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Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy (And How to Deal with Them)

Why Some People Have a Lack of Empathy (And How to Deal with Them)

We all have interacted with some people that seem to have a lack of empathy, at some point of our lives. I know that those experiences can leave us feeling frustrated, unsettled, angry, disappointed, and even betrayed, mainly when we need support.

It gets even harder and more painful if you are in a relationship with someone who is unable to put themselves in your shoes. Especially when we consider some of these people our friends, or maybe even worse, when those people are family members and we have to be in contact with them frequently.

In this article, I will share with you the signs when someone is lacking empathy, why some people seem to lack it, and how to deal with them so that you don’t feel so frustrated and disappointed, and you can lead a happier life.

What Exactly Is Empathy?

According to Dictionary.com, Empathy is:

the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

The word originates from the Greek word “empatheia”, meaning physical affection or passion.

PsychologyToday.com defines Empathy as:

the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.

They go on to say that empathy facilitates prosocial (helping) behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced, so that we behave in a more compassionate manner.

In other words, empathy is when you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s position, both at an emotional and intellectual level.

Additionally, Empathy is one of the defining characteristics and foundational pieces of emotional intelligence.

True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it — Daniel Goleman

Signs That Someone Lacks Empathy

Even though human beings are social creatures by nature, empathy doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Some people are more empathetic than others. In more extreme cases, some people suffer from Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD).

As Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC. said,

Empathy Deficit Disorder is a pervasive but overlooked condition. In fact, our increasingly polarized social and political culture of the past few years reveals that EDD is more severe than ever. It has profound consequences for the mental health of both individuals and society.

He explains that when you suffer EDD, you are unable to step outside yourself and tune in to what other people experience, especially those who feel, think and believe differently from yourself. That makes it a source of personal conflicts of communication breakdown in intimate relationships and of adversarial attitudes – including hatred – towards groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life from your own.

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Here are some signs that will help you identify if someone around you lacks empathy:

  • They jump fast into criticizing others without putting themselves in other people’s shoes.
  • They seem to be cold or just out of touch for people that are suffering or are less fortunate.
  • They believe 100% in the rightness of their own ideas and/or beliefs, and judge anyone who does not hold their beliefs as wrong, ignorant or stupid.
  • They have trouble feeling happy for others.
  • They have trouble making or keeping friends.
  • They have trouble getting along with family members.
  • They feel entitled to receiving favors and use you to serve their needs without showing appreciation. They will even get offended if they don’t get their way.
  • In a group setting, they will talk a lot about themselves and their lives without really caring about what other people share.
  • They do or say something that hurts a friend or a loved one, and tend to blame his/her actions on them. They truly believe that the fault is in the person receiving the hurt because they reacted poorly, were rude or were oversensitive.

The truth is that without empathy, it is hard to create deep emotional connections with others.

Why Some People Lack Empathy

Empathy is an innate and a learned skill that is shaped by how we are wired when we are born, and our own environment and life experiences. To experience empathy to some extent, it means that we have to get in touch with our emotions.

People who lack empathy were probably raised in families who were avoiding to get in touch with their feelings and even condemned others for feeling their emotions. Some people have learned to shut down their feelings early in their lives to such a degree that they closed off their hearts and can’t even feel their own feelings – they certainly can’t relate or feel other people’s feelings.

As a result, these people end up lacking self-compassion, self-love and are disconnected from their authentic self and divine connection to source. They are probably not even aware that such disconnection is like a defense mechanism from their ego because if they empathize, they need to relate, get in touch with their feelings and feel the pain.

In most cases, developing and cultivating empathy is possible only if the individuals are willing to change how they relate with others, and consciously choose to retrain their brains. Due to our brain’s neuroplasticity, we can create new brain patterns.

However, there are other cases in which lack of empathy is associated to severe disorders such as narcissism, anti-social personality disorders, and psychopathy. In these cases, these individuals need to get professional help if they are open to it.

How to Deal with People Who Lack Empathy

I know how difficult it can be to deal with people who lack empathy when you are a sensitive and caring person. When you try to express your feelings, instead of compassion and understanding, you get anger or judgment back.

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It’s painful because sometimes we can get stuck in a vicious cycle where the more someone doesn’t understand you, the more you feel hurt, and the more you want them to understand your feelings. It’s almost as if you are pleading for validation.

Here’s the thing:

Most of the times, talking with these people will lead you nowhere, and will leave you feeling completely depleted.

Here are some easy-to-follow steps, so you can deal with people who lack empathy:

1. Don’t Take Their Anger or Judgments Personally

By doing this, you can get off the emotional roller coaster. It’s not about you. Remind yourself that they are the ones that have a problem connecting emotionally with others at a deeper level. There’s nothing wrong with you!

2. Don’t Try to Make Them Understand Your Feelings

Trying to instill empathy or insights in them is a waste of your time and energy. This will only increase their anger and judgement.

3. Talk About Facts with Them

Instead of talking to them about how you feel, or how something they did or said made you feel, talk about facts and what you think. It’s easier to communicate this way because they won’t feel blamed or shamed.

4. If You Don’t Live with This Person, Try to Distance Yourself from Their Company

You don’t have to end the friendship or stop visiting your family member, but you need to set some boundaries and be mindful of your interaction with them. Keep the connection superficial to avoid arguments and don’t expect depth and understanding.

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5. Cultivate or Nurture Relationships with People Who You Trust

Spend time with people who you trust and who make you feel safe so that you can feel comfortable sharing your inner world and your feelings with them. These are people who might have shown signs of empathy in the past.

6. Know That Your Value and Worth Does Not Depend on Their Validation and Opinion of You

Our self-worth should never be based on approval or validation from others. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you realize your true value: How to Build Self Esteem (A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power)

7. Take Loving Actions Towards Yourself

Offer yourself kindness and practice doing things that reflect self-love – eat healthy, get enough rest, pursue your dreams, work on yourself, develop a spiritual life, surround yourself with loving and positive people.

To give you more ideas, here’s a list of 50 Small Things You Can Do Every Day to Really Love Yourself

8. If You Feel Too Overwhelmed, Get Professional Help

Find a caring and compassionate therapist or life coach who can be there for you and offer guidance during painful times. Unfortunately, our friends and family can’t always provide all of the emotional support that we need at times.

If the person that you’re dealing with shows a willingness to be more open to change and become more empathetic and caring, then you have a real opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why some people lack empathy. Dealing with these people is not easy and may leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed. But with my advice, you’ll learn that you can’t change someone, however you can change your attitude towards them.

Remember that you can’t save everyone, but you can love yourself enough to not let people who lack empathy to overpower you. Set boundaries and do what makes you happy. Ultimately, don’t be afraid to get professional help when you are overwhelmed.

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More About Empathy

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

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Patricia Young

Certified Professional & Holistic Coach, bestselling author, host of the Awakening to Life podcast

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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

As playwright Wilson Mizner supposedly said all the way back in the 1930s,

“Be kind to everyone on the way up; you will meet the same people on the way down.”

The adage is the perfect prototype for relationship building in 2020, although we may want to expand Mizner’s definition of “kind” to include being helpful, respectful, grateful, and above all, crediting your colleagues along the way.

5 Ways to Switch on Your Relationship Building Magnetism

Relationship building does not come easily to all. Today’s computer culture makes us more insular and less likely to reach out—not to mention our new work-from-home situation in which we are only able to interact virtually. Still, relationship building remains an important part of career engagement and success, and it gets better with practice.

Here are five ways you can strengthen your relationships:

1. Advocate for Other’s Ideas

Take the initiative to speak up in support of other team members’ good ideas. Doing so lets others know that the team’s success takes precedence over your needs for personal success. Get behind any colleague’s innovative approach or clever solution and offer whatever help you can give to see it through. Teammates will value your vote of confidence and your support.

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2. Show Compassion

If you learn that someone whom you work with has encountered difficult times, reach out. If it’s not someone you know well, a hand-written card expressing your sympathy and hopes for better times ahead could be an initial gesture. If it’s someone with whom you interact regularly, the act could involve offering to take on some of the person’s work to provide a needed reprieve or even bringing in a home-cooked dish as a way to offer comfort. The show of compassion will not go unnoticed, and your relationship building will have found a foothold.

3. Communicate Regularly

Make an effort to share any information with team members that will help them do their jobs more effectively. Keeping people in the loop says a lot about your consideration for what others need to deliver their best results.

Try to discover the preferred mode of communication for each team member. Some people are fine relying on emails; others like to have a phone conversation. And once we can finally return to working together in offices, you may determine that face-to-face updates may be most advantageous for some members.

4. Ask for Feedback

Showing your willingness to reach out for advice and guidance will make a positive impression on your boss. When you make it clear that you welcome and can accept pointers, you display candor and trust in what opinions your superior has to offer. Your proclivity towards considering ways of improving your performance and strengthening any working interactions will signal your strong relationship skills.

If you are in a work environment where you are asked to give feedback, be generous and compassionate. That does not mean being wishy-washy. Try always to give the type of feedback that you wouldn’t mind receiving.

5. Give Credit Where It’s Due

Be the worker who remembers to credit staffers with their contributions. It’s a surprisingly rare talent to credit others, but when you do so, they will remember to credit you, and the collective credit your team will accrue will be well worth the effort.

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How Does Relationship Building Build Careers?

Once you have strengthened and deepened your relationships, here are some of the great benefits:

Work Doesn’t Feel So Much Like Work

According to a Gallup poll, when you have a best friend at work, you are more likely to feel engaged with your job. Work is more fun when you have positive, productive relationships with your colleagues. Instead of spending time and energy overcoming difficult personalities, you can spend time enjoying the camaraderie with colleagues as you work congenially on projects together. When your coworkers are your friends, time goes by quickly and challenges don’t weigh as heavily.

You Can Find Good Help

It’s easier to ask for assistance when you have a good working relationship with a colleague. And with office tasks changing at the speed of technology, chances are that you are going to need some help acclimating—especially now that work has gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of relationship building rests on your genuine expressions of appreciation toward others. Showing gratitude for another’s help or for their willingness to put in the extra effort will let them know you value them.

Mentors Come Out of the Woodwork

Mentors are proven to advance your professional and career development. A mentor can help you navigate how to approach your work and keep you apprised of industry trends. They have a plethora of experience to draw from that can be invaluable when advising you on achieving career success and advancement.

Mentors flock to those who are skilled at relationship building. So, work on your relationships and keep your eyes peeled for a worthy mentor.

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You Pull Together as a Team

Great teamwork starts with having an “abundance mentality” rather than a scarcity mentality. Too often, workers view all projects through a scarcity mentality lens. This leads to office strife as coworkers compete for their piece of the pie. But in an abundance mentality mode, you focus on the strengths that others bring rather than the possibility that they are potential competitors.

Instead, you can commit relationship building efforts to ensure a positive work environment rather than an adversarial one. When you let others know that you intend to support their efforts and contribute to their success, they will respond in kind. Go, team!

Your Network Expands and So Does Your Paycheck

Expand your relationship building scope beyond your coworkers to include customers, suppliers, and other industry stakeholders. Your extra efforts can lead to extra sales, a more rewarding career, and even speedy professional advancement. And don’t overlook the importance of building warm relationships with assistants, receptionists, or even interns.

Take care to build bridges, not just to your boss and your boss’s boss but with those that work under you as well. You may find that someone who you wouldn’t expect will put in a good word for you with your supervisor.

Building and maintaining good working relationships with everyone you come in contact with can pay off in unforeseen ways. You never know when that underling will turn out to be the company’s “golden child.” Six years from now you may be turning to them for a job. If you have built up a good, trusting work relationship with others along your way, you will more likely be considered for positions that any of these people may be looking to fill.

Your Job Won’t Stress You Out

Study shows that some 83 percent of American workers experience work-related stress.[1] Granted, some of that stress is now likely caused by the new pandemic-triggered workplace adjustments, yet bosses and management, in general, are reportedly the predominant source of stress for more than one-third of workers.

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Having meaningful connections among coworkers is the best way to make work less stressful. Whether it is having others whom to commiserate with, bounce ideas off, or bring out your best performance, friendships strengthen the group’s esprit de corps and lower the stress level of your job.

Your Career Shines Bright

Who would you feel better about approaching to provide a recommendation or ask for promotion: a cold, aloof boss with whom you have only an impersonal relationship or one that knows you as a person and with whom you have built a warm, trusting relationship?

Your career advancement will always excel when you have a mutual bond of friendship and appreciation with those who can recommend you. Consider the plug you could receive from a supervisor who knows you as a friend versus one who remains detached and only notices you in terms of your ability to meet deadlines or attain goals.

When people fully know your skills, strengths, personality, and aspirations, you have promoters who will sing your praises with any opportunity for advancement.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it is “who you know” not “what you know.” When you build relationships, you build a pipeline of colleagues, work partners, team members, current bosses, and former bosses who want to help you—who want to see you succeed.

At its core, every business is a people business. Making a point to take the small but meaningful actions that build the foundation of a good relationship can be instrumental in cultivating better relationships at work.

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Featured photo credit: Adam Winger via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The American Institute of Stress: 42 Worrying Workplace Stress Statistics

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