Empathic reversal is a phenomenon that occurs in children who are abused by a parent or another person close to them. If not addressed, it persists into adulthood. Children instinctively know they need their parents to survive. They do not know there is substitute care, such as foster care, available, and even so to be separated from their parents is a child’s worst nightmare. Therefore, even in the midst of horrific abuse or neglect, a child will maintain her conviction that her parent is protective and nurturing. To do otherwise would leave the child with the knowledge that she is unsafe and unprotected, basically alone in the world, a thought that is developmentally unbearable. A child’s only option is to protect, defend, and even nurture a parent no matter what. This reversal not only of roles but of caring then becomes virtually wired into the child’s physiology. Even when grown up she may experience a excess of empathy for other abusive or narcissistic individuals, and a simultaneous lack of empathy for herself. It is not that she “likes” mean people, nor is she “attracted” to them. It is that the necessary childhood window of opportunity for her to learn to protect herself was closed. It is only with support, empathy, and gentleness that she will be able to learn that she matters too.
I would like to say thanks so much for the great posts.
This is very helpful, thanks.