I have made some discoveries about myself while reading “The Art of Empathy” and some discoveries about this book that make me a bit disgruntled.
I will get to the disgruntled part later.
The big thing that I have discovered is that I DO HAVE EMPATHY! I just have a form of empathy that is a bit different from what the author would like the world to have and what she says that she posses. Basically, she claims to be an empath and even notes that this term was first used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now, she doesn’t believe she is a Betazoid per say, but she just claims to be able to read body language and notice non-verbal cues, feels the emotions with the other person, and knows how to react supportively. This is something that therapists, and social workers do daily. No alien DNA required.
However, I am not that empathic and really do not care to be. I have decided that the issue is that I do not know how to handle emotions (mine or someone else’s) and that is what I am focusing on.
The type of empathy that I have is called Cognitive Empathy.
Cognitive empathy is the largely conscious drive to recognize accurately and understand another’s emotional state.
Basically, this allows me to understand the emotion of another without currently sharing it. Because I approach things logically, I tend to do that with emotions; however this can still be perceived as uncaring because I am not “feeling it”.
I also discovered a couple of other things that I found effect me.
One is “emotional contagion”.
Emotional contagion is the tendency for two individuals to emotionally converge.
Another definition that I like better:
A process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.
Basically, an emotion can be transferred from one person to another. Think it sounds stupid? (I did at first) Then why do people cry at weddings? They aren’t getting married, hell they may not even be at the wedding but watching the wedding video. Same with funerals, they aren’t the ones that died or may not even be related to the deceased. What about sporting events? You aren’t the one that scored the … whatever. Why are you cheering? Why are you high-fiving the guy you don’t even know that is as equally excited? Because emotions are contagious. We can all get happy, sad, pissed off, and excited as a group by one thing. Some people more than others. I feel that I am a little less susceptible to emotional contagion outside of what I like to call “my tribe” (except when it come to characters in movies/TV shows and animals). When it comes to general people, I may crack a smile if I see something that makes me feel happy/joy, or I may look away if I see something painful/sad, but I tend to “walk the streets” with my shields up, and my eyes down to avoid these things in general (when I actually go outside my house). Most people are afraid of emotions (especially us dudes) and thanks to society and public schooling, we are pretty much trained to be emotionally avoidant.
The other thing that I come to realize is that I do have a concern for others; however I cannot deal with everyone so I limit that concern to “my tribe” and even then I judge the issue and decide if it’s worth expending the emotional energy on the situation (Basically is this a crisis or celebration and how much of one). I do this because if I don’t, I will try to fix everyone’s issues and burn myself out. How do I know this? Because I am emotionally and empathically burnt out now. That is what I have discovered about myself. I have looked back on my life and I remembered when I was younger and involved in the church (I know, here goes the atheist blaming the church again, right?). I gave of myself 110%. To the church, to the l-rd, to the ministry, to the congregation, and no one was really meeting my needs. I was “on fire for the l-rd” and no one saw me burning out. Now days, I am older (and hopefully wiser) and I know that self-care is must. Because, despite the teaching and parables that were taught in the church, no matter what my mother taught me; I learned that no one is going to take care of you, but you and you have to put you first. It sounds shitty and selfish, but it has to be the case. Because you can’t do a damn thing for anyone, if you aren’t physically and mentally healthy.
“If you scratch underneath the surface just a little, you will find that some of the angriest, most anxious, most arrogant, and most anti-social people harbor a profound well of concern that they’re either unable to manage or unwilling to acknowledge – or both.”
– The Art of Empathy
So, this is where I am at right now. I feel that I have empathy and that I am just trying to grow it and manage it. My main focus is just trying to understand my emotions better. I have a bad habit of intellectualizing my feelings away and I am trying to break that habit.
So, still working on things; however I feel better about myself (more or less).
Oh yeah, that part about being disgruntled. Because this book does focus on everyone becoming a joy-filled empath (IMO), I am having to bend this book and work it into what works for me. If you are in the same boat as I am and are looking to gain a perspective into empathy, this book will help you; however it is not an infallible resource. I find myself taking a lot of notes, highlighting relevant passages, and Googling a lot of things that I find interesting and relevant to me. It’s a great guide, but it gets a little “New Age” at times.