“A rare quality – intelligence and empathy.” ~ Professor T from Amazon Prime
When the character spoke these words, it was as if lightning hit me. I hit pause, found a piece of paper and wrote down the quote. The quote has sat on my counter for several days. The words and their implication rolling in my mind.
Many times, I’ve wondered about my ability to be empathetic. Oh, don’t misunderstand, I can FAKE empathy. But genuinely feel it? I’m not quite so sure.
While I am not a genius, I will admit to being intelligent. It’s the second trait that intrigues me.
Are you empathetic? Am I?
I don’t want you to confuse sympathy and empathy. I once heard sympathy described as “I am sorry for your pain.” While empathy is “I feel your pain.”
Sympathy is distancing. This I can do.
Empathy is connection. This is murkier.
Empathy is the ability to identify with feelings, thoughts or attitudes of others. But let’s refine this even further.
A few, small bipolar studies have shown people who are bipolar struggle with affective empathy, but cognitive empathy is less a problem. I found no research on bipolar and somatic empathy, but I can say that I never have somatic responses.
I am an enneagram 7 and that type scores the lowest on the compassionate scale. “Their desire to seek happy experiences, fear of emotional suffering, and a tendency to think rather than feel results in a type who is low on empathy.”1
Hmmm … seems I’m going to struggle with empathy both with bipolar and natural tendency. Yikes!
It seems that everyone agrees that empathy is important “for survival”.
As I have mentioned many times, I have difficulty creating and maintaining deep relationships. It’s a little too easy for me to walk away – not in anger but because [well, I’m not sure why].
While I’m happily married and have a good relationship with my children, I do struggle here too. I can “turn it off” when I begin to feel too deeply. The deep emotions [including love and passion] scare me.
When conflict arises, my anger takes on a kind of mania. When I’m letdown, my sadness takes on a kind of depression. So, as you can imagine, I pull back when those emotions start to ramp up.
I think instead of NOT feeling empathy, I feel TOO MUCH empathy. Or, more accurately, I begin to feel too much empathy and it’s better NOT to feel than feel too much so I shut it off.
Well, shit, I found a quiz: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/results/empathy
I must say that I’m surprised. I expected a lower number, a less-than-moderate empathy. But if I pull in my math skills, a 59 out of 110 is a 54%. That’s a discouraging score.
Do empathy and conflict management intertwine? Do I struggle with conflict because I’m not empathetic?
Research suggests – and my therapist agrees – that both empathy and conflict management can be learned. I’ll look at this more deeply next time. I’ve done enough research and soul-searching for one day!
Can I be honest? I feel too old to change my levels of empathy and my ability to handle conflict. It’s all so exhausting, isn’t it?
And yet, tomorrow I’ll put on the boxing gloves and dig in.
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