When I was a little girl, I would find a toy that I had not seen in days or weeks even, and I would sometimes cry. I felt so sorry for the toys that I had not played with. I would then make myself play with them even if I did not want to because I felt like such a bad momma bear.
This would set the tone for the rest of my life.
I’m saying this to explain my empathy and sometimes how I wish I could be rid of it. I have had a therapist tell me “Your empathy is a side effect of your childhood, saying you wish you could be rid of it would totally change who you are, but also I understand how empathy like yours can make even normal everyday life hard.”
Another reason I am not a fan of my “empathy” is that over the years it has made people see me as weak, mentally challenged, and annoying. It began early as I mentioned with something as simple as my dolls and stuffed animals not getting enough play time with me. That would move into collecting stray animals and nursing them to health, and if they didn’t get healthy days on days of me crying. My memory floats back to this one particular day. My papaw who had worked extremely hard had come into the supermarket to surprise me basically, and I ran to him making out like the greatest thing in the world had just happened. I went home with him after that. Once my mom got home, she spanked me saying how someone had asked her if I was (The r-word). Now we don’t know if someone really did or mom was just mad, I got to leave with papaw. Which was another thing I always felt bad about. I had a sense my mom wished she was still a child being able to crawl up in her daddy’s lap when the world got scary.
My empathy didn’t just expand to animals – it was also focused on my mom and stuffed animals. I would always befriend the new kids at school because I didn’t want them to feel alone. I cried if someone was getting made fun of but just ignored it as if I was the butt of the joke. The taking on strays continued into people. My friends sometimes seemed like strays. I defended the weak and accepted my own fate to be made fun of. Empathy caused many tears, and feelings some I could explain and some I could not throughout my school years.
Another example of me as a child and teenager is my papaw was a minister and he built houses and churches. Sometimes we would drive 45 minutes to church and not one person would show up except for Momo and Ms. Pauline. So there the 6 of us would sit, my mom, nanna, me, the ladies, and my papaw and we would have a service. Of course, a very short one ends in a long prayer for the congregation. But before I’d get in the car I’d excuse myself to the bathroom to cry. My poor papaw worked so hard all day in the sun, had to come home shower and dress, drive 45 minutes trying to learn what he prepared, and then drive 45 minutes back home. He would be exhausted, yet over and over this would be his fate. It broke my heart for him. I’d have a small cry and then go back out to leave.
I felt these feelings towards my grandparents and even my mom more and more as I grew older. I became lost in my early 20s to drunkenness and pills. I felt so much sorrow for not spending more time with my own family. I felt so much pain over losing my nana soon the grief and my empathy for those around me that I succumbed to my pain and the addictions took over.
It was in my early 20’s my first relationship happened. Then in my late 20 and early 30’s my second relationship. Both began and ended with me loving them yet hurting them to save them in my mind from me. I began my first long relationship because it was what they wanted and I wanted them to be happy. In the second relationship, I was very much in love, he treated me like a queen and offered me the life I could have only ever dreamed of. However, he broke my heart and I felt like I was the cause, my empathy for him, and the things he missed by marrying me. I wanted to give him back his life, his happiness, and his greed for success and accomplishment. The worst thing I did, protected myself from getting hurt. Did my empathy finally change? Could I have empathy for myself at long last?
It wasn’t until my 30’s I was even able to talk about my childhood. It made me wonder and think so much about the topic, soon when people would ask me what I’d change about myself and I’d say I’d get rid of empathy. Up to that point, my heart hurt 98 percent of the time leaving no time for me to feel anything for myself. Recently I was told that I have done some really cruel things to someone that didn’t deserve it. My friend whom I would do anything for at any time, hurt in my late teens and early 20s and it is currently breaking my heart to think of it. My empathy for my self-swelled up at first. I was like how could they be so cruel to bring this up after all these years, why can I forgive and forget and you cannot? Since that first chat about the topic, my mind has gone back to the younger me. I can’t stop thinking about the pain I caused and how terrible a person I was. Where did my empathy go during those ruff years? I have no idea really. Maybe it was lost to the addictions or the mental illness that was occurring. All I know is I never want to be that person again and if having a big heart and a lot of empathy is my cross to bear to prevent that then let it be.
What I have learned about empathy. For empathy to be defined: It’s the ability to understand and feel the feelings of others.
Over the years I would feel the pain of those around me more so than the pain I was feeling for myself. I felt the worry for papaw that he had for his church, and I felt the pain that my mom had inside every time she swung a belt, stick, or hand, I felt the sacredness for new kids at schools, I felt the pain of those being made fun of, maybe because I also knew that pain. I know the pain I caused my grandparents for never being home. It haunts me to this day. Even with all the empathy for others – did I do enough to help? I’ll never know the answer to that. Did my grandparents know how much I loved them, sadly I’ll never know that either? My friend, I can try and make life better for her. I can let my empathy lead me. Because I have been reminded how I am without empathy I will never again say I do not want it. I will also know that empathy does not make you weak, it does not make you stupid or annoying. It makes you stronger than you ever could imagine, and more passionate about the life of others as well as yours. Never forget to feel your own feelings first.
Do you have a personality trait you wish you could trash? Maybe you have a trait that you wish was better. I’d love to hear your input.