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Depression Causes Lack Of Empathy/compassion?


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#1 Newlife09

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Posted 09 June 2009 - 07:24 PM

So does depression result in a person's inability to have compassion and feel less empathetic towards others? My friend is clinically depressed, and I find that talking to them can be very painful in a hurtful way because they don't show that they care, or they would say things that are mean and of aggressive in nature.

Sometimes I feel as if they're trying to pick a fight.

#2 lonleysindy

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Posted 09 June 2009 - 07:30 PM

I think sometimes with the depression ours mouths go before our brains think. We don't feel good about ourselves or the world around us. Just try to take it in stride and remember it is the depression talking not the true person
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#3 Guest_iowa_*

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Posted 09 June 2009 - 11:23 PM

So does depression result in a person's inability to have compassion and feel less empathetic towards others? My friend is clinically depressed, and I find that talking to them can be very painful in a hurtful way because they don't show that they care, or they would say things that are mean and of aggressive in nature.

Sometimes I feel as if they're trying to pick a fight.


Lonelysindy speaks truth. It's not really that it impairs a person's ability to feel compassion or empathy. Remember that severe depression often causes the person a lot pain that can't be described to someone who has not experienced it. The person wants that pain gone so much and so badly that they fail to look outside themselves to others, except to maybe lash out when the pain remains or gets worse. Depression makes them think unrealistically about many things. Sometimes, the depression tells them that no one has been there for them, no one really cares, etc. These are lies although the depressed person believes that they are their own thougts and are true. Some people who are depressed feel angry, mainly toward the world but also to those close to them who, they may wrongly feel, don't really care about them.
Please remember that depressed people need those who care to show the care. Their attitude and words may reflect the lies of depression and not their true feelings were they not depressed.
I hope that your friend is seeking help from mental health professionals who can help them. If you hear any notion of suicidal thoughts, get the person to the hospital however you can.
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#4 anon22ae

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 03:52 AM

So does depression result in a person's inability to have compassion and feel less empathetic towards others? My friend is clinically depressed, and I find that talking to them can be very painful in a hurtful way because they don't show that they care, or they would say things that are mean and of aggressive in nature.


Yes, aggression is one of the common effects, but it's the depression talking, not the real person. The depressed may later feel ashamed and sorry for things they couldn't control. I think that when depression gets bad enough, it really takes the fight out of you, including aggression. This could have the effect of making you more compassionate, as the pain makes you seek out social contact and worth in people.

#5 LoonATiK

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 08:59 AM

is it straight, unipolar depression? does your friend have any mood variability or instability, such as being overly energetic, along with being mean?

i'm just mentioning that because a lot of depressed people end up being diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder, and they never thought they could be bipolar.

hypomania, or the state below a full mania, can include just being a bear to be around (with other symptoms, but that's the main one you'd most likely observe).

being bipolar isn't always living on these god-like highs. it can feel like the world is closing in on you in a hypo or manic state, and the need to lash out may be pressing.

i'm NOT a medical professional and obviously can't diagnose anything. however, i'm trying to contribute ideas that haven't been mentioned.

just as in unipolar depression, bipolar people can be snarky.

i'd watch out for:
1. increased energy
2. decreased need for sleep
3. racing thoughts/quick speech
4. increased sexual promiscuity/activity (being perhaps irresponsible)
5. eating more or less than usual, usually less
6. exercising too much
7. starting strange projects.....

this probably doesn't ring a bell, but if it does, your friend should see the pdoc and get evaluated for perhaps a form of bipolar disorder.

just my thoughts.
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#6 LifeGoesOn

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 01:21 PM

So does depression result in a person's inability to have compassion and feel less empathetic towards others? My friend is clinically depressed, and I find that talking to them can be very painful in a hurtful way because they don't show that they care, or they would say things that are mean and of aggressive in nature.

Sometimes I feel as if they're trying to pick a fight.


It's probably the depression talking. My own personal experience is that an extended period of depression, I become quite irrational and my internal editor goes on vacation. I used to think I was a sociopath.

Depression can cause emotional anguish that is unimaginable to someone that hasn't experienced it, and it can certainly cause the sufferer to trivialize what others are going through. It'd be hard for someone who just got hit by a truck to have much compassion or empathy for someone with a stubbed toe. That's an extreme analogy, but to someone who's been in almost unendurable pain for a long period, it can seem that bad. Rationality and sense of proportion go out the window.

I can understand your feeling that your friend is trying to pick a fight. I've had times when I wanted to feel something, anything other than what I was feeling, that even negative emotions such as anger or rage were a welcome change.

#7 LifeGoesOn

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 01:29 PM

is it straight, unipolar depression? does your friend have any mood variability or instability, such as being overly energetic, along with being mean?

i'm just mentioning that because a lot of depressed people end up being diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder, and they never thought they could be bipolar.

hypomania, or the state below a full mania, can include just being a bear to be around (with other symptoms, but that's the main one you'd most likely observe).

being bipolar isn't always living on these god-like highs. it can feel like the world is closing in on you in a hypo or manic state, and the need to lash out may be pressing.


That's a good point. I'm bipolar and know that I can be a real b*stard at times. My mania doesn't manifest itself in elevated mood most of the time, it's more like I'm extremely irritated. I know when that's going on, I'm no fun to be around at all.

#8 Newlife09

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 05:31 PM

I believe it's straight. No to 1,2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 :)

More like the opposite of all those. My friend is mostly aggressive at times and demeaning :( Sometimes she gets aggresive in the sense that she'll throw stuff around. Ie. If she's opening a package, and it becomes difficult, she'll throw the entire thing across the room.




is it straight, unipolar depression? does your friend have any mood variability or instability, such as being overly energetic, along with being mean?

i'm just mentioning that because a lot of depressed people end up being diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder, and they never thought they could be bipolar.

hypomania, or the state below a full mania, can include just being a bear to be around (with other symptoms, but that's the main one you'd most likely observe).

being bipolar isn't always living on these god-like highs. it can feel like the world is closing in on you in a hypo or manic state, and the need to lash out may be pressing.

i'm NOT a medical professional and obviously can't diagnose anything. however, i'm trying to contribute ideas that haven't been mentioned.

just as in unipolar depression, bipolar people can be snarky.

i'd watch out for:
1. increased energy
2. decreased need for sleep
3. racing thoughts/quick speech
4. increased sexual promiscuity/activity (being perhaps irresponsible)
5. eating more or less than usual, usually less
6. exercising too much
7. starting strange projects.....

this probably doesn't ring a bell, but if it does, your friend should see the pdoc and get evaluated for perhaps a form of bipolar disorder.

just my thoughts.



#9 Newlife09

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 05:35 PM

So just to clarify: does a depressed person actually know that their words and actions are hurting others??? I'm really having a difficult time grasping that they wouldn't have any indication otherwise.

#10 lonleysindy

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Posted 10 June 2009 - 06:48 PM

So just to clarify: does a depressed person actually know that their words and actions are hurting others??? I'm really having a difficult time grasping that they wouldn't have any indication otherwise.


I never relize how hurtfull I can be when I am down until I feel abit better and people tell me what I said or did. For example: My daughters 19th birthday in front of all her friends at her party I called her " a self centered, egotistical, self serving, B****, and I should just drive my car into the river cause she wouldn't care anyways" Do you think I really think that of my daughter. I love my kids and they are my reason to live so why would I say that and ruin her party? I didn't even remeber saying it until she told me a couple days later crying.

I feel so bad, I don't remeber it but I am sure I said it because I have said things to other people before as well.

Your friend is depressed and probably doesn't relize how hurtful she is being.
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#11 NapoleonWill

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 12:11 PM

So does depression result in a person's inability to have compassion and feel less empathetic towards others? My friend is clinically depressed, and I find that talking to them can be very painful in a hurtful way because they don't show that they care, or they would say things that are mean and of aggressive in nature.

Sometimes I feel as if they're trying to pick a fight.


Yes, depression can cause a lack of empathy and compassion. Most negative comments that come from anyone in general is just self-talk. Meaning, if someone is saying negative things to you that may hurt your feelings, they are actually saying things that reflect how the feel about themselves. If you understand this, then you won't get mad at your friend. You'll actually want to help her get better. So as bad as her comments make you feel, she probably feels ten times worse every second of the day. If you want to help her get better, you talk to her, lead conversations by asking her about things that make her smile, her hobbies, good memories. She may detour and always go back to negative topics that could lead you to getting upset. If you lead with positive conversational topics, she'll just follow and you'll bring her out of her depressed state. The more you can do this, the more you can boost her state and she'll be closer to leading a better life.

You can do something simple with her and just sit with her and watch a comedy show or funny movie. You became friends with her for a reason. She could be in a rough state right now and could use a friend. Always switch it to the positive, put on funny tv shows, funny movies, stand up comedy shows.

Edited by NapoleonWill, 11 June 2009 - 12:12 PM.


#12 SpaceKadet

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 01:00 PM

So just to clarify: does a depressed person actually know that their words and actions are hurting others??? I'm really having a difficult time grasping that they wouldn't have any indication otherwise.



So if you think that the whole world hates, you, that you are bankrupt, that your incredible migraine is a sign of a tumor, you are convinced your partner is having an affair with his secretary, maybe his business partner, or maybe his darn tea lady, you are fatter than two ton Tessie, your hair is plain ugly, your skin feels wrinkly, your nails are... and you are exhausted...

Do you think that there will be any ears or space left for compassion for someone else?
Don't stop, five minutes before the miracle. - Ptika Ntuli

#13 NapoleonWill

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 01:04 PM

So just to clarify: does a depressed person actually know that their words and actions are hurting others??? I'm really having a difficult time grasping that they wouldn't have any indication otherwise.



So if you think that the whole world hates, you, that you are bankrupt, that your incredible migraine is a sign of a tumor, you are convinced your partner is having an affair with his secretary, maybe his business partner, or maybe his darn tea lady, you are fatter than two ton Tessie, your hair is plain ugly, your skin feels wrinkly, your nails are... and you are exhausted...

Do you think that there will be any ears or space left for compassion for someone else?


Space Kadet you are so right. Your friend has so many racing irrational thoughts that she doesn't even know what she is saying. A depressed person is very unaware that their words and actions are hurting others.

If you understand how much pain she is going through daily, then you'd see that she needs your support. If you can reframe her hurtful comments as meaning "Help me, I need help" then you won't really get upset at anything she says. You have to change your perception of what she is saying. What is she subcommunicating, you have to read between the lines. She is saying she needs help.

#14 SpaceKadet

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 01:14 PM

So just to clarify: does a depressed person actually know that their words and actions are hurting others??? I'm really having a difficult time grasping that they wouldn't have any indication otherwise.



So if you think that the whole world hates, you, that you are bankrupt, that your incredible migraine is a sign of a tumor, you are convinced your partner is having an affair with his secretary, maybe his business partner, or maybe his darn tea lady, you are fatter than two ton Tessie, your hair is plain ugly, your skin feels wrinkly, your nails are... and you are exhausted...

Do you think that there will be any ears or space left for compassion for someone else?


Space Kadet you are so right. Your friend has so many racing irrational thoughts that she doesn't even know what she is saying. A depressed person is very unaware that their words and actions are hurting others.

If you understand how much pain she is going through daily, then you'd see that she needs your support. If you can reframe her hurtful comments as meaning "Help me, I need help" then you won't really get upset at anything she says. You have to change your perception of what she is saying. What is she subcommunicating, you have to read between the lines. She is saying she needs help.



See depression is selfish... You experience your own problems, which don't even exist, so deeply, that you get angry at anyone who thinks that their piddly little upsets are real.

I don't know if this makes sense?

Depression is an illness. It is not reality, remember that.

During a bad spot, I was convinced my boss was plotting to find reason to fire me. I even had a lawyer for wrongful dismissal lined up. If anyone at that point told me they had work stress or were tired, would I have listened or cared? The reality of it was that the boss was, in fact, arranging a special, record salary increase for me.
Don't stop, five minutes before the miracle. - Ptika Ntuli

#15 Guest_INFP_Steve_*

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 09:59 PM

I doubt that depression causes a lack of empathy/compassion but I do know that in my case it has resulted in out of character 'aggression' where I can lose my temper over an incident that others might not find so upsetting.

Personally I think that lack of empathy is more likely to be a characteristic associated with sociopathy or antisocial personality disorder rather than depression. A lack of empathy implies that a person is cruel, lacks a conscience and has no feeling for the suffering of others. I know that in spite of being depressed and having a ferocious temper at times, I have never felt a detachment from the pain of others or had the type of sadistic urges which result from a lack of empathy or compassion.

Newlife09: I think what you and most others are describing are symptoms of severe irritability and aggression that result from a person who is in pain. When you understand this you can make the proper distinction between 'a bad person' (i.e. a person without empathy) and a person who does have empathy but their depression has caused them to perceive their own problems as worse than those of others and have a warped sense of justice. Ok, most people can be cruel in the heat of the moment or when a dark mood seems too intense to bear, but I think that if a person isn't cruel by nature then they will always show some remorse however difficult and shaming this may be.

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Posted 19 March 2010 - 12:26 AM

This topic interests me. It's really a good one to discuss.

People who aren't educated about depressive illness can get wrong ideas or assumptions about the behavior of the depressed loved one. It all comes down to how much you know about emotional illness and how much you don't know. If you buy into the social stigma about depression then you are going to have problems always with your depressed loved one and will cause even more stress for the ill person. So it's best to stay at a distance if you cannot compassionately and educatedly react to their odd behavior. But if you love and care about your friend and really want to answers to your questions instead of support for what you are feeling, then you will start educating yourself about the illness. Besides, we all suffer with a depression at some time in our lifetime so I believe everyone needs to learn more about the emotions and what illnesses affect them.

Behavioral issues are where you can see the symptoms of depression. You can list them in a notebook and search out the type of depression you may think your friend is suffering from. If your friend is resistant to professional help and continues to get worse or more depressed then you need to intervene and get your friend the kind of professional help s/he needs. Most people don't have the guts to do this and that's simply because they are fearful and don't know about depression. When you know what depression is and how it works on the brain and body then the behaviors can be understood and recognized. That's when you as the loving friend detach yourself from what is going on inside of the depressed person and move forward to get them help or find ways of nurturing the goodness inside of the ill person. But if you cannot do these things or have the desire to learn more about the illness it really is best to keep your fears far away from him or her.

Next......many depressed people are hypersensitive or highly sensitive people. Another way of thinking about this is that they are highly empathic. It is an unconscious trait in most HSP's. (highly sensitive persons). These type of people can "catch" a depression from someone else without willing it or even knowing about it. Maybe they are picking up on some relative's depression and manifesting it through being depressed themself. This is about having empathy or psychic empathy and too much of it and often people with it are born with it. There is alot of info on the web about HSP's and depression is common amongst them.

One thing to always remember is that depressed people feel too much and are very smart and intuitive. They don't try to be this way but often because they are so rawly exposed emotionally it can anger them. They feel ashamed and guilty for feeling too much and just don't know how to handle it and in some people it comes out as anger. Don't let the anger scare you....see it as a symptom and never believe what they say about you when they are in an anger fit of rage. It is depression, some form of it and of course there will be a personality disorder attached. So you see? Help your friend learn about the illness, exercise his or her brain with interesting information about depression and people who are also suffering through the same thing. There are books that might help you and your friend by Kay Redfield Jamison....An UnQuiet Mind and Patty Duke, Call Me Anna. These books are starters into validating your friend's illness. Validating the illness for the depressed person is ultimate priority too. A depressed person is scared by all that they feel and because of the stigma attached to depression maybe a depressed person will resist the fact that they are depressed. This will also create more illness for your friend----if they are resistance to the truth about what they are feeling and where it comes from.

Secondly, always reassure a depressed person that you are there even if you can't physically be around him or her. Check up on him or her to see if they are bathing, eating, getting out and able to pay their bills. That's practicality and a good way you can feel like you are helping if you can't help in any other way. You can make sure they are taking their meds and if they resist taking their meds contact their shrink or whoever is in charge and notify them to the fact. Intervention may be necessary to save their life.

Don't ever use platitudes on a depressed person. Killers. Platitudes are like, "snap out of it", "if I can do it you can", "all you need is God", "get out and hug a tree".....those kind of sayings are placing more guilt on your depressed friend. You may think they are helpful but with a depressed person nothing that most mentally healthy people think is helpful won't really work on a person who is in the throes of a depression.

Thirdly, know that most depressions don't last forever. There are more serious forms that do last a long time though. This is another reason you need to find out what form of depression s/he has. Remind yourself about the good person inside of the depression. Know that the depression is not who your friend really is and always protect yourself without harming your depressed friend. When you think you are going to say something damaging and just can't stand being around the depressed anymore, then you must leave but keep in contact in some way occasionally. don't take on all the responsibility yourself and never think that you can fix him or her. You cannot. But you can show that you care whether the depressed feels it or not. It is energy and your caring will come through eventually.

It's a tough road for friends and relatives of depressed people. But always remember, it's not as tough for you as it is for the depressed and what they are going through. You simply cannot know what they are going through unless you have been there and I have found that many depressives can't relate to what I've been through with the form of depression I've got. Many depressives have enough energy to function and many do not. Each person who is depressed processes the illness and it's behaviorisms differently. Try to remember these things and practice them but always remember the mosst powerful energy there is---is the energy of real love. Not sexual love, that's not what I'm talking about.....real love, unconditional, non-judgmental, compassionate, empathic, intuitive love.

Bless you for asking your questions here and searching out support. I wish more people would do that. Depressed people should never be left alone, only given their own space but still there should always be someone near by. When a depressed person isolates themself then s/he is the most vulnerable to suicide. It is the job of the relatives and friends who love a depressed person to learn about depression and how to spot and identify the signs and symptoms because depression is a life threatening illness and the depressed just can't do life on their own even though the depression is telling them to close the curtains during the daytime, to sleep all the time, to drink, drug more, to stop eating or eat more, to stay inside all the time and turn off the phone and watch tv for weeks and weeks........

I hope something I have written here helps you and others who want to know what to do about their depressed loved ones. I think the main point is to get educated about the disease, get interested in what depression really is. It will empower you, information will not make you depressed. If it does then you need to seek out professional help at once.

Goodness blessings to you and your friend and all here on DF!

~~~bravetwilight~~~

Edited by bravetwilight, 19 March 2010 - 12:35 AM.


#17 Lori123

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 03:30 PM

So does depression result in a person's inability to have compassion and feel less empathetic towards others? My friend is clinically depressed, and I find that talking to them can be very painful in a hurtful way because they don't show that they care, or they would say things that are mean and of aggressive in nature.

Sometimes I feel as if they're trying to pick a fight.


Depression can cause emotional anguish that is unimaginable to someone that hasn't experienced it, and it can certainly cause the sufferer to trivialize what others are going through. It'd be hard for someone who just got hit by a truck to have much compassion or empathy for someone with a stubbed toe. That's an extreme analogy, but to someone who's been in almost unendurable pain for a long period, it can seem that bad. Rationality and sense of proportion go out the window.


I have been in the worst depressive episode of my life, and was in a relationship with someone who was also depressed. I am an extremely empathetic person, depressed or not. And for a while, we were a good support system for each other. But then he did something that hurt me. First of all, I don't get how someone who DOES understand what depression feels like, and supposedly loves you, can be hurtful toward you. But anyway, I told him that I was hurt, and he got angry with me. I knew he had a temper, but that was the first time it had been directed toward me. That was the last straw for me, and I tried to commit suicide.

That was a bit over a month ago. We were in contact for a while, but it mainly consisted of me trying to explain to him how badly he had hurt me, and him trying to pretend like it never happened. He accused me of harping on the subject, and of course all I can think of was that the whole thing almost killed me, so excuse me if I'm a little upset and would like some answers as to why this happened. But no matter how I phrased the questions, he simply wouldn't answer them.

I have cut off all contact now, but I'm still left with all these questions. How could he do that knowing what kind of state I was in? And where does the anger come from? Until I read this post, I wondered if maybe it was narcissism, because of the lack of empathy. But he certainly does not think highly of himself. So, my question is the same as the original poster's: Was this outburst a result of his depression?

Edited by Lori123, 24 March 2010 - 03:31 PM.


#18 Gorgon

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 10:19 PM

I just posted something that was sort of the opposite of this post without realizing this was here. I did scan some of the posts and I agree that depressed people tend to get an overload of emotions, and in my case I know I have gotten to the point where I shut myself off and tend to lash out at people as a coping mechanism to make myself feel a little better.
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#19 Doommantia

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Posted 04 February 2011 - 10:29 PM

I find I'm too empathic at times and other times I just don't care at all. Very strange. I'm almost always angry though, or at least anger is looming over me but I'm usually angry at myself and bitter that other people don't seem to have as bad as a life as I have.

Obviously I know there are people in worse situations, but theres always going to be somebody in a worse situation as much as theres always going to be people in better ones, so that "at least you're not starving" argument people like to throw around, is kinda moot in my honest opinion.

Sorry kind of went off into a tangent there. :P

#20 Joe Graham

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Posted 22 April 2014 - 12:33 AM

I was depressed, and ever since I haven't been able to feel empathy. It just seemed to switch off, like a lightbulb. I'm okay with it however, it was just very sudden and a little weird at first. I guess it was a psychological self defense mechanism. However, I'm still very conscientious to other people's feelings, out of politeness. Your friend probably is more self centered than unempathetic, but just remember he's not thinking completely rationally if he's depressed, he probably never meant to hurt you.




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