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#176035 - 08/26/07 03:07 PM Can you learn empathy?
Wife Supporter Offline
New Here

Registered: 07/26/07
Posts: 23
Loc: UK
I would like some advise on a longstanding problem between me & my husband.
He began to get therapy for CSA ealier this year and its obviously slow going, we generally get by okay with only hickups from time to time.
A recurrent problem is his seeming inability to feel empathy for me when Im upset, this has always been an issue and we haven't quite worked out whether it is him or problems from his CSA. Does anybody on this board have problems with empathy in particular with their wives?.
Basically it goes like this, something happens to upset me (I'd like to throw in at this point that Im not a big cryer, so it's not happening all the time) I cry, he completely ignors me, goes off to do DIY ect.. walks past me crying, basically looking as though he couldn't care less ( which I know is not the case ), I get more upset and we almost always end up having a big row before it settles down.
The big problems is that although now whilst I'm rational I can talk through things with him when Im upset and he ignores me it brings up all sorts of rubbish and bad feelings in me from when I was young and had a disturbed children, he knows this and still apparently can't do anything about it.
He says when he see's me upset he feels really angry with himself and just can't approach me, he says he doesn't want to console me but knows he should so therefore gets angry with himself - can anybody relate to this.
To be honest at times I feel like I know what pushes him over the edge and so do my very best not to do that, but he knows my issues and doesn't make the effort, am I bad for feeling that.
Can anybody offer any advice or strategies?
Would you expect this to improve with therapy or is it just part of him?
It is such a major problem that we just can't get over, why can't he show that he cares, I have said that Im fine with no physical contact, but just to know that he is bothered, is it fair to me that I just have to think to myself - he is bothered he just can't approach you at this point when you really need him.
He says he would walk around the world to get me something I needed (which I believe) but he just can't show me that he cares when I am upset, it just isn't there, his mind is blank and although we have been through step by step what to do he just can't do it.
Help and Thx
WS


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#176065 - 08/26/07 05:23 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: Wife Supporter]
Kathryn Offline
Guest

Registered: 02/08/07
Posts: 303


This is a continuing theme and deserving of a lot of discussion, but the simple answer to your general question is that some can, some can't, depends on too many variables. But I'd like to think that the vast number of humans can, and think that attachment theory is a better lense through which to think about empathy than personality disorders.

You might check out the link Selene sent about attachment in Friends and Family under the thread "nature/nurture".

I would imagine a lot of people here could tell you about the developing sense of greater empathy both in regards to themselves and others. I know I can, my empathic capacity has certainly been streched, but I'm learning to strech along with it.

Of course environmental falure is the only cause of empathic failure, there's also things like autism and asperger's, but even then environmental responsiveness can create great changes.

Take care,
Katie


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#176107 - 08/26/07 07:39 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: Kathryn]
Kathryn Offline
Guest

Registered: 02/08/07
Posts: 303


meant to say that environmental failure is not the only cause of empathic failure, but even in cases of a more biologically based deficit, positive environmental stuff can really help.


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#176113 - 08/26/07 08:06 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? *DELETED* [Re: Kathryn]
ttoon Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 06/19/07
Posts: 977
Post deleted by ttoon

_________________________
checkin out for a few weeks... whistle
02/07/09

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#176119 - 08/26/07 08:28 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: ttoon]
Kathryn Offline
Guest

Registered: 02/08/07
Posts: 303


Yep, the hypersensitivity thing often gets confused with the lack of emotions/empathy, but it also seems to me that it can become a vicious cycle (in some people) -- lack of response causes self doubt/hatred, self doubt causes resentment over being called to respond, self doubt and resentment reinforces an unconscious need to punish in passive ways (not responding), failure to respond causes self doubt....

And how the other partner responds or reacts to this cycle sometimes only reinforces the whole thing.

Like for instance, in my first marriage I sort of like the cycle cuz it kept me out of the relationship.

K.


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#176122 - 08/26/07 08:33 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? *DELETED* [Re: Kathryn]
ttoon Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 06/19/07
Posts: 977
Post deleted by ttoon

_________________________
checkin out for a few weeks... whistle
02/07/09

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#176131 - 08/26/07 08:55 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: ttoon]
selene Offline
Member

Registered: 11/10/06
Posts: 221
Loc: midwest
Quote:
when Im upset and he ignores me it brings up all sorts of rubbish and bad feelings in me from when I was young


... wifesupporter ... i've been in the exact situation you've described above with my husband (we're both survivors) ... and i've learned that it takes two to get into the situation and also two to get out ...

... he's reverting to childhood feelings and patterns and so are you ... so for all intents and purposes, you're two scared and hurt little children when this situation happens ... he's feeling too inadequate to try and comfort you and you're feeling too abandoned to try to help him learn anything at all ... and i don't think this is a problem of him not having empathy ... i think this may be more a problem with how confident each of you are about acting on what you really feel ...

... if you talk about this at a time when you're not upset with each other maybe you can find some common ground ... if it's abandonment (or whatever it is) that you have issues with and that are brought out when this happens ... tell him ... he probably has no clue ... ask him how HE'S feeling when you're upset and he *seems* not to care ...

... it's all a two way street and no one person is ever entirely to blame ... although it's easy to say, "well, he just needs to learn empathy" or whatever ... but you BOTH need to learn some communication skills ... what works for you will be different from what has worked for us ... but here, the magic words were me saying - during a huge fight - "i do love you and want to stay with you" ... his fear had always been that i would leave and that made it even more difficult for him to feel he was able to comfort me ... now, he's much more able to be confident enough to take that leap and reach out to me when i'm upset ... and vice versa ...

_________________________
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye." ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery from The Little Prince

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#176152 - 08/26/07 10:29 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: selene]
Brokenhearted Offline
Member

Registered: 08/07/06
Posts: 644
Loc: TX
This is interesting b/c it is the first time I've heard it could be "hypersensitivity" rather than "lack of empathy." It makes sense.

My H often gets angry if I cry about something, I think b/c he A) feels powerless to help me and B) is intimidated by sad emotions -- he does not want to feel them, so he doesn't want to be around someone else feeling them. I believe he works hard at walling himself off from them, so it is a threat to his wall if someone close to him is hurting.

I think it can improve. It is just another side effect of csa.

_________________________
Brokenhearted

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
Luke 17:2

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#176205 - 08/27/07 04:28 AM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: Wife Supporter]
Wife Supporter Offline
New Here

Registered: 07/26/07
Posts: 23
Loc: UK
Thanks for all your replies, I'm going to print them and show to Husband.

Unfortunately we are right in the middle of another crisis due to us not communicating again, it's so hard, I wish we had done this years ago before we had children, jobs ect... but I suppose thats just the way it is.

A lot makes sense, Thanks Selene, I think it may help if I say to him that I love him or something similar, it's so hard to do when you are in the middle of it.

I feel so hurt and yet I love him so much I don't want to hurt him anymore.

I will respond more later when I have had time to digest the info properly.

Thx WS


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#176209 - 08/27/07 06:31 AM Re: Can you learn empathy? *DELETED* [Re: Wife Supporter]
ttoon Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 06/19/07
Posts: 977
Post deleted by ttoon

_________________________
checkin out for a few weeks... whistle
02/07/09

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#176463 - 08/28/07 04:01 AM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: ttoon]
Wife Supporter Offline
New Here

Registered: 07/26/07
Posts: 23
Loc: UK
Thanks Dave, I think my Husband would relate to you, he has a similar memory.
I printed off the replies and gave them to my Husband, we had a few heated discussions (not necessarily about this) and last night lead to him disclosing some of the infomation about his abuse ( although I have known for 15 years he have never given any/very little details).
Although it's early days Im hoping this will be a catalyist for more recovery, he has held on to some terrible memorys for years on his own.
Thank you to everybody


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#176535 - 08/28/07 12:45 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: Wife Supporter]
indygal Offline
Member

Registered: 06/22/06
Posts: 439
wifesupporter,

also worth mentioning is about repression of feelings - something we learn in society, as children, even as adults - that expressing ourselves isn't always allowed, or appropriate, whether from an abusive situation or one that was controlled in some form.

the thing is, repression of one's individual feeling is simply not possible - when we repress ourselves, we repress a lot more than just what we consciously wish to keep from surfacing. over time, this repression forces downward so much it is difficult for our true sense of self to re-surface.

with time, and more importantly, the will to find our true selves inside, one can learn to release these repressed feelings and eventually how to express appropriate feelings and in turn, empathy for other individuals.

it is not easy to do. having spent a lifetime recovering from physical abuse, i still sometimes am reminded by someone that a remark i have made may have been misinterpreted as being "cold." in the past, such criticisms would surprise me but now, i listen, accept and try harder to empathize with others.

more specifically, the huge learning curve i experienced regarding csa in men made me realize i still had a long way to go in empathizing with men's issues.

i hope i've made some progress in this; i like to think i have.

all the best,
indy

_________________________
my avatar is one of the Battle Angel characters, fighting the good fight.

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#176542 - 08/28/07 01:21 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: indygal]
Kathryn Offline
Guest

Registered: 02/08/07
Posts: 303


What indygal said.


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#176588 - 08/28/07 04:29 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: ttoon]
head&heart Offline
New Here

Registered: 02/16/07
Posts: 17
Loc: Chose the hard place--left the...
Dear WS
This is a really important topic and one which I touched on in my first posting a couple of weeks ago. Empathy is a difficult subject to discuss. It is initiated by another persons feelings or assumed feelings then it must be directed inward with an internal act of emotion that feels for itself the emotions of the other. For the other person to know that you have empathized you must in some fashion communicate your now shared emotion to them. Somewhere in all this give and take survivors of trauma get lost, each in his own personal way.

My husband grew up in a family with a mother who was bi-polar. At various times there were real crises and there was always inappropriateness and unpredictability. Her illness was covered-up, never discussed and unexplained throughout his childhood. There is plenty of evidence that he could easily have attachment problems due to his mother. Since my husband recovered his memory of a rape at age 8, it has become clear to me that he is suffering with two different but deeply intertwined fears of many aspects of empathy. All roads to empathy have been blocked by the threat of feeling the emotions of others as they lead you to feel all your own unresolved feelings (and repressed memories). It is much safer to not feel quite that deeply about anyone, and the threat of emotion is greatest with those you love most.

Something in the threat that empathy poses is also the crucial to the discussion about deception and lying. Deception is a protective act. Perhaps its ultimate goal is to manipulate and control in order to protect against emotions of your own and those of others.

H&H


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#176591 - 08/28/07 04:39 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: head&heart]
Kathryn Offline
Guest

Registered: 02/08/07
Posts: 303


That was great H&H.


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#177355 - 08/31/07 08:21 AM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: Kathryn]
weepywife Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/22/06
Posts: 57
My husband and I just had this conversation last night, but it was about me having the lack of empathy.

I too get upset and my husband distances himself from me and does not reach out to hold or hug me after an emotional period. But I know he is the most empathetic person I know. I think the lack of emotion showed may go back to not wanting to deal/connect with their emotions. They also may be feeling so much empathy for their wives that they start to blame and hate themselves. The survivor may not feel strong enough to comfort someone else.

My husband said when he first told me that he was abused I showed no empathy. And he was really upset by that. He's right I responded in the wrong way. I was completely blindsided. I actually felt relief when he told be because I naively thought that this was a problem that could be easily solved. I felt relief that our lack of intimacy wasn't me or that he wasn't having an affair. I felt the worst was out in the open and since it was all out in the open things would get better. I think I had alot of the standard misconceptions about being a male survivor and it being no big deal.

So 2 years later he tells me about my lack of empathy bothering him. I say I'm sorry I can't change the past. what can I do now to be a better partner. He says nothing. He says you can't learn empathy. And he says that I don't have it. Boy that makes you feel good.

Survivors, how can I be more empathetic to my husband?
Keep in mind that he HATES talking about this stuff so it is hard for me to understand what is going on in his head.

Thanks


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#177392 - 08/31/07 11:50 AM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: weepywife]
Agape Girl Offline
Guest

Registered: 07/25/07
Posts: 120
Loc: New Jersey, USA
Weepy;

Going through the same thing, I felt relief when he told me. It's not right that I felt that but, when you look at who else the blame is on and when you believe you did nothing wrong to your partner to cause the imbalance in your relationship, it's seems more acceptable to feel relief that your not the one at fault. So other person or persons are that are outside your relationship. Heavy stuff, to understand.

I'm trying to figure out in my head how it is I'm supposed to turn off my emotions when he's having a down day and not take it persoanl. I've asked for him to let me know when those days have surfaced. I'm waiting patiently for what that signal is. (Yesterday was our first down day and like I said I'm trying not to feel hurt by his distance from me).

I also in turn want to be able to give him that safety he needs while not making him feel as if I've turned off my emotions tward him. It's a tough thing to understand. But, I'm sorting through.

Thanks for letting me vent a little, I just wanted you know I'm in the same boat too!

always,
Kelly

_________________________
AGAPE'
means selfless love of one person for another
without sexual implications
(especially love that is spiritual in nature)

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#177409 - 08/31/07 01:34 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: Agape Girl]
Wife Supporter Offline
New Here

Registered: 07/26/07
Posts: 23
Loc: UK
H & H - Thanks for that, "mothering" issues could well be a problem.

I just wanted everybody to know that since I wrote this thread I have had time to reflect and I now don't think it's a lack of empathy but as many of you have suggested a problem communicating his feelings to me.

Kelly & WW I do feel for you both, it's not easy in this situation we have all been thrown into, but with every new piece of understanding between you and your partners it gets slightly easier - keep strong,

Thanks WS


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#177626 - 09/01/07 01:03 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: ttoon]
nicky Offline
Guest

Registered: 08/24/07
Posts: 261
im sad to say i have done and said the same things :-(

_________________________
i like the rain cause no one knows im crying

a strong man is one who is able to control himself when he is angry
what is your definiton of control?

i lay awake another hour
just like the one before
the shadows play a game with my head
i can't take this anymore

http://youtube.com/watch?v=x4EOw8wPBN8




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#177663 - 09/01/07 04:37 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: Wife Supporter]
emptydreamer Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 05/19/07
Posts: 276
Loc: Midwest USA
WOW!

It never ceases to amaze me at how many problems are shared by so many of us with reasons to be here.

This thread hit me so hard, many of the posts sound like my wife talking about me!

It is true, when she is hurt, I feel totally inadequate to be able to comfort her. It doesn't help that she too is a survivor.

Her hurt, comes out as vicious anger. She becomes the most vile, foul mouthed attacker I've ever witnessed. Cussing, screaming, name calling, putting down, dragging everything I've ever disclosed about myself up and using it as a weapon to hurl the most wicked words my way as she possibly can.

This sends me into self protection mode. I become the scared little kid who feels helpless to do anything about the situation.
I feel the only choice I have is to sit there and take it. The quieter I am, the madder she gets. She says I'm cold and unfeeling, and in some ways, I'm sure that is how it appears. On the other hand, she has no idea of how this behavior effects me.

We are making improvements, but they don't seem to come quickly enough. We are in the middle of the latest episode as I type this and I'm hoping when I go home from work today, we can communicate, in a civil manner, and hopefully make a little more progress.

I know that I am a tough man to love. I have a hard time even loving myself. My emotions were stolen from me and I'm trying desperately to get them back. It is hard, but I will not give up.

She says that she knows I love her, but that I don't love her emotionally. I'm afraid to tell her that I don't even know what that means.

Best wishes and warmest regards,
Scott

_________________________
I'm here for a reason. Failure is not an option.

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#177687 - 09/01/07 07:19 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: emptydreamer]
honey girl Offline
Member

Registered: 10/09/06
Posts: 245
Loc: Midwest US
Dear Emptydreamer,

I hope my reply doesn't come across as too blunt.

But your wife, survivor or no, has no license to be hurtful or cruel to you when she is in pain (or any other time, for that matter).

It is especially unfair for her to use any of your disclosures as weapons against you.

I strongly recommend that the two of you figure out--books, therapy, somehow--how to fight fair. This way is not good for either one of you.

You are entitled to respect from your partner, no matter what; your partner is entitled to respect from you. Survivorhood does not give anyone the right to behave badly.

My second husband was frequently verbally abusive toward me. I hated him for it. Eventually it was a large factor in our separation and divorce. The corrosive effects of this kind of behavior should not be minimized. Words DO hurt and leave scars.

I don't blame you for wanting to protect yourself. Please take some more steps to make sure that you both have a safe haven in each other.

Peace,
HG

_________________________
I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger, a million miles away from home.

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#177732 - 09/01/07 10:21 PM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: emptydreamer]
WalkingSouth Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 08/30/05
Posts: 16264
Originally Posted By: emptydreamer
I know that I am a tough man to love. I have a hard time even loving myself. My emotions were stolen from me and I'm trying desperately to get them back. It is hard, but I will not give up.

Powerful statement, and the answer "lies within" to quote one of my favorite movies "The Shawshank Redemption". The more you love yourself the easier it will be to be loved by others, and the less you will be willing to "take" the bad behavior hurled your way. On the flip side, the less bad behavior you will be hurling her way.

John



Edited by walkingsouth (09/02/07 10:53 AM)
_________________________
“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy ____…! What a ride!’” ~Hunter S. Thompson

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#177749 - 09/02/07 12:46 AM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: WalkingSouth]
nicky Offline
Guest

Registered: 08/24/07
Posts: 261
cathy i love you
im working on fixing this :'-(
i will make a apointment when they open ok
please



Edited by nicky (09/02/07 12:52 AM)
_________________________
i like the rain cause no one knows im crying

a strong man is one who is able to control himself when he is angry
what is your definiton of control?

i lay awake another hour
just like the one before
the shadows play a game with my head
i can't take this anymore

http://youtube.com/watch?v=x4EOw8wPBN8




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#177750 - 09/02/07 12:48 AM Re: Can you learn empathy? [Re: emptydreamer]
head&heart Offline
New Here

Registered: 02/16/07
Posts: 17
Loc: Chose the hard place--left the...
Dear Emptydreamer and everybody,
Do not despair of finally achieving intimacy and empathy.

I have been through one hell of weekend with the man I will always love. As usual it was precipitated by my demands for change and the looming end of our life together. But after years of unwillingness, this evening, he reached out and acknowledged that his CSA did make a difference in him. At this point he knows that his overriding cynicism was created at that time. This is huge! I want to express my thanks to this site and in particular "walkingsouth', for his thoughts regarding "ENABLING" and especially my brave husband who has begun seeking the road to self.
Thanks so much for being here when we needed you.
There are no words..
H&H




Edited by head&heart (09/02/07 01:02 AM)

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