16 thoughts on “Can A Parent Have Too Much Empathy?

  • June 10, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I so appreciate your work in general and this piece as well.

    But the idea of walking the tightrope I think sets up a more precarious situation than necessary. And. Most people can’t walk a tightrope. Have you ever tried? It’s really hard. And metaphors matter because they become the inner compass that we use to measure ourselves on whether we are successful in our healing and parenting.

    What people can do is braid, or weave. Or sew. Or swim. Lots of analogies could be used to set people up for success.

    Also…I would love to see a contextual analysis. Emotional neglect happens when people are overwhelmed, and we have a society that is continuing to overwhelm individuals and couples with the notion that parenting is supposed to happen within the context of the nuclear family, rather than as part of an extended family and social support network. No human being can sustain the kind of attention that is needed to raise young children, so it is essential to build support networks that are part of the way that our children are cared for so that no single adult is responsible for the entire emotional care of a child.

    • June 10, 2018 at 1:55 pm

      Dear Nanci, I used the tightrope analogy very mindfully. I do think the stakes are high with parenting. CEN does happen when parents are overwhelmed, but in many other contexts as well. Many, many parents are missing this essential element of emotional connection and validation and once you’re giving your child that, all aspects of parenting become much clearer and easier. Thanks for your comment!

  • June 10, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I might add another consequence. That it can make the child feel responsible for the parent’s emotional well-being, resulting in them minimizing their emotions do that the parent doesn’t get upset.

    • June 10, 2018 at 1:57 pm

      Hi Michele, yes that could happen if the parent lets the child’s feelings upset him or her. That is a very good point!

  • June 11, 2018 at 8:01 am

    I grew up in working class NYC where parenting was less nuanced. A child’s insurrection was often met with a yelling and a beating. A rope would have used to administer this justice.

    Sometimes parents with their limited tools just went off the handle but mostly this is how they believed they produced responsible citizens.

    The adults these children became are deeply resentful of what they see as upper class pandering to disrespectful little brats. Of course, times being what they are, they will produce the most egregious example of overly permissive parenting to prove their point.

    Comedians like Russell Peters tap this anger by openly asking their audience “How many of you beat your kids?” to huge laughter and applause.

    The underlying message that they want to convey is that these effetes are weak and disconnected from reality. We are grounded and strong. They take that resentment to the voting booth.

    I know that unquenchable persistent anger and fear can only be sourced from childhood not from current events. Sometimes you knew why you were getting hit sometimes you didn’t. “What I do? What I do?” was often a kid’s refrain during the beating. The internal message I still feel is that the world is violent and random and you have nothing to say about it.

    Walking a tightrope can be learned by lots and lots of practice and falls. If someone doesn’t want to walk the tightrope why did they join the circus?

    The safety net while you learn is respectful love and attention to your kids. Kids don’t care if you make a mistake. What they are watching for us how you handle that mistake.

    • June 11, 2018 at 8:26 am

      Your words are impactful and come from your own painful personal experience. Thanks so much for sharing your insights with us Tyler.

      • June 14, 2018 at 4:48 pm

        I guess my own experiences overshadowed the point I really wanted to make.

        Dear parent. Get on the proverbial tightrope and learn to walk it. Think of psychological help as your balance beam. But just get on an make mistakes. Your children are beautifully tolerant and more understanding than you may know. Very imperfectly provide them with boundaries but let them be them. I believe that with conscious practice on your part some other parent will eventually walk up to you in the playground and say “Your children are so well behaved. I wish mine were.” As if you were born with it.

        You are not just contributing to one little person’s wellbeing but to society as a whole cause I suspect you know all about the butterfly effect. Think of it, your little poopy butterfly.

  • June 11, 2018 at 8:47 am

    I love this post! Thank you! It’s a great reminder of that balance that we need to find every single day and for every single situation…

    • June 11, 2018 at 9:06 am

      I’m glad Manuela! Yes, so much of life and health is about balance.

  • June 12, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    From my own experiences, many parents act like CEOs who demand that we follow the rules while they don’t have to follow the rules and never make any kind of apologizes for what they have done.

    • June 12, 2018 at 9:30 pm

      I am sorry that’s been your experience Gunther! I might guess that you have experienced a shortage of parental empathy. Sending you all my best wishes.

  • June 13, 2018 at 4:27 pm

    I enjoyed this article. When parents give their children too much empathy, it can lead to problems as an adult. The adult children will have an unhealthy attachment to the overbearing mother, for example. This then forms trouble with other relationships. The parent will always hold this child in the light of “always being right.”

    • June 13, 2018 at 5:24 pm

      Yes, so true Susan! That’s another way empathy can get in the way when it’s excessive. Thanks for sharing!

  • June 13, 2018 at 8:05 pm

    I clicked on this article from my Psychcentral newsletter thinking it sounded relevant to me – I didn’t actually know that Dr Webb had written it. I was delighted though because of all the wonderful work she has done elsewhere.

    Thank you for your continued work in this area Dr Webb, it is invaluable.

  • June 24, 2018 at 12:05 am

    Yeah. One my parents was the dictator/tyrant. The other was the one with the overreaching pity. I wouldn’t call it empathy tho, as it never helped end the abusive dictator’s abuse and control issues (I have him possibly pegged as a mid range overt narcissist and my mom as his ever endearing codependent/enabler). It was a lot of there there I’m sorry, or whatever, with her, but nothing was ever really done about it. But it’s all about control, whether it’s over indulging a child with too much, or depriving a child of affection and so on. So in my mind it’s like being pulled in two opposite directions until you’re kind of ripped in half. I had to learn a new way to raise my kid, cuz neither one of their ways was good. But sometimes I wonder if it’s not just some very confusing double damage. In some things, I seem to have a lot less self control, and may overindulge—but in other things I deprive myself as if I were some kind of destitute homeless refugee. Part of me lets people iget away with too much, and is “too nice,” but the other part of me can be a very angry intolerant bitch about things. Lol. Meh. I deeply empathize with some, while my anger may flare at others. I’m working hard tho at finding my way and finding some balance, yet I can see these tendencies in me and it’s pretty obvious to me where they came from.


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