Apathy: A Highly Contagious Disease

Updated on March 26, 2020
Holley Hyler profile image

Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.

That moment when your relationships feel like the scene on this train...
That moment when your relationships feel like the scene on this train... | Source

How the Virus Takes Hold

Have you ever spoken to someone of your true feelings and been shot down?

This could look something like being ignored or responded to in a way that made you feel as though you would have been better off saying nothing. It can be in response to something innocuous, such as a gentle, "I miss you." Maybe you sent a heartfelt message only to receive a thumbs-up emoji in return, or maybe you were even cut off.

Chances are, when that happened, you became reluctant to repeat the experience. This could manifest as you not speaking to that person about your feelings anymore, or it could show up as feeling hesitant about being sincere with anyone. Rejection, in the literal sense, hurts.

You may not notice a significant change in your ability to be affectionate and sincere with others the first couple of times that this happens, but when it occurs repeatedly over time, you may struggle more when it comes to creating or sustaining feelings of connection with others.

It Probably Happened to Them, Too

Let's go back to that person who did not give you an attentive response or handle your feelings with sensitivity and compassion.

It has probably happened to them, too. Or something has happened to put them out of touch with their own emotions. Even if they do not feel the same way about you, something is stopping them from giving the compassionate response that one might hope for when they bare their heart and soul to another.

I believe step one to healing is seeing it through this lens, rather than taking it personally.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Our inner critic can come up with a number of reasons why we aren't enough.

Expressing genuine, heartfelt love is never wrong, in my opinion. We all need love; most of us enjoy being reminded that we are loved.

However, the more we tune in to disconnect, including people who are disconnected from themselves, the more we lose sight of this truth. This is why I say apathy is contagious. If we continue to focus on those who have pushed us away and believe it was because of some wrongdoing on our part, it becomes increasingly difficult to express feelings over time. We become disconnected too.

Ultimately, the way we respond and how we see others is a reflection of ourselves. Therefore, how someone has responded to you has more to do with them than with you.

There is no "incorrect" emotional response.
There is no "incorrect" emotional response. | Source

How to Tell if You've "Caught" It

I only have my personal experience to draw from, but I used to be a very open person when it came to my feelings. I have always subscribed to the idea that we should tell people how we feel about them because we never know when it may be our last chance.

When I have put this idea into practice, however, it seems I have only gotten thumbs-up emojis or no response at all. I am not sure which is worse. Over time, it has made me reluctant to tell people what they mean to me. I suppose that was the first "stage" of it. The second has encompassed an inability to feel, even in instances where someone is dying.

I want to feel. Deep down, I care, even though that care is hard to access. I want to cry and eventually celebrate that person's life and all the contributions they made in this existence, but it is like something inside me is broken when it comes to that.

You may experience similar feelings of numbness followed by frustration. You may feel nothing at first and then have bouts of intense grief that come on and disappear quickly. You may have a hard time making conversation with others, even those who are familiar with you. None of these are "wrong." There is no incorrect way to feel. I understand that when you change from being an open and affectionate person to one who is distant and unable to express yourself, it can be disturbing and make you wonder if you are still a good person.

If these "symptoms" resonate with you, there is nothing wrong with you. Numbing may be your subconscious self-defense mechanism. It is possible to stay in touch with the part of you that feels without becoming overwhelmed. I am not saying I know how to do that (ha), but years of practicing spirituality and mindful approaches to my mental health tell me it is possible.

I'm Still in Here, Somewhere

Sometimes I want to walk around with a sign on that reads, "I'm still in here, somewhere."

The "me" that feels and communicates is still in here; else, I would not be writing this. The "you" that feels and communicates is still around too. The written word has always been my area of catharsis. As surely as I have one, you do too. All I can suggest for now is that you use your gift to channel your emotions and express them. Take a break from people, if you need it. We're all fallible creatures and not always the best when it comes to receiving one another.

I want to be able to conclude with a section that tells you never to stop telling people what they mean to you. It feels hypocritical since I have such a hard time with this. I will say it is true that we all like to feel meaningful and needed, and if you are still able to express your feelings of love toward people, then do. When you compliment someone, make sure it is a genuine compliment and that you mean it. You cannot help how it is received. That part is not up to you.

I hope you will not stop expressing your feelings.

If you have "caught" the apathy, know that you are not alone. And please don't give up on trying to work through it.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • Is "apathy" the best option when it comes to negative feelings that tend to scare others away?

    I can only answer with my opinion, but I would say no. It may be the easiest option and the one that feels the least scary. Perhaps the best option would be self-love and self-care, accepting yourself through the pain you feel. I've also found that other people tend to come around when I take care of myself, but self-love should never be a means to an end. I don't think it works that way.

© 2020 Holley Hyler


Submit a Comment
  • Holley Hyler profile imageAUTHOR

    Holley Hyler 

    4 months ago from Upstate New York

    @ Kyler, I think most of us fall short when it comes to dealing with negative emotions in others. I know what you mean about it feeling like a punch in the face, but that is where not taking it personally can really help. Easier said than done, I know.

    I will try to use the experiences that aren't great with people to self-soothe and do a little better next time. And that's all any of us can do. I think it's easier to do when I wait 'til I feel a bit better to work on self-improvement. Just my thoughts... I enjoy every piece of yours that I have read, btw, even that written in your darkness. You manage to shed a lot of light on what humans can improve upon without seeming judgmental or unkind. IMO that is tough to pull off, but you do it well!

  • Holley Hyler profile imageAUTHOR

    Holley Hyler 

    4 months ago from Upstate New York

    Thank you, John! Yes, it does take an effort to be enthusiastic sometimes. I'm glad you found this interesting.

  • Kyler J Falk profile image

    Kyler J Falk 

    4 months ago from Corona, CA

    I tend to suffer from anti-apathy in cases that don't involve physical intimacy, and that tends to scare people away from me. When I am positive, expressing my every word with passion as I so often do, people in real-life tend to flock around me even if I can't form a real connection within myself. Then, when I'm equally passionate about my negative feelings the crowd disperses as quickly as they gathered and I'm stuck alone with my negativity, with little to no support in the darkness.

    It is in those dark times that thumbs-up emoji comes at me the most, and every time it feels like a punch straight to the face. Then again, I'm pretty insensitive in my dark times, and I have trouble determining what is reasonable and what is not.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    4 months ago from Queensland Australia

    I have to agree with you Holley. Apathy certainly is contagious. I found this a very interesting article and well-written. I do try to tell people regularly what they mean to me but it isn't always easy to be enthusiastic about everything. Thanks for sharing.


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