My Journey from Discovery to Acceptance to Change
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Hope Through Authenticity

Intelligent AND Empathetic … Intelligent OR Empathetic

“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.

Are you intelligent? Am I?

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.

  • Affective empathy is the ability to feel or share in another person’s emotions. It’s sometimes called emotional empathy or primitive empathy.
    • The key words:  feel, share, emotions
  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to recognize and understand another person’s perspective and emotions.
    • The key words: recognize, understand, perspective and emotions
  • Somatic empathy involves having a sort of physical reaction in response to what someone else is experiencing
    • The key words: physical reaction

Some Research

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!

Is Empathy Important?

It seems that everyone agrees that empathy is important “for survival”.

  • Empathy allows people to build social connections with others. By understanding what people are thinking and feeling, people are able to respond appropriately in social situations.
  • Empathizing with others helps you learn to regulate your own emotions. Emotional regulation is important in that it allows you to manage what you are feeling, even in times of great stress, without becoming overwhelmed.
  • Empathy promotes helping behaviors. Not only are you more likely to engage in helpful behaviors when you feel empathy for other people, other people are also more likely to help you when they experience empathy.2
  • Empathy moves us to share in another’s pain, to really see the world through their eyes. When we do, it very often changes the kind of decisions and actions we take.

“Build Social Connections With Others”

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.

  • Is this an excuse and a way to justify the truth that I actually don’t feel empathy?
  • Do I lose relationships because I’m not empathetic (or at least don’t show empathy?)?
  • Do people “feel” my lack of empathy and therefore easily walk away from me too?

Well, shit, I found a quiz: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/results/empathy

  • It told me my empathy score is 59 out of 110, indicating a moderate level of empathy in general.

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.

Conflict and Empathy

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.

Click HERE for the Journaling Activity that Accompanies this Blog!

1https://www.truity.com/blog/why-enneagram-type-3-and-type-7-score-lowest-empathy-and-how-they-can-change-it

2https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562

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    In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....

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