Empathy burnout and the normalization of the unthinkable.


While I don’t hold Trump or his administration directly responsible for the increase in mass shootings and killings this year, there definitely seems to be a lot more of them than ever before.  I think the national mood where people have become so divided and where hatred and violence have become almost normalized have been a contributing factor to these killings. It seems that almost every week now, there is a news story about yet another mass shooting or terrorist attack (to me, this includes white nationalist domestic terrorism) here in America. I feel more and more like we are living in a third world country where these sort of things are commonplace.

When the news broke today about the shooting at a Texas church, where 25 worshipers were killed, my first thought was a detached, almost bored, “again?” This was followed by the cynical thought “I sure hope it was a white guy who did it, and preferably a Republican” (because a Muslim, black, Mexican, or liberal shooter would make my side “look bad” and contribute to even more Trumpian cracking down on people’s civil rights).

My reaction shocked me. I didn’t feel much grief or outrage for the people who lost their lives in the one place — a church — that’s supposed to be a sanctuary from the world and all its problems. I didn’t think about the families who would be grieving for their lost loved ones or about all the innocent injured people who would never be the same again even after they physically recovered. No, I automatically politicized the atrocious event. My only real concern was that the shooter had best be a white conservative or just someone who “snapped” under stress.

A month ago, a man opened fire on 500 innocent country music lovers in Las Vegas and 58 of them died. I reacted more strongly to that event, and I don’t think it was just because more people were killed that time. I think it was because I still saw these kinds of events as abnormal; tragedies like that that just didn’t happen here in America. But even then, I had already begun to normalize such events in my mind. In June of 2016, when 49 people were shot in an Orlando nightclub, I cried. I doubt I would have cried had that happened anytime this year. In fact, I worry that if 9/11 happened today, it wouldn’t have anywhere near the gravity it did seventeen years ago, and after a few days of outrage and grief, I’d just forget it happened, like I have with all the terrible events this year.


I know I’m not alone. I’ve talked to others about my growing indifference and cynicism and they have told me they feel the same way. I’ve also have noticed the way it seems to take a lot less time for us as a nation to recover from such events. The Las Vegas shooting has been all but forgotten and is barely mentioned in the news anymore, as the daily bombardment of other terrible or frightening news overwhelms us and eclipses that terrible event. Would we be so quick to forget something like that a year ago? Ten years ago? If 9/11 happened today, would we have already moved on with our lives? I’m afraid we might have. In fact, rather than bring us together in solidarity as a nation the way it did then, I’m afraid 9/11 would have divided us even further into opposing political camps, with some demanding martial law or even tossing Muslims into concentration camps.

I think America is experiencing a psychological phenomenon called empathy burnout or compassion fatigue. It’s a common condition among people who work in the helping professions. When you’re continually exposed to the hurting, the dying, the sick, and the victimized, people begin to unconsciously put up an emotional shield to protect themselves.   In other words, they lose their capacity to empathize, at least for the group of people they’re helping.  I’ve read this sometimes goes so far that some people even begin to resent or feel contempt for their vulnerable charges.  Compassion fatigue is the reason why there’s such high turnover in professions like social work, firefighting, police work, teaching, emergency services, and nursing.

When compassion fatigue begins to infect an entire country, and we all begin to psychologically wall ourselves off from the world and stop caring, such events become “normal” to that society, and we become less able to recover our national sanity at the one time we need it the most.

We can’t afford to lose our capacity to feel pain and empathize with the victims of atrocities like these mass killings.    But since we also need to emotionally protect ourselves, I think the only way to avoid compassion burnout is to take frequent breaks from the news, as addictive as it has become in these times.   Spend time with your friends, your family, and immerse yourself in non-news related interests and hobbies.   Spend time with animals or in nature, or engage in volunteer work (but not so much you get burned out).    Remind yourself that these are not normal times we live in, and these events are not normal.   It’s also important to remember that the emotional numbness we may be feeling when we hear of such events don’t mean we’ve become bad people or that we don’t care, but is a normal reaction to trauma, and these are are all trauma-inducing events, even though they may not directly affect us.

We also should be working toward tightening our gun laws, but that’s another topic which I won’t elaborate on for now.

41 thoughts on “Empathy burnout and the normalization of the unthinkable.

  1. So true, everything you say is so true…….. You are so awake as to whats going on, the way I see it and have researched is that more and more of our human rights are being taken away, little by little, almost to seem unnoticeable. Problem, Reaction, Solution, more rights taken away, leading us, the whole world into a New World Order (conspiracy theory? ) maybe, but they definitely seem to be starting with America first, the rest of the world will seem like a Third World Country too. Take away Guns, (disarm the masses) I wonder why – is it really for the reasons they state, or are paid actors and/or patsy’s used to create the problem then the solution is always to take away more human rights, militarise, even the Police are getting more militant in their approaches. There is too much evidence that I can see going on in the world for me not to seriously start looking at conspiracy theories and wondering if what they are saying is true. I am open, coz nothing makes sense anymore. The frequency of shootings and other tragedies has ramped up, it is known that humans can be traumatised and burnout can ensue and we end up not feeling the outrage, hurt, pain and fear that we should so that eventually it becomes normalised, that is the intention behind it, its called Social Engineering, the Powers That Be engineer events for their own hidden agendas, its looking more like this could be true to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you. I think we’ve all become conspiracy theorists. Nothing really seems like a crazy conspiracy theory anymore. I can’t even tell the difference between half the news stories and an article in The Onion anymore.

      As for your remark about taking away guns, no one is taking them away from anyone and never was. It’s the only “freedom” it seems anyone is still allowed to have, and that’s very concerning for any democracy. We need to strengthen the First Amendment, which has become weakened (with dissenters, protesters and journalists now being threatened with prison), and weaken the Second (there’s NO reason why a mentally ill or violent person should be allowed to carry a firearm, and they should be banned outright in certain places, such as bars.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My thought was, not again, was it terrorism or racially motivated, and will we have yet another “special” opening to our favorite nighttime talk shows. Remember how Columbine shook the nation? Dang–was it nearly 20 years ago already? But Columbine is still a byword, and books and songs were written about it, some 10 years later people still analyzing the shooters and arguing over whether Cassie Bernall said “yes.” Now, we’ve had so many school shootings that I wonder if anybody remembers them all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder the same thing. Can you imagine if Columbine happened today? A year from now people would be saying “Colum — what?” and giving you a blank stare.
      When I heard the news today, I also had the cynical thought, “dammit, now we won’t be hearing anything about the Russian investigation for the next 24 hours.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • I even have occasionally wondered if somehow Trump is behind all these events since they all serve as distractions against all the heat being on him right now about Russian collusion. I know that’s kind of nuts, but I don’t think I’m the only one thinking such things right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was just thinking about this after the church shooting, our lack of caring about human life anymore–now it’s even harder than ever because of the burnout. When I heard about it earlier today, I just groaned and said “aw, shit, again?” Yeah, I am burned out myself. I just can’t see getting excited over it anymore myself because the government gets all “thoughts and prayers” and “now’s not the time to talk about gun control/mental health/whatever.” I think we’ll stay burned out until somebody can do something fantastic to help solve the problem.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, the “thoughts and prayers” thing is so maddening and pointless. Yet they continue to do nothing and even tacitly condone domestic white terrorism like what happened in Charlottesville with the “both sides” claptrap. Oh, but if the attacker happens to be a Muslim — then Trump is all, “he’s a deranged animal who should get the Death Penalty.” All the killings are terrible, but there’s a double standard in the Trump administration and a splitting of people into “deranged animals” (dehumanization not any different from the demonization of Jews by the Nazis) and white “lone wolves with mental problems.” (almost a show of sympathy)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You are not alone. There is empathy burn-out in me. The news about the shooting did not at first reveal who the gunman was, and like you, my family and I were more concerned about the identity of the gunman, hoping, hoping, hoping, he was a white , militia type guy. I’m sad it has come to this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And a Muslim ran down pedestrians and cyclists in New York with a vehicle. We must ban vehicles because they kill people too. I think the Obama administration let in thousands of Muslims and “refugees” under his watch . No, the shootings are not increasing. That is the media hype. We are living in the last days, with false flags and misinformation. Trump is trying hard to fix the immigration problem but the liberals are blocking him at every turn.


    • I wonder sometimes why you are reading my blog, since we seem to disagree about so much. As for living in the last days, I concede that may be the case, but if so, I think you’ve been deceived by fake Christians who are modern day Pharisees and are doing Satan’s work. You want to talk about fake news? Look at your hero in the White House. Stop believing everything you hear on Fox and Breitbart.

      BTW, I am not defending the Muslim terrorist for what he did. I’m just saying killing isn’t “worse” when it’s done by a Muslim and a white supremacist who runs his car into a crowd like the guy in Charlottesville did (did he take lessons from ISIS?), how is that any different? It’s not. Also, it’s absolutely not true that Trump is doing anything to make us safer. A Mexican border wall isn’t going to do a thing. The Mexicans were never the problem. But he is emboldening Nazis and white racist terrorism, and make no mistake, there is MUCH more domestic violence than there ever was before he was elected, so stop kidding yourself. These are not fake news stories and Obama was a damned good president who cared about people, something Trump does not. Wake up.


  6. Emotional whiplash – Its gotten like waiting for the other shoe when the guy upstairs is a centipede. Now come the waiting for the word of who did it, and maybe, someday, the why. Yes, its exhausting, and I too had the thoughts of who I didn’t want the shooter to be. We are caught in the paradox of a situation for which empathy, compassion, and, yes, love, and civility are the only cures, and those are the very capacities being battered. Taking care of ourselves emotionally and recharging our reserves is essential if we are to be able to continue to be there for others and hope to heal the wounds, personal and social.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I really am starting to think this is a spiritual war of some kind, and we are being tested. Trump isn’t the problem per se but he is the symptom of a system full of rot that has been corrupt for years. In a perverse way, he may even be a good thing for us. We are finally being confronted and forced to face that rot, which can now no longer be avoided. Jung called this the shadow, and I think we are coming to terms with our shadow as a country and are waking up to the values that we have been missing and now realize we desperately need. I can only hope it isn’t too late.

      Liked by 3 people

    • What you said here is so true. Yes, I can feel my empathy taking a battering. And I, too, had the thought of who I did not want the killer to be. Crazy as it sounds, my first thought was that I did not want it to be another 64 year old, like the Las Vegas shooter, because I am 64. How crazy is that?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Not so crazy, I think. However such a person is identified, race, ethnicity, religion, etc., any who share a feature can feel some touch of the broad brush of suspicion or the stain of likeness.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks. That helps. My husband, a U.S. Marine combat veteran, told me right after the LV shooting that he was relieved to learn the shooter wasn’t a “crazy Vietnam vet” — and then he felt guilty for thinking that.

          Personally, I suspect that the LV shooter, being a high stakes gambler for many years, was probably involved in “black magic” of some kind as a way to enhance his chances of winning. I have known gamblers who did that, who “sold their soul to the devil,” so to speak, in return for “lady luck.”

          My paternal grandfather practiced witchcraft to give himself an advantage in life. In the end, it led to disaster. So, although I haven’t seen anything in the news to confirm my theory, it’s one thing that could explain such evil, aberrant behavior. If you believe in demons, that is, which I reluctantly do. Reluctant, because I don’t want to believe in such things, but I do believe because of what I have experienced first hand in that regard, with witnesses to back me up, so I knew that I wasn’t just dreaming!

          Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m Canadian and when I heard the news this morning – I felt the same way you did. My husband and I also hoped it was a white guy. Until I read your post I didn’t even know how many had been killed. I hate to think that this sort of thing is becoming a normal state of affairs in the US. I remember seeing a post on Twitter a while back after some tragic event happened in Europe asking why no one was mentioning the tragedy in another country. They wondered if it was because it had become so commonplace that people just didn’t care anymore. Is this where it’s going for the US? People just don’t care anymore because it has become a weekly or daily event? It’s sad and scary when people become desensitized to such events. I feel bad for the victims and their families for this tragedy but when will it end?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for voicing your concerns for us. I know these terrible events are increasing in other western countries too, including your own. It’s very scary and sad, and I hate to think we are starting to normalize it. I hope it all ends soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Empathy burnout. Normalization of the unthinkable. – The Militant Negro™

  9. I haven’t totally burned out yet, empathy-wise, but I can feel my heart starting to harden because — like you said so well in this post — we can only take so much.

    In addition to the horrific mass shootings, I believe there are many more “minor” acts of violence happening in our country now, which most of us never hear about because there’s just too much for the news to cover it all. For example, you probably did not hear about the library shooting that happened here in the New Mexico county where I live, back on August 29 of this year. Two people were killed, and four were injured, one seriously enough to be airlifted to a trauma center. My husband and my stepdaughter happened to drive by the library around the time the random shooting took place, and I had been in that library a couple of weeks before the shooting happened. It makes me ache to think of that peaceful place being the scene of such horror. A library — a church — a Wal-Mart — a country and western music concert — a city sidewalk in broad daylight — no place is safe anymore.

    My stepdaughter works at a military clothing store on a nearby special ops base. In recent months, she and her coworker have been approached by two men, on two separate occasions, who wanted to buy restricted, official camo-style military uniforms from their store, and neither of these men were ever in the military. It is against the law to sell restricted military uniforms to non-military. When my stepdaughter explained that to the one guy, he wanted her to do it anyway, while her coworker was out of the store, and he would “pay her extra for her trouble.” He also wanted her to buy him a handgun in her name, and give it to him “as a gift,” and he would pay her extra for that. He specified that he did not want a safety on the handgun. This was the minister of the church we were going to, who asked her to do all of that! We no longer go there, of course. My stepdaughter refused his requests, and she reported the minister guy to the police, and she also reported the other non-military guy who was trying to buy a restricted camo style uniform. A quick internet check on both of these men revealed that they both have a criminal history. So maybe maybe my stepdaughter averted another mass shooting or two, by taking the actions that she took, who know.

    These are crazy times.

    I’m sorry, but you are probably going to have to moderate and approve my comment, because I changed my WP user name to just plain Lady Quixote. As I got further in writing my memoir, I realized that I would probably be better off writing it under a pen name, rather than using my real first name. I intend to start a new blog under my new pen name, once I have decided which pen name to use, that is. In the meantime, I am just going to blog under the Lady Quixote name that I use on Twitter.

    Look at me, prattling on about something as mundane as my pen name, after the horrific news of the latest mass shooting. Yes, I am getting numb. My husband and stepdaughter and I went to church this morning. When we came out at the end of the service, there were 4 police and sheriff vehicles in the street right in front of the church. There were a lot of people in the street, and the sheriff was arresting one of the men. We have no idea what that was about. After coming home and seeing on the news about the church shooting in Texas…. I don’t know what to think right now.

    Dear Lord please help us.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, I’m glad my comments went thru and glad you like the change.

        I ordered a book for you, not the Dangerous Trump book, since you already have that, but another one that I found particularly interesting. You should be getting it in a few days. It’s my way of saying thanks for all that you do on this blog. 🙂


  10. No question that empathy, compassion, and the value of human life are under direct strategic attack. And we strong-hearted, fiercely loving NPD abuse survivors are not going to stand down–we were made for this fight. Our special ops forces have been TESTED, and we know the value of love and truth, and that it’s the only thing that remains when all the other stuff gets burned away.

    MK Ultra is an admitted, documented government mind control program. No one questions that our government began experimenting on it’s own people without consent in the late 50’s. The only conspiracy around this kind of psychotronic warfare it was discontinued in the 70’s. Tons of documentation and manifest evidence that targeted implantation of a destructive agenda by the Deep State is in full force.

    Researching terms like Montauk, SRI, psychotronics, bio weapons, MK Ultra, Hegelian Dialectic, Operation Paperclip, super soldiers, etc. will explain a lot about what’s floating around in the current atmosphere. Not happy stuff–it’s a peek into the mind of the devil himself. But :-), praying the ultimate power and victory of the Way the Truth and the Life into this dark agenda knocks the bad guy’s power source out with grace and ease.

    Projecting our innate frequency of love into the waves of focused hatred collapses those negative wavelengths. Our hearts are so much more powerful than we know. Our in-dwelling loving-kindness is our best weapon, and THAT power terrifies the enemy of our souls. Even better when we intentionally invite Jesus, the lover of our soul, into our hearts and do it with him.

    The connection with our heads to our hearts is exactly what’s under attack today, because it’s the very thing that will collectively destroy the works of the enemy, whose hatred for us is the only passion he has left. Satan hates us because we are loved by God, and his rebellion against God disconnected him from that love. It helps me to remember who first brought pride and rebellion and distance from the Love that Created Us into our fallen world. When I remember how it all started I get motivated to ask God to help me get that garbage out of my own being. Great news is, NOTHING can ever separate US from the love of God.

    …also, there are SOOOO many Glory Stories happening all over the place that are not reported in the news. I’ve personally experienced many, and hear about them daily. Beautiful healing miracles, signs and wonders of the goodness of God, and just every day one-on-one acts of kindness and sharing the fun of being a human being.

    As the darkness increases, so does the light. None of what’s going on is a surprise to God, and He’s ready to share our part in the solution when we ask.

    Phew, thanks for this place to get all that out.

    Peace to All of our Hearts

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do believe that those of us who suffered narc abuse from our families or relationships have a special role in the spiritual war that is now upon us. For me, it’s continuing to write, but now, instead of just continuing to write about my own abuse (which I lost interest in doing after awhile — because I had purged it from my soul and no longer needed to vent to continue to heal), now I have been merging my personal (as well as cognitive/learning) knowledge about narc abuse with the political situation and am trying to help people see the truth about what we face and the connections between it and how it relates to our past(s) as narcissistic abuse survivors. I’m not sure what the solution to this spiritual struggle is right now, but just being aware it exists and is important is a huge step. Even if I only reach one person and make them think, I feel like that’s a huge win (I have no idea whether my writings have changed anyone’s thinking or not).

      I do feel like my background as a victim of this type of mental and emotional abuse was the “training” I needed to do this sort of work I’m finding myself engagedin, and now it all makes so much sense why I had to go through it. There was a reason! However, I often feel as if I’m not doing enough. I pray about this all the time, I pray for God to guide me where he wants me to go and show me what he wants me to do. The timing of all our discoveries that narcissism/NPD existed in our personal lives and affected us (this was an unknown field until at least the 90s) dovetails in an uncanny way with the crazy events unfolding now.

      Not to brag, but I feel like I can “see” the situation with more clarity than say, someone who never had to deal with a malignant narcissist in a close or familial relationship. We have been chosen to shine the light on the truth and lead the way out of the darkness. I’m sorry if that sounds a little woo-woo but I think all of us with a background as narc-abuse survivors have an important role in educating and enlightening others. I do it through my writing — but what else can I do? I don’t know yet. Thanks for weighing in.


  11. I know we have free press news media and all, but these crazy people watch the news too, which is where they get their ideas. Haven’t you noticed the increase in vehicular assaults since ISIS started that bullshit ? Keep a open mind and think about things before you jump to conclusions. Its not Trump or our gun rights ! The next thing you all will be talking about is taking away our drivers license and our cars…then what ? You can’t get rid of all the sticks and stones that we’ll be fighting with in the end now can you.


    • Please don’t get into the false equivalency argument, “well, cars kill too, so why don’t we just outlaw all cars?” True, there have been some ISIS copycat type killings using cars. But cars aren’t made for killing. That’s not their primary purpose. Guns are made to kill. Why does anyone NEED an automatic weapon? They have only ONE purpose, and it’s not for hunting. They are war weapons. Anyway, I won’t get into what guns should be allowed and not, because that opens a whole can of worms I don’t wish to open. But keep in mind, the car killings, whether ISIS or not, kill a lot fewer people than these mass shootings. That’s all I have to say about this for now. No one, especially not kids, should have to go into a church or a school or any other public place and worry about being gunned down.


  12. Pingback: #044–Why don’t they call white male mass shooters “terrorists”? – The Chatty Introvert

  13. Tomato, tomahtoe… if thats the way you choose to see things, then thats the way it is,Unfortunately. I’ll shut up and just continue to enjoy my peaceful life as a sportsman-collector-historian-survivor and physics enthusiast. Enjoy your freedom !

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Strange thought that occured to me, earlier today:

    “Is there a connection between pd behavior (e.g., NPD) and mass shootings?”

    Oh, what a question for, uh, whatzit-called? (humor regarding search engine names. Being shot, or hearing of people being shot, is ***not*** amusing. I’ve been shot as a form of bullying, so I know something about the first part experientially.)

    Seems there might well *be* one! (No, don’t take me for granted – check yourself, and see if I’m lying, or addled.) I was quite surprised, actually.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It wouldn’t surprise me if there;’s a higher percentage of personality disorders among shooters, especially NPD and antisocial personality disorder.


Comments are closed.