There are occasions when I feel like I have zero empathy; I seem to not understand or “feel” things the way other people do. It begins to disturb me, and I start down the rabbit hole of imagining there is something fatally wrong with me and how I process emotions. Whether that’s real or just another of my perceived failings as a human being, my forehead-creasing concern over it happens (and I have the lines to prove it).
As an example, earlier today I was reading something about a mother/daughter visit and how difficult it was for the mom to board a plane to return home. The tears at the goodbye, the additional tears writing about the goodbye. The daily, near constant worry about her child. None of this is at all unusual; I hear about it, see it in my day-to-day life. But I cannot recall ever feeling it myself.
I rationalize that it is because my kids live nearby and seem to be successfully navigating their own lives. There have been occasions where my curiosity and concern has caused me to ask inappropriately personal questions, for which I apologized and wished I could take back. I occasionally have to restrain myself from offering an unrequested opinion or unsolicited advice about something they did/are doing and could/should be doing. I have never wanted to be that mother, so I try to stay in the moment and let them live their lives. This is not so much a matter of keeping my mouth so much as trusting the kids to make and learn from their mistakes. I do not appreciate being told how to do things or the implication that I am being criticized for not doing it the “right” way, so why would I ever think my kids (or anyone else) would be okay with that?
But on the emotional attachment level, I think often that my feelings do not work right. I love who I love, I want them to be happy, and discontent between us does cause me distress. But I never feel overly involved. M and I have had our ups and downs in the relationship, to the point where I was damn sure we were on the pathway to divorce. During our dark time I was so angry with him, at one point I felt so betrayed by something he did I could never imagine trusting him again. We were separated at the time, and if I had to stay with him under the same roof while we tried to work things out we would be divorced now. My discomfort with all those turbulent emotions would not have given either of us a moment of peace, and the terrible, scathing, horrid things I thought would have come flying from my mouth in frequent angry outbursts. Yes, he did something terrible to me, but he apologized and was genuinely regretful and remorseful; my beating him repeatedly would have only made both of us feel so much worse.
I recognize it is easier for me to disconnect from pain and not become maudlin and demonstrate what I feel, and I am certainly not judging others for their attachment to and worry for those they love. It’s just different, me and those I project as more typical displays of stronger emotions. I am torn between wishing to be more like that brand of normal and wondering if my normal is all that abnormal.
Even today, talking the ups and downs of therapy with another friend, I feel sort of clinical in my assessment of what she is enduring. Seriously, I wonder why she puts up with me in my factual this-is-the-way-it-is way of listening and conversing on a serious topic. But then I realize she talks to me because while I am this objective and emotionally detached, she understands that I care deeply and want for her to be healthier and happier and enjoy more peace of mind. Having been through similar ups and downs with different therapists and different problems through the years, I recognize the cadence of steps in the process. Even now, with my own appointment later today with my psychiatrist and going through this “tune up” on my own overall emotional health, I am not particularly worried or emotional about it. It is a necessary step, much like getting treatment for a physical ailment. I know it’s hard. I know it’s painful. I know I will want to quit and go back to my state of ignorance. But I won’t. I’ll plod along and be uncomfortable until I get myself sorted out, back on track, and skipping merrily down the yellow brick road.
Between now and then, though, I will question my own responses and empathy. I express it differently than others, but I do have it. Maybe it’s not the emotions that are perplexing so much as the myriad of ways to express those feelings. Maybe my way is just as okay as everyone else. Maybe. I will explore it with my shrink, again. It’s a new year after all.
It’s Friday, thank goodness. Happy weekending everyone!