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  1. #1
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    Default Does trauma increase or decrease empathy for others?

    I know that trauma can cause people to become avoidant or radically change their expectations of others as a consequence but do you think it increases or decreases empathy for others?

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    Senior Member ceecee's Avatar
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    I think it generally decreases empathy on the surface. Mostly because people aren't well equipped to recognize trauma in themselves and others and it's less common for people to get professional help with trauma of any kind.

    There are people that do recognize and feel if they got through something without assistance, so can everyone else and generally those are the people needing professional help more than anyone. I think people should shoot for sympathy and start being vocal about mental health stigma and care and perhaps lessen the need for self-medicating. Because there can't possibly be a connection or anything, right?
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    I would say it is situational, depending on the person, all circumstances and people around. This is very gray area in my book.

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    I was going to write out something similar to ceecee's post^. I think it only increases empathy when the trauma is effectively emotionally processed. (And more often than not, trauma is not effectively emotionally processed). When it's not, it causes background preoccupation with the self - and when there's some kind of pain/suffering causing a preoccupation with the self, others become little more than extensions of our own reality (instead of being able to view others as others in their own right, taking responsibility for how our actions effect them).

    Or something.
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    Good points, I know that if its acute enough people can have the appearance of being self-absorbed or oblivious or exhibit diminished awareness. Sometimes that can be a longer lasting thing too. I've encountered that and it's made me really sad because "time waits for no man" and while they're busy processing the minutia of mico-interactions life is passing them by. It happens though, personally I think that's pretty impervious to change by insight, including cognitive behaviourist ideas (I've been going back and forth in my own mind as to whether that can all, ultimately be said to be about insight or not, like psyho-analysis).

    This train of thought/investigation has been triggered by discussions of desensitisation to traumatic events, principally the viewing of things online that you would not see broadcast on the news, like live uploads from floods, fires, war zones, that rash of uploading that happened after the NZ spree killing etc. Even some of the bizarre content you will find on youtube (I swear that some conspiracy theorists have created some truly bizarre videos based on things they've read about MK Ultra and other nonsense, maybe just the product of sick minds).

    Desensitisation is maybe different from trauma, although vacarious and secondary trauma are that I'm thinking about. I dont know whether its possible to cause that through looking at images but I would imagine it is, like if is a live feed its probably like being a first responder and they DO suffer from vacarious trauma and secondary trauma.

  6. #6
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    I think it is a double edged sword.

    As someone who has some trauma, I do think there are areas in my life where my empathy is heavily diminished. For instance, with my extended family and other people previously in my life struggling with drug abuse or alcoholism, I have very little empathy for substance abusers. I try to be empathetic but it is very difficult for me.

    Another time would be a friend I had, who had parent separating, and I felt she was using it as an excuse to not focus on her homework and do whatever she wanted. I told her the world and my homework didn't stop when my brother died slowly in my living room. Looking back I think it was pretty cruel of me to say that to her.

    Other times I think it has allowed me to be far more empathetic to things than I was before as a semi-self absorbed teenager. I understood death, and whenever someone has a loved one pass away near me I respect their needs a lot more than I think I would have before. I have a lot of empathy for people who are or have been in abusive relationships. I know how difficult it actually is to exit those very unhealthy relationships. I empathize a lot with people with negative sibling relationships, as me and my brother have had an extremely negative relationship growing up. So in that sense I think I grew.

    So as another person said, I heavily think it involves the situation, who it is, and what it is. Sometimes experience draws more empathy, other times it drives people farther away. It depends who is giving and who is receiving as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ceecee View Post
    I think it generally decreases empathy on the surface. Mostly because people aren't well equipped to recognize trauma in themselves and others and it's less common for people to get professional help with trauma of any kind.

    There are people that do recognize and feel if they got through something without assistance, so can everyone else and generally those are the people needing professional help more than anyone. I think people should shoot for sympathy and start being vocal about mental health stigma and care and perhaps lessen the need for self-medicating. Because there can't possibly be a connection or anything, right?
    Sometimes the available help is shite but, also, my opinion's grown to be distinctly mixed when it comes to provision of those sorts of services on a professional basis, as opposed to the dissemination of the knowledge throughout the mass of the population some how.

    Plus there's a bunch of indirect interventions and non-therapeutic public goods and public services (not necessarily state provided/tax funded but most of the time they are) with "therapeutic" effects which all matter too, ie clean, safe environment, parks, libraries, amusements, a "civil society", you know, some of its intangible but some of it isnt.

    I know you're not talking about doing it but I do think its actually possible that public needs like this could simply be exploited as a form of graduate recruitment and political constituency building, then everyone would just be practicing adjusting their attitude to an objectively worsening situation. Its just a thing I can see down the road. Especially if informal care and support are eroded and any (even a generous) professional alternative is asked to fill the gap left by that.

    One of the greatest screen portrayals of that "not recognising it in themselves" idea I thought was the Hurt Locker, even someone with good resilence can have it over taxed and that was a good example of it, it was tragic what happened to that guy too as I actually think his own efforts to help others, as part of his recover and their recovery of some sort of resilence, is what I was talking about.

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    In my experience, no.

    Everyone is always in a competition over who's life is more pitiful so rather than recognize it they dismiss and invalidate as "Not as legitimate" as their own.

    I swear the words " My trauma..." is about to become my trigger.
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  9. #9
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    I don't think trauma is direct factor of empathy. It can influence it, but it does not itself determine whether or not you become more empathetic, it is just instrument in how you react to empathy and how you use it, if at all.

    For example; There may be individuals that can look at others and reach out to them because hey! They went through the same thing, they can understand. There are enough evils in this world, I must not add to them. On the flip side, there are others who withdraw from and distrust, or antagonize the world, be it out of fear, retribution, entitlement, pain, whatever it is, letting the trauma shape and harden them.

    It doesn't even matter how 'big' or 'small' it is, and 1) some people are inherently like either even without trauma 2) people react differently after all.


    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    Desensitisation is maybe different from trauma, although vacarious and secondary trauma are that I'm thinking about. I dont know whether its possible to cause that through looking at images but I would imagine it is, like if is a live feed its probably like being a first responder and they DO suffer from vacarious trauma and secondary trauma.
    Desensitisation is a form of trauma and a reaction to traumatic event, and can be one of the markers of trauma. It's possible to respond to secondary trauma through being say, a witness in a horrible event, but trauma from images is probably stretching it too far, it's like saying you can get traumatized from say, seeing a slasher movie. It seems that there must be some kind of more personal involvement. Being under the constant threat of possible danger, however, may cause trauma. For example, a war-torn land where news and pictures of houses getting bombed happen every other week.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yuu View Post
    In my experience, no.

    Everyone is always in a competition over who's life is more pitiful so rather than recognize it they dismiss and invalidate as "Not as legitimate" as their own.

    I swear the words " My trauma..." is about to become my trigger.
    Actually, now you mention this, I've definitely noticed that among a particular population.

    Its kind of like a "significantly sicker than you..." instead of the "significantly richer than you..." which used to be a joke in comedy TV shows in the nineties or there abouts
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