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What MBTI type has no empathy?

Borderline personality traits linked to lowered empathy

Date: August 29, 2015 Source: University of Georgia Summary: Those with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, a mental illness marked by unstable moods, often experience trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships. New research indicates that this may have to do with lowered brain activity in regions important for empathy in individuals with borderline personality traits. Share:


Those with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, a mental illness marked by unstable moods, often experience trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships. New research from the University of Georgia indicates that this may have to do with lowered brain activity in regions important for empathy in individuals with borderline personality traits.

The findings were recently published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research and Treatment.

«Our results showed that people with BPD traits had reduced activity in brain regions that support empathy,» said the study’s lead author Brian Haas, an assistant professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences psychology department. «This reduced activation may suggest that people with more BPD traits have a more difficult time understanding and/or predicting how others feel, at least compared to individuals with fewer BPD traits.»

For the study, Haas recruited over 80 participants and asked them to take a questionnaire, called the Five Factor Borderline Inventory, to determine the degree to which they had various traits associated with borderline personality disorder. The researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in each of the participants. During the fMRI, participants were asked to do an empathetic processing task, which tapped into their ability to think about the emotional states of other people, while the fMRI measured their simultaneous brain activity.

In the empathetic processing task, participants would match the emotion of faces to a situation’s context. As a control, Haas and study co-author Joshua Miller also included shapes, like squares and circles, that participants would have to match from emotion of the faces to the situation.

«We found that for those with more BPD traits, these empathetic processes aren’t as easily activated,» said Miller, a psychology professor and director of the Clinical Training Program.

Haas chose to look at those who scored high on the Five Factor Borderline Inventory, instead of simply working with those previously diagnosed with the disorder. By using the inventory, Haas was able to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between empathic processing, BPD traits and high levels of neuroticism and openness, as well as lower levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness.

«Oftentimes, borderline personality disorder is considered a binary phenomenon. Either you have it or you don’t,» said Haas, who runs the Gene-Brain-Social Behavioral Lab. «But for our study, we conceptualized and measured it in a more continuous way such that individuals can vary along a continuum of no traits to very many BPD traits.»

Haas found a link between those with high borderline personality traits and a decreased use of neural activity in two parts of the brain: the temporoparietal junction and the superior temporal sulcus, two brain regions implicated to be critically important during empathic processing.

The research provides new insight into individuals susceptible to experiencing the disorder and how they process emotions.

«Borderline personality disorder is considered one of the most severe and troubling personality disorders,» Miller said. «BPD can make it difficult to have successful friendships and romantic relationships. These findings could help explain why that is.»

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In the future, Haas would like to study BPD traits in a more naturalistic setting.

«In this study, we looked at participants who had a relatively high amount of BPD traits. I think it’d be great to study this situation in a real life scenario, such as having people with BPD traits read the emotional states of their partners,» he said.

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        Why Should I Care?: An Architect Experiments with Empathy

        We Architect (INTJ) personalities often have a reputation: Exacting. Rigid. Even dispassionate.

        People we care about don’t always know how much we value them, as we rarely express our full range of feelings. Most Architects are quite comfortable with emotional distance. We find more satisfaction in developing our aptitudes than in addressing ineptitudes, like difficulty connecting with others on an emotional level.

        But this distance isn’t always our preference. It’s often just a result of discomfort with open human emotion – and openly emotional humans. We may find others’ feelings to be tedious, confusing, or stressful. We don’t always know how to give what’s wanted of us in times of emotional need, and a lack of ability, when perceived as a lack of willingness, can make us seem uncaring.

        We don’t necessarily recognize this difference in ourselves, either. It can be easier to wear a mask of indifference than to face openly what can feel like a personal flaw – itself an emotionally challenging reckoning. If you’re a fellow Introverted, Thinking (I-T-) personality type or have one in your life, maybe you can relate. Empathetic ways of connecting aren’t a likely or easy thing for Architects to embrace.

        Why Should I Care?

        “Why” is a powerful driver for Architects, and for me, personality type theory has helped answer some uncomfortable internal questions: “Why do I feel disconnected from others?” “What can I do about it?” And, “Why should I even bother?”

        For one thing, it showed me that the way I am is uncommon. Architects make up only about 2% of the population, and I am a unique individual within my personality type, just as everyone is. So, while I might seem unusual to others and they to me, it’s not a bad thing, just a difference.

        And it helps me understand other people’s differing needs and communication styles – why certain things matter more to each personality type. It gives me insight that helps me relate better with people and, unexpectedly, makes me feel much closer to them. For this Architect, understanding equals connection.

        But most importantly, personality theory has helped me appreciate that I am undeniably an emotional creature. There are no unfeeling personality types. I’m more reserved and less sensitive to others’ feelings than many people, but it’s just lower expressiveness and receptiveness, not lack of emotion. It was a big deal for me to realize that the components of emotional connection are available inside me and that it’s okay to engage them in a way that works for me.

        It’s a matter of respecting willingness, ability, and need. And I am willing to practice my ability to connect emotionally with others when I see a reasonable need. I’m deeply attracted to the positive actions and beneficial effects that emotion can spur: generosity, compassion, loyalty, joy. lovely, essential things.

        As for ability. Ummm. *Thankfully* I have access to really interesting research as well as to some great ideas for personal growth that my fellow writers have published on our website. One that especially inspires me is the notion that emotional connection can be practiced through action: a person who doesn’t easily share in emotion can nonetheless offer caring support to others.

        How Can I Care?

        A valuable experience in this vein came when I was having pho with a couple of Introverted friends I don’t see too often. (Shocker, eh?)

        One of them, a Logistician (ISTJ), got a phone call during the meal and excused himself, returning after a while to say he needed to leave. I could tell that he was distracted and that the call had upset him. We made friendly goodbyes, but even an Architect could see that his cheerful manner was forced. Uh oh.

        I wanted to reach out to my friend but was (yet again) up against my discomfort and confusion as to how to connect. And I was quite sure that his default preference was for privacy; he’d certainly never asked for emotional support from me, even though we’d been friends for years. That just wasn’t the kind of friend I had been to him.

        You see, we I-T- personality types often avoid or conceal emotion. It would have been a LOT more comfortable for me to ignore his unhappiness, and easier for him not to have me witness it. But maybe stepping beyond those preferences could improve things practically, and nothing’s more Architect-y than that. Okay, then.

        So, I ignored our usual pattern and asked what was going on. His pet was with the vet, and it was serious. Damn, homie. I saw a chance to practice empathy as a skill – not necessarily through emotion, but through supportive action. I offered to go to the vet with him, and he seemed a little surprised but agreed.

        We sat in the vet’s office waiting to face results and decisions that would likely range from bad to worse, and I tried to support my friend as he dealt with the situation. (Feeling personality types may be rolling their eyes at how basic that sounds, but we’re talking I-T- types, here.) We talked through the likely outcomes. We talked about having pets. About the unpleasant responsibilities – and inevitable sadness. I’d been there before too.

        My companionship was clearly a significant comfort, yet nothing I was doing was emotionally adept – I was just talking and listening with concerned reason, a logical skill set applied to a human need. Because he’s my friend and it’s logical to support a friend. Merely by being there, I helped him – though the intensity of emotion was his alone, he wasn’t alone.

        That experience taught me that when it comes to connecting in emotional situations, it’s not the emotion that’s most important to me, it’s the connection. The idea that people can care deeply even when feelings aren’t near the surface. Empathy can be practiced as an act, and I think personality types less comfortable with emotion benefit immensely from doing so.

        For one thing, those of us least skilled at giving emotional care may also have trouble accepting it – even when it’s desperately needed – unfamiliarity breeding pointless deprivation. But personality types like Architects can practice empathetic care far better than we may think, and through such practice, we open ourselves to care as well.

        And I-T- personalities can be surprisingly good caregivers in some ways: we aren’t likely to oversaturate a situation with emotional resonance or pry into privacy too forcefully. We can be sensitive to others’ difficulty in sharing deep feelings because we know it well. I urge such healthy experimentation from the bottom of my heart. It can be incredibly satisfying.

        My friend specifically thanked me, much later, for keeping him company that day. The fact that he mentioned it at all is significant, as discussing our feelings is uncommon between us. It was obviously a meaningful moment, and my participation did some solid good for someone I value – and for me.

        One of the hardest things for people with the Architect personality type to say is, “I don’t know how to do this.” And emotional matters can be off-putting because they have no sure technical solution. But what this Architect is learning to say – occasionally – is, “I care, and I’ll be there.”

        So, why should I care? Because sometimes it’s the most logical and effective solution.

        The Dark Empath Personality Merges Empathy With Dark Triad Traits—And That Spells Big Trouble

        W hen it comes to personality types and traits, there are two takeaways that run along a parallel path. First up is to proceed with caution when interacting with folks who exhibit the dark triad cluster of personality traits: Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. Second is that empaths are the opposite of narcissists in that they are healers who absorb the emotions of others in a benevolent, loving way. But according to recent research published in Personality and Individual Differences, those two learnings can be melded in a singular personality type. Say hello to the dark empath, who mixes the traits of the dark triad with an ability to understand others’ emotions. A master manipulator, the dark empath might be the most dangerous personality type there is.

        What is a dark empath?

        While it’s common knowledge that avoiding dark triad energy vampires is wise, a dark empath is different. This type of person doesn’t drain human energy the way a typical narcissist might; rather, they just brood while caring about others’ feelings. A dark empath is someone who has difficulty with emotional empathy, says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a New York City-based neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind. In other words, they can’t feel the emotions of another person. She adds that dark empathy is not a diagnosable mental health condition, but rather a personality trait.

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        Here’s the kicker: while a dark empath doesn’t emotionally connect with someone else’s feelings, they do identify the other person’s viewpoint and use that to their advantage. “A dark empath uses the emotions another person exhibits and turns that into manipulation,” says Dr. Hafeez. “The dark empath will guilt trip you into thinking you’re at fault for something you’re not. They often crave attention but do not gain pleasure from social rewards and desire to have a sense of power.”

        What makes a dark empath so dangerous?

        According to mental health professionals, the dark empath might be more emotionally hazardous to folks than those with other dark triad personality types. «A dark empath may actually be more dangerous than a more cold and unfeeling dark triad type, because the so-called dark empath can draw you in closer—and do more harm as a result,» says Ramani Durvasula, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of «Don’t You Know Who I Am?»: How To Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. «The closer you are to someone, the more you can hurt them.»

        For Dr. Durvasula, the term «dark empath» itself doesn’t sit well in describing its potential for emotional destruction, largely because of its use of the word «empath.» By her definition, genuine empathy must have an intrinsic emotional and prosocial element. For example, it would mean that hearing someone else’s pain makes you want to help them, and hearing someone’s joy makes you want to support them. This empathy is void of malevolence. Such is not the case, though, with the empathetic quality associated with dark empaths. What these folks seem to experience is more so cognitive empathy, or being able to understand someone’s emotional state, but not necessarily connecting to it in a way that propels an emotional, prosocial output.

        «The way the term is being used in the ‘dark empath’ variant is as manipulation,» Dr. Durvasula says. «It’s giving a surgical, almost razor-precision focus on another person to understand what makes them tick with the goal of almost mining data that could be used to the advantage of the dark empath.» Mirrored empathy can put the other person at ease, and they «may relax and [become] putty in the hands» of the dark empath.

        What are the most common dark empath traits to look out for?

        1. They’re extroverted, agreeable, and neurotic

        So since the general consensus is that dark empaths are bad news, how can we spot them in order to take note and steer clear? Well, when researchers surveyed 991 participants and measured their traits using the Big Five model of personality traits, they found dark empaths to be more extroverted, agreeable, and neurotic than their companions in the dark triad. Based on these data points, it’s not hard to see how they’d relate to others more than your garden variety self-absorbed narcissist.

        2. They have a malicious humor

        The tradeoff is that dark empaths were found to have higher degrees of malicious humor, a term that refers to laughing at someone (and often groups) you think is beneath you. Dr. Hafeez adds that a dark empath’s biting humor and sarcastic commentary are indirect ways they affect, bully, and belittle others.

        3. They gaslight and guilt trip others

        Dark empaths also rate higher when it comes to guilt induction, or being able to guilt others. Along with guilt-tripping, gaslighting is another manipulative dark empath trait. “They will use these tactics to continue staying in control,” Dr. Hafeez says. “Dark empaths have no emotion as to how the other person feels and will twist the scenario around to work in their favor. If the ‘victim’ catches on to the dark empath’s tactics, the latter will likely question your sanity instead of taking accountability.”

        4. They use other people

        Using other people for personal gain is another manipulative tactic dark empaths employ. “Since dark empaths have the ability to read people so well, they sense what others need and play the complementary role to satisfy their own personal agenda,” Dr. Hafeez says.

        5. They fake sincerity

        Dark empaths are pros at faking sincerity as a way to mask their manipulative motives. Although a dark empath’s emotions may come off as empathetic, Dr. Hafeez says there is always a lack of genuineness in their expression, so don’t be fooled.

        How do I recognize and deal with a dark empath in my relationships?

        Dark empaths exhibit all the above traits in their relationships. On the surface, you’ll see their connected, extroverted nature. They’ll come off as understanding and agreeable. However, Dr. Hafeez says these traits serve as distractions to their aforementioned dark traits of malicious humor, gaslighting, guilt-tripping, and maintaining emotional distance from others.

        In other words, you have to really read between the lines when it comes to spotting dark empaths in relationships. “Their sense of control and self-absorption bring dark empaths joy and others pain, however, these manipulation tactics do not come off as obvious as a narcissist’s manipulative tactics,” Dr. Hafeez says.

        If you do spot the signs, Dr. Hafeez advises not letting them emotionally manipulate you, and if the relationship is not in a healthy place, it may be best to distance yourself.

        FAQs: What else do I need to know about dark empaths?

        How common are dark empaths?

        Dr. Hafeez says this is a tricky thing to quantify since it’s a relatively new term and because being a dark empath is not necessarily a trait you’re born with. Rather, she says it’s a mix of experience, biological makeup, and character, making it difficult to put a number to how common the dark empath traits are in a person.

        Do dark empaths have a conscience?

        Dark empaths do have a conscience but it’s ultimately up to them whether they pay attention to it or not. “Dark empaths may identify what one is going through and choose not to feel sympathy or any desire to assist,” Dr. Hafeez says. “This can give them an advantage, as they can either listen to their conscience and do good or use their skills to get what they want without remorse.”

        Are people with dark triad traits a lost cause?

        “They are a difficult cause,” Dr. Hafeez says. In order to change, they must first recognize themselves as someone within this personality group and be willing to undergo intensive therapy. The reason, she says, is because dealing with and understanding the three traits that make up the dark triad is challenging for a professional in the mental health field, let alone a lay person.

        Is a dark empath more dangerous than a psychopath?

        Generally, a psychopath is more physically dangerous, Dr. Hafeez says, while a dark empath is more emotionally dangerous but typically won’t cause bodily harm to others. She adds that the psychology field is still researching to better understand the difference between the two, but one point of differentiation is that a psychopath can’t understand the feelings or thoughts of others, while a dark empath can and uses that information to manipulate others.

        How do you know if you’re a dark empath?

        Dr. Hafeez recommends asking yourself if you exhibit the telltale traits of a dark empath such as being extroverted and charming, being in tune with the experiences of others yet feeling emotionally detached, and behaving vindictively (e.g. emotionally manipulating, bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, ghosting, love-bombing, or playing the victim). While there is no official dark empath test, there is a dark triad personality test you can take online for informational purposes. However, if you’re truly concerned you may fit the personality type, Dr. Hafeez says it’s best to find a licensed therapist qualified to administer and analyze the findings.

        Tags: Healthy Mind, Relationship Tips

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