Dark Empath: 12 Signs Of The Most Dangerous Personality


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dark empath

Most of us are aware how toxic and dangerous narcissists and psychopaths can be. But there is a new contender in the tournament of toxic personalities – The Dark Empath. And people with this personality trait just might be the most dangerous of them all. 

What is a dark empath?

Dark empathy is a personality trait that is made up of the maladaptive ‘Dark Triad’ personality traits and high degrees of empathy. A dark empath personality typically possesses malevolent character traits, along with strong levels of cognitive empathy, which they use to manipulate, exploit and abuse others. 

The dark triad personality

Dark Empath: The Dark Triad with Empathy

According to psychologists, the dark triad involves personality traits like narcissism, Machiavellianism & psychopathy. It is referred to as “dark” due to their socially aversive traits. The Dark Triad is associated with qualities like –

  • Charisma and charm
  • Exploitative and manipulative
  • Seeking constant affection and validation, 
  • Emotional frigidity
  • Sexual promiscuity 
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of remorse 
  • Immoral strategic thinking
  • Betrayal
  • Antagonism

Related reading: What is the Dark Triad?

Are you a dark empath?

According to a 2020 study by Nadja Heym, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Nottingham Trent University, and colleagues, a dark empath exhibits the dark triad qualities, like being aggressive and manipulative, but are able to have empathy for others. Although they are less aggressive than people with dark triad traits, they have a strong “antagonistic core” and are highly extroverted. 

Their ability to be highly social and capacity for empathy is exactly what makes them the most dangerous people on the planet, as they can easily understand what others are going through and can exploit others for their own gain. This ability to be empathic is what makes a dark empath unique and different from narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths. 

How to spot a dark empath: Signs of a dark empath

Though the aggression reported by the dark empaths was not as high as the traditional dark triad group, the danger of this personality profile is that their empathy, and likely resulting social skills, make their darkness harder to spot,” state the researchers.

However, there are certain subtle signs that can help you identify a dark empath in your life. Take a look at some of these signs of a dark empath below –

1. They exploit others

A dark empath is just an intelligent narcissist with empathy, intuition and sensitivity. So, they have the innate skill of making others work for them. They know how to walk the walk and talk the talk to keep you in control in any situation and use you for their own gains. They are experts at reading others and understanding their needs and at using that information to get what they want by manipulating people.

They are motivated to empathize with others due to their urge to control them. Understanding your triggers make them feel more powerful in the relationship. What’s worse is that they don’t even regret exploiting and hurting others. They will never feel sorry for their manipulative behaviors and actions as they always find some justifications inside their mind.

Related reading: 15 Reasons Why Narcissists Use Mind Games To Exploit You

2. They are highly sensitive

Although they can be malicious, a dark empath can have and exhibit heightened sensitivity. This is one of the most common dark empath signs. Due to their highly sensitive nature, they can easily understand your thoughts and emotions, even if they are unable to feel them. They also possess high levels of emotional intelligence, similar to empaths, but they use it very differently – for their own personal gains.

Dark empaths are more prone to utilize their Dark Triad traits to exploit and manipulate people, even when they can feel and experience emotions of others. Their ability to understand others’ emotions makes the game of manipulation easier for them.

3. They suffer from mental health issues

One of the most widely observed traits of dark empathy is mental disorders. Possessing Dark Triad personality traits, a dark empath is highly likely to struggle with mental illnesses, like anxiety and depression, due to their self-awareness and emotional intelligence. As they are in constant conflict with their ability to empathize with others and their need to manipulate the very same people, dark empaths are unable to experience mental stability. This is further fueled by their insecurities, self-loathing, low self-esteem, self-criticism, and a negative self-concept.  

Related reading: Is Narcissism Inherited? The Genetics Of Narcissism

4. They are passive aggressive

Although they may not be highly aggressive like other Dark Triad personalities, a dark empath can have a passive aggressive personality and will exhibit signs of indirect forms of anger and aggression. Behaviors like sarcastic jokes, guilt tripping and gaslighting their victims or exploiting others are all signs of passive aggressive behavior.

5. They have low self-esteem

Being burdened with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), dark empaths tend to have low self-worth and self-esteem. They are highly insecure individuals with a constant need for validation, yet with gigantic egos. They believe they don’t deserve love or admiration as their emotional intelligence makes them self-aware of their manipulative and toxic nature. Due to their negative self-concept and shame, they often deliberately sabotage healthy relationships.

Due to a lack of self-esteem, a dark empath may often joke about their own weaknesses or disabilities, but can get easily offended when others joke about it as they are highly sensitive. They want to be loved and fulfill their needs and wants in the most selfish ways. 

6. They play the victim

Dark empaths tend to be severely neurotic which makes them prone to experiencing difficult emotions like depression, anxiety, emotional instability, anger, self‐consciousness etc. Persons with elevated levels of neuroticism respond poorly to environmental stress, interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and can experience minor frustrations as hopelessly overwhelming,” explains a study. As a result, a dark empath can become highly self-critical and end up playing the victim whenever things don’t go their way. 

Playing the victim also helps them to gain your attention & sympathy, and makes you feel ashamed and guilty. But this is only a strategy to make you do exactly what they want you to do.

Related reading: 7 Signs Someone Is Always Playing The Victim Role

7.They use your weaknesses against you

Being highly social, observant and intelligent, a dark empath can easily tune into your feelings and know exactly how you may react in certain situations. Hence, they know how to trigger you and play you in any given situation. They know how to be empathic with you to make you feel comfortable enough to open up and share all your secrets and vulnerabilities with them. Although they may make you feel supported and understood, they do not care about your feelings. They are solely focused on how to use your emotions to control, exploit and manipulate you.

Your feelings are turned into weapons by dark empaths so that they can keep you feeling weak and broken, while you become increasingly dependent on them.

8. They have a malicious sense of humor

A dark empath is a master in sarcasm. They often criticize, humiliate and bully others with their dark and spiteful jokes. Although their dark jokes can be funny for others, it can be hurtful for the person their jokes are targeted at. However, as they are highly intelligent, a dark empath’s true intentions behind their cruel, sadistic jokes can be hard to identify, unless you are aware of their dark triad traits. If you accidentally fall down and hurt yourself, a dark empath will be the first person to start laughing at you.

9. They play with your mind

Dark empaths are known to gaslight and guilt-trip their victims in order to manipulate and maintain control over others. They can easily twist the truth and will never hesitate to gaslight you and make you doubt your own self just to get things done their way. Masters at the game, these empathetic narcissists can convince you that your experiences and thoughts are not real and will make you doubt your sanity. In fact, they will even make you believe that certain experiences occur because of your mistakes, making you feel guilty. 

Related reading: Gaslighting Quiz: Am I Being Gaslighted?

A dark empath is an expert at gaslighting and will use subtle tactics that you will never be able to identify. This often helps them to intrude personal boundaries & gain power and control in a relationship.

10. They are extroverts with big egos

People with this personality trait love to socialize as they enjoy being the center of attention. Although they tend to be extroverted with excellent social skills, dark empaths don’t necessarily have positive relationships with their loved ones due to their fragile egos and poor sense of self-worth. They don’t really share close bonds with friends and family as it is often marred by toxic patterns and attachment styles. 

Even if they thrive in social situations and enjoy social interactions, dark empaths are disloyal, dubious and selfish around others.

11. They are emotionally detached

Regardless of how sensitive or empathic a dark empath is, they always keep an emotional distance, even with their loved ones. They remain emotionally detached and avoid being vulnerable with their romantic partners and others. Their emotional unavailability is a sign of their low self-esteem and mental illnesses. However, they are very careful and measured in their approach and manipulate relationships with charm, instead of strengthening bonds by being vulnerable.

As they are adept in reading your emotions and thoughts, they can easily grasp the vibe of a situation and change their approach and attitude accordingly. Although their changed behavior might fool their victims, a dark empath adapts to changing situations only to reach their goals.

Related reading: 10 Signs That Your Partner Is Becoming Emotionally Detached

12. They are selfish

Dark empaths are typically focused on their personal needs and wants instead of relationships and loved ones. It is this selfishness that drives them to control and manipulate others, albeit in subtle ways. If you are in a romantic relationship with a dark empath, you may realize that your relationship is primarily focused on meeting your partner’s dreams and whims. 

They are not known for making sacrifices or compromises in relationships, thanks to their narcissistic traits. Being sensitive and selfish, dark empaths know well how to control their relationship while keeping you blind to their manipulative tactics.

Other signs of a dark empath

Apart from the dark empath traits mentioned above, there may be some other signs that can help you identify dark empathy in someone. Some of them are mentioned below –

  • They tend to be sadistic and vengeful
  • They manipulate you emotionally
  • They seduce you with love bombing
  • They gossip constantly 
  • They can’t accept criticism or rejection 
  • They make you feel powerless and helpless
  • They lift you up then pull you down
  • They believe your problems make you weak 
  • They will charm you as long as they get what they need
  • They cheat and betray you
  • They are unpredictable and moody
  • They think they are better than others

Dark empathy vs empathy

Dark empaths do not typically share any similarities with empaths, people who experience empathy more than others. An empath can accurately understand and feel what others are experiencing. Highly sensitive & compassionate, they are often overwhelmed by the emotions of others. A dark empath, on the other hand, can recognize the thoughts and emotions of others, but takes advantage of the situation for their personal gains.

However, while empaths have high levels of affective empathy (ability to feel another’s emotions as their own), dark empaths possess cognitive empathy (capacity to understand another’s emotions). While an empath feels what you are going through, a dark empath knows what you are feeling. 

It should be noted that dark empathy is not an officially recognized mental health condition, diagnosis or symptom. 

Related reading: The Dark Side Of Being An Empath

The dark empath and cognitive empathy 

Cognitive empathy is a form of empathy where one can understand the perspective and thought process of another person without necessarily feeling the emotions of another. As a result, you can recognize and realize what someone is experiencing, but may not have any sympathy for their struggles and no intention of supporting or helping them. Also known as “empathic accuracy”, it is more about having a clear & accurate understanding about another individual’s cognition & mental state. 

Hence, a person with dark empath traits may have comprehensive knowledge about the contents of your mind but they don’t sympathize with you. Even when they know exactly what you are feeling, they are often unable to relate to your emotions. They tend to be highly logical and objective as they observe any situation from a practical perspective without being emotionally involved.

It is believed that as these individuals lack affective empathy or the ability to feel others’ emotions, they become harmful, sadistic and dangerous. “This makes sense in a way, as to manipulate others for your own gain – or indeed enjoy the pain of others – you must have at least some capacity to understand them,” explain Nadja Heym and Alexander Sumich, authors of the 2020 study. 

Related reading: 7 Signs of A Female Narcissist

As they can empathize on a cognitive level, a person with dark empath characteristics can easily manipulate and exploit you based on what they have observed and learned about you, while remaining emotionally detached. They can use your emotions against you and to their advantage as they can accurately identify and understand your triggers. Unlike narcissists or psychopaths, dark empaths are more subtle and covert and use an array of manipulation techniques like sarcastic jokes, guilt trips etc.

How dangerous is a dark empath

The researchers listed the following common behaviors in a typical dark empath –

  • Extroversion
  • Neuroticism
  • Being physically aggressive
  • Bitter sense of humor
  • Employing emotional manipulation strategies
  • Displaying passive-aggressive behaviors
  • Exploiting and taking advantage of other people
  • Becoming moody at other’s happiness
  • Exhibiting spiteful and vengeful behaviors
  • Intimidating or bullying others
  • Tendency to antagonize others
  • Tendency to enjoy others’ suffering and distress

We believe that dark empaths have the capacity to be callous and ruthless, but are able to limit such aggression,” add Heym and Sumich. Dark empaths also tend to be deceptive and dishonest. They can use an array of emotionally abusive and manipulative strategies. A dark empath can easily charm you, show you that they care and understand your pain, they can act like the perfect romantic partner or friend, they will impress your family and gain their approval. But the reality is they will do all of this only because you are valuable to them in some way or the other. They put in the effort to use, exploit and take advantage of you and the things you can offer.

Related reading: 8 Mental Abuse Tactics To Watch Out For

Some common manipulation strategies used by a dark empath may include –

  • Gaslighting
  • Sarcasm
  • Love bombing
  • Guilt tripping
  • Intimidating
  • Ghosting
  • Gossiping
  • Playing the victim

A dark empath can use numerous manipulation tactics that tend to be covert, subtle and indirect. They are usually subtle about their abusive and manipulative ways as they can clearly and accurately understand how your mind works and what your mental state is at present. This knowledge of your psychology empowers them to control and manipulate your life in a way that is hard to identify and keeps them out of the spotlight. You will never be able to trace it back to them. And this is what makes them the most dangerous personality. 

With a narcissist or a psychopath, you can spot the signs of abuse and aggression, but a dark empath will pretend to be empathetic and sympathetic with you. They will keep exploiting and abusing you right in front of your eyes, without you ever suspecting anything at all. 

Related reading: 5 Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head

The most dangerous personality

With the deadly combination of dark triad traits and high levels of empathy, the dark empath can be a dangerous individual who will reach their goals no matter who they hurt. Just because they have empathy, does not mean dark empaths are compassionate. And this is what we need to realize. Empathy can be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands and dark empaths are living proof of that.

Related reading: The Dark Triad: How To Protect Yourself From Them

By identifying these signs, you can spot if you have someone in your life with this personality and steer clear of their manipulative ways. Identifying the warning signs and red flags early can help you protect yourself and avoid getting manipulated by these calculating narcissistic psychopaths with empathy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What is the difference between an empath and a dark empath?

Normal empaths have higher levels of affective empathy which makes them feel the emotions of another person. Dark empaths have cognitive empathy which makes them understand the mindset and emotions of another individual, but not necessarily feel them as their own emotions.

Do dark empaths have empathy?

Yes. Dark empaths possess high cognitive empathic abilities which enables them to read the mindset of other people. This ability enables them to be highly social and manipulate people easily.

How common are dark empaths?

According to recent research, 20% of the participants, from a group of 991 people, had both dark triad traits and cognitive empathy.

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