I feel for you

Jun 13, 2010 by

I feel for you

Have you ever noticed it feels worse when someone you care about is sick than when you’re sick yourself?

When you’re sick or injured you know how you feel and how strong you need to be to get through it.  But when someone else is sick or injured, there is a certain powerlessness that overcomes you.  Especially when that someone is someone you love: kids, parents, friends, spouses, lovers, partners.

A friend and I were talking about this.  We were talking about how we react when we see someone hurt or suffering.  It doesn’t have to be just physical; how do we react when we’re confronted with pain: emotional, physical, spiritual.  And how can you feel for someone without becoming lost in the feeling.

We started talking about the difference between feeling empathy for someone and feeling sympathy for someone.  My friend is a therapist and he is bombarded by emotional distress all day every day. I asked him how he handles it; how he handles all the sadness; and his answer is that he has to feel sympathetic for his patients but can’t be empathic to their pain.  So what’s the difference between empathy and sympathy, and can you really turn-on the distinction on-demand?  And we came up with the following:

Sympathy essentially implies a feeling of recognition for another’s suffering, while empathy is actually sharing another’s suffering.

When I got that distinction in my heart, I finally understood what’d been happening.  I used to be empathic for many of the people I came into contact with.  Now, I can be sympathetic when I need to without being caught up in the emotions.

So here’s my question: “When was the last time you felt someone else’s pain?” And I mean really felt it. A deep sympathy for THEIR pain without it becoming YOUR pain.  I know you can feel sympathy for people you’re not connected to: hungry kids, poor villagers; but can you really only feel sympathy for someone you love: kids, parents, friends, spouses, lovers, partners?

Maybe there is something in between sympathy and empathy.  Maybe it’s a deep caring, a deep need to keep the ones you love safe without being afraid when they’re afraid or being sick when they’re sick.  Maybe you can move from sympathy to a deeper connection, a kind of empathic sympathy, a loving sympathy.  And maybe that deeper feeling will change the way you see and act for someone else.

See you on the wire.

— Steven Cardinale

Related Posts

Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *