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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Sam Vaknin

Sam Vaknin & Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Psychopaths & Narcissists

Sam writes and speaks about psychopathy & narcissism. He's the author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited.  He describes himself as a person devoid of empathy. "I do not possess empathy: I am a thrice-diagnosed psychopathic narcissist." Narcissists and psychopaths lack empathy. This deficiency renders them emotionally and cognitively crippled. They exploit, manipulate, and abuse other people because they are unable to relate to them otherwise.

Sam says there are two type of empathy, one is 'cold empathy', it's metaphorically like a library of books with no emotion. Psychopaths & Narcissists have this quality of empathy but do not see (or care) how their actions affect others.

Sub Conference: Pathologies: Psychopathy & Narcissism




Video: Empathy Circle #1 with a Narcissistic Psychopath and an Empath. Sam Vaknin & Edwin Rutsch


My Empathy Circle with a Narcissistic Psychopath. Success! It worked to Foster Empathic Listening!
I've been developing an Empathy Circle process that is based on the empathic listening work of Carl Rogers. I've held hundreds of these small group empathic conversations that are the best process I've found for nurturing and practicing empathy. I've been wondering how this process would work with Narcissists and Psychopaths.  I lined up an Empathy Circle with Sam Vaknin, who is diagnosed as a narcissist with psychopathic tendencies.
Sub Conference: Pathologies: Psychopathy & Narcissism

Sam has written books and articles on psychopathy and has become a 'go to guy' for the media when they want to talk with a narcissist or psychopath.  There was even a documentary done on Sam called 'I Psychopath'.  You can view the documentary online on Youtube. At the end of the documentary, the director who travels with Sam to different pathology research centers in Europe, is an emotional wreak

 from his interactions with Sam.


Sam and I held a 1.5 hour empathy circle using the empathic listening process. I found the process actually worked very well. Sam was skeptical when we started, but at the end came to new realizations about the power of empathic listening.  Sam is used to conversation as a competition, where he has to find the chinks in  the other persons armor to break through to manipulate them. However, in this conversation everything he said was empathized with by me and vice a versa. 


 Narcissism and Psychopathy seem to be caused in a large part by not having received and practiced empathy as children growing up. That was Sam's experience. See the Empathy Circle video with Sam and I.  Let me know what you think? Can empathy circles start turning around narcissists and psychopaths to be more empathic?


At the end, Sam said, "I have cold empathy. What you succeeded to do in this conversation is you succeed to increase the frequency in which I deploy my cold empathy. You did not succeed to promote any emotional resonance. You just succeeded for me to use my (cold empathy) equipment much more. My cold empathy was promoted much more in this conversation. I think with empathic listening and empathy circles and so on, even with Narcissists and Psychopaths you will be able to promote their cold empathy..  you forced me to empathize with you.  It's part of the game. This is the protocol, do you understand, I must empathize with you because these are the rules of the game that you set. You said "Sam, Sam you must empathize with me".  In order to reflect you properly, I have to listen to you. You have to resonate with me on some level.


Cold empathy for me was a weapon and I thought I was going to use it in war. But this conversation has taught me that cold empathy is an equipment even when there is no need for me to manipulate or exploit  someone, because I have no need to manipulate you or exploit you. Yet I have been using my cold empathy equipment in this conversation. It's a bit perplexing, because I always thought of my cold empathy equipment in the inevitable war between me and a hostile world.  Where like a virus, I have to penetrate the membrane of a cell and take over the contents and so on. So this cold empathy equipment will just show me where the holes and the  portals and doors are. I learned it is an equipment that can be used similar to a knife, you can kill someone with a knife or you  can cut food with a knife. I learned it is a multi purpose type of equipment. It's not limited to warfare. "


Sam and I will be doing another session on Narcissists and Psychopaths and what can be done so they can be more productive in society. They actually suffer from their condition.  Sam says, "Narcissists and Psychopaths have cold empathy, and how can this empathy be leveraged for 1. behaviour mitigations and modification, 2. to create social acceptable goals. How to leverage cold empathy to good use? 

The ultimate victim of the psychopath is the psychopath. It's the psychopath that ends up on death row. It's the psychopath that ends up impoverished, excommunicated, isolated. The ultimate victim of the Narcissist and Psychopath is the Narcissist and Psychopath.  So if the Narcissistic Psychopath or whatever,  were to learn how to leverage his cold empathy, to modify this counter productive, self defeating, self destructive behaviors, that will be a great achievement. "



Empathy Circle 2 with a Narcissistic Psychopath & an Empath. Sam Vaknin & Edwin Rutsch
In this second Empathy Circle with Sam Vaknin & Edwin Rutsch, we talk about how to use empathy (cold empathy as Sam calls it) to induce narcissists and psychopaths to "play by the rules". 

We also talk about the emotional landscape Sam feels as a narcissist. He says it's a continuous sense of pain and anxiety that is covered up by defenses. If the defenses were to fall away, he would fall apart into an oblivion.

"oh my goodness... I am married to a Pathological Narc. I have studied and
read Sam Vaknin's work, I have NEVER experienced Sam as this vulnerable.
Very interesting"  A Youtube Comment


I am impressed with your empathy reflective listening with Sam Vaknin who after seeing I Psychopath, previously left a very bad taste with me. Having been raised by a Narcissist, malignant as is he, the idea of having anything to do with such a 'person' seemed before preposterous.

 BUT you have found a gem in Vaknin. This man I'm finding is not only really interesting, but enjoyable here with you - and helpful for this cause. I am so fascinated and surprised. Thank you for teaching me that everyone is somebody and has something to offer, even narcissists like Vaknin and maybe my own mother.  Kathleen A.

And indeed he is a great listener!! He reflects perfectly exactly what you say. Even better than you if you don't mind my observation. What he said about Israel was spot on. Not an opinion, but only according to historical facts....  But this is just terrific with you and Vaknin. You are very good with him. I think he is being sincere which has me puzzled - however - as he says himself it is for his own benefit. The interview as he calls it.. and the sale of his books. Amazing. Kathleen A.



Edwin: What is the topic title for our empathy circle?  It was something around; How might we create ways for narcissists and psychopaths to be productive member of society?

Sam. Towards the end of our last conversation, I promised to look into how I was "forced" to play by the rules of Rogers' technique and become more "empathic" throughout our exchange. I noted that my "empathy" was cold (devoid of emotions) and wondered why I behaved the way I did. I think I came up with a few answers on how to co-opt cold empathy to induce narcissists and psychopaths to "play by the rules" (to conform.)


So maybe "Using Cold Empathy to Induce Social Conformity in Narcissists and Psychopaths" or "Cold Empathy and Playing by the Rules", or something to that effect. Looking forward to our next time together.




Sam Vaknin & Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy with Psychopaths & Narcissists


(Video Transcriptions: Thanks Sherry)

:50 Would you like to introduce yourself, your background?

·          Sam twice diagnosed with malignant narcissism

·          Wears many hats, but most relevant to this interview has written a series of books on personality disorders and narcissism, including book: Malignant Self-Love

1:47 How do you define empathy?

·         Serious debate ongling whether learned or not. Is it learned or innate? Children display empathy, so born with something, but full fledge empathy is a process of socialization.

·         Empathy has two elements

·         Cold empathy – intersubjectivity – cognitive - the ability to identify moods, emotions, feelings, affects in other people. No emotional component. Depends on a common dictionary that cannot be confirmed.  Probably learned. Depends on introspection (and projection).

·         Emotional arousal – recognized what is happening to someone else & react emotionally.  Likely innate. Babies smile at their mothers, children display similar emotions to others around them.

·         We cannot know if what one person experiences as a certain feeling or a color etc. is what another experiences as are the same thing.

·         We all have private languages and project our own emotions onto each other.

08:42 You mentioned the emptional and affective, that happens through mirror neurons…? [Edwin mirrors Sam’s picture]…

·         That’s an action, not an emotion. Empathy is putting you in another’s shoes emotionally. Doesn’t have anything to do with empathy.

·         Mirror a gesture or action – Edwin feels emotion associated with that.  Sam says Edwin cannot know what he (Sam) was feeling when photo taken.

·         Sam: no way to prove that. “Mimicry and gimmickry” won’t prove that.

·         Dualism – are reports of the same emotion or pain – are they really?

·         Correlation is not causation

·         Changes in brain – seem connected to pain – so what? Doesn’t mean the experience is the same.

·          Edwin is confusing “between”.

·         Phenomena “co-occur” – that’s it

·          Sam: When Edwin uses the word pain, hunger or happiness, and then I do. There’s no way of proving that we’re experience the same thing

·          Edwin gives example: Monkey reaching for something and a neuron would fire.   When money saw someone reaching for a peanut that same neuron fired.

·         Sam: “Next question?”

18:18 Do you have a metaphor for the two kinds of empathy?

·          Cold empathy: library system (Dewey decimal)

·         Emotional arousal: debate, Carl Rogers not that we empathize, but want to avoid pain in ourselves – feeling guilty and blameworthy.  Metaphor – Mirror

·         Psychopaths & Narcissists have the library and not the mirror.  They are hyper sensitive and hyper intuitive – they have the library function, watch catalog, dissect and classify.  Don’t have the emotional complement – someone else’s plight predicament.

·         Sam diagnosed with borderline – not a full-fledged psychopath.

·         Mainly interested in people’s vulnerability and how to get to know someone intimately. No trace of emotional arousal, recognition.  No sympathy.

·         People are instruments of gratifications, extensions, and tools to obtain benefits.  Needs to learn how to manipulate the person to gain the utility.

·         People are sources of narcissistic supply. Is a junkie, drug addict.  To force people to pay attention to me I need to learn how to manipulate them, what makes them tick and then get them to tick.

·         You have to empathize with people in a cold way in order to do this.  But not in a warm way.

·         Emotions have no utility, so I don’t use them.

24:47 What’s the difference between Psychopathy and Narcissism?

·         Unclear.  Psychopath is extreme form of narcissism.  N is more restrained re. Antisocial behaviors.


25:53 What do you want to extract from people?

·         N wants to extract N supply – attention. Regulate self worth and support grandiose fantasies.  Has view of him as omnipotent, omniscient, etc.

·         P wants tangible – money, power.  Attention regulation, not so much.

·         If I were an alien I couldn’t interact with people as I do. P is a con artist or scammer – cannot defraud people without being able to understand people.

·          Want to control – “body snatching”

·          Is a life and death situation?  Falls apart without it.

·         We’re discussing empathy, not control or narcissism.

·         There is some empathy there – cold empathy.

·         Everyone is like a text.  If you’re deprived of reading skills you cannot read text.  N’s and P’s can read, but don’t care.

31:44 How do we build a culture of empathy with N’s and P’s?

·         Hopeless because they are structurally unable.   No emotional arousal.  Equipment damaged beyond repair at an early age.  You can modify social behaviors to limit damage.  They are beyond developing empathy skills.

·         Society is becoming this way, and N & P have no reason to change.  It pays to be a N or P in modern society.

·         Business environment is utterly psychopathic, army, foreign affairs.  All of human society – Western part and East becoming more Western.

·         N could be headed off by training at an early age.  P no.

·         Phone connection dropped.



 A Narcissistic Psychopath Responds to the Paul Bloom 'Against Empathy' article in the New Yorker.

Sam Vaknin interviewed and in dialog with Edwin Rutsch about the Paul Bloom article in The New Yorker: The Baby in the Well - The case against empathy. Sam Vaknin tested as a Narcissist with Psychopathic tendencies. Sam describes himself as a person devoid of empathy.  He is author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited.
Sub Conference: Pathologies

A Narcissistic Psychopath Responds to Paul Bloom 'Against Empathy' article in the New Yorker.
Sam Vaknin interviewed and in dialog with Edwin Rutsch



On Empathy - By Dr. Sam Vaknin
A page of material by Sam Vaknin about empathy, narcissism and psychopathy

On Empathy
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. - 11/11/2005 
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1999 edition) defines empathy as: "The ability to imagine oneself in anther's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfuhlung and modelled on "sympathy." The term ...

Empathy and Personality Disorders
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. - 4/21/2007 
What is Empathy? Normal people use a variety of abstract concepts and psychological constructs to relate to other persons. Emotions are such modes of inter-relatedness. Narcissists and psychopaths are different. Their "equipment" is lacking. They understand only one language: self-interest. Their ...

The Demise of Empathy in Business and the Workplace
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. - 5/3/2012 
Empathy is at the foundation of both altruism and collaboration. Thus, while it does consume scarce resources, empathy confers important evolutionary advantages both from the individual's point of view (cooperation) and from the species' (altruism.)

The Demise of Empathy at Home and in the Family and the Role of Technology
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. - 5/4/2012 
Empathy is on a precipitous decline in the family and home environments. Technology is partly to blame, but so are other social and economic trends.

Cold Empathy and Warm Empathy - Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. - 5/20/2012 
Empathy is comprised of two components:

  I. Cold Empathy: an intersubjective agreement as to the mental content (especially emotions) of two or more human subjects;

  II. Warm Empathy: the emotional response to Cold Empathy.

Cold Empathy

Psychopathic Narcissists: The Uncanny Valley of Cold Empathy
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. - 8/22/2011 
Cold Empathy evokes the concept of Uncanny Valley, coined in 1970 by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. Mori suggested that people react positively to androids (humanlike robots) for as long as they differ from real humans in meaningful and discernible ways. But the minute these contraptions



I,Psychopath - Documentary - [part 1] Extended Version  - Top Documentaries



Cold Empathy of Psychopathic Narcissists
What is cold empathy? Psychopathic narcissists are not exactly human in the sense
that they lack feelings and empathy towards others. This makes other people feel revolted and fearful.   

Video: Narcissists: Alien Life-forms, Lack Empathy!

Narcissists and psychopaths lack empathy. This deficiency renders them emotionally and cognitively crippled. They exploit, manipulate, and abuse other people because they are unable to relate to them otherwise