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9 Warning Signs of a Dark Empath + FAQs

Man walking away in the dark surrounded by yellow smoke

What if the narcissist and the empath are the same person? While this concept may sound like a paradox, it describes a type of personality that exists, the dark empath. Learning the signs you’re dealing with one may help you recognize this type of person.

The narcissist-empath connection is frequently trod ground in popular articles and blogs.

It is believed that selfish narcissists and sensitive empaths are deeply attracted to one another.

Empaths seek to save the narcissists while narcissists seek to use the empath for their own ends. It’s a vicious cycle that often leaves empathic individuals heartbroken and depleted.

Yet, there is a personality that combines the selfish traits of the narcissist with the emotional intelligence of the empath.

This type of person is known as a dark empath.

What Is a Dark Empath?

Research has revealed that the personality type of the dark empath has the dark triad of traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic tendencies.

Yet, dark empaths balance these traits with empathy for others and a self-awareness of their tendencies. This is a dangerous combination with a strong potential for manipulation. 

Nine Signs Someone Is a Dark Empath, According to a Former Therapist

Dark empaths are more adaptive than their narcissist counterparts — and much harder to identify. They blend into society easily and skate through life on their charm.

What follows are a few signs someone might be a dark empath.

Why listen to me? I’m Crystal Jackson and I was a master’s level licensed therapist who worked with couples and families. I specialized in trauma recovery and empowerment. I now write content about relationships and psychology. My work has been featured on Elite Daily, Your Tango, Positively Positive, Mamamia, and The Good Men Project.

1. They display heightened sensitivity

Narcissists are often well-versed in how to portray emotional sensitivity, and yet they possess a coldness beneath the surface. They can mimic emotions but not feel them.

Dark empaths, however, actually possess heightened sensitivity. Their emotional intelligence is on par with fellow empaths. 

Why, then, are they considered dark empaths as opposed to empaths? They have the full range of empathic emotions and an ability to experience the emotions of others — although experts are unsure if their emotional intelligence is cognitive, affective, or a combination of the two.

The key difference is how they use emotions.

Dark Empaths have real feelings but use their dark triad traits to manipulate others.

In fact, their very understanding of how other people feel makes it even easier for them to exercise control in their relationships.

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2. Relationships revolve around their wants and needs

Dark empaths’ highly manipulative and controlling nature often manifests in more subtle ways.

Take note: a relationship with one will likely revolve around their wants and needs to the exclusion of their partner’s. If it seems that all “compromises” are stacked in their favor, it’s possible that they could be demonstrating the narcissistic side of their personality. 

This side of their identity might be dismissed as immaturity when paired with their sensitivity. Some partners may simply lack the relational development to compromise in ways that suit both parties.

Pay attention to how often it happens and how they respond to being called out on any unfairness in the relationship.

If they continue to exert subtle control to keep the relationship in their favor, this might be a sign that they possess dark empath traits. 

3. They have low self-worth

It’s interesting that a personality with strong narcissism can also display low self-worth. It’s certainly a paradox. On the one hand, their egos can be enormous. Yet, they tend to need constant validation.

On the other hand, they are self-aware and emotionally intelligent enough to see their own manipulations and to consequently feel as if they are unworthy of love or healthy relationships.

A negative self-perception often follows.

Narcissists often display grandiose ideas of themselves, but the dark empath will be more likely to have the strong ego paired with a lack of true self-esteem.

Don’t be surprised if they’re the ones who point out their flaws, as they are especially sensitive to them. 

This low self-worth could have you dismissing them as being narcissists. Yet, if you pay careful attention, you’ll see that their actions still center their wants and needs in the same selfish way.

While they have the benefit of self-awareness and a conscience, they still possess a larger-than-life ego and sense of entitlement. 

4. They struggle with their mental health

Because dark empaths understand the complexities of their own personality, they tend to struggle with anxiety and depression.

Their awareness of a tendency to manipulate and control others can war with their ability to feel and understand others’ emotions.

The balance between the dark triad traits and empathy can make it easier for them to make friends and establish relationships, but it can also make it harder to maintain them. 

Keep in mind that although dark empaths are aware of their controlling tendencies, it doesn’t mean they’ll stop using them. Despite their emotional capabilities and self-awareness, they’ll likely continue manipulating others.

They often pair this with self-loathing and a negative self-perception that opens them up to a wide variety of mental health struggles. 

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5. They use your feelings against you

Their very sensitivity is what makes the dark empath so dangerous. Being able to tune into the emotions of others can be dangerous in the hands of an empath with a dark side.

They’re likely to be prepared for your emotional reactions and to time their own actions accordingly.

It can leave many of us feel like we’ve been played like a violin — and we can be sure we have when a dark empath is involved.

They are skilled at being perfectly charming and getting their way without making a noticeable fuss.

In fact, it’s unlikely most of their victims will even realize they’ve been played for a fool until it’s far too late. 

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6. They have a dark sense of humor

Dark empaths speak fluent sarcasm and tend to have a dark sense of humor. They are sometimes known to bully others or to have fun at someone else’s expense.

While their gallows humor often gets a laugh, it can be particularly cruel to anyone who finds themselves the butt of a dark empath’s joke. 

Their sense of humor may initially be part of their charm.

Because they can make a cutting remark with a smile or laugh, many may not realize at first the vicious intent. It is often in retrospect that we realize that the joke was on us — never on them. 

7. They are experts at using other people 

One of the signs someone may be a dark empath is they are even more skilled than a narcissist at using other people.

Because they are sensitive, they know intuitively exactly how to get others to do what they want.

They know exactly what to say and do to stay in control of the situation at all times. 

Because the dark empath reads people so well, they can sense what others need and play the role that is best suited to getting what they want.

While they have deep emotions, they can lack sincerity when it comes to expressing them to others. Yet, their feeling and charm could mask any manipulation in play. 

In fact, their need for control feeds their desire to understand people. Figuring out what makes people tick is essential to using them effectively.

Their people skills are extraordinary. They are capable of playing others with compliments, attention, and charm if it suits them to do so.

Because they see the big picture with all the subtle nuances that shade situations, they can alter their behavior to influence outcomes. 

8. They guilt trip and gaslight you

While compliments and attention can get them far in life, dark empaths won’t hesitate to use guilt trips and gaslighting to stay in control.

Their emotional manipulations require that they keep you off balance and unwise to their behind-the-scenes machinations.

If you figure out what they’re doing, they’re more likely to question your sanity in a gaslighting attempt than to admit that you’ve caught them out. 

Just as they’ll gaslight you to keep you in line, they’re equally likely to use a guilt trip and prey on your feelings for them.

Dark empaths often use this strategy when they encounter boundaries in personal relationships.

A little emotional blackmail can go a long way when the dark empath is pulling the strings. 

9. They keep an emotional distance

Despite their sensitivity, dark empaths are never completely vulnerable with others. They are, in fact, often emotionally unavailable in relationships.

The dark empath keeps a certain emotional distance and disguise what they’re doing with energy and attention as necessary to maintain the status quo. 

This can initially be difficult to see, especially when they’ve shown us their low self-worth or mental health struggles.

We may believe that they are being completely open, but most dark empaths are unlikely to fully disclose the extent of their control over relationships.

They’d much rather lead with charm, seduction, and more subtle manipulations than to bare their souls to anyone else. 

Dark empaths aren’t as aggressive as others who share dark triad traits, but they damage others in their own way.

While they may sometimes see their manipulations as harmless, their ongoing need for control can come with a sense of betrayal when partners discover the inequities in the relationship.

Because they can read the room, they’re capable of adapting to changing emotions — and even showing that they can change. 

While their attempts at being on their best behavior can be convincing, you can never be sure if the dark empath has changed or is simply evolving to better achieve their own ends.

These personality types can often deplete true empaths at a level on par with pure narcissists. Having to question someone’s sincerity and motives can be exhausting. 


How rare is a dark empath?

Dark empaths are not as rare as you may think. According to a recent study, almost 2 out of 10 people are dark empaths.

Is a dark empath the same as a psychopath?

No, the dark empath isn’t the same as a psychopath. In fact, they’re quite the opposite. While the psychopath has no emotional empathy, the dark empath does have it and they use it to manipulate others.

Can dark empaths be introverted?

Yes, dark empath can either be introverted or extroverted.

What happens when a dark empath meets another dark empath?

If two dark empaths meet, they may get along at the beginning. However, the relationship would probably slowly become toxic, as they would try to control and manipulate each other.

Final Thoughts

Spotting the signs of a dark empath can help prepare you for dealing with them. This dangerous personality type can be easily masked behind a charming smile and easygoing demeanor.

Dark empaths have the advantage of an emotional depth that keeps their more manipulative traits in check, but it isn’t wise to underestimate them. These narcissistic empaths function with a self-serving mindset. Recognizing the early warning signs could be just what you need to avoid getting played. 

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