Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers advice for maintaining your mental health.
Why do some people show a cold heart in the face of others' misfortune? Are they just born that way? Is it a defense against becoming overwhelmed or depressed? Are they afraid they might care and then feel responsible?
Yes, any of the above and more. In the case of a man I'll call Frank, it was a combination of jealousy, thinking that his wife might care too much for others who didn't deserve her love and attention and not enough for him. He grew up with neglect and no one caring, so he felt threatened by too much warmth not directed his way, believing that he may not really deserve it.
Sue never could relate to others' feelings and qualified as "on the autistic spectrum." Misfortune of others meant something logically but she couldn't feel sadness or love in reaction. Part of her neurological wiring. A classic case of Sheldonism from "The Big Bang Theory."
Jim suffered from PTSD. He was already so overwhemed, anxious and depressed about his own suffering and trauma that there wasn't enough room to open his heart up to others' difficulties.
Beth couldn't handle the idea that if she cared she might be responsible in some way to help. She didn't want to get involved, so she kept her distance emotionally and physically. Sometimes, though, she acted like she cared to get admiration or attention, but really her focus was on herself. A classic case of narcissism.
Give your own examples.
How do we handle the cold heart when we encounter it? Teach it how to feel and care by providing love and being an example. Reinforce a little response, if it shows up. Define it as human, even if rarely kind and nice, by pointing out times it happened.