This is going to be a bit of a sequel to The Letting Go.
This time, instead of just talking about letting go of the people you don’t really need in your life, maybe there is something we can do that’s less dismissive. Not everyone needs to go.
That said, there are still toxic people in the world who compel us to waste energy and exhaust ourselves. They totally need to go. But, there’s more to the story.
And this is speaking to the small things. The attitude adjustments. Not the grander scale of thinking you can’t make a difference in the world. You can. But you need some selfish love to keep yourself sane and healthy.
I have some friends in my life who support me without batting an eyelash.
If I wrote an article on the importance of eating 10 pounds of cheese a day, they would share it without being asked just because they’re so relentlessly loving, supportive and just plain kind.
Some people, however, may love you conditionally.
May support you conditionally.
If they’re tired, or busy, or just feeling moody, they may not care to share your excitement in something. Or go the extra mile for you. Or drop anything just to be there for you physically or otherwise.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that they love you less, but they may love you differently.
And that’s okay. There are so many people that play such different roles in our lives and they’re all important in their own way.
But, the hard thing in life is to not let these people hurt us. I always wonder why people who I consider to be friends wouldn’t do for me what I would be willing to do for them. But, that’s a reality for so many of us.
I am the type of individual who possibly does too much.
If an acquaintance wants to just talk or complain or whatever it may be, I am invested.
I dive in and feel with them. I practice empathy. I think empathy is so important.
I have always had this innate need to connect and emote with those around me.
A friend once directed me towards Matthew Ricard: a Buddhist Monk, photographer, author and humanitarian. He’s even been called “the happiest man in the world.”
Now, I’m not sure if I can buy that, but the reason the discussion came about is because this friend asked me what one thing the world needed more of. If I could pick just one.
“Empathy,” I said. He approved of the choice, then told me to read a little about Ricard and get back to him so we can discuss again.
So I did.
And what I learned about is something called Empathy Fatigue.
Ricard defines empathy as “an affective resonance with someone else.” So to put it plainly, when someone is happy, you are actually happy with them. If someone is distraught, again, you are feeling exactly that emotion with them. A bit of a mirroring effect.
He says empathy fatigue begins to weigh in on our being when we empathize too much. When we become so invested in someone that their struggles begin to take such a toll that we find ourselves sliding down the black hole with them.
It becomes less of an empathetic thing and more of our reality.
After months of considering this and wondering if he was right, I found that he is.
When one of my friends was unsettled about something and I had to spend a lot of time with this individual, I would reflect their unsettling until they found peace again. I couldn’t handle their discontent.
It was absolutely exhausting. And probably unhealthy.
So, I gave Ricard another read and started to consider his solution.
He says that a combination of empathy, compassion and altruistic love are the best ways to avoid this empathy fatigue.
That compassion and love are associated with general positivity, so if we pair them with the possible negativity that can come with empathy, we can avoid being “brought down” for lack of a better term.
Ricard says in his first piece on Empathy Fatigue:
“Within altruistic love, or benevolence, empathy alerts us that the other person might be suffering. Compassion — the desire to dispel these sufferings and their causes — follows. Thus, when confronted with suffering, altruistic love, catalyzed by empathy, becomes compassion.”
This, still, can be a bit complex. But, what I like the most is that compassion is the desire to dispel sufferings. Not necessarily that we have to dispel them.
For me, I have found a peace in knowing my that heart may be in the right place, but it may not be in my best interest to invest myself in actually taking on their emotions.
Especially with the individual who doesn’t want to be lifted.
The person who needs some time to wallow then will rise again in their own good time.
It’s always been so difficult for me to understand that about someone. Why they wouldn’t want to just get happy? Why they are okay with dwelling on their “problems” when they could just move on? We’re all just so different. It’s amazing to me.
Nonetheless, I started to let go of their problems. The trivial ones, at least. (I’m not diving into the whole “you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life” speech. That’s a whole other piece in the works.)
I show them compassion in saying something of, “I’m sure you’re so tired! It’ll be great when you can get home and rest later. It’s been a long day. If you need anything, I’m here.”
If their tiredness/hunger/waking up on the wrong side of the bed is able to put them in a bad mood all day, I can’t help that. I can express to them that I wish they were better, but I likely can’t fix it.
And that is fine by me. Finally.
It took time for me to be able to accept this. But I have felt so much lighter since I have.
My heart wants to help them. But, not everyone is willing or ready to be helped.
The expression “kill ’em with kindness” is still a favorite as it rings true with these ideas. Sometimes, sharing a kind word or thought is all we can do.
I have finally found contentment in knowing that my heart is in the right place even if it isn’t the same place as theirs. Even if they wouldn’t do the same for me.
It isn’t my fault. It just is.
Compassion. Empathy. Love. They are what can save us all if we choose to practice them. But, for those who don’t, that’s okay, too.
So, instead of just physically letting go of people, we can let go mentally. Emotionally.
Do your best. Love your hardest. And know that your light is all you need.
Love, light & happiness!