Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Empathy

Sometimes you can have too much empathy.

One of the reasons why it seems like I want to save the world (which I don't--just the people I've met) is because I can feel other people's pain as though it were my own.  When they are hurting, I'm hurting. So it's really for selfish reasons that I help other people; I don't like being in pain.

When I worked in day care after I graduated from college, the children who had the most difficult time adjusting were the ones who were attached to me.  In case you are worried about your children being in day care, rest assured that there were some kids who loved it so much that they didn't want to go home. 

But not these kids.  These were the kids who cried from the moment their parents dropped them off until they picked them up in the afternoon.  And this would go on for weeks.  It actually drove me crazy.  I didn't feel positively towards them at all.  Which is why I could never understand why they were attached to me.

Now I think it's because I could feel their pain, so I would break the rules and hold them all day because it's the only thing that comforted them.  And it turns out that being held is one of the best ways to soothe people.  So next time you're feeling upset, ask for a hug from someone you care about.  Or do something that feels like a hug, like take a warm bath or wrap yourself up in a blanket.

Sometimes I feel like I'm a receiver that picks up the emotional equivalent of radio waves.  I'm bombarded by all of these feelings, all the time.  Sometimes I don't even know where they're coming from.  I wish I could just turn the receiver off every now and then, or at least turn down the volume.  Anything to have some relief from the constant noise.

The best solution I've been able to come up with is the yes and no thing: yes to what I want, no to what I don't want.  I need to choose the people who I'm around more carefully.  If it's someone who doesn't take responsibility for dealing with their own feelings, I need to stay away.  I can barely deal with my own feelings.

It sounds cold and calculated, but I always tell clients that if it comes down to you and someone else, you have to pick you, because there's no guarantee that anyone else will.

So from now on, I'm going to try to pick me.

Photo courtesy of  Maria Roman

17 comments:

Tizianna Smith said...

Awesome post! The world needs more people with empathy. I use to be the same; my friends actually called me their "personal therapist" because they always felt better once they talked to me and I could always understand where they were coming from. But after several friendships and relationships where I was always there for them but no one was around when I needed them, I tend to choose the people I socialize with more carefully. We need those boundaries because its like that saying, "You can't help someone unless they are willing to help themselves."

Teri Fry said...

One of the hardest things for me to learn, and I still struggle with is to definitively say "yes" or "no" and not "whatever you would like". I have to work on it to be more decisive.

I think one of the things that I have found easy though is to have empathy, and with my career as a geriatric physical therapist, I found where I could harness my "empathy". I would like to think we gravitate towards those careers that most fit our personality, and for you it was to become a psychologist, to help "save the world" or at least those that you know.

christy barongan said...

If empathic people are always having to defend our boundaries, what do selfish people do? I cross your boundaries, I guess.

christy barongan said...

I'm sure it made you a great PT. I'd pick you if you were still working!

Tina Gray said...

I totally feel where you are coming from with this empathetic post as It screams my name on each and every line. I reach the exact point you reach in that I tell myself I'm going to try picking me before any others and in a way I guess that is why we then go and pick up another selfish soul...we are being us, we are choosing us before them otherwise we would not be able to be who we are. Yeah I often don't see myself as the stronger person but when I think about it I am much stronger than maybe I realise...and why would we want to change who we are just so as to not draw selfish folk to us, its an impossible thing for me to be anything other than me and I like being me despite those around me. If I changed myself to keep them away because That kinda person rubs me up the wrong way then Id be a fool as then I too would be no different than them except I would not be able to live with myself either. I'd love a friend like me, sometimes I forget Ive got one already but being my own best friend is not always as good for me as it seems to be for others.

Tina Gray said...

Lol have just realised I have written empathetic not empathic but seems to speak volumes about me so I'l leave it as it is. x

christy barongan said...

I know what you mean. Despite having written this yesterday I almost chose to help someone even thought he didn't ask for it. I try not to beat myself up over it because it is one of my better qualities. I have often wished I had someone like me, and through blogging I have actually found several.

christy barongan said...

Like you!

Mark Jala said...

Recent study indicates college age kids have 40% less empathy than their peers of 30 years ago. Are you seeing this trend in your work Christy?

christy barongan said...

Yes and no. Social media allows people to be much crueler and on a wider scale than you can be face-to-face, and having that anonymity decreases empathy. But the No Bullying campaign is an example of increased empathy and support than we've seen for bullying in the past.

MarieE said...

Good Decision Christy-- Choose you first! You deserve it!

christy barongan said...

Thanks Marie!

Joe said...

Oh, oh, oh, as usual, you've made me want to sit down with you over a few cups of coffee or tea or whatever and just talk, talk, and talk. (When are you coming to Queens?) First of all, thank you for being a therapist who believes that it really is possible to feel other people's feelings. It happens to me all the time -- and, no, Dr. Schwartz, Dr. Jones, Dr. Wang, Dr. Dwyer, it is NOT projection. I really do feel other people's feelings. And it makes New York City a truly exhausting place for me to live.
You're absolutely right that if it comes down to you and someone else, you have to pick you. But I never found the reason you give compelling. Because even if nobody else picks me in this serious existential game, I'm still kind of convinced that I *should* pick the other person ... even if it means I'm going to wither away and die. And then someone pointed out that making that choice would be leaving the other person in the lurch. No me = nobody to be there for them.
Stream of consciousness tonight.
It's true that we people with empathy (henceforth "PWEs") have a terrible tendency to try to make the pain go away for others. But I've seen this in the coldest, most unfeeling people, too. There aren't a lot of people who like a mess. We want the mess to snap out of it so we can all get on with it. Besides, someone might be looking, and what will that someone think if we just ignore the mess and walk away. Most people will do an awful lot to make that sad person feel better. But what most people will absolutely not do is.......
Just let that sad pathetic mess continue to be a sad pathetic mess. Not try to change the mess or how the mess feels. But not run away either. That is the very biggest gift you can give a sad pathetic mess. And it's only the really-o, truly-o PWEs who can manage it.

christy barongan said...

That's deep. I was really just trying to figure out how I can protect myself better since it's clear I can't look to other people to take care of me, although I'm sure I'll keep trying.

The only exception to the pick me rule is with parents and children. And even then parents need to take care of the sleeves for the reason you stated--the oxygen mask argument.

christy barongan said...

And there's no way I could live in New York.

christy barongan said...

I have to say, I'm really surprised that so many people also feel like they have too much empathy. It really does help to say things out loud!

christy barongan said...

I meant themselves. Not the sleeves. That doesn't make any sense.