Sometimes when we observe people in abusive relationships we wonder why the hell they don’t leave their abusive partner. Is the sex so good that they can’t leave, or is there some other incentive for them to stay put?
Also, why is it that some people feel guilty for the success that they worked for when they are around people who are less successful than they are?
Empathy is seen by many as a hallmark of psychological well-being and maturity. It is the ability to understand, feel and appropriately respond to the emotions of another, especially if one is not going through the same experiences or shares the same perspective as another.
Our ability to feel empathy for others was a critical requirement for the development of society as individuals decided to share resources, information and culture with each other. Have you ever seen videos online with animals helping each other out? Even animals of different species do this for each other.
Although the media is chock full of stories of manipulation, deception and narcissism, humans are hardwired to empathize with each other.
Those of us who fail to empathize with others and who may even go as far as to use and abuse others are understandably seen as terrifying by the population-at-large. The inability to recognize and respond to the pain of others is a harrowing reality that most people cannot relate to.
But if there is even a suspicion that such a person exists, people try their best to avoid them at all cost. This is why in ancient times, when one was found hoarding food or abusing others, they were ostracized at best and killed at worst. Anyone who violated the sanctity and emotional well-being of the society was literally public enemy number one.
However, despite our knowledge that a lack of empathy is pathological, it is also possible to have too much empathy and that that too is pathological.
When someone is in distress, the healthy response is to feel the distress as if it were your own. This does not mean that you have to help the person in distress but you have recognized the pain or suffering that this person is going through. You wish them well because even though you may not know them, pain and suffering are universally undesirable.
Then there are the unhealthy responses to either feel little to no empathy at all (as is the case in psychopathy), or to feel guilt due to the false belief that you are the cause of another’s distress or that you have the ability and responsibility to stop their distress.
Those who feel guilty certainly feel empathy but they have made an error in understanding the reason someone may be suffering. So when it comes to someone being abused by their partner or feeling guilty that one has the success others crave, both instances involve a misunderstanding of why these events may be taking place.
The person in an abusive relationship believes that if they leave their abusive partner that the partner will be in crippling depression or physically hurt themselves. Therefore, they have to stay to prevent their partner’s demise.
The person who feels guilty for having the success that others want believes that he has somehow cheated others out of an equitable experience and will sabotage his career just so that he can be back in parity with his less successful peers.
The foundational thought that leads to these kinds of actions is the erroneous notion that one is responsible for the emotions of others. This is why people who are abused stay with their abuser. They even say things like, “I can change him/her.” No, you cannot.
If someone abuses you, that isn’t your fault. However, if you have emotional scars from their abuse, only you can address those wounds. If someone else were to come along to try and fix your wounds, that would be inappropriate. People can feel your pain, but they cannot get rid of it for you.
A therapist may help to formulate a plan of recovery, but they cannot remove your pain. A friend or family member may give you some pointers on what you could do to feel better, but you still have to actually do what the therapist, friend or family member suggests.
If someone believes that they can curb someone’s abusive behavior they are sadly mistaken because their abusive behavior stems from abuse that the abuser suffered that they have failed to heal from. That’s why no one can fix, change or heal someone else. It is literally impossible.
This is why it is safer to avoid relationships with people who refuse to address their problems. Moreover, the empathy you give to them they are not capable of giving to you. The love you give to them they are not able to give to you.
With regards to one’s career success, sabotaging yourself isn’t going to make your peers feel better, because your actions were never the reason your peers might’ve felt jealous over your success.
They are jealous or depressed (or whatever they feel) because of who they are. After all, if they were happy and celebrated your success, it’s because they are genuinely happy for you.
Did your success cause them to be happy for you? No, it was who they are and what they value that dictated their reaction. Just like if you felt jealous or happy for someone else’s success, how you feel about their success is because of the type of person you are.
If you are a jealous person, you would feel jealous of everyone’s success. If you were an abusive person, you would abuse everyone. There is no one you can meet who will be able to finally destroy your jealous or abusive tendencies. No one but you.
So when we talk about empathy, it is important to know that when we feel the pain that someone else is feeling, we are not responsible for ending that person’s pain. That is their responsibility.
If you help and they are appreciative and return kindness to you, that’s awesome. But if you help in order to relieve someone else’s pain and they continue to take advantage of you and abuse you, that is not okay.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
From The Good Men Project on Medium
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