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Why Do I Seem Un(sym/em)pathetic?

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From the U.S.: I’m 18. Over the last year or so, I have noticed that I seem to lack (or have way less) sympathy and empathy than my peers. There are more minute things, such as never having cried at any movie or book… ever. It’s disconcerting that when I watch sad movies with my friends/boyfriend (i.e. war, Holocaust, cancer/disease movies, etc) I am almost unmoved and so easily move past it. The other day I saw a WWII movie with my little sister and her friends (all age 11) — who should clearly have less emotional depth than me — all cried, but to me, the movie was just interesting and entertaining.

Then there are more serious things, like the chronic headaches my mom has been having for two months now. My mother has always been very tough, but these migraines are debilitating and make her cry when the pain is too much. But, I am sorry to say that when she expresses pain or cries, it kind of just irritates me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom very much. But when she experienced a headache while we were on a college visit, for example, I was just annoyed that she was ruining my trip even though the pain made her cry and have to wear sunglasses inside. I just do not understand how I can love her but not feel sympathy when she is in pain.

My last example is that two summers ago, I was at camp with a lot of my classmates when we heard the news that a senior two grades above us had committed suicide. All the girls were told all at once by one of the camp counselors, and immediately the room went quiet and literally everyone began to weep. One by one, the counselor approached each of us individually to ask how we were taking the news, and when she asked how I was, I said it was sad but I didn’t know him well so I was okay. But, after talking to everyone else in the room (about 20 other girls) I came to realize that only 1 or 2 of them knew the boy, and that the rest of them were crying out of compassion. Basically, i don’t know if I am just less emotional than others, or if i have a problem with sympathy/empathy, but i would really like to know. Thanks.

Why Do I Seem Un(sym/em)pathetic?

Answered by on -


There is a kind of contagion to crying that happens with young girls particularly. I suspect it has something to do with having “permission” to let out the emotions they are struggling to contain during a period of particular hormonal emotionality. Some young women develop emotional control more quickly than others. For that reason, I’m not overly concerned that you don’t participate in collective crying about movies or about someone you didn’t know personally.

That being said, I am concerned about your lack of sympathy for your mother’s pain. (I’m also very concerned about your mom and hope that she has been to see a neurologist.) My guess is that your mother’s pain is scaring you more than you want to admit so you are distancing from it. I hope you will find a way to manage your own anxiety so that you can give her a little support. Part of growing up is learning to do just that.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Why Do I Seem Un(sym/em)pathetic?

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Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Why Do I Seem Un(sym/em)pathetic?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 4 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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