March 2013

Sympathy or Empathy

EmpathyThe above two words could be seen as travelling in each other’s company, but this concept could not be further away from the truth. If you have ever walked the road I was set to travel, the difference is insurmountable. Many may even think that the difference is only marginal, so why split hairs? We have all at some point in our lives been involved in a sympathetic conversation, giving someone whom we care about a hug that is meant to make everything turn out right. As we ourselves have received and taken comfort from. It’s an act of the power of sharing our feelings with another, an expression of pity or sorrow which acts as a two-way street. In a word, we are sharing ourselves with others with an understanding of the place they find themselves in. At some point or another we ourselves have experienced something similar. Sometimes all it takes is a hug given either way to make everything seems less painful. We see things so much clearer simply because we are stronger within this united force. We can now move forward in the knowledge that we know where we are going. Because of this alliance we have a greater understanding of the place we have been. The tears you have cried have been washed away; Sympathy has made all the difference.

Empathy however is a whole different kettle of fish, a whole new ball game, a horse of a different colour. I could go on here but I’m sure I have made my point.
To be empathetic you have to draw on resources that sympathy could never hope to cover. Your life’s path must have travelled very closely within the pain that is sitting there in front of you; you can almost feel the tormented troubled mind screaming out for its release. No explanation needs to be given, and no explanation needs to be heard. You’re looking at a mirror image that seems as if it has always been your shadow. Your mind is running away as fast as it can, because it remembers the pain you yourself have suffered. But it seems no matter how fast the light can travel it always finds the darkness. So do you run before the memories flood in? Can you share their demons and still remain in control? Can we let our mask slip leaving ourselves vulnerable? These are all questions we face in the complete understanding of another’s abuse. Over the last few years it has become so very clear to me that yes the above is indeed possible. When we draw from our pain to walk with another the empathy is served both ways. I guess that the best way to explain it is that unless you have walked in the other man’s shoes you will never know if they fit.

During my time of talking to other survivors we all seem to have found the same thing: talking to another survivor increases the healing process tenfold. There are so many professionals out there that do an excellent job, but this knowledge has been acquired through study, hard work and the good grace to want to help others. We can never think that these professionals are not needed because that would be an untruth; I myself found my first tiny steps forward by drawing from their knowledge, so lest we not forget their input. The only difference, quite frankly, is that you can’t learn how it feels to be abused. If we are lucky enough to have found the way through our own demons, we are the best persons for that job.

So let’s return to that person sitting in front of you and the pain you see within that’s so very real. How can you ever say the right thing? You have a feeling that words are just not enough; they would just seem so empty. You remember your own struggle so clearly now, and the journey you yourself had to take. So what was it that made the difference for you was it just words? This I can say without doubt: the spoken word always makes a difference.

The other difference we may be forgiven for if missed.

When we really break it down it’s just so very simple. If you what to learn to drive you consult a driving instructor. If is your thing hitting the water rapids, you need to be on the river with someone who respects the water and its dangers. When we look at other aspects of our lives it is a simple choice, we consult those that can teach us how. So is it so very different whilst dealing with our abuse pain and emotions?

As a survivor you have the knowledge that, if nurtured in the right fashion, can make all the difference. If you can learn to walk back within your own pain to that gateway of understanding, then you have a gift to impart that has taken you a life time to achieve. We lose so much because of our past within abuse, that there has to be some good found within. Your journey has given you the power to step up and show the world that the road ahead can be met with hope.