“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”
During a recent book group meeting, we discussed the extremes in personalities and behavior between two sisters, Anna and Maria, portrayed in the book The Island by author Victoria Hislop. The sisters were as different as night and day; Anna, beautiful and selfish; Maria, obedient and compassionate. One group member remarked that one family would never find two siblings with such diverse scruples and values raised in the same household.
Knowing about the current neuroscience of cainism, I totally disagree. For the record, the infamous, serial killer Ted Bundy had four siblings, whom he spent much of his time babysitting. All of which leaves me wondering how they might have been emotionally terrorized by him. They were sitting pigeons for his low-to-no levels of empathy, manipulation and lack of conscience and remorse.
In the book, The Island, the younger daughter, Maria, remained a caring daughter to her kind, generous father after the girls’ mother was sent to a leper colony in Greece and later died. But the oldest daughter, Anna was contrary and self-absorbed throughout her childhood and grew into a cold, deceitful woman. These sisters grew up in the same household, raised by the same doting father, yet, their personalities were the difference between evil and sainthood.
Over the last two decades, neuroscience and genetics have shown that on some level cainists are born the way they are. They possess low levels of empathy, if they feel anything at all. Cainists don’t respond to normal childhood experiences in a normal way. At the same time, Enablers are born with an excessive empathy gene, indomitable hope and helpfulness. The difference? She is able to learn from experiences and manage her behaviors. She needs to scale down her compassion if it prevents her from enjoying a life of her own.
For instance, Maria, refused to marry someone she loved deeply because it would take her far from her father who she felt needed her, especially after the death of his wife by leprosy. Most Enablers automatically understand that depth of compassion. A cainist would never give up his own life for the benefit of another. He might arrange it to “look” that way, but it will always be under his terms and conditions, and it simply doesn’t matter if it is the best for the person in need.
In the opposite direction, the older sister, Anna, rarely found time to visit her loving father. It was an inconvenience. She seemed to give him little thought, engaged in an extramarital affair, focused on her own pleasure. Although The Island was a fictional, historical novel, it delineated the Cain and Enabler Complex precisely. The uncaring cainist (Anna) and the overly compassionate Enabler (Maria.)
When a parent has a cainistic child whose brain is neurologically deficient at birth, it can be extremely hard to ascertain whether he’s experiencing normal jealousy over the birth of a new baby brother or sister, but within time the difference is evident; his jealousy and anger fail to dissipate. In fact, he will be angry with all siblings born into the family just because they exist, robbing him of precious parental attention. He will show the same reaction over and over, and hang on to his anger forever. Nothing changes.
As parents try to teach this cainistic child how to nurture and respond with love to his sibling(s), there is a total emotional disconnect based on the neurological defects. He doesn’t “get it.” He doesn’t learn and he doesn’t change. He’s constantly angry and irritated. He might come through under pressure, but he’ll do it with no more emotion than if he were counting jelly beans in a jar. And only if authority is nearby, watching, all the while resenting the forced lesson.
In a recent blog radio show, counselor Jennifer Young at the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction Public Psychopathy Education, explained: “These disorders are indicative of little to no conscience, little to no empathy, little to no emotional depth or insight, and little to no sustaining change. Those parts of the brain are broken. Clearly people without empathy cause dramatic, intense mounts of harm to other people.”
Think about how a normal sibling feels, growing up with a hurtful cainistic sibling. There will never be any depth of caring from this cainistic sibling. Whatever Cain does is based solely on what he wants in the moment, and he will manipulate and control his environment to get it, including all his siblings. For example, he might agree to play Monopoly if his sibling sets up the board game (time consuming job), but when they are finished with the game, he says, “You got it out, you have to put it away.” He’s constantly in control. Nothing will be for the best interest of the sibling over Cain’s interest.
He’s rarely ever cooperative unless it is to look good in front of others and thereby gain something for himself. He loves a doting audience who he has conned into thinking he is kind and cooperative. If the sibling asks or demands that his needs are met, Cain reacts with hostility. If the sibling gets his needs met, Cain makes sure someone pays, most likely in a passive-aggressive way to hide the abuse.
Cainism is not a brain disorder where one can go back and do inner child work or regression therapy and change the personality. It is what it is. Cainists lack the whole emotional range that normal people have at their fingertips, especially the Enabler who is hard-wired with excessive empathy traits. There are no warm fuzzies hidden in Cain’s heart that you will somehow extract by a magic formula, such as, saying the right thing or doing the right thing.
The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction Public Psychopathy Education points out that our conscience and our empathy are how we connect with others in the world, how our species has survived all these centuries. Look how people came together after the tragedy of 9/11 to help others in need. As Sandra Brown, M.A. stated during the same blog radio show with Jennifer Young: “Empathy is our humanity. Impulse control is generated from the ability to be empathetic.” Cainists simply don’t have the full emotional spectrum with which to relate.
During Cain’s childhood, it’s a matter of what doesn’t develop in the personality under normal circumstances. His brain is broken. He doesn’t experience normal empathy or compassion. Take this example. A sibling falls and breaks his leg. The only emotion a cainist feels about the incident is that the broken leg robs him of parental time and attention. His emotions consist of jealousy and anger that he’s not center stage. He resents his sibling for existing and doubly so for breaking a leg and needing more parental time. There are no normal feelings of care and concern for his sibling during this difficult time.
You can imagine how this coldness impacts siblings who grow up with Cain. Often they blame themselves (that’s what children do) as if something is wrong with them that their cainistic sibling won’t love them. That is totally wasted effort. That’s why parents need to educate themselves about cainism and then teach other siblings the difference about emotional abilities and reactions and give the normal siblings a strong background in self-worth by praising and noticing their empathetic qualities. Too often parents are afraid of Cain’s anger, dropping the lessons of compassion because they rile Cain, making him impossible to live with.
Unfortunately, this cold, uncaring and selfish behavior of cainism is pervasive and enduring throughout his life which means it affects how the cainist thinks, feels, reacts, and behaves when he turns fifty, sixty, seventy, or eighty-years old. His behavior won’t change because his dysfunctional brain is incapable of learning lessons or connecting with emotions. He will learn what kinds of control methods work or don’t work to get what he wants, but there is no compassion or caring attached to what he learns. He controls his environment to meet his whims at the expense of others.
If parents, themselves, are insecure and looking for their children’s love, they may give in to Cain’s every desire erroneously thinking it will be an exchange for love. But due to his broken brain, Cain is incapable of real love. It won’t happen. He can’t feel things. Some parents spend their entire lifetime trying to get a cainist child to love them and subsequently they allow a terrorist to develop and control the entire family.
So, while a parent is teaching the same lesson to a Cain and an Enabler within the same family under the same roof, there are two very different emotional responses and outcomes. “One of the perils of having a huge heart is that it breaks almost daily.But this is a sad fact with which I have learned to live.” (Harriet in The Invention of Beauty). That quote is something the Enabler knows daily. And one the cainist will never understand.
The diverse characters in the book, The Island, reminded me that cainists are born and incapable of change. So whether it is your parent, sibling, mate or child, stop hoping for change that will never come. It’s a game you can’t win. Instead learn how to deal directly with his manipulations to prevent destruction of the entire family. If it’s an adult relationship, run in the opposite direction as if your shoes are on fire.
Cainists are: (1) Obsessively self-absorbed, (2) Jealous and envious, (3) Grandiose, (4) Rigid, (5) Superficial and shallow, (6) Insensitive, (7) Think they’re special, (8) Crave endless attention and admiration, even worship, (9) Demand loyalty regardless of merit and (10) Refuse to offer an honest apology in which they admit their fault. They might say they are “sorry” something worked out a certain way, but they will never admit that their conduct and choices caused you pain or harm. Their pride and arrogance will always override your feelings. They are the type who, to use an old cliché, can’t see past the end of their nose.
However, their biggest deficient, which sets them apart from a normal relationship, is lack of empathy and the inability to recognize emotions in others. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door (2006) points out that cainists “are able to feel most emotions as strongly as anyone else does.” The problem is, the empathy and emotions are for themselves, not others.
Therapist Sandra Brown, who writes a column for Psychology Today and author of the book Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of inevitable Harm With Psychopaths, Sociopath & Narcissists (2008), explains that there is a spectrum of empathy. At one end is the sociopath who has no conscience or empathy and at the other end is the cainist who has extremely low levels of both. Cain knows the difference between right and wrong–socially, legally and ethically–but mostly he doesn’t care if he violates the rights and needs of others if it interferes with what he wants, needs and desires.
TV personality Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox cable show “The O’Reilly Factor“, is a major example of someone who is lost in thought about his own power and brilliance, and lacks empathy or concern for others. It’s common for him to yell “shut up!” to his guests several times throughout his show. Some of that might be for the ratings, but as Sandra Brown suggests, if you have doubts about someone’s conduct and behavior, stop and ask yourself the question: “Who does that?” If it doesn’t fit into a reasonably normal paradigm, one with a conscience and compassion for others, you’re probably looking at a cainist…or worse.
One of O’Reilly’s callous comments stands heads about the rest. It related to the Shawn Hornbeck kidnapping in 2002. The eleven-year-old boy, Shawn, was kidnapped while riding his bike in Richwoods, Missouri. It took almost five years for him and another boy to be found and rescued from the kidnapper. News reports revealed that Shawn had had occasions to escape, but didn’t. The explanation turned quickly to the idea of the Stockholm syndrome—a state of mind that sometimes develops in hostages where the hostage or a victim becomes attached to his captor in a desperate act to survive.
Lacking normal, human compassion, O’Reilly dismissed the Stockholm Theory, accusing the child of liking his new situation because he didn’t have to obey his parents, go to school and could do whatever he wanted to do. In reality, during the first month of captivity, Shawn was tied to a futon all day, sexually abused, and his abductor terrorized him with threats that he would be killed if he didn’t do exactly as he was told. Although O’Reilly was condemned for his cruel insensitivity, he never apologized or admitted he was wrong.
Who does that?
In closing, perhaps, the quote from big shot character, Buddy Ackerman, in the 1994 film Swimming With Sharks sums cainism up best:
“What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You are here for me. You are here to protect my interests and to serve my needs. So while it may look like a little thing to you, when I ask for a packet of Sweet-N-Low, that’s what I want. And it’s your responsibility to get what I want.”
That, my friends, sounds exactly like words that would come from an arrogant cainist’s mouth.