When I realize how much my empathy affects me, I sometimes wonder if it is isn’t a burden too heavy for me to carry.
Obviously, right after such a sad (and almost unspeakable) self-commiseration moment, I stop and think of the alternative. Well, the alternative isn’t joyful either! Not feeling empathy is a clear sign of very disturbing personality disorders like psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder or schizoid personality disorder. Ted Bundy, Jack the Ripper, BTK, Charles Manson … Not appealing alternative at all!
So not feeling empathy is bad, but feeling it can be overwhelming, why? What is so good about it and why is it so heavy sometimes? This is what is bothering me today.
This is what I found:
“Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience compassion. “
(It can be) “from caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person's emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and other.”
Edith Stein: "Empathy cannot be forced to occur but can be facilitated by good listening skills, self-awareness, and self-confidence that will demonstrate empathetic willingness by clinicians."
Alvin Goldman: "The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings."
Khen Lampert (2005): "[Empathy] is what happens to us when we leave our own bodies...and find ourselves either momentarily or for a longer period of time in the mind of the other. We observe reality through her eyes, feel her emotions, and share in her pain."
And I agree with these definitions. They speak to me.
But still I wonder why, some people would feel empathy and some wouldn’t. And I think this is a discussion for hours and hours.
Some research showed me that it is believed that for someone to be able to understand someone’s feelings is a “sophisticated imaginative process” but most definitely innate and built over the time with our own experience of life, so the more one has lived and experienced things, the more he or she can relate to what someone else feels while experiencing the same situation. And the contrary is also true.
Transferring this into my own experience of life and my own experience of empathy, these theories make sense, I have lived plenty. Today, at 34, I know, I have lived more than my fair share of life. Even with its ups and downs, I am happy to be where I am.
And if Martha Nussbaum is right when she says that the activity of novel reading enhances the ability the feel empathy, then I am an even more prone candidate to be able to relate with one’s feelings as I have been an avid reader since I can read.
Empathy is simply a part of me. A great part. And when I stop aching for it hurts so much sometimes, I happily acknowledge that I like that in me. So I won’t stop myself from feeling nor crying, I will just accept it.
And as I was listening to this podcast yesterday, I dropped a tear or two and it was ok.
Emotional Intelligence Meets Traditional Standards for an Intelligence. JOHN D. MAYER; DAVID R. CARUSO; PETER SALOVEY.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/– encyclopedia of the common
Keen's Empathy and the Novel (Oxford, 2007), Martha Nussbau