Why Empathy is Sometimes Lacking: The Influence of Environmental Factors
Pp. 55-83 (29)
Chapter three reviewed the reasons why empathy is sometimes lacking.
Levels or degrees of empathy were presented first ranging from a complete lack of
empathy to very empathetic behaviour. It was then pointed out that, although empathy
is located in the human gene code, the development and sustained experience of
empathy requires a lifelong process of relational interaction that begins with early
infancy. The evidence from orphanage studies revealed that the experience of empathy
is often necessary for basic survival. The following circumstances were presented as
hindering the development of empathy in children: lack of healthy emotions in primary
caregiver; neglect and/or abuse; the de-emphasis of close family and/or social
relationships in modern Western society; as well as various forms of stress. Bullying
and evil were compared to empathy followed by the proposed notion of viewing evil,
not as a permanent personality trait, but as a form of severe lack of empathy. Evil acts
were presumed to occur as a result of complete empathy erosion and turning people into
objects. Similarly, narcissistic behaviour was sometimes deemed to be due to a fear of
being vulnerable. Specific reasons why some helping professionals lack skill in
applying empathy in the clinical setting was also investigated, followed by suggested
strategies for incorporating empathy training into educational programs. In the case in
point a new nurse shares her story of not knowing how to be when confronted with a
patient’s sadness. A simulation role play exercise is suggested to practice using nonverbal
communication techniques to convey empathy.
Attunement, bullying, compassion fatigue, Developmental
psychology, emotional intelligence, empathy, evil, failure to thrive, intelligence
quotient, misattunement, narcissism, neural circuits, psychopaths, safety plan,
socio-paths, suicide risk assessment, unconditional positive regard.
Full Time Nurse Educator in the Faculty of Health Sciences Douglas College, BC Canada Canada.