The Emotionally Irresponsible

When a loved one treats strangers or friends with more care than he treats you.

Posted Jul 30, 2020

An emotionally irresponsible person is an individual who lacks empathy for a loved one, is unable to consider an alternate perspective in the context of an interpersonal relationship, and is frequently insensitive to those whom he or she is closest. This person feels entitled to do what he or she wants without concern for how these actions and words impact the people who ought to be the most important.

These tendencies are glaringly apparent in an interpersonal relationship but frequently camouflaged in public life. An intelligent person realizes having manners and appearing to care about others generates a favorable reputation. Yet behind closed doors, when there are no “real” consequences, this person often exhibits a lack of empathy for others and an avoidance of uncomfortable emotions. Yet, it is the unpleasant emotions that allow a person to self-reflect, admit fault, feel remorse, and operate with a conscience.

The discrepancy between the person’s public persona and the quality of his or her interpersonal relationships may be vast. This disparity frequently causes loved ones to question their sanity.

“Everyone thinks he is such a great guy. Nobody knows how he really is. I’ll be the 'bad guy' if I leave.

“Everyone loves my mom. Maybe it is me. I am the only one she treats like this. It is probably my fault.”

“My entire school loves Lisa, but nobody sees how she treats others when no one is looking. Nobody will believe me if I talk about the bullying.”  

Unfortunately, emotional irresponsibility is easy to disguise in an interpersonal relationship because it is one person’s word against another’s. Utilizing deflection, minimizing, and justifications, an emotionally irresponsible person quickly dismisses a loved one’s feelings and exonerates himself or herself. He or she easily evades the discomfort of emotional responsibility.

The signs of an emotionally responsible person include:

  1. An ability to see a loved one’s perspective, even if it differs from his or her own
  2. The capacity to self-reflect and own his or her part in a conflict
  3. Experiencing sincere remorse after making a mistake
  4. Being emotionally attuned and conscientious of others
  5. An ability to be vulnerable and identify and discuss difficult feelings
  6. Sincerely apologizing for a mistake

Emotionally sophisticated people can resolve conflict because they can entertain a different perspective, self-reflect, and own their part in a conflict. In addition, because they have empathy, they are usually conscientious of others. Following a selfish act or a mistake, they usually feel remorse, apologize, and attempt to repair the rupture in the relationship.

For example, say Liz is frustrated with a friend, Beth, who is having difficulties with her romantic partner. Liz tells Beth her partner is a liar and she needs to stop listening to him. Beth starts to cry and defends her partner. Liz pauses because she experiences empathy for Beth who is hurting. She self-reflects and realizes she may have been too strong. She softens her tone and apologizes, saying, “I am sorry Beth. I know you are hurting. I do not think what I said helped. I respect your process and I am here for you.”

Alternatively, an emotionally irresponsible party only contemplates how he or she feels and is incapable of entertaining a differing viewpoint. Resolving conflict becomes almost impossible because of the person’s belief that he or she is always right.

For example, after Liz tells Beth her partner is a liar and she needs to stop listening to him, Beth breaks down. Liz, only able to consider her feelings and viewpoint, continues to reprimand Beth. “Why can’t you see this? Are you blind? He does not care about you. What is wrong with you? You are one of those co-dependent types. I cannot listen to you anymore. Good luck.” Obviously, Beth is doubly hurt and upset, and Liz lacks empathy and walks away without any remorse for the way she spoke to Beth. Beth refrains from talking to Liz anymore.

A second example includes a mom and son. The son tells his mom he wants to use his money at a garage sale. The mom dislikes garage sales and says, “No. You cannot buy someone else’s junk.” The son is upset and says, “You promised me you’d hold my money for me until I found something I really want, and I found something I really want.” The mother denies his request again. The son is angry because he believes she is breaking her promise. He yells at her and runs to his room.

The mom is furious, but she pauses and self-reflects. She also attempts to see things from her son’s perspective and realizes he is right. She promised him he could have his money when he found something he really liked. She treks up to his room, admits she is wrong, and gives her son his money. He hugs her and runs off. When he returns, he hands her the item he bought at the garage sale. It is a record album of her favorite band. She hugs him and tells him he is generous, thoughtful, and kind.

On the other hand, say the mom fails to try and see the situation from her son’s point of view and lacks empathy for him. She digs in her heels and yells at her son for liking junk. She reprimands him for being upset and tells him to stay in his room until he can be pleasant. The rift in the relationship grows because the son does not trust the mom to keep her word and is often punished for saying how he feels. The two grow apart.

An emotionally responsible human being is a person who can maintain healthy and close relationships with others who share the same emotional abilities. Resolving conflict, conscientiousness for others, and admitting fault in a relationship are essential capabilities that allow a person to care for and understand those around him or her. This is not to say that an emotionally intelligent person won’t have a selfish moment or make a mistake, but it does mean he or she is capable of owning a selfish act while attempting to repair the hurt it inflicted. Remedying relational missteps maintains closeness, joy, and trust.