My love/hate relationship with empathy and strong emotions

two statues of babies facing each other within wire frames of adults

I sometimes wish I wouldn’t feel emotions so strongly.

It’s not as if I need the extra intensity to notice them.

I know that they are there without any extra emphasis.

But I know feeling emotions this way has allowed me to empathize.

It has empowered me to feel people’s pain as if it’s my own — whether I want to feel it or not.

I don’t know if I experience joy when I feel other people’s pain or if it’s a sort of knowing contentment. An acknowledgment of existence, of a common human struggle.

Maybe I feel others’ pain because I’ve known emotional pain — and still do.Maybe it’s because I know the pain is never very far away — it’s always waiting on the periphery, lest I make a wrong turn.

Pain is easily accessible. A person can self-inflict pain or cause another’s pain.

But it’s the emotional pain that surprises me, the sort of pain that is tantalizingly out of control. It’s pain that tethers me to this world. I think it tethers all of us to the reality of our existence, telling us that we are real and firm and capable of being hurt.

I also know that pain contains meaning. Pain has stories wrapped up inside of it — twisted tales that don’t want to come out.

But they eventually do. They announce themselves as expletives, as punctures in the firmament.

Deep emotions jar me and wake me from my steady slumber of daily existence.

I think I’m drawn to people and their emotions — and my own — because emotions tell stories.

Emotions signal what’s important — they signal what’s good and just, what’s worth working and dying for.

Take out the emotions, and my life loses color.

Yet, sometimes it’s all too bright, and I want to turn it down. I want the hues to become less piercing, those pigmented staccatos that attack the senses.

But I’ve tried that. I’ve tried jobs that keep me stable and sure, that promise a consistent schedule and a list of responsibilities. It’s not enough. I don’t feel strongly that way, and If I can’t feel it, I can’t know that what I’m doing matters to me.

I badly want to do work that matters. I want to feel that what I’m doing is making a difference. I believe that working in pain — in emotional pain — is healing work. Rarely will I find a man or woman in this work who does not already have scars.

But it’s also a colorful world of emotions. It’s a dreamscape of the human experience.

It’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

I have empathy. I have deep respect for stories and for life experiences. I crave to understand more, to learn all that I can. I’m curious about the human experience because it’s an intersubjective reality, meaning it’s what we make of it.

Maybe if I bring my emotional wires and you bring yours, we can meet in the middle and explore the filaments.

I think we could. I know we could. I feel strongly about it.