the role of empathy

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em·pa·thy
[ˈempəTHē]
NOUN
  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy is the ability to feel what someone else is feeling. To understand the feelings as if they were your own. This is what truly drives me. I’m the person who cries in movies when a character cries. When I worked with victims of sexual assault, I could feel their sadness. When someone is hurting, I am hurting. But my feelings move me. They move me to help.

But it is  e  x  h  a  u  s  t  i  n  g.

I’m happy to give. I’m happy to care without anything in return. Even when people don’t deserve it, I will help. It’s just who I am.

Which brings me to the question: When can empathy hurt more than help? My ability to feel people’s pain means that I would do anything to help. Because I’ve been there. I know those feelings and the loneliness that can come from them. Saying no isn’t an option for me. If I have the opportunity to reach someone. To help. To make them feel a little less alone, I’ll do it. No matter the cost.

Even when it requires me to go above and beyond. Even when it isn’t appreciated. Even when it is perceived with different intentions. No good deed goes unpunished.

But where do I draw the line? When is enough, enough? How do I keep my sanity yet also feed my desire to help?  I’m still learning the answers to these questions. But I do know that there is a difference between being a nice person and being a doormat.

I’ve learned from my experiences that you cannot save anyone. Only they can save themselves. But my desire to help, my desire to save, can cloud my judgment in thinking that everyone deserves my help.

So what is the solution?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure.

I think it starts with saying no. It starts with realizing my compassion is valuable and should be treated as such. It starts with me helping myself first sometimes.

The rest is yet to be determined, but I feel like I’m off to a good start.

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