healthy social interactions and relationships.

With the right guidance and support, individuals with narcissistic tendencies can begin to recognize the emotions of others and develop a more compassionate and considerate approach to their interactions with others.

How to Incorporate Empathetic Responses Into Everyday Life

Empathy is a vital aspect of healthy social interactions. It allows us to understand and connect with others on a deep emotional level, and it is a critical skill in navigating complex relationships. It’s all too easy for anyone, not just narcissists, to be affected by a decline in empathy when they are focused on their own challenges.

How to Incorporate Empathetic Responses Into Everyday Life

Here are some tips for incorporating more empathetic responses into your everyday life.

1. Active Listening

One of the first steps towards cultivating more empathy is through active listening, and this is particularly important for narcissists who are often solely focused on themselves. Active listening means being fully present and engaged in the conversations you have with others.

Rather than simply waiting for your turn to speak, actively listen to what others are saying and try to think about it as if everything they are saying is 100% true. Try to paraphrase or summarize their words back to them, which shows that you are genuinely interested in understanding their perspective.

2. Practice Gratitude

Practice Gratitude

Empathetic people are grateful people. Taking time to acknowledge and appreciate the people in your life is a great way to develop more empathy. Whether through regular expressions of thanks or small acts of kindness, showing gratitude can go a long way in strengthening your relationships and developing a deeper sense of understanding for others and a stronger sense of affective empathy.

Realizing what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have is a great way to increase your empathy for people who may be facing more serious challenges than you are at the moment. 

3. Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

It’s essential to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially when they are experiencing difficult emotions. Empathy requires us to acknowledge and understand the emotions of others. We can do this by imagining what it would be like to experience their feelings and then responding in a supportive and compassionate manner.

This is where empathy prompts can help someone struggling with empathy, like a narcissist. Narcissists are well-known for being unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. This is a vital part of the empathy relationship, and it is what generates that understanding and compassion. 

4. Watch Your Body Language

Watch Your Body Language

Body language plays a significant role in communication. Practicing an open and welcoming posture can help convey to others that you are listening and interested in what they have to say. Avoid crossing your arms or legs, which can be read as disinterest or defensiveness. It’s also important to be aware of your facial expressions so that you appear welcoming on that level too.

There is a strong relationship between empathy and the ability to read nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions. That’s why it’s important to check your own behaviors to be more empathetic. 

5. Avoid Judging

It’s essential to avoid judging others, even if their experiences or views seem foreign to you. Instead, try to approach conversations with curiosity and an open mind. Seek to understand their point of view, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.

It’s easy for involuntary responses that seem judgmental to rise to the surface when you’re in such a situation, but empathetic behavior means understanding the other person’s point of view.

If you use that active listening tip about pretending that what they are saying is completely true, you can at least understand their perspective. That will allow you to show more empathetic behavior than you might otherwise be able to muster. 

6. Use Empathy Prompts

Empathy prompts are a great tool for increasing your level of empathy or helping someone like a narcissist to do so as well. The prompts are designed to help anyone understand the viewpoint of someone else. Here are a few examples of such prompts.

  • Write in your journal about a fight you had with someone, but write it from their perspective. What is their side of the argument? Why do they feel that way? How does it affect their behavior?
  • Create a story about being respectful toward someone you disagree with. For example, imagine someone in your life you know you can never agree with on a particular topic. Write a story about treating them respectfully despite that reality. 
  • Make up a story about someone who is sad. Describe their body language, facial expressions, involuntary responses to challenges, and how those might seem to other people around them. Go on to describe how the people they are around can help them.

Incorporating more empathetic responses into your everyday life takes time and practice, but the rewards are worth it. By developing a greater sense of empathy, you can enhance the quality of your relationships and better understand the world around you. Remember, it starts with a conscious effort to listen, understand, and be present for others.

Final Thoughts

It is possible for a narcissistic person to learn to be more empathetic. Whether they suffer from vulnerable narcissism or grandiose narcissism, they can learn to be more understanding of how other people feel, and in that way, they can reduce their narcissistic bad behavior. 

It’s vital, however, that the narcissist is willing to increase their levels of empathy. The complexity of narcissism makes it difficult for them to recognize that there is anything wrong with them, and that is a challenge you face when trying to help them increase their empathy.


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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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