King “Ego” suffers in the sweatbox of his own thoughts.
He must be consumed by the fire if he is to ever be his
authentic self and connect to others.
Sympathy recognizes the suffering of others. It witnesses and registers the pain of physical and emotional stress. It “feels for” another, but it does so at a detached distance. Sympathy can lead to charity. And although charity (rooted in the Latin caritas, “love”) was once thought of as emerging from one’s heart and flowed out in kindness to another, today it is most often institutionalized in organizational form – “charities” such as rescue missions, community food pantries, and social service organizations serving the poor. Such organizations provide coordinated care, but they also serve as a firewall between the giver and the recipient.
Some individuals extend charity to others in their professional lives. They attend to suffering and address it in very direct ways. Nurses, paramedics, physicians, social workers, and psychotherapists come to mind. Although many do experience and express empathy (to be defined shortly) in their personal lives, it is also the case that many do not. Rather, from behind their professional position they extend care without ever being emotionally vulnerable to those they serve. This carries over to workmates, family, and friends. On the one hand, professional detachment is required in order to maintain boundaries and not be consumed by the pain of those being served. On the other hand, it is quite possible to only extend care professionally, whether on or off the clock, and never be transparent and vulnerable to another human being. This often leaves these professionals feeling isolated, depressed, anxious, defensive and angry. Chances are, they have unrecognized trauma that motivated them into professions where they can work to heal the pain in others and avoid their own pain.
Empathy requires self-accountability in a transparent way. It requires that we are honest about the roots of our own pain and not project that onto others OR make them responsible for our own sense of wellbeing.
Someone said to me recently, “What exactly do you mean by that (I had referred to empathy in our exchange)? I know what it means. I’m curious to know what’s your definition of empathy…because you’ve said it multiple times before…”
Here’s my response: “To consider how my words and actions will affect another person and to be able to appreciate their experience and validate their emotion even if I don’t agree with the thought process that triggered that emotional response. To inquire about what may be distressing to them in something that I have said or done before jumping to defend myself. It’s the one thing narcissists are incapable of experiencing/doing.”
Why is this so difficult for narcissistic types? Answer: It requires them to let down their defenses and expose their own wounds and weaknesses which they loath. Their sense of self is not rooted in the reality of the complexity of the human experience, strong in some places and weak in others. No, they are holding on for dear life to the image they project. They fear that if they peel back the visible layer, their self-image will be exposed and implode. They split themselves into compartments, acceptable OR unacceptable. And they will do that to you too. And of course, this is all quite automatic and unconscious.
When you are wounded by a narcissist, you won’t find that bringing this to their attention helps you. They will make it your problem; remember, they are not interested in your emotional experience.
You can’t change them. You can change your expectations.