Can You Learn Empathy? Big Boys (Girls) Don’t Cry – Can Narcissists Learn Empathy?

empathyHave you ever wondered why your spouse or family member seems to lack empathy? Empathy is that ability to relate to the pain or suffering of another.  It is that feeling that makes you cry in a movie, or when hearing a story of another persons suffering. Culturally, it is more or less appropriate to show emotions (big boys don’t cry, big girls don’t cry). 

In the study “Moving Narcissus, can narcissist be empathetic“?, (you can read it here… ) they looked at three groups, clinically normally empathetic individuals, those who were low narcissists, and severe clinically diagnosed narcissists.  What they found was that only this very small subset of true severe narcissist were unable to feel empathy (emotions of sadness and raised heart rate) even when prompted to consider the feelings of the person suffering. Normal empathetic people didn’t need to be prompted to feel, and the group they classified as low narcissists did not show empathy unless prompted, then they had normal feelings and physiologic raised heart rates to the distressing story.

I find this fascinating and important.  When I did my own 23andme genetic testing, I have a genetic glitch that makes me less empathetic than others!  Now I found that interesting but it rang true.  You see, my wife has learned that when I am deep in thought, working on something or even just distracted (any ADD or ADHD or ASD folks out there?) I am likely not to empathize with a story she shares, UNLESS she prompts me not to fix it, but to just listen and feel. With that prompt I can be the biggest cry baby there is.  The capacity to feel and be empathetic is there, just suppressed.  Clearly there are genetic tendencies, and I suspect there are cultural ones.  Growing up in Africa, men were not to cry.  As I’ve aged and grown emotionally, I’m better able to empathize, despite my genetic SNP’s (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms).  

Parents, help your children and family members, who struggle with empathy, learn, by prompting them to relate to the person in the story who is suffering.

As we learn more and more about how the brain works, how our emotions are linked to both genetics and the environment, we can assist those in our society who struggle, with social support that is effective for them, and don’t forget to support their biochemistry.  Neurotransmitters in the brain are a big part of how our brain functions and the toxins in our world (and nutrient deficiencies) are taking a toll. 

At Integrative Pediatrics (for children) and Natura (for adults or children) we can test for micronutrient deficiencies, as well as do a comprehensive health assessment that will look at nutrition, nutrients, toxins, and life-style. 


Dr. Paul



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