My problem with empathy.. can anybody relate to this?


#1

I have great difficulty with being too empathic. When I hear about the sufferings of innocent beings- whether they are people or animals, (but especially children or entirely defenseless animals), I literally suffer for them in my mind, and I have to work to block out the thought of their pain.

Honestly, the stories of the sufferings of some of these people haunt me and I literally suffer from it in a way that comes back to me periodically. I cannot tolerate repeating some of the stories, but I will give an example. Last August a woman drove to work and left her 11 month old baby in the backseat of her minivan for 8hours while she went to work and the baby suffered terribly and died. I didn’t read that- I read a detailed description of how the baby suffered and what she felt before she died and the evidence that the coroner had to that effect.

First, the story made me cry. Not, I felt like crying, or a few tears were in my eyes- I really cried. I then went to bed, got up the next day, went about my normal life, and that evening when I had time to think my mind went back to the story and instead of dwelling on the horror, helplessness and pain of that story I became furiously angry at this mother for being so disconnected from her child and for (seemingly) valuing her career before her baby at home that needed her. (She was an evangelical Christian and was married to a man with a good income, and was in a profession she could have temporarily left to stay home with her infant.)

So, after a few days I put the story out of my mind, but there are other stories like this that haunt me and some are so terrible they come back to me when I see things that remind me of them.

In some ways I value my sensitivity, but in other ways it makes it very difficult for me.

Now, I do have company- this particular story caused an uproar in the community and there were lots of people who were just as upset by it. The problem is I think I have a tendency to feel things even more deeply, and as a defense to those emotions I tend to withdraw, and even sometimes to lose faith.


#2

Like most everything there is a balance to be struck. Empathy that decommissions one from the duties etc. of one’s life is not productive, nor is an extreme type of empathy that decommissions again meaning we are so bowed down that we cannot do anything about that person’s or persons’ suffering. Empathy that is overly emotional in content is often not at all productive.
Balance is most always a gift of The Holy Spirit.

Barb:)


#3

I guess I should clarify. I am not hysterical or overly emotional, I just feel this great overwhelming sense of the other person’s suffering.

I am a practical person with a great deal of responsibility and never decommissioned from my duties.

I think this may be something that you have to experience yourself to understand.

EDIT…maybe this is a better way to say it. I seem to be *bothered by * the suffering of other people in a personal, empathetic way more than the average person. When I say I am bothered, I do not mean that I flail around in hysterics in an immature display of emotion, I just mean I seem to perceive it more acutely than others do. Related to this, I also see injustices and hypocrisy much sooner than others do, and have an excellent intuitive sense of others’ intentions.


#4

Perhaps empathy is a gift that our Lord wants you to do something with.

Perhaps visit the hospitalized or homebound as an extraordinary minister of Communion?


#5

Yes, I can relate, and it does affect faith. I try to rationalize it away with Stoic detachment, i.e. if it’s something that is out of my control, why fret and worry about it. That doesn’t always work though.

That’s good to hear. In that case, depression can be ruled out.
It sounds like you’re just a sensitive soul, and the world needs more of them.


#6

Quoting AngelsUnaware:

I guess I should clarify. I am not hysterical or overly emotional, I just feel this great overwhelming sense of the other person’s suffering.

I am a practical person with a great deal of responsibility and never decommissioned from my duties.

I think this may be something that you have to experience yourself to understand.

Oh dear - Apologies, I did not mean to infer that you lapsed on the wrong side of a balanced empathy:o Rather I wanted just to point out that empathy does ask a balance and what an imbalance of empathy may ‘look like’. As with all things, balance is important and it can be difficult to say what exactly the balanced action or reaction etc. may be…it is the fine tuning, as it were, achieved by The Holy Spirit.

EDIT…maybe this is a better way to say it. I seem to be *bothered by *the suffering of other people in a personal, empathetic way more than the average person. When I say I am bothered, I do not mean that I flail around in hysterics in an immature display of emotion, I just mean I seem to perceive it more acutely than others do. Related to this, I also see injustices and hypocrisy much sooner than others do, and have an excellent intuitive sense of others’ intentions.

Rejoice and be thankful for this special Gift of God, which I am sure can be used many times over for much good.:thumbsup: The gifts we have are given to us as pure and undeserved gift are for the good of the whole Church, which of course embraces too the whole of mankind and our entire universe.
You may like to consider using this gift in a very special way, as suggested by another Poster:

Perhaps visit the hospitalized or homebound as an extraordinary minister of Communion?

God bless…
Barb:)


#7

Very interesting that you would say that. I have been considering volunteering for that very duty for about 2 weeks.

[quote=redhen] Yes, I can relate, and it does affect faith.
[/quote]

Yes- this is why I consider it a problem. Like you, I also have to just block it out through emotional detachment. I just can’t connect to those feelings and stay in them. It reminds me of the the book of Genesis, where God says the blood of your brother is calling me from the grave. The suffering of others haunts me in that way if I allow myself to think about it.

I do have a history of depression, so I would not rule it out entirely, but I think that both things are going on- I have a tendency to depression and am also very sensitive.


#8

Thank you. I will try to find a way to channel it into something good instead of despairing over others’ pain.


#9

I know how you feel! I can relate.


#10

You sound like a sensitive and caring person. Nothing wrong with that. When I read stories like the one you described, I also become angry and sad. I try to say a quick prayer for those involved. I would concentrate on doing things that help those that are in need and reach out to anyone that asks for your help…

God Bless


#11

AU, your description makes it sound as though you have a propensity for taking on others’ pain. Something about their pain triggers your pain. I don’t believe this is something that can be “fixed” by a brief discussion on an internet message board. If it’s a concern – and it sounds like it is – you’d be best finding a therapist who understands this issue. Hope this helps.


#12

I have heard about this story too. Extremely sad :frowning: However I don’t think it is fair to make a sweeping judgement and generalization against working mothers. I know many good Christian working moms with young children. I think there are both good working and good SAH moms. I currently stay at home with my toddler and infant. My mother in law may be watching them at home more if I take a part time job to help make ends meet.

To me it seems like the problem was more about forgetfulness/absent-mindedness, not the fact that she was working. It could have happened if she forgot to bring in the baby after buying groceries or something.

I’m sure she would never have deliberately left the baby in the car. To do so would indeed be gravely wrong!! I have empathy for the suffering the baby must have had as well as an empathy for the family that must be tremendously grieving at their tragic loss:( :frowning:


#13

I get very upset when I see seniors or animals being abused, and yes the scenes would replay in my head making me more upset. But I realised it was best to pray and meditate on what mercy really is. I have prayed, read a lot and meditated and this has brought me lots of peace, thank God. When I see these things, I still feel like I want to protect the senior or the animal, but I now feel sorry for the abuser, because he/she has to face the Lord about this. The victim WILL ALWAYS have the favor of the Lord and whatever they innocently suffer, the Lord our God will so bless them when they reach heaven. The abuser or confused person, is the one we have to pray more for, because if they do not repent, they can loose heaven.
Meditating on the reading of the Good Shepard will probabbly help you a bit, to not get to the point of anger. When one reads that Jesus will leave the 99 sheep alone to go and find the lost one, it helps us to understand how much Jesus suffers to have to loose one soul…I think that by posting this you are at the door of something new in your spirituality. You probabbly are at the point of growing into a deeper understanding of what mercy and love really are to the Lord. So I advice you to pray, read and meditate on mercy and love…God Bless You!!!
I know an attorney in Puerto Rico whose wife went on vacation to Disney with their older daughter and left him with the baby, while he was in the middle of a very stressful case. He was supposed to drop the baby off in the morning at his mother in law’s house, but he drove with the baby in the car straight to court. His cell phone was off, because he was in court, so even though his mother in law called and called, he never noticed. Later he just remembered on his own storming out of the court room, screaming that the baby was in the car. Sadly it was too late!..He now is mentally ill and can no longer practice, the couple divorced and the whole family still suffers. There is a lot of blame to go around, we can even blame the criminals in that court room that day, bacause if they had not commited that crime, that court case would of never happened. Sooo since we live in a fallen world, it is best for us to pray more, meditate on and read a lot about love and mercy. Because people that sin, abuse or just simply are caught up in the rat race are souls that jesus loves also and does not want to loose them.
I know you are growing in spirit, just follow the love and mercy of Christ!!!


#14

Can you elaborate on this? I’m afraid this isn’t enough information to know what is wrong and what to look for to help.

I am sure if this is relevant, but I have never experienced being tortured or pain that is similar.


#15

This problem seems to be common in nursing and leads to burnout. It’s ironic that the same work that produces burnout can also be highly rewarding.

hrjob.ca/newsletter/print-empathetic-i-738.html

You can do a search on empathetic distress or empathic over-arousal for more info.


#16

I have a similar issue although not for current events. My problem is sometimes, without any media prompting or other outside influences, my mind will vividly display scenes of torture that many martyrs suffered and that people during the Inquisition suffered. The vividness of the thoughts include the panic and screams of agony they must have felt. This greatly upsets me and sickens me physically. Every time it happens I ask God why I have these thoughts. No answer yet.
I’d say it happens once every 4-6 weeks. The only thing I know to do is to pray for all those in the world who are being tortured or suffering severe physical and emotional trauma now. Maybe that’s why God allows these thoughts in my head. Dunno, but if so, His will be done!

Peace in Christ,

trob


#17

I believe that this is a fairly common problem and one in which going overboard with detachment is all too often done (I wonder sometimes if that is one reason that our culture has become too detached.):shrug:


#18

you’re definitely not alone. :hug1: i am one of those people who tends to mourn the world too – i was in therapy a few years ago for it, but ultimately my therapist told me that there is nothing wrong with my thinking. the fallen world is a suffering, diseased, unjust, miserable place where horrible things happen. empathy for is not a disease, disorder, or imbalance. it is a gift, i have been assured of this by my priest and the sisters that i once discerned with. God has a purpose for it. i have no clue what that purpose is, and at times i would like to wrap up this “gift” and re-gift it to someone else (preferably someone i don’t like LOL :wink: ) but it’s what God gave me, so i think it must be a good thing. and actually for all i have read, hardness of heart is much more a problem in the world than empathy.

when i feel too soft for the world, i unite my grief with Our Lady, who surely weeps for the suffering of her children the way only a mother can. beyond that, i do limit my exposure to the constant deluge of information about all of these things which upset me. i went vegan because i can’t bring myself to participate in the violence and cruelty i see in the meat industry, and it troubles me also to consume a rich diet while half the world starves. i give when i can, i help where and when i can, and it helps me, to know that i might be making a difference in some small way. people have said, “you can’t save them all” which is true, but if i can save even one, then it is better than doing nothing.

i also know that God’s consolation is infinite, because even though i have all this empathy and sadness for the world… i am overall actually a very happy person. i smile at everyone, i laugh a lot, and i feel a true sense of love and peace in my heart.

think of it this way - we follow a savior who took on the sins of the whole world and paid for them with his own flesh. talk about empathy overload. if we emulate this even to some small degree, we are only becoming more like Christ. :signofcross:


#19

… detachment or apathy:thumbsup: …

.


#20

Yup, but it seems to me that even the large amount of apathy we see in the culture may very well have its origin in oversensitivity. Road rage is certainly another symptom (that our culture recognizes as negative) of that oversensitivity that all too many people haven’t learned to balance, yet. You were sure right with your earlier post, talking about our need for balance of emotional expression. In fact, I suppose that would even cover our cultures’ imbalance in sexual areas.:confused: Thoughts?


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