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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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What does it mean when a person lacks empathy, has difficulty bonding, is passive, seems s

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What does it mean when a person lacks empathy, has difficulty bonding, is passive, seems self-absorbed, rarely initiating interaction, has very limited interests, and relates to people by doing things for them presuming it's what they would want?
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

One hypothesis is that the individual has features of what psychologists and psychiatrists call a 'personality disorder'. There are around a dozen such personality disorders and several of them share some of the features you describe. This hypothesis would be strengthened somewhat if one or more of the following is also true: 1) the person is quite uncomfortable in social situations such as parties or receptions, tending to spend all of their time by themselves, leaving the main gathering area to be alone, and wanting to leave situations like this 'early'; 2) the person likes being alone significantly more than he/she likes the company of others; 3) the person spends a lot of time thinking, daydreaming, reading etc., rather than interacting with others; they prefer to have a job at which they work entirely alone, or nearly so; 4) they frequently express thoughts or ideas that others find to be quite odd, eccentric or peculiar; 5) these characteristics have been present throughout the person's adult life; the characteristics did not suddenly emerge at a certain point in time, or in the past few years

Let me pause here and solicit your feedback about what I have written.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

1. In social situations he will remain withdrawn until he hears something he relates to when he will suddenly jump into the conversation and suddenly becoming very driven. He will proceed to make it all about him often failing to sense when others are losing interest. Once stimulated he won't sense when it is time to leave.

2. He makes little effort to spend time with people and has no friends, only co-workers and aquaintances. He doesn't go out of his way even when it comes to his 3 children. His oldest daughter has told him she worked thru her anger over his neglect and just accepts that he will never show any real interest or affection. He waits for others to initiate interaction which makes intimacy very onesided. He has expressed that he wants other to just give him instructions what they want and he will carry the orders out.

3. He is a loner who spends most of his time just existing: doing chores, attending to his own needs, watching TV. He had hobbies when he was younger but gave them up because he becomes consumed by them. He finds great pleasure in passively watching others while they do things without interacting. He is a service technician who works on his own.

4. He will respond awkwardly because he tries to relate everything to his own narrow experiences and views so his conversations can seem stiff and rehearsed, like a script of some sort. He uses the same pleasant, courteous but distant manner with even familiy members, He also seems to lack the sense of others boundaries so he comes off as insenstive and selfish.

5. He has been like this as long as I have known him, 25 years.

One hypothesis I have is that your friend has a very mild form of Asperger's Syndrome. This is a part of the autism spectrum, and at one end of fairly high adjustment and functioning is Aspergers. Here is a video of a young man with a moderately severe form of Aspergers:

Here is a letter written by another fellow with Aspergers

The symptoms of this disorder vary somewhat but a couple of key aspects are that the person has a hard time accurately reading and interpreting social cues; and they really hate disruptions or changes in their work situation and daily routine; they become unusually distressed and upset, preferring 'sameness'. They also tend to have fairly constant, chronic worries about minor things most of us wouldn't worry about. They can be quite gifted and even brilliant, but in a very limited domain of functioning, such as math or music; and other areas of functioning are quite ordinary.

What do you think? I have an additional, secondary hypothesis that involves a mixed personality disorder, but the above is my primary hypothesis.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

I agree that the symptoms seem to fit the description of Aspergers that I am familiar with.


Some of his other behaviors and characteristics include:

  • Self-protection is his first priority
  • Uses others to shield himself from conflict
  • Blame shifts
  • Often fails to protect others
  • Avoids admitting responsiblity
  • Sees himself as the 'innocent victim'
  • Self-justifies
  • Lacks empathy
  • Reluctant to apologize; self-righteous attitude
  • Lacks ambition/motivation
  • Seeks outward stimulation due to inward 'numbness'(self-described)


His previous marraige ended because he believed he was being neglected so he became unfaithful to meet his needs.


When he doesn't get his way he gets passive-agressive and manipulative, seeking sympathy from others, or just shuts down.


He doesn't detect that he is doing anything hurtful and gets defensive when it's pointed out to him.


The result is his loved ones feel abandoned, neglected, betrayed, insecure.


So do you think it's most likely a diagnosis of Aspergers?


What would help confirm whether this is Aspergers is the presence of some of the more subtle symptoms of the disorder such as showing unusually rigid, repetitive patterns of behavior such as eating the same food every day, or placing himself on a rigid, unchanging schedule and showing a great deal of ANXIETY and worry if this is disrupted. In many cases, but not all, people with Aspergers show exceptional abilities in a narrow area of skill or knowledge e.g., knowing all of the names and life histories of all of the U.S. presidents, with easy recall.

The other hypothesis is something called a personality disorder. He likely has a mixed personality disorder, as most people with the 'disorder' do, rather than a single, 'pure' disorder. There are about 12 such disorders; You can Google DSM Personality Disorder and look at whether he shows an admixture of a few symptoms from each of the following: DSM Avoidant Personality Disorder; Schizoid Personality Disorder; Antisocial Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If he has odd, peculiar, truly eccentric beliefs about the world, then also consider Schizotypal Personality. My own thinking is somewhat focused on a mixture of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Schizoid Personality or Avoidant Personality disorder.

I can only give you leads because without spending a hour or two with this guy, on days spread 2-3 weeks apart, it is really impossible to assess and diagnose what is happening here. But the botXXXXX XXXXXne is that he will likely NEVER change much, though with effort, he can learn more sophisticated social skills, which he lacks. He probably will never 'learn' empathy, or understand how he comes across to other people. Whether he has Asperger's or a mixed personality disorder, he will be much more prone to having episodes of depression than other people from time to time and he can be encouraged to see his doctor or a clinical psychologist if this happens. But as a rule, he will not see a 'need' to consider learning more about himself or changing his behavior; though he might be willing to talk to someone if something major in his life 'falls apart'.

I hope this information is helpful to you. This does sound like it could possibly be a case of Asperger's Syndrome. Please let me know if I have overlooked any aspect of your original question. Please click on the green Accept button at the bottom of the screen. Thanks.
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