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, recognise and understand what the emotions of another person mean and what the accepted response should be. 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.

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.

Greater Narcissists have substantial cognitive empathy. We understand the other person’s point of view and emotions. We also know how to respond so we can mimic the external indicators of those emotions which we do not possess (such as joy, happiness, sadness or concern) and thus we fit in with those around us with considerable ease. There is the slightest discernible delay as we rapidly recall what the appropriate response is and then ensure we arrange our features, language, tone and body language to match the emotion we wish to convey. We do not feel it.

Mid Range Narcissists has good cognitive empathy and therefore follow a similar path to that of the Greater Narcissist, however there may be more of a delay before the mimicked emotion is displayed. Sometimes the MRN will get it wrong and provide a response which is somewhat out of sync to what is required, or may come across as stiff and robotic, since they do not have the practised ease of the Greater in mimicking the acceptable response.

As for the Lesser Narcissist, they either have no cognitive empathy at all (Lower Lesser and Middle Lesser) or very limited cognitive empathy (Upper Lesser) accordingly you will be faced with someone staring at you as they are unable to comprehend what they should be doing. This coupled with their lack of awareness means they often have no idea that there is something wrong and similarly have no idea of what the appropriate response ought to be.

Secondly, there is also empathy concern or emotional empathy whereby one is able to instinctively feel the emotional state of another person, feel a need to address that emotional state and therefore show the appropriate concern for the individual usually through actions, as opposed to solely through words.

In all three schools of narcissism, our capacity with regard to emotional empathy is absent. We feel nothing for anybody else. Our cognitive empathy (where applicable) enables us to recognise something is wrong, what the response of the individual means (anger, hurt, upset, frustration etc) and therefore we can (should we deem it in our interests (calculated where Greater or instinct for the Mid Range Narcissist) to respond in a particular way, but we do not feel anything. There is no emotional response from us to your situation. We do not share your joy, we do not feel the need to comfort you because of your pain, we do not feel concern in our chests for your misfortune. We merely observe and intellectualise the response (where appropriate).

We feel nothing.

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. An element of 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. Those with a majority element of the emotional contagion (the Contagion Empath) experiences the positive and negative feelings or energy of others, even when distant and this feels uplifting possibly overpowering, or draining and indeed burdensome. Those with the majority element of the emotional contagion feel a deep-seated connection, they experience the ‘presence of others’ and find it necessary at times to remain away from people in order to divest themselves of the deleterious effects of being able to ‘feel’ so much.

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.

10 thoughts on “The Three Strands of Empathy

  1. Monie Burns says:

    What then does the narcissist mean when they say that they’re depressed? What exactly are they going through if they can’t feel sadness?

  2. Cathy says:

    Excellent excellent!
    I never heard the Contagion Empath discussed before, but I would be an extreme Contagion empath. Everything you say is right on. You described it perfectly.
    If I may take it a step further, besides feeling what someone near us feels, as if we’re living it; or movies as if we’re living it; sometimes we will have a vision or flash of exactly what happened as if we’re in it and it’s happening in real time. I’ll use a passing ambulance as an example. It’s possible feel what happened to the person to nearly blacking out a moment.
    For me I have no control when this happens, but some have control.
    But sometimes if we’re close to someone Like the Narc during lovebombing , we could potentially see images of them with another person, or trolling for sex. It can be really …not good. Also, we may not understand what we saw for a long time.
    I’m having fun on your blog HG. Its keeping me away from the Narc and mentally occupied.

    1. Twilight says:


      I call the visions echos or breaking through the veil. I am A Contagion Empath, I have known sense I was a young child. I have “honed” my abilities for many years. I do not have to be in proximity to “know” things about people, being in contact makes this “known” stronger.

      Everything is made of energy….

  3. kaydiva3 says:

    This explains why my ex MRN would hug me after making me cry, but smirk while he was doing it.

  4. Whitney says:

    I’ve spent many nights crying from others’ pain.
    Like after I read “How Love is Taught”. It will stay inside my heart always.

    I was debilitated by anguish in my twenties, because of orphans. I sponsored an orphan but I told the charity it was IMPERATIVE they didn’t send me a photo or tell me ANYTHING about the orphan. That would have destroyed me. It was too painful for me.

    In psychology I learnt a story of abuse, of a girl, and of animal testing. Both effected me so strongly, I was distraught for weeks and effected for years. I was so ANGRY, why did the lecturer tell us these things, so lightly? Why did no one else care? I didn’t know I was an Empath. Why did the 100 other students not blink?

    I need to block my ears, leave the room, I can’t know. It hurts too much. I feel it.

    I carry my family and friends’ feelings. On a deep level. All the intricacies of it. That’s why I didn’t know I was a Carrier Empath. I just act. It’s natural.

    1. Cathy says:

      You mentioned animals. Do you find u have unusual connections and communication with them? Or like seeing those horrible tv commercials with Sara MacLaughlin singing and the animals were abused…..u probably have to change the channel or leave the room?

      1. Whitney says:

        Hi Cathy,
        Yes if there is a threat of seeing animal abuse I will close eyes, plug ears, and leave room. If anyone gets near the topic I tell them “don’t say anything about animal abuse”, if I’m worried they might I will plug ears. It has annoyed people haha. If someone shares animal abuse on facebook I delete them. I can’t risk it. It will debilitate and destroy me for a week and I’ll never forget it.

        I used to be the same with child abuse but I became more desensitized. But obviously child abuse is much worse.

        I don’t think I have an unusual connection with animals. What about you Cathy?

    2. Anna says:

      Whitney, thank you for sharing your experience.

      I also am able to experience other people’s emotional pain. I do not though consider myself to be an empath. I just believe I have some empathic traits.

      My partner finds it amusing if we watch a film together and I start to tear up or even cry.

      Sometimes I feel I am too weak for this world. I do not understand just like you why others do not experience this.

  5. njfilly says:

    Dear Mr. HG Tudor,

    It is very generous of you to so freely answer people’s questions on your blog. Thank you for all the help you have provided.

    I am still trying to determine what I am. I can see myself illustrated in your articles pertaining to empaths. Although apparently I have some indicators of narcissism as well. So I am very confused.

    I read a comment you wrote to somebody about an article titled Narcissist vs. Narcissism, or something similar. I can’t find the comment again, or the article. Do you know what article I am referring to and could you please tell me the title again? Also, I was wondering if you were familiar with other psychiatric disorders due to your intelligence and insight into people? Lastly, what is your opinion of psychiatrists in general? Do you think they can offer help to some people, assuming they are qualified?

    Thank you English Godfather.

    1. HG Tudor says:

      You are welcome.

      Narcissistic or Narcissist – it is posting again very soon.
      I understand about other psychiatric disorders yes, but I am not an expert with regard to them, narcissism is the area of my expertise.
      Psychiatrists can offer help, of course.

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