The Three Strands of Empathy


The concept of empathy can be divided into three types. There are three identifiable strands.

First of all there is the idea of cognitive empathy whereby one can understand the point of view of another person. I am able to understand another person’s point of view but I will rarely accede to it, unless I see some ulterior gain to be obtained from expressing that I understand their point of view. Even where I explain I understand, I am still unlikely to accept it. The Lesser and the Mid-Range are unable to understand that person’s point of view because it will oppose their own, stand in the way of what they want to achieve and frustrate their aims owing to their differing perspective. They lack the cognitive function to address this. Of course, empathic individuals are experts at understanding another person’s point of view but they will go further than this. They will exhibit patience to allow that point of view to be articulated, they will ask questions to draw out this view and they will apply it to their own situation and experiences. Empathic individuals want to understand the other person’s point of view. They not only give it a platform to begin with, but they also allow it to be aired, expanded and applied. It is little wonder therefore that this cognitive empathy bleeds into the empathic traits of patience, needing to understand and needing to know the truth. Furthermore, having such cognitive empathy means that the empathic individual is far more susceptible to the word salad, circular conversations, lies and half-answers that our kind provide. The empathic individual endures these manipulations as he or she tries to wade through the quagmire in order to flex their cognitive empathy so that they understand the narcissist’s point of view. Of course, since our point of view operates from a completely distorted and different perspective, you have little hope of achieving it.

Secondly, there is also empathy concern whereby one is able to recognise the emotional state of another person, feel a need to address that emotional state and therefore exhibit the appropriate concern for the individual. In all three schools of narcissism, our capacity with regard to empathy concern is skewed. The Greater is always able to perform the recognition part of this but has never been created with the sense of needing to address it even though our increased cognitive function means we can work out, through observation and experience, what the appropriate concerned response should be. This means that we can recognise somebody is in distress, understand that they need help but feel no compulsion whatsoever to provide it. We will however, because we have two of the three parts of empathy concern, feign a concern based on our understanding, but only if we see it as serving our interests. This is why, during seduction especially or for the benefit of the façade during devaluation, we can appear that we are concerned that somebody is worried or upset. We do not feel any need to assist them, but we recognise our own need can be served by doing so.

The Lesser is able to recognise the emotional state of another person, feels no need to address it and is unable to exhibit the appropriate concern for the individual. As a consequence, even during seduction, the Lesser will present as blank-faced when dealing with certain emotional episodes and will often vacate him or herself from the situation. During devaluation, he will only see the fuel advantage from this emotional state and indeed rather than be supportive, since he feels no need to, he will just exploit it further.

The Mid-Ranger also recognises the emotional state, feels no need to address it and has a limited repertoire by way of fake concern. Thus in some instances he can pretend that he is concerned and in others he has no answer and will leave the victim to their woe and distress and has enough calculation to state he has somewhere urgent he must be and thus he escapes the demand for assistance and help made by the victim.

Unsurprisingly, the empathic individual has all three elements of this particular strand of empathy intact and in intense quantities. The empathic individual is able to recognise the emotional state of another with considerable ease, even if they are trying to mask it. They absolutely feel and recognise the need to do something when they see somebody else’s emotional reaction. This compulsion is almost irresistible for the empathic individual and they are also fully-acquainted with what they should do by way of response. They will share in the joy, congratulate when someone is happy through good news, console when someone is miserable and hold them when they are heart-broken. The empathic individual is no different with our kind and see our emotional response – albeit from a limited selection – feels the need to address it and also knows how to address it. Thus when we discharge our fury, our hatred, our envy and our antipathy, the empathic individual owing to this concern empathy is always galvanised into action, will rarely shirk the challenge and addresses the issue even at considerable cost to themselves.

Finally there comes the idea of the emotional contagion. This is a deep-seated and one may even regard it as a spiritual element of the empathic individual. This is not just about understanding a point of view or recognising an emotional need and response, this is about feeling the emotion just as somebody else does. Thus if a friend is upset over the death of a parent, the empathic individual is contaminated by this grief and experiences the same emotions as if they were grieving themselves. This not only means that they fountain with fuel which of course our kind will exploit but that they are powered into recognising the need and doing something about even more than would be afforded by the cognitive empathy and concern empathy. The emotional contagion exists in all empathic individuals but is more intense in certain people. Indeed, its intensity may even go beyond being proximate to the person experiencing the emotion. A highly-attuned individual with the emotional contagion will watch a television programme and where the main character is frightened,they will feel that fear also. They will read a moving newspaper article about the plight of an orphan and they will feel that despair as well. It is an immensely powerful part of empathy and causes the empathic individual to have to respond to it.

We have no such emotional contagion. It is completely absent and therefore we have nothing which might cause us to feel something so we act upon it. There is nothing there. The plight of the orphan is not felt by us and we are utterly unmoved. The fear of the heroine on television is regarded with annoyance since our primary source seems more concerned about that person than us. The only time that we regard this emotional contagion as any use is when it serves our purposes when the empathic individual fountains with fuel because of it and directs their empathic traits towards us. We do not have this contagion and we do not feel anything in the way that you would do.

13 thoughts on “The Three Strands of Empathy

  1. Becoming Observant says:

    Annoyed by the empathic contagion during a gripping movie… Is this why some ppl feel compelled to break the tension during climactic movie moments? Which is the better response from the empath: to unemotionally ask the interrupter to wait (never letting the eyes leave the screen), or to unemotionally hit pause, smile pleasantly, and tend to the “need” of the interrupter? At our house, the “interrupter” could be my husband or one of the (teenage) kids.

  2. Jasmine says:

    Ah yes.. I have this in spades.

  3. Becoming Observant says:

    Can adults become narcissists? I want to. I really, really do.

    My goodness, I would LOVE to get rid of the emotional contagion. I try. If there is too much emotion (or noise), strife, angst – whatever – in a room, I have to walk out and find a dark, quiet place to block it out. Most people who exude strife do not recognize (or want) solutions, although they pretend to want solutions when vocalizing them. I want to fix the problems, offer solutions, but this just fuels the whiners into telling me all of the reasons that my solutions won’t work. I try to avoid these scenarios by vacating a room when I hear the “tone”, the whining/complaining tone of the unsolvable complaintant; drown it out with white noise in a black, dark, cold space, and distract myself with something mindless: Candy Crush works, sadly.

    The more you teach your audience, the more I read and learn, the less I love that part of myself which can reach out and help people, the part that can sense the struggling person in the room and make them feel better. The older I get, the more often the person in “need” is malign. I want to turn it off. Save myself. Save my family. They pay for every friendship I forge….

  4. NarcAngel says:


    But when a narcissist does something that APPEARS thoughtful, considerate, and kind, it is only for the facade-to make themselves look good or to further their own aims. Not because they feel it. IMO.

  5. Suzie says:

    The empath usually feels the emotions of others unless extremely tired, stressed or otherwise in severe distress, then we tend to digress. Whereas the narcissist usually doesn’t care about other people’s feelings they occasionally can do something thoughtful, considerate and kind. Its all a matter of to what degree people do what they do.

  6. Sophia says:

    I have strong amounts of the empathic emotional contagion. I could send some your way. 😉😂

  7. Jude the Obscure says:

    Some of us empaths who have the emotional contagion and feel the emotions of others as if they are our own, once we’ve figured out what we’ve been ensnared by and have escaped and implemented no contact, feel, in a very visceral way, your fury, your rage, the howling darkness surging up from the abyss inside you as the creature rattles it’s cage and threatens to break free and, I dare say (although I can’t speak for all of us), it gives us some small comfort.

  8. Stalemate says:

    I don’t know why but reading this made me feel very sad. Even moved me to tears. I feel compassion for narsissists as you aren’t able to experience this kind of emotion. I wish there was a way to heal that. It seems, to me, an empty way to live. I’m sorry HG! For whatever happened that broke this in you, l’m truly sorry!

  9. Susan Kay says:

    With the ability to feel emotion how does the empath then not have the ability to discern its absence. They actually do. However in the midst of the emotional internal battle staged and orchestrated by the narcissist the empath will lie to theselves first and foremost. I laughed outloud…at myself of course. Well done Mr. Tudor.

  10. gabbanzobean says:

    It is so fitting to read this as I am struggling to understand my mid-ranger in regard to his “cognitive empathy”. So when he tells me he is depressed, upset, blue, frustrated, etc. he does not really feel those emotions, you say that he just says he does to provoke the sympathy and pity. Well, I “poked the bear” so to say. I tried to get him to elaborate more on these faked “feelings” to talk to me about why. It pretty much pushed him into a silent treatment. When I politely explained that his silence hurt my feelings and I wished I had the courtesy of an explanation he got irritated at me and said “You are not my wife or my girlfriend, I owe you no such courtesy…” Is that because there is no explanation? Or he was letting me know how insignificant I am to him? Or both perhaps?

    He then apologized for this nastiness. I thought your kind never apologizes. Why would he apologize?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      It is false contrition. It is done to manipulate, gain fuel, exert control, promote the facade.

  11. Laurie says:

    Hi , HG. A question. In a coterie comprised of a collection of narcissists with one ringleader narcissist is the empathy of all the coterie members towards each other fake as well? Example. Head narcissist or member of the coterie gets ill, robbed, experiences the death of a spouse. Is the ostensible empathy and hand holding all fake or is there a a whiff of genuineness amongst them. I have often wondered how someone I experience as being emotionally dead inside can suddenly be so giving to a close family member or supposedly good friend when a crisis arrives. Just more N supply if they look caring? Just taking care of a favorite appliance?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Correct Laurie, it will be cognitive (fake) empathy from Mid Ranger and Greater Narcissists (mainly MR).

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