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Empathy Deficit Disorder

Webster's Dictionary defines empathy as "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience" of someone else. With that definition in mind, psychologist Douglas LaBier, director and founder of the Center for Adult Development in Washington, DC, feels many of us are being "catastrophically unempathetic." We suffer from what he calls Empathy Deficit Disorder (EDD). While discussing his theories with writer Amanda Robb, LaBier said "we unlearn whatever empathy skills we've picked up while coming of age in a culture that focuses on acquisition and status more than cooperation." In short, we value "'moving on' over thoughtful reflection." Another psychologist, Dr. Frank M. Lachmann, adds that our typical responses to people's pain—lines ranging from "It could be worse" to "Let's talk about something else"—"appear to be kind and aimed at soothing," but are really nothing more than code for "Don't confront me with things that are unpleasant," or "Don't bother me with your pain."

LaBier and Lachmann agree that our narcissistic tendencies are destructive, resulting in familial destruction, like divorce, or even global destruction, like war. So, the question is an important one: are you suffering from empathy deficit disorder?

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