Cultivating Empathy: Inspiring Health Professionals to Communicate More Effectively (Revised Edition)

Why Empathy is Sometimes Lacking: The Influence of Environmental Factors

Author(s): Kathleen Stephany

Pp: 52-77 (26)

DOI: 10.2174/9789815036480122010007

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


Chapter Three reviews the reasons why empathy is sometimes lacking.
Degrees of empathy are presented first, ranging from a complete lack of empathy to
very empathetic behaviour. It is pointed out that empathy is located in the human gene
code. However, the development and sustained experience of empathy require a
lifelong process of relational interaction that begins with early infancy. Evidence from
orphanage studies reveals that the experience of empathy is often necessary for basic
survival. The following circumstances are presented as hindering the development of
empathy in children: lack of healthy emotions in a primary caregiver; neglect or abuse;
the de-emphasis of close family or social relationships in modern Western society; as
well as various forms of stress. The positive and negative influences of social media on
empathy are discussed. Bullying and evil are compared, and evil acts are presumed to
occur as a result of complete empathy erosion and turning people into objects.
However, due to the proposition that people are capable of positive change, we are
encouraged to view evil not as a permanent personality trait but as a form of severe
lack of empathy. Specific reasons why some helping professionals lack skill in
applying empathy in the clinical setting are also discussed, 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 respond when confronted
with a patient`s sadness. A simulation role play exercise is suggested to practice active
listening and non-verbal communication techniques to convey empathy.

Keywords: Active listening, Affective empathy, Attunement, Bullying, Cognitive empathy, Compassion fatigue, Cyber-bullying, Developmental Psychology, Emotional intelligence, Empathy, Empathy erosion, Evil, Histrionic personality disorder, Incivility, Misattunement, Narcissist, Narcissistic personality disorder, Narcissism, Neural circuits, Non-verbal communication, Psychopaths, Safety plan, Social media, Socio-paths, Suicide risk assessment, Unconditional positive regard.

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