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The Cost of Empathy

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Most of the time, I feel my ability to empathize with others is a valuable trait. To be able to put myself in one’s situation and allow myself to feel as if I was going through whatever is going on has helped me help others. It, in many ways, is really a blessing. Empathy and sympathy are two different animals and not many realize that. To sympathize is simply to feel bad for someone and to empathize is to truly feel the sorrow, pain, anger, frustration, and so on yourself. Not everyone is able to empathize with others and when you’re able to use that ability to help someone and it’s successful, it’s an amazing feeling.

Sometimes though, it takes a lot out of you when you feel too much and often times, there’s not much you can do to get away from that. Sometimes seeing or hearing about bad things happening around the world will get to you. When there’s so much weighing on you, it can pull you into pits of despair. Sometimes that very thing we may call a blessing one day, well it can feel like a curse the next. It can be really hard to separate yourself from the pain that surrounds you, especially when you yourself have things going on.

When you’re struggling, some may even tell you it’s okay to take a step back from everyone else and focus on your own life and while you know on some level that they’re right, this overwhelming sense of guilt haunts you. “But they need me! What if I can help?” And doesn’t it sometimes help us when we’re able to help others? Yes, sometimes helping another can heal your own soul and what a gift that is. Sometimes though, it can be too much to handle. How though, do you convince yourself to actually put yourself first?

There is a great cost to one’s self when you empathize with others. We don’t always see it or wish to acknowledge it. Sometimes we feel that is why we’re here, to help others so that they’re not alone, so that we might do some good in this world, especially when there’s so much hate surrounding us. But to open yourself up and allowing other’s lives to touch your own and get to you, well it changes you. It can become depressing, keep you up at night, make it hard to eat or push you eat too much, cause crying fits you don’t always understand, and cause damage to your well-being and relationships. People may ask, “Why do you always put other’s needs ahead of your own?” “Why can’t you tell people no?”

Some find their ability to empathize a great strength, for it takes a lot to be able to do this. To make yourself vulnerable really does take courage not everyone possesses. Some though, they feel it is a weakness to make yourself a “slave” to others emotionally, if you will. Some feel that it makes you weak to be that vulnerable, to feel that much, and to allow it to drag you down. I feel, after really thinking about it these many years, that it is both, for me at least. I think it can make me strong, especially when it allows me to truly help another, to make things better for someone, even if just a little. I hate seeing people in pain, of any kind, especially those closest to me. If I can help ease their pain at all, I am glad to do it, most days. There are times when I feel it does hinder me though. There are times when I feel like it’s too much and that it’s taking its toll on me. Sometimes I do feel weakened by it.

I will admit that there are times when there is so much going on and my mind feels as if it’s going to come unhinged. And while there’s some feelings of guilt for “abandoning” people who need me, sometimes I admit it is best when I shut myself out from those around me so that I can focus on me for a moment, so I can think and sort things out. Sometimes I need a breather, some time to relax and let the stress levels come down. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever needed to walk away from everyone else for a little bit so that you could fix your own problems? Have you ever felt so dragged down by what everyone around you is going through that you feel like you’re about to lose control of yourself? What do you do when you feel these things? And how do you convince yourself that you’re not being a bad friend or relative? How do you convince yourself that it’s okay to look out for you before others sometimes?

Mostly, I do feel being, what some call an Empath, is a good thing. But yeah, it really can cost you. The trick is to find a healthy balance, but often times we don’t know how to achieve that. I think it’s a learning process, one we may never fully succeed at, but perhaps get better at as the years go by. Here’s to learning, growing, helping  one another, and yet not neglecting ourselves. May we get even a little bit better each day and finding ways to improve both our lives and those around us.

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