THE COLD COMFORT

 

It is a well-recognised trait of ours that we do not feel empathy. We know how to show empathy. You and others have exhibited this on many occasions so we understand the facial expression to adopt, the tilt of the head, the appropriate body language such as a hand on the arm or an arm around the shoulders. We have listened most carefully so we understand the phrases to trot out,

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Is there anything I can do to help; it must feel terrible.”

“I understand where you are coming from, believe me and just tell me how I can help you.”

“I know how you feel.”

“I would feel upset too if this had happened to me.”

I have watched people like you in action as they exhibit their empathic nature and I have scoured the internet as well to gather a few choice phrases there also. Put all of this together and our kind is able to exhibit a convincing display of empathy which will fool almost everyone. You will see this false empathy exhibited during seduction when we want to show you how we are a kind, caring and sympathetic person so you will feel drawn to us even more. We know the correct recipients of this false empathy as well, the sick, the elderly, the stray cat, the homeless, the earthquake victim, the child with the distended stomach because he has not eaten for days, the earnest looking villagers crowded around a newly sunk well and so on. Yes, I know all of those who need some empathic reactions and I will provide them in front of you so you are all the more attracted to me. So that I fit in.

It is, of course, all for show. I do not feel it. Not at all. Not one iota, speck or scintilla of empathy. Show me a report of some tragedy and my eyes will glide across the text as I register what has happened. Inside I feel nothing. There is no response. I do not feel sorry for the people involved in the aftermath of the hurricane. I do not imagine what it must be like for them and how they must feel. Certainly I am intelligent enough to know how they must feel but I do not put myself in their shoes. I do not imagine what it must be like for them. There is no pulling at my heart strings, a feeling of upset, despondency or even anger at the injustice they may have suffered. Of course as you seek my response from alerting me to this latest disaster I will form a furrowed brow, shake my head and issue some suitable words to make you think that I care. That is of course if I want your positive reaction whereby you look on approvingly at my supposed compassion. If I no longer seek positive fuel from you then I will use it as an opportunity to provoke you.

“And?” is usually a good starting point for drawing a reaction from an empathic individual to something terrible.

“What do you mean and? These people are homeless and injured. They live on a small island and have no power and no clean water.”

“What do you expect me to do about it? They shouldn’t live there then.”

“What? Do you really mean that?”

“Yes. Their choice. They have to deal with it.”

This will invariably provoke a stunned silence or protestations. You may follow me as I walk away asking me how can I not feel for these people. You may express anger or outrage and naturally this is what I want you to do. The fact is I feel nothing. If I see a charity appeal on television I am unmoved. I have nothing in common with the people who are requesting help. I cannot identify with how they must feel in any way. It is a total disconnection.

The situation is different with those who I interact with and especially those who are an intimate partner when I am devaluing you. If you are ill and wanting some support and those three dreaded words “tender loving care” I do not feel nothing. I feel an overwhelming sense of disgust and revulsion. How have I come to couple with someone so pathetic and weak? Why did I agree to live with someone who is sneezing, coughing and rasping? They are trying to infect me aren’t they? Trying to bring me down to their level. I know what their plan is and I will not be duped. I see no reason why I should waste my time and energy dealing with somebody like this. It is a drain on my resources and there is little or no fuel to be had. Moreover, the sense of disgust drives me to get away from you. I cannot stand to see such weakness, such illness and such infirmity. I must escape it and thus I will disappear, sometimes with an excuse and often without in order to avoid this horrific scene.

When you are upset, perhaps over a bad day at work or an argument with a friend and you tearfully explain what is troubling you, expect to be met with a shrug. What do you expect me to do about it? It is your problem, not mine. Sort it out yourself. If you persist pleading with me to listen and to help you then I become irritated at your commandeering my time in this manner. Do you not realise I have much to do myself? I cannot forgo my own machinations and fuel gathering to play agony aunt to your whinging and whining. Your pathetic concerns annoy me and you will can expect me to berate you in order to further your misery so I at least draw some negative fuel from your upset. That way the situation is not one which will be completely written off. If your upset is even greater following the loss of your job or a bereavement, we will show no regard for your feelings and indeed exploit your misery during our devaluation. We will take this opportunity when you are vulnerable to extract further fuel. That is what matters to us. We feel the need for fuel. We do not feel any compassion or warmth towards you and indeed your selfishness in concentrating on yourself when you should be attending to us infuriates us. We will suggest that you never bothered much with that family member when they were alive so why are you now getting upset when they have passed away? You cry about your sacking and we suggest that you deserved it because you were not working hard enough. We will extract that negative fuel from your tears, your hurt, your frustration and your anger and once that has been obtained we will leave you to it. We have got what we want and there are other things, notably other people we can better spend our time with, rather than remaining with you and being subjected to your self-centred pity. We know you find such an approach heartless and abhorrent but there is no hope for anything else. We do not feel compassion or sympathy. There is no need for us to fake it because we can draw negative fuel, we do not need to make you like us or admire us and provide positive fuel. This is how we have been created. This is the cold comfort that you will always receive from us whenever you have a moment of need, upset or anguish. Deal with it

Advertisements

 

INANIMATE COMPLIANCE

I have a fascination for inanimate objects. Show me a beautiful watch with its intricate mechanism on display and I shall sit transfixed for a long time admiring the craftsmanship in this creation. I like to touch one of my favourite suits relishing the sensation of the cloth. I will hold it up pleased with the way it hangs and then of course admire how I wear it in the mirror. A sculpture, a painting, a car or a piece of jewellery. They all invite my admiration. They are items of beauty and superiority and as such firmly belong in my world. Moreover, they do exactly what I want. I love my dishwasher. It always works. I press the buttons and it obeys my commands, quietly churning away as it removes the residue from the expensive crockery. The glassware comes out shining, without streaks or marks. Each and every time. Objects are reliable. They perform as I require them to perform. I love nothing more than an appliance. It complies, it obeys and it delivers. I love possessions.

I love to possess you and make you an inanimate object. That is how I see you. You are an appliance which I expect to do as I demand.You are but an extension of me, placed here to carry out my demands and whims. I like to attach brand names to my ex-girlfriends. Becky was Zanussi – she was good at science, thus she was the appliance of science. Sarah was Nike since I had to tell her to Just Do It.(she called me Burger King – have it your way, I quite liked her).Another was Energizer as she kept going and going and going (but that’s another tale). I like to think I am Tag Heuer (Success. It’s a Mind Game).I objectify everybody and assess how they can be a good appliance to me. Once that is done I have to acquire the appliance. I have possession of you and you must act as I dictate. All my other possessions do, so why should you be any different?

MY SECRET GARDEN

Would you like to know what my garden is like? Before I tell you, why don’t you stop and close your eyes and picture in your mind’s eye what you think my garden looks like? That’s right, conjure up the image that forms when you think of me and what my garden might be like. Take your time, move around it and ensure you have given it due consideration as you generate the image. Have you done it? Did it take you long? I suspect you managed to envisage it rather quickly didn’t you, after all, you are well-known for your amazing imagination aren’t you? I often find I have to apologise for your fantastic tales and over the top comments, but that is to be expected of somebody like you. Anyway, let’s leave your behaviour to one side for the time being (although I will return to it when nobody is looking, you can be assured of that) and let’s consider what you created in your mind.

I should imagine that the landscape you have formulated is one of two outcomes. I expect that some of you will have pictured nothing but concrete. All plant life and flora banished by a solid slab of grey cement that has solidified into an impenetrable barrier that stretches in all directions, lifeless and uninspiring. Once there might have been a flourishing and verdant garden but it has been banished by this concrete covering which has extinguished anything that grew or blossomed. If the concrete carbuncle is not what you saw in your mind then you will have opted for the alternative. You will have pictured solid, barren and lifeless soil which will not sustain anything of beauty. A toxic and poisonous stream flows through the centre of it, dead fish floating on their backs as they drift lifelessly along. Not even algae grows on this polluted stream. The few trees there are in this garden are dead. The bark grey and lifeless, forlorn limbs stretching into a dark grey sky, where there is always cloud. The branches and twigs are leafless. The bushes consist of brambles which hinder anybody who might try and move through this uninviting place. There is no grass and there a few brown, dried-out husks which suggest there might have once been something greener and vibrant. There are no sweet smelling flowers here, only the awful stench which rises from the slow-moving stream which looks more like treacle than water. Even the weeds are few and far between, struggling to find any sustenance from the sterile soil.

Is this what you saw?

Come and follow me as I take you into my secret garden. I produce a key from my jacket explaining that very few people ever get to see my secret garden but I am letting you inside because you are special and I like you. I open the thick gate and usher you inside. You do not see me hurriedly lock it behind you since you are busy staring at the beautiful garden that rolls out before you. Capability Brown must have laboured long and hard here. The lawn is flat and even, the grass has been rolled so that stripes have formed and there is not one blemish to be seen amidst the green, green blades. The edges of the lawn have been carefully cut so that no grass overhangs so that there is a distinct line between the lawn and the flower beds. The soil looks fertile, well-nourished and is free of weeds. A dazzling array of flowers grow from this well-tilled soil. Strong stalks reach up towards the azure sky, shiny leaves sprouting from the stalks before the injection of colour appears. Every shade of the rainbow is represented amongst the many varieties of flower that flourish in my secret garden. Brilliant blues, fiery oranges, ruby reds and sunshine yellows abound. The flowers have short petals, long petals which move in the gentle breeze, there are bell-shaped flowers, trumpet shaped flowers and others shaped like stars. White, purple, scarlet and ochre all combine to create this tapestry of beauty. A stream gurgles as it passes through the garden, cutting across the magnificently manicured lawn, so that an intricate bridge has been created allowing one to traverse from one side to the other. Bushes ring the flowers, an expert in topiary having crafted them into sensational shapes. Beyond the bushes are the trees, tall and trimmed so that they form a fence around this paradise. You stand on the edge of this magnificent garden utterly transfixed. The scents waft from the roses, from the lilies and the sweet William combining to create a heady concoction of fragrances. You are over awed by this display.

“Do you like it?” I ask.

You are dumb-founded, unable to speak. All you can muster is a slow nod as you feel a tear trickle down your cheek from your left eye as you are overtaken by how beautiful it all is.

I beckon to you and you follow me to a nearby apple tree which is festooned with fruit. The red and green apples hang from the branches and I pluck one and pass it to you. You smile and take a bite anticipating how fresh and crisp the apple will be. Your teeth easily sink in as you are surprised to find the flesh of the apple soft. You taste bitterness in your mouth and instinctively spit out the piece of fruit.

“What’s wrong?” I ask as I select an apple too.

“It is sour,” you explain. I take a bite from my apple and you hear the crunch as I take a chunk from it. I chew and through the mouthful explain that mine tastes fine. I hand the apple to you and you bite into it. It is soft and again tastes sour. Confusion rises inside you as you look at the apple and see a maggot wriggling beneath where you have bitten into the apple. You hurl the apple away as I invite you to sniff a magnificent rose nearby. You lean in and inhale its perfume, pulling the petalled head towards you. There is no scent and instead you sneeze. As you let go of the rose you give a short cry of pain and find that a thorn is wedged in your finger, the blood already spooring from the wound and trickling down your finger. You sneeze again,your nose irritated by something and you keep sneezing as your eyes water. You stagger away from the rose still sneezing and into a bush but it is not the sculpted creation you saw moments earlier. Instead, you feel a prickling sensation as you are stung and realise you have stumbled into a bed of nettles. Pain rising you stagger away, eyes streaming and make for where you recall the stream is hoping to use the cool, clear water to wash away the irritation you have suffered. You can just make out where it is through your blurred vision as you drop to your knees only to cry out again. You have knelt on some thistles.Where did they come from? This lawn was flawless before. You reach out flailing for the stream but there is nothing, The water has gone and the stream has dried up. You feel something wrap around your left wrist and as you try to wipe away the tears from your eyes with your free hand, you feel pain as a vine begins to tighten about your wrist. You pull trying to free yourself from it and twist around to call to me for help.

The smooth lawn is no longer there. Gone is the rolled grass. Instead you are looking at a mountainside, rugged and steep. You yank your arm as the vine is trying to pull you and look upwards. You can see me standing there smiling at you, looking down from my lofty position atop this mountain which has sprung out of nowhere. A cold wind begins to blow as you shout for help, another vine beginning to snake towards you. I tilt my head as if I cannot hear you, a smile still plastered across my face.

“Help me, what is happening?” you shout.

“Nothing,” I call back, ” I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“This. The garden, it has changed,” you yell above the gathering wind. You see that I am shaking my head.

” Not it’s not, everything is just the same, Beautiful isn’t it?” I reply.

You frown. How can I not see what has altered? The beautiful glade has become a hostile and hurtful place. How has this happened to you? You try and crawl forward and I stand watching you, offering no help as more vines snake towards you, the ground beneath you hard and stony. The vines wrap about you and threaten to pull you into the abyss below you. All the while I stand and watch smiling.

Welcome to my secret garden.