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Not Having Empathy Is Lonely

I’m doing a lot of soul-searching as I’m getting older. Not that I want to. I would love to just impassively read books. But it doesn’t work that way. There’s this switch that flips in your head at some point that makes you understand impermanence. Not only do you see more consequences for things; those consequences have taken on more weight than you ever imagined. Once that switch flips, you’re done. No more wild-eyed wonder for you, kid.

It’s essentially about recognizing mortality. Which most people learn to deal with by focusing less on themselves and more on others. They gain continuity with the world by making it a better place for the future.

But it’s a lot harder to reach that zen if you don’t have empathy.

Us empathy-challenged people get a bad rap. But the truth is, most of us were born that way. It doesn’t cancel out guilt or love or any other impetus for wholesomeness. Most of us are upright, caring people who want the best for humanity. We’d stop at nothing to honor anything and anyone who’s important to us.

But admiring someone’s qualities and enjoying their company isn’t the same as being able to feel another person. I want desperately to know what that’s like. I’m imagining this osmosis of feelings that flows collectively through all of us like the Force does in Star Wars. When someone feels something, neurotypicals know it. They know it in their bones. No thought necessary.

I do know how to love. I love my boyfriend, John, very much. He is the most honest, thoughtful, and emotionally pure person I’ve ever met. He has no shame about giving himself completely. I know I’d have a knife-searing, lasting pain if he died. I know that because someone I loved died already.

I have friends. Close friends. Which is a pretty big deal for a sperg. In fact I know at least seven people who would consider me a close friend. I care a lot about my friends. I’m always trying to figure them out.

I still feel like I’m on one plane and everyone else is on another.

Sometimes I fantasize about being a vampire. I think it’d be fucking amazing. Sure, it’d be a drag once you got to the point where you could predict everything. But imagine all the developments you’d see in human history! I know that watching everyone you love get old and die would be high on the list of most people’s objections to immortality. It would barely be a blip on the radar for mine. Autistic people aren’t psychopathic, but there’s some psychopath in all of us.

I kind of feel like a vampire already. I’m just floating around watching things and not getting too close to them. It’s lonely, but fascinating. And very much worth the experience.

The closest thing I’ve felt to satisfaction is deep focus. Like when I’m writing. Or when I reach that level of full immersion in a book. Getting intense emotions is also satisfying. That’s a deep focus too. It’s also chasing highs, which empathy-challenged people are wont to do and which can obviously lead to a more concrete set of problems. I’d like to see a long-term study about autistic people and addictions. That would be telling.

Abstract conversations are the only way other people can make me happy. I’m always looking for those. No connection feels complete without them. It’s pretty rare to vibe that way with someone too. Friends are easy. But mind-melding conversational partners are hard to find. (I’m an INTP on the Myers-Briggs scale, so there’s that too.)

I can still feel intimacy. The more I understand someone, the less of an automaton they are to me. But doing good things for others never feels like it’s for its own sake. Lacking empathy means there’s truly no such thing as a selfless good deed. Your deeds fill your values, your duties, and your pride. Everything you do, think, and feel is just you you you and it’s intensely unfulfilling. Human beings have empathy for a reason. Not just to keep our species going, but to answer all the existential questions that come along with the ability to reason.

The meaning of life is to make our world better for this generation and the next. Continuing our legacy through the good things we’ve done and the wisdom we’ve passed along.

But me? I’m just here. Loneliness is the human condition.

Get used to it.



*This awesome image is from Greeen-Fairy on

Not Having Empathy Is Lonely

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2016). Not Having Empathy Is Lonely. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Jun 2016
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