What Is Empathy?
Empathy does not equate with compassion. Nor does it mean the same thing as pity. And it’s not something we cause to happen in any way. Rather, we simply experience it in certain situations. Most of us do, that is. And it involves more than just intellectually surmising or understanding how someone must feel. Empathetic folks know at a deep emotional level exactly what’s going on inside another person.
Empathy and shame deficits are the hallmark features of malignant narcissism. Generally speaking, the more severe these deficits, the more malignant the narcissism. (See also: Malignant Narcissism: At the Core of Psychopathy.) So, we’ve been doing a lot of research lately on what empathy is and how we acquire it.
Can It Be Taught?
We’ve long wondered whether empathy is an inborn trait or is learned. The most recent research indicates that the capacity to be empathetic is innate. That is, the ability to care is either there or it’s not. But just having the capacity for empathy doesn’t automatically mean someone will be a caring individual. We have to facilitate the development of any natural capacity. Growing our capacity to care makes all the difference when it comes to overcoming our early inherent narcissistic tendencies.
Why Don’t Some People Have Empathy?
Research suggests some folks come into this world with greatly diminished empathy capacity. Folks on the autistic spectrum, for example, can lack the capacity. So can folks possessing the traits we know contribute to psychopathic personality formation. Things can also happen to people that block or impede their ability to care. And the weaker a person’s capacity is in the first place, the less trauma it takes to impair their empathy development.
Can We Acquire Empathy Later In Life?
Science offers us mixed opinions about whether a person can learn to be more empathetic later in life. And some evidence suggest it’s dangerous to try to teach some folks to be more caring. Heightening a psychopath’s awareness about the vulnerabilities of others can have the effect of making them a more informed and skilled predator. Still, the evidence suggests that you can improve most folks’ empathy expression skills with proper coaching and sensitivity training.
I’ll have more to say on nurturing the capacity to care in the coming weeks.
Character Matters will air live this Sunday, October 29 at 7 pm EDT. So, you can call in to ask a question or share a concern.
I’ll have information posted soon on some advanced training workshops I’ll be doing next year.
Again, my sincerest thanks for recommending my books and this blog to others.