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.

13 thoughts on “The Three Strands of Empathy

  1. A Victor says:

    HG, now I’m super confused, here you say all who have empathy have contagion empathy, which would include normals and even narcissistic individuals i guess, but on the other thread said not all empath’s have contagion. Is it a different contagion that you’re speaking about in each place?

    1. HG Tudor says:

      No, I did not write that. I wrote that it is three elements of that particular strand of empathy.

      whereby one is able (1) to instinctively feel the emotional state of another person,(2) feel a need to address that emotional state and therefore (3)show the appropriate concern for the individual usually through actions, as opposed to solely through words. Those are the three elements within the one strand of empathy, namely emotional empathy.

      1. A Victor says:

        Oh, yes, that makes sense! Thank you for that HG, very much!

      2. A Victor says:

        Just to be sure i have it right, that Contagion strand of empathy is going to be a much milder “feeling” than an actual Contagion will feel, is that right? So all empath’s do not have Contagion but all have that strand and will have the capacity to feel something, basically empathy? If that wrong, pretty please tell me? Otherwise, I think I got it. And thanks again!

      3. Contagious says:

        I agree for whatever that adds or is worth. I feel as a contagian we know. But we fail in point 2 and 3 without HGs help.

  2. Another Cat says:

    Dear HG
    As a hopeless truthseeker I noticed new statistical proof for your observations, the ones about the distribution of empaths, around 25 percent wasn’t it?

    Back in November I came across a scientific article about helping out, taking a risk for a stranger, by two female researchers. I’m sorry I forgot where I found it.

    They asked a couple of hundred people on campus, around a university entrance door to help them finding the way to a specific location.

    Turned out, every FOURTH person was willing to _walk a few blocks with a stranger_ to help them out. The rest were either just pointing in a direction “it’s over there”, or not answering the callers at all, walking away.

    That certainly rang a happy bell for me. Sounds like empaths?

  3. lisk says:

    Except in cases where my immediate family or very close friends are ill, I do not empathize with the sick, especially at work.

    In my younger days, I had too much exposure to people who used illness to manipulate, and I see the same happening way too much in the workplace. I am also a strong defender of privacy rights with regards to health, especially mine, and I really wish people would shut up about it in the office. Plus, it’s they become so damn boring–it is often their only focus of everyday conversation, especially as they get closer to retirement.

    I often feel I have to force myself to say, “Good to see you back! Are you feeling better?” Ugh, so painful to even write that here. I am sure it comes across as phony to them. I begrudgingly sign Get Well cards for coworkers. It is painful for me to compose something “nice” to say and I do not like being fake about it. I try to be as honest and “caring” as I can and keep it very short.

    1. NarcAngel says:

      When I was presented with a card at work I would simply sign my name – no personal note. They were acknowledged and I avoided (in most cases) having to lie. Win/win.

  4. Violetta says:

    2 out of 3 for me, sometimes. When my then-boyfriend’s father died, I held him while he cried and let him talk, but my relationship with my own father was so troubled, I couldn’t relate.

  5. cadavera666 says:

    I’ve felt this way a few times that I can recall. Whereas I’m normally brimming over with empathic feelings, it’s very odd to not feel anything. I remember feeling nothing when a salon coworker and a few friends and I were building stations for her salon. One of the guys had a large sheet of metal and caught her across the cheek leaving a good sized gash in its wake. She had been a good friend of mine for a few years but she was taking a lot of the attention of the one who accidentally cut her with the sheet of metal and when it happened, I felt nothing. I didn’t feel happy as in “haha, you got yours!” but I was completely unconcerned about her getting cut. This was 26 years ago and I was going through a lot with the suicide of my dad a year prior still affecting me due to the legal battle I had taken on as his executor. To say I wasn’t in my right mind would be an understatement. From time to time, I experience this with my own mother and this is because she continues to steamroll over my boundaries and continues her abusive nonsense and after nearly 50 years of this, I really don’t like or respect her much. But, two nights ago, a friend was telling me the story of her son and the abuse he received from a pedophile at his group home and I got all teary-eyed and upset over that so I guess my empathy has exceptions or is situational depending on how I feel about the person? Maybe? The incident with my coworker getting cut wouldn’t occur today as I was a bitch about that whole thing before and today, I’d be concerned about her getting cut. I used to be petty and spiteful at times–not that I can’t be that way today but I’d like to think I’ve grown up some. Good series HG!

    1. HG Tudor says:

      Thank you


  7. Pingback: The Three Strands of Empathy ⋆ NarcTopia

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

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