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-Cohen Continue reading “Lack of Empathy for Others”


Cruel Cainism

Horrible-Bosses1Cruel cainism includes sadism (taking delight in inflicting intentional cruelty) and paranoia (distrustful, suspicious, illusions of persecution). These cainists are not only self-absorbed but deliberately cruel and lack moral principles. They believe they’re above the law and can do whatever they please. In 1964 social psychologist Erich Fromm labeled this behavior “malignant narcissism” and called it “the quintessence of evil.” I have coined it cruel cainism.

The Biblical Cain felt entitled and justified in projecting his hatred on Abel and showed no remorse for his evil actions even when it resulted in murder. In fact, his paranoia skyrocketed after killing Abel, fearing others would take revenge and harm him. It was all about him. The modern-day cainist, male or female, is similar. And because they feel no empathy for others and subsequently little remorse for their cold actions, they lack motivation to change.

A Cruel Cainistic Boss

In the early 1990’s I wrote a booklet about emotional child abuse and sent it to all State governmental social service agencies with the hope of selling it in bulk. Simultaneously, I returned my name to the State’s hiring register for a social worker position because editors were working off their inventories and the writing profession was at a standstill.

I landed an interview with a supervisor I’ll call Charles, in a small town, population under 2,000. If anyone came close to having an “evil eye”— that stare of envy and hatred that inflicts a message of injury or harm— it was his gaze. His mean, beady eyes literally sent chills down my spine. All too soon I found Charles’s devious deeds matched his stare.

First, he held up my booklet on emotional child abuse and asked if I were the author. I had mailed one to every county but never thought about this particular supervisor having one. When I said “Yes,” he maintained piercing knife-like eye contact that looked straight through me. “Do you know what I usually do with stuff like this?” Of course, I had no idea. With one sweep of his arm across his desk, my booklet landed in his waste basket. His action stunned me. I saw no point in his rudeness since I had never met him. Of course, I didn’t know then that he was a cruel cainist. I didn’t even understand cainism.

Driving ninety miles back home in the August sunshine, I actually shivered, thinking of the spitefulness that pierced through his pupils like fiery daggers. “Some people respond to the emotionless stare of the psychopath with considerate discomfort, almost as if they feel like potential prey in the presence of a predator,” writes Dr. Robert D. Hare, Ph. D. in his book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us (1999). When friends and family asked about the interview, I answered, “I won’t get that job. That man did not like me.”

I believe cainists can spot a trusting, easy to fleece casualty within seconds. As Martha Stout writes in her book The Sociopath Next Door (2006, “…a person who has no conscience can instantly recognize someone who is decent and trusting.”  He called the next Tuesday and asked me to start work the following Monday–six days to find adequate house in a small town about which I knew absolutely nothing. I also owned my own home ninety miles away which I needed to deal with, too.

That was my second red flag which I missed. He was making the rules. He was in control. And because he was charitable enough to give me a job, he felt entitled to make things difficult. I had not yet started to work for him and already I felt oppressed, controlled, pressured and humiliated. However, I had made an agreement with myself that I would take the first position offered because I was desperate for income. So I accepted the job, hoping my impressions of his hostility were wrong. Unfortunately, they were spot on.

For instance, Charles was so pitifully unprofessional, he gossiped about, and ridiculed other supervisors, especially an overweight woman, behind their backs during our staff meetings. My co-worker, who had a serious drinking problem, would disappear for hours and no one knew where he went. When it was time for him to co-lead a group meeting with me for our unemployed clients, he was AWOL and the responsibility for leading the group fell on me alone. Charles acted oblivious to all of it. I was an object to be used to take care of Charles’s problem with this other employee.

I desperately wanted out of that hostile work environment so after completing my six month probation period, I applied for a transfer to my hometown where I had family and some friends. Charles had given me a glowing review, actually telling me, “You’re almost perfect.” He was shocked when the transfer was accepted as he thought I couldn’t leave his county for a year. He went into a cainistic rage, torturing me every day of my last month there. Those thirty days seemed endless to me.

Unlikely as it might seem, one of my new bosses, who I’ll call Willie, was best friends with Charles, the cruel cainist who I mistakenly thought I had left behind. The two of them talked every morning on the telephone, plotting Charles’s revenge while Willie conspired to carry out the cruelty. How could this possibly happen?

A former co-worker from the first agency called and warned me: “Watch your back. I hear them plotting against you, and it’s not good.” He had that right. It was like walking in a mine field every day with constant harassment and deception. Willie would conveniently forget to notify me of staff meetings, then berate me when I failed to show up. He crossed boundaries constantly; Co-workers told me he filed through my desk drawers while I was in the field making home visits to clients.

What’s almost too ironic to consider is that he also did poorly at supervising a male employee who drank too much. This worker sat in a bar several days a week, drowning his sorrows while his clients received too much money because he failed to cut checks based on an indefinite State-mandated austerity program. In the meantime, Willie ignored all this and rifled through my desk drawers hoping to nail me for something when I was doing everything by the book. Charles and Willie were cold-blooded cainists out for the kill simply because I had transferred and made Charles fanatically angry.

When I stood up against Willie’s bullying and walked out of a staff meeting, he wrote me up for insubordination. He docked my pay and suspended me from work on two occasions. It was a living hell every day. I gained sixty pounds in a year and suffered unbearable anxiety, insomnia, and increased health issues. I walked off the job after three years of abuse. Cain won. That was my first lesson in understanding that one should never underestimate the destruction of a cruel cainist.