It Can Make Sense, and Still Not Be Right for You
One of the greatest gifts of being a deep feeler is that ability to deeply understand other people’s experiences and points of view.
We can imagine what it’s like to experience what someone else is going through, which enhances our ability to connect with them in a meaningful way. We can see ourselves in a stranger’s story, and take on the weight of their feelings in a way that’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t naturally do the same. We can start to dismantle the wall that separates us from them.
In our close relationships, our natural empathy adds a mega-tool to our toolbox, giving us the power to find common ground and create a warm, cozy bubble of understanding for the people in our life who feel alone or misunderstood. Our ability and willingness to temporarily suspend our own viewpoint in order to see through someone else’s means we often become confidantes, and trusted advisors.
Empathy allows us to see beyond the limitations of what we believe, observe, and feel, adding a whole lot of grey to our beliefs and experiences – sometimes so much so, that it can feel disorienting.
Have you ever gotten so swept up in seeing things from someone else’s point of view, that it starts to cloud your sense of where you stand?
I know I have.
I can think of situations where I’ve tried so intently to understand viewpoints so different from my own, that I’ve walked away feeling emotionally askew. It’s almost like the effort it took to fully consider that felt so foreign ended up pulling me a little off my center, or distorting my own lens.
Sometimes that’s a beautiful gift that opens us up to new possibilities. Other times it’s unsettling, and we find ourselves adopting or defending something just because we’ve managed to make sense of it — even if it doesn’t feel quite right.
Here’s the tipping point: when profound empathy starts to overtake our sense of self, we lose our center.
For me, this has been truest when I’ve felt the least grounded in who I am, and what I know for sure about my core wants, needs, and beliefs. Without those roots, what starts as an earnest attempt to try on another perspective can quickly devolve into second-guessing and bargaining with ourselves — until we’ve talked ourselves into a cloud of confusion and lost our sense of where we stand.
Empathy asks us to feel alongside another person, not to minimize our own core beliefs or replace them with someone else’s.
In other words, we don’t have to make ourselves smaller to validate someone else.
And that right there is exactly why it’s so critical to stay in touch with our intuition, and notice how it whispers or nudges us when we’re confronted with something that sounds reasonable on the surface, but feels incongruent with who we are. Our intuition knows the difference, it’s just up to us to pay attention to the signs.
To be clear, there’s no shame in drawing that line! It’s perfectly reasonable to see validity in a thing, and still decide it’s not for you. In fact, fine-tuning that ability expands our capacity for real emotional generosity without the risk of compromising ourselves.
Amy Poehler really nailed this idea with a simple mantra from her book, Yes, Please: “Good for her! Not for me.” Isn't that great? Such a clear and simple reminder that we can appreciate others’ choices, without pressuring ourselves to adopt them when they don't feel right.
So, how do you know what works for you, and what doesn’t?
When all else fails, do a gut check. A quick tune-in to your intuition can help you decide how well the thing you’re confront with meshes with the things you believe in, and stand for. and want for yourself. And if there’s disconnect? Remember: “Good for her! Not for me.”
We don’t have to change who we are or how we live, just to prove that someone else’s perspective is valid.