The limits of empathy

In the past week alone, four (count ‘em, four) people have apologized to me with a close variation of the following:

“It was not my intention to hurt you.”

What a ridiculous collection of words.

As a provider, I sometimes find myself wondering: “Am I the crazy one here?”

It’s by design. Providers are magnets for manipulative people. They manipulate me, or try to, and when I finally say “enough,” they whip out a bullshit non-apology like, “It was not my intention to hurt you, to waste your time over the course of many months, to disrespect you, to dehumanize you, to reduce you to body parts, to steal your content.” (Those are all real and recent examples, by the way.)

“It was not my intention.”

Who gives a damn about your intention? We are adults. Adults take responsibility for our actions and our words. 

“It was not my intention.”

You poor thing. You poor sweet child. Your fingers took over and you accidentally typed those disgusting words. The devil took over and drove you to steal my content. You blacked out and then jerked me around, repeatedly, over the course of weeks or months.

Am I supposed to believe that? Really?

Manipulators gonna manipulate, I guess. 

I write that now, clear-headed. 

But in the moment, when I receive a bizarre non-apology after the sender has done something heinous to me — usually many somethings — I do that head-shakey, “blub blub blub” surprised/confused thing that cartoon characters do. 

What the hell is going on? Did I read into their behavior too much — elevating something benign into something hurtful? Or, did I say or do the wrong thing, driving them to act a certain way? Did I move the goalposts? Was I unclear or contradictory? Did I invent conflict?

The answer, of course, is no. 

That’s the power of manipulators. They make you question reality. (This is called gaslighting, by the way.)

As a provider, catching manipulative behavior early is not just a useful skill, but is a survival tactic. Manipulation in digital communications is head-scrambly enough; if allowed to continue, it leads to boundary-crossing in person. That’s the stuff of nightmares, of lurid news headlines, of unexplained breaks from working, of premature retirements.

A lot of the time, boundary-crossing, disrespect and manipulative behavior come through digital communications clear as day — if you know what to look for, and if you are in a healthy and clear state of mind. I’ve been to this rodeo before; I know the patterns pretty well. Certain words or phases are tip-offs. Now, to my eye, they are unmistakable.

The behavior will escalate if I don’t cut it off at the root. That root, though — sometimes I poke at it a little, to see what grows. Chalk it up to my American bravado, or a desire to fine-tune my instincts.

So, what grows? What grows from that ugly, festering root? More of the same, but worse. Worse and worse behavior, peppered with self-justifications and the occasional denial. Shirking responsibility or claiming naivety. Ever more complex explanations. A lot of me, me, me talk. Ignoring my attempts to re-direct and reassert boundaries, if I do try. And then, finally, when I say enough is enough is enough is enough: the non-apology. “How funny, Shae, that I hurt you through manifestly hurtful words and behaviors. That was not my intention.”

Of course it was. (And even if it wasn’t: why is your intention relevant?)

Why do I write this post? To reassure myself: Shae, you’re not crazy. 

And to reassure everyone out there who’s encountered a master manipulator in your family, in your workplace, or in your social circle: you’re not crazy, either.

Lies designed to make the other person feel unhinged, confused, less-than, questioning their own reality: these are some of the most corrosive lies of all.

And that’s why this non-apology sticks in my craw so much: it’s a lie calibrated to do harm.

It’s designed to make an empathetic person feel sorry for the person who knowingly and repeatedly inflicted harm in the first place.

It’s designed to knock us down a peg so we are more susceptible to yet more lies and manipulation. 

It’s designed to make the victim try desperately to regain something, to fix a problem they didn’t create.

It weaponizes empathy.

As a provider, practicing empathy is one of my most vital habits. If you are a person who is fundamentally honest, good, and brave enough to be vulnerable: my empathy runs as deep as the ocean.

But empathy must have limits. Manipulative people will attempt to weaponize your empathy, to use it against you so they get what they want — your time, your attention, your affection, whatever. Don’t let them. Don’t give them an inch. Or, if you are like me and wish to occasionally poke the ugly root and see what grows: be ready with the machete, to give it a strong, unflinching whack.

This post was written by Shae Ashbury, a NYC escort with blue eyes, blonde hair and a whole lotta empathy (and a little bite). Visit my booking form, gallery, patronage and details, and testimonials. If you found this post valuable, consider tipping me by emailing a Net-A-Porter or Etsy gift card to Thank you for your support!

Shae Ashbury