Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

‘I Am Glad That is Not Happening to Me’

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 13, 2011

    Nora,  complains to Liam that she has broken out in hives. Liam turns to her and says, to Nora’s shock, “well, I am glad that is not happening to me.” Nora responds “well it is happening to you, because it is happening to me and you have to live with me.” Enlightened self-interest is another aspect of empathy, Nora tries to explain to Liam. The narcissistic bubble,, incorporating one’s friends and family in one’s own sense of oneself is essential for survival. In other words, when trouble happens to people in your “bubble” , then it behooves all parties concerned to feel the experience, at least in part. Otherwise, there is a sense of alienation and distance. On the other hand, when unfortunate circumstances arise, it is understandable to feel the relief that one dodged a bullet. The goal is to embrace both feelings for the other, while at the same time  maintaining a sense of separateness. This is the art of a relationships. I support Nora in her plea for understanding from Liam. “You need to teach him how to care about you,” I say, and she agrees.  “It is frustrating though,” Nora says. “Yep” I can hear that, I respond, feeling Nora’s frustration.

4 Responses to “‘I Am Glad That is Not Happening to Me’”

  1. John said

    Doctor Vollmer, your last two blog entries (Liam and Nora) are quite fascinating and informative, really interesting. But can you explain the graphic–the “Cognitive Empathy/Emotional Empathy” thing?! Thanks in advance.

  2. I am glad you like the Nora/Liam drama. Essentially, cognitive empathy is understanding the other’s point of view, as opposed to emotional empathy which is feeling the other’s point of view. The age/old knowing and knowing issue.

  3. Shelly said

    How can one teach someone else how to care? One either cares or one doesn’t. That’s like teaching someone empathy. Either they empathize or they don’t. And is cognitive empathy something that I would want my partner to have? I don’t think so; I would want my spouse to have emotional empathy. How would cognitive empathy help me in any way?

    • I think one can teach someone else how to care. I think that like everything else, it is more natural for some more than others, but there is always room for improvement. I also think both cognitive and emotional empathy is important. That is the fundamental challenge of my work-to understand on multiple levels. When partners do this, the relationships is deeper and richer.

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