Anonymous asked: What IS empathy? I often see people describing it as "feeling the same emotions as someone else" but that just doesn't make sense to me. How can you feel the same emotions as someone if you're not experiencing what they are?
Answer: You’re right that you can’t feel what others are feeling! You can relate, maybe, but we have no real way of feeling what others feel unless we have lived their exact experiences from birth up until now.
Empathy is the ability to understand and/or share the feelings of others.
This doesn’t necessarily mean sympathy, of course; it’s just the ability to recognize another person’s emotions. People with BPD tend to be hypersensitive to the emotions of others, usually a response to trauma, but it is also possible to have BPD and low empathy. I know I am constantly analyzing other people’s emotions and trying to understand them, even if I don’t necessarily care about how they’re feeling. It’s a form of self-protection.
As far as sharing the feelings of others, that doesn’t mean you feel what a person feels, just that you can relate to it. You may tell me that you were upset this morning because your dog peed in the house and made you late for something. I don’t know exactly what you’re feeling, but I’ll be able to empathize with you and realize that’s a frustrating feeling when you’re late because of things happening which are out of your control.
Anonymous asked: I noticed that in your BPD checklist one of the criteria is a heightened sense of empathy. I thought that borderlines had low empathy? I feel like I can't be borderline if I don't have empathy :(
Answer: There’s no symptom that everyone with BPD has, because none of the symptoms are required for diagnosis! You just have to fit a certain number (at least five of these nine). It doesn’t matter which ones. And as you can see, heightened empathy/hyper-empathy isn’t even one of the symptoms on the criteria (although it is in the alternative model if you scroll down).
To explain it in the context of the checklist, hyper-empathy is one of four items in Section I. You need at least two items from Section I. So if you fit two or three of the other items in Section I, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have hyper-empathy. If you don’t have at least two items from Section I, but have enough items from the rest of the checklist, you may have another PD, or PDNOS with borderline symptoms.
Empathy involves a lot of mental and emotional skills and such, so it’s often more complex than just high vs low. I also see myself as having generally low empathy, though. You definitely aren’t alone!
It’s also worth pointing out that the checklist we have here also features the alternative model which Exo mentioned. In the checklist, I included both the diagnostic criteria and the proposed criteria to include more symptoms and to get as much information as possible. The same can be said for the other personality disorder checklists, though not all of the personality disorders have an alternate model.
Can I Have Object and/or Animal Empathy Rather Than People?
Anonymous asked: Could I have a heightened sense of Object empathy and am hypersensitive to the feelings and needs of objects and animals instead of people? And what does it mean to have "my perceptions often biased towards negative attributes" like I don't want to throw away crumpled paper because I don't want to abandon it... I hug chairs and taking care of animals trigger me be ill never be enough for them. But with people I just don't care about people. I only care about how they make me feel
Answer: Your perceptions being biased towards negative attributes really just means you’re more likely to believe negative things than positive ones. For example, I have high empathy when it comes to how I interact with people, but I tend to latch on to negative things I read in them. I’m hyper-sensitive to their anger, their sadness, and their frustration. I am more likely to notice these things than their happiness.
Object and animal empathy is absolutely a thing as well, and there are a lot of people who experience this empathy rather than empathy towards people. (Some experience all of the above.) What you’re experiencing is very common for people with heightened empathy, especially with BPD.
Anonymous asked: i find it extremely hard to help people when they are sad and a lot of the time i cant sympathise with someone are these common among bpd patients?
Answer: Your experience of empathy, sympathy and compassion can definitely be affected by your BPD, it is very common. Here are some ways in which it can happen:
BPD is believed to be associated with high affective empathy, but low cognitive empathy - “I feel what you feel” instead of “I know what you’re thinking”
Having hyper-empathy can be so painful that helping others is impossible, as you become too distressed by their distress
Dissociation can cause a disconnect between us and our emotions, as well as between us and the external world (including other people’s emotions)
Mood problems and psychosis change how our perceptions and emotions work, which also often changes how our empathy works - eg, you can’t empathise with someone because of your anhedonia, or because they don’t seem like a human to you
Many of us are survivors and/or experience paranoia, making it sometimes difficult for us to want to sympathise with others
Stress, tiredness, hunger and pain or illness can all affect empathy, just like they affect all other mental processes
Comorbidity with certain other conditions can affect empathy, eg ASPD, SzPD, STPD, autism (second link), acquired brain injuries etc
Even neurotypical people can have poor empathy or sympathy, as significant parts of empathy/sympathy are made up of various mental skills that need to be practiced and that you must choose to use. Some parts of empathy are more like emotions - they either happen or don’t, you can’t choose which.
Ironic as it is, I sympathise in struggling to sympathise, anon. I’m sure a lot of other people with BPD do as well.
Post by Tumblr user tequilamockingbird2015: [Source]
A while ago I tuned into an NPR program about BPD. The tagline was “a recent study confirmed that people with BPD have less empathy.”
I heard what I expected to hear: older psychiatrists talking about “avoiding borderlines” and “dealing with borderlines.”
What I didn’t expect was a young psychologist who defended us. She said that the study didn’t show that people with BPD have less emotional empathy. She said “it’s quite the opposite: my patients are so in tune with my emotions sometimes they know what I’m feeling before I do. They can be deeply compassionate.”
She continued, saying that the type of empathy the study was referring to was not emotional empathy but cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is thinking. This is entirely different from emotional empathy, which is understanding what someone is feeling.
She used an example from her work: one day, she came into her office, feeling angry. She had had a minor argument at home. Her patients with BPD immediately knew something was wrong and they were concerned. They were exhibiting emotional empathy.
However, rather than thinking she was upset because of issues at home, they panicked and immediately assumed she was angry with them. This is common for BPD; we are extremely good–too good–at picking up on when someone is upset, but we cannot correctly think what they are thinking. When we try to pick up on why someone is upset, we are often horribly wrong, and often we jump to assuming they are upset because we did something wrong.
Most people don’t know (or want to acknowledge) our high capacity for emotional empathy. But without even knowing it, we are learning in DBT and MBT to improve our cognitive empathy.