Empathy Deficit Disorder

Growing up, I was taught that whenever there’s a problem that’s eating away at me or if something’s wrong and I don’t know how to handle it, I should talk with someone like a responsible adult or close friend. My parents told me that anytime I have a question or concern to feel free to come to them. After all, that’s what parents are for.

I never knew that some people could care less about what’s troubling me, some of them being grownups. Some folks get upset when you come to them. They tell you, in as few of words as possible, to sit down, shut up and get over it. Hell, there are those who find that shit funny, and expect you to laugh with them. If you don’t, then it’s your problem and you shouldn’t rain on their parade. Instead of hearing you out, and see what can be helped, they rather tell you that your emotions mean nothing to them, because your thoughts and feelings are not the same as theirs, as if they ever thought of you as being the same in the first place.

I see it all the time, mostly from those with societal privileges given to them due to what they are born with. Of course, not all of them have that lack of sensitivity, but there’s more than enough of that to go around. This is a symptom of an unofficial term I heard recently known as Empathy Deficit Disorder, where people don’t step outside themselves to try and understand other people’s experiences.

For instance, and yes, I’m going to bring up race, I am three-fifths of a human being, at least that’s what this nation’s constitution says. But even though they may be mere words written on paper, the mentality is passed down from one generation to another, ensuring that those who look like me will never get the full treatment that is afforded to white citizens.

Some who have read that passage are already seething to tell me off and disregard this article as another “attack” against the ever-innocent white people. They will call it ‘race-baiting’. They will call it ‘whining’. They will even call it ‘racist’. They will call it anything out of anger or indifference, because it disrupts their comfort zone. And most likely, they will be whites, angry as hell that a black man has the nerve to tell white folks what’s wrong.

And it ain’t just a race thing. A lot of males have that problem too. If women were to discuss issues where patriarchy is part of the problem, you can bet your bottom dollar there will be men screaming about how hard it is to be a man in a male dominated world. Some will go so far as to see humor in it and will lash out at the next person to tell them that it’s not cool.

Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD) is like telling someone to fuck off when they come and express what’s on their minds that you don’t care to hear about. They don’t want to be bothered by something they see as trivial. They just want to remain in their own little worlds. Anything that could disturb it, even in the slightest, will be met with indifference or outright rage.

But how do you get EDD in the first place? Maybe this passage from Douglas LaBier, Ph.D‘s article will shed some light:

Most people are socially conditioned into believing that acquiring and achieving things are “normal” – even “healthy” – ways to live. EDD grows when people focus too much on acquiring power, status, and money for themselves. Nearly every day we hear or read about more extreme examples: people who go over the edge in their pursuit of money, power or recognition, and end up resigning their jobs, in rehab or behind bars.

But many of the people I see everyday, whether in psychotherapy or executive consulting, struggle with their own versions of the same thing through too much emphasis on acquiring – both things and people. That’s going to promote vanity and self-importance. Then, you become increasingly alienated from your own heart, and equate what you have with who you are.

Is there any wonder that we see this widespread among the insanely overprivileged? But it’s not a permanent illness. It can be helped when you choose to “reprogram” your thinking.  You can train yourself to feel and think outside the box, and in time, you can do an overhaul on your personality. However, that’s only if you want to go through it.

I see a lot of privileged people with no problems with empathy. And it seems like the number is growing. But there are still plenty of those who just don’t give a damn, and that could have devastating effects on others.