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The Road to Empathy: The Essay — 5 Comments

  1. I hope I’m not to late to leave a comment since its been such a while after is original posing date.
    My husband and I are having problems. The same problems that we’ve have for all of the five years we’ve been married. Interestingly enough, empathy is what I’ve been craving most from him, and to stumble upon this literature is a God send!
    I believe that I’m the empathetic one, and quite possibly a clinger. He is most definitely not empathetic and I often wonder if he even knows that he has feelings. He’s a “nice guy” by my and anyone’s account. He’s a technical good husband but definitly lacks any feeling, emotion or passion (perhaps other than anger).
    He is also in the Coast Guard and leaves for 2-3 months at a time (not seeing any type of combat, just patrolling areas) and staying home only a few weeks before some other type of training or something sends him off again.
    I’m incredibly weary and lonely. I’ve written letters to explain my emotions and how they affect me, and ask for his input so maybe I can see something suddenly, but I simply get a “sorry” and even an “its nothing I haven’t heard before.”
    We will be going to counseling, but he’ll only be here for 10 days when we start (then I won’t see him til July sometime). With the distance and lack of contact (except through occasional email), will the counseling actually be effective? Also, how can I approach him with this information without him feeling threatened?
    Now that I type it, the counseling question seems to be a silly question, but I’m running low on hope and starting to grow bitter, though I really don’t want to be.

    • Hello Hails, Not too late to post. I think the advice is still right on. Welcome.

      Empathy is such a cool thing. How can I help? You seem to be in a pretty normal situation with a partner who is currently lo-empathy, military (which kinda goes together), far off from you a lot.

      For me the first thing that comes to mind is “how do you act empathically toward a person who has not learned empathy?” I think you know how to be un-empathic, but that won’t be much use. A person who has few empathy skills started off as a child with early empathy skills in the delivery room. Then they ran into adults to a) punished them (bullied) for being empathic and b) showed them how to act un-empathic until they became an adult with few empathy skills. Doesn’t mean they can learn to be empathy. Just means they have to overcome a lot of (what I’ll call) negative teaching which they were taught as being “normal”. Of course they will marry a person who wants what they don’t have (Yet) and who will likely bully them for not being different than who they are.

      The second thought is to be empathic with you and start understanding how much pain you have when around people who don’t see you and understand you. Then you would logically marry a person who doesn’t know how to see and understand you, which causes you a lot of pain. So in your pain you seek, demand, etc. empathy from them while not knowing how to give them empathy nor how the bring their stunted empathy skills into flowering. Bummer.

      Back to the first question. “How to be empathic toward a person who hasn’t learned empathy and in such a way that remediates their lack of learning?” Do the wise stuff when your partner does the dumb stuff.

  2. Well, a quick question, and I'll give a quick response – that may seem overly optimistic.
    I've worked with many many narcissists. But I've worked with more partners of narcissists. Take heart. I believe narcissists are designed to grow up and develop all those empathy skills. I don't think they will do it alone, and so they require help. At the same time, I believe they are narcissistic because they have been receiving help for years and years – the wrong kind of help.
    The mistake in approaching a narcissist is to attack them head on. That tactic generally just inflames their own magestic skills in attacking others, they learn nothing, and you can get hurt. I find they can be approached obliquely, and very successfully. Probably the simplest approach is to a) teach them that their temper never ever works to get them what they want, and b) teach them that there are other people in the world who see things differently all the time. This involves identifying their “temper” and reliably taking a timed break from them whenever the use their temper. When they realize that their “temper tools” will reliably get them to be alone, they will start to look for other ways to connect.
    Now for the tough love part of my response to your question. I've found, and you can find this throughout my website, that people select partners who are equally “crazy” or “dysfunctional.” That usually means that the stuff that causes you to pick narcissists is just as “nutty” as the behavior of those narcissists. And I've found that stuff of yours is generally much harder to fix than the “stuff of narcissists.” It seems to be a longer journey. But, I believe, we are all designed to get better – grow up.
    You might want to read more on this website to find out more about your part in this situation and then get to work on it. Counseling, etc. may be really good for you, where it may not be so useful for your partner. Figure out why you are attracted to narcissists and get real specific about what parts of narcissists you need in your life. Then add those qualities to you.
    Good luck.

  3. OK, I've been really struggling with this one. I apparently have an attraction to Narcissistic Personality types. The trait that seems the most troublesome is the lack of empathy. Now, the experts never seem to say whether the lack of empathy is fixable. That is…can a narcissist learn empathy? Or are they forever damaged and doomed to live in a narrow band of emotional sharing?
    Also, as a single person, I find it tempting to just try to find someone less narcissistic. But I'm told that my own traits will likely guarantee that I end up with someone with those traits.
    It all sounds terribly depressing.

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