“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”
Stephen R. Covey
At the beginning of February I asked on my Instagram account, how many empaths are there. The amount of replies was quite big and since the subject itself seems to be really important (plus not raised enough in my opinion), I decided to talk a bit more about it on the blog. The post on Instagram was inspired by a little incident, which has happened to me a while ago… on Instagram as well, surprisigly. Let’s just say I “took a wrong side”, or at least it was kind of suggested to me, while in fact I didn’t take any side at all. But that’s just the thing about empathy, I suppose. It’s often misunderstood.
I don’t do sides
Yes, that’s the quote from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and it perflectly reflects the nature of empathy (besides, when I’ve heard it for the first time, I instantly knew that Newt is my kindred spirit ;)). As I said in my post, it’s hard to be an empath sometimes, because in case of any conflict, you’re able to understand (and feel) both sides. Therefore, you simply can’t choose one of them. I don’t mean every single situation, of course. Sometimes you just know in your heart something is wrong. But that’s usually not the case in everyday life.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way for most people. It’s almost like you have to pick a side, because they expect you to do that. And if you refuse, you’re automatically treated as an opponent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all people are ‘bad’ in some way because of that. Actually, I avoid telling someone is right or wrong, because I try not to judge in general. Instead I simply…
I want to understand
The ability to understand many points of view is actually one of the best things about empathy. You’re able to “walk in someone else’s shoes” and see a problem from different perspectives. You’re often able to do that, even when you don’t agree with someone. You simply can see, why he might think that way and then explain it to others, being a mediator between two sides. And you generally wish the whole world was more understanding and peaceful. Wouldn’t it be lovely, if more people listen to understand rather than to reply? I honestly think that’s the source of many conflicts these days: we’re focused on what we want/feel and don’t really consider, how the situation looks from the other side.
I feel you
Now, that’s the tricky one. I’m pretty sure that being able to feel what others feel is the factor, that makes empathy both the blessing and the curse. Sometimes you identify with someone else’s feelings so much, that you simply forget about your own or don’t recognise, which ones are actually yours. So confusing, isn’t it? It may lead to the point, when you stop yourself from saying anything or making a decision, simply because you don’t want to hurt anyone. And let’s be honest here, it’s not healthy.
Judging by your commnets on Instagram, that’s the toughest thing about empathy. I don’t really have any better advice, than to try to get some distance and focus on our own feelings first. It requires time and practise, of course. It may be a good idea to spend more time in quiet enviroments, avoid big social gatherings, emotional discussions, even TV news! Personally I’m not able to watch/read the news without feeling overwhelmed and depressed. I’m aware of what’s going in the world, of course. But I’m so vunerable to violence, unjustice and suffering, that in most cases it’s just better for me not to dwell on this. I know many people don’t think that’s good, but it really keeps me sane.
Conflict? No, thanks
Taking into account on all things mentioned above, it’s shouldn’t come as a surprise, that the empaths hate all kinds of conflicts. Not being able to pick a side (in most cases, that is), refusing to feed false dichotomies and being exposed to many bad emotions make them a real nightmare. Besides, people engaged in conflicts don’t really want to listen. You can keep trying to explain one side to another without any other result than being insulted or – in the best case – ignored. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in such situations many times (including the one mentioned at the beginning of this post) and in most cases I came out of them misinterpreted, unfairly judged and hurt.
And again, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to say that the empaths are always ‘victims’ in such situations. Or that anyone is unfair to them on purpose. I just think that their intensions are often misunderstood or hard to understand by people, who are not emphathetic. That’s why I think we should talk more about empathy in general, trying to explain how it works from the inside. That’s the purpose of this post too.
Creating over debating
Okay, enough about all the struggles and bad points though! I think most of you would agree, that despite all of them empathy is a good trait after all. It allows us to see more beauty in the world, helps to understand others, as well as make an effort to make the world more peaceful and open to diversities. It’s not a mystery, that the empaths are drawn to creative activities and often find them to be a good outlet to all the feelings cumulated within them. I honestly believe the world needs more understaning and empathy. It would make such a huge difference if pepole simply treat each other the way they want to be treated themselves, don’t you think? And even if that’s just an utopian dream, isn’t it quite beautiful?
If you’re too empathetic…
I’m nowhere near the place of giving advice considering empathy, but I tried to take the most important points from your comments to gather some tips here. Here they are then:
- The most important is to set some boundaries in order to find a balance between your feelings and others’. Also between emotional and rational approach to any matter.
- Try to think about you first and only then – about others.
- If you need to withdraw from a discussion because it’s too overwhelming, do that and don’t feel guilty. Remember you need to take care of yourself first.
- Don’t waste your energy on people, who don’t want to listen and understand, but to win instead.
- Avoid discussions full of negative emotions and focused only on proving someone’s point of view.
- Above all, don’t force yourself to anything, because someone thinks you should do something.
- Remember, empathy is a great value and it makes you special, but you deserve it too!
Do you consider empathy to be your strong or weak point? Do you agree with what I wrote, or maybe you have a different opinion? Do you want to add something? Please, share your thoughts on that matter in comnents below!
P.S. Sorry if this post is kind of messy, that’s the first time I write something so long and about such an important matter in English and I wanted to include as many significant points as possible.