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Apathy facilitates emotional balance

 We associate it with sadness and passivity, but it is also useful. It allows us to better observe our thoughts and emotions without getting involved in them.

 Contrary to what we tend to think, remaining apathetic can provide us with the tool to distance ourselves and learn to respond, rather than react, to life’s demands.


 I remember those moments as a child. I was often sick and looked at the world very specifically. I was simultaneously present and detached, unable to react to what was happening: Apathy prevailed in me. It didn’t go away until I found my first job, and even though it was a part-time job (I had to moderate the section), it helped me a lot.

 Settled on the family sofa, I observed the comings and goings of others and heard them talking. I attended all the actions in which I was no longer invited to participate: setting the table, arranging my things, and taking part in conversations…

 I was present, but as if disconnected; I attended the daily life of a family, but without being part of it, like a ghost. And strangely enough, that was not painful or annoying, and it was even interesting!

 Today, when I am sick, I react like an adult: I tend to consider my illness as an obstacle that prevents me from living normally and deprives me of something. I have lost the capacity of acceptance that allowed me to live those moments of apathy without judging them negatively.

 So now, when I am sick, flu-like, or numb, I first get irritated and feel a little desolate; then, I remember those moments, smile, and try to relive them. I try to recover the wisdom and peace of my childhood apathies.


 Apathy is defined as an absence of emotion and reaction to our surroundings, a state of distant presence.

 Although it may seem so, apathy is not indifference -we can remain attentive-nor drowsiness -we are awake-, nor boredom -it is not a rejection of the world-. We tend to think that apathy can only be suffered and that it is undesirable and expresses an incapacity.

 This is indeed the case when it is a symptom of a depressive illness: the person suffers from apathy and would like to be more active and reactive but does not succeed. Apathy can follow nervous exhaustion; quite often, it alternates with periods of emotional hyperactivity, alternations that are difficult for the environment to understand.

 It may also be that apathy is only in appearance: a mask behind which the moods are intense, as is the case with the shy, the phobic, or the hypersensitive. But apathy can also be chosen.

 In our hectic age, which values action, motivation, and self-expression at all costs, we tend to consider apathy a lack, a problem.


 In antiquity, apathy was perceived as an ideal since the ability to detach oneself from passions and emotions, to not overreact to the events of one’s life, was considered a virtue. The Stoic philosophers encouraged their disciples to cultivate a form of impassive presence in the face of the vicissitudes of existence and not to let their actions be directed by the passions but by reason.

 In Buddhism, the appeasement of the spirit -samatha- that leads to the right view -vipassana- is very close to this goal. In that sense, apathy can be a state sought or, at least, tolerated. It occurs, for example, in mindfulness meditation, in which one trains oneself to witness events without reacting, judging, or controlling them.

 Seen from the outside, it may resemble passivity, but on the inside, it is clearly something quite different:

 The meditative experience reminds us of the interest it can sometimes have to adopt an existential position close to apathy, as it was perceived in Antiquity.


 It is a mental attitude that allows us to better observe the flow of our thoughts and emotions without getting involved in them, which is why psychotherapists are interested in it.

 It is a position in which we grant ourselves the right not to act, not to intervene, and we give ourselves time to decide what to do. In meditation, it is said that we strive to “respond” with discernment instead of “reacting” automatically.

 When we are sad, we are overcome by a certain apathy – which becomes paralysis in depression, that chronic sadness. We wish to be alone, quiet, and to withdraw into ourselves.

 This apathy should not be rejected immediately in the name of the need to “positivize” at all times because it is what forces us to listen to our sadness instead of ignoring it and moving on to something else.

 Then, yes, we will have to move away from apathy to put into practice the answers to those questions -if we have found them- or to rejoin life -if those answers are inaccessible for the moment-because, apathy is only useful and fruitful when it is a passing state and not a chronic one.

 Thus, it can be interesting to allow ourselves moments of passivity, which in reality will be moments in which we authorize our spirit to be only in presence, observation, and feeling, and not in intervention or control.

 Such moments tend to become increasingly rare in our societies, which require us to be constantly and immediately reactive in all areas: emotional, psychological, behavioral, and social.

 The current slogan is, therefore, to be “connected” and “reactive,”… But we must always disobey the slogans! Or, at least, from time to time. Our individual and psychic freedom depends on it.

 For this reason, paradoxically, apathy can represent an enrichment in our lives. It is like a pause in the accelerated course of our days.



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