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Old 10-30-2007, 06:22 AM   #1 (permalink)

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Do alcoholics feel empathy?

Hi there,

I'm a new member of the site, and I can't tell you how helpful it has been. Here's my situation. I am a gay man, who took a job in New York to move in with my ABF four months ago (in his apartment) after dating for a year. He was in rehab during high school and college for cocaine and heroin, but took up drinking immediately thereafter and has been a heavy drinker ever since (he's now 33.) Almost as soon as I moved in, it became clear to me that on any given evening, he wanted to be out at a bar and would be disappointed if we weren't there. In the 4 months we lived together, he drank every evening, even if we were just sitting at home together watching TV. In addition, he has an enormous collection of porn (both movies and magazines.) Both his drinking and his interest in porn were very public -- he's the life of the party at the bar, and liked to think of himself as a gay version of a 33 year old frat boy. He's also very "functional" -- he goes to work every day, and doesn't seem drunk. Anyhow, I began to get disgusted with his behavior very quickly, and stopped going out with him. This, in turn, caused him to get resentful towards me, and accuse me of not being a "fun and social person." I suppose, for him, the drinking was OK because it took place in a social environment rather than alone at home. At any rate, the relationship ended a month ago. I was really stunned by his lack of empathy -- when I moved out, he didn't ask me where I was going, and from all accounts, appears to be having a blast being out on the town every night since we broke up. While I'm relieved to be out of the relationship, I'm wondering whether he'll ever really appreciate what he did -- I moved here to be with him, and I'm left looking for a place to live while in the middle of starting a new job. he was so cold and dead at the end, which was such a contrast to the warm and loving person I cared about. Here's my question: do people in his situation ever feel empathy? and if not, why is feeling empathy so hard for them? Thanks so much for your responses...
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Old 10-30-2007, 06:43 AM   #2 (permalink)
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From what i understand through reading, posts here, and al anon, the main thing A's care about ? Is Alcohol. I think it depends on what stage they are in, but i can tell you from experience that if you are a threat to their drinking, unfortunately, they will choose the drinking over you. It's something that non alcoholics will never understand, nor should you waste energy trying to. I'm going to copy something below that has been in these posts for a long time, but that really, really opened my eyes. No, i'm not okay, but I do see my situation in a different light:

My name is Jon.
I'm an addict.
And this is what addicts do.
You cannot nor will not change my behavior. You cannot make me treat you better, let alone with any respect. All i care about, all i think about , is my needs and how to go about fulfilling them. You are a tool to me, something to use. When i say I love you, I am lying through my teeth, because love is impossible for someone in active addiction. I wouldn't be using if i loved myself, and since i don't, i cannot love you.

My feelings are so pushed down and numbed by my drugs that i could be considered sociopathic. I have no empathy for you or anyone else. It doesn't phase me that i hurt you, leave you hungry, lie to you, cheat on you and steal from you.

M behavior cannot and will not change until I make a decision to stop using/drinking and then follow it up with a plan of action.

And until I make that decision, I will hurt you again and again.

Stop Being surprised.

I am an addict. And that's what addicts to.
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Old 10-30-2007, 06:48 AM   #3 (permalink)

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Sorry you are thru this pain. I can only say that my AH just didn't see the pain he caused me and his children. Blinders as huge as could be it seems.

Take care of yourself and continue to understand yourself. Let him be in the past.
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Old 10-30-2007, 06:52 AM   #4 (permalink)

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i think most As cant feel empathy. my husband never cared about how i felt about anything. my words went in one ear and out the other. i think its the narcasistic personality.
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Old 10-30-2007, 06:58 AM   #5 (permalink)
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as an alcoholic, i agree with what cdk said. when i was drinking and using, i'd lie sooner than anything else. i'd do what i needed to for what i needed. granted, i didn't steal the way some folks did, but i stole in my own right. i cheated, i was a mess. when i got into recovery, i found out i didn't have to live that way. once i started working the steps, i started looking at my part. eventually, i made amends to the folks i harmed, one of whom was an ex-boyfriend who i still dearly love. he's an amazing man, and i got to set things right between us. i also learned how to live a life that's worth it, and not repeat my mistakes.

so-alcoholics, in general, have no compassion to speak of until they get in recovery. my prayers are with you and him. take care.
"To take for permanent
That which is only transitory
Is like the delusion of a madman."
-Kalu Rinpoche
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Old 10-30-2007, 07:04 AM   #6 (permalink)
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The alcoholics in my life DID feel empathy.....gosh.....sometimes for seconds at a time.

No, seriously, their desire for alcohol and drugs -- and the way that chemicals make them feel about themselves -- overpowers any good traits they may have as human beings.

And sometimes, they never had any empathy to begin with. Even non-alcoholics can just turn out to be idiots once you're up-close and personal with them. I doubt that alcohol is your ex-lover's only problem.

I know this is troubling you, but I have to tell you that I was so relieved to get to the end of your post and find out that you have left that relationship. You're obviously a loyal and kind and thoughtful person, and have no business being in relationship with someone like that....alcoholic, former (and probably future) addict, porn addict, narcissistic, always have to be the center of attention, not capable of just being with you........that's a recipe for a terrible life for you.

Sorry you're still in kind of a dark place......but SO glad you're away from that. Out here, you can still hope to find a relationship that isn't empty and lonely.

Wishing you the very best!

"Tell me, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?" --Mary Oliver

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"False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities." --Derrick Jensen
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Old 10-30-2007, 07:30 AM   #7 (permalink)
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liked to think of himself as a gay version of a 33 year old frat boy
Okay, that gave me my first laugh of the day, albeit at your expense Gabenyc! But back on topic now, I just said almost the exact same thing to my xagf about her lack of empathy towards our relationship ending, and more directly to her reaction (or rather her lack of any) to it happening. Specifically like, "hey, no biggie, it was only 4 years of my life, time to go have a drink and get married and move in with another one."

All I'm able to offer advice-wise for you Gabe, is that like my A, your's was addicted before you met him, before you loved him, before you left him, and after you left him.
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Old 10-30-2007, 07:35 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Narcissists do not feel empathy. Many addicts display narcissistic tendencies. Many narcissists medicate with alcohol or drugs.

I'm sorry for your pain; I understand how much it hurts.


Glad you're here!
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Old 10-30-2007, 10:15 AM   #9 (permalink)

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Hi Gabe,

I had a counselor that was a gay man, and he also ended up being my Supervisor after I completed my BA Degree and went to work for the County Mental Health Center.

He is the kindest, thoughtful, and most considerate man I have ever met. I was seeing him for my depression and of course I couldn't go to work there until I had been done with counseling for six months.

He ended up resigning after turmoil at the Mental Health Center. Some of the very negative workers that had lied about their college degrees were let go and they retaliated in any way they could.

They set my Supervisor up to get caught with Pot and to be arrested. There was no way he could get out of it and so he lost his counselor's license.

This was in 1998 I think. He moved back to Idaho where he had built a log house on his own property and where his Mother was. He and his Mother were very close. He is a sensitive and empathetic man & son.

We still keep in touch with each other. I am a recovering alcoholic and even when I was drinking every day I worked taking care of the Elderly and did have empathy for what it was worth at that time....Of course I coudn't wait to get off work and go to my girlfriends to drink. I have five children and the youngest was still at home when my drinking was at its worst. Being a single Mom, I took a lot of chances of having her removed from my home due to my drinking.

When I made the decision to quit, I didn't know how I was going to do it but I did with the help of AA and all of my new friends. My girlfriend sobered up a year after I did...then died of Cancer several years later.

I have found that I make acquaintences with people that are recovering alcoholics more easily than others. Many of us are a kind lot in sobriety, which was disguised under the active alcoholic personality, that just cared about when and where the next drink would come.

I wish you all the luck in finding a new relationship. I do hope you like the new job in New York. That makes it easier to justify the move.

God Grant Me the Serenity to Accept the Things I Cannot Change..the Courage to Change the Things I Can Change..and the Wisdom to Know the Diifference.

Sobriety Date: July 10, 1988
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Old 10-30-2007, 10:24 AM   #10 (permalink)

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when my xah was not in recovery, he didn't care about anything but his addiction to alcohol. it was his first love and he was very loyal to it. imho, it was a symptom of his addiction to alcohol.

if alcohol had been a woman, i would have known how to deal with the problem, but i learned to think of his addiction as a lover that he would protect at all costs without any reservation. it's just the addiction talking and acting. jmo.

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Old 10-30-2007, 11:07 AM   #11 (permalink)

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No thy do not feel empathy, they only are concerned with their addictions.

It's all me me me.
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Old 10-30-2007, 11:45 AM   #12 (permalink)
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I'm sorry your going through this. It's tough.

When my exabf was active he didn't care what responsibilities he had or have any respect for me or anyone close to him. He just wanted to get to the bar asap and if i couldn't get in touch with him till closing .... oh well. His own mum told me that he always hurts the ones he loves. He was selfish and beer always came first. Your definately not alone in this. Mine also had no empathy when became sober so some are just not nice from the beginning.

"Happiness often sneaks through a door we didn't know we left open"
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Old 10-30-2007, 12:06 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Gabenyc, I'm in agreement with the rest. My XABF is narcissistic, zero empathy, and I might go one step further and say he's a psychopath. I just got done reading "Without Remorse" which talks about the traits of a psychopath. Narcissism and lack of remorse are two of the signs. Any emotion they display is manufactured; they simply are not wired to feel it. You might understand your XAF a little better after reading it.

Yes, my XABF left me without a word or wave of goodbye, already was back involved with the XGF, put a ring on her finger in about six weeks, and probably doesn't even remember my name or why we are not together anymore. All he knows is that he needs a caregiver, preferably a cold mommy-figure, who will never question what he wants. That was definitely not me!

I'm sorry you went through this, and I'll tell you I have the same feelings as you. Most of the time it doesn't bother me anymore, but sometimes I just wonder how a person can be so unfeeling, can go from saying "I love and miss you" on a daily basis, and then disappear the next. It's something I cannot comprehend, yet I accept that it did happen.

Thanks for asking the question ... I don't know if the responses helped you, but they were a blessing to me today.

somewhere distant, the hurricane still spins
he rages and destroys, and believes that he wins

but here in my world, the tempest far away
i rebuild, rejoice and move forward, in halcyon days

Last edited by CBrown; 10-30-2007 at 12:07 PM. Reason: error
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Old 10-30-2007, 03:28 PM   #14 (permalink)
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if you read up on sociopath you will get a very good idea of how some if not most addicts deep in their addiction behave.
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Old 10-30-2007, 03:42 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I was only empathetic if it suited me. I could turn it on and off like a light switch. Oh, I THOUGHT a was a good and giving person..but I really wasn't. I see the change in me now though, through recovery.

I'm sorry for your pain, but you need to realize that he might look like he's having fun, but sure as hell he isn't.

But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things. ~Vincent van Gogh
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Old 10-30-2007, 04:11 PM   #16 (permalink)
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In order to be empathic, one needs to feel, to be able to put oneself in another's shoes as if you were them. Alcohol does a great job at numbing feelings, especially negative ones, and alcoholics are not reknowned for having a high EQ, so, almost by definition, the answer is no.

Great points about sociopaths, narcissists etc - I actually finally "got it" when I read up about personality disorders. There's loads of info out there on the net if you google.

Just a side thought on empathy - how often do non-drinkers actually empathasise with the drinker? I don't mean sympathise, I mean really step into their shoes, as if you were them, with their background and personality (rather than you with yours.) I took a basic counseling skills course a while back and it taught me how to do this. It really helped me to understand (and counteract) the manipulation that was going on once I realised my ex's motivations and drivers and what that might lead me to do. EG, if you were a heavy drinker and didn't want anyone else to know and, if discovered, wanted to keep on doing it whilst still keeping up the facade, how would you act?
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Old 10-30-2007, 06:45 PM   #17 (permalink)

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Hi all,

Thanks so much for your kind words of support -- it really means a lot to hear from people who have had similar experiences, and it's great to know I'm not alone. One of the dynamics I'm dealing with is that when you're in the relationship with the A, you think that you're crazy (in large part because they refuse to take responsibility for their behavior), so it's helpful to have many of the unexpressed instincts I had about the axbf's behavior reinforced and reassured. It's particularly frustrating and sad, as I'm sure many of you know, to see someone who is so functional in some areas of their life demonstrate a total inability to manage anyone's needs other than their own once the work day is over. I guess I'm just glad I was able to make my frustration and dissatisfaction as clear as I could, and that I didn't spend years in a relationship that could never live up to the dreams I had for it. I only wish I had been less naive about addiction -- i didn't realize how easy it is for addicts to move from one substance to another, or that not seeming drunk after 6 beers a night or only drinking beer or even acknowledging yourself as a "functional alcoholic" are just excuses to continue addictive and destructive behavior. Being in between an addict and their substance is a scary and dangerous place to be, and I hope I'll never be there again. I can't wait for all of this to recede into the past, but for now, the post-break up pain is feeling more and more tolerable, and my vision for the next stage of my life is beginning to come into focus. Thanks again!
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Old 10-30-2007, 07:18 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Good luck with the next steps of your journey, friend.

One thing that "near misses" with addiction ARE good for: They certainly do help to clarify what we do and do not want out of future relationships. Hard lesson, but a good lesson.

"Tell me, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?" --Mary Oliver

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Old 10-31-2007, 09:55 AM   #19 (permalink)

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My first post on this forum back in early summer was asking if anyone had seen a correlation between alcoholism and sociopathy. Such was the terror of my emotional life with my A. I am still stunned by what he is able to dich out, how low he will go...How calmly he will slash my jugular, emotionally speaking. It is frightening to know that there are people out there who exist in this way.

In my case, and many others, I think it is a part of the disease. Unfathomable selfishness, no empathy. sad, but true.B66
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Old 10-31-2007, 10:33 AM   #20 (permalink)

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I think most active alki are a bit confuse about empaty and sympathy
amongs other things. I also think alki lack understanding of feelings
and identifying feelings on top of the CNS or the brain being damage
by alcohol consumpt. i think alki also lack healthy coping skills.
Numbing one self out is generally the state of being.

if an alki feels anything, generally thier first reactions is not
going to be empathy. It's going to be...

"it's all your fault and why are you doing this to me".lol
Then it's follow by anger..." i'll show you"
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