Bollas: Psycho-Pharmaceutical use, like war, can impair empathic feelings.

This is not an article against the use of psycho-pharmaceuticals. Antidepressants, antipsychotics etc. use save lives and alleviate suffering but have side effects. The individual is left to choose: work through mental suffering by talking to someone, or use a medication but numb out the possibility to feel human empathy. Ultimately the use of these drugs leads us to dependency and destroys our ability to interact with others in a contact-ful way. The result is existential loneliness.

Christopher Bollas, in the Q&A session of this lecture recorded in video below, gave a thought provoking opinion on how psycho-pharmaceuticals like antidepressants, anxiety drugs, and pain killers reduces a persons capacity for empathy.

Empathy and Your Loved Ones

Empathy is what make a person human. It helps us to have relationships and build bonds of love with others. If  one of your loved ones –spouse, children, siblings, etc.– suddenly loses his/her empathy, you have lost that bond with that person, because this person is no longer able to relate to you as another human being. At best, to this person, you are but an object. He/she is not able to feel for you or care for you.

Taking painkillers, according to Bollas, does just that: strips off the empathic nature of a person. He cites an interesting article of a study written by Mischkowski (2016) entitled From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain, to illustrate this fact.

Bollas says that taking psycho-pharmecuticals is not the same as taking medicine for physical ailments. If one has a problems related to the mental state, talking to another person is the cure. The challenge is to find someone who would care to listen without judging or controlling you. Such a professional is called a psychotherapist.

ADHD Diagnosis Robs Children of their Capacity for Empathy

People do have the right to take medications to alleviate their suffering. Bollas is, however, concerned by people giving medications to children for psychological disorders. Children have no rights to decide if they want to be incapacitated in a way that they can no longer feel emotions. Not feeling emotions free us from unpleasant feelings, and it also causes us to live in a lonely paranoid world stripped of feelings of being loved. The person may have people loving him, but he cannot feel the love. In turn he will not be able to love back, and end up losing relationships.

When children get diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder), the child is suffering NOT because of the disorder itself. The child is reacting to stressors in his life and environment that causes him suffering.  In fact, it is the parents who suffer as a result of the child’s behavior, and many are desperate for the fix… which they can get through diagnosis of ADHD. The drug erases that child’s ability to feel the suffering, and wipes out his ability to feel empathy as well.

Bollas believes that the children are victims of stress put on them by society’s expectation and the educational system.

War Kill the Humane Part of the Soldier

Military training and work… boot camp turns you into a killer. In combat, you also kill people. If you keep doing it, you’re going to be shattered. It is called ptsd. this is the consequence of sending people to war. When you send people to war, you kill off the the humane parts of the personality. At war, if one is empathic or thinks too much one becomes a danger to one’s unit.

“(W)e need to continue a kind of a political cultural anthropology that consistently deconstructs our social delusions in a way that we as societies continue to cover up our own destructive processes, because most societies have parts that are extremely destructive.”




Bollas, C. (2016). Christopher Bollas: Mental Pain. Video on Youtube. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

Mischkowski, D., Crocker, J., Way, B. (2016).  From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 11, Issue 9, 1 September 2016, Pages 1345–1353, Retrieved from


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