What Is Empathy Deficit Disorder?

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/09/2020

Empathy deficit disorder is arguably one of the most overlooked conditions. While empathy is defined as one's ability to step into another person's shoes to try to understand how an individual thinks and feels, there are people who live without this ability and even more people who only feel empathy selectively. Being empathetic is important for establishing healthy relationships and being compassionate. Moreover, it’s common—98 percent of people can empathize with others. Nevertheless, there are people who are incapable of feeling empathy.

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Empathy deficit disorder (EDD) is a mental health condition where individuals lack empathy. People with EDD are not in-tune with their emotions and put their needs above others. They find it difficult to form organic and lasting relationships due to their inability to relate or show compassion. Those with empathy deficit disorder are often isolated, as they struggle to form and keep relationships. Being isolated can lead to further psychological issues and become more of a challenge when trying to form relationships but not impossible.

Before we delve into the attributes of EDD, let’s talk about the three different types of empathy.

Types of empathy

There are three different types of empathy, which can be broken down into:

  • Affective empathy- the ability to “feel” the pain or other emotion in relation to others.
  • Cognitive empathy- the ability to understand the emotions of others, but only objectively. In order to build better cognitive empathy, remember to reading facial expressions and physical movements. Don’t be quick to judge or assume. One technique is to decipher any feedback provided which will help you better understand others.
  • Compassionate empathy- taking feelings to actions. Compassionate empathy goes further than understanding and relating to other people’s situations, but also includes pushing an individual to do something. It moves you to take action.

In contrast, there is also an empathy disorder that can cause someone to care too much.

Hyper-empathy

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There is also such a thing as too much empathy. This is known as a hyper-empathy syndrome. A great way to find out it if you have hyper-empathy is to follow along with this hyper empathy test:

  • You not only feel the emotions of others, but you also suffer from it. This results in physical pain that can cause an anxiety disorder.
  • You can easily switch from low periods to high periods.
  • You strive to solve everyone’s problems to enforce the idealistic image they want of being wanted and valued.
  • You are often too overprotective and can undermine others’ self-worth.
  • You may often move from too much empathy to resentment. Potentially you’ve experienced a lot of disappointment so you end up isolating yourself.

Now that you have an understanding of the different types of empathy you might be wondering what the characteristics of someone with EDD are.

Do I lack empathy?

Before taking an empathy deficit disorder test, read on for some of the most common behaviors of someone with empathy deficit disorder to see if you relate to any.

  • Inability to make new friends.
  • Can’t form emotional connections.
  • Criticizing others or dismissing them without understanding where they are coming from.
  • Inept to show appreciation to others.
  • Putting their needs before others.
  • No patience in listening to others.
  • Quick to blame others.
  • Does not take responsibility for one's actions.
  • Hard to feel sympathy for others experiencing unjust behavior.
  • Avoiding talking about uncomfortable situations.
  • Doesn’t feel happy towards another person’s success.

These characteristics all share a small world view where an individual with EDD is wired to think mainly of themselves and finds it alien to sympathize or relate to others’ emotions. They are quick to judge and do not find it worthwhile to give others the time of day.

Empathy Deficit Disorder Test

After reading the characteristics of someone with EDD, are you still not sure if you have EDD? If you are unsure whether you or someone you love has empathy deficit disorder, click here to take a lack of empathy test. This free and secure empathy test is composed of 16 statements, where you can confidently answer by indicating how much you agree or disagree with each statement. After answering each question, you have the option of getting your results sent to you via email. You can then view your results, which provide a summary of your answers and instantly provide you with the option to chat with a licensed counselor.

Why some people lack empathy

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why some people lack empathy. For the majority of people, empathy is an innate human attribute. Empathy is something people “learn” by the environment and area where they grew up. It is difficult to learn as an adult, but not impossible. Think about your childhood: can you recall the moment in which you first felt empathy for someone? The majority of us can’t answer that. That’s because empathy isn’t taught.

Individuals who were discouraged to talk about their feelings during childhood may struggle later in life to be empathetic. By never opening up to people and not discussing one's emotions, this can lead to reserved individuals who learned to ignore their feelings and don’t feel anything about the emotions of others. The suppression of emotions is never healthy and can lead to further mental health issues.

Individuals who learned to bottle up their emotions at a young age are partly removed from the world. They have difficulties forming and keeping relationships and therefore tend to isolate themselves. They don’t know anything different than to keep their emotions closed-off and not share or listen to others’ emotions. These individuals are probably not even aware that how they operate is different from the norm, and are completely unaware of the ramifications this has on other people's feelings.

Yet, this is not the case for all. Just because you grew up in a household where expressing your feelings was rare, that does not mean you have EDD. EDD can also impact people who get too wrapped up in materialistic items. These individuals get high off the rush of having money, power, and status. They often sacrifice many things in order to attain their idea of power or control. These people become separated from their own feelings and associate “being good” with being in control.

How to be in a relationship with someone who has EDD

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If your partner has an empathy disorder, it can be challenging to have a healthy relationship. It’s important to remember: you shouldn’t sacrifice your happiness for the sake of a relationship, especially an unhealthy one. If you feel unsafe or are being mistreated by your partner, it’s best to seek help and get out of the relationship. You don’t need to feel responsible for the mental health of another. You are only responsible for your actions.

However, if you and your significant other want to work on your relationship, here are some ways to try and make the relationship work:

  • Remember that those with EDD find it challenging to form healthy relationships.
  • Focus on the individual and remember why you want to stay in the relationship.
  • The tried and true statement—communication is key. Communicate what you want and what you hope to get out of the relationship.
  • Don’t take it personally when they get upset or are quick to judge.
  • Instead of talking about emotions, talk about the facts of the relationship. This is easier for someone with EDD to handle as it’s not dealing with emotions and will make for a better relationship.
  • Set boundaries. This is something that you should do for yourself and your mental health.
  • If it’s become too much, don’t get discouraged. Be proud of the effort you gave. Find a mental health professional who you can confide in.

For those suffering from EDD, it’s also important to have a healthy relationship with yourself.

How to have a healthy relationship with EDD

If you have an EDD disorder and want to improve upon yourself or be a better partner, here are some strategies for working on your empathy deficit:

  • Thinkabout something you do that annoys someone you care about. Try to picture it from their point of view and mentality, even though you might disagree or be apt to think you're right and they are wrong.
  • Imagineyourself from your favorite person’s perception of you. Be open to experiencing them fully while also holding onto your own views.
  • See things from their perspective. Try to take into account their feelings and views, and where they are coming from. Don’t judge.

Why empathy is important

The world is a better place for all when it is filled with empathetic people. Many world issues are caused by the dehumanization of people with other opinions, religions, nationalities, or races. And yet, humans only function as united, social beings. Where empathy thrives, we are a productive species. Where empathy lacks, we become destructive.

Empathy is one of the greatest ways humans can show respect to one another. Without it, we would live in an unjust society. Empathy is also an integral part of effective leadership and emotional intelligence.

Empathy is also important in the workplace and results in a better office experience, where employees and bosses performed better with empathetic leadership. Empathetic leadership is the same as showing empathy—showing compassion and connecting with others makes for better communication and better results at both work and home.

It is possible for adults to increase their levels of empathy. But before someone puts the work into improving an empathy deficit, they must see the benefits of empathy in a logical light. Empathy is not “soft”, and it’s certainly not frivolous. In fact, feeling empathy takes strength and consistency. italso comes with major rewards. We are social animals, and healthy relationships are vital for life quality and mental health. People you help are more likely to help you later on. When those who need help are lifted and cared for, the entire society benefits. In other words, through helping others, you help yourself.

Ways to improve upon your EDD: 

Here are some easy ways to improve one's level of empathy for a more compassionate and better work-life balance.

  • Read fiction- Dive into a magical and mystical world where you’ll be transported to another time all while improving your empathy. When we enter a new world, our brains believe we are in that world. This provides us with the ability to relate to characters with different points of view and from different places.

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  • Put down the electronics- Sit down with someone and listen to what they have to say. This will certainly help you improve upon your EDD disorder. When we give our undivided attention to someone, it shows them respect while giving us the opportunity to learn and grow from someone else's perspective.
  • Expand your circle- People like to form friends with individuals who share similar world views. Try to expand your world view by making friends with people who are different from you. At the very least, you can learn a thing or two from them and vise versa.

These are just some tips and tricks to work on being more empathetic. For a more robust means of working on your empathy disorder, take the empathy deficit disorder test which can pair you with a mental health professional who can get you the help you need to be your best self.