Balancing Compassion and Empathy

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There’s a common adage that you are your own best friend and your own worst enemy. For me, I’m constantly struggling balancing being critical of myself while allso advocating for my self, because, at the end of the day, I know that I am my own biggest asset. Even so, I have trouble treating myself the way I treat other friends. Oftentimes, I am more critical of myself and have higher expectations of myself than I ever would be of anyone else. One of the hardest lessons in life is learning how to treat your emotions and the emotions of your friends and loved ones,. 

The more I reflect on how to get though tough days without being hard on myself, the more I reflect on the terms “compassion” and “empathy”. When I think of compassion, I think of being able to care for someone (or yourself), but to not necessarily feel what they are feeling. Conversely, empathy is seeing another’s struggles as your own, and becoming one with those emotions. It is truly putting yourself in those shoes and walking in them. 

Scrolling through social media and having conversations with friends, the word empathy seems to be a buzz word. A “good” person seems to equated to an “empathetic” person. Sometimes, there seems to be no in between. 

I struggle with the concept of empathy. In a way, I find my most healthy interactions are interactions filled with compassion rather than empathy, because in compassion, I am able to separate myself from others’ feelings, OR even my own. Sometimes, it’s not healthy to take on someone else’s feelings for your own  mental health and wellness. Sure, you can be there for them, but you don’t need to feel their pain to be a supportive friend. It’s just not healthy. 

Similarly, when I am having tough days, I try to view myself through a compassionate lens. This way, I can separate myself from my feelings; I don’t let them consume me, and I can see them more objectively. Living in a constant state of empathy is not actually that  healthy. 

Obviously, empathy is needed in certain situations. As a white woman, I may never understand the struggles of my brown and black counterparts if I don’t put myself in their shoes; there is no way that my life will teach me those same lessons. Empathy takes effort and commitment; you can’t truly empathize if you aren’t willing to take on some of the struggle involved. 

All that being said, I encourage you to reflect on your interactions with others and with yourself. Remind yourself that it is OK not to have empathy for every feeling you and others feel; you deserve to have separation from all those feelings, or else hey will eat you alive. Use compassion and empathy appropriately; learn to read the situation and treat it with appropriate care. 

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