Pop culture taught you how to love, it showed you what love looks like, feels like. But when you’re actually in love, it doesn’t look like that, so you secretly suspect you don’t have the capacity for love, that there’s something wrong with you.
Same goes for sadness. And it’s worse when you’re in the presence of someone else’s sadness, you have no idea what to do. All you really know about experiencing these emotions is the script you got from pop culture. “Oh your husband died!? Oh my God, that’s terrible! I’m so sorry for you!!” But you don’t feel any of that. Nothing.
So you think to yourself, what the hell is wrong with me? This woman’s husband died– sure, I can fake it, but am I such an empty monster that I feel nothing?
Of course you feel nothing. Why would you? It’s not your loss. What’s wrong isn’t your lack of feeling, but that you think you have to feel something, that you have to tell this woman, remind this woman, how horrible is her loss. You think the only way to connect with people is to have their emotions.
The problem isn’t your lack of feeling, it is that you think that unless you feel it, it’s not real.
What you should say is, “I’m very sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do?” and that’s it. But that feels insufficient. You think this because you think that there is something you can do, that the sadness is not real for you so it must not be real for her and you thus have the power to change it.
But no one taught you this. So you fall back on the character “man helping grieving widow.” Action!
The problem isn’t that you don’t know how to connect; it’s that when you do connect at all, you don’t know what to do next. It’s your unrealistic expectations of what connecting is supposed to be. Pop culture is always about beginnings, not middles. Like love. The love you feel doesn’t resemble the TV love because the TV love is the first three days of love, copied and pasted into a decade of episodes. But since you have no other reference point, after a real decade, you think, “I guess must not be in love anymore.”
You are so unsure of your own identity that you don’t know if you are supposed to be feeling, what you are supposed to be feeling, when you are supposed to be feeling. This is the same trouble actors have when rehearsing a character. They want to get it just perfect– would Tom feel this? What’s his motivation? And similarly you ask: would I– the person I am pretending to be– feel this?
Narcissism is imitating by being. It is method acting all the time.
– TLP (abridged)