Thursday, March 5, 2009

The phenomena of empathy

I want to talk about this phenomena that we all experience at a level or another, and that we should look closer at. I am talking about the phenomena of empathy.

Wikipedia describes empathy as the capacity to share and understand another's emotion and feelings. It is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or in some way experience what the other person is feeling. Empathy does not necessarily imply compassion, sympathy or empathic concern because this capacity can be present in context of compassionate or cruel behavior.

A usual way to experience empathy is with our family, friends, in a therapeutic context, and with people generally close to us.

The most typical type of empathy to describe is the one that exist between a mother and her child.This is sometimes manifested by the fact that if the child suffers, the mother suffers as well, sometimes regardless of distance.

Many of us have experienced another type of empathy, this is the empathy that can exist between someone we do not know well or sometimes with a perfect stranger.

Experiencing this type of close link with someone unfamiliar is usually interesting, and sometimes extraordinary, or frightening depending on the circumstances.

This type of empathy can usually be found in people who tend to be easily depressed.
I have seen and met people that have this ability to be very sensitive to other people’s issues. They personally experience the emotions of the people frequently around them, and are not sufficiently aware of this most of the time.

Hence they are usually not armed to control this phenomena, and most of the time, they don’t even know that they are deeply feeding off someone else’s emotions. Sometimes even if they know they are experiencing someone else’s negative emotions, they do not know how to protect themselves, which is important.

First of all, being conscious of the fact that you are easily influenced by other people’s emotions can help you prepare and protect yourself from these negative feelings.
If you think you are feeding of someone else’s emotions, there might be a reason. Your path might be temporarily in synch with this person’s path, or at least the person believes you are on the same path and wants your help, consciously or sub-consciously.

If this circumstance occurs, it is important to think of yourself first and foremost. Ask yourself if you are mentally strong enough to live through such an experience?
If yes, great! Live the experience fully, and do what you have to do to help this person, and in the process yourself, because you feed off both the positive and negative emotions.

However, if you believe the empathy felt from someone else’s emotions is too much for you to handle, identify the source of these feelings, and then, try to visualize yourself cutting a umbilical cord between you and this source.

This doesn’t necessarily stop you participating positively in helping to overcome the source of the negative feelings, but it will help to protect you from succumbing to these same negative emotions, and in the process feeding the flames of negativity, instead of quenching them.


contented said...

lovely blog i empasise with you

angelshair said...

Thank you ^_^!

love said...

Very beautifully written, just like all your blogs. I am a nurse, I deal with empathy everyday. We are taught to have empathy instead of sympathy(pitty) so we don't become overly immersed in our patient's lives. But because my heart is a vulnerable muscle, once in awhile I'll end up pouring out a million emotions. Can't help it, I'm human. Also, when there is empathy I think there is compassion. If I didn't have empathy for people I wouldn't have compassion to want to do my best everyday for them. There ya go, empathy (and compassion) =P

angelshair said...

What a nice comment!! If I am sick one day, I would like to have you as a nurse, what you say is true and beautifull!

Annie's Studio said...

What a great post! It takes a lot of self-esteem to be able to have sympathy and empathy towards someone without getting submerge buy what they are going through!
Good job and very inspirational!

Danangib said...

You're right Mariam. I experienced myself a situation like that one described by you and I can tell, people take advantage of you,demanding you to stop to live your life and help them instead.Because I can find all the time something interesting to do I've never been depressed, but that empathy experience almost depressed me, so can exist the reverse situation.Lucky me, I have a good sense of humour, so...I survived..
The girl's portrait is beautiful and the mermaid-buterfly lovely couple is very dramatic -an impossible love.
And I want to thank you because you add EastSide Blues Band on your list.

Annette Piper said...

What a great article! I especially love the last picture.

Gary Heller said...

Excellent post. I agree with "love" coments that Empathy and compassion are closely related. Empathy is something we all need to have to be able to better understand what our fellow man/woman/animal is going through and to be able to either help, cut some slack in a situation, or sometimes to even better understand ourselves through "outside learning" so to speak.
Absolutely true that having strong feelings of empathy can make us vulnerable and we need to know our limitations so we can either walk away before losing our own stability or being able to get closer to help or just to better understand and learn.
Loved this post, you touched on alot of things for me personally.

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