Category Archives: Accepting Empathy

Opening my Heart to Empathy

I am independent. I am self-sufficient, self-supporting and self-reliant. I am always okay and do not need help. I can always manage on my own. No matter what the circumstance are, I will push through and manage the situation. I am good managing by myself.

Yes, I have been through a lot. But there is no place in my life for your sympathy. Watching someone die might be traumatic. Sitting shivah for a loved one might be very painful. But I can continue forward. I can take care of my home and continue working. I do not need any of your pity.

I am sorry, my friends and neighbors. I know you wanted to be here for me in my hard times, but I am good on my own. You see— I am managing just fine.

Without my realizing it, these were the vibes I was giving off. I kept everyone at a distance. I cloaked myself in an armor of self-sufficiency, and no one was able to pierce it. But I was hurting myself.

I felt lonely. I was going through so much, and I felt like there wasn’t anyone who could really understand what I was feeling.

I have a really special friend. And one day she gently said to me, “Miriam, you shoot out daggers. No one knows what is okay to say and what is not. If we try to show sympathy, you tell us that sympathy is not what you want. If we offer physical help, you tell us that you are managing. If we try to understand you, you, tell us that we will never get it. Really, we all want to be here for you. But it’s important for you to learn to accept our empathy.”

Hmmm. Empathy. Can it be I want empathy? Empathy doesn’t mean sympathy. It doesn’t mean I am being looked at like a nebach case. Or does it? So I looked up the definitions.

The definition of sympathy is the feeling or expression of pity or sorrow for the pain or distress of somebody else. The definition of empathy is the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings or difficulties.

Friends want to experience my feelings with me. Many can. Maybe they haven’t been through the same amount of losses that I have been through. But from their own life experiences, they can feel my pain and not just look at me in a sympathetic way, thinking I am so pitiful. If I can allow myself to show that I am vulnerable, I will be able to feel that someone really does understand my pain.

I like to think of it in terms of dong the ratzon Hashem. Quite clearly there is work for me to do over here, a middah that needs changing. I think part of it is gaavah. I think I can handle everything on my own. But ratzon Hashem is realizing I need people to be part of my life. I need to realize that I am not okay on my own. I need to learn to let people in.  Through sharing my pain with a friend in an honest way, I am making a strong relationship stronger. I an enriching something that Hashem has given to me.

It’s a change for me. To express my pain and let someone empathize is hard work. It is me admitting that I am not perfect. I have deficiencies.  I am not okay being completely independent, self-sufficient and self-reliant. I need friends. I am not a growing person on my own.  I need empathy to help me grow and reach into myself and realize that I need people with all their imperfections because I am far from perfect. Hashem created the world with people and their strengths and deficiencies. It is up to me to learn how to enrich my relationships with these people that Hashem has put into my life to become that better person.