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Anyone else parent with someone with no empathy? How do you cope?

(172 Posts)
notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 16:30:04

My children's father has almost no empathy to an extraordinary degree. He also has a strong belief he is always right. He is unable to understand other people's thoughts, feelings or behaviour. He doesn't hold other people in mind, at all. Not even his own children. This has all sorts of implications. He won't, for example, keep our youngest safe from cars as he just forgets he is meant to, and gets distracted by his own thoughts, leaving the youngest to wander into the road. As he is always right, he never learns from these times as he will never admit to making a mistake. He will actively deny demonstrable and provable reality to insist he is right. He appears to genuinely believe his blatant lies.
He is unable to read his children's emotions properly. So if one of our children has become emotionally overwhelmed, often by something his dad has done, their Dad will not calm his own emotions to deal with the child, but instead becomes emotionally overwhelmed by the child's anger or upset, and kicks off himself, making the child utterly distraught. Or if our toddler is upset, and he goes to comfort him and the toddler says, 'I want Mummy', he will respond by becoming angry and shouting ' Fuck this shit, what's wrong with me? Why don't you want me?' and storming out of the room, slamming the door. This is because he can only understand his own emotions.
He wants the emotional reward from his child being comforted by him and he cannot cope with rejection. He can't see the hurt child, he can only see his self and his own feelings.
Since having children I can really see that his behaviour is like that of a toddler - poor emotional regulation due to not being able to empathise with others.
I have asked him to go to GP for an assessment and see if there is any treatment- I have read about specific treatments for people who sound like him. I don't know if he will. And even if he does, he is completely unable to accept he has a problem.

I know people will helpfully ask why I had children with this man. Of course I regret it and is causes me deep pain that this seriously dysfunctional man is their Father. I didn't realise how bad he was till we had children. We had our own separate lives and got on well and there just weren't many things to bring us into conflict.
When things are calm and well he is fine, he is loving and affectionate (or appears that way, I realise now that these feelings are not real selfless love but him enjoying the feeling of being in love). But having children has caused stress he can't cope with and a need for attunement and othering someone else that he just can't do.

I don't know how to handle this anymore.

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FATEdestiny Sat 30-May-20 16:42:14

It sounds like he needs intensive counselling, probably anger management.

Don't be hoodwinked to think that those who struggle to understand emotions in others also assume there way is always right. That is two seperate things. In fact there are probably loads of seperate things here that he could make steps to change if he wanted to. Fact is, he doesn't.

blackcat86 Sat 30-May-20 16:51:16

DH struggles with elements of this due to BPD. I danced around his MH and feelings until DD came along and I felt overwhelmed by a desire for a better life for her. I am now quite brutal in breaking things down for DH - eg. If you want her not to touch your laptop when you're working you need to redirect her to another activity not snap at her. That's not ok, you're her father not a child. No you cant give her whole grapes they're a choke risk. It may help that I'm a first aid trainer so when he tries to tell me I'm wrong about safety he tends to know he will lose that argument. Couples counselling helped us but it has also been very confronting for DH in terms of his own childhood. Your partner needs to accept that you have input in parenting or you're relationship just wont work

notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 16:52:43

No, he doesn't want to change. He doesn't see the need as he is always right. He has a deep psychological need to always be right.
If it was 'just' poor empathy I think we could work with that. He could learn strategies. He could accept direction from me on how to handle the children or just let me do it. But he has to always be right. So he doesn't put any strategies in place or learn. Also, to be honest, once an incidnet is over, it is forgotten to him. He does not hold it in mind t learn from.
He's awful.

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notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 16:57:54

Well we don't have a relationship anymore. That broke down (not that he will accept that, as he can't accept I have my own view of the relationship and what I need from it).

Anything I say that isn't praise is criticism, so needs to be rebuffed. He has developed a very negative view of me as being spiteful (me not wanting to be in a relationship with him is because I am spiteful). The fact that I don' t like him anymore is completely divorced from the way he has behaved to me, instead it is because I am 'hate-filled'. Do you see how he constructs his understandings to avoid blame?

He also just won't remember anything I say as he doesn't hold anything to do with anyone else in mind. He has no learning curve.
He has been a dad for 8 years and he hasnt' even got basic tricks of parenting sorted out.

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N0tfinished Sat 30-May-20 16:58:58

Yes but not to the same degree. He's very concerned for the children's safety & happiness but as our older boy has grown into a teenager (15 now) it's gotten more difficult. DH seems oblivious that DS1 has preferences and feelings of his own, which are different to DH's. So he'll suggest an activity (always sport), DS will decline as he doesn't enjoy these things anymore, and DH will be hurt & offended. Most people will start to learn this & either stop offering or try something else, but DH doesn't. So we end in this repetitive cycle.

Our younger son has ASD & ID& is non-verbal. DH is so sweet and understanding with him, because his needs and wants are uncomplicated & don't change. He spends hours bringing him on walks to the woods or on drives.

The biggest issue is that other people's needs just don't seem to occur to him. DS1 can verbalize or look after himself but DH will forget to feed DS2 and make sure he has a drink regularly. So I'll come home to find DS2's had nothing to eat bar dry bread which he pulled from the packet or drank juice straight from the carton. DH will eat his fill & never even dream that other people need to eat too.

I'm constantly stuck in the middle peacemaking between DH & DS1. If I have to go out for a long time I'll ring home often to prompt DH to make sure DS2 gets something proper to eat. It's never malicious. If I ever give out about it, he's so apologetic & upset with himself, but it seems to repeat over & over.

notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 17:02:41

If I ever give out about it, he's so apologetic & upset with himself

See, my children's father is never apologetic. There will always be a, frankly ludicrous, defence as to why he did what he did - so if the toddler is suddenly running towards a main road unsupervised whilst their Dad is on the phone, he will claim he had to be on his phone, there was no other option but for him to be on the phone that moment. ANd that justifies ignoring the toddler whilst he runs towards heavy traffic.
He's utterly impossible.

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FATEdestiny Sat 30-May-20 17:04:11

While the obvious answer is LTB, you are going to be coparenting with this chap for the next decade and more.

As an armchair psychologist, the need to be right stems from a lifetime of his faults being pointed out to him so he feels ashamed of "failing" when he's wrong. It's ultimately a self-confidence issue.

In the spirit of hoping to better him regardless of your relationship status, would be consider activities that might boost his sence of self-worth? Volunteering for example, trying new things.

curtainsforme Sat 30-May-20 17:07:43

I don't know how to handle this anymore.

Leave. It's damaging your children.

creaturcomforts Sat 30-May-20 17:09:52

Op, have you looked at narcissism before? There are some great videos on YouTube that have helped me. My ex sounds almost identical in behaviours to your partner. Any talk at all that we had on anything was because I was attacking him in some way and he couldn't and wouldn't be responsible with my daughter. Your example of running into the road and him not mentally being 'there' to consider the danger, my ex would allow things like this. If I asked him why he would become emotional and angry, usually said that I say this because' you're so perfect'.

Your partner cannot and will not accept responsibility for his actions because then it would prove he is not perfect and his world would fall apart. It's much easier to twist the situation and blame the children or you.

I tried to help my ex husband to start with as I know he was very vulnerable and had low self esteem underneath all the anger, but what you come to realise is that the passive aggressive behaviour in denying and changing reality to protect himself is still abusive and is damaging to others.

Is he willing to change do you think? Unless he's willing to go to counselling or at least acknowledge your problems there will be no change, are you willing to work on the relationship when you are in it alone?

SomeoneElseEntirelyNow Sat 30-May-20 17:10:42

He either gets help and gets better, or he gets out.

notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 17:13:39

But that is my dilemma. WHilst I am in the same house I can intervene in how he is with the children. If I leave, I won't be there. My eldest is a very sensitive child. Their Dad is just about the worst possible type of person to be his Father (other than someone who is criminally abusive).

And if I left the emotional abuse he would heap on the children due to his inability to accept that I had left would be awful. He would be completely and utterly out of control of himself. He would pour abuse on me to the children. He would be completely unable to control himself to manage the childrne's emotions at the split.

I also have a low income, and I would get nothing from him. He won't leave the house, he won't give me any money. He just won't. And the court battle would eat up what I would get anyway.

He has a good job adn self -esteem from that. He won't go out and make friends because he says ' I won't let him' despite the fact that i keep telling him i want him to join clubs related to his interests and I think that will be good for him and all of us. So he won't take action to improve his life and he blames me for how his life is EVEN THOUGH I AM TELLING HIM I WANT IT TO BE THE OPPOSITE. This is a common pattern.

I can't help him anymore. I have no patience for him. I can't boost his self-esteem I just don't have it in me. This pathetic holding onto a sense of victimhood instead of accepting responsibility for how his life is and doing stuff to fix the bits that aren't working for him.

OP’s posts: |
PurpleFrames Sat 30-May-20 17:15:42

You should contact children's services.
They would be very interested in his inability to keep the kids safe and self absorbed nature. This is more than emotional abuse it is neglect,

vikingwife Sat 30-May-20 17:16:17

Wow. Leave him. Who can live (and parent) with someone failing in so many basic ways. As he is dangerous for the kids, reverse psychology will be needed - pretend you’re all for 50/50 custody & that will be best so you can both move forward in your lives. He will then with any luck leave you with the kids & fuck off somewhere else. Pretend you’re very upset he isn’t pulling his parenting weight.

What you really want is him to not have the kids alone much, if at all. But to do that you have to act like him abandoning them is the worst outcome possible - then he may in fact Piss off & hopefully only pop up for the occasional Disney Dad shit.

What else can you do? You can’t teach a grown person how to get empathy. He doesn’t have it or want it. Lack of it would suggest Being on the narcissism / antisocial personality disorder spectrum - and I know those terms get thrown around but lack of empathy is a clear warning sign.

notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 17:17:38


Oh god the perfection thing. Ironically he accuses me of expecting him to be perfect! Even though I ask very little of him. He can't see how he is utterly fucking awful and just not even at decent human being level. I don't want perfection. I want someone who can see his weaknesses and accept support in those for the benefit of his children. That's all!

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Crossroads19 Sat 30-May-20 17:17:44

Sounds very similar to my DH. After 15 years I have realised it won't change and can't live the rest of my life that way.
He is being an utter twat. I knew he would detach quickly but he has shocked even me with his handling of this and we're only a week in sad

TheMotherofAllDilemmas Sat 30-May-20 17:18:50

You can’t teach someone to care. Simple as that.

Divorce is the way forward provided he is the kind of dad who may lose interest on his kids soon. If he lacks empathy he cannot learn to anticipate where danger or upset it, you suffer and the kids suffer and the problems continue because he cannot see why it is important to hold a kid safe by the road or not leaving them alone in a pool.

I’ sorry experience doesn’t let me say anything more constructive. If he lacks empathy in extreme... you cannot change him even if he wants to. He is built like that, that’s who he is. sad

notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 17:21:33

Purple and Viking - no it is not like that. He is so hard to describe.
He really genuinely believes he loves his kids. He loves spending time with them. But it is about what he gets out of it. He can never put them first, hence the inability to put his emotions aside to centre on their's. But to an outsider he would look like a great dad, playing with them in the woods, building them tree houses. But its all about him. As soon as there is a conflict between his needs and theirs; he has to put himself first as he cannot see them. He just cannot see them as separate people with their own needs.

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creaturcomforts Sat 30-May-20 17:23:15

He's making you responsible for him and his feelings in every way, I can hear the frustrations in your post! The helplessness keeps you there as you worry about how he will act if you leave but it's not your responsibility. He's an adult and a father and the choices he makes are not your responsibility.

You may feel better without having to deal with all his emotional stuff and could it be harder going it alone than this. If he can't cope with life in general and needs the support he will eventually have to learn to cope or not!

notaprettygirl Sat 30-May-20 17:23:31

He won't lose interest in them if we split. He would want to see them as much as possible. And that's what worries me. He can't attend to their emotional or psychological needs at all.

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AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 30-May-20 17:24:34

What are you getting out of this relationship now. Your children won’t say thanks mum to you for staying with such a man and could well go onto accuse you of putting him before them.

you cannot protect your own self or your children from his abuses of you if you are all under the same roof.

Do you also think that such a man would even bother with his children at all if you were to separate?. Do not blithely assume either that you would get nothing from him if you were to separate and divorce, it seems to me that you have never sought legal advice and that is something I would urge you to do ASAP.

What are you teaching your children about relationships, you are showing them that currently at least this is still acceptable to you on some level.

user1635482648 Sat 30-May-20 17:26:01

He's abusive. Drop all the bullshit. He is abusive.

So your choice is whether you force your children to grow up in an abusive, unsafe home so they become traumatised adults who end up in their own abusive relationships or to act now to protect them.

Your posts and "explanations" for his behaviour are just convoluted excuses for plain abusive behaviour and self-justifications for not acting to protect your children or yourself.

And coercive control is a crime, so I don't know what kind of arbitrary line you've drawn in your head to distinguish this from "criminally abusive". Although I presume you're doing that to try and justify to yourself why you're not acting.

Your children will not thank you for forcing them to live like this.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 30-May-20 17:28:03

He is not attending to their emotional needs now nor to yours. If he did want to see his children then he would have to use a contact centre and be under supervised access.

What effects do you think that such a father will have on these young people as adults or when they enter into their own adult relationships. You may as well book therapy sessions for them now.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 30-May-20 17:30:55

And they will look at you and ask of you why you thought it necessary to stay with such a man at all. You will be shunned too by them going forward if you stay with this person for what are very weak reasons or justifications on your part. They certainly won’t go home all that often or even at all, they won’t want to see you.

curtainsforme Sat 30-May-20 17:31:03

But that is my dilemma.

It's not a dilemma. He is an abusive cunt.

WHilst I am in the same house I can intervene in how he is with the children.

That isn't working or you would not be here posting about it.

You are not protecting your children by continuing to make them live with an abusive father.

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