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    Thread: What qualifies as empathy and love?

    1. #1
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      What qualifies as empathy and love?

      There are a few points of interest I have in discussing these recognized "universal" traits. I've been wondering for a while now what really qualifies as empathy and love. This includes on a biochemical/neurological level, emotional level, and a philosophical level. First I would like to address the matter of age, and how our emotions and feelings change on the same subjects.

      When I was a young boy, my parents tell me that I was very empathetic. That is to say, according to them, I would be extremely considerate and caring for a child, and would often get emotional when I saw that others were emotionally hurt. Now, at the same time, I was a problem child because I would lose my temper very easily and resort naturally to violence. At my baby sitter's (which was more like a day-care) I would often get in trouble for hitting other children, and I also fought my own friends at several points throughout my childhood. So, despite these somewhat clashing personality traits, what I remember about myself back then generally reflects what I have been told. I felt sorry for people very easily and quite often, thinking things like "they didn't do anything to deserve having that happen to them". I also was known to talk to adults like I was an adult myself, several people made comments to my parents about it numerous times, even when I was very young. So, it makes sense that I would often have conversations with my parents about how they were feeling, and I actually put in an effort to be considerate. As far as feelings go, I felt like I had very intense emotions and reactions to just about everything I experienced. I was also terrified of practically everything that was even a little bit scary.

      Flash forward to now, and I have very shallow emotions, if I have any at all. My reaction to fear is all but completely suppressed. When I see others experiencing misfortune or having trouble with their lives, I react to it in one of three ways: based on who they are, I find it incredibly funny, I feel nothing, or I feel like I should help them (but not "bad for them" like I heard people say so much). I don't find it as funny as I used to, this reaction doesn't happen often, and neither does the feeling that I should help them. I only feel like I should help them in the case that I really like the person or people, or someone is in very immediate danger (which to me proves more to be something I would do because I would want someone to help me, but also because I like being in dangerous situations--just about the only time I feel alive). Most often, I feel nothing, and the only reaction I can have to that is that maybe I should feel something, but that realization ultimately means as little to me as what I initially feel for whomever I'm observing.

      Before I felt very justified in this, that I shouldn't have to feel that way for random people or for people I don't like. However, I very much dislike that attitude and find it annoying to know that is how I once felt, because I view people that are like that as subhuman. They are exactly what humanity doesn't need. Before I had zero shits to give about humanity, but I realized I became so detached from reality that my life was worse than pointless. I would rather kill myself than see the world that way anymore, and I have always vowed never to kill myself because I fail to see it as a valid decision to make (I'm gonna die, it's going to happen). So, with that, I decided to make a change in my behavior, and to make an actual effort to "care" about people's feelings and lives. In time, this is slowly becoming more of a habit of mine and much more natural.

      However, my question to everyone here, primarily, is this: does what I exhibit qualify as empathy? And as an extension to that, is what I am about to describe able to qualify as love? I do not naturally feel sorry for anybody, I still don't. I do not "feel" any kind of emotion when I interact and observe people. All I can do is observe their reactions and use the same techniques I used to use to manipulate people in order to "emulate" empathy and love. I teach myself how to act in the ways I think an empath would act, and think the ways they would think. However, it is totally devoid of emotion, the roots to the plant are missing. When I was young, they were ingrained in my personality, they stemmed from the older parts of the brain, they came naturally. All I can do is literally put myself in their shoes (which doesn't work very well, but I realize it will never work that great as a technique, it is pretty easy to see how a normal person would react in a situation). If the end result is that someone would describe me as being empathetic, loving, and caring, knowing all that I have told you about the truth of the matter, am I actually capable of possessing empathy and feeling love? Are these qualities defined by their internal processes that lead up to their translation into behavior and actions, or are they only the end result? Why is your opinion on this valid, do you believe?

      Now, getting past all that, here are a few musings about the subject. Is this change in personality I have had over the years a result of my world view changing? The more you experience in life, the more you learn about love and empathy, is it natural to begin dissociating from the emotional aspects of these qualities, or does your new understanding simply supplement the emotions you already feel from childhood? Something very interesting to note is that when I was about 15, I suffered from a traumatic brain injury (concussion), and then once again at 21. I am going to be 24 in two months. If you read up on TBIs/concussions, you will find that they can result in behavioral changes that reflect the behaviors of people that suffer from ADHD and even psychopaths/people with anti-social personality disorder. The ability to concentrate is diminished, you become more impulsive, you easily become bored, you crave constant stimulation, there are deficits in short-term memory, you may suffer from mood disorders or become depressed, there may be an increase in aggressive behaviors and tendencies (including resorting to violence), and one may become very irritable. In some cases, sufferers experience blunted affect (shallow emotions), take up drug abuse, are more likely to drink large quantities of alcohol, experience less anxiety in situations that would regularly cause it in others, and seem to lack remorse for their actions and any appreciable amount of empathy. Again, these are qualities that those diagnosed with AsPD/Psychopathy/Sociopathy and ADD/ADHD all possess to varying degrees. Now, a lot of all that matches up with my own personality, but given my tendency to get violent as a child (and my rather unofficial diagnosis of having ADHD by a few doctors I used to have as a kid), is my current set of personality traits really able to be pinned down to my head injuries? Admittedly, I think it is a mixture of both, one just exacerbated the other (although I do believe the TBIs had a major influence because I used to be so emotional and easily frightened).

      Even if the head injury didn't cause all of my "issues", can you say that I am capable of empathy and love now? I admit that I have to train myself to really like somebody and care about their needs and feelings in a way that I feel is even remotely close to true empathy and love, but at the moment it's the best I can do. Love to me is more like an unhealthy obsession in which I supposedly put someone else above myself (but whether I consciously realize it or not, I am definitely doing it all for myself). Empathy is just a thought pattern, it is a trained reflex that I only trained myself to do because I didn't want to be like the people I despise most. I made an archetype in my head of what it is to be bad, and I what it is to be good, and I chose to be good. Can this be considered legitimate empathy, and legitimate love? What if somebody was capable of "true" empathy and love before becoming brain damaged or experiencing something very traumatic, and then after beginning to recover, teach themselves to be this way again, even if the "core" of those two qualities is gone? If the end result is the same, is there really a difference?

      Personally I think there is, because I believe that the reason why somebody chooses to act a certain way is equally important to the results of those actions. No more, no less. If people all around the world had to fake empathy and love for us to be able to live peacefully and prosperously, it wouldn't bother me any (how do I even know it isn't already the case anyway?). However, these ideas have important criteria to meet, and I believe by the implications of the words alone, emotions are required to meet the definition. Do you agree? Why or why not?

      Also, it's interesting to think that damage to the frontal lobes is what causes ADD and AsPD symptoms, yet emotions are handled more with other brain structures (it does include the frontal lobes, but in combination with others, like the amygdala), and children are capable of empathy and love (arguably--some don't seem to be, but just as many are, they will learn it at some point), and the frontal lobe is the last lobe to finish developing.

      Of course, one could always argue that these traits are intangible and exist outside the mind, etc. I can't really expound on that line of thought because I don't think it's true, but I'd like to hear your opinions regardless (if you believe something similar) in the interest of discussion.

    2. #2
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      For starters it is certainly possible that brain trauma could have damaged your ability to feel empathy. It is also true that some mental issues develop at certain periods in your life, a common one being during puberty and stuff. Since you are in your early 20's, it could be such a problem that just started to manifest more recently, but may have been some genetic thing you had all along. Finally, you could just be suffering from something like depression. Could even just be something random like brain cancer, or a change in your diet. Also, it is possible you might just had this problem all along since you kind of describing it more how your parents told you, than how you remember feeling emotions. You could probably get a brain scan to rule out a lot of things fairly easily, and speaking to a doctor might not be a bad idea if you think it might be due to prior head trauma.

      You can be a nice person, and want to help someone even without having empathy. Let me ask you though, do you feel any sort of pain when you see others get hurt? How about the opposite, when people are happy and laughing, do you feel happy as well? Empathy works that way as well. What if it isn't real people but tv or books? Feel any emotions with them? For that matter, do you feel emotions in general? Because if you don't feel happy or sad in general, then it might not be the empathy that is the problem but the lack of emotions.

      What you are describing doesn't really sound like real empathy to me. Though love is another matter. I think a large part of love comes from making a conscious choice to care about someone. Real love, the type that lasts long term, isn't always easy and takes work. Some love is very emotional and lovey dovey type stuff but that can often be short term. I think you can still define different type of loves, some not even requiring empathy. For example, you might not be able to relate to a person at all but still value them as a person and it might be entirely selfish but you want them to be with you, that could be love as well.
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    3. #3
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      I've had a brain scan before, there is nothing too abnormal other than a 4mm microadenoma adjacent to my pituitary gland and a lesion in the right cerebral hemisphere that, as far as lesions go, is apparently fairly common and not too worrisome. I've had hormonal panels and a few other tests to determine if this very small tumor is producing or altering the levels of any hormones. Even though it is tiny, I am also getting a visual field test done fairly soon to make sure it isn't pressing on my optic nerve (I wear glasses, but the reason why right now is more of a problem with the muscles of my left eye than anything else). Technically the tumor has very little chance of being cancerous, but if it turns out to be (which honestly I'd be showing signs by now since my last MRI was nearly two years ago), it'd be some subsets of leukemia or something else apparently. All of my many and various tests have come back completely normal. When it comes to everything else (cholesterol, etc.) I was either in the optimal or just below the optimal range when I got tested as I left the Army. I have a resting heart rate between 68 and 79 bpm, and usually my blood pressure is around 107/67. By all accounts I'm physically in good health. I am actually already speaking to a psychiatrist about some of this stuff.

      It's hard to answer your questions about empathy because it varies a bit. For the most part, pain evokes no emotional response in me. In some cases, it will even cause me to laugh when I don't find what I am seeing to be funny, although plenty of times I do find it funny. During the times I don't find it funny but I laugh, the laughter isn't simply kind of laughing. I can't seem to stop. This reaction doesn't happen very often at all, but then again I rarely see things that would garner this reaction in the first place. I don't know if it is a strange unconscious way of comforting myself or I actually find it funny to be honest with you. Nervous laughter is indeed a phenomenon, but it doesn't ever feel nervous during those times. Anyway, when I see others get hurt, I do not feel their pain. Sometimes I am able to more or less place myself in their stead, but even then what I experience is purely on a conscious, thinking level. When I feel "bad" for someone, there is no feeling or emotion that goes with it. I simply acknowledge that I wouldn't want to be in that situation myself. I actually didn't even think about being happy when you see others happy as well, so that shows how much I experience it, lol. There is a part of me, in some cases, where I can see that happening, but it happens really very rarely. The fact that it does happen, but almost never, is what perplexes me, as with most of what I experience regarding empathy. I don't really consciously choose to turn it on or off, but in very unique situations sometimes it breaks through on an emotional level.

      To give you an idea of how it can be difficult to function socially sometimes, imagine that a member of your family or a very good friend got promoted for a job, or received some kind of commendation for something. I know to say congratulations and good job (mostly because I want them to not think I'm an asshole, and I want to encourage and facilitate the type of behavior they must've been exhibiting in the workplace to be promoted or commended in the first place, because it benefits everyone), but it's like I'm looking at them as they say it. I'm looking them in the eyes, and when the words come out, I can see the excitement on their face, and I know that they clearly are proud of what they did (rightfully so). Moments like that make me feel like a person without a soul or something, it's like I am someone without the component that actually makes them human, essentially a biological android. There is nothing felt, except a small pang of self-analytical regret that exists only because I desire so strongly to not be this way. When I first started realizing I was exhibiting sociopathic tendencies, I thought it was useful and I was an extremely convincing liar. The confidence I had in that ability has dropped essentially to nil because the people I talk to now are almost always just the ones I care about. I feel like they can see right through my words and reaction (just as I feel like I see through others' when and if they do it too, I hate the idea that I can or am being manipulated and usually try and counter it by recognizing the signs of being manipulated and then letting that person believe they are successfully manipulating me), and I feel for a second out of place and hyper alert, looking for signs somewhere on their face, through their body or by their tone of voice or choice of words that they could tell. Soon after, the thought never returns to my mind--almost like it never existed, and I am back to the way I was. For a second though, it's like I drop my strict composure a bit to gauge reactions that I should be able to analyze on a deeper, more unconscious level. Instead, I have to actually think about what it is that I'm observing or those subtle social cues are totally lost on me.

      You are probably more accurate in saying that the problem is my lack of emotions. It isn't that I totally lack them, it's less flat affect and more blunted affect. My emotions are very shallow. The only "emotions" that tend to be intense are irritation and anger, especially anger. Sadness/depression can count, but it's like I can't even be depressed until the emotions that are still some how "there" fill up to some threshold, and only after reaching that threshold, are perceived in their totality. When and if I get depressed, it is as crushing of depression as you could imagine. It isn't being a bit blue, it's like everything is the worst it has ever been and ever will be, and will never get better. It happens very rarely and not long at all, if it does any more. When I watch tv or movies, or if I play a game, I typically don't feel anything at all. It's honestly even worse when it comes to books; this makes no sense to me, because with books one can idealize the characters and make them more or less in the images and forms they choose. Without any kind of external input at all, the emotional aspect is all but completely lost. Another way to describe my emotions, other than shallow, is that it's like a different part of me experiences the emotions. This information is then transferred to my perception of reality, but in the process of the transfer, the actual "feelings" that go with the emotions are lost. They exist, but merely as labels with brief descriptions. It is the difference between a doll and a human being.

      The reason I am asking about the what people feel about what qualifies as empathy is because I have completely forgotten what being empathetic in the presence of emotion feels like. I wanted to know if what I try and emulate as empathy would philosophically pan out as being empathy in the end. I suppose I might as well have just asked whether people tend to be more machiavellian or not, haha. You know, as I've been reading over my post to check for errors, I realized something. It as though I used to experience reality equally through language and emotions/feeling. Now it feels like the ratio of these two has gone from 50:50 to around 85:15. I can interpret what I am seeing without consciously thinking with language and still understand what I am seeing, but it seemed to have so much greater depth when I was younger. I had so much more "feelings" about what was happening in the moment than I do now. The concept of lying on my bed was not simply understood, heard, thought, or spoken... but actually felt. Things like this make me wonder if I am just experiencing getting older, and if I am confusing and maybe even blurring the lines between what deficits my head injuries have caused, and what most people without head injuries typically experience throughout their lives.


      In any case, I appreciate your response Alric.

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      The nervous type of laughter can apply to any type of situation where you are uncomfortable, nervous, or stressed. It actually isn't that uncommon to laugh in an entirely inappropriate situation. Then some times when you try to hold it back, it just makes it worse. I wouldn't be too concerned about that. If it happened all the time, that might be something to worry about, but you said it is pretty rare and I think everyone experiences that some times.

      Any way, I am wondering if you experience the emotions at all, because if you are capable of feeling them, even rarely then that means you do have those emotions. If the emotion center of your brain was like damaged, then you would never feel the emotions, ever. You wouldn't physically be able too. However, if it is just rarely, that implies you can feel the emotions, you just don't very often. Which might be that you are just depressed, bored, or jaded with life.

      It kind of sounds like you might be suffering from long term depression. Kind of like your emotional state just shifted down a level. So when you are depressed you are super depressed, and when you are 'normal' you are what a lot of people would called depressed, and when you are at a 'high' emotional point you are just reaching what is normal for a person. So that shift kind of resulted in a muted feeling where you feel the emotions to a lot smaller degree.

      Depression is a fairly large category of problems, and can be very different from person to person. In fact, a lot of problems might just get lumped into depression if we don't really understand the causes and symptoms very well. If you got a brain scan and they check your hormones and stuff and everything checks out fine, then I am not really sure. Even depression should show some signs.

      Any way, going back to your example, I don't think that is as bad as you make it sound. If a family member told me they got a promotion and was all excited, honestly, I wouldn't care very much either. I have a very strong sense of empathy, but in my day to day life my emotions are fairly stable and remain about the same. I am not a person who gets very excited about things in general. A lot of time when I am having fun and stuff it is more on an intellectual level rather than purely emotions.

      I can definitely relate with you, with my emotions feeling a little shallow at times. A good example is when I go like hiking or something and I go to places most people would consider very beautiful, to me I am like meh. Beautiful views and landscapes don't really do much for me. Though I think it might be that I am a bit spoiled with the internet and being able to look at much cooler stuff in pictures, or even games and stuff.

      However, it isn't like that all the time, for everything. For me, watching some comedies and stuff were people do absolutely humiliating thing is almost painful for me to watch, since I relate strongly to them. I don't really cry often, but I also get pretty sad when watching some shows and stuff. The saddest things that always gets me, is when someone innocent is having lots of fun and is happy and then something really bad happens. The contrast from happy go lucky to crying in a show or video is really sad. That always gets me.

      You might just be jaded with life. When was the last time you have done something totally new and different than you are used to, or done something very challenging?
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      Quote Originally Posted by Alric View Post
      1)The nervous type of laughter can apply to any type of situation where you are uncomfortable, nervous, or stressed. It actually isn't that uncommon to laugh in an entirely inappropriate situation. Then some times when you try to hold it back, it just makes it worse. I wouldn't be too concerned about that. If it happened all the time, that might be something to worry about, but you said it is pretty rare and I think everyone experiences that some times.

      2)Any way, I am wondering if you experience the emotions at all, because if you are capable of feeling them, even rarely then that means you do have those emotions. If the emotion center of your brain was like damaged, then you would never feel the emotions, ever. You wouldn't physically be able too. However, if it is just rarely, that implies you can feel the emotions, you just don't very often. Which might be that you are just depressed, bored, or jaded with life.

      3)It kind of sounds like you might be suffering from long term depression. Kind of like your emotional state just shifted down a level. So when you are depressed you are super depressed, and when you are 'normal' you are what a lot of people would called depressed, and when you are at a 'high' emotional point you are just reaching what is normal for a person. So that shift kind of resulted in a muted feeling where you feel the emotions to a lot smaller degree.

      Depression is a fairly large category of problems, and can be very different from person to person. In fact, a lot of problems might just get lumped into depression if we don't really understand the causes and symptoms very well. If you got a brain scan and they check your hormones and stuff and everything checks out fine, then I am not really sure. Even depression should show some signs.

      4)Any way, going back to your example, I don't think that is as bad as you make it sound. If a family member told me they got a promotion and was all excited, honestly, I wouldn't care very much either. I have a very strong sense of empathy, but in my day to day life my emotions are fairly stable and remain about the same. I am not a person who gets very excited about things in general. A lot of time when I am having fun and stuff it is more on an intellectual level rather than purely emotions.

      I can definitely relate with you, with my emotions feeling a little shallow at times. A good example is when I go like hiking or something and I go to places most people would consider very beautiful, to me I am like meh. Beautiful views and landscapes don't really do much for me. Though I think it might be that I am a bit spoiled with the internet and being able to look at much cooler stuff in pictures, or even games and stuff.

      However, it isn't like that all the time, for everything. For me, watching some comedies and stuff were people do absolutely humiliating thing is almost painful for me to watch, since I relate strongly to them. I don't really cry often, but I also get pretty sad when watching some shows and stuff. The saddest things that always gets me, is when someone innocent is having lots of fun and is happy and then something really bad happens. The contrast from happy go lucky to crying in a show or video is really sad. That always gets me.

      5)You might just be jaded with life. When was the last time you have done something totally new and different than you are used to, or done something very challenging?
      1) Yeah, I'm pretty familiar with that. For me it seems to go a level beyond that, though. Sometimes it could be classified as nervous, but most of the time it's me just laughing. Sometimes I find it hilarious, but more often (still talking about the times it isn't nervous) it's like some very, very remote part of me finds it hilarious, but it is indeed so remote that all I can perceive is the laughter (as in the physical act of laughing, but not the emotions that go with it).

      2)I do. Blunted Effect Wikipedia Article.
      Quote Originally Posted by Wiki
      Blunted affect is a lack of affect more severe than restricted or constricted affect, but less severe than flat or flattened affect. "The difference between flat and blunted affect is in degree. A person with flat affect has no or nearly no emotional expression. He or she may not react at all to circumstances that usually evoke strong emotions in others. A person with blunted affect, on the other hand, has a significantly reduced intensity in emotional expression".
      Blunted affect is definitely me, not flat affect. I still feel emotions, but they are just completely hollow except in the most extreme cases (and usually the emotions I am able to feel intensely are negative). They're still there, but it feels like the way they connected to my perception and my model of reality has been... damaged and re-routed. It used to be a seamless integration, I almost lacked the ability to separate myself from them in any given situation. Then I got the concussion, and for a while things were fairly normal. Then within about 2 months or so I got very cynical, highly isolated, and almost completely silent in all of my classes (keep in mind I was a freshmen and sophomore in high school at the time). People commented that I had retracted into a shell. I never hung out with anyone, I had very few friends and school and they were barely even friends. More like people I spoke to every once in a while. I also started getting pretty bad headaches for a while and on average was only able to get about 3 hours of sleep at night. For about a year and a half I sunk into the deepest depression I can ever see myself sinking into. The sheer intensity of the negative emotions I felt that never relented was awful. I was filled with so much hate, such a lust for violence, I hated everyone and everything. I didn't even feel like I deserved death at the time.

      The intensity of the emotions felt then, after the end of my junior year, faded off. I started to become social again and began to heal. Despite healing, it was like the intensity of all the emotions I felt during that time I was depressed left me with a well of emotions that had nearly dried up. It was like I used them all up. To get back on what I said in the last paragraph, " They're still there, but it feels like the way they connected to my perception and my model of reality has been... damaged and re-routed." Now it feels like a distant, but not so far off that I can't experience it, part of me experiences emotions. This part of me has a very weak connection to my "final" perceptual experience. It was like the old connections suffered an overload and then had to re-route the system on a much weaker connection as backup. I still get the gist of everything, but unless the signal being sent is just that strong, I hardly experience it.

      3) That's a fair assumption, but I don't necessarily see it that way. Maybe I'm biased just because how bad my experience my freshmen and sophomore years was.

      4) Yeah, I can see that. I know for some it's simply a personality trait. Maybe it isn't as bad as I think. I just used to find it extremely awkward and almost painful to act like I cared, but as I've grown older, it's become a habit and therefore easier.

      5)Well, this could be true. The last big thing I ever did was be in the Army and, as a paratrooper, jump out of planes. That was just under 2 years ago. Compared to that, I really haven't done anything new. I got into a short relationship, which is the first one in forever and out of very few, but it wasn't anything terribly exciting (and as you might've guessed didn't turn out all that well). I'm always getting into trying various things, but nothing really big or exciting. Just small things like taking up various forms of art and music, etc.

      Sorry I didn't reply sooner, I thought that you hadn't replied back and never really checked. Just saw that you posted. I appreciate your posts.
      Last edited by snoop; 10-09-2015 at 09:59 AM.
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