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What is Empathy Deficit Disorder?

Empathy is an important human ability that allows us to relate to one another. Specifically, it’s the act of recognizing and sharing the feelings of another person. In psychology, two types of empathy are recognized. One is affective empathy, which is when you share and/or feel the emotions of another individual. Affective empathy may also be called primitive empathy or emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy, on the other hand, is when you can process, understand, and relate to another person’s emotions, as well as their perspective on a situation.

Empathy deficit disorder, or EDD, impacts an individual’s ability to feel empathy. Depending on its cause, empathy deficit disorder may affect cognitive empathy, affective empathy, or both. Generally speaking, empathy deficit disorder impacts affective empathy more significantly than cognitive empathy. In people with bipolar disorder, for example, cognitive empathy is minimally affected (if at all), but affective empathy is often greatly compromised.

Empathy deficit disorder can have severe mental health complications for the affected individual. But, it may also cause hardship for people who interact with the affected individual. The prevalence of empathy deficit disorder is thought to be growing in our society.

Signs of Empathy Deficit Disorder

A person with empathy deficit disorder may seem to live in a world in which their needs and desires are their only reality. The needs and desires of the people around them, perhaps even loved ones, may be treated as entirely irrelevant or unimportant. This thought pattern may lead to the following behaviors:

  • Coldness or indifference towards people who are struggling.
  • Quickness to criticize others before considering their circumstances.
  • A sense of entitlement and expectation of having their needs fulfilled.
  • Difficulty showing appreciation for favors.
  • Difficulty feeling happy or congratulatory towards others.
  • Difficulty in relationships with family and friends.
  • Difficulty making new friends.
  • Difficulty building meaningful emotional connections with others.
  • Only discussing themselves and poor listening skills in social situations.
  • Tendency to place blame on others when they behave in a way that hurts others.
  • Belief that when others are hurt as a result of their actions, it’s due to the other person’s oversensitivity.

How is Empathy Deficit Disorder Treated?

Self-treatment is a viable treatment option for empathy deficit disorder if the affected individual is able to recognize the condition in him or herself and the need to improve. Mindfulness exercises and exercises designed to build empathy can, with time and discipline, treat empathy deficit disorder. An example of an empathy-building exercise is to consider the parts of your argument that someone disagrees with in a conflict, then working to see the conflict from their perspective.

In some cases of empathy deficit disorder, psychotherapy may be an effective treatment option. A trained therapist can provide help, guidance, and specialized exercises to practice for building empathy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that may help you recognize the thought patterns that are lacking empathy, then replace them with new, more empathetic thoughts.

If empathy deficit disorder is caused by an underlying condition, treatment for that condition may need to be received to address the empathy deficit. Narcissism and bipolar disorder are conditions that can lead to empathy deficit disorder.


Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.

If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.

And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.

Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:

  • Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
  • Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
  • Encourage resilience and self-management
  • Identify and change negative behaviors
  • Identify and encourage positive behaviors
  • Heal pain from past trauma
  • Figure out goals and waypoints
  • Build self-confidence

Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?

Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.

So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.

Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.


Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:

  • Call your mental health specialist.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.

If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:

  • Make sure someone stays with that person.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.

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