Struggling to feel sympathy towards others

I lost my parents when I was a kid–some of you know this about me. I don’t dwell on it, and I have given the pain of it to God…cry when I need to, etc…but, it’s not something that I dwell on like say, 15 years ago.

But, here’s my problem, and I need your advice…help. When I hear friends for example, tell me that they have lost a grandparent, etc…or even a parent (I’m 38, so they are either near my age or older) I don’t have any feelings about it. None. Of course, in my heart I pray for them, but at that moment–I can offer nothing. I almost go cold…like I want to say…‘at least you had your mother for most of your life.’ I shouldn’t say I feel nothing–but I almost feel a tinge of anger run through me…not sure why?

I so want to change this part of me. I have grown in many ways, but this is something–I just have a hard time overcoming. I have given it to God, and when I ask Him for help…I feel better, I would say. But, then, a month later…another friend will come along, sad over the loss of an aunt, grandparent…whoever. And, something just goes blank inside of me.

The only exception to this, is when I hear about people losing their children. There’s something ‘unnatural’ about that, and so I am a good comforter if you will, to those friends of mine or people I have known, suffering from such a tragedy.

It’s not that I don’t have sympathy, in other situations where people have lost loved ones, but I can offer nothing. I have often asked God in my prayers…if you allowed this to happen to me, why can’t I help anyone with their losses? You know, like my impediments can enable me, more than if I didn’t have them, so to speak. Another example is last year, I decided that God was calling me to a bereavement group–as a counselor–at my parish. Ok…I signed up. Thought it would be something I could offer, and then when I went to the first session, I just went stone cold again…like I wanted to run out of the building!:o

Needless to say, I told the head counselor that I couldn’t do it…I even made up a reason which I then went to Confession over for lying.:rolleyes:

I have read that grief can take a long time to go through…I don’t feel like I’m still grieving, but I also know that my reactions to people who have lost loved ones is pretty sad, actually. I catch myself lately, and feel God saying…go console that person.

Is it sinful to behave like this? I feel like I don’t really have control over it, per se…but I guess I do. I’m just kinda sad about it.
Oh, and I also don’t like sympathy given to me…so, it’s a two way street.

Thx for listening.

I would not think it sinful, but I do think your feelings are a product of society. It’s analogous to abuse in a way. Just because someone has lost a loved one doesn’t mean they are either qualified or required to console others in similar situations. Same for an person that was abused.

That “going cold” feeling seems to me like an internal protection that should be listened to, not neccessarily overcome.

I don’t know what to say except that I react similarly. My father died when I was 6 and my mom died when I was 30. I have always been “matter of fact” about death.

I feel those same tinges when someone complains about their mom doing something. I have a friend who just lost her GREAT grandmother and while I said the things you are supposed to say in such a situation, I really didn’t feel anything about it. I alwasy just assumed it was a result of losing my father at such a young age.

It will be interesting to see what others say.

omg–I am not alone in this feeling! thank you, Lord. Not that I want you to feel this same way! It’s a crummy feeling really.

I noticed how you capitalized GREAT, above. (It’s something I would do, too):o

I wouldn’t say I’m matter of fact about death…I guess I don’t understand other people’s grief, unless it relates to mine. My husband said…and continues to say…‘grief is relative. just because someone lost his mother when she’s 90, doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt.’ And I get that, but I guess in some ways…my coldness is selfishness in disguise.

I admit–I spent a LARGE part of my life angry with God over it. Never left the faith–always prayed to Him…but I was angry with Him. Did you ever feel that way Brigadoon?

a product of society? can u elaborate?

A “feeling” is neutral in and of itself. It’s how you act on it once you discover it that matters. You pray for people - that’s a great action.

Some people are just more emotional than others. It’s how we’re wired. If thats how you are, accept it about yourself and keep praying for people :slight_smile: .

You can’t make yourself feel something that’s not there. —KCT

Just remember – love is an act of the will even more than it’s a feeling. We don’t hear that much in this society, but it’s true. You are allowed to express sympathy when appropriate, without having to be wracked with grief yourself.

Sometimes it’s a great gift not to feel another’s misfortune as deeply as if it were your own. You can be a lot more helpful if you’re not busy emoting, or inadvertently trying to keep up with the actual mourners on how sorry you are. Also, you can get out of people’s face quicker and let them get on with grieving.

And I say that as someone who does sometimes overdo the empathy, and who sometimes finds herself weeping hugely over somebody else’s trouble, even long afterward. I mean, that’s not useful to anybody.

My mother, grandfather, grandmother all died when I was young. My mother died when I was 16, and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to deal with. I have similar feelings as the OP, I deal with death in a matter of fact way, very neutral. Until it’s a death of a person close to me, that is. I think it’s because of this: Because I’ve dealt with death and great pain at a young age, I’ve come up with this defense mechanism where I don’t get emotionally involved with death of people I don’t specifically know. It’s a natural defense so we don’t have to go through all those horrible feelings and pain all over again.

When my father died, 10 years after my mom, I had a hard time dealing with it. I didn’t really break down until I saw him laying in his coffin, then the floodgates opened. Until then it was very matter of fact.

So, imo, it’s a defense mechanism. I agree, it stinks that you can’t often empathize with other people’s pain. When my wife’s father died I couldn’t really help her with it. I don’t really have any words of wisdom or encouragement.

The general perception that certain events have certain reactions because society at large expresses them.

We all internalize our unique experiences to these social perceptions; sometimes they match, sometimes they do not. When they don’t, we think we are somehow out of cinc with the norm. (I now think society is out of cinc with me since I’m so normal. :rolleyes: )

Yours is a perfect example. Everyone assumes you should feel empathy, but you don’t because of your personal experiences. But because you don’t match the norm, you think something is wrong with you.

Most people hold grandparents as something very special. I’m sure they are, but I never knew mine (from either of my parents) so I have no frame of reference.

Do you get excited for your upcoming birthday celebration? I don’t, but everyone around me does. Birthdays are universally happy aren’t they?

Do you coo and say “how cute” to friends/family with ugly babies. (Sorry new parents- some of those kids are funny looking.)

I say this for myself as well: We cannot judge ourselves in every aspect to society at large. Truth be told, I think most of these “norms” are kind of a polite social veil. Many people use it to mask what they themselves feel off kilter about themselves. I doubt very much you are alone.

I’m not sure this response does justice to what I’m trying to say. Sometimes we have good reason to supress feelings/emotions, and sometimes that conflcits with what we think society expects us to be or feel. If you think it goes beyond good reason, seek professional guidence to be sure. Unless the rest of your life is out of whack, my bet is you are as normal as any of us.

When you have lost all feeelings, all empathy, all joy then you have a right to be worried- and stear clear of the rest of us. :wink:

Love the above post, Verisimilitude. Very insightful.

I too agree with the posters who have suggested that the cold “shut down” is a defense mechanism. Whether all the grieving has been done, the loss, I believe, is always there, an abyss which really can’t be filled. Allowing the pain of other’s too close might re-open wounds and that can be extremely frightening.

I also agree that when one loses parents, siblings, or, (God forbid) children, it does beomce difficult to really emote over other’s experiences with less intimate family members, such as aunts or even grandparents. This does not invalidate the loss, but in general terms, it seems not quite the trauma as losing an immediate family member, especially if the loss is sudden and untimely.

perhaps you can take your attitude and use it in a consoling matter. You can explain how lucky they are to have had their parent or grand parent for so long and how not everyone is that fortunate. Perhaps this will make others more understanding of your attitude.

From pure personal experience, I’ve always felt that the older you are when you lose someone, the harder it is…because you have so much ‘history’ together.

I lost my sister, my grandma when I was 4, an aunt when I was 5, my dad when I was 7. These deaths I accepted with a sort of peacefulness, yes I missed them lots but they were with God now.

Between the age of 10 and 20 I lost 3 other grandparents, several uncles and aunts, 2 friends from school and 2 cousins. These deaths I found much harder, because I had so many memories and was at an age where I started thinking ‘about life’.

At the age of 30 and 32 I lost my mom, my 4 aunts and my godmother. I cried buckets about all of them, infact my moms death triggered grief about my father and my sister that I had NEVER FELT at the time…I think because I’m getting older myself now, my own mortality is ‘closer’ (a lot of my relatives died between 38 and 51! Not ‘far away’ for me at 36)…

So…I wouldn’t say it’s ‘easier to lose someone’ when you’re older, or less of a big deal…very often the opposite is true. I know when my dh’s parents will die, he’ll be devastated…probably more than I was…

As for ‘feelings’…no I don’t really feel much for other people’s loss either, but I do try and talk to friends about it if they want. My best friend lost her mom when she was 37 and it was basically the first death in her family…so it hit her hard. And while I found myself very distant from the actual grief, I did somehow manage to be there for her, let her talk about it and offered prayers and a shoulder to cry on.

Other than that…death is a part of life, and as such I’m not worried about it.

Anna x

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