Mankind is noted for having three differing types of empathy: cognitive, emotional and compassionate. But there are significant problems that take place when a person has too much or too little of any specific kind.
Best selling author, Dr. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, points out the downfalls in his informative post, Three Kinds of Empathy.
Cognitive Empathy- Sensing what’s going on with the people around us
Cognitive empathy enables us to perceive what’s going on with the next person. But just because you know what they are experiencing, and what motivates them, does not mean you’ll exhibit caring or be able to put yourself in their shoes. In fact, it may do just the opposite.
Strong cognitive empathy is the tool that torturers rely on to shake a prisoner down for information. They can detach completely from any sense of pathos toward their victim. People who have high levels of cognitive empathy make great politicians and sales people. When cognitive empathy is accompanied by emotional empathy, it’s a good thing.
Sociopaths that conduct emotional harm are intuitive about the needs and wants of their target. They’ll use cognitive clues to position themselves for acceptance, just like a chameleon changes colors. The problem is, they lack the emotional empathy that reigns-in their self-interest. Most people who recover from relationships with sociopaths think back on them as “reptilians” for good reason. There is a distinct cold-bloodiness in the way they operate.
Having cognitive empathy and no conscience enables swindlers to come up with asset grabs. Bernie Madoff pops to mind as a good example. We often think of con artists as people who try to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to an unsuspecting victim.
Emotional Empathy- The knee-jerk reaction to the perils that others experience
Emotional empathy enables us to embrace the feelings of others as if we were sharing their experience. When your heart pops into your mouth as someone falls off their chair, you are experiencing emotional empathy. People with appropriate levels of emotional empathy go through life thinking that everyone has it…. until they crash headfirst into the path of someone who does not. Their efforts to try to convey their experience to others is often met with disbelief, which makes the victim feel even more violated and isolated.
A person with high levels of emotional empathy could be hamstrung from benefiting the person with a problem because they may get too emotional to react in a positive way. That’s where compassionate empathy kicks in.
Compassionate Empathy- How we make a difference in the lives of others
Through compassionate empathy, we can use our emotional empathy to produce a meaningful result. A person with a well balanced level of compassionate empathy would come to the aid of the individual who fell, calling 911 if needed, or problem solving to determine what the situation warrants. People with compassionate empathy will appear outwardly cool in a pinch, even while feeling significant concern for the person who’s in danger. While they might fall apart after the crisis ends, they remain sufficiently detached to provide help when it’s needed.
The risk of compassionate empathy in dating
Having compassionate empathy puts people at risk for becoming victims, particularly in internet dating scams. The actor grooms their target with an overabundance of loving gestures to fuel their sense of belonging and build trust. The offender will jiggle the hook with a small bait-like request for a token “favor.” They may even provide reciprocal favors in return, grooming the victim further.
Ultimately, when they believe the victim is sufficiently snagged, they’ll spring a mega-request, and it’s usually about money, sex, or immigration related. It’s often couched in language that makes the request seem like an emergency. Targets that fail to produce the desired result get hit with a scathing attack aimed at crushing their self esteem. They are often too embarrassed and devastated to immediately seek help. They are stunned by the cessation of love they had counted on. Before they regain their equilibrium, the predator is long gone. and probably bad mouthing them to their next victim.
How empathy factors in our relationships
Emotional empathy is absolutely necessary in sustaining a loving relationship. Without it, a person is only capable of engaging with others on a “What’s in it for me?” basis. While they may pretend to be caring, because they know it’s socially acceptable to do so, their self-centered way of looking at the universe will ultimately surface. There will be no “agreeing to disagree” in order to make peace, a negotiation skill that is vital in order to sustain a relationship when acrimony occurs, as it does in any human interaction.
A mate with no emotional empathy cannot and will not put themselves in your shoes. They simply lack the ability to do so. And without this ability, they cannot develop a conscience. The only limits to their behavior stem from fear of being “outed,” and fear of loss or consequences.
No amount of bargaining, acquiescing, pleading, explaining, or cajoling will change their mindset. It is the way they are wired. Once a person advances past the life stage in which their moral code of conduct forms, they are who they are, and YOU will not change them.
How do you know if you’re dating a sociopath?
Someone who lies to you, in order to seduce you, has little or no emotional empathy. They do not put themselves in your shoes. They see you as a prize, an entitlement, a piece of property, but not as the living, breathing, caring human being that you are. If they were dishonest in their on-line dating description, or other information they initially fed you, they have no conscience. They are self indulgent.
The derisive manipulation of a person without emotional empathy will undermine your well-being. Even if the relationship remains intact, the victim’s self esteem will be shredded. So if you are experiencing loss of worth or other abuse, get help, today!
If you are with someone who displays a lack of emotional empathy toward others, it’s a sign of their real, underlying nature.
But, isn’t there a cure? Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? I felt so loved!
Sociopaths are people who lack emotional empathy. That is how their brain works. They are not sick. They are disordered. They know the difference between right and wrong. They just don’t care. They will not get better, but the longer you endure their behavior, the worse your situation will become.
They played with your brain chemistry to hook you. Find someone who loves you for you, not for your assets or other services you provide for them. Get out before giving birth to their child or financial complications get in the way.
A lucky example of collective compassionate empathy!
All of you with emotional empathy will be happy to know that the group of onlookers in the title photo rushed to the aid of the little boy who dangled from his fathers hands. He plunged 25 feet into their waiting arms, and skied the rest of the day. Thanks to Matt Roeser who had his camera at the ready to snap this awesome testament to compassionate empathy at Hidden Valley in Wisconsin.
6 thoughts on “Empathy- It’s fundamental, or is it?”
The picture of the boy dangling from a chair on a chair lift sent shivers through me. I live in Canada, have been a Ski Patroller and a ski instructor. I have been in exactly that position ski patrolling and been seduced by a Cuban Sociopath/Narcissist. The ability to discern the difference between Cognitive (I call it “Intellectual”) empathy and emotional empathy is very difficult when you have both. I thought everyone had both until I almost lost my house to a mortgage fraudster and then discovered the woman I married in Cuba (brought her to Canada) was living a dual life with a Common Law Husband in Cuba.
In the space of 4 years I have had to dig myself out of both of these highly charged emotional situations. I don’t know which was worse, the first was the mortgage, the second was the marriage. On reflection, my mistake was to ignore and allow my anxiety to run rampant, which in effect did not allow me to think clearly and listen and look into the reality of the situations.
If a person understood these people (Socio/Psychopaths & Narcissists) existed, alarm bells would be going off sooner than later. They do exist, 1 in 25 people has this kind of disorder. Spending the last year studying their behavior, understanding their behavior and what to look for has been crucial to my emotional recovery. Intellectualizing it was my only defense and road to recovery.
By intellectualizing it I was able to remove my own emotions (that they preyed upon), and truly understand I did nothing wrong. I was a victim, now I am smarter than they because I understand the brain pathology behind their actions.
I encourage anyone and everyone (who possesses emotional empathy) to read, read and study their behavior. They exist and walk among us undetected because they are able to emulate (act out) “real” emotions, such as crocodile tears, on demand making you “think” they have emotional empathy. Tears are just one of their “tools” to reel you into their deception.
Why these “intra-species” social predators exist is beyond my understanding. I just know they exist, period. I don’t question it anymore, I watch for signals and invest my emotions very carefully, ready to abort at any time. It is a game with them because “we” are not as developed as they are (according to their twisted thinking). I believe it is exactly the opposite, but there is no cure for their behavior only a strong defense (ability to intellectualize) on “our” part.
I’m sorry to hear about your troubles, but glad to know that you’ve survived your ordeal with good perspective on what happened.
The ability to feel emotional empathy comes principally from our production of oxytocin, (Dr. Paul Zak in “The Moral Molecule.”) It exists in order to keep us coupled with our partner over the long haul of our children’s development. Unfortunately, our offspring are the slowest to develop on the planet. They are still absolutely helpless while lesser animals in the phylum are scampering about independent of their parents.
So oxytocin gives us the ability to develop empathy, trust, bonding, the characteristics that keep relationships together. People who lack this microbiological function are simply not as evolved. While they pride themselves on being “bad ass” and strong, they simply don’t comprehend what they are missing. They are incapable of the highest form of love that transcend selfishness.
They can recognize who around them possess the capacity for unconditional love, and they will misuse their forgiving nature to extort what they want from them. They bond only as a means to a self-absorbed end, similar to lesser beings like lions and tigers. Wild animals will protect their young, unless they decide to eat them. They are motivated by need, not love.
(Of course, the exception is my Toy Australian Shepherd, Argos. Like most pet parents, I’m absolutely sure he has emotional empathy! ;-))
Unfortunately, people with compassion and humanity are less likely to be victorious in battle, and our current society seems to be struggling to determine whether moralistic values, or the brawn to protect ourselves against others who lack morality, is the superior achievement. While I hate to get political, that seems to be what the Guantanamo question is about…. Is it okay to be cruel to protect the society we value? Or are we dismembering our own societal morality, from the inside, by doing so?
My personal sense of the actual ratio of character dysfunction in today’s world is that it’s far greater than what mental health professionals hypothesize. And since predators conduct themselves in a serial fashion, even 4% of the world population can do serious damage to the other 96% of humanity.
Thanks for your input!
The controls and abuse work whether they stay or go…. there is no escape. Which is why it is so important to prevent having children with a character disordered partner, before it happens!
The offending parent will torment through their presence, or they will abandon, leaving the other parent to shoulder all the heavy lifting of raising a child on their own. I had one of those!
Unfortunately, the pain of defilement never goes away, we simply learn to cope with it. But the offender wants no part of being held accountable. It’s not uncommon for them to disappear, making it all your fault to anyone who’ll listen to them.
My ex failed to support his child from day one. He came up with the most absurd stories about why and how he did so. He even fooled my son into believing that he tried to support him, but I wouldn’t take his money.
Unfortunately, my son’s development pre-dated the internet. If it happened today, there might have been a different outcome.
The children of parents with character disorder are at great risk of becoming character disordered. Genetics plays a role and it’s imperative for their children to have a significantly warm and nurturing environment. A pre-disposition to psychopathy does not mean that all children of psychopaths will be psychopaths. And there are steps you can take to turn the tide in favor of developing morality in your child.
I recommend that anyone having a child of a psychopath read Dr. Liane Leedom’s book, “Just Like His Father.” It’s on my recommended reading list that’s below. And if you want to know what can happen if you’re not aware of the pitfalls, read “Carnal Abuse by Deceit.” Together, they can change what you know about parenting your child!
The impacts on my son were tremendous. And I can never go back and correct that harm. I can only hope to spare the next person by divulging my story and providing this blog.
I recently posted a poem about the impacts on raising a child in the Poetry Forum.
“Get out before giving birth to their child”… I can definitely attest to what happens with a child. They are precious, and I couldn’t imagine life without them…the abuser sees them as pawns-weapons to use to continue to torture the victim. They think they can continue to control through the children…it is very sad, and takes much strength to counter act the effects of the continued emotional abuse on the kids. This is an excellent post of information!
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