9 Ways to Spot False Empathy, According to Psychology

Want to Spot False Empathy ? Empathy is not as common as the media hype would have you believe.

In fact this study from the University of Michigan found that empathy among American students fell by 40% between 1979 and 2009.

Society is more disconnected than ever, with smaller families and individualism prevailing. The rise of social media also increases polarization and disconnection rather than fueling much harmony or progress in the real world.

There is another reason for the lack of empathy that seems so widespread in society: false empathy.

There is so much virtue and false empathy going around that it’s easy to feel like you’re losing your grip on reality. After all, people seem so nice, and yet so often you feel completely alone.

Could it be false empathy that’s bringing you down?

Here’s what to look out for…

1) Unconventional facial expressions

You’re talking about your dog’s death and he looks skeptical or like he just heard a joke.


False empathy is sometimes as easy to detect as looking at someone’s face.

As you talk about something you’re going through and describe your problem, this person’s concerned words are completely believed by his incongruous facial expressions.

They don’t care.

2) Kitschy and performative responses

Another hallmark of fake empaths is completely exaggerated reactions.

They act like they just got the worst news of their lives when you mention a little problem you had today…

They jump for joy and clap when you say you saw a cute boy you liked before…

They sigh deeply and look at the ceiling as if the world is falling apart when you talk about a little argument you had with your girlfriend last week…

It’s all a bit much!

3) Not really listening

The fake empath listens poorly to what you say because he doesn’t really care.

However, for reasons of social conditioning or your relationship, they know they care.

So they nod, smile, or look sad when they think this is the right time (but which isn’t always the right time, as I noted in the previous point).

They catch a few words of what you say and respond, but they didn’t understand. Why?

They hardly listen.

4) Copy and paste comments

When someone pretends to be empathetic, they throw out all kinds of copy-paste responses.

“That’s really bad…”

“Yeah right…”

“Wow, I don’t know, yeah…”

“Completely mad…”

You get the picture. They’re barely listening and they don’t care, so they just throw out something that they hope will lead to the interaction ending.

5) Catastrophizing and amplifying your problem

One of the other big signs of false empathy are the ones that catastrophize and amplify everything you’re going through.

They make you feel like your problem is even bigger than you thought, and that it is so terrible that they don’t know what to do.

Instead of being a safe haven during the storm, they scream destruction and shout, “Tornado is coming!”

You start to feel like you are a burden to others and that you are putting everyone down because this person dramatizes so much.

As Professor Susi Ferrarello Ph.D. writes:

“Every time I hear the phrase: ‘I don’t want to burden others with my emotions’, I feel very sorry for them because of the feeling of loneliness that such a position brings. Sharing emotions is what makes us human.”

6) Lack of any real input

The fake empathy doesn’t actually give you any real input.

As I noted, they came up with a lot of copy-paste sentences and forgettable lines.

They pretend to be thinking deeply, but in the end they say nothing and have no real substance to their response.

They say they care a lot, and even when they express all the expressions you’d expect, there’s just something missing.

They just don’t want to be involved, and that’s obvious.

7) Quick and superficial advice

If and when this person gives advice, it is superficial and useless.

They throw out a lot of clichés and forgettable advice, often changing them along the way and changing what they say from moment to moment.

They just seem to want to say anything to make the situation go away.

“You’ll be fine, don’t worry” and “At least it’s not…” are some of their favorite clichés.

8) Lack of follow-up or real support

Those who are with you one day and gone the next are some of the most disappointing people around.

They may only be with you to get something and then disappear, or they may be nearby when they are doing well, but then they are gone.

This is classic false empathy:

  • Transactional empathy (“I’ll be there for you if you do XYZ for me!”), and;
  • Fairweather empathy (“I’m here for you, as long as my life goes well!”)

No thanks!

9) Always focus the conversation on them

There is nothing less empathetic than narcissism.

If someone pretends to care, but then turns the conversation back to them, how should you interpret that?

An even smarter trick is that they can ask, “How are you doing lately?” or something along those lines, but only to then invade by seeing how they’re doing.

They never cared what you were like, it was just a childish entry for them to talk about themselves.

It’s selfish and not empathetic.

As codependency and relationship expert Darlene Lancer explains:

“Narcissists often like to talk about themselves and your job is to be a good audience.

They may never ask about you, and if you tell them anything about yourself, the conversation quickly turns back to them.

Empathetic AI

With 50 million Americans suffering from some form of mental illness, and mental health becoming an increasing concern, therapists are struggling to keep pace.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to play an increasingly important role as a therapy tool and to help those who are struggling.

As psychologist Scott Glassman, Ph.D., writes:

“AI has advanced to the point where it can recognize and respond to emotional problems.

“These responses may include providing appropriate resources such as mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and connecting individuals with mental health professionals.”

From AI tools such as Woebot and Wysa, for therapists who get recommended patients who started by talking to an AI system, the future of empathy may be less human than ever.

Could machine empathy be the cure for false empathy?

Or are we just drifting further from our humanity and trying to outsource the most fundamental tasks that used to shape community and care for each other?

Share this content:

Leave a Comment