Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Empathy... better with it or without it

 Definition of empathy (from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

the action of understanding, being aware of,
being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing
the feelings, thoughts, and experience
of another of either the past or present 
When you have empathy you can relate to the pain and sorrow that another person may be experiencing — if you hear of someone losing a close family member something triggers your own feeling of loss, either real or imagined. You feel FOR the person because you understand what he is going through.When you understand what that individual is going through you might be able to offer solace, comfort and support. BUT... if your level of empathy encompasses you it may drown you in those emotions causing you mental anguish and making you unable to offer comfort to the bereaved.Being compassionate is a healthy form of empathy as you understand what someone is going through and can still maintain a mental distance by staying aware that this is SOMEONE ELSE'S loss. You can offer support and comfort without losing yourself in the sorrow.Being sympathetic, while certainly nice (on the surface) may or may not be disingenuous. You hear bad news and you offer platitudes — but do you really feel for the individual or just know that it's the polite response?Certain relationships do better when people can empathize with one another. Parents who can truly understand what their children are feeling, their angst and insecurities, can offer much needed support and guidance. Health-care workers can help to emotionally support their patients along with the medical help they provide. However if the empathy is too all-encompassing it is easy to lose oneself, be depressed and insecure. Too much empathy can even result in manifested health problems, sleepless nights, and damage to other relationships.

When it comes to feeling loss, grief is a very personal thing and not everyone feels the same things. Religious customs sometimes play a big role in the way a person grieves and accepts their loss; although it is uncommon that a loss is ever truly “accepted”, the pain often lingers and sometimes causes tears even years later. The relationship a person has had with the now deceased may have been complex, even painful, and the survivor now has to juggle their mixed emotions.

There are times that SOME of us cannot understand another person’s reaction to grief, but do we really have a right to expect someone to break down and cry when that loss happens? Maybe the person is in shock and that overwhelming grief has yet to hit. Or maybe the person’s upbringing taught them unwavering steps to follow? Or, sadly, maybe a person’s childhood left him with an inability to show their emotions?

It’s not for any of us to judge how someone else mourns and grieves. All we can do is be compassionate and certainly never take joy in another’s person’s pain. Remember though that you can always be there and care.

Any man's death diminishes me,
I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bells tolls;
it tolls for thee.”
~ John Donne

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