Friday, July 16, 2010

Empaths: Cruelty & Forgiveness

When I was growing up, I had alot of issues in my life.  Some were severe, while others were simply perceived as severe through my adolescent mind.  A single word had the power to slice me to the core, particularly if it came from those I depended on: family, friends and/or lovers.

Socially I tended to gravitate toward people who were also 'different'.  In this case, it was people who were labeled as 'rejects'.  This included the role-players, the goths, the pagans, the emos, the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the sexually promiscuous people.  The reason why I was drawn to people like this is because we shared a common bond, despite our differences.  That is, all of us had been abused in some way or another.  All of us suffered from severe low self esteem.  And we huddled together, dysfunctionally supporting one another, because our realities were so painful that we couldn't bear to face them head on alone.

But even this group had a tendency to be fickle at times.  I remember one incident wherein my boyfriend came to my door late at night and told me he was running away to kill himself.  I had just joined that particular group and didn't know him all that well, so I panicked and told my parents.  They made me call the police to report it.



A few days later I found out he was a chronic runaway because his father physically abused him.  That was the day the police came to our school to talk to all of his friends, me included, to see if they could find him.

After being questioned by the police, which was around lunch time, the entire group of people I had called my friends (about 20 or so people...give or take) came up to me and told me what a horrible person I was.  Because, you see, they blamed me for all this trouble.  They probably called me every name you can think of and then some.

The one thing I can say is that I stood there, as all of that anger and aggression hit me like a tidal wave, and I didn't cry.  When their ranting was over, I simply asked, "Are you all done?", and they left soon after.  And it was only then, in the arms of one of my dearest friends, that I broke down and cried.

Time moved on and I was forgiven.  But that says something about my maturity level and my level of codependency on that group, at that time.  I didn't have the strength or the will to cut myself off from that group, which had become my lifeline, no matter how low I sunk.  And believe me when I say, that particular group's level of debasement had no limit.

This same person, who was a chronic runaway, through subsequent years held scissors to my throat, threatened to throw me out a window, and periodically was also a good friend.

Now imagine, just for a second, surrounding yourself with a whole group of people who share in that mentality.  Friends who carved on each other with razor blades, just for fun.  Friends who had no qualms about participating in any type of sexual play (nothing was out of bounds).  Friends who could threaten your life as easily as smile and be friendly with you.

And imagine going along with the flow, wherever it leads you....with no thoughts of self preservation.  Imagine being so dead inside, that whatever happened was okay, because you didn't think you deserved any better anyway.

Looking back on that history, I could feel self hatred and shame for my actions.  I could also feel bitter for the way I was treated back then.  But what eventually saved me from that particular form of bondage to the past, was looking at them all, not as people who had hurt me, but as people who were suffering right along with me.  And in understanding my own pain, I could certainly empathize with theirs. 

We were all suffering.  We were all hurting.  And, in a way, to hate them and blame them...is to hate and blame myself.  My own actions from that time are done and gone now....so there is no way to change them, even if I wanted to.  So are theirs.

The point of writing this is to remind people of one thing.  When someone hurts you through word or deed, it's okay to feel what you are going to feel about it.  It's okay to say that it hurt you.  And it's okay to be angry....for a time, as well.

But after the anger has subsided and the pain has turned into a dull throb, try seeing the situation from their perspective.  We do this, not to justify and/or validate their behavior to us, but to understand that they are people who have suffered in their own lives, just like us.  They carry around the same kinds of doubt and confusion we do.  We do this...because it is the very essence of empathy.  To see beneath the surface of a situation to the reasons which hide there, just out of view from the physical world.

It is the hardest form of empathy there is, because it asks you to rise above your own pain and see the person, who hurt you, in different light.  It asks you to see more than just the moments where their words and/or actions penetrated your shield and caused you to hurt.  It asks you to see them as they truly are....good and bad.  And it's extremely hard because, often times, it can lead to forgiveness.  Understanding begets forgiveness.

This is something we all have to struggle with, because we all are fighting that urge to stay angry and perhaps even self righteous.  It is humbling.  And it is cleansing.

So think about it, even if you can not bring yourself to do it now.  The when isn't as important as the knowledge that you can do it.  Because you can do it whenever you are ready.  ^_^


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