A Way To Understand How Some People Deal With Empathy Issues

How To Understand Things When Some People Don't Seem To Display Empathy

Even the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) presents the conditions of Sociopath and Psychopath as considerably blurred in definition, with both conditions listed under the Antisocial Personalities heading as both conditions share many common traits.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual outlining details on Mental Disorders and related mental health conditions is a guide that doctors and mental health professionals use as a standard guideline for diagnostic, classification, research and reference purposes and the currently accepted version is known as "DSM-IV," which was updated in 1994. There is a newer version, updated since 2000, known as "DSM-IV-TR," with the letters T and R indicating "Text Revision." Since mainly some additional notes were added and some abbreviated codes also added in the 2000 version - with the general structure of the DSM-IV, its headings, classifications, criteria for diagnosis, indications, etc., all remaining untouched, the DSM-IV is still the working version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual most commonly and widely accepted in use.

Sometimes the terms antisocial personality disorder, sociopathy and psychopathy are used interchangeably, and even professionals dispute as to whether or not there are absolute differences between these or if one condition might be a more serious or graduated type of condition arising from another.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to recognize the feelings of others and, to a certain extent, share the feelings, at least by some margin, that other sentient (a person) and semi-sentient (a pet dog, perhaps) beings experience. Empathy is a component of compassion, but compassion involves, as well, the complex sitations and emotions involved with sympathy, as well as the capacity to determine empathy from sympathy (self-awarenesa and other-awareness at the same time).

There are many intricacies and definitions on empathy, but the one provided here is basic, general, and should suffice for the purpose of this article.

What, concerning empathy, do sociopaths, psychopaths, and antisocial persons share?

Persons deemed as, diagnosed as, or identifying as antisocial individuals, sociopaths and psychopaths, all display or experience a (sometime complete) disregard for other peoples' rights and feelings and they lack the empathy necessary to imagine the consequenes of their actions to self and others in ordinary circumstances.

 Sometimes people with these conditions can be taught, with help, to understand consequences and understand other peoples' feelings and rights, but only with assistance and usually on a situational basis. Essentially, they fail to understand how to transfer empathy to multiple situations or similar situations, even if they accomplish understanding or the experience of feeling empathetic toward others in one particular and defined situation.

Usually in an "understanding" of this type (brief, limited, or one time only), the sociopath or psychopath still has his/her motives and self in mind and understands consequences as outlined in the comparative statements example below.

Statement and empathetic view of a situation: If I continue to disrespect that person/friend, he/she will feel hurt and will eventually stop being friends with me.

Psychopathic/sociopathic viewpoint on same: If I continue to disrespect that person/friend, he/she will feel hurt and will eventually stop being friends with me and I will not benefit (emphasis on: I will feel abandoned, get angry, lose resources, no longer get any attention, etc) from continuing to show disrespect to this person/friend.

Often the only way to help a sociopath or psychopath understand about other peoples' rights and feelings is to show him/her the consequences that his/her bad behavior will have on him/her (the antisocial person), as many sociopaths and psychopaths never quite manage to manufacture empathy often enough or without help from a professional. This really results in behavior modification, when successful - usually without the manufacture of true empathy in the way that most people experience empathy.

Sometimes, when one can appeal to the sociopath's or psycopath's sense of self in an ethical and appropriate way, showing/telling the consequences of behavior that will fall onto their own person, then sociopaths and psychopaths can at least modify their behaviors (enact healthy self-survival modes and techniques), get along with other people, via keeping bad consequences from resulting in their own life. This isn't to say that some sociopaths, psychopaths and antisocial personalities never feel any empathy or never understand the rights or feelings of others - it just doesn't occur often enough to help them function consistently as respectful and considerate of other people, in general for any extended length of time.

As mentioned once before, antisocial, psychopathic and sociopathic individuals have trouble transferring empathetic understanding from one situation to another, so while empathy may even naturally occur in these individuals (a heartfelt crying session as the result of getting in touch with oneself while watching a movie, for instance) once in a while, these experiences don't seem to be regularly transferrable to other situations. See example below.

Example: A sociopath, psychopath or antisocial person may actually feel real empathy and may even cry during a certain scene in a movie, identifying with personas and truly feeling for the characters/situation being viewed and experienced via the movie screen. If a similar situation occurs in real life, there is no guarantee (and it is highly unlikely) that the sociopath, psychopath or antisocial person will naturally have the same feelings of empathy or even understand the scope of the real/similar situation when it occurs.

Explanation: for the example above - it might be that during the movie, the person's social/mental/emotional guard was down and he/she was able to connect with their own emotions during the movie - if the setting in which they viewed the movie was a "safe place." In a real life situation, the same person may not be able to access their emotional self in the same way as while watching a movie in a safe environment. Hence, empathy fails to transfer or naturally occur.

Many sociopathic, psychopathic and antisocial individuals do, however, CARE about their own person enough and gain awareness of self enough to want to avoid bad consequences to themselves for their actions. Many are very aware of and pro-active about trouble-shooting their condition. Almost always, this awareness comes with a great deal of professional assistance and continued access to mental health professionals or even spiritual mentors. When they do value themselves enough in a healthy way, they are able to modify their behavior enough to be very functional - even pleasant - in their communities, families and in society.

The behavior modification is usually for the purpose of avoiding bad consequences to the self, however, if this works for an individual, many professionals deem techniques to avoid bad consequences to a person as successful behavior modification. Some sociopaths, psychopaths and antisocial personalities can lead productive, healthy lives with a minimum of detriment from their actions being presented to other people.