Day 26 of the 30 days of gratitude challenge is my hidden talent. There are a few things I’m ‘good at’, which I’ve written posts about as part of the my loves of my life and my projects entries in this challenge. But not many people know that I have really good empathy, which I think is a really useful attribute to have.
Empathy means being able to feel what someone else is feeling, putting yourself in their shoes. I wrote a post about chronic illness where I said I don’t like hearing ‘it could be worse’ statements in relation to my illness, and my empathy-ometer is why. Whenever I feel or experience something, I scan through what other people might be experiencing in the world and contextualise my problem against a whole range of other ones. So I spend a lot of time feeling guilty if I’m having a down day, because I’m thinking about people who are homeless in Africa (for example) and how they have it worse and I should just ‘get on with it’. Therefore, I don’t need to hear ‘it could be worse’- I’ve already been there in my head. I’ve been working on acknowledging that it’s ok to have days where I do nothing and rest because that’s what I need to do, and to ignore my empathy gauge on those days.
I also find it really hard to watch violent or horror films. Blood and gore doesn’t bother me, but I feel whatever the people who are being attacked are likely to feel. So if someone is running away from a murderer, I feel a similar level of anxiety. I hate sci-fi films where someone has to sacrifice themselves to save the planet because I feel what that must feel like. If you combine that with the fact that my body doesn’t respond well to stress, it’s not a good mix!
But having empathy like that has its advantages. I can really easily work out what someone else is feeling and why. This was really useful as a teacher because I could work out the pupils who were naughty and the ones who were in a bad place and needed help, and then work out what help would benefit them. I knew when to apply pressure and when to back off. I could recognise when a pupil was acting out of character and help them work through their feelings before they got out of hand. It’s not always about talking things through, sometimes it’s knowing about when to stay silent and wait, or talk about other topics. I could also tell when pupils were lying, which they hated, but was very useful! Adults are particularly interesting to watch because they try to manipulate and change situations more than children do, for both selfish and non-selfish reasons.
I haven’t got any science behind it, I just like watching people and I get a feeling about things. I don’t always let on that I’ve worked something out about a person (I’m pretty good at working out if women are pregnant!), because if someone has news to share it’s their news not my guessing that’s important.