One of the problematics of being a deeply feeling empath is that we can take on the emotions of others and our own emotions may be triggered too by what someone else is going through.
Although it is a lovely quality to have, feeling empathy for others we also need to be able to bring insight to our empathy. To know when it may not be best to take on from others, feelings they need to feel and deal with and when we may be projecting our own past pain onto a current situation with someone undergoing a similar issue that may be different in some ways too.
I read something the other day the mentioned how closely empathy and compassion are linked. When we truly empathise we so naturally feel compassion and that feeing of co – passion, passion with, relating to the passions, distresses and pains makes us want to reach out and extend ourselves in love or help. If we can help and if the other person wants us to we may both win, as long as the other person really wants to work through, own and take on board responsibility for their feelings. In some cases though the other person does not want to do this. They may be invested in sharing their distress but not being really willing to do something about the distress. In this case over empathising will prove to be counter productive for us.
The other difficulty with this kind of situation can consist in projecting our own need onto others. In this case if we are not recognising our own inner need for self care we extend that out or project it onto others not recognising that actually it is not them we are caring for at all, only projecting our own needs. In this case what we are engaged in is not true empathy and it may take some insight to realise it.
Sometimes if we are caring it may seem callous to stand back when someone is struggling with a problem, but what if this is where the person needs to be? What if only leaving them alone to cope and struggle will be the only way they find to build strong muscles and birth the necessary qualities in side? What if helping in this case would prove to be disempowering? That is when we need to step back and also when we need to recognise the care of ourselves is our task, when we need to resist the urge to make demands of others that are not really their responsibility.
I am sharing about this today as lately I see where my own mother has over protected me at times. As many of you may know I have struggled in my relationship with my Mum to separate a lot. I tend to take on a lot of her pain due to the loss of my father at a critical time. Due to the fact she was emotionally absent in childhood I have been left with a gaping mother wound that has dogged me in all of my close relationships for most of my life. I have compensated by trying to give her what I lacked when really it wasn’t my wound to fix and now that she is aging and I have my own health challenges there is really no way I can be there for her as much as I would like.
And at the same time as her body expresses deep abandonment wounds in her own soul I am feeling all of that along with the gaping hole left by her absence all those years ago, which then made me want to push her away in later years when she could and would have been emotionally present to help me along the maturation pathway. Its has been so hard to have all this empathy for a mother who was in many ways so unmothered herself and then passed that wound down.
Lately I have begun to see how in my mother’s life due to having a mother who did not support her, she never found an inner resting place. As we grew up we all lived in a climate of endless business and tidiness, we could not ever really relax, let go, kick back, play, laugh and have fun. Life growing up was a deathly serious business devoid of comfort, relaxation and joy and then trauma struck and we were in a deep grief, death, loss phase that leached all light out. I have hit a road block here as to how to portray in words where it went to from there but suffice to say that it was about even more restlessness, being sent off, working hard, or playing so hard that it was abusive in the end, finding no resting place of calm, support, gentleness and fun. So much so that now my soul is starving for that but also in some mysterious way after good therapy beginning to find it in myself and own it as my responsibility.
Today after speaking to my Mum and crying with distress to find she is being taken to the doctor yet again for symptoms which are really a result of disconnection with her feelings, body and self care I felt just so very sad. I cried a lot when she was telling me that she thought the doctor would put her into hospital. What I feel may be happening is that she feels she needs the love and support and care of others around her. In hospital she will have that but it wont be the loving home she always needed to have and a place of rest that so many years was absent.
I can’t even begin to put into words here all the deep schisms in our family that over years lead to this wilderness place but suffice to say that it all started to unravel when my oldest sister had her cerebral aneurysm. In the years that followed my father became very ill with cancer and died. And there was so much grief we never got to share, so much longing for the absent family that got fractured. A gaping hole of isolation that at times is impossible to fill from any other source but the spiritual.
Where to from here? For me into rest, into prayer, into validation of love but also into recognition of the limits of caring and empathy to change much, all they can do is alert us to the need for presence and acceptance at time of the most acutely painful things that can be so beyond the limits of our power to change.