I was hoping we could talk a little about empathy
Ok, maybe I should back up a little and explore what an empath is. Empathy and an empath are a little different. Here’s a blog I found that talks about the traits of an Empath. This was quite helpful and insightful. There is a LOT that I relate to. In fact, I agree with most of it but I do have one major disagreement.
The main thing I want to talk about is “taking on people’s emotions”
the idea that you are actually feeling how everyone feels around you. I don’t think that’s really possible. Our emotions come from ourselves. Each person is their own individual. No matter how “one” we are with the Universe, we can’t fully know, truly know, how someone else is feeling unless even if we hear it in their own words. I think it is presumptive and dangerous and leads to lots of unnecessary misunderstandings when we think we know what someone is feeling.
What we perceive someone is feeling is not actually that person’s feelings. They might be feeling something else.
Twice I had a teacher that come up to me all concerned for me. She informed me I looked unwell, or unhappy. She asked if I was ok, or feeling ok. I had been daydreaming and was in no sort of bad mood. I don’t even know what brought that idea up for her.
Just a couple days ago my husband and I were in bed talking about getting up and going out for breakfast. Then I dawdled and eventually he got up and ate a bowl of cereal. I was sure that he was mad at me because I hadn’t gotten up fast enough and he had decided to scrap our plans. Before I got defensive and mad at our ruined morning I reminded myself that a big downfall of relationships is assumptions. I stayed calm and decided I should check in with him to see what he was truly feeling. Guess what. He was hungry. He wanted cereal before we went out for breakfast. There was no contention. That was it.
I believe there’s a type of person that projects their own feelings onto others. They come to believe what a person is feeling based on how they would personally feel in that same situation. This is me. I gather my personal experiences and memories, I observe “clues” from the current situation. I make a story about how I would feel in that same situation. Then I assume that person must also feel the same way I would feel – and that is where I might be totally wrong.
I think this empath thing is dangerous in that regard. It stops us from truly communicating, asking questions, and seeking to understand others.
We feel no need to connect to them because in our mind we already know. We think we have this magical answer from within. Did you ever hear about Cheryl Crowe who had a stalker that claimed they were communicating telepathically and that he had proposed to her and she had said yes? Don’t be that guy. You are probably close or nearly accurate in what they are feeling but YOU ARE NOT THAT OTHER PERSON. They have a unique set of experiences, perceptions, and their own reality filter that produces their own feelings.
Think about high school. Remember how you KNEW that everyone thought you were an idiot or dressed weird? In reality did anyone actually notice you? When I was a young teenager I remember meeting a younger girl. I was with my group of friends and we all got to chit chatting with each the new girl. In a little while this girl pointed out to each of us what she thought we had thought of her. “I thought you didn’t like me. I thought you didn’t like me. I thought you thought I was annoying,” etc. The truth is, my only thought of her was to realize that she was in the same room as me. I hadn’t even had time to form an opinion of someone that I hadn’t even talked to. How sad is it that she had this perception that a group of older girls didn’t like her? Are we any more perceptive as adults?
Be sensitive. Be observant.
Try to understand people and try to be a place that they can freely express themselves but don’t be a psychic to their emotions. We can try, we can reach back through our life experiences and pull out a memory that relates to what they are going through and maybe, perhaps, we come to the same conclusion or reaction to the situation. Maybe but maybe not. Trying to meet them at the place they are in is the beginning of empathy, the seeking to understand and relate but the real key is to get confirmation from them. We have different reactions. We are individuals after all. Ever ask advice for a sticky situation on FB? You’ll see a variety of responses and emotions.
So, on my high horse tonight, here is a reminder, please, never assume you know how someone is feeling, no matter how sensitive and intuitive you might be. You might be completely wrong and you will have judged someone without truly knowing what they are going through. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a couple easy steps. I bet Brene Brown has better ones. Here’s an old classic from her about what empathy is:
Think about similar situations you have been in.
Did different similar experiences yield different reactions from you? Which reaction might apply here?
Ask for clarification:
“Are you ok?” “How does that make you feel? My favorite: “What’s going through your head right now?” I think this invites the person to just free flow and verbalize the jumble that is in their head.
Readjust your perception of the situation.
Congratulations you are connecting and relating.
Isn’t that the definition of empathy?
So with that, let me say good luck to you empaths. Maybe you truly do feel another person’s emotions and you don’t need this lesson. I don’t know you and your experience but how do you really know the emotions that are happening around you unless you ask? Just ask. That is all.