litharriel: (The madness of your choice)
[personal profile] litharriel
So, I came across this article on empathy. Despite being a pagan, I tend to be healthily skeptical of New Age stuff, as it tends to have its share of fluffy bunnies, nuts, and charlatans but I will say that this describes me with a fairly eerie amount of accuracy.

There are just a few things that don't quite hit right:

4. I have no problem watching violence on TV. It's fake, and I actually think violence in a fictional context is an important means of catharsis.

7. I'm pretty sure my lower back problems stem far more from having an enormous rack, than from "being ungrounded." You know, they say having DD breasts is on par with carrying a couple of full-sized frozen chickens around with you all the time. So, strap a couple of those to your chest for the better part of 30 years and tell me how your back feels.

21. I actually find a certain amount of clutter to be pleasant, so long as it's a clutter of pleasant things. Growing up, the walls of my room were crammed with art I'd printed out, and my bedroom now isn't much better. It's just I paid for the art and it's framed.

24. Let's be real. I'm overweight because I don't exercise enough. Also, I suppose a fondness for comfort food doesn't help, even if I do often only eat one meal a day.

28. I don't actually have a problem owning antiques or used things.

29. I have no problem eating meat. I'm an omnivore, nature designed me to eat meat, along with all the veggies and fruit. Meh.

The rest of it, though, is pretty spot on. It's largely why I'm happiest living alone, and start getting stressed and overtired if I have to be sociable too many days in a row. It's like when you lay in a bath. If it's hot, your skin gets hot. If it's cold, your skin gets cold. After a while, if you spend too much time with people, they kind of seep into you, and it's hard to tell where you end and they begin and it's unsettling, exhausting, and sometimes confusing. And then there are moments when you're minding your own business and an impression comes in on you and you're like Where the fuck is THIS coming from???. Oh! Oh! And have you ever tried living with a person who's got a mental illness and an anger management problem? Imagine that, only you can feel all of their fucked up emotional shit pressing in on you! Having fun yet? Being able to use logic and reason become very, very important. I mean, there are some good sides to it, too, but anybody who tries to call being empathic a gift, I have one word for you.

Date: 2014-07-13 02:43 pm (UTC)
witchcrafter: (Alice: We're all mad here)
From: [personal profile] witchcrafter
If it helps -- in a "here is some logic so this will all make solid sense" sort of way -- I actually read a theory recently concerning the actual psychology behind this. This person had noticed that all of the particularly empathetic, sensitive people in their lives, themselves included, had grown up in dysfunctional households full of people who tended to take as much from those around them as they could. Their formative years were essentially battlegrounds. In their eyes, existing as an empath was not a magical hooha new age thing they were born with so much as a coping tactic that had been developed over time, in that they had essentially been trained since childhood to be so open, intuitive, and easily drained.

So if one is living with, say, a crazy mother who insists that the world must bend to her iron fist at all times and gets nasty when it doesn't, or people who are liable to shoot down every harmless whim someone has just to keep control and give them bullshit reasons for it, it's actually beneficial to develop this level of sensitivity. Meaning, if you live with someone so unceasingly negative, you're living with a ticking time bomb and every interaction is a diplomatic negotiation. If your housemate with the unpredictable moods who likes to walk all over you is starting to get angry, you want to be able to pick up on that long before the verbal and physical signs of their emotions start to appear. It makes it easier to see the fight coming and, hopefully, to escape or dismantle it before it gets bad. If you want something from someone disinclined to give it, you're more likely to get your way if you can tell without asking that this person is in a reasonable mood. So you watch for things like a hawk, and pick up on signals that are so slight that you only really get them subconsciously.

The trouble is that this causes the empathetic person to live that way constantly, and the whole world is liable to become a similar battleground.

Thinking of it that way, it's not that you're having some sort of mystical soul issue that you won by luck of the draw. It's that leaving your solitude means leaving safety, and something as simple as going out to the grocery means diving into a jungle full of armed guerilla fighters who don't care too much if civilians get caught up in their personal wars. Think of people who were abused as children, or animals who have been rescued. All it takes is a lifted hand and a slight raise in voice to send them flinching away. It's the same concept here. Simply existing in the same space as someone else means flinching, and you're constantly trying to judge when things are gonna go sour so you can get the hell out of dodge.

The other thing I've read recently has to do with "reverse empathy". I have a lot of these same introverted characteristics, but the difference is that my mood is catching, particularly if it's negative. I've been told several times through the years that when I am unhappy about something, even if there is no expression on my face and even if I say nothing, everyone close to me can tell. The best I've ever heard it described was that at one point I was "radiating disapproval". But it seems that many people consider psychopathy and the like to be the opposite, and that's not at all what this is.

However, in trying to find words to articulate it, I ran across someone who called themselves a "reverse-engineered amplifier". They said they had started out as a traditional empath and realized that the open channel through which they were receiving everyone else's emotions worked both ways. They began turning other people's emotions around on them, projecting them away, such that their feelings were amplified, but the empath did not internalize it themselves. At first they accidentally made the other person's feelings double. But with practice, they found that they could dismantle someone's anger by shooting it with calm, or settle a happy person down by refusing to give them back their own mania. It was still empathy in that they were receiving the feelings of other people. It was just actively used and turned around, rather than drawn in close and kept inside.

I think that's what I do, because it isn't just my negative moods that go out. In particular, I can also calm a situation down just by being calm. It's why my friends who are stressed flock to me. In a crisis, I radiate calm. If someone else is upset, I block it out, preventing them from feeding on my reactions. The patience you remember from the trip we took was something like that, and it's something that took me years to learn. Now, thinking of it in the context of the battleground I grew up in, it all makes perfect sense.

My brother would fly off the handle if you so much as snapped at him, and yelling at him when he was upset only made everything worse. My mother told me again and again and again through the years that if he was having a tantrum, I absolutely could not present myself as anything but neutral. I had to keep my voice calm or he just wouldn't hear it; he wasn't capable of processing a sharp tone when he was in a snit. I had to keep my body language contained or he'd notice the movement and be distracted by it. If I gave him the slightest bit of a reaction, he'd feed on it.

Like you, I learned to spot a conflict coming and to be on my guard wherever I went. The difference is that within the context of my brother's autism, I was given a weapon -- dig in your heels, refuse to give the fight energy to feed on, and dismantle the situation as quickly and effectively as possible. It's how I was trained, and that's what I was doing at Disney. Your struggling was my conflict, my battle that I was fighting. I reacted as I had been taught: Remain calm, find the source of the issue, eliminate it, and keep a watchful eye to make sure it is not permitted to happen again. This particular time it manifested in flinging protein bars around and bringing out a water bottle and yelling "hydrate!" every twenty minutes, rather than riding out an autistic temper tantrum.

Looking over all of that, then, I think we're probably both empaths, and probably you much more so than me. And since we seem to have opposite ways of coping, it's no wonder we're drawn together. It seems to me that to be more steady, what I am going to need to learn is to monitor just what mood I am projecting at any given time so I don't send too much negativity out to other people and learn to take in more positivity at the same time, and what you need to learn is to block and then shove back the way I can. Then I won't be Godzilla-stomping incessantly, and you won't wind up feeling so overwhelmed and drained.


litharriel: (Default)

July 2014


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