My ex-boyfriend and I work together surrounded by a slightly toxic environment. We work with people who don?t do their job, people who fall asleep at their chairs (not even kidding), grown women who act like they are in high school?It is a freaking circus. Sharing the shenanigans of our office was a big topic in our relationship. But, while I was able to laugh about what goes on in our office and immediately move on with my life,
he would become obsessed with these people, watching what everybody else was doing all the time and talking about it non-stop.
One day he said to me ?I just don?t have any empathy for those people.?
Lightbulbs went on!
I asked myself?
Are our coworkers the only people you don?t have empathy for?
Am I the exception to this rule?
Is this an underlying problem with the rollercoaster that is our relationship?
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Merriam-Webster?s definition of empathy is ?the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner?
In other words, empathy is the ability to feel for another, get in someone else?s shoes, feel what they are feeling and understand their perspective. Empathy calls for patience, active listening, intimacy, and selflessness.
All of these things are important in a relationship.
For the majority of the population, empathy comes naturally. We learn this skill growing up surrounded by others. But I quickly figured out that my ex had NONE of those things that fall under the empathy umbrella, or at least they were not obvious in our relationship.
I then wondered?
What does a relationship without empathy look like?
Below are common traits of a relationship where one partner lacks empathy. I hit the jackpot with many of these.
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When you try to express your feelings, instead of compassion and understanding you get anger or judgment back.
More harshly put, don?t try to make this person understand your feelings; it is a waste of time and energy.
I worked REALLY hard to get my ex to understand where I was coming from.
It took some anger management skills, being very specific about what I was trying to express, and insisting on getting specific responses back to make sure he had listened to me. This inevitably led to the following?
You will never be able to trust them. There is no relaxing, only high stress and anxiety.
Anxiety to the max.
Most of the time talking to these people will lead you nowhere and will leave you feeling depleted.
Exhaustion is the word. We wasted many evenings trying to discuss something that should have been a 15?20-minute calm conversation because?
This person feels they?re never wrong.
So don?t expect an apology. You will always be wrong, and they will always be the wronged party.
Again, I had to be very specific about what I was expressing so I could get an ?I am sorry,? which was often followed by my asking ?do you even know what you?re sorry about?? The answer was ?no? of course, because?he wasn?t understanding me to begin with (see the first point).
They?re not caregivers or nurturing.
If you?re anything like me, this one is hard to digest because it is telling you to not expect your partner to give you the emotional support or compassion you may need. As a woman, I need emotional support and compassion. Maybe even as humans, most people want support and compassion? Some more than others.
I need my feelings and opinions to be validated. You don?t have to agree with me, but at least make an effort. Also, give me a damn hug!
They have a problem discerning cause and effect.
They can?t see a link between their behavior and your reaction. They will see your reaction to what they?ve done as the problem, rather than their behavior.
I can?t count how many conversations I tried having with my ex where he just got mad at the fact the I was mad, never addressing what I was actually saying (taking it back to the first point where you feel like you?re not being understood).
This person doesn?t care about improving the relationship or better understanding you.
This partner wants you to inhabit his shoes all the time. He wants you to meet all of their needs and be available without having to expend any emotional energy in return.
My ex did claim he wanted the relationship to improve; doing it was another story. It is difficult to improve when you don?t listen to the other person nor think you are doing anything wrong.
Your love and devotion will never be enough to extract empathy from unempathetic people.
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Is it possible to teach empathy to someone who lacks it?
I didn?t get to discover if teaching this trait is possible. After learning more about this topic and doing some soul searching into my own life, I concluded my unempathetic boyfriend did not see there was even a problem that needed fixing, and I cared enough about myself to walk away.
But caring enough about yourself to walk away is a separate skill we need to learn. And sometimes we just don?t want to walk away because there may be other things in the relationship that you find are worth fighting for.
Is it better to stay and talk it out? Or should you run for the hills? It is a struggle. But understanding the root of the struggle is the first step to figuring it out.