7 Signs Your Partner Has an Empathy-Lacking Callous Personality, Which Could Mean Bad News for Your Relationship

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No one is perfect, and as far as our individual personality traits go, we all possess some great qualities and others that leave room to be desired. For instance, openness to experience and extroversion are generally classified as "healthy" personality traits, largely because they may contribute to psychological well-being. And you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who says being kind, honest, or thoughtful are bad things. But, personality traits associated with being callous are largely not great, because they may prevent healthy human connection. So, while certain less-than-ideal facets of a person in your life may be worth overlooking (or at least possible to work on), callousness may be a nonstarter for a healthy relationship.

Experts In This Article

Callousness is defined as feeling no emotion, and according to clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, it really comes down to having a lack of empathy, which isn't great in the scope of relationships: "Where there is no empathy, there cannot really be a relationship,” she adds.

But in addition to callousness's hallmark of having a lack of empathy, there are at least seven other personality traits that are reflective of being callous to be aware of so you can protect yourself in all of your relationships.

Be aware of these 7 personality traits associated with being callous

1. Unkindness

If you’ve noticed that your partner is unkind to others—whether that’s you, their loved ones, or complete strangers—it's a sign they could be a callous person. To be sure, unkindness comes in different forms. A callous person might make jokes almost exclusively at others’ expense, they might think it’s a little too funny when others get hurt, or they may even think it’s funny to hurt other people, adds psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD.

2. Fearlessness

This type of fearlessness isn't the positive, courageous-leaning kind required to present to a large crowd or to fight for social justice. Instead, says Dr. Daramus, it’s the dangerous kind, like reckless driving and other activities that needlessly put others at risk “just for the fun of it.”

3. Lack of self-awareness

According to Dr. Durvasula, people who lack self-awareness may skew callous because they may have “very little awareness of how their behavior and their words affect other people.” And that’s obviously not ideal for when you want to have a healthy romantic relationship with someone.

“The person who is self-reflective would say, ‘I better watch my tone,’ or ‘I better be aware of how I approach this person,’” says Dr. Durvasula. If you find that your partner often snaps at you or reacts aggressively instead of responding once they’ve had time to think, Dr. Durvasula says you may have a callous person on your hands.

4. Remorselessness

Because a lack of empathy is common to callousness, callous people rarely feel bad about—let alone apologize for—wrongdoings they've committed, damaging things they've said, or otherwise leading someone to feel badly. “They don't feel sorry,” says Dr. Daramus. “And it's not as much the narcissistic sense of entitlement, but more of, ‘I genuinely don't understand that I did anything wrong.’”

5. Overly charming

Dr. Daramus says that people who are callous might also, completely counterintuitively, come off as extremely charming. “The very callousness helps them be charming, because they're pretty chill about how they come across,” she says. However, this charm is hardly ever used for good, caveats Dr. Daramus. “[They] stand back, see what you want, see what you like, and give it to you—but in a very calculated way. It’s not because they actually care, but because it benefits them in some way.”

6. Dishonesty

“Callous people tend to not tell the truth,” says Dr. Durvasula, adding that this is because they use lies as a manipulative tactic to get someone to do something for them. Let’s say that your partner calls you to tell you that their car’s broken down and that they need a ride. Then, just a few hours later, you see they’re rolling around in their sedan. That’s definitely the type of dishonesty that could be considered a callous personality trait, Dr. Durvasula says.

7. Lack of emotional variability

Callous-leaning people often don't display a wide range of emotions, says Dr. Durvasula, and the feelings they do present are likely to “put them at odds with other people.” Certain signs of aggression, she adds, (like yelling, irritability, anger) may be associated with callousness, so if your partner displays them often, take note.

“If someone's saying something sad, you won't see that emotion change in them, because they really don't have that depth of emotion when it comes to being close to other people,” adds Dr. Durvasula.

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