What is lack of empathy ?
A lack of empathy, commonly called apathy, is the inability to consider the emotional state of others. Psychologists consider apathy as a result of depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other psychiatric and neurological conditions. In medical parlance, it is called empathy deficit disorder, and the British clinical psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen calls it “zero degrees of empathy.” It is the total ineptitude to recognize how one fares before the other in terms of mutual affection, cooperation, and anticipation of feelings.
A lack of empathy is understood as a behavior projected by psychopaths who face challenges in handling emotions. The word psychopath is derived from the Greek language psykhe and pathos, meaning ‘mind’ and ‘pain’, respectively.
Why people lack empathy.
Empathy isn’t cut and dry. People have varying degrees of empathy, some of which is innate and some of which is learned. Moreover, there are some situations in which individuals exhibit empathy while they may not in others.
People who lack empathy may have grown up around parents and other family members who had trouble regulating their own emotions or exhibited insensitivity or little compassion toward them. Or, they’ve dealt with other difficult situations that have caused them to shut down. There is an element of innate wiring that dictates whether or not someone is empathetic, too
A lack of empathy is also characteristic of personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder
Types of empathy
According to psychologists and researchers Paul Ekman and Daniel Goleman, there are three main types of empathy
1* Affective or ‘emotional’ empathy
People who have emotional empathy tend to feel another person’s emotions. Although not always the case, this may also include physical sensations consistent with such emotion.
For example, if you see someone under great distress after losing a loved one, you feel sad yourself and could experience chest or stomach pain while sensing that emotion in the other person.
2* Cognitive empathy
This type of empathy is an intellectual understanding of someone else’s feelings. It’s the ability to consider other perspectives without sensing or experiencing them yourself.
For example, if a colleague loses their job, you may recognize what emotions they could be feeling. You could also understand how their emotions might affect their behavior. This doesn’t mean you experience distress yourself.
3* Compassionate empathy
Compassionate empathy is a combination of cognitive and emotional empathy. You recognize and understand another person’s emotions and also feel them.
Taking on another person’s challenges and hurt may end up taking a toll on you. This is why some people may not develop this type of empathy.
However, relating to other people’s suffering may also lead you to consider helping. And research suggests that when you do help, your body produces more dopamine — a “feel-good” hormone. This then leads and motivates you to continue acting on your cognitive and emotional empathy.
Examples of compassionate empathy include stopping your car to help if you see someone fall or donating to a cause after a natural disaster
Signs someone lacks empathy.
Signs of a Lack of Empathy
A lack of empathy isn’t always easy to detect, but there are a few signs that can help you determine if you or a loved one might not be empathetic
1* They have trouble maintaining relationships.
They can’t maintain close relationships, often because they exhibit the above behaviors and ultimately drive people away. Even if they do seem to have okay relationships with other coworkers, it’s likely that you’ll see them fighting with them constantly. While someone who doesn’t have personal relationships with their coworkers may have empathy, if all of their working relationships are hostile or cold, it may be a sign.
2* They’re highly critical of others.
Sure, we all do it sometimes. But if someone spends their entire time picking apart other people’s flaws and criticizing every little thing to the point at which it becomes exhausting to be around them, it’s a pretty clear sign that they lack empathy. After all, even if someone has less than desirable qualities, an empathetic person will try to understand where they’re coming from and recognize that all people have flaws. While feedback at work is crucial to helping you grow, if this person’s critiques don’t have any substance and skew toward a rude or wholly negative tone, they may lack empathy.
3* They can’t admit when they’re wrong.
people with a lack of empathy always believe that they’re in the right. They’re constantly getting into fights with other people, even those outside of work — including family members, friends, authority figures and significant others. Even when they do realize they’re in the wrong, they’ll never admit it, which can do a lot of damage to their relationships with others; they’ll never apologize or acknowledge that they caused the strain. This can lead to gaslighting — especially when this person denies their wrongdoings repeatedly in front of you and management.
4* They can’t control their emotions.
Does this person often succumb to angry outbursts over the tiniest thing? Do they have trouble regulating their emotions, especially negative ones? This, too, is a sign that they have difficulty putting themselves in other people’s shoes and recognizing that a perceived slight may not actually be a slight at all. They also aren’t able to let things go, something empathetic people are able to do.
5* They overreact.
At the same time, they are quick to overreact themselves — the very thing they accuse you of doing — lashing out over incidents that don’t warrant this type of aggressive reaction. They can be argumentative and even hostile when they think they’ve been wronged. They, of course, always believe themselves to be right.
Feeling baffled by other people’s feelings
Believing that negative things won’t happen to you
Not thinking about or understanding how your behavior affects other people
Being extremely critical of other people
Blaming the victim
Not forgiving people for making mistakes
Feeling like other people are too sensitive
Not listening to other people’s perspectives or opinions
An inability to cope with emotional situations
Lack of patience for other people’s emotional reactions
Reacting with impatience or anger when frustrated with other people
Effects of lack of empathy
Lack of empathy can have a number of effects. Some of these include:
1* Poor communication:
Not being able to understand where other people are coming from can make communication much more difficult. A lack of empathy can also cause people to misinterpret what other people are trying to say, which can ultimately lead to miscommunication, conflict, and damaged relationships.
2* Problems with relationships:
People who lack empathy are more likely to have problems in their relationships with other people. It can lead to arguments when other people feel that their feelings and needs are not understood. It can also make it more difficult to form bonds and decrease the likelihood that people receive meaningful help.
How To Respond To Lacking Empathy
If you believe someone you know struggles with not having empathy, it is definitely worth your time to start addressing the problem. The complexity and patience required will vary depending on the source. Dealing with coworkers or random social connections lacking empathy is easier than dealing with close friends or loved ones. Nevertheless, there are tools for all situations
1* Open Communication
Behaviors of not having empathy thrive in obscurity. If it’s something the person learned from a hard life, part of why it continues is because it is partly subconscious. There is also strong social pressure to ignore behaviors lacking in empathy. Many people worry about being too sensitive and say nothing even if their feelings are hurt. There is also a tendency to write off bad behavior as a quirky personality, e.g., He’s not rude, that’s just the way he is, don’t take it personally.
The solution to this is addressing it directly. If someone seems distant or even cold, speak up about it to the person. If they hurt your feelings, you have every right to let them know. The goal is not to make the other person feel bad. The goal is to assert the validity of your experience and work to find solutions.
2* Set And Hold Boundaries
Healthily practicing open communication and patience will require healthy boundaries. Be direct and open about what you need and what you cannot tolerate. This is vital for two big reasons. One, people who lack empathy are not going to place those boundaries themselves. They struggle with emotional connection. If you don’t tell them where the lines are, they are not going to see them.
Two, and relatedly, people who lack empathy are going to push your boundaries. Because they can’t see the lines, they are going to charge over them. You should expect that when working with someone to improve their empathy, you will have to do more than show them your boundaries; you will have to defend them until they learn not to cross them actively.
3* Be Patient
As stated, the origins of this behavior are complicated, the source can be partly unconscious, and it takes practice to overcome. All of this means that even once you start calling people out for being unempathetic, you will have to give them time to adjust. It can take weeks or even months to make these changes, and they will likely never be as good at it as you imagine they should be.
4* Be Willing To Walk Away
Some people don’t learn. Some relationships aren’t worth saving. Sometimes, even though the other person is trying, even though you want things to work, it can be just too painful to keep going. When someone is unempathetic, you must be prepared to shut things down if they don’t improve.
As we’ve discussed, there is great potential for pain when dealing with unempathetic people. This is especially true when you get into the people for whom it is a diagnosable psychological issue (e.g., sociopaths and psychopaths). It is not quitting to accept that a relationship is bad enough that it has to stop.
As with the other issues, this will depend on your relationship at the start. It can be extremely difficult for loved ones to end things over this issue, and you will likely put more time and energy into addressing it before you start thinking it can’t work.
Ways To Develop Empathy In Relationships
1* Communicate With Your Partner
The first and foremost step to resolving any conflict in a relationship is to talk about it openly and in a rational manner. Now, having a conversation with a non-empathetic partner can be tricky because of all the reasons we just described above. You will have to communicate in a diplomatic manner. Don’t just tell them directly that they’re non-empathetic. This is a direct judgment, which no matter how truthful can hurt and make them sway away from a fruitful conversion. Instead, tell them in an undramatic way the repercussions their actions have on your and the relationship.
2* Listen To Them
The basis of lack of empathy in relationships is not listening to your partner. Sometimes, both sides can have resistance to listening, causing a lack of empathy in the entire relationship. This can also be the result of a push-pull mechanism, which is when one partner lacks empathy and the other person reacts to their inconsideration and retaliates in the same way. Know that listening is different from hearing. You don’t just hear their experience only to react and say what you want to say, but understand what they’re saying before you respond. It’s better to not criticize or judge at any point. And tell them that you expect the same from them – the same understanding and empathy as you’re showing them.
3* Don’t Blame Yourself
When someone constantly puts the blame on you, criticizes, judges, and gaslights you, it’s easy to start putting the blame on yourself and feel like you’re not enough. Anyone who suffers from low self-esteem and goes into a relationship with a non-empathetic person can feel the brunt of these emotions the worst. Maintaining your emotional cool with someone who has low empathy is important. This way you can maintain your emotional equilibrium and see the circumstances for what they are, rather than how the other person is making you see them.
4* Develop Self-Awareness
Self-Awareness connects you to your core and makes you realize who you’re as a person, how your actions can affect others, and how their actions can affect you. It also brings you closer to your behavioral traits and individuality. It’s one of the first components of the self-concept to emerge. Developing self-awareness can help you draw a line between self and the other person’s behavior. In fact, those who have low empathy can benefit greatly from building self-awareness. When you and your partner both practice self-awareness, it opens the way to healthy communication, better conflict management, and a stronger connection.
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