Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Am an Empath - Empathy Is Almost Completely Useless

Among people who have known me for a while, I present a quandary: how can such a “nice guy” be such a jerk sometimes? I think I have an explanation. Please bear with me (or not, and navigate away from this page).

I am an empath. This makes me next to useless in dealing with human problems. Next to, but not completely. Let me explain. When a person is in pain, physical or psychological, what she or he really wants is sympathy and understanding. With sympathy and understanding, the person gets heard, and if needed, has solutions offered (or at least methods of dealing with the pain if it cannot be eliminated). Sympathy leads to aid.

Empathy does not. Empathy is identification with the pain. A sympathetic person knows what pain feels like, but is at a remove from it, and therefore can offer an ear, a word of advice, etc. In empathy, however, the pain is felt. And if the pain is debilitating to the original feeler, it can be likewise debilitating to the empath. When I hear of physical or psychological pain, I feel it. I then have the choice either to allow the feelings to continue (and therefore eat up an hour or a day), or shut them out entirely and move on.

Being with others, and being with their pain wipes me out. It renders me either useless, or cold. Since I prefer functionality most of the time, I come across as cold and distant.

Of course, at times being cold and distant are very useful, as in crisis management. I can distance myself enough (at times) to coolly figure out what needs to happen next. This can be very helpful. Dr. House is an ass, but if I had a medical mystery going on, unlike my mother I’d want someone like him on the case. A rational distance is much more helpful than a sloppy closeness.