Can someone lose empathy or did they never have it?

This is the one question that has baffled me ever since I sensed something was wrong with husband and I and discovered he was having an affair. He just didn’t seem to be particularly moved by the pain that he was causing me. I found this so terribly confusing and hurtful.

You see when husband and I started dating he seemed so empathic. He talked about wanting to start a charity in his mums name, he was made a minister at the church we went to. He would give church members money whom he knew didn’t have very much. When our neighbour lost his dad, husband suggested we give them quite a large amount of money to help towards funeral costs. We also did some shopping for them as they had just had a baby.

But suddenly he changed, he seemed to become very cynical about life and people. He started saying ‘I just don’t give a damn.’ He sure stopped giving a damn about me.

When Dday happened I didn’t understand his behaviour, he seems almost cold. I was 6 months pregnant and devastated and he just went right ahead and carried on his affair. There wasn’t any ‘Uh uh my wife has found out.’ He and his girlfriend just simply carried on as if I didn’t exist.

Even till this day he doesn’t seem to fully grasp what he has done to me. There have been moments of realisation but I can’t help but think those were a bit fake, just words he had read somewhere that sound like the right thing to say. He never really seemed to have a desire to help me through this. I always felt that he believed that if he just gave me a bit of time that I would somehow get over it.

So I wonder if someone can have empathy and then lose it? Or maybe he never had it and it was all pretend?

To the betrayed spouses reading, did your partners ever seem to grasp the pain that they cause?

This question led me to google who led me to the term ‘narcissist’ and as I researched more ‘covert narcissism’.

Even after everything that has happened I still can’t get over the fact that the man I knew at the beginning who was so emphatic somehow lost it – or worse that he never had it and it was all pretend.

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16 thoughts on “Can someone lose empathy or did they never have it?”

  1. Great question. I don’t know. I don’t know if you change or just were always hiding the beast.

    I’d like to think he changed. That it’s easier to make it seem like no big deal than face reality. I also think it’s easy for men to feel justified if they have worked hard or think they deserve a break. It’s weird.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know… It’s actually saddening to think there is hope for change but just as much chance for him to revert to past behavior. Maybe he has a form of a personality disorder not just covert narcissism. What I do know is that it’s causing you your own form of anxiety and other stress disorders as a result of his actions. And that’s not fair.

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      2. At least you are certain what you are capable of when banking on yourself. Crapshoot when you bank on others. Healthy mom = healthy kids.

        I know it’s not that cut and dry, trust me. I just want you to remember to put you first. Xo

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Your story is such a familiar one to me. My H has had moments where he seems to acknowledge the pain, but them more frequently is his attitude to just move on. I think whether it’s the offender or another, unless you’ve actually lived this, it seems impossible to understand. Even my friends and family seem to struggle with just how immensely this hurts and destroys a person.

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  3. Your husband was very good at acting. Because you are dependent on him financially he does not have to act any more. Read up on personality disorders. I have no idea if he has one but he does not sound like he has the ability to care. He abused you in front of the children. That is very disordered.

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    1. I agree, I’ve also realised that he is very concerned with image and looking good to others and he is only concerned about his wants and needs. Do acts of kindness in the beginning were probably more about creating a facade/image of him

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  4. It is a shock to find out what’s under the surface. My husband, too, was generous (financially) to charities – although he would never have volunteered his own time, nor had he helped people physically. Not even his own mother – she suffers from Parkinson’s and whenever we were visiting he turned a head when she needed help with standing up or walking or sitting down. It broke my heart, and told him explicitly he needs to be able to help her, to accept her illness. Then I thought he was just unable to process to see her mother wane, now I know he just didn’t care for her, he just didn’t want to see and be part of something he perceived as weakness.

    I don’t think he changed, I think I just finally see his true colours. What others said before: look into personality disorders, people with NPD tend to lead you on with an image they build for yourself for as long as you give them their fuel. Once you are devalued in their minds, they don’t care about maintaining the image anymore, sadly. Which makes me think they never actually had that empathy.

    It is a whole different question then whether empathy is learnable, though. Apparently, people who really, genuinely want to change, can change. It takes them years to get to a point where they can experience empathy, but allegedly they can…

    So hard to accept all this, because by accepting you also have to accept that you ate the shit they were feeding you… but it is what it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes you are right, I definitely think there is a disorder there, I used to think it was just a bit of self centredness or selfishness but I think it goes deeper than that.
      Accepting is the key but I still struggle some days because it just doesn’t make any sense – And I have to also search myself and ask why I was so willing to overlook so many things

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, I so clearly hear you. Don’t beat yourself up – you had no way to know. We can identify so many signs in retrospect but when we were living that as present they were not significant enough to catch our attention.

        I also thought it was just a bit of self centredness and it took a lot of reading (and being kind to myself) to see how (1) it goes way deeper than a little selfishness (2) I really had no way to know with the starting point of being a trusting loving caring person.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I have struggled with this very question with my own husband. He’s just so different than the man I married. It is shocking how different. I have wondered a lot whether I just didn’t see it, or if he has changed. And like you, think, maybe he could change back. But I think now that I have seen this new person, I would always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Keep taking it day by day, and think about the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s how I’m coping.

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  6. I have one of the rare ones who is demonstrating real empathy now, post 27 years of serial cheating, porn, etc. He was perfunctorily empathetic throughout the 27 years…would do nice things for people (on his terms), donate, etc. But his emotional connection was always surface, never permeating his soul and that deep place. After we went through months of discovery and trickle truth, he had a shattering realization…hit him unbelievably…and he broke. That’s the only way I can describe it. He broke and it was evident in every. sense. of. the. word. And it is 22 months later, and he has not changed back. The differences? He is humble, consistently. He continues to apologize for his infidelity, unexpectedly, for no reason. He is completely transparent – leaves his phone, email, etc out and available at all times. Doesn’t take his phone to the bathroom. Shares when he has a moment or flash of memory/illicit thoughts. Attends support group meetings. Is utterly and completely different in every sense of the word. He doesn’t manipulate me anymore, has learned a new language toward me and us, and treats me with respect and tenderness and kindness. It can happen…but you will absolutely know if it does. And if it doesn’t? Take care of YOU…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh I read your story and sometimes why my husband isn’t able to get it. Maybe one day, maybe he never will but it won’t be at the expense of my sanity. It has been just one battle after another with him, he has been resistant every step of the way. He’s not transparent at all, which is why I’ve questioned his empathy, deep down he just doesn’t care.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are a saint…a brave and fierce saint. To have stayed and tried without his support – real, honest and utterly transparent support – because you love him and value your family. I admire you, but I am also fully, 100% supportive of you moving on. You’re right…your sanity, your wholeness, your peace is NOT WORTH losing. The complete resistance? Nope…you are doing the right thing. hugs.

        Liked by 1 person

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