If You Don’t Understand Empathy, You Don’t Understand People

Bandied about in the age of perceived narcissism is the accusation that narcissists lack empathy.  Most people, in their commonsense blame oriented thinking, mistakenly believe that empathy is something you do.   One problem with this outlook is the confrontational interpretation it produces.  If someone truly doesn’t have empathy they are viewed as to blame for not having it.

Empathy is some combination of identification and sympathy.  This means you know what others are experiencing and are motivated by it.  (NB:  Neither of these are something you do on purpose.)  Empathy, in this view, is a response.

With this perspective in mind you can see the situation of an unemphatic person differently.  Instead of blaming them for not being empathetic you can inquire: What is preventing this person from from responding?  What has gotten in the way?

The answer is usually some form of suffering.  If you find this perspective hard to take seriously then maybe it should give you pause to consider how quickly being asked to sympathize with difficult people has produced an unempathic response in you.  Maybe learning to avoid empathizing with other people makes perfect sense when you’re surrounded by those who judge you, don’t take you seriously and blame you for your problems (i.e. all other people).

People who suffer from a lack of empathy are witnesses to an unfortunate truth about human nature:  We can be quite unsympathetic.