Can We Be Too Empathetic

I empathize.  Actually, I am an empathy-aholic.  There I’ve said it.  It’s not that I do it on a conscious level.  It comes automatically from somewhere deep inside my brain, I suppose.  I think I have some idea of where it comes from and how I got trained into being this way but, it hasn’t stopped me from doing it yet.

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Being empathetic is a good way to understand others and what they may be going through.  When we draw on our own experiences with issues or situations that we’ve been through, the idea is that perhaps, we can more fully understand and help in some way, those who are traveling down paths that we’ve been down.  At the least, we can imagine what they must be feeling and offer them some form of help one way or another.

Sadly, that’s not how it always works out and there’s good reason for it not always being the case or a help for that person.

We are not that person and no two people are exactly alike.

No one is you or will experience things the way that you do.  Some will take things harder than you would while others will experience those same experiences to a lighter degree than we do.  A lot will depend upon the person, themselves as well as what other experiences they’ve had in their lives.  We’re all created differently.  What soothes me may make you simply annoyed.  What calms you may make me question other things happening because I’ve had a different set of experiences than you and therefore, see and feel things differently.  What your friend, loved one, partner or spouse might feel, you’re not necessarily going to feel the same way.  Vice versa, you may have had a set of life encounters and dealings or issues that your friend, loved one, partner, neighbour or whomever may not have had and you may react far more towards certain things than they will as a result of those things.

Possibly the best thing one can remember or keep in mind is that what you felt during something you’ve experienced, may or may not be what the other person has or is feeling.  Empathizing internally or externally with that person or group of people might be fruitless for them and you because they’re not feeling or reacting the way that you imagine they would be for all of the above reasons.

Trying to feel what someone else may be feeling won’t necessarily help them but, it can hurt you when done too often and to excess.

Each of us in this life will have our own sets of baggage to carry around or deal with.  No one alive is baggage free.  If we’re metaphysical or spiritual or religious, we can put it down to the fact that each of us has a certain number of lessons to learn.  In other words, we need to go through what we have to go through for some Cosmic reason that we’re unaware of as a “lesson” of sorts.

If we’re not spiritually inclined or religious, we can say that perhaps, what circumstances we’re in, we’re in because of choices that we or others around us have made or are making.  If that’s the case, it’s often up to us to either find a way to cope with it or to make other choices wherever possible.

Whatever the case is, we’re all going to be dealt some good and some crappy hands in this poker game we call, Life.  Some will get more cruddy hands than others will.  Is the luck of the draw or our own personal choices or, is it the choice of something or someone else or higher than us?  Often we’ll never know which but we can decide how we deal with it one way or another.

While we can try to give advice or opinions to others we cannot climb into their skin and brains with them or do it for them.  Not only is that not a healthy way for that person to deal with things but, it’s not healthy for us either.

Simply put, we cannot take on everyone else’s burdens, problems or issues too lest we become over-burdened.  Emotional and mental health is fragile when we take on too much of anything.  Certainly, trying to feel what someone else or even everyone else around us is feeling and trying to take some of the weight off of their shoulders, is unhealthy and unhelpful more often than not.  Do that enough times, with enough people and we’ve got a recipe for disaster for ourselves.

Those we empathize with, often move on and out of situations while we’re left feeling dragged out, worn out and depressed.  

Many times now, I’ve worked hard at trying to help someone out of a jam or situation by empathizing with them so that I can draw on my own feelings and experiences to do so.  Unfortunately, I’ve done it with everyone around me at the same time while trying to deal with my own too.  I can say first-hand that it’s not a good nor, healthy thing to do as I’ve been left feeling overwhelmed, burdened, even ill and it’s not solved the other person’s issues.

Worse than that, I’ve found that once I’m a mess, those people I empathized with so heavily, have found a way to deal with their situations and moved on in their lives while I’m laying in a ball, trying to pick up my own pieces.

Human Nature wants equilibrium and will seek it out.

Most people will have to endure some not so lovely experiences.  We all have to face deaths of loved ones if we live long enough to see it or, we’ll all have money issues at some point or another unless we’re born with a proverbial silver spoon in our mouths and a never-ending stream of funds coming our way.  We’ll all feel the sting of rejection from one source or another, one type or another. We’ll all get sick even with only a cold.  We’re all going to die.  That’s the bottom line to Life here.  We’re all going go through negative spots or many.  The reality is, we will all seek out a more comfortable way of feeling and being.  Unless we have a true mental illness that keeps us in one state of mind, we’re going to automatically seek out feeling better and do whatever it takes to feel that way.  It’s part of Human Nature.  No one wants to feel down or depressed forever and we’ll do whatever it takes to feel better for the most part.  Empathizing with someone only takes the energy out of you in this case because:

  1. You can help but you cannot change someone else’s situation, pain, hurt or whatever they are going through.  That is their path to go down.  You can’t change it by trying to feel what they are feeling.
  2. By the time you’ve worn yourself out empathizing, they’ve likely found other ways to deal with their situations or emotions.  If they haven’t already done that, they eventually will.
  3. Because of the first point and the second, you’re doing no one any good except to weaken yourself to your own challenges in Life.

 

Not many will empathize with you in the same way nor to the same extent so, why not reserve some energy for your own struggles? 

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Have you ever noticed that you’re always there for others during their times of crises but, when you need someone or some help, everyone you’ve turned somersaults for during their bad times, is suddenly “too busy” to be there when you need someone?  I’m sure many of us can relate to this one unless we’ve led a rather selfish existence in not helping other soul.  Not many people can or will say that.

Not that we expect something in return when we try to help other people but, we would hope that the kindnesses that we’ve shown others will be returned to some extent or another should we ever need something.  However, that’s often not the case.  The question always begs, why doesn’t that happen?

“I’ve given and given to this person and that person and the other one down the street but, when I needed one simple favour, there was no one around,” you may be saying right now.  “As a matter of fact, the only time I’ve had someone help me, it’s been only half of the effort that I’ve put into them or less.  I don’t get it!”

You’re not alone in wondering why that is but, there’s often a simple answer.

You’ve been far too kind or generous with your time and emotions and, you’ve thought of others in ways that they don’t think about you or anyone else for that matter most of the time.  

If the truth is told, not many people can or will even attempt to empathize with you the way that you have done with or for them.  That doesn’t necessarily make them selfish but, it does stand as a lesson that putting too much effort into someone else, is not only not necessary but, it doesn’t get you anywhere except a lot of being overwhelmed then, frustrated and disappointed.  It’s time for you to turn down the volume a bit on your pouring out of empathy towards others.  That’s not to say that you don’t care about others but, it’s saying that you have to put yourself up there in the ranking of first place because while others may help you, they’re not going to take your problems over.  You need your emotional strength for your own issues.

Some points to remember:

  • It’s ok to understand what others might be going through on a “cerebral level” but, it’s not healthy for either of you to reach down inside yourself and try to feel what the other person is feeling.
  • If someone is in a hole, jumping into it with them (via empathy) is only trapping both of you.  You’re far more helpful to that person to stay safely on the side, being their for them to throw them down a rope so that they can climb out versus you being in there with them.
  • Expecting others to empathize with you in the same way or to the same extent as you’ve done for them, is not only unhealthy but unreasonable to expect because no one is you or can feel like you do and, not many people will be able to or even want to try.  Most people are in this world to look after themselves first and foremost.  Help but, don’t jump into that pit with them because they likely won’t do the same for you when or if you needed that kind of help.
  • There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy is the ability to feel sorrow for what one is going through without the extra step of actually trying to put yourself in their shoes and feeling what they may be feeling.  Too much sympathy can be unhealthy too but, it’s easier to recuperate from and less intrusive to your life than full empathy.
  • You don’t need to feel what other people are feeling nor, can you really feel what they may be feeling.  As explained above, no two people are alike and even though they may be going through what you’ve been through, their other experiences in life as well as their personalities are going to shape how they react to a situation.  It’s rather fruitless, unhelpful and unhealthy for you to try to put yourself in their emotional shoes because they likely not only won’t fit but, it doesn’t help them or you.  Throw them a rope and let them climb out of the hole they’re in.
  • Look after your own needs first and think about yourself because not many people in your life will be there for you 24/7, trying to feel what you’re going through.  Those who have been there in their own experiences don’t want to re-visit it and those who haven’t, can’t feel what you’re feeling to help.  More to the point, not many will even try.

From my little corner of life, I see helping others as something that should be done when your own needs have been met and you’re able to emotionally be strong.  It does not mean hurling yourself into an emotional tailspin.  No one need do that to help others.  Heaven knows that were doctors, nurses, police officers, first responders, fire fighters etc., were to do that, they’d be crippled and couldn’t do their jobs after one or two incidents.

Do yourself and other people a favour.  Stay healthy by helping others in a healthy way.  Empathy has its place but, it’s limited.

Be well.  Love and Light.

 

 

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