View Full Version : Does your violent offender lack empathy?

07-15-2007, 09:07 AM
Do you find your violent offender has a lack of empathy? I love my man and I can see he hurts over the pain he has caused his family by ending up in prison but he doesn't seem to have any empathy for the people he has physically hurt. His attitude is more like- it was a war zone, I was a soldier, it was crazy and there is no way to justify it.

What do you think?

07-15-2007, 10:12 AM
Very common. Took me decades to learn empathy.

07-15-2007, 10:15 AM
while his lack of empathy for those he hurt may be upsetting to you ...he is being honest about his feelings.
he feels bad for the consequences but not for his actions...I'd rather hear the truth then have my guy say something only b/c its what I want to hear.
My husband is similiar to your guy in his statements...he feels rotten for what our family has gone thru but since the police officer (the victim) had no bruise, red mark or tenderness (thats how its written in the report) my husband hasnt mentioned that he feels really upset. he hasnt tried to justify or expain just is what it is I suppose.
Maybe he will in time, maybe not

07-15-2007, 10:21 AM
Marri, right now that could be the only way he can actually focus on what has happened. Justification, this word has many meanings. I am sure that in time the reality of what has happened will soak in and then there is the possibility of going through many of the steps that one does when they lose a loved one. Although the person wasn't a loved one there is still somewhat of the same steps. It's an acceptance and healing process and as of now he is just going through a happened because....
Not the "My actions are what caused (said event).

07-15-2007, 06:45 PM
Mine was like that for a good while. It took a lot happening between the two of us, and almost losing me before he started seeing the true consequences of what he'd done. Not just the immediate consequences for him. Now he's having a really hard time dealing with all the pain he's caused so many people. Not even just his victims but everyone hurt by what happened. Part of the reason they act the way your man is acting is a defense mechanism. Who wants to break down in prison? It's a sign of weakness there for the most part and can cause problems. It's not to say he doesn't understand what he's done. He just has some more straightening out to go, maybe, or he just wants to play hard until he can get home.
There have been many steps and a long painful process before my man came around. And now he's still hurting over what's happened. We all will be for a very long time.

07-15-2007, 08:41 PM
My husband sees the consequences of his actions for all involved. He has empathy for the ppl that were effected by his crime not only his family .

07-15-2007, 09:38 PM
Sometimes practical people appear to lack empathy. I don't know him, so I cuoldn't say what's true for him, but I know that it's possible that's the only way for him not to fall apart. He did what he did, and nothing he feels or says will change it, so why wallow? I think you'll see over time which is the case. True lack of empathy or something else.

07-15-2007, 11:59 PM
Hi everyone, thanks for your responses. I guess I asked because he has always been like this but the deeper we talk about 'things' the more he has mentioned feeling sad and down. He has just started taking anti-depressants for the first time and he's been there 10 years with as many to go. It has worried me that it's all starting to hit him. So I guess I'm wondering if it is starting to hit him. I didn't realise he would go through stages with his emotions so that's helpful to know.

07-16-2007, 06:10 AM
Alex was lacking in empathy, he only worried about his loved ones for many years, but it hit him about 2 years ago and he has gone through many changes, mood swings, depression but he has come out of it the other side a much better man.
He can see the damage his actions caused, he can actually admit to himself that it was his his fault 2 people were seriously injured and he no longer defends his actions, he accepts responsibility and is working on dealing with this every day.

Your man will no doubt talk some time to work through this, he will be okay in time, all you can do is support him as you always have done and listen when he needs you.

I think it is all just part of the process they need to go through to deal with and accept responsibility.

07-16-2007, 08:35 AM
Marri, you seem to have a firm grasp on what Empathy truly means. That's rare. Many of us have a very misunderstood notion of the emotion. We tend to think feeling sorry for hurting someone is Empathy. Few people, it seems, develop a genuine understanding of the concept.

Since this is one of the touchiest subjects a person can broach, because it evokes staggering repercussions of vehement defensiveness, I thought I'd simply include a definition here.

I do hope your man learns the honest meaning of the word, and can come to know the experience in his life. It will make a very deep and probably surprizing change in him.

Not to be confused with Pity (, Sympathy (, or Compassion ( (from the Greek ( εμπάθεια, "to make suffer") is commonly defined as one's ability to recognize, perceive and directly feel the emotion ( of another. As the states of mind (, beliefs (, and desires ( of others are intertwined with their emotions (, one with empathy for another may often be able to more effectively define another's mode of thought and mood. Empathy is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or experiencing the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself, a sort of emotional ( resonance (

Lady Grace
07-18-2007, 04:13 PM
For anyone who's interested, there is a very interesting book on the subject of psychopathy which includes a great deal of discussion on some people's inability to empathize. It's called, The Mask of Sanity and the complete text of the book can be found online if you google the book's title. Some people cannot empathize and they very well know this but will act like they can empathize in order to appear normal. There is some theory this is a biological deficit. I love my man who is a violent offender however, I cautiously evaluate his ability to feel emotions like empathy. Those of us who love violent offenders are smart to consider this issue. When times get tough, we want to be involved with a man who can truly empathize, not just act as if they can. It's a red flag if a person can't do it. :twocents:

07-18-2007, 04:23 PM
So, how does one learn to empathize with another? Is it something that comes with maturity? Can it be taught? Just curious.

07-18-2007, 04:41 PM
I'm really not sure that empathy can be taught, especially in an adult. Empathy, being able to feel what another person is feeling, is something that comes from within, so I can't imagine how you would "teach" an adult to feel. I could be wrong, I guess! The problem with my ex, or one of the problems was that he had no empathy, and yes there were times that he would "act" like he did, but I know he was unable to. The reason why he would put on an act at times was usually because he was trying to get his own way, and would try anything and everything. He hurt so many people and I always knew that he never felt the pain that he was inflicting on them. If he did, he could never have done the horrible things that he did.

07-18-2007, 05:25 PM
Actually the prison I worked in had a small program for sex offenders... the program's main emphasis was on teaching empathy. From working in the mental health field I have learned that a lack of empathy is a sure sign of psychopathy and many professionals in the field believe that it can't be taught. However, I utilized some of the techniques used with the sex offenders in my substance abuse class and saw some improvement. I generally believe that you either have it or you don't. If you really are empathetic to others can you cause intentional harm? Can you really learn a feeling? A lot of the offenders have told me no.

07-19-2007, 07:39 PM
I know my fiancee has terrible guilt when it comes to her family, especially her children, and I know she definitely regrets being involved in someone's life being taken, but I don't know if she feels empathy for the person himself? He was a VERY bad person.

07-20-2007, 09:30 AM
When speaking of the Klan and other such hate groups, do we not say they "teach" their children to hate. And do we not see in day cares all around us children of all races and backgrounds "learning" to play together? "Learning" to share?

Yes, you can call some of these mere "actions", but they are evoked by learned responses, or feelings. As some of you know, I work with Sex Offenders in a therapy setting. What you may not know is that I went through a very similar course to the one we teach, myself, many years ago.

Although not specifically a course for any one particular type of offender back then, one of the facets of the curriculum was "Victim Empathy". It's still a large part of the therapy today.

The point of all this is that I can tell you for a fact, first-hand, that empathetic feelings can be cultivated. It's been said that you either have it or you don't.

I have to disagree. I have found it to be pretty obvious that we all have the emotion of empathy somewhere within us. Now it is, of course, seen outwardly in varying degrees. Sometimes, it is almost indistinguishable. And for a variety of reasons, many offenders have learned (there's that word again) to stifle the emotional manifestations.

Personally, when the full effect of understanding how others hurt and are often lost in a wasteland of despair hit me, I laid on my bed with my face buried in my pillow for literally hours! My wife just closed the bedroom door, and left me to sob. And when I say "hours", I'm not exaggerating. I swear I must have remembered every rotten thing I had done to everyone in my life... and it was like I was living the pain in their skin, looking out at me doing the hurting.

It was one of the roughest nights of my life. But one I needed in the worst way. Without crossing that threshold, I would be unable to do much of what I'm engaged in today. I was able to not only understand the anguish that many victims feel, but also the torture that torments offenders. And often THEY don't even know they have that inside them. It's like the dawning of a new morning when you awaken those feelings of empathy. Hurts like hell, but it's a good hurt.

So, "Yes"..... One vote here for "It CAN be taught". Although "taught" might not be the most accurate term.

07-20-2007, 09:57 AM
Thanks for sharing that Ghoti. I was wondering what it was that triggered that emotional awakening for you.

07-20-2007, 11:27 AM
Thanks for sharing that Ghoti. I was wondering what it was that triggered that emotional awakening for you.My "emotional awakening" happened (or started) over thirty years ago while I was incarcerated, and working in a nut house. A true understanding of empathy took decades longer.

07-20-2007, 11:33 AM
my boyfriend felt guilty for the pain caused for the family and me but not so much the victim at first. He justified it as it was coming to him. However, once his attorney showed him the pictures of the victim his attitude completely changed.

07-20-2007, 05:07 PM
Ghoti: Thank you so much for sharing your awakening story. That is what I was searching for and if you don't mind, I would like to cut and paste onto a letter for my friend. I had hoped to hear that someone who has been incarcerated had the ability to change and grow and to empathize with the people they had affected. I know it takes time, but the fact that it can happen, is wonderful to hear. I'm so happy for you and what a good wife to let you work through your process that night.

07-20-2007, 05:54 PM
I'm sure that some breaking down of insulation can bring empathy BACK for those who had it in the first place. But there are some, especially when circumstances in early life, who never did, never will, never could have empathy! It's known how to do it, it's been tracked in psychopathic children. . .