July 27, 2017 by readlisaread
There is a characteristic shared by most people in helping professions, that of empathy. For counselors and clinicians, it’s a critical quality. For teachers, coaches and diagnosticians, it’s pretty helpful. For the rest of the population, it’s something they are either attracted to, or ambivalent about.
For us, though, we empaths who walk among you, there are times we wish we could be ambivalent sometimes, and I guarantee you we wish we could shut it off on occasion (and some people, who have spent years training and perfecting their empathetic skills, are able to disconnect for short periods of time).
For me, it’s a bit like a super power I don’t understand how to control (perhaps that’s why I like the term “empath”, ala Startrek TNG. If only I could have Troi’s hair. And her physique. Maybe not her attraction to Klingons, though….). Apologies for digressing, gentle reader, but there it is. “Empaths” is entering the common lexicon, and doesn’t just refer to Science Fiction characters anymore.
I had a conversation the other day with a friend that shed some significant light on the struggle I have with my own style of empathy. We were talking about a time in the past when we had had a miscommunication, and while I was listening to my friend’s side of the equation, that little self-righteous voice in the back of my head started to beak off. “That’s not how it was!” the voice protested, “But you were the one who said/did that!” the voice shrieked, and finally bellowed “THAT IS NOT THE WAY IT WAS!!!”. The little voice is Empathy’s bitch though, and was quelled, because none of those comments were going to help the conversation. More, though, was the absolute conviction with which the speaker shared their memories. That IS the way it happened for them.
And so I got to thinking… what are some of the things we humans do in relationships? We pick up each other’s phrases and humour, we see new ways of looking at things we hadn’t considered before, we want to like the same things that people we like like, like. (Sorry… word play is something I like).
But here’s the thing (and you knew there was going to be a Thing, didn’t you). I realized where the disconnect comes for empaths. We are nothing if not walking-around-flesh-and-blood mirrors. We follow the cues of social interaction. We look for patterns and remember them. We tuck away mannerisms, likes and dislikes of our compatriots and wield them as forms of social currency to impress or compliment (or complement) our friends.
One thing I believe to be true about energy: You get back what you give out. This has been a mantra of mine for a very long time– from a time when I realized being immersed in negative cross-talk and apathy served to make me negative and apathetic, despite the fact that that is not my nature. Though I learned this lesson, I didn’t extrapolate it to what it means for me, the unsuspecting empath. Simply, it means sometimes I reflect back energy the sender does not like receiving. It’s a bit of a mix between: “back to you and more of it” with “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”. And weirdly, this never occurred to me before. The other piece to this puzzle is what I call the Disdain Factor. Try this: Think of someone you know quite well– like a boss, a neighbour, a cousin– choose someone that you don’t like. The more vehement your feelings of dislike, the better. Now, and this is why you have to choose someone you know as opposed to, like, Justin Bieber, think about why you don’t like this person. What in particular do they do or say that irks the bejeebus out of you? Got something? Good… now… take a look in a metaphorical mirror. Do you see that quality, or a shadow of it, anywhere in yourself? I’ve started to do this frequently, and have adjusted my behaviour accordingly. I am not only an extrovert, I am extremely extroverted and outgoing. I think of that as simply one of my many charming attributes. But it turns out–and who knew!?– sometimes, Extroverts can be noisy, and even a little *gasp* obnoxious. Recently I was in a workshop and wondered if this one particular participant was ever going to shut up, and realized one of the reasons I was annoyed was that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise… I had stuff to share too… I wanted to tell an amusing story!!…. Ah! Hellllooooo Kettle! My but you are black today!
And so I learn, I try to reflect inwards as well as outwards, and I try to remember that if I’m dealing with another empath, we are rather holding a mirror up that reflects the other’s mirror and the infinity of reflections reflect back and forth, forever.
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