Lack of Empathy for Others

“When a person is solely focused on the pursuit of their own interests, they have all the potential to be unempathic.” —Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-CohenThe lack of empathy is the hallmark of cainism.

Research shows that normal people come into the world hard-wired to read and feel the emotions—both pain and joy—of others, even strangers. They express concern and want to relieve suffering if possible. A baby cries and the normal, automatic impulse is to comfort the baby. In fact, empaths (people who feel) find themselves laughing and crying over fictional characters in a book or movie that don’t even exist.

When others empathize with us, we feel understood, cherished, valued and included. It is truly the infrastructure of civilization. Without it, humans would destroy themselves and others. Look at the Biblical Cain who was preoccupied with impressing God (because he wanted to look good) but unwilling or, perhaps, more accurately, unable to empathize with the feelings and needs of his brother, Abel.  Like the Cain of old, the modern-day cainist is similarly paralyzed, lacking this ability. He spends a lifetime duping others into thinking he feels compassion for them when he only has feelings for himself and his own situation. He hides this fact as he manipulates others. Regardless of how it looks, he doesn’t feel with them or for them.

Indeed, there are some highly successful people who masquerade as normal while concealing deeply uncaring personalities. All of which begs to answer the question: Why do some people ignore the humanity of others while others grieve deeply over the smallest injury toward another human being? Why do some set a cat on fire to torture it while another will set up a no-kill facility to save all homeless animals? Why?

The ability to mirror the strong emotions of others—starting in the first year of life and increasing with age—is called emotional contagion. It’s based on the mirror neuron system in the brain and essential for healthy, social functioning.

This superpower was discovered  by accident in 1991 by neuroscientists in Parma, Italy while watching a laboratory monkey eating an ice cream cone. Later when a student walked into the laboratory eating an ice-cream cone, functional MRI’s showed that the same neurons that had been activated when the monkey was eating an ice cream cone were also activated when the monkey watched the student eat an ice cream cone. In other words, the brain parallels the experience of others as if it is an actual shared emotion, sometimes with exact percision. The researchers named these brain cells “mirror cells” because they mirror what is happening.

According to Simon Baron-Cohen’s book Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011), there are ten major brain regions involved in empathy which is greater than the scope of this blog. What is known, however, is that some people are born with abnormalities in the brain that short-circuit empathy. Sadly, cainists show an inability to be empathic and, in one way or another, destroy themselves and everyone in their life. Because of their inability to feel what others feel, they often hurt, destroy or kill without concern. When they hurt others, they know they’ve done wrong but  they don’t feel the emotion of regret. They will dance as fast as they can to pretend they are sorry but they don’t apologize because they don’t feel sorry.

In the other direction, the Enabler is gifted with an abundance of these mirror cells, making her perceptive, emotional, empathetic and sometimes hypersensitive whether she likes it or not. That’s why she is often drawn back into Cain’s life once she has left him. He tells a sad story, her empathy kicks in and she wants to help in some way. Once an Enabler realizes this, she can prevent herself from responding to mirror cells that return her to a life of cainism. She can decide not to respond to his manipulations and her abundance of mirror brain cells. She can remind herself that Cain will never love her and encounters with him will always end in upset. Always. Every time.

Take this example. After divorcing, a woman named Clare said her cainistic sister, Sara, asked if she could do anything. “Call me once in a while to say hi,” Clare requested. But Sara never called. One day Clare was feeling exceptionally lonely and decided to call her sister who happened to be watching a movie with her boyfriend and felt annoyed over the intrusion. When Clare shared that she was feeling lonely, Sara retorted, “Yeah, well I’ve been lonely before too.” Silence. Clare hung up quickly, now more lonely than ever. Three months later Sara had still not returned the call.

The take away lesson for every Enabler is that Cain will not be there emotionally when he is needed most. He emulates and imitates the expressions on the faces of Enablers to muddle through life and pretend to feel, but due to his lack of empathic functioning, he under react or fails to react to the suffering of others. For that reason he is thoughtless, aloof, harsh and insensitive, uttering comments and observations that make responsive, perceptive people cringe.

When I confronted a cainist about his ice-cold, appalling behavior toward me during a dark night of the soul, he said “You’re emotional and I’m not.” That was a classic cainistic rationalization. I was held responsible for his indifference and subsequent neglect, and that was good enough for him, and it should be good enough for me. It was my fault because I was too emotional, not that he, like a robot, was devoid of emotion. He acts out his cruel and callous behavior, blame others for being emotional and  discharges himself of all responsibility or regret. It’s always the Enabler’s fault no matter what. End of story to be repeated indefinitely. And for goodness sake don’t wait for a cainist to express regret or take ownership for his callous behavior because he won’t. If he’s backed into a corner, he might apologize but later will rationalize his  righteousness about the situation. His empathic functioning is damaged; he won’t be there for you no matter how many times he pretends he will.