The fourth muscle needed is the empathy muscle. Empathy is the ability to be bothered if our personal wrongness hurts others. It enables us to understand the effect we have on the other person and to use that understanding to govern our words and actions. “It is impossible to over-emphasize the immense need (people) have to be really listened to, to be taken seriously, to be understood” (Tournier, 1982).
When a reasonable person uses this muscle, the resulting stance is, “It bothers me when my wrongness hurts you.” He allows that understanding to shape how he behaves toward others. The manipulator is empathy deficient. His stance is, “I’m only bothered when your wrongness hurts me.” He gives little consideration to the impact of his words and actions on others. Reciprocal empathy is a realistic expectation in conflict with reasonable people. With manipulators, however, we should anticipate only self-serving motivations and behaviors. They experience what Nordgren (2011) calls “empathy gaps.”
The following statements may reflect an atrophied empathy muscle:
- She emphasizes her own concerns and gives little attention or value to yours. Conversations are dominated by her interests.
- She attacks not only your position but you personally.
- She knows your buttons and pushes them deliberately when needed.
- She demonstrates little awareness or concern for the toll that her insistence on rightness takes on the relationship. Rightness is more important than relationship.
- Truth or exposed wrongness on her part typically leads to relational alienation or termination.
- She displays discomfort with your feelings or gets mad at you for having them.
- She rarely, if ever, asks you to explain the reasons for your position.
- She doesn’t validate your opinions or feelings.
- She seeks first to be understood but rarely seeks to understand.
- She demonstrates the ability to be kind and loving toward you—until you cross her. When this occurs, she turns on you.