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.

32 thoughts on “The Three Strands of Empathy

  1. Heidi says:

    HG you say ” 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.”

    I don’t understand how a contagion can feel what you feel if you don’t feel, so here it sounds more like cognitive empathy, doesn’t it? A contagion – if per definition- should be able to detect you are a narcissist , at least after some interaction.
    Or do you mean the fuel is available for you to be absorbed when the contagion is charged up by someone else?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      You have misunderstood. The contagion empath responds with a fuelled reaction because of what they feel either from us (we do feel, we do have emotions, we are not emotionless, but our range is much smaller) or from somebody affected by our behaviour, e.g. the reaction of a child.

      1. Contagious says:

        Agreed. And the feeling you get from all narcs or psychopaths is different and I can easily “ read” normals or Empaths. Empaths are lovely like a warm hug. But…. I spoke of opposing counsel, a psychopath Russian repressing a criminal public contractor facing FBI charges, and he disturbed me to no ends. He looked at me and I felt naked. Coldest state ever. I wanted to take a shower after each hearing. He was a bully. I stood up to him and he didn’t like it. Sent people to my home to show me. I felt cold. Fury. And oddly he sexually wanted me. I think that’s why the feeling of a shower. Predator. My feeling was run. Stay far away. But you can feel them too.

    2. Leigh says:

      HI Heidi,
      If I may add my two cents about the Contagion empath. I only have a small percent of Contagion, but I’ll explain how it feels to me. I can’t read there mind. Oh boy, I wish I could. I feel the emotion they are feeling, but not always because I only have a small percentage. I really can only feel it when someone’s emotion is heightened. When an unaware narcissist sets his sites on us, he believes that he’s attracted to us. He feels infatuation and lust. He may even at some point think he’s in love. A Contagion empath would feel those emotions. They can’t feel that the narcissism is under the surface guiding the narcissist on what emotions to use to ensnare the victim. I can only feel the emotion they are feeling, not the reason they are feeling it.

      1. Heidi says:

        Hello Leigh,
        thank you for your two cents. I am majority contagion but my perception of feelings of others is more through a rational filter than in feeling what they feel. I think my experience (I am 44) brought me fast intuitive first guessing as an essence of what I’ve learned. But when I got time to consider my reactions, I put my perception under rational filters. I cannot read minds, I cannot look inside others, but I can guess based upon experience.
        Narcissism can be detected by being self-aware I suppose. With self-consciousness you can see when someone is playing games. The question is how long to endure that before losing nerves or sanity. Most stress for me is when someone doesn’t know his/her own motive and wants to sell me one that I can clearly see as not accurate.
        I cannot feel other’s feelings, it’s more about earned experience n distance to own emotions that enables me to switch perspectives.
        Maybe I am different from other contagion, as I am in addition schizophrenic.

        1. Leigh says:

          Hi Heidi, thank you for explaining how the Contagion element works in you. Your ability to perceive someone’s feeling in a rational way is fascinating to me. I think its probably a combination of experience and the Contagion element. I only have 8% Contagion and before I found Mr. Tudor, only sometimes, could I rationalize that their behaviors didn’t match the feelings they were projecting. Most of the time, because I’m an empath and addicted to narcissists, I would often con myself into giving them an excuse for their erratic behavior. Now that I’ve found Mr. Tudor and have awareness, I can see the manipulative behavior much more clearly and I won’t give the narcissist an excuse any longer.

          Thank you for sharing. I appreciate it.

    3. Leigh says:

      HI Heidi,
      After thinking about it a little bit more, I think there may be a chance we can sense it but we may not know why or what we’re sensing. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share what I mean. A few years ago, I was involved with a former coworker. I didn’t know at the time I was dealing with a narcissist. I also didn’t have the knowledge that I now have about narcissism, thanks to Mr. Tudor and this blog. The very first time I met this coworker, I felt a twinge in my gut. It shook me. It felt like I needed to stand up and take notice of this man. I became intrigued with him. Now knowing what I know about narcissism and the addition to them, I know that was my contagion element warning me. I often talk about my spidey sense or my guardian angel who sits on my shoulder and has guided me through my life. That’s what that twinge was, my guardian angel or spidey sense trying to warn me. I didn’t heed that warning. But all’s well that end’s well because I found Mr. Tudor and narcsite because of that experience. So to add my two cents again, the more I thought about what you and Contagion wrote, the more I realized its quite possible that we can sense narcissists. We just have to learn to listen to those signals and how to decipher them.

      1. Heidi says:

        Hello @Leigh,
        thank you for your thoughts, exchange is precious for me and HG’s blog is a good place for collecting or spending cents 😉
        I am also very grateful for having HG’s work available and appreciate talking about it.
        I wouldn’t say behaviour is encrypted, although of course motives are. In my eyes: if you know what you want, are aware of your own motives, are honest to yourself, it’s easier to decipher.

        1. Leigh says:

          Hi Heidi, the reason I think Mr. Tudor’s blog is so import is because I wasn’t always aware of my own motives. Before finding Mr. Tudor I hadn’t realized that it was my addiction to narcissists that was driving me. So because I allowed my addiction to drive me, I wasn’t honest with myself and so I couldn’t decipher the narcissist’s behavior. I would always just take the path of least resistance. This way I could feed my addiction and try to calm the chaos around me as well.

          I would agree that behavior is not encrypted. We can change our behaviors. Even the narcissist can. I would agree that the narcissist’s motives are encrypted. There motive is always the Prime Aims. However, I do think a normal or an empath can change their motives once they’re been given clarity.

          Yes, Mr. Tudor’s blog is a great place for collecting and spending cents.

          1. Heidi says:

            Hello Leigh,
            I personally don’t see why I should not allow my addiction to get what it wants if it is a conscious decision. Evil arises from unconsciousness on both sides. If kind of a contract is made, i.e. if I know what I want and can see what I get, where is the problem?
            Getting to analyze your own motives is best choice to make.
            The problem with the addiction is, that it increases emotional thinking (HG’s thesis) and emotional thinking leads to self-deception concerning motives (my thesis).

          2. Leigh says:

            Hi Heidi, the problem with feeding the addiction is the aftermath. I suppose if one is OK with sustained abuse, then that’s on them. The other problem is that we often don’t know we are being sold something different then what we intended to purchase.

            I’ve been ensnared since birth. Both my parents are narcissists. I’m in my 50s now and no longer want to feed my addiction. It’s not all its cracked up to be.

    4. Joa says:


      when I met N2, I sensed its darkness very quickly. Much darker, than anyone I’ve ever known.

      When we agreed on our first date, I drove up in the car and he was waiting. My first reaction was: “Keep going, don’t stop here.” I stopped. We looked at each other through the glass. “Run. Go home.” I got out of the car.

      The first time we slept together, his translucent aggression, his lack of real contact with me, his reaching for me as a thing – turned me on and put me off at the same time.

      When he fell asleep, I wrote him a very short letter, summarizing my impressions after sex and said goodbye to him. I thought, I still had one last chance to escape… I quietly left his house.

      He chased me like a helpless little child, who woke up in a freezing house and couldn’t find his mother. He didn’t let go me. He didn’t let go me at all. One of the few moments in our relationship, where he almost begged and whimpered (there were only three such moments). I felt a strange satisfaction, that he needed me so much and warmth spread inside me… It’s over, I’m lost…

      I was fascinated by this duality. Damn curious. Enchanted with the task that lay ahead of me (at that time I was very confident in myself and my “healing” powers). Maximum stimulated desire to take care of this man, to show him the fire of love.

      I fell in love with his dark abyss, which was abundantly watered with sauce of childish sensitivity and naivety. He is like death. But he is also like life. All in one person.

      I entered this abyss, knowing it, with great self-confidence and an unshakeable conviction, that I would be able to illuminate this darkness.


      This abyss turned out to be much deeper and darker than I had once thought. Bottomless abyss.

      I think my contagious traits made me go much lower than most people in his life. As if he enjoyed torturing me, as he opened another door leading lower and lower. Everything was covered with fog and heavy vapors, that made it impossible for me to breathe.

      Two years ago I came very deep, it was very cold, it was very empty, it was very sad, it was very disgusting. Like in a dark cabinet of crooked mirrors. A huge bubble of grief, despair, helplessness, his loneliness (among people), his indifference and surrender long ago, tore my lungs apart for two months. Death.

      I had to leave this place, I had gone too far. I realized I couldn’t help him 🙁 It’s too late. I had to turn around and go back.


      I can’t give up. It’s not in my nature. I got used to its darkness. A new concept of “cooperation” appears in my head… The plot of the third volume of our reationship is tempting, although I know, that the ending will be either boring and mundane or criminal.


      I wrote here about my feelings, not about the specific facts of his life and his guilts.

      I fell in love with his darkness. Because it resembles my darkness. I thought, I would lighten it up the same way.

      Of course, in addition to this deep level, there was also a cascade of colorful and beautiful feelings. No one has ever made me laugh so well and comforted me so quickly 🙂 And life went on with an ordinary/extraordinary rhythm.

  2. Dolores Haze says:

    HG, would you say that a relationship with a Narc makes the Empath’s empathic traits flare up? Say, a person doesn’t walk around with a bubbling Codependent or Super Empathic cocktail bursting out of him, and it only manifests when interacting with a Narcissist?

  3. zielum says:


    I can really only feel empathy for “ideas” of things. So stories, movies, etc. I can–if they’re written well enough–be pretty moved. Or like, the “idea” of homelessness, the “idea” of minorities facing discrimination, etc–they get me. But when I’m faced with any of these things in person/real life: zero empathy, zero feelings.

    Also, sorta kinda with animals, I think? It would be cognitive, I guess. Although when I was younger, I used to be intensely empathetic to them in an emotional way. I grew out of that once I hit adulthood. Still love cats though <3

    I can't even imagine having contagion empathy. I've seen it happen with other people and in movies, like where best friends get super stoked for each other. My best friend in HS used to try it on me…I always sat there smiling nervously, having no clue what to do lol

    Good thing we do have empaths in the world though; you guys are probably the group that is most involved in activism, and we need that.

    1. Contagious says:

      I think contagion empathy has greater mirroring abilities (science) and intuition abilities. Also I write a lot in the contagian empath blog about dreams. I feel we have a link to dreams. There is not a lot scientifically published about dreams but you use 30% more of your brain when you sleep. Also only a small percent has lucid dreams and there are those like myself who guide lucid dreams. In history I read dreams made prophets and they had dreams. I think that contagian Empaths are those with those dreams. I have searched my whole life for answers but contagians “ know” consciously and subconsciously. We need to examine both to face reality. Like I love a narc. Our ET does not save us at first but we ignore it often consciously and subconsciously. I had dreams that were more on point than my conscious self .

  4. Mercy says:

    Thank you HG. I don’t think I could pull off talking about a hypothetical friend. My luck, she would keep asking me how my friend is doing and I’d die of shame for lying. I did tell her about the problems my daughter is having hoping it would give her an opening to talk but it didn’t. I will give her her privacy for now.

    If I am right (I feel very strongly that I am), would this be considered emotional empathy, or contagion? Im not sure if I’m sensing her emotions or feeling them.

    1. HG Tudor says:

      From the brief description provided it presents as emotional empathy.

  5. Mercy says:

    I have a co-worker who has been “off” lately. It’s been about 2 weeks. She talks and laughs with us still, but I know something is wrong. The best way for me to explain it is that the air feels thick with worry and sadness when I’m around her. Nobody else in the office has indicated that they’ve noticed. It’s driving me nuts not to ask, but I don’t want to intrude.

    1. HG Tudor says:

      You might try to talk about the hypothetical friend of yours who is experiencing problems, with her, to see if it resonates and creates an opening for her to speak to you about her own issues. If she does not do so then either you have misjudged the situation (I suspect that is unlikely) or she is not willing to engage and that is a matter for her, not you.

    2. Notme! says:

      Hi Mercy
      You’re not mistaken, if something seems off it’s because it is. Don’t ask her, just tell her. ‘You can talk to me if you’d like’, ‘you seem ‘off’, ‘you look tired/sad/different’, ‘I’m worried about you’, ‘I care about you’ etc. just one sentence so she knows you’ve noticed, if she denies it, she doesn’t want to talk. More likely she’ll start to cry and either talk or not.

      1. Notme! says:

        Mercy, I agree that it sounds like emotional empathy. If YOU felt anxious, sad, frightened, hurt etc when you were with her and knew those weren’t related to what is going on in your life, that would be contagion. Contagion empathy usually takes me a little while to recognise. So it might take a few times of feeling something from the person that I realise ‘oh wait, that’s not mine, it hers/his’

    3. Contagious says:

      Trust. If contagian, you know. Ask her.

  6. Liza says:

    is it possible to be incompetent in congnitif empathy, and have emotional empathy?

    1. HG Tudor says:


      1. Violetta says:

        Sounds like me.

      2. Violetta says:

        Oh dear, just took an online empathy test. 20-something out of 80. Apparently, I’m in Aspie territory.

    2. Liza says:

      so i’m not misreading my case.
      i can feel the emotions of others and see when there is a change in the mood, but i’m always clueless when it come to the “why”.

      1. Notme! says:

        I don’t think cognitive empathy necessarily tells us why a person is feeling something (although it might be obvious). Cognitive empathy is more about recognising signs and symptoms of emotions (like noticing her brow is knit and her hand goes to her mouth), rather than understanding and identifying with them – like ‘oh god, she must be worried sick whilst putting your hand to your mouth’

        1. Notme! says:

          If being in the worried persons vicinity causes your stomach to turn over, her heart rate to rise and you to feel prickles on your skin whether you know what is going for them or not – contagion. I think anyway

  7. ThePolicyOfTruth says:

    Do normals have much of these traits?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Please see The Empathy Cake.

      1. ThePolicyOfTruth says:

        Noted, thank you.

Vent Your Spleen! (Please see the Rules in Formal Info)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.