Thursday, May 13, 2010

Excessive Empathy

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
          your works are wonderful,
          I know that full well.
                    - Psalm 139:14

I know this verse by heart. I repeat this verse to myself when I'm troubled, or when I feel worthless in the world's eyes. But, I can't help but doubt it.

My family and I watched the new BBC version of The Diary of Anne Frank last night. Most of the movie depicted Anne growing up in a secluded room, wondering when the war would be over, and coming to terms with the changes that were occurring physically and emotionally. There were parts when her family of Jews-in-hiding were almost discovered. As always when there's something that frightens me, I would grab my mom's hand and squeeze it with all my might until the scary part was over. In most movies, there is at least a happy ending to make up for all the pain or scariness in the middle. This was not the case in this movie. The end of the movie showed them being discovered by the Nazis. It showed the women crying, and fear written plainly on the men's faces. Anne's hands trembled as she tried to put on her shoes. Everyone was desolated, knowing full well that they would most likely never see each other again. As each was shown walking down the stairs, it showed their name, the concentration camp they were placed in, and the year they died. Most only a year after being discovered.

As much as I hated myself for it, I couldn't help it. I felt my stomach start churning, and my heart literally ached for those poor people. I felt hot tears run down my cheeks, and I tried as as hard as I could to stifle my sobs, ashamed that I was brought this low by something that caused only a shrug and a pang in the chest to most.

My family tries to sympathize. They try to understand, and make it go away. They try to reason with me. "It was a long time ago, Tori. It doesn't happen now." "They didn't even show the concentration camps."
I know that no one can understand. The fact that it was long ago does not change the fact that it happened. It does not change how wrong it was, and how sad it still is. Though, I feel that no one but me sees things this way.

I try to tell myself that God has made me perfectly. That he means for me to be so empathetic it hurts. He means for me to feel empathy towards a fictional character. But, I just don't understand. I care so much about people that I've never known, never met, that died years before my time. I care so much about fictional characters in books and movies that it hurts. While God may have meant me to be more empathetic than most, I can't understand why I had to have it this bad.

I've had many nights where I stay awake into the early hours of the morning, feelings as if I'm going to throw up. I desperately try to think of something, anything, other than this horrible thing I have seen so that I can close my heavy eyelids in peace. But it doesn't work. It never works. It's like telling yourself not to think about a pink elephant. It's all you'll think about.

While it hurts physically, it hurts more emotionally. I can't explain how hard it is to come to the conclusion that I will never to watch the things that some of my friends do. And I dread the day that they'll all go to see a movie and I'll have to say "no." Because it scares me, it disturbs me, it bothers me. I hate it that I have to watch the preteen TV shows because anything else scares me out of my wits.

And, despite the encouraging Psalm 139:14, I hate this aspect of myself. I don't understand why. Why do I have to be the one to bear everyone else's burdens, unnecessarily and uncontrollably? Why do I have to be the one who says "no" to the horror movies and things like that? When I cry about it, people tell me to stop. That there are worse things than not being able to sleep because a movie scared you. True. But they don't have to suffer the inner pain, physical and emotional, of extreme empathy. They don't have to live with the suppressed shame of not being able to handle something that my 11-year-old brother can. It's painful. And, as of now, I can't see the sunny side of it.

1 comment:

  1. Tori--

    You have a gift of empathy. Jesus had empathy--"surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows". Jesus was often "moved with compassion"--the Greek word for compassion is "splagnizomai", which means to be moved to the depth of the bowels (which the Jews believed to be the deepest seat of the emotions). It's painful, but it's not bad, to be like Jesus.

    I saw the same movie as you. When they showed them walking out and their ultimate demise on the screen, I cried too. But I wasn't ashamed. If God is love, then it's okay to hurt--because hurting is an indication that you love: No love -> no hurt -> no tears; or love -> hurt -> tears.

    Pain is not always bad. And having pain does not mean you should feel shame when others don't have the same pain you are experiencing. I know at your age it's hard to be seen as different than others and not feel accepted. But having a heart and a spirit that is sensitive to God will never be widely understood or accepted--by anyone.

    So why do you "have to" feel so deeply? That's the way God made you. Now you can choose how to deal with it. If you choose to run from it and despise it, it can become a curse to you. If you embrace the pain and see it as a reflection of the heart of God, it can become an uneartly gift.

    I say "embrace it." "Jesus...endured the cross, scorning its shame..." (Hebrews 12:2) Why? "Because of the joy set before him." (same verse). What was the "joy set before him"? Knowing that he was fulfilling His Father's purpose. And it's the same for us, to embrace who He made us to be, and choose to "follow in His steps."

    You are very special, Tori. Just keep sharing what's on your heart. God will use it to reach more people than you will ever realize.

    Love in Jesus,