The Scarcity of Empathy

I am an empath.

There’s a lot of hippie dippy flighty stuff associated with that word these days. Even googling the definition you’ll find references to science fiction and paranormal activity.

But it’s a real thing.

I don’t perform Vulcan mind melds or have special empath antenna like the bug-girl on Gardens of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The gift that I carry is an innate ability to understand someone else’s emotions as if I too we’re going through it. Even if I have never personally experienced what they have, I take time to reflect upon how I would feel in their situation and respond to them accordingly.

It means I had to take a really long break from the show Parenthood about three seasons in, when everything got chaotic, because I couldn’t handle it emotionally – I was too invested in the characters.

This means I cry over Hallmark commercials with the best of them!

This means that when my first born son was a month old, perfectly healthy and laying in my arms as I watched a segment on the Today Show about birth loss photography, that I sobbed because those families didn’t get to bring their babies home. And that I faced an unquenchable need to do something for them because they swam in sorrow while I had joy.

I encounter families everyday who have lost a child, and parents who put every one of their needs aside (to the point of battling their own health issues) because their child is fighting a terrible disease that could take their life of any minute. I am able to relate to them in a way the many others cannot fathom, not because I have personal experience with their struggles, but because as an empath, I am able to put myself in that situation and feel a drop of the deep seeded emotions they feel. I can relate to them, but more importantly, it allows me to support them and walk with them when others can’t.

This is where society as a whole fails when it comes to someone suffering pain and loss. Because we are all such selfish beings to our core, we become uncomfortable when someone grieves. You’re outside the experience and everything associated with it. And many times, you’re unable to fathom the struggle. So you offer platitudes and disconnect, because it makes you squirm to think about their struggle, and what you’d do if on that journey yourself.

I’m entirely incapable of that disconnect. When I see someone hurting, I hurt. Rather than offering “I’m sorry for your loss,” I offer me. I ask what help is needed. Because that is what I would need if the roles were reversed. I recognize that platitudes are worthless when you’re so irreversibly broken.

empath.pngIf we took the opportunity to truly understand the concept of empathy, then we would do more than pat someone on the shoulder in their time of grief and then tell them 6 months later it’s time to move on. It really happens this way. I see it regularly. And it’s so hard for me to fathom how others could be so disconnected and distant from a hurting friend or family member.

But it’s a gifting to understand something outside yourself so deeply. It’s a honed perception that not everyone can manage. Feeling things this deeply is often touted as weakness – over emotional and over reactive – but the reality is that I couldn’t have started On Angels’ Wings without the ability to plug-in to the sorrow of others. It’s not a weakness but any means, but a gift I was created to carry and strengthen in order to positively impact the lives of others. I humbly embrace it. I am unapologetic to this truth in my life.

I am empath. Hear me…. ugly cry.

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