Empathy, by definition, means connecting with another person through an understanding of feelings or circumstance. With regard to relationships, this connection can become muddled by way of the supercedence of making excuses.
To make an excuse means to lessen, if not disregard completely, accountability for behavior. When thinking about relationships, making an excuse for poor behavior is essentially the same as enabling the continuance of said behavior.
So when does empathy become an act of making excuses? In cases of domestic violence and relationship abuse, it is usually a gradual shift that occurs over an extended period of time, typically in tandem with the dissolve of the victim’s self-awareness as a result of manipulation.
Shannon Thomas, a therapist and author of the book “Healing from Hidden Abuse” spoke earlier this year to Lindsay Dodgson from Business Insider about this shift, specifically in relationships between empaths and narcissists:
"Empathetic people have the tendency to understand that we're all human, we all have defects, and they're willing to be patient with someone else's personal growth. Empathetic people will be very long suffering if a narcissist says 'I really want to change, I know I'm not perfect.' They have these moments where they sort of admit fault, but they never actually follow through or believe it."
The more push-pull and manipulation, the deeper and stronger the bond becomes between empath and narcissist - creating what’s referred to as a trauma bond. Thomas talks about the dangers of this trauma bond with regard to the dissolve of self that not only occurs as a result of manipulation itself but also after enough cycles of abuse:
"With empathy comes the ability and willingness to look at ourselves and look at our own faults, and that gets taken advantage of while the trauma bond is happening. It becomes a cycle for an empath who has been trauma bonded because they start looking at themselves, and what do they need to do to change, and what do they need to do different, and what their character flaws are. It's the perfect set up, unfortunately."
Ways to Help
If someone you know may be in an unhealthy relationship then please reach out to them to let them know you are a friend and are there for them if they need you. While it may be very difficult to get through to an empath who is a victim of domestic violence (because this person has been manipulated for so long that his or her manner of thinking has changed), it can sometimes be helpful for the victim to see what a healthy relationship does look like - especially, a healthy relationship with oneself (solid self-awareness). Take your friend who may be suffering out to dinner, to a movie, or something else fun that the two of you can enjoy. If finding time with your friend poses a challenge due to a controlling abuser, then try your best to connect with your friend when you can find time. Under hardly any circumstance is it a good idea to approach the abuser, for you may find yourself in a dangerous situation. If you are deeply concerned for your friend’s wellbeing, or life, please contact a local or national support organization or your local law enforcement should that be necessary.
For local (Delaware), regional and national resources, as well as tips on identifying abuse, please see our resources page.
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