Empathy has gotten a lot of play in think pieces, lately. It is gaining traction as a formidable weapon against becoming an actual nazi. It is even touted as something that makes humanity worthwhile.
Having any of it is also misunderstood as being introverted. Ok whatever, I misunderstood my own introversion because I didn’t realize that the energy drain from every social encounter has nothing to do with it taking so much energy for me to talk to folks. Please. It’s because of me emotionally reacting with the people who engage with me. Like some folks are sympathetic criers; when someone cries, they cry, too, even if they’re not personally affected by whatever is happening to the one crying. I tend to feel every emotion that crosses the table as though it was my own reaction.
I mean, obviously I’m exaggerating. I would be locked in my house all by myself drinking wines via funnel if I wasn’t (waitaminute). But, the gut response is inevitable. Consistent. Unrelenting. If I’m around a bunch of people all at once, I can go from thorough enjoyment to over-processing in the space of two sentences. If I’m with folks I consider family, it’s because I’ve found a way to keep my reactions to their feelings within a margin that allows me to be around them all the time. It takes time, a fuckton of trust, and the ability to distance myself without meandering into frigid territory.
I thought, fleetingly, that I was a super special snowflake. So delicate and intricate and super duper extra grade specialness. But no; everyone is impacted by the emotions in their immediate surroundings. If I’m looking closely at folks who don’t need several days to detox after every social hang, who handle the rough and tumble of spontaneous humor and off the cuff observations with ease and unruffled calm, I’m seeing that they float through these situations because they compartmentalize the emotional input they’re getting much more immediately and thoroughly than I do. I’m seeing that they refrain from partaking because they refrain from an immediate sense of obligation to do so.
I’m working on it.
I don’t want to be that person all the time; I think my particular scream festival of empathy has allowed me to step up for folks in ways that have been incredible and exquisite, and I’m proud of that. But I want to be that person sometimes. I want to be able to leave the crazy quilt of baggage at the party. I want to go home to my bed and snuggle myself under a blanket that doesn’t feel like suffocation under a tapestry of oft unspoken trauma melded to my skin and thoughts. I want to be able to enjoy the entire party with the same intensity that pelts me in the first few minutes; I want that exuberance and ease to have more stability than fleeting superficiality and exclusive get-togethers. I want a glimpse of social warmth that doesn’t trap me underneath the coals.
I’m working on it.