Today I was feeling well enough to head to the library, and while I was there I finally managed to pick up a book that always looked interesting, but when I skimmed through it, it seemed to bland and… doctoral. Of course, the author of the book has a Ph.D as a clinical psychologist so I shouldn’t be surprised, but today I finally gave myself a few minutes to sit down and read it. It’s called “The Power of Empathy” by Arthur P. Ciaramicoli. Inside the first chapter alone it cracked the damn of my perception on empathy, or rather, a lack their of.
Any codependent site you find will inevitably talk about the Narcissist, and how codependents and narcissists are ultimately 2 sides of the same coin – one values others above self, and the other values self above others. My perspective, as I’ve been led to believe for many years through interpersonal experiences and my own education, is that Narcissists lack empathy… perhaps however, this isn’t 100%. In this book the perspective of empathy has both a light and a shadow side. Empathy is simply placing your ear against one’s soul (self or others) and listening intently to the whispering’s that come forth. What we do with those messages once we’ve heard them is ultimately what dictates the light and shadow side of empathy.
“When the Nazis attached loud sirens to their dive-bombers, they knew that this strange noise coming from the sky would create panic in people on the ground below. Using empathy – the ability to look into peoples hearts and souls, knowing their hearts and feeling their emotions – the Nazis could play on their victims fears in a calculated attempt to destroy them.” (Funny enough I always say it’s a good think Skinner was an American and not a German at this time working for Hitler. He’s research is fascinating and scary in it’s own right, as is any comprehensive form of Behaviorism.)
This really did shift my outlook on Empathy, as my own understanding was that people who behave in this fashion do so because they don’t understand empathy, lack empathy, or are incapable of it. If what the author says is true, then it’s not a lack of empathy that would dictate the Narcissist, as they are experts in manipulation and probably understand it better than anyone. No, it’s something deeper… motive and morality, possibly some biological basis behind it… of course, how they chose to harm others with their skills of empathy, though probably a faulty defense mechanism, is entirely on them. It’s doesn’t excuse what they do or why, but I will say it helps humanize them a tiny bit more.
In my own life, my tongue and my mind are a sharp whip when I’m pushed off the deep end. I’m not proud to say that if you really push me too far then I will lash out, and the closer you’ve gotten, the more it hurts when I speak, because in the heat of the moment I forget what buttons really hurt, but on the other I’m gonna push them anyway, making things more subconscious than conscious. Obviously this is a defense mechanism, and one that could be replaced with something better, but I think that in the overall scheme of things, intent and purpose are what drives the maliciousness of ones behavior. Deep inside my heart I can see that rarely have I ever said or done anything purely out of spite, and the first time I did it (the big jim comment), I knew I had gone too far before anyone said anything. I immediately felt that shame and carried it with me before anyone else had the chance to open their mouth and say anything, because I was horrified at myself in that moment.
At the very least, I now know that empathy will be one of the answers to my essay questions in my masters application paper… everything is lining up for me to succeed… if only I could get out of my own way and just do it without all this resistance.