Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Sympathy doesn't exist.

Empathy does exist. Empathy spurs action. It makes us help each other, solving problems. That's a thing! But sympathy - the static expression of emotional commiseration - is a phantom. Three unhealthy mechanisms are mistaken for this apocryphal "sympathy" thing:

1. Pity
" sucks to be you!"

Never helpful. Never pleasant.
2. Leverage
"I can see you're in pain. Let me make a display of saying and doing the sorts of time-tested cinematic things people do when they want to come off as sympathetic, so I can bank your gratitude and trust."

If you want to attract predators, indiscriminately project your vulnerability.

3. Reflected Schadenfreude
"Hearing your grueling story, I place myself in your shoes, and....YEESH."

You've shared your woes, asking someone to identify with them - to experience your anguish. But making people unhappy is not a healthy thing to want to do. If you watch them cringe (i.e. register "sympathy") and that makes you feel better, you need some garage time for major repairs.

I've experienced touches of this. There've been people in my life who, when I told them about bad things that had happened to me, would get agitated, and even lash out at me - just because they were perturbed and had no one else handy to unleash on. It was a backfire of my play for sympathy, and while my first instinct was to blame them for their "lack of support", I eventually saw that my intentions were twisted in the first place.

Some people may have the bandwidth to go through the motions of trying to soothe you, despite what you just put them through. But that doesn't change what you've done. If you feel better by making people unhappy, then you're the problem, not the victim.
In my early twenties, I believed that I was a rarity - a genuinely sympathetic person. But I discovered that people who seek sympathy are highly manipulative (again, feeling strengthened by making others unhappy is not healthy). If who're someone who aims to be helpful, you'll eventually learn not to submit to the will of control freaks, nor to bring vodka to alcoholics. You don't enable.

This was the same period when I began to recognize that people's "problems" usually turn out to be fake drama, anyway. That's why so few of us actually want our problems resolved (in fact, we often bitterly repel efforts at solution). What is more often sought is sympathy, not solution. Problems are treasured, because they confer a special power never enjoyed by the less flamboyantly burdened. Consider the many people whose proudest accomplishment is to be, say, a "cancer survivor" or "family of the victims". Victimhood nostalgia is not a resilient attitude. It's possible to fall in love with problems to the point where they become fundamental to one's very identity.

I'm no longer sympathetic (or whatever psychic glitch I'd confused with sympathy). Having largely stopped creating my own fake drama, I don't want to get entangled with anyone else's! I will, however, do whatever I can to help fix genuine problems (which are very rare in the First World). That's empathy, not sympathy. Up with empathy, down with "sympathy"!

Here's what all those "strong/silent" types are telling you: "If you don't want to work on fixing it, then I don't want to hear about it!"

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