This is my first real discussion post in just over a year! I don’t do a lot of these, because I feel like other bloggers have more to say and say things more succinctly than I do. However! This is something I haven’t seen a lot of and it’s been on my mind lately.
First of all, let’s define what empathy actually is. Dictionary.com refers to empathy as “[…] the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person.” This is distinguished from sympathy in the following way: “sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.”
That being said, I am an extremely empathetic person. I can attribute this to about a thousand things, but what it means for me is that other people’s emotions impact me pretty strongly. I literally find emotions to be contagious, no matter what form they come in. Whether it’s from a friend, an article I’m reading online, a movie I’m watching, or a book I’m reading, I find myself taking on those feelings.
There are benefits to this: I’m pretty conscious about my friends emotions and behaviors indicating their emotions and I can be a good listener. There are also plenty of cons: I have to disengage from people sometimes so I don’t become overwhelmed, I have to consume emotional media fairly slowly to avoid slipping into a depressive episode, and I can sometimes blur the line between fiction and reality.
This comes up a lot during my reading. What prompted this post was actually my experience reading The Pisces. The main character falls into a depressive episode at the start of the book and I found it to be an emotionally intense experience because it was so real. I could identify the triggers, the symptoms, the disordered thinking. It put me into a mood, which I luckily realized quickly, and I had to put it down after a short session. I’ve been reading it slowly, in bits and pieces, in order to avoid getting dragged down by it.
It’s difficult sometimes, having to navigate my reading so carefully, but I like to think it helps make me a more compassionate and sensitive person. Anyway, here’s my question for you: do any of you also struggle with keeping your empathy in check while reading (or even watching TV/movies)? How do you deal with this so that it doesn’t negatively impact your mental health? If it was something you could just turn off, would you?
I look forward to hearing what you all have to say on this! Thanks for reading. 🙂