“I empathize with you”

September 8, 2014

I was trying to get someone I know to understand the difficulty of something I had gone through, and her response was, “I empathize with you.”

Only I was pretty sure she didn’t.  I didn’t challenge her assertion until she repeated it later in the conversation, at which point I said, “Do you really put yourself in my shoes and feel the feelings that I have gone through, feel what it was like to go through what I went through, like an actor putting themselves into a role, or do you just feel bad in reaction to hearing about what I went through?”

She agreed it was the latter, that she felt bad on my behalf.  But she volunteered a step further in her admission.  She said, “I don’t allow myself to go there, to try to feel what another person may be feeling, either I won’t let myself or I can’t actually do it.  I only appraise the situation through my intellect, I don’t feel it in my [gut].”

I thanked her for saying that, it helped me stop trying to get bread at the hardware store, as they say.  (I think the “bread” I was looking for was acknowledgement of a certain kind.)

But it is too bad that it is the case, both for me and, I think, for her, that she doesn’t put herself in another’s shoes emotionally.  For me, because it means she’s like the person who doesn’t feel pain and burns herself without realizing it, only she does it with respect to others, such as me.  For her, because I think it helps to experience somebody else’s pain or joy, for example, not just to understand what they are going through, but also to learn that all states of emotion, even “our own,” are transient.  It helps with learning detachment, I think.



2 Responses to ““I empathize with you””

  1. jimmy Says:

    Thought, word, ACTION. Scrap the discussions. Empathy is basically just chatter w/o deeds & and an absence of negativity.

    • Diana Moses Says:

      I think receiving acknowledgment of a certain sort — kind of like a reality check — helps a person to let go and move on without a splinter being left behind. But I agree it’s not the same thing as action, which may also be called for. I would agree with you insofar that the absence of empathy often seems to come up when action is not forthcoming.

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