By Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.
Empathy is one of those golden words that says it all to many and says nothing to some. It’s the capacity to experience that felt by another. It’s the ability to authentically embrace—with open clarity—the feelings, needs and concerns of another person.
Some people have it, and some simply don’t. It can be hard for those accustom to giving and receiving empathy to stand raw and vulnerable with one’s loved one, and face a demand for empathy while in one’s greatest need.
Extraordinary Moments, Everyday Needs
Lynette, a surgical nurse, knows this far too well. Christmas was in the air on the morning that her daughter reached back for mother-daughter holiday time. She had been waiting for this moment for years and finally the day was upon her.
It was all so perfect for a long over-due reunion of parent and child. They were both filled with excitement over the prospect of having this special time together. With enthusiasm, Lynette shares the news of her child’s desire with her partner Doug. The last thing she expected was his interference because he, too, has issues being estranged from his own adult children.
When Empathy Is Not Possible
Instead of supporting her having this time with her child, Doug demanded that he participate in their holiday reunion. Doug had not met Lynette’s daughter and insisted that this was his opportunity to meet and bond with her adult child.
The back and forth that this couple endured, from the outside looking in, was painful beyond imagination. The struggle Lynette experienced over having a holiday dinner alone with her daughter was absolutely over the top.
Lynette was not ready to introduce her partner to her child. And Doug firmly insisted that he meet the daughter whether Lynette was ready or not, as this was necessary for his well-being. All Lynette wanted was to be with her child without the drama of her partner’s demands for inclusion…intrusion. For weeks, they fought over whether he would or would not “allow” her to be with her own child without his being present.
Blurry Boundaries of Narcissistic Abuse
What’s wrong with this picture?
A) Why must she get his buy-in for her to fulfill her own needs?
B) Why can’t he respect her request to lift his unreasonable demand?
Seems like simple questions, right?
As she described this encounter to me, I could feel the chains of her oppression. It was heavy. She was conflicted and entrapped. He was demanding, unrelenting and without empathy for the needs, the rights and the experience of his partner. It was sad and scary, all at the same time.
When Control Dominates the Moment
As Christmas does every year, it came and it passed. And with only a few days left in the year, Lynette sought to find an opening in which she could be with her daughter for a holiday celebration.
She sent an email to Doug explaining how disappointed she was in herself for not holding her own relative to him with respect to this outing with her child in the days prior. In plain and simple language, Lynette told Doug that she is meeting her daughter alone for a holiday meal. And further, this meeting is non-negotiable. Her message was expressed with clarity, sensitivity and compassion.
Under normal circumstances, one might expect her comment to be received with understanding at best and without resistance at a minimum. However, we are not looking at normal here, instead what presents boarders on creepy. You heard me. Creepy.
It’s mid-week just before New Years and the perfect time for Lynette to meet her daughter. As she seeks to find her exit, she gets a text from Doug with an image of him eating at the restaurant that Lynette selected to meet her child on the only day she was not working. (Creepy and Controlling) Doug was determined to get his way, all while blind to how he was violating his partner’s rights and blatantly disregarding her wishes.
No Empathy, No Respect, No Relationship
Stopped cold in her tracks, Lynette pulls in to coast through the balance of the holiday, all while privately planning her escape to rendezvous with her own child, without Doug’s interference. The thoughts, feelings and experience of this two-week “holiday” period armed Lynette with the wisdom she needed to ultimately exit the relationship with Doug.
The concept of “no empathy” becomes ever so clear when you are living it. If you are in an intimate relationship in which you are coerced into delivering empathy in response to your plea for it, take a hard and fast look at the reality of narcissistic abuse in dysfunctional relationships.
For more information about ending intimate partner abuse, visit: https://www.enddomesticabuse.org/spousal_abuse_tx.php and discover easy to understand insights into healing domestic abuse in abusive relationships.
If you need personal help with healing narcissistic abuse, visit Intimate Partner Abuse Treatment and learn about therapy options for you and your partner.
Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps people worldwide recognize, end and heal from domestic abuse.
© Dr Jeanne King — Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention