To Feel or Not to Feel?

Recently, I read an article on Facebook from a page called The Mind Unleashed.  My boyfriend posted the article because he knew I’d argue with it.  Does he know me well or what? I’m going to argue. The article is titled “How to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Emotions” and it was written by Judith Orloff, MD.  Now before I go any further, I should add a disclaimer here:  I am NOT a doctor although I’ve admittedly felt I was smarter than some a time or two.  What I’m offering is not medical advice.  I’m offering commentary based on my real-life experiences so read on at your own risk.

In the article, Dr. Orloff discuss exactly what the title says – not absorbing other people’s emotions.  She offers strategies such as distancing yourself from negative people and/or situations and shielding yourself.  While these may be good strategies, I don’t consider them good advice.

I’m an Empath or maybe I should say I have “Empath tendencies.”   I feel what others feel.  I pick up on negative emotions.  Over the years I’ve learned to manage it but would I distance myself from the negativity?  No.  Not at all.  Why?  Because I want to help.

My biggest problem with what Dr. Orloff says is that I feel this is exactly what is wrong with our world.  We block out the bad.  We turn the other way.  We don’t look at the negativity.  When that happens we, as a society, begin to lose our compassion and assuming you live on planet Earth, I figure you’ve probably noticed the same lack of compassion I have.  Bullying, walking past the homeless on our streets and not making eye contact,  crimes against one another, being nasty to that cashier you encountered yesterday because he/she was nasty to you…these situations all show a serious lack of compassion.  Now, I’m again going on an assumption that most of us actually have the ability to get a moral clue and know the difference between right and wrong but being honest – do we really take the time to try and feel what others feel?

Who exactly taught their children that it is a good idea to capture a video on their cell phone of a kid being beat up at school or anywhere, for that matter?  Who neglected to teach their children that taking that video then uploading it to the Internet would scar that bullied kid for life?  When and better yet WHY did parents stop teaching their children compassion?  Why did those parents not teach their children to put down that cell phone and go get help?  Why are children going through life thinking it okay to bully in the first place?  When did parents stop teaching the “walk a mile in my shoes” lesson?

When you walk past a homeless man, woman or child on the street, do you stop and try to absorb how he/she must feel having no home, having to beg for money, not knowing where they will sleep at night or if they’ll even make it through the night?  Have you tried to pick up on their fear?  How many of us have had this thought, “I’m not giving them any money because they’ll just use it on drugs/alcohol!”  How do you  know that?  Wouldn’t you rather FEEL kind?  Wouldn’t you rather put yourself in their shoes for just a moment and try being a little compassionate?

That cashier to whom you spoke so coldly, did it cross your mind to take a moment to try to feel what he/she felt?  Maybe she just lost a family member or is sick and has to work anyway because it’s all he/she can do or possibly this person is just dealing with depression and is feeling sad.  Maybe a kind word could make all the difference in this person’s day but how many of us walk away feeling as if we’ve been cheated out of good customer service instead of choosing to be compassionate?

What about that stray that keeps coming in to your yard and digging in your trash?  How must that animal feel every time you shoo it off and refuse to give it a little food and shelter?  Scared, hungry?

I can think of so many more examples, but you get my drift.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do not believe everyone possess this type of “hyper-sensitivity” to others emotions but I feel we all CAN to some degree if we’d try and I sure wish everyone would try.  We have a chance to take the focus off ourselves and do some good in the world if we would simply let ourselves feel what others feel.

I once read an article about the benefits of being an Empath.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source but it stated the following about being sensitive to other’s emotions:  it brings people together, it heals, it builds trust and it can close a loop (stopping the bad by being able to introduce the good).  Now, if we all had that choice – and we DO have a CHOICE – why would anyone not want to achieve those things?

I can recall vividly a few experiences in my life that occurred simply because I made the choice to allow myself to feel. When I worked in Atlanta, there was a homeless man who stood on the same corner of an exit I took to get to work.  He was there every single day.  I gave him money as often as I could.  His smile radiated the entire block.  It did not matter to me what he did with the money.  It was a gift and he could do with it as he chose but I felt his despair, I felt his anxiousness, his fear and I knew what I needed to do.

There was another homeless lady named Brenda who stood outside of my Mom’s building and as often as we could, we helped her.  If we could not help in a monetary way, we always took time to stop and talk to her, to offer a kind word and give her a hug.  She was in a wheelchair, she was elderly and yes, I let myself feel what she felt, too. These people I met many years ago and they still stay with me to this day.  I’ll never forget them.  I don’t want to forget them or how they felt because it is fuel to keep me going.

I also remember going to Walmart in the middle of the night to get groceries.  Our cashier was huge pregnant, she was the only cashier there and her line was crazy long.  She felt so unhappy, so tired, so worn down.  I checked out then went back to the bakery, pick up some cupcakes, paid for them at the self-checkout then walked them over to her and thanked her for her kindness and told her to enjoy.  What I felt from her at that moment was instant relief and what I saw was her shoulders relax, even if just a little.  It mattered to her.

You want to talk about strays?  Our house is home to almost 20 cats, many of them strays.  I’ve also fed plenty of raccoons when they’ve shown up so I’m going my part for the animal kingdom!

See, to me, it’s a trickle-down, domino kind of effect.  I think by NOT allowing ourselves to feel the negativity around us we simply perpetuate it.  It keeps going.  We don’t let ourselves feel the bad long enough to allow the good and that good is what stops the bad in its tracks!  If we teach our kids to understand the lasting effects of  bullying, give a few bucks to the homeless person, offer a smile and “thank you” to the grouchy cashier or feed that stray – if we allow ourselves to FEEL  then we’ll possibly, very possibly, opened up a hole for some light and happiness to shine bright.

If you’re going to be “a hole” be the right kind of hole.  Think about that.

With life and I’m being realistic here, there is both good and bad.  We seldom, if ever, get to pick and choose.  If we make a conscious effort to block the negativity then how are we allowing ourselves the opportunity to allow in the positivity?  If we go through life not letting ourselves feel what others feel, how can we ever make a difference?  Maybe it will be some simple act of kindness that changes an entire person’s day but we will never know if we don’t try.  Our world has become a bad place to live and it seems to me we’d all want to open ourselves up to becoming a source of compassion and positive energy.

Author: Lisa Summerlin

The Smoking Squirrel is my way of bringing happiness to the world. I firmly believe that laughter is the best medicine and sometimes we all need a negative-free zone. This is it. Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “To Feel or Not to Feel?”

  1. Once again, a brilliantly well-crafted post! And as an Empath (clairsentient) myself, I appreciate exactly what you’re trying to say and very much agree.

    However, I do believe there is a very distinctive difference between “connecting” and “absorbing.” I also read the Mind Unleashed article you mentioned and found the premise, though well-intended, flawed. It was absolutely correct in illustrating the detriments of absorbing other people’s emotions, but I also concur that it gave the wrong advice.

    “Connecting” is as you describe: Putting yourself in another person’s shoes, placing yourself in another’s situation. This is what allows us to be successful communal animals, exactly as your post advises. However, “absorbing” is STAYING in those other shoes. It means not only carrying the burdens of your own experiences, but also living vicariously through another party and that is unquestionably unhealthy. It’s like having all your needs met but getting stuck in a dark place because your boyfriend or your child is sad over a situation that has nothing to do with you. How can you give strength or clarity to someone you love if you’re convoluted with emotions, yourself? Perhaps that is what Mind Unleashed was trying to say, but unfortunately, failed.

    I feel what you’re describing is genuine “connection”, which is that healthy, beautiful sense of joining two or more emotional points in order to create a supportive and loving network. Though I agree that “absorbing,” the long-term or permanent loss of oneself into another, should always be avoided, I believe that today, with all the technology and lack of intimacy that comes with it, we all need more empathy and connection than ever before and I’m glad you said so!

    I love your work and appreciate you so much!
    Many blessings,


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