Empathy Can Be Facilitated But Not Taught

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.

29 thoughts on “Empathy Can Be Facilitated But Not Taught

  1. I found this; It is not about humans.

    It is about Wild Dogs

    It is about EMPATHY in creation. The power that it has in this world. I mean Real power.

    If you wish to watch please do so, get a hot coffee, maybe a cookie. I liked it.
    It proved to me what emphathy can do.


    1. Hi Joey,

      Thank you for posting the link. I just finished watching the You tube and really enjoyed it, the remarkable journey to press on and endure against all odds. Solo is amazing, I started to tear up when I thought she might be alone forever. She looked so sad an forlorn, and then, always in danger. You could read the expressions on her face and how she struggled. In their own right, to me dogs are human in their need for companionship, love and acceptance.

      Hugs Kindred Spirit

      1. BTOV/Joey,

        Just as the spiritual aspect of things, a program for example, I think is crucial to being able to have empathy, this too cannot be taught, it can be imitated, and those who do not have either can’t pull it off for very long.

        Just as when my mother was hooked on codeine in the 1980s (stole mine when I’d just had knee surgery at 14, in DARE, I got rid of them immediately, then gave her a bucket per the instructions of one of the cops I worked with and went off to school), but all she did was stop taking them, work a program, no. She can’t. Not if there is no grasp of the spiritual aspect of recovery.

        In my case, it took a long time to find recovery-once I did, did the 4th step, identified the biggest source of resentments, and cut it off, did I find that my life has done a 180. I can grasp the spiritual aspect of this.

        Just as someone once observed of me, that I have a tremendous amount of compassion-empathy is required for this, as is I believe a spiritual connection. My mother has the religious aspect, which is better than nothing, as this is about showing gratitude, which will be her saving grace come Judgement Day.

        When I showed myself compassion through the 12 steps, I think it also illustrated the required spiritual connection for someone to get better from pretty much anything.

        All answers are spiritual-recovery, and things like PTSD-CPTSD. Everything else is in Christ Jesus. Only going to church (as I said this can though, be a saving grace, lacking anything else, God has compassion for her, He knows what created her, the wounded little girl who was hurt between the ages of 2 and 7, only doing that, I belive at least, people are free to disagree, is it can at least, get you an A for attendance.

      2. BTOV and all

        Some animals can be psychopathic too or reasonably close enough to it. I watched a doco once on the Wolves of Yellowstone. They tracked two packs who were reintroduced after 100 years of no wolves. They had to bring them back as their removal badly impacted on and negatively affected the entire ecology. They had two packs The Druids and another one. To cut a long story short one of the female wolves, the sister of the Alpha dog’s mate murderered her own sister in order to take her position in the pack. This doesn’t usually happen.

        Then there was the case of the two lions in Africa during the late 1800’s – two males the Tsavo Man Eaters were committing murder and going on killing sprees killing humans for sport. They found their lair (in the movie anyway) they were trophy collectors. The movie was a highly fictionalized account but I think the actual number was estimated to be around 135 people they killed. The movie is called The Ghost and the Darkness.

        Animals have emotions alright. I’ve had animals all my life, they most certainly do have emotions and they developed that way because they have to care for their young. They feel happiness, sadness, pain and loss I can see it in them. They have a limbic system just as we do and when it goes tilt in animals you get psychopathic animal behavior or rather they can develop bad characters as well. They don’t have a neocortex so they don’t think like we do.

        Thanks for the link Joey, will be watching that one!

  2. So, how they act when they’ve hurt you tells all you really need to know about their character.

    This is all we need to know about the DC’s in our lives. This is the point were we must give up on empathy and face facts. But it takes it out of you. Throwing in that towel, is the HARDEST THING I HAVE HAD TO DO (and so have others) IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.
    “BUT HELL ! ”
    “IT WAS WORTH IT” They are parasitic

  3. I have been reading about the basic temperaments, sanquine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic. This makes me wonder if there are genetic components of narcissim or if it is learned, or if there is a natural tendency at birth and the difference in training makes a difference in the outcome of the individual. It seems to be so mysterious as to why one is so lacking in empathy and so predator minded. From my experience they seemed to feel the person had it coming that they used, but it seemed to be a justification they had to believe so they don’t have guilt. They deceive others but actually they deceive themselves more than anyone. We eventually see through it or see it for what it is, they live in deception and from what I have experienced, do not recognize it.

    1. Kat

      For me, it is their choice. You suffer abuse; You would think that the person on the receiving end would become withdrawn and depressed. Not So. They become GOD in their mind, Perfect ,Entitiled, Un-Empathic and above all Controlling.
      It is choice, in part.

      Thinking affects behaviour

      1. I agree it is choice in part because they go through elaborate schemes to get what they want without regard to the other person. Thru my experience you are the one with the problem if you are hurt. I heard one of my ex’s friends say that people are like grapes – you pick them. So they see the vulnerability of others with a predator mindset. I don’t need to say that to you I know – just thinking out loud. But it just seems so demented that it makes me wonder if somehow their inner wiring is short circuited in some way because it seems so unnatural. We are not animals, we were made differently.

        1. kat,

          Their wiring is short circuited. It has been well documented and proven in many cases using PET and fMRI scans of their brains. Further in Dr Simon’s book In Sheep’s Clothing demonstrates the different predatory narc styles and types.

          We actually are animals just as Joey is saying we are the next step in the evolutionary leap and have developed a neocortex which is used for thinking and strategizing. Primates including monkeys and humans as well as cestations dolphins and whales all have evolved a neocortex.

          There is nothing unknown about this.

          1. What I had in mind about humans being different than animals is the Christian perspective in that we have a biological side, but that God created us as beings capable of having a spiritual birth as well as a physical birth and therefore has enabled us to have fellowship with Him. There is no such ability with animals as far as scripture has taught us. I know others do not accept that and I am fine with that, but this is my perspective.

  4. We are a Biological Species and therefore a type of animal.

    The CD’s diffrence in behaviour is what is at the core of this site. Acceptance is what is needed. Without this site I would not have a clue. I would be hanging from a tree somewhere. Making us feel like it is our fault all the time. This is what they do.

    I heared a U.S politician say ” Always looking for scapegoats and excuses and not answers or resolutions”

  5. Of course the most important thing is to recognize and steer clear of the CD’s. I was to the point I didn’t believe my own eyes at one time. I knew nothing about it for a long time. I think they ought to teach in school about sociopaths and the signs to look for, it shouldn’t be that we go thru life not realizing that these predatory types exist and being victimized by them.

    1. Kat,

      I couldn’t agree more. There is a good deal that should be taught in schools other than what is in the standard curriculum. I’m all for home schooling given what is currently available and the poor educational standard of today that have not changed much since I was at school. It’s truly pathetic.

  6. This is interesting it’s an FBI Bulletin about Psychopaths. Looks like the FBI is now sitting under the Homeland Security umbrella – recent shift apparently.


    Pretty accurate – has to be, Robert Hare headed up the panel who wrote it. No argument from me anyway LOL

    How did I get it, an article in LoveFraud.

    For your reading and entertainment……………….NOT -cough-

    1. Agree with the state of education being pathetic! I think a course in life skills would be helpful. Interesting article, all of us who have dealt with them know they are ruthless predators. I had the experience of being around my ex in hospice and I can say the overriding emotion for him was anger, I would guess that it was in a large part to not being able to control the situation. That was disturbing and very sad.

      1. Kat,

        I’m in Oz and it’s pretty bad over here. It would be pretty much the same in the US I’d hazard a guess. People are becoming dumber not smarter. Also a critical subject that should be in every school curriculum should be emotional intelligence. Character disturbance starts young – I think if any healing modality was available it would be to start work on them at a young age as soon as they are identified.

        I have to agree with many authors out there about this disturbance falling on a spectrum. In some of the really hard core CD I think it’s highly probably it is a birth defect and that part of their brain’s neural circuitry just never formed at all. With others, it’s highly likely its atrophied due to lack of use. If they could learn to open up these neural pathways during childhood and adolescence they at least might have a chance.

        They would have to have entire facilities dedicated to accommodate these particular type of disturbed kids or they would need to be kept separate from other kids until they learned how to adjust.

        It just won’t happen at the moment with things the way they are and the education system like everything else is 200 years behind he eight ball. While we have psychopaths running the world the only thing we can expect is more of the same. Unless we change it ourselves.

        1. Eudoxia

          Have you read Matha Stouts sociopath next door. She goes into the details that in eastern parts of the world Psychopaths are not as prevalent. It is something in the West that contributes to make them what they are.

          1. Joey,

            No not read it listened to it. I don’t know if I actually got all the way through it. I have listened to 5 hours of it or thereabouts.

            I know this much Joey, there are way too many of them out there that’s for sure.

        2. Agree, there are just not the resources to try and turn the course for these individuals. Its backwards like so many things, prevention is not covered in medical treatments, only when the fire gets so big only the big artillery can try to put it out. So basically its up to us to spread the word. People now are definitely aware of narcissism but probably don’t know the warning signs, and of course CD’s are so good at being covert – still there are signs even they can’t cover up if we are educated about it. Dr. Simon’s blog is great, wish there were more that got this information out to the general public.

  7. Off topic, but now I am representing myself on some post-divorce issues. Did anyone say yet that these **** never quit being the jerk, ever?
    So I am trying to show that I’m trying to work things out before filing petitions, so I am now having email contact with the SB. Being careful with what I put in writing.
    Today I’ve been called liar, nuts, he repeats what I say back to me but with a twist, irrational, bitter, selfish, unreasonable and have no basic common sense.
    I’m finding it comical. I’ve come a long way.
    Anyway, his last comment where he repeated what I’d said and tried to turn it against me and in favor of him, I merely states: “Do you really think that judge ____ will fall for your manipulative tactics and projection? See you in court.”
    I’ll never be rid of him, will I?

    1. Lucy

      You will never be rid of him while you maintain the belief that you’ll never be rid of him. Have you ever seen a documentary called What the Bleep Do We Know?

      I can highly recommend you watch it – you should be able to access it online via UTube. It is a journey down the rabbit hole of sorts. The field of quantum physics in essence is where science meets spirituality.

      “In the beginning there was a void. Teaming with infinite possibilities. You are one of them”.


      If I may put to you another way, another path so to speak you just may find that trip down the rabbit hole may change the entire course of your life for the better :-

      This is one for everybody – enjoy!

    2. Just continue to be very careful like you are doing . Of course he is looking for every opportunity. Sounds like he’s feeling threatened and trying the usual techniques. They do have a limited bag of tricks, just keep your composure and limit your contact as much as possible. I know you already know these things. Say as little as possible is my advice – no matter what you say it will be twisted. You will be rid of him after the details are taken care of, it just seems like forever when you are in the middle of it.

    3. Lucy

      Just a suggestion. You could highlight what he repeated i.e copy,paste it.
      and say ” Do you think this is exceptable BEHAVIOUR of a Grown MAN”
      You can continually use the phrase,” Do you think this is exceptable BEHAVIOUR”
      If he repeats this, You can say” I no longer wish to converse with you” Your Behaviour is not Exceptable. I will only commuicate with you when you behave as an ADULT” GGGGOOOODDDDDBBBYYYEEEEE.
      Always finish with goodbye. It means in truth GOD BE WITH YE. But to them it is a LOSE OF CONTROLE.

      1. Joey,
        If I say those things he will keep coming back with further insults, etc. He ALWAYS has to have the last word.
        His behavior is unacceptable, absolutely.

        1. Lucy

          That’s The point of GOODBYE “Do’nt respond” do not let him have the last word.
          Do not give him that. If you are e-mailing you can control thing’s better.
          You could say ” As I am not in as much contact with you now. My life has improved, I am very bussy now, I will contact you as I NEED TO ON THIS MATTER”
          “Goood Bye” “Do’nt respond” If he replys. You can as you see fit, scane through this e-mail at a later date, to glean any information that is relavant to the case and respond to that only. Ignor anything that does not provide information.

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