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The Empathic Obligation

box of empathy
Obligatory burden

Having the ability to be empathetic is not the domain of people with ADHD.

It is, however, something that seems more common among us.

And it is something that, like many paradoxical aspects of ADHD, both serves us well and causes great trouble in our lives.

Being empathic is both a blessing and a burden, it can be used as a tool, and it can devastate our day to day lives.


When we are interested in someone, their life, their stories, their experiences, we can zone in and hyperfocus on them just like on anything else that attracts or distracts our attention. And we can often, through our keen, hyper-focused observation skills, empathize with that person with great accuracy.

That accurate empathy can often lead to our being able to engage with that person on a level beyond that which our knowledge of the person should dictate.

And often we have no choice in this, just as hyper-focus isn’t something we can control, neither is the empathetic tendencies we have.


That may be okay, because it often allows us to demonstrate our interest and to interact in a way that we can be comfortable with.

And sometimes it’s actually exciting, which just feeds our hyper-focus and distraction.


Sometimes empathy is our enemy.

In situations where we, as people with ADHD, are being judged by neuro-typical standards, held up to the scale of so called “normalcy,” we can often be distressed beyond what should be allowed to happen because of our empathetic obligation.

Many of us, being aware of how it hurts to be emotionally abused, find ourselves seeking solutions to conflict and confrontation that will not offend, will not return the conflict, will defuse the confrontation, will allow the situation to subdue to a point where we can return to socializing amiably.

We are somewhat delusional

The likelihood of that happening is remote, and yet we will sacrifice in order to exhaust every possible option to make that happen.

And every option we exercise costs us a little more, sometimes self esteem, sometimes credibility, sometimes peace of mind.

So why do we do it?

I cannot tell you the cause of our determination to solve every confrontation that is rooted in our being judged and found wanting. I mean, I know as well as anyone else that it feels good to be accepted, feels bad to be rejected, is enjoyable to be socializing and is painful to be marginalized by standards that are applied by people who don’t understand us.

But I know that we do often attempt to rectify confrontational situations.

And because we, for some reason, often don’t want anyone to feel like we feel, we try to do it without actually returning confrontation, without calling people idiots or swearing at them, casting aspersions on their genetic lineage or publicly questioning their taste in private activities.

We are obligated, for some reason, to be empathetic to the feelings of others at the expense of our own.

And it takes a lot of work to ease that burden off of ourselves.

The Empathic Obligation

Kelly Babcock

I was born in the city of Toronto in 1959, but moved when I was in my fourth year of life. I was raised and educated in a rural setting, growing up in a manner I like to refer to as free range. I live in an area where my family history stretches back 6 or more generations. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 50 and have been both struggling with the new reality and using my discoveries to make my life better. I write two blogs here at Psych Central, one about having ADHD and one that is a daily positive affirmation that acts as an example of finding the good in as much of my life as I possibly can.

Find out more about me on my website: writeofway.

email me at ADHD Man

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APA Reference
Babcock, K. (2019). The Empathic Obligation. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 15, 2019, from


Last updated: 15 May 2019
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