The empathy trap

I discovered this nice little cafe / bookshop / library near Bondi beach called Gertrude & Alice. It’s become a nice little treat to pop down there and pick up a book at random from the shelf to read over breakfast.

One book that caught my eye, ‘The Empathy Trap – Understanding Antisocial Personalities, by Dr Jane and Tim McGregor’, it’s title intrigued me so I choose this as a quick read for that morning.

There are a lot of articles and online blog posts I’ve come across and had read into regarding narcissists, empaths and sociopaths, but this book seemed to click with me. I got engrossed in the first 10 pages and had to buy the book.

The description of sociapaths in the first part is interpretted as having lack of empathy and disturbing social behaviour conditioned by the external environment, but closely described with the behaviour of narcissists , as well as psychopaths – who are defined further as biologically and psycological inclined.

The authors both work as mental health researches for the NHS in the UK and their studies are stories of very common issues and their perspective is clear as day and easy to read.

It describes the profiles, life scenarios, common interactions, consequences and strategies to deal with such characters. It all started to make sense. I had suspected members of my family were sociopaths and why I was suseptible to sociapath like partners. Reading this book has been like finding the missing part of the puzzle to a lot of unresolved questions.

I discussed this with my mum and we had a nice lengthy chat about it. It was like she too knew all along there was something, but like myself, was in denial (a trait empaths do to rationalise the behaviour of the sociapath).

I was brought up conditioned to please other people, to avoid conflict that I would get otherwise growing up. This carried over into relationships and then into work, to the points that I would let myself burn out and feel like I was a useless human being. One partner always told me I was selfish for getting upset, snapped at me when I cried and would blank me for days if I ever questioned them about their behaviour. In another relationship the guy marked my cooking out of 10 for goodness sake!

Recognising this helps, albeit there is a feeling of shame that this is how it was and was acceptable amongst family members, it’s the start of coming to terms with why I feel like I do or react the way I do when people show sociapathic traits. Anger is one of those reactions, that rises from frustration. That’s steming from the conflict of wanting to trust but a huge sense of fear of going back into the cycle of feeling manipulated, helpless and guilty for having any feelings at all.

I’ve noticed in the last couple of years I go cold, to avoid or wriggle out of any possible ’empathy traps’, that I ‘feel’ are being used in the sense of someone seeking empathy from me for whatever reason.

It’s stopped a lot of drama in my life but it’s also blocked out potential growth for healthy relationships. Maybe  it’s something I’m not trusting in my own judgement just yet or even emotionally prepared for. For now this research and emotional expression through singing is helping heaps.

Until then, will keep on learning but thankful to come to this new understanding.


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