A Disconnect from Empathy

Childhood: I was never very good at expressing myself growing up. It wasn’t necessarily my introversion so much as there was rarely a good outlet. There was always a bit of a disconnect between my parents and me. They are very smart, serious people who worked long hours when I was growing up. To help take care of my sister and me, we had a caretaker who was an outlet for any childhood grievances we had and I would see our parents late at night. It worked pretty well until we outgrew our caretaker and lost that outlet.

When you spend time with people you rarely see, particularly if they care about you and you care about them, you don’t want to fill up the conversation with anything negative. You want to tell them good things about yourself and your life so that they don’t spend their time worrying about; so that they are happy. That’s what I did with my family, particularly my parents.

Thankfully there was rarely a problem and whenever one arose, I dealt with it myself and though it was sometimes difficult, it worked and my parents continued to think things were fine. We lived happily in this dynamic; it was the norm and it worked for us. However, trouble arose when I experienced a grievance that I couldn’t contain on my own. I noticed it slowly affecting my life, changing my habits and general mood. But I still didn’t want to, or feel comfortable, reaching out for help.

Why I wouldn’t share: I didn’t like sympathy. I didn’t want people to feel bad about me or for me. I just wanted to have good times, make happy memories, and ignore the problem until it went away. A huge part of it was that I didn’t feel like it was my place to feel bad. I’m very aware of all the horrible things going on in the world and felt that the problems of someone as fortunate as me held little to no merit in comparison. So I continued to bury the problem deep down and continued to grow more and more sullen.

Finally sharing: I probably would have continued struggling on my own for months if it hadn’t been for one of the new friends I made freshman year. I had tried to open up once or twice before but I wasn’t able to genuinely express my feelings and it was met with “hey, sorry you’re going through a rough time, have a beer.” However, it was different when he and I talked.

He opened up first and shared a recent time in his life where he was truly at his lowest. He told his story with great emotion and openness. My unhappiness stemmed from a similar source so I was able to empathize with him and his plight. Seeing how open he was about his past problem made me feel comfortable opening up and sharing my grief as well, that it was the only way I might feel better.

empathyfeatureSo I opened up to him. I felt comfortable giving into my vulnerability because he had made himself vulnerable and I was able to open up and not only share what was causing me grief but also confront it myself. I was able to do this because of his ability to empathize.

Resolution: It was only because of this that I was able to face a major emotional boundary that I didn’t realize I had, my parents. I hadn’t wanted to drag them into my problems but if I had not come to them with my grief, I would not have been able to begin the long process of facing the issue at hand and working through it.

Image Source: http://upliftconnect.com/six-habits-highly-empathic-people/


18 thoughts on “A Disconnect from Empathy

  1. Matt,
    I can completely relate to how you feel about expressing your feelings. Growing up, I never did and it came to hurt me a lot once I reached teenage years. I don’t know about you, but I keep things in without even noticing it and then when it starts to catch up to me I completely crash. Its hard to start expressing feelings, but its definitely worth trying. I’m glad you came to a conclusion

  2. Hey Matt,
    I totally understand the feeling that personal problems aren’t anywhere near the severity of other things going on in the world or compared to other people’s problems, so there’s no point in bringing them up or talking about them. I think a lot of people feel that way and it leads to them holding everything in. Sometimes this leads to even larger problems and depression. I think when people hold things, it becomes such an unwanted topic to discuss, and it becomes overbearing. I’m happy you found someone you could confide in who also shared their vulnerability and emotion.

  3. Hi Matt,
    I can really relate to your story. When I was younger, both my parents worked full time as well. So my old brother and I had a nanny everyday when we got home from school. I agree that when you see your parents you only want to tell them the good things happening in your life so they know you are a happy child and that can be really hard sometimes so I appreciate your honesty!!

  4. Matt,

    It is amazing what the power of a true friend can do isn’t it? I am happy that you were able to find the root of the problem and ultimately address it. In my experience, feeling as if you are tackling every obstacle in life alone can be extremely debilitating. Being able to cultivate and fall back on a support system is something that many people struggle to find in life. I wish you happiness in the future, thank you for sharing with us.

    – Andrew Doan

  5. Matt,

    I loved your post, it was so raw and honest. I can relate in many ways, my parents both worked full time, and I have always felt a level of disconnect with my parents, and I think that affected how I deal with my own disconnect in my life. In my experience, I hate to burden others with my emotions so I always keep everything to myself. I would rather not saying anything to someone, than to receive sympathy. I find your story so relatable and empowering, thank you.

  6. Hi Matt!
    That is really awesome that you were able to finally open up to someone and see that other people have similar issues. Meeting people that have similar issues makes it easier to bond with them and get on their peel and really step into their shoes. I have realized the deeper relationships I have are the ones with the people that have not just felt bad for when I am going through a hard time, but by actually looking at the bigger picture and feeling for me and saying something like ” you know that is really shitty and I feel exactly where you are coming from”. This is a really good thing that you have noticed this now. After realizing you could be open with this person and how good it made you feel, have you become more open with your parents the more you have grown to this realization and grown in age?

  7. Matt,
    I totally get how opening up was difficult for you. Growing up, my relationship with my parents wasn’t spectacular. I constantly shoved my emotions to the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I finally opened up that I realized how much I was hurting. I glad you found that person to open up to and I hope it made al the difference.

  8. Hey Matt,

    Much like you, as a kid I wasn’t good at expressing at how I truly felt. I think due to all the negativity, I just wanted to have a “normal childhood” and ignored all the problems around me. I think that it is important for us to impress on our children how important it really is for them to express how they feel in order to create the lasting connection earlier on in life. More than anything, it is awesome that you finally found someone that you were able to open up to and have began crossing that bridge!

  9. Hey Matt,

    I really liked this post as I saw many of the things that you have struggled with throughout my own life. Although I would like to say you did a much better job of expressing this feelings than I ever could. My parents were also very serious people when I was growing up. They often had to work, so my sister and I had to do a lot of things on our own. It taught me how to handle problems on my own, and to be independent. However, this independence gave me the mentality that I did not want or need anyone else if I had a problem. Since then I have started to open up more, and it has helped me a lot.

  10. Hi Matt. I thought this post was really interesting and gave me a great insight into what you were going through. Its important to remember that sympathy and having people ‘feel bad for you” is not a bad thing. This just means that people care about you enough to feel your pain, which is a blessing, because not everyone has people that actually care about them

  11. Hello,
    I totally resonate with you about sympathy. I feel like people think I am weak. I dont know why but I always feel like I have to be tough and that I have to be strong. I also don’t like attention either. When I bottled all that up though it gave me so much anxiety that I couldn’t contain it anymore. I have friends in college who taught me that vulnerability is a strength not a weakness and that we are made to rely on other people.


  12. Matt,

    Everyone has just about said what I want to say, but I want to reiterate a few things. First of all, thanks for this post, which hits on a lot of realizations I’ve had as well. Even though there are problems going on everywhere else, it doesn’t actually make your problems any smaller or more insignificant. With that in mind, we shouldn’t bottle our emotions up. It’s okay to talk about your problems, it’s okay to cry if you really need to, and it’s okay to turn to your friends for help. I’m glad to know so many of us have gone through something like this.

  13. Matt,

    I have been in a similar circumstance with my family when I was younger. They both worked long hours and my brother and I had a caretaker. The relationship with your parents becomes more shallow, and turning to them for guidance becomes something you don’t do. It’s a tough place, and without that outlet, going out and finding a different one is key. I have a few friends who even if they aren’t the ones I see most often, or hangout with on a regular basis, have that deeper connection and are incredibly important in times of need. Glad you had someone to share that compassion with you.


  14. Hi Matt,

    You sound like a very empathetic person yourself, commenting that the rest of the world is experiencing all sorts of sufferings. Your frame of reference in life makes you a sympathetic person, but it also prohibited you from admitting that your sufferings matter too. I’m glad to hear that you were able to finally open to not only a friend, but also your parents. I know exactly what you mean when you said that when you only want to tell your parents the good news and never the bad news. Till this day, I only report the good news to my parents. But you should know, your parents are the people that will help and care about you unconditionally no matter what you’re going through.

  15. Hi Matt,

    I had a similar upbringing to you, both my parents worked and during the summers my brother and I always had a nanny. I never minded both my parents had full time jobs and I always enjoyed having babysitters, but looking back I was never very open with my parents. I always confided in friends and would only inform my parents of things involving my academics or athletics. It wasn’t until I was older that I was able to but that was initiated with me finally blowing up with minor things that I had bottled up. It is healthy to be able to communicate with your family to let them know when you are having problems, they will always be there for you.

  16. Hi, this is such a heartfelt story. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this. I sometimes question working such long hours and leaving my son with a caretaker and your story really got me thinking. I agree with you in that sometimes because we don’t want sympathy from other people we try and fix everything ourselves and it’s really hard to open up. Thank you for sharing your story.

  17. Hi Matt,
    Your story really hit home for me. All through my life I had kept all of my feelings to myself, which I later realised was because I didn’t want to burden my parents with the issues I was having. I finally found someone who I was able to confide in and it taught me that I shouldn’t keep my feelings bottled up inside. Its really such a relief when you finally give yourself permission to confide in people.

  18. Hey Matt,
    Your experiences really connected with mine. I always keep my feelings to myself because I didn’t want to make other people help me out. I still haven’t found someone who completely understands me as a person. I still do keep my feelings bottled up inside, but every now and then its nice to finally be able to confide in people.

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