Pensive

A Side Effect of Empathy


Over the past couple of months, I've been trying to make sense of why I tend to rapidly bounce between agony and rage. And I have decided that the rage is a side-effect of the agony. It is an act of self-preservation.

All my life, I've been able to sense the feelings around me, and when I was introduced to TV, that sense extended to the people and animals I saw in shows and news stories. I emotionally participated in the joys and sorrows that were brought to my attention, and it was usually a good experience. Sometimes, though, an indefinable ache would impose itself on me when I would see people or animals suffering in some way, if only emotionally. And that ache tended to linger long after the experience itself. It never truly left, but it would just get bigger and stronger with subsequent events that added to it.

This ache would also impose itself on the more positive feelings I tried to enjoy when emotionally linked into my environment. After the nasty break-up of the Parental Units, which kept me in a kind of limbo, both physically and mentally, it became harder for me to grasp onto the good feelings and embrace them simply for what they were, without the ache encroaching on them.

So, around the age of 7, I began to avoid anything that might pique an emotional response. It would be a few years later when I'd learn the word stoic, but that was exactly what I was striving for, a sublime state of stoicism. To a certain degree, I was rather quite successful in my efforts. I avoided anything that might threaten too much emotion, and I sought out people, situations, books, art - anything - that would encourage nothing but positive reactions.

But, with the death of the Paternal Grandmother Unit in 1993, a crippling blow to my stoic defense left me exposed in a way I had not been since 1974. I was still young in my Wiccan Tradition, and had been regularly opening myself up to psychic possibilities, especially when participating in Circles. That combination threw me deeper in the emotional experience than I had ever been. I found myself struggling to read news stories of what was going on in the world. And many accounts of animal abuse I might accidentally stumble across on TV or in the press would leave me incapable of function on any level. I'm not exaggerating. There were times when I was physically violently ill, trapped in the bathroom, repeatedly vomiting.

Since then, it's only gotten worse, and my practice of stoicism has been, and continues to be, lacking merit in fortifying my emotional keep. In 1999, I gave myself the permission to get angry. And I've never looked back. If there's such a thing as stoic anger, I have it. In spades. It could be described as a cat in self-defense mode: standing still, muscles clenched, puffed out to look bigger, and vocalising her displeasure. A lot of it is false bravado, but some of it can only be described as an assurance that, if pushed too far, she will take an eye out with her claws.

Since 2011, though, I've had to step up my objections to the pain and suffering in the world. Instead of enjoying a little bit of "down time" with stoicism, I find I have to maintain a low level of anger just to be able to function. My default setting is seething, and it can be exhausting. Fortunately, humour can come to the rescue, and often does! But, when I open up my newsfeed on Google or Yahoo, simple headlines can throw me into despair. I can't watch shows or movies that even hint at animal abuse or atrocities inflicted upon a human or humans by other humans. The ache never fully goes away and the seething is there to keep me from losing what little mind I have left.

I often find myself wishing I were a full-blown sociopath or a psychopath, because I envy their inability to empathize. When people wonder why I rage against so much, I hope they realise that the rage is a side effect of empathy, a defense mechanism.

Sometimes, anger is the only thing that keeps me from killing myself.

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That is why I can't work with animals, although I desperately want to. I simply cannot handle evidence of animal abuse.
I could relate to so much of this. I don't watch the news because it physically hurts to see all the despair. It's emotionally draining, and I find myself rather angry lately too. My FB feed is especially triggering to my anger.

Being an empath is hard. It's draining. It's why I don't connect with people or like to go out often. People naturally open up to me, even strangers, and I've heard so many sad stories from people I just met. I shut out a lot of the world to protect my sanity.
I like anger. Anger is a clean emotion for me, so much less muddled than the rest of my responses. Not to say I like /being/ angry, but I understand it and can direct it.

In this defense mechanism, sisterfriend, I completely relate.
yea, I've avoided the news for much similar reasons. I can't handle the stupid that needs to die in a fire anymore. It's like people are just going batshit insane!
It's a magical event that shows several layers of growth produced by only one idiot, the course of eight hours. After the experiment, one doctor killed himsel, and the rest are vegetating in rest home.

Edited at 2014-09-04 02:07 pm (UTC)