10 thoughts on “Can Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths Feel Empathy, Sadness, or Remorse?

  • August 16, 2017 at 11:25 am


    Very well done and very well researched. This fits with my clinical experiences
    in behavioral health of over 40 years and as a psychology professor X 13 years.

    Narcissistic personality disorder occupies a cluster considered “wild” along with histrionic, borderline, and antisocial. There are some who do not meet the full criteria but show degrees of these traits. I refer to them as antisocial personality orientations.

    Personality begins to show itself around the age of 3; is dynamically formed by numerous interactions with others; it begins to consolidate in our early 20’s; and becomes relatively fixed in our early 30’s. In my clinical experience these full-blown personality disorders are ego-syntonic, meaning persons are relatively
    OK being this way. And they are very challenging to work with in psychotherapy.

    Thanks much for your article,
    Rich, MSW

    • August 17, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Thank you for your kind feedback, Richard! And thanks for sharing your professional observations.

      All the best!

  • August 16, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    As one who has struggled with my own narcissistic past and the fallout from relationships with narcissists, I believe this is an important and objective “document” on the subject. Great work psyschcentral.com and Mr. Cikanavicius

  • August 26, 2017 at 9:46 am

    My six year old son’s dad fits these descriptions to the letter. At the end of our marriage, he admitted sex addiction. Some of his closest friends also see the narcissistic characteristics. In a nutshell: We had a twelve year relationship (5 dating, 7 married) 6+ prostitutes, 3 coworker affairs, and an ongoing 12 year affair with his first ex-wife (whom it turns out, he constantly cheated during their marriage as well). Yet, when I filed for divorce his story: he wanted to work on the marriage, I chose to end it–our divorce is my fault.
    He admits it is his fault, but yet there is no remorse or responsibility for what he has done. I could write a whole book…but I will stop here.

    My question: how do I protect my son!?! How do I deal with him and the narcissist behavior? We have 50/50 custody. Zero contact with him is NOT an option. My son is a fantastic, sweet little boy. He has historically been a fantastic negotiator…at some point does this turn into manipulator? Or is it just normal kid stuff?

    I have come across some great articles, including this one, describing narcissists but the articles stop short at how to deal with them. Advice and resource suggestions please!

    • August 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Based on my 40+ years as a clinician in behavioral healthcare and 13 years as a psychology professor X 13 years, here are my suggestions.

      Right now your son is too young to filter his experiences with his father. Your son engages in primary process thinking which is more magical based. Around ages 9 to 10, he will show a shift to secondary process which becomes more realistic thinking. It is then the two of you can have discussions about his experiences with his father. And these discussions can continue thru adolescence when he exhibits critical thinking. In his early 20’s he will exhibit moral and executive thinking and see his father much more realistic.

      When I worked with young children I engaged them in mutual-story telling and used a clinical game called “Talking, Doing, Feeling”. At some point you may want to consult a child-adolescent psychotherapist.

      There are no other quick solutions here, and I hope this helps a little.
      Best to you and your son.
      Rich, MSW

  • December 4, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Can Narcissists feel empathy? Absolutely!!Empathy is incredibly desired by the narcissist, but for themselves. The first mistake that more balanced people do is to try to apply their owns morals and ethics to a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.The conscience of such people is, as in Dr. Stanton Samenow’s words, “tattered”.Narcissists know exactly what empathy is , remember one of the most powerful tools in their tool box is to play the victim; this is to enlist from the potential source the all desirable commodity of EMPATHY (also known as Narcissistic Supply)from their prey. Narcissists are not crazy nor illogical, once you try to see things from their perspective.They have a very impressive toolbox of manipulative gestures that they have spent nearly all of their lives developing; there is no technique that is too low for a Narcissists to use to accomplish the ultimate goal of winning at all costs. Do Narcissists understand the difference between right and wrong? Oh yes, that is precisely why they will lie, contort, manipulate and be deceptive in every way possible to avoid or prevent YOU from seeing the truth. Have you been used by an accomplished Narcissist? Nothing is more breathtaking than to “see” the incredible ability of a Narcissist to “groom” their prey and do the take-down. Victims are often left absolutely dumbstruck by the Narcissist who convinces the victim of their devotion and then who leaves them in the dust pronouncing them as being totally vile and unworthy of a drop of empathy.Why does this “narcissistic devaluation” happen? Remember the Narcissist is the most selfish creature on earth. The goal of the Narcissist is to reap as much empathy(very valuable commodity to the Narcissist) from all who surround him/her and once it is perceived that YOU are rung dry of all resources (physically, monetarily or emotionally)and no longer can give what he/she wants then you must be defiled in every way possible so that the Narcissist can generate as much empathy as possible from other family members, co-workers, friends, children, bystanders, etc. Don’t believe that the Narcissist is desperate to receive empathy because he/she had none as a child.It is just a TOOL, a TECHNIQUE amongst many to achieve the ultimate goal of feeling the rush of the WIN over YOU. Make no bones about it, Narcissism is all about POWER.How can I possibly believe that such people who are virtually devoid of human compassion and morals exist? Well, they are all around us. Narcissists count on the conscience of most people to “overlook” their behaviors or to believe the multitudes of manipulations that they use to avoid responsibility because they were “abused” as children or suffered from “poverty” or or or, the excuses are endless. Narcissists will study YOU very carefully and find YOUR soft spot. Do you think the poor thing was poverty stricken as a child, then he/she will feed you what you want to hear, “My parents never fed me”. Do you think the Las Vegas shooter was a wonderful generous man who just “snapped” or was he contemptuous of others with grandiose thoughts about himself being intellectually “superior and more worthy” than others? Read the court transcripts of Paddocks court case against the hotel and see his contempt for others in writing. Narcissists know how to ply people, this is their TRADE. So why does the CON of the Narcissist seem so much more satisfying than living an honest life? Because it reminds him/her that he/she WON, he/she is POWERFUL, more POWERFUL than YOU. So why does the Narcissist risk criminal activities and resist change when they get caught? Because they know there is ALWAYS someone who will buy their con, their sad story about being abused,think of the POWER RUSH when they can manipulate a court judge out of another “situation” that they got themselves into with their criminal behaviors! Even when forced by the courts to attend therapy Narcissists will con the therapist and manipulate the therapist whatever way they can work it. Why? Because there is always a therapist who buys the con and is willing to label them as bi-polar, or suffering with PTSD or some other mental illness.There are people who really are bi-polar and suffering severe depression; the mental health industry does a terrible disservice to those mentally ill people who do not abuse others by lumping them in with those who are pathologically selfish narcissists. More often than not in the legal system the real victims of Narcissists; family, loved ones, co-workers are then left behind, destroyed emotionally, financially, and sometimes physically. Courts are only just beginning to understand that manipulation is rampant, especially in the Family Courts where 7% of the divorcing couples consume 98% of the Family Court time in San Diego County alone. People who have healthy consciences tend to think that Narcissism is a “mental disorder” to be pitied or “cured” with therapy however the victims of Narcissists know that Narcissists commit many crimes that are never prosecuted and that the victims may never be able to recover what they have lost. Narcissists will use any tool in their tool box to get out of responsibility.The moment a narcissist is held responsible then Narcissistic Rage will hit the fan and people are often blown away by the intensity of the hidden , covert anger. Narcissism is criminal and has criminal consequences but unfortunately most of the time the victims pay the price.

  • April 9, 2018 at 12:44 am

    I didn’t realize if was just for themselves thanks for pointing that out. My ex I think cannot understand why I don’t feel sorry for him, well things he said and did to me were horrible but of course he said it was me and blamed me., I didn’t do a thing wrong. Luckily I believe myself and not him and I have to sons to him, told them when they were 14, to stand and speak up to him if he starts to belittle them and as adults they have, as I knew he would do this to them he has other children to a previous marriage and used to run them down that’s why I told my boys to stand up speak or walk away. As far as I’m concerned my ex can go to hell.

  • January 31, 2019 at 3:43 am

    I’ve been rather confused ever since learning the definition and tendencies of psychopaths when attending college which ultimately resulted with me enrolling in every psychology course available. I know I fit so many attributes of a psychopath, including the (mostly) lack of empathy, remorse only for getting caught, complete distaste for people as a whole yet great ability to be a very social person, no feelings for the pain of others or gruesome events, the ability and regular use of manipulation at the cost of others to get what I want, and the list goes on.
    However, I do have a deep empathy for my wife and children which I had never been able to comprehend. Even in previous long term relationships, I cared solely about what they accomplished for me, only showing emotion upon termination (or getting caught in situations potentially resulting in termination) due to the upset in my routines rather than feelings for the other person. So imagine my surprise when I actually felt empathy for my children and have grown the same feelings for my wife (still lacking for anyone else including my closest friends). These feelings made me question everything that I am because I had already accepted they would never be a part of my life. Until them, I was grateful that my dad had instilling morals and ethics into my life (my siblings were older so not sure if this was universal among us or specific to me) which allowed me to understand other people more while giving me a guide to what my conscience should be telling me. And before you jump to any conclusions, my parents are still together and I was raised in a very loving family without abuse. While there have been some fantasies that would be disturbing to most, I have never hurt anyone/anything physically.
    Anyways, this was all wrote as a background to compliment your article. It was nice to see that a close bond, although uncommon, can be made with a psychopath in the right circumstances. Who knows, maybe it’s possible for a person’s brain to adapt with the right circumstances.

  • July 7, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    This piece just made me VERY VERY sad. It made me sad because it just described me to THE LETTER. I mean down to the periods in the piece. The piece made me feel sad most due to the fact that I DO NOT WANT TO BE THIS WAY. Then to read there is no cure and people like this are likely like this for the test of their lives is extremely depressing. Now I want to know is there ANYTHING I can do about this? This condition/status stands to ruin my current relationship with a WONDERFUL woman. I dont want to lose her. My behaviors of which can be traced directly to this condition stands to create a scenario where she is going to cut me off. I cant let that happen. Please help!


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