Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

Empathy Deficit Disorder? Seriously?

EDD: From the sublime to the ridiculous

For years, the DSM has been criticized as a codification of human behavior that has been given too much credence as a measure of dysfunction. Like Freud-speak, Shakespeare and the Bible, its vernacular has weedled its way so deeply into our language, consciousness and culture that its labels and categories have become almost ubiquitous. So ubiquitous in this case, in fact, that there has come to be an increasing imperative on the part of some professionals to justify the veracity of what could easily be construed as nominal observations with official sounding language.

Frankly, my dismay and disappointment at finding this article on the front page of CNN.com, via Oprah.com, has left me quite uncharacteristically speechless.

Although Douglas LaBier's position on empathy deficit as a social condition is not untenable, labeling a failure of relationship and communication skills driven by a lack of emotional maturity and/or failure of social intelligence -- see, now I'm doing it -- an actual disorder seems, to me at least, a questionable misapplication of language and, for that reason, somewhat beyond the pale.

As I have no real comment -- read on, and draw your own conclusions.

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Empathy deficit disorder -- do you suffer from it?

An Addendum: Upon reflection, I'd like to add (see my reply to the comment below) that the difficulty I am having with the position of empathy deficit as a disorder is that calling something that is a sweeping rend in the fabric of culture -- namely our lack of compassion and empathy (not to mention just plain old fashioned good manners) -- a disorder seems to trivialize it.  Slapping a label on something so huge, to my mind, makes it less than what it is.

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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