I’ve been thinking a bit lately about empathy, both as a broad concept and how it manifests specifically in my own life. Empathy comes easily to me (in much the way patience does not) and I’ve always been drawn to the empathetic sort, the kind of person who sweats great big drops of empathy after an intense workout that includes one-armed emotional pushups. See, I think that the tendency to comprehend someone else’s feelings and then adopt those same emotions as a way to connect on a deeper level is, in many ways, just an offshoot of being logical. Think about it: someone you know feels hurt or lost and you can see pain written across her face like a story that doesn’t have an ending – or one filled with far too many endings – and you take a second to trace back what it is that might have caused her to currently be curled up in a trembling fetal position on your living room floor. You know enough about her to realize it’s probably heartbreak and betrayal that’s been mixed into a shitty cocktail she drank through a straw without using a chaser. You understand that she feels momentarily broken. And you know full well that feeling broken is frightening, even if it’s been a good long time since you have been broken – even if you have sworn to yourself that, fuck no, you will never allow yourself to be broken like that ever again.
But maybe that’s the stumbling block for people who are unable to be empathetic – and yes, those people exist and they walk amongst us. Part of empathy requires sorting through your own personal storage shed of emotions and experiences to locate the one that will allow you to relate to the person sitting before you. Unfortunately, mentally stumbling back through experiences you thought you had successfully buried can be akin to taking a spiky garden rake to the face. (I was into my shed analogy, hence the rake. Please go with it.)
Relating profoundly to someone else’s emotions can result in you feeling shittier than you did before. Empathy is messy; it’s crushing to try to decipher and then share someone else’s pain, but I think ultimately it would probably be even more crushing to feel nothing. Still, there are definitely some perks to being emotionally barren. Without pesky shit like sentiment pulling my focus, I could maybe benefit all of humankind by solving cold cases or building sterilization chambers meant to stop much of the cast of Vanderpump Rules from ever breeding.