Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dealing With the Dark Side of Empathy

Empathy opens the door for a variety of energy.  A lot of it could be classified as "negative."  When I say "negative," I mean in the sense that an empath often notices and even attracts the suffering of others.  They often get people they know and even complete strangers opening up to them about what they think is wrong in the world or the complaints they have about their current situation(s).  We want to help and offer support and compassion.  Happiness usually doesn't need that.  It's already achieved what it needs to. Its feet have long since jumped from the springboard of support it once gathered inspiration from.

There are times that I still get frustrated when I hear nothing but "problems" or let myself be affected by the sorrows of the universe.  A majority of the time I don't though.  I actually find myself wanting to hear what's really going on beneath the masks of pretend.  If anything, I can at least listen, nod in sympathy and feel that the other person has somehow been comforted by just being able to express themselves.  Part of the frustration sometimes is feeling like you can't do or say anything that's going to make everything all right.  I think it's important to realize that you can't control someone else's destiny.  The important thing is to just be there-silent or not so silent-the same way that the sun always finds a way to keep rising and setting each day. 

Sometimes you don't realize that the energy that you're picking up or receiving isn't from you.  You don't know how to separate yourself from it, and so you internalize it as if you were going through the same exact pain.  You can begin to wallow in the negative, thinking that you are somehow a "bad person," have a "doomed existence," or can never achieve a real state of being thankful for your life. 

A few things I've learned to do is talk myself through those feelings, take a few deep breaths (sometimes only in my imagination), and find a way to release or shield the energy.  At one of my accounts, I have an Assistant Manager who is on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills.  She's a single mom, with three kids who have some medical problems of their own.  To say that she's the happiest, emotionally steady person on this planet would be a lie.  She's a good person underneath all that, who's trying really hard to make her life work.  I can read her uneasiness, tension, and emotional instability each time I see her.  She talks to me a lot.  The energy from her words and her voice is pretty strong.  It's the kind of "negative" energy that can make you feel as though you've been thrown up against a wall.  It's the kind that makes you feel as though your strong sense of self has somehow vanished and any voice you can muster is completely inadequate.

Sometimes she appears to be in lighter spirits, but seeing as how I have a "knack" for bringing out the "real" in people, she's usually on a complaining soap box during most of our encounters.  That energy can make me feel uncomfortable.  A few times it's caused me to be in a bad mood afterwards.  A few times it's made me wonder if she liked me and made me feel as though I was doing something wrong.  Those feelings are still there, but they're not as inwardly strong as they used to be.  I realized that I was picking up on her "negative" energy before she started expressing what she felt.  That energy wasn't me.  It had nothing to do with me.  It was hers. 

When she talks, I listen.  My eyes and facial expressions probably get sympathetic and understanding.  The few words I do get in might be encouraging or supportive.  I might be the only one she feels like she can talk to when she needs to.  I might be one of many.  To me it doesn't matter.  In my mind I've put up a self-made shield that allows me to still feel that "negative" energy, but to associate it with its source, not its destination.  That energy is still internalized, but only while it's attached to her words.  Then it's gone because I choose to release it.  I know in my mind and in my heart that I can relate to what she's feeling-to her energy-but not allow myself to become it.  After all, I'm not playing her in a theatrical production or an on-screen version of her life.  And even if I was, I would only become that energy while "in character."

Empathy is far from a curse.  No one who has made a difference has had it easy.  If that were the case, we wouldn't need kindness, compassion, or understanding at all.  Support and community would be non-existent. 

Without empathy, we wouldn't feel.  We wouldn't discover what is real and change things into what they need to be.  We wouldn't be capable of becoming the unspoken whispers of our hearts.    


1 comment:

  1. This is a great post, I can really relate to this right now. I tend to take other people's feelings on board, and it can be hard to discern my own feelings.

    I guess I need to learn how to shield myself from this. A councellor recently told me that I'm very empathetic. Which is double-edged sword, I find it easy to understand other people's perspectives. But I can also pick up on their negativity, and it can really throw me off balance.

    This has lead to me at times blocking out all emotion, and just feeling numb and souless.

    This blog is very interesting, and I'm finding it a very useful tool in helping me understand myself.