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It’s Not Lack of Empathy, It’s Resilience


man-person-fog-mistI don’t know if it’s my body language, my words or the things that I say but I feel like I don’t react well to people. It’s some insecurity mechanism I have where I feel like the way I react to sad or shocking news isn’t the way I way I should react and I feel like a lot of people have this problem.

18 thoughts on “It’s Not Lack of Empathy, It’s Resilience

  • April 24, 2016 at 12:46 am

    Omg. I feel exactly the same. And this is not helpful for me wanting to quit drinking again and return to Aa. I don’t believe all I did there in the past. And I recently read how in the 1930’s the philophsy of groups changed. Yeah are not solution oriented. Thx for this. More ppl should work in the solution.

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  • April 24, 2016 at 5:34 am

    Thank you for this

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  • April 24, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Thank u Michael for sharing yourself with the world. I am an ‘older sr.”, but u give me hope and faith that your generation is strong. Peace be with you. Please keep writing. Your views on yourself are worth a million of the ‘usual’ views of the ‘zombie masses’ (zombies are from ur generation, right?). I recently read a book called FURIOUSLY HAPPY. It was funny & well written by Jenny Lawson. U might like it. It’s about her struggles with mental issues and the funny way she copes (her viewpoint). So…please keep changing the world with your words, I am listening and I am sure many, many others are too! Best, Suzanne

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  • April 24, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Dis article is just me.somx I feel like am totally devoid of emotions.what could cause this? Though am with no mental illness.

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  • April 24, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Good viewpoint. I am terribly okay with the natural order of life. Life happens ,do the best you can do to fix what you can, move through the steps of grief and move on. It is good to try and empathize with others, a heartfelt and truthful thing I have found to say is,I am sorry you are having such a hard time with____it sounds like that’s very difficult for you.
    I enjoy reading your perspectives thank you.

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  • April 24, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Well said. When people have gone through mental health challenges, they cannot afford to get caught up in things. Just gotta move forward.

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  • April 25, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Michael, thanks for writing this.
    I’m old enough to be your mom; and I was raised in a strict New England family, where most feelings were frowned upon. Only mild happiness received approval. I have ridden the pendulum-swung through my life of having too many feelings (puberty sucks!), to stuffing them, to allowing the nicer ones, to coping with old sh*t, to doing way better…to….recently finding out the hard way I have complex ptsd, & finding out how to deal. I can identify so much with the calmness that seems odd to other people. I am at home in a crisis. When everyone else is falling apart, I know what to do. It’s sorta cool…… except, my husband and our kids will vent to me & then when I calmly say “well, what if you did such-&-such ?” they burst out “STOP FIXING THINGS!!!!” geez louize, all I did was offer an idea. I didn’t make a phone call or interfere with their life choices or anything! no actions! just a few words!…. it’s wearying to always have to first defend myself and de-fuse the expected (knee-jerk!) outburst, before even replying in any vein. (rolling my eyes). I love helping people. Am thinking about trying out being a 911 dispatcher, so I can do just that & not get the rejecting reaction I’m so tired of. I have a lot to offer, if I can ever just find the folks who want it. Thanks again.

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  • April 25, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    I’m the same way, although I’m getting much better about it. For me it’s trauma and the emotional numbing caused by PTSD and delayed grief. And the fact that when you’ve experienced homelessness, assault or other major problems, boyfriend drama just ain’t that serious anymore.

    This may not apply to you personally, but I will tell you from experience that you’re not going to be able to run away from emotions forever. What happens to us creates emotional energy that we carry with us until it gets experienced and released. It’s just the way it works. If you are unable to process your emotions, they will build up over time and at some point they will come bursting out like a beach ball under water.

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  • April 26, 2016 at 9:59 am

    This is me too! A lifetime of managing my mental illness has also left me being unfazed by menial upsets. I can’t thank you enough for putting my thoughts into words. Were I the writer that I dream I could be…

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  • April 26, 2016 at 11:52 am

    Nope, you’re definitely not alone. Seems to me that perspective and scale must certainly be involved. Those of us who have survived traumatic experience, from mental illness to personal loss to global-scale political/social upheavals and terrorism – have experienced real loss and struggle with tempering our skewed reactivity to the day-to-day environment. If you don’t develop a sense of proportion in how to feel about what’s going on around you, you couldn’t get through the day; so I think that having adapted to the long-term and cumulative effects of metabolizing loss and trauma gives us a wider spectrum on which to measure or classify the emotional significance of every additional experience. We’re operating with a larger map with more granularity, or broader scale with greater resolution. Empathy is not binary or polar, black/white on/off. There is subtlety and perspective and scale and proportion. It’s also subjective, there’s no morality to it, although yes, others may not understand if your reaction is not the same as their reaction. But their lack of understanding is not your problem. Don’t try to measure your feelings against others’; that’s not a realistic or useful comparison. Apples to oranges. If your feelings feel reasonable to you, and their manifestation isn’t harming anyone, then they’re nobody’s business but yours. Own your validity. Thank you for putting this out there, because it makes perfect sense to me.

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  • April 27, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Michael, You have put into perspective that which I couldn’t do for myself. I now feel a kind of relief. I had began to think that I was a bit heartless at times. Briefly, here is my story.

    From the day I was born I grew up in a seriously dysfunctional family. Dad was a violent alcoholic as well as being addicted to gambling…mental illness! Mother was codependent to his addiction and a narcissist. I witnessed mum being assualted many times throughout my upbringing from the beginning of my life. I too was assualted regulary starting as far back as I remember around five years old. At age 15 mum emotionally neglected me, from thereon I was left to parent myself and ‘get on with it,’ as she would say. I was the scapegoat in the marriage of two immature and addicted parents… mum being addicted to dad’s addiction by way of control. One could cut the atmosphere in the house with a knife. It was so palatable and horrible to live in all the way throughout my upbringing. I was the family scapegoat… blamed, shamed and made to feel enormous guilt for the sins of my parents.

    I married young then divorced because, he too was an alcoholic and abusive. In my second marraige I was controlled and abused daily. I had no sense of what being abused was and wouldn’t know until someone told me. This was the legacy handed down from my parents. I have witnessed and been on the receiving end of other people’s crap throughout my life because I grew up to be a people pleaser. I was used and abused by others but, I didn’t have a clue about what was being done to me. You see Michael, growing up in such awful circumstances with abuse being the norm, I had no sense of having being abused. I had nothing to compare it to. In my adult life it repeated itself over and over again. I had no one ‘there’ for me, no support, no parenting from age 15, no awarness or sense of enlightenment until, that is, society began to talk about alcholism, domestic violence and abuse. My story doesn’t end there, in fact it got a lot worse before it got better. The deaths of loved ones and my dearest pets have been bad enough without adding more grief to my menue of traumas.

    As a result of that little lot, I finally ended up in therapy and was told I had PTSD.. a rotten gift from my chidhood! I’ve suffered from major depressions on and off for decades which has robbed me of happiness. Now, to get back to your wonderful article, I am no longer the people pleaser and neither can I tolerate those who make a huge fuss over the simplest of things. Like you I no longer react to shocking news. All the trite stuff as you mentioned in your article is just life as far as I’m concerned. Plus, I’ve had more than enough of my own and went through it alone. I am an empathic person at heart but I can no longer empathise deeply with those who are going through life’s ups and downs. I’m a great listener however, I’ve learned not to take onboard the grief of others. So, I got to the stage where I wondered what was wrong with me then, I realised it’s nothing other than I’d learned to sort out what is worth dealing with or, not. What is mine and what’s not.

    You have filled in the missing link. Thanks so much for that Michael because of your insight I now understand much more. I now understand the nuances that are involved in growing as a person and I have become a heartless person.

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    • April 29, 2016 at 4:30 am

      I feel your pain

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  • April 27, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Correction on my previous article. The end should read: I haven’t become a heartless person.

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  • April 28, 2016 at 12:11 am

    I understand what you are talking about. I have often sat and thought about why I seem to be different in my responses to certain things too. For instance, I am not close to my family though I desire it. For some reason, I don’t feel as though I fit in like I should. I feel as though they each care for one another more than they care for me. I am not sure if this is because of my own mental illness (I have Bipolar II). They aren’t mean to me or anything, but I have issues for some weird reason. Also, it’s strange because at times I react to a complete stranger’s issues more than I do for people I know. It makes me sound bad, but it’s the way I am. Maybe it has to do with trust issues. I don’t know. I learned at a young age that I couldn’t really trust anyone. Still working on this.

    At any rate, we all have things about us that others might question. I am learning to accept who I am, the good and the bad. I have stopped beating myself up so much because I can’t be who people want me to be or because I react to things differently. I don’t even typically cry about someone dying either. I mean if it was someone I am extremely close with, I know I would, but as much as I can empathize with others, I also have the capacity to seem cold even to myself.

    Awesome article btw. Thanks for sharing.

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  • April 28, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    How you feel is valid. Our emotions are partially the result of our perspective. Those of us who have lived through really difficult times have learned not to get wrapped up in drama from things that, from our perspective, seem of little or no consequences.

    We just have a broader perspective that allows us to be more discerning. That is not heartless.

    In fact, friends who jump right in and encourage complaining conversations are (in scientific terms) co-ruminating, which is known to be unhealthy.

    I don’t think it is that we’re wrong in the way we view things as it is too many people focus on the negative and make little things into big ones in ways that don’t serve them or anyone else. If they understood the long-term consequences including what it does to their own biochemistry in their body they might make different decisions.

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  • April 28, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    How you feel is valid. Our emotions are partially the result of our perspective. Those of us who have lived through really difficult times have learned not to get wrapped up in drama from things that, from our perspective, seem of little or no consequences.

    We just have a broader perspective that allows us to be more discerning. That is not heartless.

    In fact, friends who jump right in and encourage complaining conversations are (in scientific terms) co-ruminating, which is known to be unhealthy.

    I don’t think it is that we’re wrong in the way we view things as it is too many people focus on the negative and make little things into big ones in ways that don’t serve them or anyone else. If they understood the long-term consequences including what it does to their own biochemistry in their body they might make different decisions.

    Reply
  • April 30, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    “but the truth of the matter is that whatever you’re facing it could always, always be worse.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me in this regard”

    It seems to me that your perception of THEIR truth is what is holding you back from making more satisfying connections. While it is almost always true that, “things can always get worse,” Trivializing the difficulties of others is off-putting. It does indeed show a lack of empathy. Resilience can not be forced upon another when their problems don’t seem worth fussing about. Resilience keeps you functioning. Empathy, but not sympathy, helps others function. My “bad hair day” is not earth shattering. But to me, it makes perfect sense that I am bothered by it. Each person does not have to have problems of the same magnitude for others to be able to recognized the legitimacy of their experience. If you feel it, the feeling is real.
    You do not need to agree with someone’s feelings. You certainly do not need to wallow in self pity along side them. But it is very helpful socially, if you validate their logic. When you stop comparing your pain, or the cause of it, to what other people feel and recognize their right to experience their feelings, you will be making a helpful, empathetic connection that benefits both of you.

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  • May 3, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Aren’t flat effect and inappropriate reaction to emotion both symptoms of schizophrenia? I nursed my husband through his psychotic episodes and even when he was “normal” (ie, not psychotic)his emotions and affect were odd.

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