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Can empathy be taught?

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I’m just mulling over the why’s of why some people do things to hurt others. I know some of it is re-enacting/reacting to childhood trauma/stressors/gaining control over lives and others. I know some can be related to some sort of mental illness.

But another why I’ve heard is the person just lacked empathy for others. They were just born to not care about anything but themselves and can’t seem to register that they are hurting others or that their actions have lasting consequences.

Is that just it then? Just give up on them because they’re wired too different? Or can you (as a parent) teach them to care about others, to have some sort of empathy? I know autism is often characterized as having a lack of empathy but I think it’s different. I mean lifelong criminals who just don’t care.


As to that question about empathy? Yes.

As to sociopathy? That can be taught, too.

Autism has nothing in common with it.
Neither has decision to do crime or a series of those decisions.

Not irritated with you or your mulling over, in the slightest. ;) I'm just not relating well to how simplified and conflated these questions seem to always circle back to.

Apples. Oranges. Other fruiiit. :banghead: Breaking out the Venn diagrams.

Expressions of empathy =/ empathy itself. (Autism, RAD, other attachment disorders, schizoid & schizotypal PDs, others.)

Lack of empathy =/ ergo precursor to crime. (RAD, ASPD in either subtype or the flip on flip out variant)

Crime = so many empaths, most even, do it. All sorts of crime. They DO feel empathy. Pretty intact, even.

And then conditions mixing all of those up that mean the person would act totally different - or in different ways - or for different reasons - in the absence of these conditions. (War, captivity, life entangled in crime - self or others dear to one or both, military of many sorts, first responders of many sorts, armed cultures on either side of the law, just off the top of my head.)
So true of autism. I have daughter, now 24 with autism who says the most damaging things to me. I wish she never knew about my ptsd as she uses it, like oh look your running away scared of me, or pointing out you have your arms crossed you must be mad. I do leave quickly sometimes from her presence if I am getting triggered by the Raised voice or what she is saying. I know she feels guilty, after these outbursts she has but empathy or understanding my perspective which seems to be key to empathy is sadly missing from her skills. So is conflict resolution or regulation of her emotions.
Is it an academic question or a child-rearing question?

If it is an academic question: I think it depends.

I think that there are some people who are wired so differently that nothing ever touches them but I do not think they are the majority of all criminals.

What is considered a crime is so different depending on culture and place.
To give an example: Only 120 years ago dueling was the norm in my country. If a respectable man saw another respectable man kissing his unmarried sister 120 years ago he had to challenge him for a duel. (The only way to avoid that was for the lover to marry the sister). When dueling was outlawed in 1917 it was not done for reasons of empathy but for military reasons. My country was at war and the military was weakened because so many officers had perished in duels. Still there was an outcry from the public because people felt that men were robbed of their opportunity to protect the honor of their female relatives (if the female relatives wanted their honor protected that way didn’t matter).

I think that most, nearly all men who killed the lover of their sisters 120 years ago had normal brains - but many RAISED IN MY CULTURE who do it today don't.

I think that most people are born with more empathy than they have as grown ups because many grownup teach their kids to be less empathic. To give an example: as a kid I was shocked that many grownups I knew hunted... I couldn’t look at the hunting trophy’s some people had.. because I felt empathy for the animals. I felt it was wrong to hunt them... but all the grownups around me made it very clear that they thought it wrong and indeed laughable to feel like that and that I was only a silly kid and would grew out if it... and that’s just what has happened. I grew out of it or became used to it... and I didn’t even remember it until my kids shared with me they were afraid of the hunting trophys some people had in their houses... it was only then that I realized again how kids feel about that.

There are so many things only aimed at making kids (especially boys) less empathic. For example the teenager getting a tattoo while the younger boys cheer at him - what would happen to the boy who leaves because he cannot stand the teenager being in pain - I think the others would ridicule him.

Or all the silly (and sometimes dangerous) things young boys do like funnel drinking, game of knives - whatever.

Or think of something harmless like watching horror movies, crime movies or war movies. If you are older than twelve you have to explain why you do not enjoy watching those movies while eating popcorn - much more if you are male. If you explain that you are only 12 but that movie is rated PG16 other kids will laugh at you.

Our western culture is just not very empathic.

**I wanted to add that I think it’s also not good to be to empathic.

For example if you aren’t vegan it’s not good to be empathic of the animals.
My guy is often in pain (and chooses not to care about his health) and being empathic to this just makes me feel bad - though if often feel empathic but it just leads no where an spoils my mood.
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Maybe it isn't as simple as not caring or not having empathy? Because some of these abusers do have empathy (for themselves and other people, and even victims at times), but they , at points of being abusive , might think their needs are more important than any consequence for the victim?
So they might be empathetic at times but not other times?
Or some have no empathy at all?

And sometimes empathy is relative? Someone might think they have empathy but it is based on a false narrative? A twisted warped sense of empathy to meet their own gain?

All of which makes it messy and confusing?
Or can you (as a parent) teach them to care about others, to have some sort of empathy?
It's teachable.

I might even go as far to say that is HAS to be taught.
Most kids are taught by their parents. Some learn it from other influential people in their lives. Some have to learn it from
therapy because it wasn't taught to them as kids.

As a parent I definitely teach my kids how to be empathetic. Simple question to little kids in the form of "how would it make you feel.."
"if your sister popped your balloon"
"if your brother broke your toy"
"if your brother wouldn't let you play"

etc etc etc

Does that make my kids super empathetic? Does that mean they always make good choices and always treat people well?

heck no.
Are there times where they're actions show they're very empathetic towards others. Yes.
Are there times where they're being purely selfish.
Again, yes.

I don't think it's healthy to be empathetic all the time. Just like it's not okay to be selfish all the time. It's a balancing act.
I think core beliefs and a persons values and morals contribute to when they act with empathy and when they don't.

And some people are born without the ability to be empathetic. FAS/FAE kids come to mind. Does that mean they can't be taught how to make good choices and treat people with respect? no. They're just taught different and more situational. It's harder for them to use empathetic thinking in new and different situations from what they've been taught.

I don't think you need empathy to make decent choices- like to not be a criminal or hurt people but if you can imagine what it would be like to be the other person, on the receiving end of whatever actions, I think it's easier to treat them kindly and/or make right (learn and grow from) what you've done wrong to them (out of anger etc).
And then there's the bit of, in the absence of empathy? Self oriented thinking can lead to the same decent choices.

As in I won't hurt you, for you'd be a screaming mess, and make *my* life difficult, so easier to focus on me and moving on.

Where all loove & peace claims can totally lead to heinious acts. "But I'm doing it for world peeeaace / freedom / else." Cough. More freedom, freedom sells more popularly across globe & time.

It's not as simple as lack of X trait - hence acting out in awful ways.
Yes, empathy can be taught to most people. Empathy can be taught from early childhood and up to adulthood. Emotional intelligence can also help with empathy and there are many courses out there. Where I live empathy is taught in schools from Jk to grade 12.
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