Here is a poignant question that rests awkwardly on many a victim’s hearts.
“What is it about the victim that makes powerful people abuse it without seeming to know that they’re abusing it?”
We know that there are perpetrators of abuse that seem to revel in it. But much abuse occurs because the abuser thinks they’ve got a right to do what they do. It’s a deception. They’re deceived. And they will argue black and blue that they did it for good reasons. They don’t seem to have any understanding or even want to understand, the impact of their behavior.
Perhaps we can surmise that there is a reasonable explanation for the total ignorance in those who would abuse power, like hubris syndrome. The power that is held for a long time, that finds ongoing success, and has relative liberty; well, that power – hubris syndrome suggests – is dangerous. And the key danger is a deficit develops: empathy tends to leak away from the successful person who earns power.
The more successful a person, the more their empathy can leak.
Sustained success in any field is potentially dangerous because empathy – importantly, the capacity to empathize – can ebb away. It is the greatest of human tragedies when care takes a back seat with people who have power even over one life.
When Empathy Becomes Skill
How much worse is it that a leader can fake empathy – that a key part of the leadership performance is to ‘put on’ empathy when it will advantage them instead of wearing it everywhere they go. One is a manipulative spirit, coercing for self-gain, but perhaps under the guise of doing a common good; the other is a heart transformed and operated by God. One is saved for particular occasions to maximize positive emotional impact; the other is a way of life done not for the approval of men, but for the approval of God. One is the kind of thinking that is selectively deployed; the other is a way of thought that tends to always be thinking about others.
There are many professions as well as many kinds of people who are tempted to develop empathy as a skill. But empathy is a matter of the heart, and even though empathy can be faked, God is fooled by nobody. God inevitably catches up with those who fake or signal virtue.
What underlies a faked empathy is, ironically, narcissism. What looks like empathy isn’t always the case.
The Root of Narcissism
I can tell you from my studies into narcissism, that narcissists lack empathy, exploit people, and feel entitled to do it. Yet, we are all capable of being narcissistic, especially when we are tempted to gain something through using people. This explains why successful people are prone to abusing people; in every field of endeavor, a lot of work is involved in sustaining success. It never comes easily, and it’s always harder to sustain than we would ever think. The pressure to succeed tempts us to subvert an honorable ethic for the sort of power that can be gained furtively.
… narcissists lack empathy, exploit people, and feel entitled to do it.
None of us likes to be thought of or seen as narcissistic, and this especially applies to those who would abuse power. This probably explains why someone who would abuse power might be completely unconscious of it, not see it as abuse, and even justify their behavior.
If we will live accountable lives before God, our Lord will show us where we are tempted to blur into the kind of narcissistic attitude that potentially abuses people through the misuse of our power.
The person who denies their capacity for narcissism is in danger of using narcissism to abuse.
We started with a poignant question that rests awkwardly on many a victim’s hearts.
“What is it about the power that makes powerful people abuse it without seeming to know that they’re abusing it?”
There is certainly the reality of hubris syndrome, but if we truly wish not to abuse others, and allow God to nurture empathy within us, then we will see our capacity to abuse people and situations possibly before, and even as, the abuse takes place. And when it does take place, hopefully, there will be an awareness that provides the impetus for restitution via a suitably acceptable apology.
There is no substitute for being accountable to God in everything we do.
Why does the abuser abuse?… because they lack empathy.