An argument against empathy in Borderline Personality Disorder.
Most people think of empathy as being able to understand another person’s emotional state. That’s it. Baron-Cohen has a multi-part definition of empathy: Cognitive (“Recognition”), Emotional, and Action (“Response”).
Cognitive: The drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings. The cognitive ability to recognize another’s emotions.
Affective: The drive to respond appropriately to another person’s thoughts and feelings. You must care.
It’s not enough to just see what another person is feeling. You must also feel it, and feel the need to respond to it appropriately. He believes that people with narcissistic, borderline, or psychopathic personalities are lacking in the “affective empathy” area; the ability to feel other’s feelings. They can often cognitively recognize emotions in another person, but the affective drive and emotional response are what is lacking.
Baron-Cohen believes concepts like “evil” are not necessarily accurate and should be replaced with the concept of “empathy erosion”. Disorders that involve zero-empathy, or empathy erosion, include psychopathy, narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and autism/Asperger’s spectrum disorders.
There are also two kinds of empathy erosion. Zero-Negative and Zero-Positive.
A designation of “zero-negative” is correlated to a lack of affective empathy: like what Baron-Cohen considers narcissists, borderlines, and psychopaths to have. A zero amount of affective empathy being a negative condition, because the ability to self-regulate the way they treat others is significantly compromised. In short, it’s not good for the person or the people around them.
He also states: In my experience whilst even adults with Asperger Syndrome may have difficulties figuring out why someone else’s remark was considered funny, or why their own remark was considered rude, or may judge others as liars when they simply are inconsistent in not doing what they said they would do, they may nevertheless have a highly developed emotional empathy, caring about how someone feels and not wanting to hurt them. If they do hurt them it is often unintentional and they feel mortified when it is pointed out, and want to rectify this. In this respect, they do have some of the components of empathy.
My question is: Why does he not apply this to those of us that process emotions more fully? As I was reading this, I felt this was very much in line with my own experience with Borderline.
If a comment comes to mind when I’m speaking to a friend or someone I care about, something of a personal (nonpolitical) matter, and I know that it will hurt their feelings, I make a conscious effort not to say what has come into my mind. I don’t want to hurt them, I don’t want to drive them away. Sometimes that recognition doesn’t happen fast enough though and I feel bad when I’ve said something that didn’t register as being hurtful quick enough. Of course, I want to make up for it.
Point: Emotions are complicated. Empathy is complicated. And situational. Even Baron-Cohen points out that empathy fluxuates in everyone, from situation to situation, due to our emotional states, or the groups we are currently associating with. This is particularly important to remember in regards to Borderline Personality Disorder. The emotional states of someone with BPD are often in flux, our stress responses are often compromised, and therefore our empathy responses will often fluxuate.
I listened to a video lecture/interview he gave on Youtube. I was floored and a little angry by the stunningly abbreviated and biased summary he gave explaining Borderline Personality Disorder. I think what made me most angry was that nothing he said was untrue, but it only highlighted the most reactive and destructive aspects of the disorder while completely neglecting the complexity and normal functioning aspects. The picture he painted was one that continues to perpetuate the negative stigma and stereotype of BPD without providing any, empathy or understanding, for what the disorder actually is. If he actually believes what he is portraying then I don’t believe he has a very clear understanding of what he is trying to generalize in terms of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Statements like this make me wonder if he’s ever even met someone with BPD. I don’t know almost anyone with BPD that is happy about it. Even the most low functioning of us recognize that it’s painful and we’d do just about anything to stop that pain and heal. All. Of. The. Time. Not just some rare moment of clarity. Unfortunately it’s often difficult or impossible to get the treatment we need due to financial restrictions or lack of resources. It’s not that we don’t want to change, or for things to get better, but we don’t know how to go about doing it.
However the interview concludes with….