A recent spiral of emotions forced me into introspecting the space for what it was filling me with. Through my usual round of chatter with myself, I realized that I had begun to over-empathize with the people around me. This not only pushed me into becoming their strongest supporter, it was also pushing me into listening and bending myself to fulfil their instructions. The most horrible part of this was, I was beginning to display distinctive hatred towards the people, my people hated.
With the last line, you and I would have both understood that over-empathy is how mass perceptions begin to form. It is this very excess of one single emotion that breeds the Gandhis and the Hitlers. We are cool with the Gandhis cause they are helpful. But beware of the Hitler, especially the one growing within.
Geez! Will you drop the drama?!
And that is exactly what over-empathy is. It is a drama – an expression of emotions that happens without the balancing act of rationalization. In simple words, over-empathy is a mind-play. It performs the class-act of numbing the intrinsic questioning attitude within us.
Imagine sitting through a movie, a play, a concert, a sports game; and imagine what you are doing. What you are doing, is feeling.
We pass through a grand round of emotions during the course of whatever form of entertainment we have chosen for ourselves. And when we think or talk about this entertainment, we only continue to fuel our emotions, leading to an automatic loss of our higher level thinking.
The result is conflict.
Whether it is a conflict between two groups of football fans, or a personal conflict arising from attachment to a fandom, the core factor remains the same – over-empathy.
What causes over-empathy?
Empathy is inevitable on account of us being humans. Through the common core feelings of hunger, thirst and fatigue, we are all designed to empathize with each other, with the animals, with the plants and with other resources. This design keeps Nature in working order because the higher life forms understand the need to provide for another. You feel for me, and I feel for you. So, we do things for each other.
Simply put, empathy leads to the sustenance of balance.
If empathy is created through an attachment, over-empathy arises on account of over-attachment. We are inordinately attached to everything from our family, friends, sports teams, actors, and the social media. Our emotions are as displaced as much as they are misplaced.
Think about this – shouldn’t the person who keeps our community clean deserve more attention than the actor who is singing and dancing for us?!
You see what has just happened here? I am getting angry at a person (the actor) who is only doing what he wants to do. The people I should be really angry at is you and I, who have displaced our emotional directions and in turn, have misplaced our empathy.
Why has this come to be?
The by-product of the kitchen chemistry within our gut is called emotions. Our gut, on account of its cooking skills, is called the second brain. So, it is only normal that the emotions that are produced will be as natural as the food that we eat.
As we all know by now, our food habits are getting unhealthier. We eat the wrong thing, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place. That is why, the more artificial our food, the more artificial will be our emotions.
Likewise, the more artificial our experiences, the more artificial will be our emotions. And everything from an unhealthy dose of music, to an unhealthy dosage of sports, can cause our brain to go whacko.
How do we resolve the issue?
Self-regulation is the key to regulating our emotions and channelizing them towards our over-all well-being.
Eat real to feel real
Everything from the air that we breathe to the water that we drink contains artificial stuff in it. While we cannot control the air that we breathe in, it is very possible to regulate the food that enters our blood stream. To keep our emotions as close to enabling ourselves as possible, eat the right food, at the right time, in the right place.
Learn and practice unthinking
Over-empathy is the result of over-thinking. So, try to keep things simple. Don’t over-task the brain into delving deep down through stuff like relationships, news, movies, academics, workload, or even dinner menus. All we have to do is think “dinner” for our brain to feed us with information about various “dinner possibilities.” The moment we go, “Oh my God, dinner!” the brain begins to empathize with us. And automatically, it switches on the panic button, retreating itself into its emotional functionalities than focus on the more necessary rational functionalities.
Keep un-real experiences low
The other day, my son and I were watching a movie. I expressed an “yikes” when the actor fell, and did it rather loudly. My almost 12-year old, without removing his sight from the TV screen announced that it was “only a movie”, and that I should “save my emotions” for real experiences. Well, I don’t have to pursue this topic anymore than to say, step out and “experience reality” to experience life.
Get back to being you
We are the result of a multiplicity. Our personality happens on account of the genetics within, and through learning from everyone and everything around. In between all of this, somewhere, sometime, and without even realizing it, we shape ourselves to form a unique character. Our character is who we are, even when others are not around. So, list out all the things that make you, you; and keep coming back to this list whenever you feel overwhelmed. This is your grounding factor.
Don’t, don’t react
While it is easy to preach the “don’t react to others” statements, it is a very tasking ordeal to practice. This is because when we are designed to connect, we are also designed to react to the connection. Instead, just ask yourself if the situation requires an immediate reaction. Once you enforce this question into every gap, you automatically begin to question yourself, which connects you back to you, your best answer.
Don’t draw boundaries
Until yesterday, I very firmly insisted upon drawing boundaries for various people in our lives. But relationships are very fluid. Who we thought was our best friend could become a distant memory. People come and go. And that is the absolute truth. So, it is only in our best interest to not fix our mindsets by fixing people into our own little circles. Rather, understand and accept that the circles are fluid and are bound to intersect each other. The moment this understanding falls into place, your brain will learn to let go of the idea of intense attachments. It will also allow space for everyone from others to you, to change for the better.
Walk to emotional independence
Walk, and yes, walk! Walking builds stronger neural connections of the right kind, and these connections increase the probability of your rational side raising to fall into place with your emotional side. When we walk, we are walking towards better well-being, and towards emotional independence despite the pre-programed interdependence.
Here’s to embracing the right kind of empathy!