Empathic people are typically highly sensitive to the emotions, and sometimes the physical problems, of other people. True empathy goes to a deeper level than simply understanding someone’s feelings, and it is characterized by active listening, a high level of emotional intelligence, and concerned feelings for people who are suffering.
But there’s another type of empathy. It’s often referred to as dark empathy, but it’s also called cognitive empathy, and toxic people like narcissists can use this to manipulate and control others.
To spot fake empathy, you should look for shallow emotions, a cynical agenda, impulsivity, and a history of intense, short relationships. A focus on negative emotions and bragging about their ability are other indicators of dark empaths. They don’t have the ability for empathic listening.
My narcissistic mother could use her cognitive empathy to seemingly be concerned about my needs. But her words and actions soon revealed the shallow emotional content of her concern. Moreover, her empathy skills were completely lacking. If you don’t know how to spot fake empaths, however, they will take advantage of you.
What is Fake Empathy?
Affective empathy or true empathy is related not only to the ability to sense other people’s emotions but to empathic responses as well. A real empath doesn’t just sense your feelings, they also care about helping you heal.
False empathy, on the other hand, is also known as cognitive empathy. Fake empaths may seem like empathetic people because they intellectually understand your emotions. The problem is they exhibit detached concern for your problem as opposed to empathic concern.
This means they aren’t really hooked into your emotions as a real empath would be. A real empath cares about your emotions because they can feel them too. A fake empath understands your emotions but doesn’t feel them.
Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.
– Alfred Adler, M.D., Psychotherapist, and Found of the School of Individual Psychology
Fake empaths are also called dark empaths. They often have what is called the dark triad of personality characteristics. These are narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. They are particularly dangerous manipulators because they do understand why you feel the way you do; they just don’t care except insofar as it can help them.
They use their knowledge to manipulate you to get you to do what they want, and they will pretend to care about you, but it is really a detached concern that is not enriched by a true understanding of your emotional level and sensations. They are using their skill for personal gain; they are not really a caring person. That’s why their emotional response is often flat.
This is not what a real empath would do. Real empaths are genuine in their concern for your situation. They want to help you heal.
How Can You Spot Fake Empathy?
There are several ways to spot fake empaths. Some signs are related to their behaviors, while others are evident in their body language and facial expressions. Often you just feel like they are not exhibiting genuine empathic concern, and in that case, you should definitely listen to your gut.
But because they can say all the right things, you might need these tips and tricks for spotting fake empathy.
1. It’s All in Their Smile
Someone with genuine affective empathy will also have a genuine smile. A genuine smile is one that uses more of the facial muscles, which is evident by more lines around the eyes of the smiler.
In essence, a genuine smile is one in which someone smiles with their eyes as well as their mouth. Faux empathy is characterized by a faux smile. They’re not a real caring person, so they don’t smile with their eyes.
2. False Empaths Have Shallow Emotions
Someone with a low emotional level will switch their moods frequently. Their lack of genuine emotional empathy is punctuated by the fact that they don’t have a strong emotional foundation. In other words, they’re out of touch with their own emotions. This video explains that with narcissists.
They might be happy one moment, and the next thing you know, they’re in an emotional crisis that has no rhyme or reason. They’re also not comfortable with being vulnerable. A genuine caring person isn’t afraid to reveal their vulnerability.
3. Dark Empaths Use Their Empathy for Personal Gain
Someone who is just putting on an ‘empathy performance’ without any real emotion behind it often uses their cognitive empathy to manipulate other people. They say things in order to stimulate a complimentary response from other people.
This is a typical strategy of the covert narcissist, who is self-deprecating so that others will disagree with their statements. They are fishing for compliments, and this is typical of false empathy.
4. Fake Empaths Have an Agenda
Someone without genuine empathic concern for your situation may seem to actively listen to what you’re saying, and they certainly say all the right things at the right time. But they will reflect your words back to you for their own benefit.
You’re telling them about a genuine vulnerability, and they throw that back in your face when it suits their needs. This is something that genuinely empathetic people would never do.
5. A History of Short, Intense Relationships and Impulsive Behavior
People with faux empathy often have had intense but short relationships, and they exhibit impulsive behavior. They don’t fully understand their own emotions and desires, so how could they possibly understand yours?
People who do have affective empathy are connected to their own emotions and desires, and they know what they want in a relationship and in life. They aren’t impulsive because they are sure of themselves.
6. Dark Empaths Have Short-Lived Concern
Fake empaths can often give a very impassioned speech that seems rich in emotional content, but then they might never say anything about that topic again. Their concern is short-lived because they’re expressing empathy for their own malicious purposes.
They can manage to fake it long enough to seem caring, but their caring isn’t really backed up by genuine feelings for people and causes. They’re just trying to project an image without any real emotional foundation to back it up. Someone with true affective empathy revisits the topic again and again until they find a real solution.
7. Fake Empaths Brag About Their Empathy
False empaths love to brag about their empathy because they’re not really mentally strong, as you can see in this video. They will tell you time and again about how much they can sense your emotional state. Since they are often dark empaths, they want everyone to know about their ability.
They are projecting an image, not genuine concern, and that’s why they will often brag to everyone who will listen. That’s not genuine empathy. True empaths aren’t concerned about an image. They care about helping other people.
The components of empathy include a genuine emotional connection between the empath and the people around them. Someone with affective empathy doesn’t just understand the emotions of other people; they actually feel them. The difference between real empathy and faux empathy is like the difference between someone describing chocolate to you and actually tasting it yourself.
There is a richness in the empathic responses that characterize emotional empathy, while the emotional response of a dark empath falls flat. The dark empath says all the right words at the right time, but it still just doesn’t feel genuine. That’s because it isn’t. It’s designed to be manipulative, and you’re sensing that.
When you experience real empathy, you feel heard and cared for in a way that a false empath simply can’t duplicate. Look in their eyes and check their behavior, and you’ll have all the information you need to spot a fake empath.
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