Battling Empathy Deficit Disorder

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Battling Empathy Deficit Disorder

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We live in a very quickly mutating, societally shifting, culturally challenged world. Many have stated in the press that, without any intention to, they feel they're becoming hardened to things going on around them. I hear the same thing as a professional counselor.

And it's not just large-scale tragedies that fail to evoke the level of feeling for others deemed appropriate. The everyday sufferings of others around them seem to cause them little anxiety. Concern for friends, coworkers and even family members seems to be falling by the wayside.

What's the common root of the problem, and what should be done about it?

Focusing on the wrong things

One person mentioned, "Yeah, I can sympathize … but, like, I really don't empathize with anyone anymore." What's the difference?

Sympathy typically reflects understanding of another person's situation, but viewed through your own eyes. Empathy, on the other hand, is what you feel when you enter the internal world of someone else. Without giving away your own perspective, you experience the other person's emotions, conflicts, worries or aspirations. That kind of connection tends to build healthy relationships, which are an essential part of mental health.

Sadly, we're seeing more and more among young people what professional counselors are calling Empathy Deficit Disorder. EDD develops when people focus too much on acquiring power, status, things or money for themselves at the expense of developing healthy relationships with others.

Nearly every day brings the sad news of people who have derailed their lives in the pursuit of money and recognition and ended up in rehabilitation or incarcerated. Many people I cross paths with in my occupation—therapy patients, college students, business clients—struggle with their own versions of this very thing. They alienate themselves from their own hearts and begin to equate what they have with who they are.

What did Jesus tell us?

In the Bible, Jesus Christ profoundly connects the building of healthy relationships with depositing treasure in the spiritual realm: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). Our "treasures" speak loudly of who and what we are.

We live in a world where true empathy is quickly being lost. It's almost an art form that someday will disappear. However, that need not be. Jesus set before us the two great commandments: first to love God and secondly to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36-40)—and that's where empathy comes into play.

Thinking vertically, upward towards our Creator, helps us understand the deeper meaning of what He intended for everyone. He considers empathy a critical attribute in our relationship with Him and with all those He's created.

Chart an empathetic course

Societal trends need not always be followed, and cultural shifts need not always be accepted. You don't have to not care about others.

Empathy is a positive trait necessary for a healthy mental outlook and function. Truly becoming interested in others, sharing their lives and walking with them will produce "treasures" in your life that will last forever. Neither moth nor rust can corrupt empathy!


  • KARS

    Thanks Mr. Hoefker,
    I really enjoy reading the lessons the church as to offer for our growth and progression. Thanks for sharing.
    Have a nice day Mr. Hoefker

  • Scott Hoefker

    Thanks for your comment.

    Family dinners do help, but the main focus is that of where ones priorities lie...on self, or God and others...
    You might appreciate my article from the Good News, "Dinner Time: The Perfect Time to Rebuild Family Togetherness" -

  • KARS

    It begins with, having dinner together at the dinner table. Get rid of all electronics in the bedrooms except, lamps to see and alarm clock. One of the problems is we isolate ourselves when we lock ourselves up in our rooms. Yes, we do need time out. However, our bedrooms should only be used for resting and private time with God our Father.

  • Scott Hoefker

    "Less time on our electronics and more time with people is part of the solution."

    Hi Susan.
    I appreciate your comments, and yes what you mention is part of the solution.
    I plan to address this in a future article in VT.

    Thanks for your comment.

    T. S. Hoefker

  • Katherine Rowland

    Susan, I think that's only part of the solution, though. Absolutely, more time with people will help some; but if there is no instruction in how to appropriately interact with others, set against a correct moral and ethical backdrop, it will be of little ultimate use. We live in a culture that celebrates promotion of self ahead of others and applauds unique achievements rather than collective benefit. As long as our primary focus is on trying to be better than others or to gain attention for our uniqueness, we will not be able to create empathetic relationships. We have to move from a "what's in it for me?" approach to relationships to an understanding that relationships are vital and are living things which we must work to sustain.

  • Susan Durnil

    As a teacher in an elementary school, I see a lot of kids without empathy for others. "How would YOU feel. . .?" only goes so far to fix the problem. People, starting in elementary school, have become so wrapped up in their electronics (video games, phones, ipads, etc.) that connecting with real people is becoming a foreign concept.

    Real face-to-face conversation is what's needed to fight this problem. Connections between people can only be made face-to-face and during long conversations. Less time on our electronics and more time with people is part of the solution.

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