This is the 3rd in a series of postings sharing my thoughts and experiences on the topic of basic needs of humans and the feelings we have when those needs are and are not being met. The opening post in the series is “BASIC NEEDS Being Met? Feelings are the Signal” You may want to give it a read before proceeding. Think of it like a brochure for the journey you’re about to embark on! And thanks for joining me… I always appreciate and enjoy traveling with friends.
It seems a natural segue from APPRECIATION to EMPATHY in the discussion of HUMAN NEEDS and what feelings are triggered when those needs are and are not being met. Basic human needs are more like a web of interdependencies rather than stand-alone entities, but even in that web, there are some associations closer than others.
In last week’s discussion about appreciation (see my post called,”BASIC NEEDS: Appreciation (Use It or Lose It)“], empathy showed its face. And how could it not? Empathy is that valuable quality that allows us to imagine what it might be like to live in someone else’s shoes. This can be a key element on the path towards appreciating other people in our lives. Personally, I’m rather drawn to empathetic souls and leery of those who are not. Empathetic people tend to be more mindful of their words and actions around others. Usually, and I’m speaking from first-hand knowledge, empathetic folks are also sensitive folks. The sensitivity that allows them to feel empathy for others is the same sensitivity that causes them to be easily hurt by others’ words and actions.
To be on the receiving end of empathy is a good place to be. If you have your wires connected properly in your head, chances are you will feel moved and thankful that someone is relating to you and feeling compassionate about your struggles, perhaps when many others aren’t. If there were a temperature setting for empathy, I’m quite sure it would be WARM.
On the flip side, lack of empathy for others turns us into terrible people. The soul lacking empathy is the teenager who tortures animals, the kid or adult who bullies other kids or adults, the person who barks commands at other people and humiliates them in public, the person who rules a nation or a loved one by fear. They are the judgmental loudmouths, the self-proclaimed authorities on everything, the person with a smirk permanently chiseled into his or her grin. When we lack empathy, the people who must deal with us feel disappointed by us, distressed by the cool, callous way we might treat them and untrusting of our intentions–as well they should be, because we seem mean spirited and tend to let them down a lot. An empathy-deficient person might have suffered a terrible childhood or a terrible adult relationship where empathy was not shown. They may, therefore, either intentionally or unintentionally withhold empathy from others. Another possibility is the empathy-deficient person might be the person who grew up with too much entitlement and simply does not and cannot comprehend what it means to deal with disappointment, misfortune, or significant challenge. That lack of comprehension can be coupled with intolerance for others, or a holier-than-thou, above-it-all attitude.
Perhaps a more unsettling way a person without empathy can trigger negative feelings in others is by sensing another’s propensity for empathy and taking advantage of it. The most obvious example in my lifetime has usually been among women I know who have partnered with a man who may not appear so but is extremely needy–unable or unwilling to stand on his own. Very often in these cases the man in question sought someone highly empathetic to either take care of him (in the best case) or to be the recipient of his unhealthy need to control his partner (in the worst case). A form of manipulation can occur via inconsistencies when in these cases men like this react in extremes to the empathetic souls’ caretaking, either by praising the caretaker partner when the man needs to keep her on the hook or by withholding praise when the man needs to establish power and control. These types of relationships concern me because there is an underlying cruelty in its foundation.
Empathetic souls can have a tendency to place too much of a priority on what other people feel and need, ultimately caring for others more than they care for their own selves. And when the day comes when the person you’ve been caring for no longer requires your services, you can find yourself alone, your life long gone–dedicated to someone who no longer or never did care. Sadness and disappointment can fill your heart and confusion can twist your gut as your empathy allows you to validate the other person’s negative behavior. You can find yourself battling with the need to remain empathetic and the need to accept that your empathy has led you to a dead end. And how could that happen to someone with so noble an effort–so valiant an intention?
I realize I’m only scratching the surface here of potential issues relating to empathy. So many examples with so many people come to mind. I thought somehow I’d be able to come up with a list of things to do to avoid great downfall in this area, but I might have to rest knowing I’ve made an attempt pointing out what it looks like when something’s gone wrong in our relationships with each other. The reality is at times each one of us has had to relearn lessons in empathy, an ability and inclination I believe we were naturally born with. As we form opinions into and during adulthood, we can tend to separate ourselves from others so much that we forget we are connected. But, when it comes down to it, we need to support each other in order for our species to survive. We need to evolve emotionally and empathy is key in making that happen. Let’s not forget that we are connected.