Lack of Sympathy & Genetic Coding

This question is not specifically magick related but there are very smart people on this forum that actually understand science and human psychology so I thought I’d ask this question here.

I know some people don’t feel sympathy for others because they have trained themselves to be that way because they feel that only their needs matter, or possibly a parent has spoiled that person into thinking the world revolves around them, but what about someone that has never been able to feel sympathy at all?

Some behaviors are developed or taught to us by observing family and friends in their daily life, while other behaviors are engrained in our DNA like the fight or flight response which acts as a safety mechanism for us, or compassion which allows us to interact with others in an understanding way to develop and maintain relationships since the human mind (under normal circumstances) craves attention, love, and meaningful relationships.

Do you think sympathy and compassion are traits we are born with that can be altered over time given the person’s life experiences, or do you think it’s a trait that must be learned and those who are shown little to no compassion from a very young age will never learn compassion themselves because they have not been exposed to it enough to feel or understand it?

I am asking here because asking this question to sheep minded individuals gets me nowhere, and their answers are always ‘that person is just being selfish and should be ashamed of themsevles’. Those types of people don’t seem to take into account a person’s individual experiences that may recondition them over the years, while magicians are generally able to understand both sides of an argument.

Sometimes it seems as if compassion and sympathy are learned while other times it seems encoded in our DNA. For example, you have a person that is very friendly, sharing, and caring as a child and suddenly their mom dies, their dad abandons them, they end up with an abusive husband and end up turning bitter and have no sympathy for anyone else because most people cannot understand what they are going thru. In that situation, their sudden lack of caring seems self-taught.

Another example, you can have a person who was born in a very poor family, for christmas if they get any gifts at all it’s usually just one or two used items from the flea market, their parents never had enough money to pay for class field trips, and they lived on food stamps and clothing vouchers, and constantly watched their friends have things they could never have but only dream of, yet that person is as pleasant and caring as could be and would give you their only shoes if they felt you needed them more, they don’t have a jealous bone in their body. In that case, their compassion would seem genetic because no matter how bad their life is, they still love the world and everyone in it.

So what do you think?

It is both Learned and physically encoded. You have two forms of learning and learned:

  1. GENETICS /DNA - I took a genetics class on this and learned that certain tendencies and expressions are actually a part of a certain code. So yes.

  2. SOCIAL - this covers a wide variety of influences. Im just going to say this is the external factor. Some things are learned… And then some things “trigger/awaken/empower” whatever things were naturally inherent in you physically. People are a product of their environments…where when you raise a kid, or aspire to your Godform the proper environment and support network is needed. You need both allies and enemies which are those whom nuruture and feed you (allies) and those who exercise you (enemies). So within this 2nd explanation there is the learning factor of taking in information and then the triggering responses.

I think we all fall on a scale with, at the one end, total psychopaths who cannot empathise at all, to people (doormats!) like you mentioned in that last example, and that the reasons are complex - both social (certain types of child abuse can permanently stunt empathy) and also genetic, something author Brian Masters touches on in his book about Dennis Nilson, where he describes how the roots of Nilson’s pathology could be traced back to the mindset of his forbears, who led an incredibly difficult existence where death (fishing in the dangerous North Sea) was commonplace, and emotional blunting towards it was a protective tactic for the psyche of the survivors.

It’s important as well that even the most “giving their own coat” types DO get a payback from it, on the unhealthy side it’s a sense of martyrdom, more healthily it can be because of their convictions (faith-led or otherwise) and their sense of personal reward from brightening other people’s lives.

IMO, on an evolutionary and social scale, we need BOTH types (and all the grades between) and that’s especially true of life’s givers and caretakers when we become sick, or just frail due to ageing, and have nothing to give in return except our need…

Psychopaths can CHOOSE to feel empathy in most cases where there’s not a serious mental disability as well, which is why not everyone with psychopathy goes round slaying those who annoy them or trigger some sexual quirk.

It appears that they can also choose to adhere to a value system, if they’re not afflicted with the impulsive lack of control that lands so many in jail over pub fights or other mindless, reckless, just-plain-stupid behaviour - because our society somewhat glamorises psychopaths, but often the calculating mind & emotional blunting comes with an unavoidable side of lack of impulse control, that makes them puppets reacting to whatever “sets them off.” I’ve known people like that, Dexter they were NOT! :slight_smile:

To get away from the abstract, I clearly remember being 6 and we needed to have a litter of kittens we couldn’t rehome put to sleep, I loved the cat who’d given birth to them but I remember having no emotional response to this - it was a pragmatic thing and my emotions weren’t mature enough to make anything of it beyond that. I’d not be as sanguine about something like that now (nor would I wish to be).

I remember vividly a kind of dawning of empathy towards other people in my early teens, but to this day I can choose not to feel it - not (unlike what The Cusp described) because I can’t see myself in that person’s situation, with me it’s usually because I can (for example, Islamic State dudes - I can understand wanting to kill in the name of what you honestly believe, to create a better world) BUT because I understand it so well, I understand how dangerous is is to my desired future and that it can’t be reasoned with in most cases, only eradicated.

I think empathy has value in these situations precisely because you “know thine enemy” - this is where I think our terminally liberal politicians fail time and again, because they do NOT understand that mindset.

This is why I actually think Putin, for his flaws, is probably going to be the best politician to handle them - he doesn’t seem unduly troubled by compassionate liberal sentiment, and he’s not afraid of being hated, either - two qualities you may not want in a politician during peaceful good times, but since we ARE basically at war, they suddenly become virtues - but I’m digressing, and also I understand the valid reasons people here have for not liking him, and no offence towards THOSE reasons intended here. :slight_smile:

Finally, to get back a bit more on-topic, and to how we can use these ideas, there’s currently some talk about the phenomena of the “good psychopath”:

Dr. Kevin Dutton has spent a lifetime studying psychopaths. He first met former SAS hero Andy McNab during a research project. What he found surprised him. McNab is high on the psychopath spectrum but he is a GOOD PSYCHOPATH. Unlike a BAD PSYCHOPATH, he is able to dial up or down qualities such as ruthlessness, fearlessness, conscience and empathy to get the very best out of himself – and others – in a wide range of situations.


I should be getting these books for Yule, I like some of McNab’s fiction and I’m hoping to learn from these, fates willing I’ll post any findings that are useful to magick on here. :slight_smile:

ETA: in response to Biosynth’s post, for most people the DNA argument closes the conversation about choices, but as magicians, I think we have to consider the extent to which we (may have) chosen, not necessarily our birth family as individuals, so much as the DNA available if we take on a certain life.

I know this is controversial because it risks “blaming” a child of abusive parents for “choosing” them and I’m pretty certain THAT isn’t correct, but I think we’re harmonically drawn to certain DNA patterns, which often express in dysfunctional ways among muggles, where the need for extreme and reality-breaking experience usually manifests as just being really fucked up - angry, or fanatical, or abusive towards others’ imperfections - and most commonly, addiction.

I had a dream about that which I posted last year, here. But that’s just my current theory, and those are always a work in progress. :slight_smile:

I am curious as to your thoughts between the difference between Psychopaths and Sociopaths. I was having this discussion with a friend earlier and then read some website articles and the explanations didnt seem to match up. Some articles say sociopaths are more scattered and are more prone to rage whereas a psychopath would be cold in whatever efforts as far as emotions are concerned.

However, I was told that the difference is that psychopaths are usually the people you hear about that are caught in the act and usually tend to be the misfits. While Sociopaths tend to be more like chameleons and blend in…where they are like psychopaths, but are much smarter and know when to change or take off the “Mask.” So my thoughts regarding the matter is that Sociopaths in some cases must be a higher level of psycopath.

Not sure what you mean by choosing if DNA is available to take on a certain life? Can you elaborate more on that? I am keenly aware of Spiritual DNA manipulation from Both the Maternal and Paternal line. So far for me its been mostly Maternal, but the Paternal also remembers me from a distant past and so follows me around much like a shadow that haunts and stalks the Patriarchs of the churches…it isnt scary however. I have also become aware of myself beyond my present space and time manipulating things magickally.

Personally I’m not sure, I’ve read a few books that use the terms interchangeably, so I’m going to side with this for now:

Not sure what you mean by choosing if DNA is available to take on a certain life? Can you elaborate more on that?

It appears that just like our demonic buddies manifest in smoke, we manifest into the world using DNA, and that the potential DNA combinations available have a harmonic resonance which will attract certain souls while repelling others, so we’re only born into bodies (DNA’s “end product”) that are a good match for our kind of core soul/personality.

This finds some backup in the Tibetan Book of the Dead where souls see a light which indicates the kind of next incarnation they’ll have, and it’s what I’ve been told by various spirit sources.

It also busts the bullshit misunderstanding of karma that says “disabled people are being punished for the ‘sins’ they committed in a former life” because it’s possible that all the other aspects of that DNA combination at a specific moment of conception were right, so the enlightened soul decided to accept the limitations in exchange for getting those - I’m not saying every time, or that every disabled baby is a great enlightened master in the making, but this IS why I get so annoyed at juvenile interpretations of karma which mean people mock the disabled, or even women and people born into poverty or a lower caste (in India), as having done something wrong to “deserve” their lowly station in life.

Each conception is a unique roll of the dice and unique set of DNA combinations, and presumably drew that soul (or was chosen by it) and very possibly for more reasons than our mundane desire for status or even health can understand.

I think in the earlier stages, souls have very little choice where they go, later they can exercise more choice, for example with me, my family wasn’t perfect and I did suffer from depression for a long time, but I also acquired a lot of psychic skills and for all their problems my family never tried to stop me exploring some far-out stuff.

At times that was hard (English understatement there!) but now I’m an adult, and free, I can say I would have chosen to be me with my skills, going through that, than be some mundane sort who thinks life begins and ends with the latest iPhone or whatever tedious crap, having a “perfect” stable childhood and no more than the odd low mood.

The emerging understanding of epigenetics fits with this stuff, that our emotions can influence the way genes express various traits, and that certain outside influences acting through the stress-feedback system and other psychological and/or hormonal feedback loops can make us suddenly prone to some kind of genetic problem. takes a quick look at how this can happen.

And, I covered above why I think that “good” families to be born into from the DNA theory may also be the most troubled, I mean one of the reasons I’m so in favour of magick becoming more mainstream is so people have those options open and don’t just try to seek that elusive “something extra” in religious extremism, or narcissism, or the bottom of a whisky bottle.

Had some of my family been freer to express their psychic gifts and find recognition and tolerance of their unique perceptions and needs, they’d have been a lot less self-destructive… and as I’ve been discovering with my uncle, the one relative I currently know about who was given that magickal outlet made for a life well-lived, to a good old age and with all manner of material success.

We should ALL have this choice, in the same way that our understanding of psychology has evolved over the years so that mental health problems no longer carry (quite) the same stigma and terror, where you’re either “sane,” or “crazy,” to be locked away for life.

JMO, and yeah this is highly influenced by my personal experiences of course. :slight_smile:

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[quote=“RavensAscent, post:1, topic:6750”]I know some people don’t feel sympathy for others because they have trained themselves to be that way because they feel that only their needs matter, or possibly a parent has spoiled that person into thinking the world revolves around them, but what about someone that has never been able to feel sympathy at all?

Do you think sympathy and compassion are traits we are born with that can be altered over time given the person’s life experiences, or do you think it’s a trait that must be learned and those who are shown little to no compassion from a very young age will never learn compassion themselves because they have not been exposed to it enough to feel or understand it?[/quote]

Well, callousness seems to be more based on situations than say genetic predispositions. What used to be called psychopathy/sociopathy are now termed as Anti-Social Personality Disorder in America. If you’re reading things from Great Britain, you’d find a lot of things there are classified as anti-social.

However, ASPD has a wide range of symptoms that essentially classifies someone as knowing to completely disregard the rights of another person, usually through subtle manipulation like lying or glibness, coercion, rape, assault or murder. Likewise, there’s a grandiose sense of self-worth that accompanies people like that for whatever reason.

For some personality disorders, there is callousness but it’s in relation to one’s perceived sense of suffering or past suffering. PTSD can result in callousness along with depression but doesn’t mean they’re inhuman criminals. Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia are the same way, although there’s more of a push to say that those two are mainly chemical and not psychological. I won’t get into an argument about that here because I fight that out with almost every therapist I’ve met.

At the same time, chemical imbalances can cause someone to lack sympathy because they cannot physically get the amino acids, nucleopeptides needed function normally. Yet generally doesn’t just affect their mood; it also affects their ability to eat, sleep, drive or even move their hands.

Those however, are just some of the more accepted diagnoses of mental illnesses by the APA and other groups worldwide, such as the DSM-V, CDC’s manual or the World Health Organization (WHO). Those are also more serious.

There’s also other things to consider. Perhaps someone has lived in the same area their entire lives and have never seen much beyond their hometown or from a safety net. Maybe they’ve never been anywhere or done anything that’s inspired them to be more sympathetic. Likewise, age is a factor.

You don’t form your prefrontal cortex until you’re 25, which governs risk taking and other things. So perhaps someone isn’t completely unsympathetic, just not fully formed yet. Of course, that doesn’t mix well with the general notion of right and wrong- like actual crimes.

If someone is “spoiled,” then that’s just a personality characteristic. It can be changed. Besides, that person might like dogs or something. They may have that “soft spot” for certain things like animals or stuffed toys. That person may not care THAT MUCH for others since all of their needs are met. I would hate for that person to confuse sympathy with guilt.

Quite frankly though, sympathy and compassion are not JUST feelings- they are actions as well. If you donate food, time or money to those less fortunate than someone else, you’re not callous. You’re sympathetic to their suffering. You’ve shown that by actually doing something in your power to alleviate their pain.

Finally, it may be just normal human development, which actually brings back the age factor. Typically, people who are younger (between 0-25) are rather selfish. Middle aged, around 26 to 50, people begin to think more of their children, spouse and job more seriously. By old age, 50+, people begin to think more in terms of their posterity and their actions on the world. Which is usually when I meet people as they begin to have a rather serious existential crises. Of course, you can have the same thing at any age but typically that’s what happens. Also, the ages are very approximate.

The way I heard it is that a psychopath does not know the difference between what is considered right and wrong. They literally have no concept of the idea. MRI’s have shown malformations to certain parts of the brain of those considered psychopaths and it is believed they developed that way. They act on instinct and show no guilt or remorse, even if their actions negatively impact themselves.

A sociopath has a concept of right and wrong, but just doesn’t care. To them, the rules of society are for other people. Sociopathy is believed to be more of a learned behavior. They show remorse and guilt, but only if their actions negatively affect their own life. A sociopath would feel remorse for getting caught, but not for killing someone.

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People have told me I am unsympathetic because I generally do not like to interact with other people in person, but mostly because I have had such bad experiences with people taking advantage of me when I was younger, an abusive and jealous husband in the past that was ready kill someone if they looked at me and smiled for too long, just a lot of factors that make it almost impossible for me to trust people.

But when I see a dog or cat, I jump at the opportunity to interact with them because they do not judge, or fuck you over, they love unconditionally which allows you to have something you can confide in and playing with animals is a big a stress relief for me. But just because I favor animals over people doesn’t make me callous and cold. I’m just feel socially awkward around people, never knowing what their next move will be and what defenses I should have ready, whereas animals are more predictible with a lesser range of emotions and reactions, so you can feel safe around them.

The people that tell me this though, have never experienced the hardships that I have so they truly cannot understand my feelings from my perspective. Everyone I’ve ever met has tried to harm my life in one way or another. Maybe I’m just bad at picking friends? Maybe I’m one of those people they say has a genetic factor that draws to people in the wrong crowds? Not sure.

But as Kenneth said about the donation thing, I may seem cold and withdrawn to others but I do donate on a regular basis. Not because I want to declutter, because I could easily take that stuff to the flea market and make some money if I wanted to, but I donate because I realize the items are still usable, I have not touched them in several months, so maybe someone else could get some use from them? And I take them to the thrift store that charges low prices so someone who never gets to treat themself can actually afford the items.

Because I’ve been to the bottom of the barrel before and I know what it’s like, window shopping but never being able to buy anything, depending on the kindness of strangers to get by. My first few years of adulthood, living on my own, where like that. I was just starting out, stupid about the world, unsure of how to effectively go to a job interview without making an ass of myself on accident, forgetting to pay my bills, accidentally overdrafting my bank account because the phone line never gave an accurate balance and I was always losing receipts, working at fast food places.

The usual, until I slowly learned more about the adult world and now I am the complete opposite of what I described above and I find myself talking younger adults out of making the same mistakes because they don’t realize even the smallest mistakes can come back to bite you in butt financially 6 months from now. So I don’t think I’m cold, I’m just different from everyone around me (here locally anyway) and they don’t understand me. I do turn off my emotions though when around other people, because I think it shows weakness and gives a possible enemy a way to overcome you if they know how you think and feel. Everyone I’ve ever made friends with tries to use your personality traits and emotions against you to get what they want, because most people around here are poor and lots of druggies too, so they have no problem with theft and manipulation to get what they want.

There was a study that showed that most psychopaths actually can empathize, its just that its turned off by default for them whereas its turned on by default for a regular person and we can choose to turn it off.

Sociopathy was just a way to escape the negative serial killer stereotypes inherent in the word psychopathy, now therapists either use them both as the same thing or they define a sociopath as someone who was made unempathic by default through nurture while a psychopath is someone who is unempathic by nature.

Its also worth noting that some people dont believe psychopathy is a real condition since it can be explained by a variety of other conditions and some therapists use it as a shortcut.

One can use spiritual possession to experience any element of it. Done in the right way it could actually be useful.

Again, there’s some debate over the conditions that determine ASPD. As it stands now in the professional psychological/psychiatric community, ASPD is the official term whereas psycho/sociopath are used everyday. It’s still hotly debated and I’m not sure where the evidence is gather- if it’s people who are self-described psychopaths or prisoners, are they people also on drugs, are there other factors that contribute to their behavior, etc.

In any case, Raven it sounds less about callousness and more about caution. Trust is something that has to be nurtured, like a lot of things. Your sense of avoidance isn’t unfounded as those events actually occurred and that’s just the human mind at work doing it’s thing to keep you alive. That’s just how things work- among others. It’s reasonable to act that way. I suppose the only real problem I could foresee would be if it’s an inhibitor to a good relationship or if you had a child (if you’re inclined). This might sound a bit mopey but if want a song that might help you out, check out Bette Midler’s “The Rose.” I don’t know if you’re into soft stuff or just trash metal.

This is why I was unsure if it’s a genetic thing, a taught behavior, or both. I guess it just depends on the circumstances.

I have a now-ex friend that was always “my needs come first” and if she made a ridiculous demand on someone whom, it was not their responsibility to take care of her or help her, if they told her it wasn’t their duty to help and that they can’t help anyway because they have their own family to take care of and helping her would take away from their spouse and children, she did not understand. She would make that person out to be the bad guy and pull one of those “I hate you, you’re so mean to me and don’t care about me” childish tantrums.

But the more I got to know that girl, I wondered if she really couldn’t help it. Because her and her sisters were raised the same way and neither one of her sisters act like that and her entire family will say that she has always been demanding since a very young age and if she doesn’t get her way, she will literally hurt people, frame them for bad things that they didn’t do, whatever it takes to get them out of her hair so she can be the main focus of attention again.

And I know most people would say, no that sounds intentional but you don"5 know this girl like I do. She got a college loan and spent the entire amount that was left over about $3,000 in one trip to the mall and came home and had her new stuff laying on the bed and was swimming in it like a pool of water, literally covering herself with new clothing and makeup and saying I’m in heaven look at all the awesome stuff I got, and everyone that came thru the door that day, she insisted on showing the, every single thing she bought.

The maintenance man even stopped by to fix a plumbing issue and she was like look at my new panties, and my socks, and my lip balm! And he tried to pull away from her and said can I please do my job before I get in trouble and she said, you have to see the rest of my stuff first. He tried to ignore her and continue working and she came in the bathroom, one by one, showing him all 300 items she had bought that day even though he wasn’t interested and was ignoring her, she would tap him on the shoulder and say look! and literally shove the clothing right in his face.

She did that to 11 people! And then insisted that I sleep on the couch so she could bathe in her new possessions on the bed and sleep with her new goodies all piled up around her with the boxes, tags, and all. And it was my damn bed, so when I when I moved her items to her bed, she flipped out on me and convinced herself I was plotting against her because her bed was smaller than mine and not enough room for her to sleep with her new things. Then she was convinced that I had stolen a pack of her panties, and we didn’t even wear the same size.

I tried to remind her that she decided to put the other pack of panties back because she didn’t have enough money for them and she went thru all of her receipts and said see, this is the receipt for the panties, I did buy them and you stole them. It was the receipt for the other pack of panties that she DID buy. She was trying to say the receipt was for 2 packs when it only showed a quantity of 1 pack and another friend that was with us that day, said she’s right, you did put the other pack back on the shelf and she flipped out and accused us both of stealing the panties and splitting the pack together.

She started throwing punches at us. Later on, when we finally convinced her she had made a mistake, she didn’t even apologize she said, oh well anyone would’ve done the same thing don’t get mad at me. When we grabbed her stuff and threw it out the door and tried to pull her outside to make her leave, she started calling her friends saying we stole from her and told her she couldn’t stay the night. The had enough nerve to ask for a $100 loan a few days later since she spent all her money on clothing and if we didn’t help, we were assholes that were only using her. We were using her!??

What kind if disorder does that sound like? She has been recently diagnosed with ASPD and Bipolar disorder with narsicisstic traits and grandiose delusions. She had to be taken away in a straight jacket when her she was given the diagnosis because she didn’t believe it, she was convinced her doctor was conspiring against her and she verbally attacked the doctor and knocked all of the doctor’s belongings off of her desk, breaking the figurines and picture frames.

I’m not a mental health professional but that sounds like ASPD/BPD to me. Without knowing more than your story, I’d lean towards ASPD.