When Does Empathy Border on the Pathological?

When last I wrote on the blog, I mentioned there might be a couple months without content due to the process of moving. Well, now I’m knee-deep in the process of putting stuff away in my new home.

I’m so excited, I could just scream…

So during a recent, much-needed therapy session, I revealed an aspect of myself that leads into today’s Million-Dollar Question:

When does empathy border on the pathological?


For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a quirk about my imagination that I’ve never told anybody about before said therapy session, which I personally feel borders on that fine line between demonstrating empathy and some sort of twisted pathology.

Now to note what my therapist said, she feels that it demonstrates a form of empathic thinking, but it still bothers me that my imagination runs in this direction.

Hold up, Jon! What direction where? What exactly do you imagine about other people? Do we even want to know? Is it THAT kind of thing?

Relax, it’s nothing like THAT. For as long as I can remember, I could see a happy stranger… it could be a random person on the street or a person in a commercial… Whoever it is, this person is happy… But for some sick, demented reason, my mind’s eye goes out of its way to attempt to imagine what this person is like when he or she is angry or otherwise upset.

That’s where I feel it becomes pathological. It’s one thing to see a celebrity and wonder what his or her daily life is like, but it’s completely different, and I’d go as far as to say unnecessary, to imagine a random stranger getting upset.

Even after my therapist did her best to convince me that it’s just my mind trying to understand others’ emotions better, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s not a pathological behavior. So, I’m opening the conversation to you guys.

What’s your spin on this?


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2 Comments

  1. Actually, I don’t think I could respond you this without more information – specifically, what do you do next? When imagine Happy Stranger angry, do you plan what you would do? Do you work through scenarios of what they might do and how others including you would react? Do you envision detrimental outcomes? Are you even a participant in the imagined scenarios? Your answer to these questions would, I think, trek us much more clearly whether it’s healthful empathy, idle random thoughts, or pathological.

    1. It’s just more of a passing thought, but as it passes, the person could be crying, or screaming, or insert whatever-negative-emotion here. It’s always preceded by the thought, “I wonder what this person is like upset/angry?” I’m never involved in these scenarios, either. It’s just this person being upset or angry. And it disturbs me that my mind does this. It’s all of this combined that leads me to believe its a pathological behavior on my part, and I was wondering if it happens to anybody else, or if it’s unique to just me. I’ve known for years that I’m an angry codger of a man, but this is the first time I’ve publicly revealed enough of a glimpse to extrapolate the full extent of my inner rage. Let me just say this here and now: I DO NOT LIKE BEING AN ANGRY RAGE-AHOLIC. I DO NOT LIKE IT, SAM-I-AM. I DO NOT LIKE IT ANY MORE THAN I LIKE GREEN EGGS AND HAM. Anger really takes a lot out of a person, and God knows I’m exhausted enough in a day…

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