Help! I Think my Boss Has an Empathy Disorder!
Everybody complains about their boss or their colleagues; it’s just a fact of life. Maybe it’s because we feel like their expectations are unrealistic or maybe you feel underappreciated or misunderstood. Whatever the reason might be, if you’re like most people, you’re no stranger to regular complaints about your job. But if you feel like someone you work with is regularly insensitive or devoid of empathy, your complaints might not be invalid; you might be dealing with someone who has Empathy Deficit Disorder. In this article, we’ll learn more about what Empathy Deficit Disorder is and what you can do if you know someone who has it.
Why Empathy Deficit Disorder Can be Challenging
We typically consider empathy to be one of the key characteristics that defines us as human beings. The ability to understand how someone else feels and metaphorically put ourselves in their shoes is one of the core facets of our human experience. Without empathy, we would lack the ability to be considerate of other people, to put someone else’s needs above our own, or to go out of our way to be kind to someone else. In short, empathy characterizes every aspect of our relationships with other people. But what if someone has little or no empathy at all?
What is Empathy Deficit Disorder?
If someone has a mental health challenge like Attention Deficit Disorder (or ADD), we understand that to mean that they experience difficulty with focusing and paying attention. So, just as ADD indicates a problem with attention, so Empathy Deficit Disorder (or EDD) connotes an inability to pay attention. So, if you’re wondering how to tell if you or someone you work with has Empathy Deficit Disorder, here are a few common signs of EDD:
- Inability to form an emotional connection with others
- Insensitive to other people’s pain
- Inability to be happy for someone else
- Inability to identify with someone else’s position or experience
- Extreme selfishness
- Significant impatience
However, it’s important to remember that, just as depression is more than “feeling a little sad,” so EDD is more than a bad day or a moment of insensitivity. Anyone can display any of these behaviors during a bad day or a moment of emotional disturbance, but that doesn’t automatically mean they have Empathy Deficit Disorder. As any human being knows, we can all be selfish or insensitive at times, but most people realize the error of their ways with a little self-reflection or a change in circumstance. And, as a result, most people will apologize for their actions and attempt to treat others with more kindness and respect going forward.
But someone who truly has Empathy Deficit Disorder is unlikely to change their behavior or reflect on the impact of their actions. And the behaviors described in the above list won’t just be a one-off episode on a bad day. Instead, these traits will manifest as a repeated pattern of behavior that characterizes all of your interactions with that person. So, if you’re seeing a pattern of behavior that seems to transcend simply being a jerk, your colleague might be someone with Empathy Deficit Disorder. If you want to learn more about EDD and review a comprehensive list of symptoms, you can check out this page on Mind Diagnostics.
What Causes Empathy Deficit Disorder?
If we think of empathy in terms of software, then we can say that most people are automatically equipped with empathy in the same way that iPhones come with the iMessage feature. For 98% of people, empathy is a pre-programmed feature that was already installed in our minds. As kids, we might learn to fine-tune our empathy– for example, when we learn that our behavior can make other people feel sad, angry, or excluded– but that’s usually a matter of nurturing the empathy that we already have. As a general rule, we don’t have to be taught how to develop empathy in the first place.
So, because empathy is an automatic feature for 98% of people, we don’t have a lot of research to explain why some people don’t have it. But we do know that some factors can contribute to decreased empathy in certain people and that these factors can contribute to the development of Empathy Deficit Disorder. For example, if children are encouraged to bury their feelings and avoid talking about how they feel, children are less likely to be in touch with their feelings or the emotions of others. Likewise, if children receive the message that emotions make you “weak” or “overly sensitive,” this may damage their budding capacity for empathy. However, these factors only contribute to a person’s lack of empathy; unfortunately, they do not explain why some people seem to be born without empathy.
What Can I Do if I Work With Someone Who Has Empathy Deficit Disorder?
If you work closely with a colleague or supervisor who has EDD, you may find that your working relationship with that person is very difficult. But there are a few tips that can make it less challenging for you. For example, you can:
- Try not to take their behavior personally
- Don’t get emotionally invested in them or their behavior; just shrug it off and move on as best you can
- If you need to talk to them about a problem, try to talk about facts rather than your feelings. This will make it easier for someone with EDD to understand and appreciate what you’re saying
- Talk to someone if you need help
Lastly and most importantly, if working with someone who has EDD is damaging your mental and emotional health, consider options that can help you avoid or cope with the situation. Whether you need to talk to a therapist or even find a new job, it’s important to remember that you do have options and your mental health should come first.
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