Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder Support Group

A support group for those with OCPD and their loved ones.
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 Post subject: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 6:33 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:59 am
Posts: 22
When I am upset or sad or disappointed about something my OCPD partner did, he never (yes, NEVER) fails to say: "I just don't understand why you are upset/sad/disappointed."

We go to couple's therapy and the therapist try to help him with this. She repeatedly pointed out his lack of empathy. Even if he grudgingly accepted what she said, he can't apply it the next time. Not once. It's like a foreign concept. I though Aspies have problems with empathy, but why OCPDers?

Why don't they have empathy?


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 6:49 pm 
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Joined: Tue Feb 09, 2010 9:38 pm
Posts: 1978
My layperson opinion, based on personal experience as well as reading and observation:
Empathy is something people learn from observation and practice. OCPD patterns generally keep a person in an ongoing survival mode, where the focus is at a crisis management level, which is very different from the level at which humans practice and develop empathy. The development of empathy comes from a place of relative peace and acceptance with oneself and the world, and this generally isn't a place the OCPDr is in.

We (ocpd'rs) can develop empathy, just as any other human has. But we need to first accept that we've spent our lives in this other mode and haven't developed it, which requires accepting that our thinking and perspective is, & has been all along, distorted. Which requires letting go of a lifetime of engagement with these beliefs and ideas that we have in our head and starting over to develop new ones.

So it's certainly not the case we can't learn it. But it is the case that there's a lot that needs to come first to get ourselves to a place where we can allow ourselves to.

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People do not change when they see the light. They change when they feel the heat.  ― Freda Lewis-Hall


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:44 am 
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Joined: Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:12 pm
Posts: 195
Francie, nicely said!

I used to have my own "Compassionate Communication" group and I love learning about and teaching empathy.
This year, I've been reading a lot about the neuroscience and the attachment theory. Daniel Siegel developed a concept called "MindSight" which stands for the ability to look at yourself and others and also have empathy for oneself and others around you. Daniel also teaches the concept about attachment styles, and how people have Dismissing/Avoidant attachment (many people with PD's), Anxious (people who need "too much" connection) and securely attached (a "healthy" mix between wanting independence and connection.
So, the explanation why Dismissively attached people have a major issue with empathy is as follows:
* In order to feel empathy, you need to guess what the other person is feeling.
* In order to guess what he/she is feeling, you need to feel it yourself
* Since dismissing individuals have been blocking feelings for so long, they can't even imagine what they feel, let alone what the other people are feeling.
* (this concept is from "emotionally unavailable" men): They may feel "extreme" emotions in extreme situations (anger) but mostly they live in a "gray" , no feeling land.
* The reason they became this way may be because, as they were growing up, their family members, never acknowledged their feelings, discouraged the expressions of emotions. So, their right hemisphere, which is responsible for emotions is not developed and shut down. Their left hemisphere is over-worked - they focus too much energy on being organized, tidy, focused... and judgmental!
* The scientist also have identified the area of the brain that processes empathy, and the name of that part is "insula".
So, I think there is a lot involved here... and the sad thing is that OCPDers don't see what they're doing, what they're missing out and how they affect others!

My OCPD boyfriend used to get angry if he felt I was "giving him empathy" (I don't know if he felt I was smothering him or manipulating him in any way") He would always say: " I don't need empathy, it's you who always does! But don't expect it from me!" In the beginning he would at least say: "I don't know how to give empathy, have some patience with me". But, as the time went by, and he wasn't making any effort to even give me a little understating, he'd get angry and tell me to stop having expectations!

It's so say, but OCPDs are at loss... they can't feel much, let alone have empathy for their partners or for anyone else!


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 3:52 am 
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Joined: Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:07 am
Posts: 988
I think ocpd'ers 'have' empathy, but they can only reach it in themselves if they are at ease. This may actually be true for non's as well - the difference being that ocpd'ers are only very rarely at ease. For example, I do sometimes give money to a beggar, when I 'feel like it' and when the person's plight touches me. The ocpd'er can be touched as well, I think, but will not give the money because parting with money starts the awful chain of reasoning related to any expense that has to be fully and completely justified. Not giving of course also touches an ocpd-nerve, they can probably fret over that for a couple of hours too. I guess in the end they will not 'see' the beggar, because these internal conflicts are so exhausting...


Last edited by belgianguy on Tue Feb 18, 2014 8:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 5:38 pm 
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Joined: Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:17 pm
Posts: 1935
Location: SoCal - 5 yrs moved out/4 1/2 yrs broken up w/6 year live-in with OCPD b-f.
I think that many with OCPD *have* empathy, it's simply not in a form that's accessible to a child or partner. For example, many (not all) with OCPD have trouble coping with a partner who is ill or injured. Instead of being extra kind and supportive at such times, they are brusque and even angry. I believe it is because inside they are so knotted up with worry over possibly losing their loved one, they are unable to function.

I've also noticed that many with OCPD are able to weep over things like abandoned dogs and cats, stories about children and even about adults who are in great distress - the key seems to be, nothing too emotionally close to home.

Some blogs expound on the greater emotional sensitivity of those with OCPD (how anyone knows that what he feels inside is greater or lesser than what you or I feel inside, I dunno, but whatever). Even if it's true that those with OCPD feel MORE empathy, pain, etc., than the average bear, that doesn't help if it's all closed off when others need it. If you have a pen full of ink but the point won't let it flow out, knowing there's ink inside doesn't write any lists, you know?

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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 7:06 pm 
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Joined: Tue May 31, 2011 4:50 pm
Posts: 387
I have the dubious advantage of having an ex who is (I believe) OCPD and a daughter who is (diagnosed) OCD. I am keenly aware of the differences, but anxiety and obsession in many ways look the same in both disorders. And one of the things I have noticed is that anxiety and obsession are self-focused, while empathy and compassion are other-focused. (Even when obsession is focused on another person, it is still about meeting the desire/need of the one doing the obsessing.) It is very difficult for someone to be both self-focused and other-focused at the same time. So regardless of how sensitive an individual is, when anxiety takes over, the focus becomes on oneself and the discomfort one is feeling rather than on the other person. In fact, the more sensitive the individual, the more intense the discomfort and the stronger the need to eliminate it - whether by blaming, or denying or ignoring, or whatever.

The flip side of this is if an individual can stay focused on the other and cultivate compassion and empathy, there is little or no room for anxiety and obsession to take control. Again, these things work out a little differently in OCPD and OCD, but still there are some lessons that cross over, I think. With my OCD daughter, who is by nature a compassionate person, I noticed a distinct drop in compassion or empathy when her anxiety and obsession were in full bloom. She couldn't take her focus off her own feeling. By contrast, when she was focused on others, the anxiety and compassion were really reduced. Things that would normally make her anxious had much less of an impact. So in her case I took notice of what situations were likely to reinforce compassion and which were likely to reinforce obsession or anxiety and thought out ways to increase the first, in hopes of decreasing the second. In her case (and let me be very clear I am NOT recommending this across the board for everyone - it certainly would not have been a good idea with my ex) I got her a dog. She had less time to be alone with her obsessive thoughts and more time focusing on something outside herself. In just the short time we've had him, there has been a shift in her thinking to a focus on people and situation OUTSIDE herself more often, which has resulted in a drop in anxiety.

I think this a case of which of these two tendencies you feed: the anxiety/obsessive beast, or the compassionate/empathetic one. That's the one that will grow stronger.


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 9:27 pm 
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Joined: Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:12 pm
Posts: 195
Aprilshowers: very interesting observation.

Here is my dilemma. My OCPDSO is NOT aware of his level of anxiety at all! I sometimes feel anxious during arguments. I remember mentioning to him being very anxious before my presentation. He looked at my funny, and said: "I have no idea how "anxious" feels. How does it feel to you?" I described it to him: scared... thoughts are racing... little shaking inside... the sense of urgency to get things done/conflict solved... the general discomfort. He said he never felt it!

I also know that people who are disconnected from emotions/feelings (which OCPDers are?...)don't feel anxiety, sadness, fear... they may feel something more extreme, like anger.

So, my next question is: are OCPDers completely unaware that their need for order, cleanliness, control, etc. comes from high anxiety, even if the anxiety is subconscious? My boyfriend was very righteous about being so "orderly" and organized. He'd say: " This is the way I am!!!" So, how would you even figure out if it's coming from high level of anxiety/fear? How do you work with that? Are they in denial of their denial?


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 18, 2014 9:42 pm 
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Joined: Tue May 31, 2011 4:50 pm
Posts: 387
Quote:
My OCPDSO is NOT aware of his level of anxiety at all!

I once told my then DH that anxiety to him was like water to a fish.


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:58 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 29, 2014 2:59 am
Posts: 22
puresage wrote:
I also know that people who are disconnected from emotions/feelings (which OCPDers are?...)don't feel anxiety, sadness, fear... they may feel something more extreme, like anger.

My OCPD'er gets very angry, but because he doesn't raise his voice, he insists he wasn't angry.
puresage wrote:
are OCPDers completely unaware that their need for order, cleanliness, control, etc. comes from high anxiety, even if the anxiety is subconscious? My boyfriend was very righteous about being so "orderly" and organized. He'd say: " This is the way I am!!!"

Mine would be appalled if you told him his orderliness and neatness is caused by anxiety. He says it's the way everyone SHOULD be.


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 1:18 am 
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Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2014 5:04 pm
Posts: 28
puresage wrote:
* The reason they became this way may be because, as they were growing up, their family members, never acknowledged their feelings, discouraged the expressions of emotions. So, their right hemisphere, which is responsible for emotions is not developed and shut down. Their left hemisphere is over-worked - they focus too much energy on being organized, tidy, focused... and judgmental!

When my OCPer's sister was small, she was terrified of going to the dr and would hide and lock her door, and the parents beat her for it.
His comment about the beatings was: "It's all her fault, she was disrespectful of my parents." (He believes his parents are pretty much the best parents in the world.) He has real difficulty being empathetic in our r'ship.


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 3:20 am 
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Joined: Thu Mar 24, 2011 4:07 am
Posts: 988
puresage wrote:
* The reason they became this way may be because, as they were growing up, their family members, never acknowledged their feelings, discouraged the expressions of emotions. So, their right hemisphere, which is responsible for emotions is not developed and shut down. Their left hemisphere is over-worked - they focus too much energy on being organized, tidy, focused... and judgmental!

I do not like this explanation too much, blaming it all on the family members. Using the same ideas, what sounds better to me is that the 'left hemisphere' is indeed over-worked trying to calm down the anxieties, and the voice of the right-hemisphere is not heard as a consequence. I fear OCPD can develop even in a warm, laid back environment, as some people on here have testified about their adopted children.


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:22 am 
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Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 11:03 pm
Posts: 252
I agree with you BG


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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:08 am 
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Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 4:59 pm
Posts: 78
Location: Minnesota
Socialization does play as a key. It also means that the control/perfection issues manifest in different ways.

As an example, I was always considered a very empathic child/adult. Probably why I didn't get an accurate diagnosis for OCPD for years. But the urge to control, to be perfect, to get everything absolutely correct manifested itself through my expression of empathy. Never Act Unhappy, It Makes Others Unhappy. Always Make Others Happy, Even If You Are Unhappy. Always Do What Others Say, Even If You Are Overloaded. Ridiculous distortions like that.

Since so few people are OCPD, and most people with the diagnosis are male, it's understandable that "stereotypical" models of male socialization are enforced with the ideas of perfectionism and control. "Boys don't cry" and "real men are stoic" and ridiculous distortions like that.

In my opinion, anyhow.

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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:45 pm 
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Posts: 28
notquiteunliketea wrote:
But the urge to control, to be perfect, to get everything absolutely correct manifested itself through my expression of empathy. Never Act Unhappy, It Makes Others Unhappy. Always Make Others Happy, Even If You Are Unhappy. Always Do What Others Say, Even If You Are Overloaded. Ridiculous distortions like that.
My OCPer is exactly like that with his mother. Replace the "Others" with "Mom," i.e. "Never Act Unhappy, It Makes Mom Unhappy. Always Make Mom Happy, Even If You Are Unhappy. Always Do What Mom Says, Even If You Are Overloaded."
I said to our counselor that he was capable of great empathy with his mom but not with me. Interestingly, T said that the way he is with the mother may not be "empathy" (but didn't say what it may be).
I now wonder too. He is very much a people-pleaser. Maybe there's a difference in being empathetic vs. people-pleasing? Maybe people-pleasing is from a compulsion--out of anxiety that people won't like you, won't approve of you. And empathy is being able to step in others' shoes, with understanding of how they FEEL.


Last edited by lightheart on Wed Feb 19, 2014 1:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Why do OCPDer lack empathy?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 1:34 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 08, 2014 4:59 pm
Posts: 78
Location: Minnesota
That does make a lot of sense.

It will take a certain level of self awareness - which a person, with or without OCPD, may or may not have - to recognize if they're emphasising with someone else, or merely alieviating their own anxiety.

And they might not even be mutually exclusive, either. Sometimes I know I'm doing things to help others only because I'm anxious, but other times I *am* anxious because I know someone else is feeling distressed. (If that makes any sense).

Again, it takes a level of self-awareness and personal empathy to yourself to recognize this.

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