Empathy: a Blessing and a Curse.
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
While it may be beneficial to have the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it can be invasive if it comes on a willy-nilly basis. Learning to properly deal with these invasive onslaughts is a must, if one is to retain one’s sanity. The moment you become conscious of what is happening, for this does not come out of the bleu and late in life as far as I have heard, you simply have to develop a filter and a blocking system to keep your life bearable.
Imagine a young child that is surrounded by pubescent adolescents with their hormonal surges and by adults, who also have their passions, whether they wear them on their sleeves or not, being constantly subjected to a barrage of feelings and who is not yet equipped to understand, much less deal with them. How would this child feel, do you think?
First of all this child would feel very, very frightened and secondly, when he can not get good answers to explain what is happening from his parents, he would feel as if he were totally and utterly alien. Fortunately, the child’s system would shut down automatically by itself and leave him numb and disoriented, but which is better than the turmoil that he went through before, for a while at least. And then the whole rigmarole would start again, until he learned to block and/or filter. In a very real sense this is a question of adapt or perish and at an extremely tender age.
I imagine that this is somewhat like a search engine on the web that lets through relevant information and discards nonsense(or SPAM), only here we are dealing with feelings that may or may not be justified. How many times have any of us felt an all-encompassing rage at some perceived slight, only to rationalise it later on? The empathic child can not differentiate between what is perceived hurt and real hurt and even an adult can really only guess, for though everyone’s feelings are definitely real, the reasons for having them are totally subjective and may be flawed. An empath is not a mind-reader and does not know what went on before meeting a person that he feels!
When I somehow found the mental switch to turn it off, I felt the bliss of tranquil silence and vowed never to let that happen again. I broke my view, of course, as vows often are… Sometimes my family or friends would catch me unawares, when my guard was down and sometimes I felt so drawn to a kind soul that it happened naturally, or maybe I just let it happen. I was also cursed with hyperactiveness that made me very accident prone. Again at a very early age, I took the conscious decision to always think first and act later, which of course caused my spontaneity to disappear. This thinking first and acting later became such an automatism that later on I could almost, but not quite, convince myself that I was letting nature take its course, without any assistance.
But when I look at it now, at a riper age, I realise that I have always been the spectator in my own life, the on-looker that watches carefully to see that nothing goes awry and paradoxically failing most if not all of the time! Because, although you can control your body and your mind to a great degree, the heart follows its own rules and will under no circumstance let itself be shackled. I could just as easily try to order a hurricane or an earth-quake about, for all the good it would do.
For an empath who has his in-built filter and blocking system on board, it is easy to deflect an actual demonstrable outburst of emotion, but the snake who would obfuscate his feelings, the liar, the deceiver is more perplexing in his insidious efforts to show one face, while feeling something totally different. At times it can be almost comical, when it is too obvious. The most horrible spectre to witness is a person who was lively and after some calamity emits no emotion at all.
When I was a child, the result of all this cacophony of emotions that invaded my privacy had the result that I suffered from nightmares, where I was always minute in comparison to my surroundings. A speck of dust blowing around in a blizzard would be a good way to describe the feeling. I did not dream so much of monsters, but of ordinary things that were out of all proportion to myself. This should have taught me humility, but failed.
I had furthermore been taught by my grandfather to always think for myself and never to blindly follow anyone or anything, which caused me to discard all institutionalised religions. I sincerely thought for a long time that religion was opium for the masses, like Karl Marx thought. I still believe that we should take responsibility for our own actions and not hide behind a deity to first sin and then be absolved, without proper thought of the consequences to others. But oh, how I longed for some form of magic to come my way that would allow me to right all wrongs and let justice be served to those who endlessly seemed to get away with bloody murder, without having to face the piper!
I have witnessed travesties of human behaviour that left me dizzy with incomprehension, like a PC’s failure to compute. Because I could witness at first hand (through empathy) the ravages that inhuman treatment causes to the victims This left me impotent and confused, with no frame to relate some actions to that I saw other people perpetrate. For how could I conceivably hurt anyone deliberately, when I could feel the hurt that I caused, for myself? I should mention, for completeness’ sake, that during a fit of passion nothing seems to filter through from others. I am far from being a saint!
And ever I carry the hope that something bigger and better shall manifest itself, because it could be, it SHOULD be, should it not? I find solace in appreciating the little acts of kindness and mercy that I witness on occasion, which bring me to welcome tears that there might be hope for humanity after all! Why can not the spirits, angels or elves come to our rescue? Is this not a kind wish of an adult , who still has not forgotten the wonder and the longing of a child for all things magical?
As I approached middle age, I did start to wrestle with the concept of a deity, but not adhering to conventional dogma you understand, for I am ever the rebel. The notion that we all carry a divine spark within ourselves appeals to me. I admire the Buddha, but I lack his patience! If a divinity is omnipresent, does this not carry with it the implication that every man, woman and child is part of it? Could our collective connectivity constitute a godliness? I am far from done wrestling with my doubts and hopes.
I did experience a phenomenon that left me humbled and more confused than ever. I was visiting Israel, where I later went to live for a couple of years, when I had to stop my rental car on the way up to Nazareth, to answer a call of nature. After finishing I turned around and saw a big building( a school, I think) surrounded by a lot of poplars. What was strange was that from these poplars were emanating spirals of energy that rose towards the heavens! I should mention that I did not drink then and I don’t do drugs, so was I hallucinating?
The result of this event was that the feeling of being infinitesimally small came back in force. I felt as if the weight of the whole cosmos were pressing down upon me, but at the same time I felt connected to it all. This is the closest I have come to having a meeting with… what? God, the universe? From then on I have not discarded the possibility that God might exist, but I can not place that belief in my mental house, for I still refuse to attribute human characteristics to a God or the All! As you can tell by my narrative, I am and always will be a seeker, who is slightly obtuse. But is the quest not a wondrous one?
I ask nobody to agree with me. If you do, fine and if you don’t, let us agree to disagree then!
- Empathizers Anonymous (dreambles.com)
- Empathic People? (inesmedem.wordpress.com)
- It may be how I feel (starlyn23.wordpress.com)
- Call for Participation: Empathy Conference (empathyinthecontextofphilosophy.com)
- Empathy with Artificial Intelligence (antiresume.wordpress.com)
- Empathy (ask.metafilter.com)
- Neurons Mirror the Diametric Mind – Christopher Badcock, Ph.D – Psychology Today (richarddawkins.net)
- Rewiring Your Brain for Healthy Empathy: Acquiring a Voltmeter (psychologytoday.com)
- Virtue – Empathy (patcegan.wordpress.com)
- What We Need More Of (thoughtstomull.com)