Are empaths dangerous? (A complete guide)

In this article, we will discuss Are empaths dangerous?. We will do that by first defining empaths. This will follow up by describing empaths who can be dangerous. We will move on to describing how empathy is often used for evil by dangerous personalities. In the end, we will answer questions that are commonly asked related to empaths and how they can be dangerous.   

Are empaths dangerous? 

Usually, empaths are not dangerous. However, if an empath possesses negative personality traits, more specifically dark triad traits, they can be dangerous personalities as they can use their skills of emotional awareness to understand other people’s emotions and use it against them for their advantage and exploit them. Even psychopaths can learn cognitive empathy to blend in society, and accordingly use such information to manipulate, intimidate, and get benefits from others. We can say that such personalities are more dangerous as they know how to trick others and mold them according to their will. 

Empaths 

Empaths are highly sensitive people who are able to identify and understand the emotions of other people. They can see the world from another person’s perspective and live through their experience. They are able to relate to their pain and sometimes even absorb the emotions of other people which can be quite exhausting for them. They extend their kindness, compassion, and help to other people and help them process their emotions and painful experiences.

 Dangerous Empaths

Usually, empaths are given very good press on social media. They are thought of as angels who are pure and can do nothing wrong due to their good nature, emotional awareness, and understanding of other people’s pain. In reality, it is possible that even empaths have a dark side. This makes sense when we look at empathy from a spectrum point of view. According to this, like all other traits, empathy also exists on a spectrum ranging from one extreme to another. 

Based on this idea, the world cannot be divided into empaths and non-empaths as it is not simple to categorize people into black and white categories. Instead, people may vary depending on the degree of empathy they possess and where they lie on the spectrum. 

So if you have high empathy, it is possible that you have other humanistic traits associated with empathy as well e.g. kindness, compassion, altruism etc. Similarly, if you have low empathy, there is a likelihood that you may possess negative traits that are usually associated with such people. In fact, studies have found that even people who are psychopaths may have empathy. Although it would be low, we cannot say that their empathy is non-existent in them. Such people can be quite dangerous. According to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist: 

“A dark empath may actually be more dangerous than a more cold and unfeeling dark triad type because the so-called dark empath can draw you in closer—and do more harm as a result.”

How Empathy can be used for evil by dangerous empaths

It has been seen that a lot of the time, people with psychopathic tendencies tend to learn empathic behaviors in order to function and survive in the world. This means that they do their research to identify ‘correct behaviors’ and perform those in order to mask their negative traits and use people instead. 

In other words, they can learn cognitive empathy to achieve such a purpose.  However, their cognitive empathy varies. They are skilled at reading people and understanding their emotions but they do not feel them. Likewise, they understand their pain, but use this information against them for their own advantage. As a criminal, these people can be quite dangerous as they have the advantage of being able to understand someone and behaving accordingly in order to use them. 

Related to this is a new concept related to empaths called ‘Dark Empaths’. These people possess cognitive and affective empathy but also have dark triad traits. These traits are usually associated with dark personalities including narcissists, psychopaths and Machiavellianism. 

Dark personalities are more likely to commit crimes and create social problems. They are also more likely to have low empathy and agreeableness. Neuroticism and conscientiousness were only found to be associated with some of the dark triad members. In addition to that, such personalities can be described as being interpersonally hostile and being interpersonally offensive. We will describe each trait in depth as follows:

  • Narcissism can be described as people who have traits of grandiosity, are egoistic, have high pride, and reduced empathy. 
  • Machiavellianism can include the ability to manipulate and exploit others, preferring self-interest over group interest, and being unemotionally callous. 
  • Psychopathy includes antisocial behavior. Such people are driven by selfish behavior. They do not have remorse, are impulsive, and are unemotionally callous.

As a result, such people use their emotional awareness to explore the feelings of other people and use them. 

Heyem and colleagues’ study on undergraduate students showed that there was a category of people with high empathy and dark triad traits. They were extroverted and agreeable. They also possessed neurotic, aggressive, and manipulative tendencies. They could use malicious humor and guilt-tripping behavior on others as well. Furthermore, they used these abilities to thrive socially. We can say that they have a version of psychopathy called ‘adaptive psychopathy’ that helps them to understand others but exploit their weak points. However, they do not completely connect with people with dark triad traits. So, we cannot say that they are pure or true psychopaths. 

Another thing is that a negative version of empaths has been found to have is the ability to manipulate people. According to Sara Konrad’s study, narcissistic exploitativeness was present in people with high reading skills. In the same way, Yuki Nozak and Masuo Koyasu’s study revealed that people with emotional intelligence can use their skills to direct others into behaving the way they want. These results point to the idea that cognitive empaths may use their ability to understand emotions to hurt and intimidate them but without actually engaging in emotional/affective empathy.

For example, Person A has high social intelligence and accordingly has high cognitive empathy. Using this ability, he tries to understand person B’s personality and finds that she has difficulty saying No, is passive, and easily feels guilty. Based on this, he uses person B to get her to complete his part in the office project for him, using his charming personality and a good way with words. When person B tries to express reluctance, person A states that his part is more tough compared to others, he doesn’t understand it and needs someone’s help. He also adds that he is going through something stressful at home and is unable to concentrate on anything. Seeing this person B feels bad and guilty for her earlier hesitation and is gradually lured into completing the entire project by herself.  

FAQs: Are empaths dangerous?

Can empaths be manipulative?

No. not all empaths are manipulative. However, there is a version of empaths called. ‘Dark empaths’. They can be manipulative. These people possess both empathy and dark triad traits. They use their emotional intelligence to understand the thoughts and feelings of others and later use this information in order to exploit them.

What is toxic empathy?

Toxic empathy is when a person overidentifies with someone’s feelings. They start to absorb them and mistake them for their own feelings. As a result, such individuals can get exhausted and have difficulty looking after their needs

How can empaths set boundaries?

Empaths can set boundaries by being vocal. They need to learn how to say No to people in a polite manner with tact. 

Is being an empath a personality disorder?

Being an empath is not a personality disorder. Rather, empaths possess healthy traits and lie on the healthier spectrum of functioning unlike people with personality disorders.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed Are empaths dangerous?. We found that usually, empaths are not dangerous. However, if an empath possesses negative personality traits, more specifically dark triad traits, they can be dangerous personalities as they can use their skills of emotional awareness to understand other people’s emotions and use it against them for their advantage and exploit them. Even psychopaths can learn cognitive empathy to blend in society, and accordingly use such information to manipulate, intimidate, and get benefits from others. We can say that such personalities are more dangerous as they know how to trick others and mold them according to their will. 

 I hope you found this article interesting. If you have any queries or comments, please state them in the comment section 😊

Citations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_triad#Machiavellianism

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_a_psychopath_learn_feel_pain#:~:text=A%20psychopath%20can%20have%20a,they%20have%20no%20emotional%20empathy.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/moral-universe/using-empathy-to-use-people-emotional-intelligence-and-manipulation/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/experimentations/202008/introducing-the-dark-empath-0

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/04/12/712682406/does-empathy-have-a-dark-side

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/what-are-dark-empaths

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/conditions/evil-and-empathy-scientists-shed-light-on-hearts-of-darkness/article588816/

Armah is a mental health professional in training. She has done her Bachelors and Masters in Clinical Psychology with specialization in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her goal is to make a difference in the field of mental health be it by spreading awareness through writing or through clinical practice. In her free time, she likes to read, keep up to date about new trends in Psychology, bake and watch Netflix 😊

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