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.