“Effective” Empathy

I will give a postmortem of my experiences with the press and the resulting article probably next week sometime after I’ve had more distance to reflect.  I do think that, given their resources and the “alien” nature of the subject, that they did a professional and respectful job.  I thought the focus on the forums that I created was interesting, but I think I understand why such an angle was chosen.  All in all, I am satisfied.  Many of you would not be reading now if it wasn’t for their efforts and, ultimately, more readers in the playground that I control is what I wanted.  With such, I have full responsibility for education on the subject.

I want to run down a couple things for the newer readers of this blog.  I have missed only a handful of days in the five months that I have been writing.  Posts are, generally, published between 0000 and 0400 UTC, but I must always put my professional life first.  If I have not posted, just check back later – it isn’t that I forgot.  Also, something that has always confused me is that the readership numbers are great, but the commentary is light.  I used to think that none of you could stand what I was saying, but then you all were still there at the end of the day.  I have set up shop to where no identifying information is required for commentary and you can also write me directly if you want to have a conversation off the record.  I greatly value all insight from my readership and I do try to expand my own knowledge from the discussion that my readers initiate.

Let’s jump into today’s post:

I’ll be honest.  I did read the article that was written about me and my experiences but not with the most scrutinizing eye.  I may be narcissistic, but I am engrossed in my creations rather than others‘.  I had no real incentive to read except to make sure that there was nothing particularly erroneous.  I do not mean this as a slight against the publication and their works; I simply do not get engrossed in that which I cannot control.

A reader let me know earlier today that the phrase “affective empathy” had been written as “effective empathy” within the article.  I found this amusing, but it also was a reminder that my knowledge on the subject of psychopathy is far greater than the majority of people.  I have read countless books and journal articles as well as possess what I have learned from the mental professional that I see.   I can easily see how such confusion over the adjectives related to empathy could arise.

In very fast and loose terms, affective empathy is the ability to mirror another’s emotional state.  My ability to affectively empathize is heavily muted or nonexistent.  I simply cannot feel the pain of another or the joy of another.  Gods know that I have tried.

Cognitive empathy is the ability, once again in fast and loose terms, to intellectually realize the state of another and respond appropriately.  I am relatively adept with cognitive empathy, because I have to be. The alternative to lacking both forms of empathy would be to become a pariah really quickly.  The vast majority of the species would be heavily disturbed by one that just stares blankly into the suffering (or joy) of another.

I think that the misnomer used by the press is actually closest to the subject of empathy.  Most people do not care whether the empathy presented is cognitive or affective in nature, they care that it is effective with its sincerity.  The woman mourning the loss of her pet does not need to know whether my empathy is over my own distress at her situation or whether I am crafting a response that I believe she would prefer.  As long as it appears sincere, the question probably does not enter her mind.

Long before I had finally gotten answers for my differences, the mother of a family friend committed suicide.  My mother and father were friends with the deceased and her husband.  The death itself is not particularly important, but the way in which my father handled it struck me as very odd at the time.  He sent a condolences card to the deceased’s family with money enclosed.  At the time I thought it disrespectful that he would respond with cash, but I think I understand now.  He, as far as I can tell, does not possess affective empathy.  Yet, he wanted to be effective with an appearance of reaching out.  I do know that the deceased’s family found it strange that they received money in a condolences card, but I also know that such was one of the few cards that they actually remembered.

In order to stay safely masked, psychopaths must find other, non-affective, means to express empathy.  My closest friends know that I do not possess the means to feel what they feel when going through a tough situation of their own, but I hope that they also realize that I can be there in other ways.  Whether it is a check for a loan, a roof over their head, or someone to talk to, I can find other ways to show that I am concerned about what they are going through.  I just won’t have the feeling state that they have.

Altruism
Carrot

Comments

  1. says

    I think we place far too much value on affective empathy, and far too little on cognitive. Affective empathy can be *crippling*, not only because the emotions we take on are debilitating, but because we congratulate ourselves on “feeling their pain” and think we’ve actually done something helpful or productive. And when we think that the “organic” brand of all-natural empathy is the be-all and end-all, we quickly dismiss those situations and individuals with whom we can’t easily empathize.

Leave a Reply