One of the greatest strengths of being a deep feeler is the ability to keenly understand other people’s experiences and points of view.
As natural feelers, we can imagine what it’s like to experience what someone else is going through, which enriches our ability to connect with them in a meaningful way. We can see ourselves in a stranger’s story, and take on the weight of their feelings in a way that’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t naturally do the same. We can start to dismantle the wall that separates us from them.
In our more intimate relationships, our natural empathy adds a mega-tool to our toolbox, giving us the power to find common ground and create a warm, cozy bubble of understanding for our loved ones who feel alone or misunderstood. Our ability to temporarily suspend our own assumptions and step into another’s state of being at the drop of a hat, to see the world from a different point of view without the need to defend the place we’re coming from, means we often become confidantes, trusted advisors, and emotional guardians.
In a world that feels full of hard-and-fast opinions, empathy is what softens our edges.
Empathy allows us to expand beyond the limitations of what we naturally believe, observe, and feel, adding a whole lot of grey to our beliefs and experiences – sometimes so much so, that it can feel more than a little disorienting.
Have you ever gotten so caught up in the task of understanding and validating a loved one’s want or need or idea, that it starts to cloud your sense of where you stand? I know I have.
There have definitely been relationships and occasions where I’ve tried so earnestly to consider (and ultimately understand, or even adopt) viewpoints so different from my own, that I’ve walked away feeling emotionally askew. It’s almost like the effort it took to find clarity in something that felt so foreign ended up pulling me a little off my center, or distorting the way I see things.
Sometimes that’s a beautiful gift, like when it lets us open ourselves up to new possibilities. Other times it’s unsettling, like when we find ourselves fiercely defending something just because we’ve managed to make sense of it, even if it doesn’t feel quite right.
When profound empathy starts to overtake our sense of sureness in ourselves, we can start to lose our footing.
For me, this has felt truest in those moments when I’ve felt less-than-fully-rooted in who I am and what I know for sure about my fundamental wants, needs, and beliefs. Without those roots, what starts as an earnest attempt to try on another perspective for size can quickly devolve into second-guessing and bargaining with ourselves, until we’ve talked ourselves into a cloud of confusion and lost our sense of stability on where we stand.
Empathy demands that we feel alongside another person, not that we minimize our own core beliefs or replace them with someone else’s. In other words, we don’t have to make ourselves smaller to validate someone else.
Empathy that’s rooted in a clear understanding of ourselves is nourishing. Without those roots, it can become unhealthy.
And that right there is exactly why it’s so critical to stay in touch with our intuition, and notice how it whispers or nudges us when we’re confronted with something that sounds reasonable on the surface, but feels incongruent with who we are. Our intuition knows the difference, it’s just up to us to pay attention to the signs. And to be clear, there’s no shame in drawing that line! It’s perfectly reasonable to see validity in a thing, and still decide it’s not for you. In fact, fine tuning our ability to do so expands our capacity for real emotional generosity without the risk of compromising ourselves.
Amy Poehler really nailed this idea with a simple mantra from her book, Yes, Please: “Good for her! Not for me.” Isn't that great? Such a strong and simple reminder that we can appreciate others’ choices, without pressuring ourselves to adopt them when they don't feel right.
So, how do you know what works for you and what doesn’t? When all else fails, do a gut check. A quick tune-in to your intuition can help you decide how well the thing you’re confront with meshes with the things you believe in, and stand for. and want for yourself. And if there’s disconnect? Remember: “Good for her! Not for me.”